ART DECO STORM : FINAL VERSION
This week I would like to continue my discussion of finding images within images by exploring the idea of creating new images of such small pieces of existing images that they could be considered macro photos, after the fact. These drastic crops allow you to explore imagery that relates to your original image but that is such a different scale that it could possibly constitute an entirely new photograph. These new images allow you to explore different aspects of the scene that were just not available at the time you captured the image - and might be considered a different composition based on a lens that was not on your camera at the time. Software innovations allow us to seemingly acquire new photographic hardware, years after the fact, without reaching for our charge cards at the camera store.
I have recently acquired two new software plug-ins from a Portland company called On One that make these radical crops possible. They both use Artificial Intelligence to improve on existing programs, and are probably the best of their kind, at least until another company inevitably improves on them. These programs try to deal with two problems that come up when you try to enlarge photos without reducing them to a pixilated mess. Enlarging is essentially what you are doing when you radically crop a photo - you are taking what was a small part of your original image and throwing away a good portion of the pixels in the original image.
Any digital noise in the image, which is the digital equivalent of film grain (but not as aesthetically pleasing to us old film guys, even though we didn't really like grain either), will only be heightened in the the smaller "negative." On One "AI Noise" is essentially a miracle - it can almost completely clean up the noisiest digital image, without the usual problems of just rendering it a fuzzy, jelly remnant of its formally sharp self. It works so well that sometimes it cleans up images that you didn't realize were noisy in the first place, so running every digital image through this program as a first move before doing anything else is not a bad idea at all - especially when you will be doing some heavy cropping.
On One AI Resize is a new generation of enlarging programs which allow you to enlarge an image way beyond the size possible using the native resolution of your camera. Any digital photo (or film photo for that matter) has a native enlargement ratio based on the laws of physics and math. In the days of film, the size of the negative basically determined how large an enlargement, with good detail, that you could achieve, assuming you could find photo paper that large anyway. An 8x10 camera produced an 8x10 negative, which did not require any enlargement to create an 8x10 print. A 35 mm negative required an 8x enlargement for the same 8x10, so it couldn't possibly hold as much detail in the resultant print. The same physical constraints exist in digital printing, which is why digital camera sensors have increased in resolution from 3 megapixels to sometimes 100 megapixels in the last twenty years. Camera companies of course engaged in an arms race, based on the promise of prints of ginormous sizes that no one could afford and place in their homes. My fourteen-year old camera's 18 megapixel sensor is considered antiquated, but thatbsensor is powerful enough to produce prints so large that you couldn't afford them even if I did not make any money when I sold them to you.
But that is not really the point of the megapixel race, if you desire to heavily crop your images - remember that you are throwing away those very pixels you just paid good money for. So it pays to have 40 megapixels if you are just going to use 1/4 of the "negative" - you will still have 10 megapixels of information, while my camera is reduced to about 4 megapixels. While I still could produce a coaster, anything larger would be problematic. Resize software attempts to solve this problem by literally creating new pixels to give you more to work with - algorithms determine that within reason, that next created pixel would probably be pretty close to the existing one. Of course this is an educated computer guess, and the claims that you can now enlarge your file to 10x the size are overblown - but 4 or 5 times is well within reach. In theory this allows you to take 1/4 of your photo, and now enlarge it to the size that the larger photo could achieve, without any noticeable loss of detail. Now for the big reveal.
ART DECO ORNAMENT : FINAL VERSION
The original image of one of Portland's finest Art Deco department stores is already a small detail of the overall facade, a storm design in a rare black Terra Cotta facade. Terra Cotta was a very popular early Twentieth Century material, a ceramic substitute for stone that severely reduced construction time and costs without restricting creativity. If you look at the bottom left corner of the original sculptural panel, you will find this flower - and now you can explore it in intimate detail. I'm not saying this is "better" than the original image, but it certainly offers something very new from the original photo. You can almost feel the clay in the hands of the craftsman.
SPACE NEEDLE #2 : FINAL VERSION
My take on an overall view of the Seattle landmark is already somewhat of a miracle, mostly due that great Seattle sky and the detail my telephoto lens could hold even from the deck of a moving ferry. But what if you wanted to just concentrate on the top of the Needle?
SPACE NEEDLE SUMMIT : FINAL VERSION
Yes, there is still a little noise in the sky, but you can count the number of people on the platform, which is kind of incredible. Only a telescope could get any closer.
HEUCHAERA LEAF : FINAL VERSION
This is a more conventional macro shot, of a beautifully variegated leaf. While it is not "macro" in the traditional sense of achieving a 1:1 ratio between the subject and the size of the image, this shot is pretty damn close and contains lots of detail. Now software can let me "buy" that macro lens I cannot afford.
HEUCHERA LEAF DETAIL : FINAL VERSION
If you have ever felt a Heuchera leaf at your local garden store, you now that's not digital noise, but "fuzz" - look at the edges of the leaf. There is no noise in the black background, and noise is always more apparent in the the darker tones of an image.
BIG ISLAND TREE : FINAL VERSION
This Hawaiian landscape is one small section of one of the Big Island's beautiful beaches on the dry side of the island. I focused on the lone tree on this thin outcropping which served to separate this beach from the resort beyond. This image was already a crop of the larger horizontal original, but I wanted to see what a closer crop would look like.
LONE TREE, BIG ISLAND : FINAL VERSION
Get closer! This closer crop is all about the tree. The sea loses it's "distracting" waves, and the closer crop even required erasing a lone figure that I hadn't even seen before lurking behind the tree.
LADY LIBERTY : FINAL VERSION
This has been my take on the Statue of Liberty ever since I went on the ferry ten years ago. It's already cropped, but would it gain some power by cropping even closer?
DETAILS ONLY BIRDS GET TO SEE : FINAL VERSION
This proves you can create a macro shot of the largest copper-hammered statue in the world. I would suggest that the last humans to see this level of detail were the sculptor and the workmen who erected this marvel. Any plane flying this close would risk a look-see from the Air Force.
FILMER'S COUNTER : ORIGINAL CROP
FULMER'S COUNTER : CLOSER CROP
Finally, we can see how these software tools have allowed me to improve this image, in my humble opinion. I noticed the reflections on the counter through a storefront window at a venerable downtown diner. It was pretty dark, and the resultant photograph certainly contained a lot of noise. I also managed to focus on the second set of shakers rather than the first, which was now out of focus. My new software has eliminated almost all of the noise, and enlarging the photo to crop even closer has eliminated that first place setting. The entire image now appears sharper even though it really isn't, and the image is now more about the reflections rather than the line of empty place settings.
These close crops are not for everyone, but I hope you can see how they can open up whole new worlds within your existing images. Once again, we can see that the click of the shutter is not the last time you get to create an image - it is just the first.
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