This almost doesn't work this small. What I like are the details—the half-full glass between their knees, the fact that her toenails are painted, his tattoo, the older person's hand on his bicep, the way her fingers fan out delicately on top of his like swan feathers.
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Featured Comments from:
Henry Rogers: "Presumably it's a story with actors rather than a slice of life. The glass, or plastic beaker, seems to be dry rather than empty. The girl has painted toenails but un-painted finger nails. Is that a real tattoo on the inside of the man's left arm or a transfer? Male tattoos are often where they show best, on the outside of an arm, but that wouldn't work in this scene. Both females have hands in more-than-casual gestures. It's an intriguing scene but does it mean anything? If not, does that matter. Oh, and it's pretty good technically too but that may not be the point. Tell us more please Mike!"
Mike replies: I can't tell you what it means, but it was entirely adventitious—no setup or direction at all. It really was a "random snap." I did take a variant or two before they moved, though. It was taken in the front of a speedboat on a lake. (To answer some other commenters, no, I wasn't driving the boat. I think we were moving along the shore at trolling speed at the time.)
Geoff: "I think you've probably answered this before but what do you use to put those nice filed neg. carrier borders around your digital images? (at least that's what I assume is going on here) Great shot by the way!"
Mike replies: Several people have asked about the processing so here goes: Usually I do balancing (set the vignetting, burning and dodging, and image geometry [Lens Corrections > Manual Transform]) in Photoshop first. Then open in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 and set the tones using the Global Adjustments, being very careful of the Structure slider which is one of those "crack cocaine" controls in post. (I.e., get addicted and you can't get enough...until your picture, like an addict's life, lies in utter ruins). Then I open a Color Filter, usually Yellow but infrequently orange or red, almost always backing it off from its default. Hint: look for mid-tones with the color filters, especially with skin tones. In Finishing Adjustments I use Sepia 19 for Toning, backing it off to the neighborhood of 20/20 for "Silver" and "Paper" toning. Generally I use a little more toning for images of people and a little less for landscapes or anything with skies. Finally, I use Image Border #3 and back it off to –95 in the Size slider.
This last is the only real "fakery" in this method, but I'll tell you why I do it: it's to make my digital B&W pictures consistent with the rest of my life's work. I see my work as a continuity. Film to digital was a huge disruption for me as it was for many people, but if a film and digital B&W picture are framed and hung near each other, I don't want either one to scream "this is film!" and "this is digital!"—I want people to look at the pictures. I probably wouldn't use a border if I were starting out now, but I'm not starting out now—I have hundreds of pictures already in my print cases that have borders. So the new ones need to be, not identical, but aesthetically consonant with the old ones.
I now almost never start with sharpening or noise reduction. I've found that current cameras are sharp enough with no adjustment or just a little "Clarity" and don't need more, and what noise I see is seldom intrusive. (This is quite a big change from, say, 2005, when we were preoccupied with sharpening and noise.) Note that B&W has an advantage here because we don't see chroma noise nearly as much. But I seldom use sharpening or noise reduction on color pictures now either, at least for Web use.
I seldom use Curves but when they're needed it would be very difficult to explain in words what to do. I just know what images with various curve shapes look like in B&W images, from long work with enlarger printing and film and paper sensitometry, so when I see any of those "looks" in the digital image I know what to apply to counteract it or back it off. This would require a short seminar-type class to convey properly (and it would take me a lot of time to work how to teach it). But I seldom use Curves, so you can ignore this bit.
And a few more words about image processing:
In general, processing is not really a technical matter. Yes, you need the technical skills so you can implement your adjustments, but what it's really all about is judgement: taste and intention. That is, what looks right to you, and what you want the picture to look like. In "amount," processing might well be less important than how you see and what you take pictures of; but in "quality," it's every bit as much about your personality and preferences, your own idiosyncratic sense of "there, that's right, that's the way I like it and think it should be." That's 85% of post-processing for me. It will naturally be more or less for others, because some peoples' work is more about processing and some peoples' work is less about it.
And specific to me, here are two hints about the way I process. With almost every control, there is "too little" and "too much." It's easier to judge the proper amount of almost everything by starting with too little and creeping up on "too much" gradually or incrementally. If you start with massive amounts of Structure or Clarity, it's more difficult to back off to find the right point. Start off with too little and move up on it until it seems like enough.
What I do with almost every parameter is to move up on it until it becomes noticeable, then back off just a tad. I never want people to look at a picture and say "what a beautiful print!" or "what excellent post-processing!" first. They can say that later if they want to. But their first reaction should be to the visual contents of the picture—in this case, parts of the bodies of three people touching and the details that provide clues as to their identities and situation. That's the important aspect of the picture, not how much toning I gave it or whether it's super-sharp or not.
Finally, Taran asked how size could matter. That's art school 101 (i.e., very basic, and very important) but—talk about size—it's too big a subject to cover in this already-too-long reply.