Category Archives: photography

November nature in black and white

I don’t shoot in black and white, but I took these photos on a walk yesterday planning to process them in Black and White for Hey Jude’s 2020 Photo Challenge #47: photograph nature in Black and White and experiment with high and low key effects.

Light and dark

Some photos from the past couple of weeks that have a strong contrast between light and dark.

While the contrast between light and dark is fundamental to black and white, I also find myself drawn to contrast in sharpness of detail and texture. You can see that in several of the photos above.

This week Hey Jude for Photo Challenge #46 asked for black and white focusing on contrast.

Something new

I know it’s not nice to criticize Mother Nature, but the weather this past week was…well…conducive to staying home in front of the fireplace. Fall is still glorious, although the winds have thinned the glory. But while you can go out in just wind, or just rain, the two together are daunting.

I don’t have a lens-ball. They are trendy right now, and I am seeing lots of creative photos using them. The problem is that I don’t just shoot hand-held. I shoot hand-held holding two leashes plus, more often than not, a bag of dog doo. The thought of trying to toss a lens-ball into that juggling act is scary.

But, while trying to avoid the news-when-there-really-isn’t-any-news media blitz of the past week, I happened onto a tutorial to use the GIMP (gnu image manipulation program) to add a lens-ball effect to images. Here are my projects so far:

I haven’t gotten very adept yet, but I’m getting better and this has a lot of potential for future creativity. It is certainly a relaxing activity, almost a form of meditation.

How to do it

I assume that the Adobe Photoshop users can do something very similar. The tutorial I used was this one:

Tutorial for creating a lensball effect using the GIMP.

A warning: I find that this guy talks too fast for me. He has great information, but he tends to blurt it all out at once. I made myself a step-by-step Cheat Sheet so I wouldn’t have to go back and re-watch every time I want to do this. Included below, in case you want to give it a try, it might be helpful as a companion to the video. If you are not familiar with the GIMP the cheat sheet probably isn’t enough on its own.

My cheat sheet

  1. Load image.
  2. Make a new, transparent layer with a circle at the center:
    1. Define center of image using image>guides>new guide by percent (50%), one each vertical and horizontal.
    2. Use ellipse select tool from tool box or shortcut e. Aspect ratio 1:1.
    3. Make sure foreground/background colors are black & white. Drag black (foreground) to circle.
    4. Use Ctl-shft-a to deselect circle.
  3. Warp background to go into the sphere:
    1. Duplicate base layer.
    2. With duplicate layer active: Filters>Distorts>Spherize. Adjust angle of view to get desired effect.
  4. Next fit warped image into the circle:
    1. Place guides around the circle: alt-click on circle layer or layers>transparency>alpha to selection. Image>guides>new guides from selection. Cntl-shft-a to deselect.
    2. Select warped base image layer.
    3. Shft-s or select scale tool from tool box. Holding cntl key scales from center, holding shft key maintains original aspect ratio.
    4. Click and drag until the warped image matches the top and bottom guides.
    5. Unlink the x and y values in the scale pop-up menu. Then refine the warped image to lie within the guides. Once things are lined up click on “scale”.
    6. Drag the scaled layer to the top of the layers. (so it covers the black circle).
    7. Hide the corners of the circle: Alt-click or Layer>transparency>alpha to selection on the circle layer. Right click on warped background layer>add layer mask>selection. Cntl-shft-a to deselect.
  5. Make the ball look more realistic by flipping the sphere and adding shading:
    1. Shft-f or transform group flip tool. Choose vertical. Make sure you are on image not layer mask on the warped layer. Hover mask over circle and click. This inverts the circle.
    2. Apply shading using the “sphere designer tool”.
      1. Duplicate the circle layer. Drag to the top of the layer stack. Good idea to rename it “sphere”. Layer>crop to content. Hover inside the black circle and hit delete key.
      2. Go to Help>search and run a command or /. Type “sphere” then double click on “sphere designer”.
      3. Click on the lower light layer to adjust the color the dark shade.
      4. Click on the upper light layer to adjust the orientation, extent and, if you desire, the color of the light source. The source orientation can be adjusted using the x and y values and the z value determines its extent.
      5. When you have the shading as you want it click okay.
      6. Scale the shaded circle to match the warped image circle. Get the scale tool by typing shft s or getting it from the tool box. Make sure the x and y values are linked to keep the circle round. Adjust to make the circles match then hit “scale” in the dialog box.
    3. Copy the sphere shading layer.
    4. Then change the blend mode for the two shade layers.
      1. Make the top most layer “overlay” (this makes the light part of the shading stand out.
      2. Make the lower layer “linear burn” (this makes the darker part pop a bit.
    5. Refine the look by adjusting the opacity of the two shade layers: rule of thumb is to make the overlay layer about 60 to 70%, and the linear burn layer between 20 and 30%.
  6. Toggle the guides off: View>Show guides.
  7. Add an outer glow to the sphere:
    1. Alt-click on one of the sphere layers.
    2. Create a new layer (sphere glow) transparent.
    3. Open the paths tab.
    4. Convert the selection to path (hover over the icons at the bottom of the paths panel to get the description to pop up. Sometimes this takes a bit of time. You know it’s done when it shows up in the paths panel.
    5. Use the stroke to path (It is accessed by an icon at the bottom of the paths panel). To make sure the line will be solid click on the plus sign beside line style. Also make sure the foreground color is white, then click “stroke”.
    6. Filters>blur>Gaussian blur with size 20 or so (depends on image size).
    7. Back to layers panel. Cntl-shft-a to deselect. Change layer mode to linear light. Adjust opacity.
    8. Duplicate sphere glow layer. Lock alpha channel (little checkerboard icon at the top of the layers panel).
    9. Select foreground color, use eyedropper to select a color from the picture. Drag the new color onto the layer. Adjust the layer mode, to burn or linear burn.
  8. Adjust the focus and blur for realism:
    1. Background layer: duplicate it, on duplicate filters>blur>lens blur. Adjust radius and highlights for desired effects.
    2. Hide background layers. Create new layer from visible. Turn off all the layers used to make the sphere.
    3. Use filters>blur>focus blur and adjust the parameters to give the sphere a more 3-d effect.

What do you do when winter-y weather sets in?

One-to-Three Photo Processing Challenge

I just started a new monthly photo processing challenge on my other web site, I’d love to have you join in: The challenge is simple: take one photo and get creative with it by processing it three different ways. Then share the results, with a link to this month’s post. I’ll do a start up post on the first of each month and at the end of the month I’ll do a round up, so we can all share in the creativity and fun.

Here’s my November 2020 contribution:

How to get the looks above:

For the black and White I used the GIMP’s mono-mixer tool to make the greens darker and the reds lighter.

I created a swirled abstract of the image then overlaid it using a layer mask. The directions for swirling a photo in the GIMP are in this post: Putting a twist on it using the GIMP. (That post contains a link to directions for doing the effect in Photoshop.) I overlaid the twirled image on the basic image using the soft light blend mode and a layer mask.

My third creation simply applied the “waterpixels” filter in the GIMP. (Found in the Filters>Artistic sub-menu).


Since having to isolate due to the pandemic, last spring, I’ve been doing a lot of experimentation with photo processing and I thought it might be fun to share some of the things I’ve discovered and see what others are doing.

I’m hosting the challenge on the other site to try and keep my skills.

Link to the One-to-Three Photo Processing Challenge.

Store signs in black and white

As I mentioned in an earlier post I’ve been experimenting with black and white photo processing. I’ve also been trying to get my photos a bit better organized. These two have come together for Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge this week: some photos from trips I made to China, specifically Shandong Province, over the years, focusing on the signs on store front signs.

I used Nik Silver Efex Pro, an older version of it that I got some times ago, while it was a free plug-in for the GIMP. I think you have to pay for Nik now.

If you click on any of the pictures it will expand and you can scroll through them at a larger size. Some of them got quite small in the tiled gallery.

Twirled, flipped and blended

I see a psychedelic butterfly…what do you see?
Abstract pattern formed by using zoom motion blur, pinch and whirl distortion, transformation and blending modes in the GIMP.
I see a stylized waterlily…what do you see?
Deep purple clematis flower in full bloom.
Original photo.

Again I had great fun with Bren of Brashley photography’s Twirling Tuesday challenge. You should pop over to her site to see the lovely mandala like art she made from a yellow rose. It is always amazing to see what pops out of a fairly standard picture when one starts to play.

Blend modes

I’ve been having tremendous fun ever since I discovered twirling, many thanks to Bren of Brashley Photography and her Twirling Tuesday. In addition to just plain fun, it’s been a great help as I try to come to grips with the blend modes in the GIMP (they are the same in Photoshop). It is amazing how many different effects one can get from one photo.

Taking this photo of a peachy-orange deciduous azalea:

The two spun up layers are these:

Using different blend modes there are a stunning number of very different effects, here are some examples:

Then layering the original onto the different blended spirals using different blend modes you can get even more effects, including these rather trippy ones:

I find it fascinating, fun and rather relaxing to take a picture and see how many different looks I can get.

If you want to give it a try Bren’s post has directions for doing the twirling in Photoshop and my post Putting a twist on it using the GIMP has directions for using the GIMP (which is open-source=free).