74th Annual Iowa State Fair Photography Salon

Big show, long title! This year is the 74th annual photography show at the Iowa State Fair located in the Cultural Building at the fairgrounds. Photographers from all over Iowa and other states throughout the US enter photos every year for a chance at getting even just one photo on display and possibly an award. This year 1,157 photographers entered a total of 3,678 photos according to this years photography salon booklet. 862 of the 3,600+ photos entered were selected to be on display at this year’s fair, roughly 23%. 181 awards were handed out for the 31 classes, roughly 21% of all photos on display or 5% of all photos entered. What’s more impressive though are the 4 individuals this year who have all 4 photos they entered on display–a feat with a statistic of 0.3% of all photographers that entered! Now that is something to strive for!

This year, I entered 4 images and have 2 on display. One of the images won 3rd place in the Plants, Flowers & Trees black &white class! I started entering photos in 2010 and I’ve been lucky enough to have had photos on display every year I’ve entered.

I promised a photo edit post as my next blog entry, so I thought it would be timely to share a little bit about my 2 photos that will be on display at the fair this year.

Shades of Autumn

I am in love with the Nik collection! I started using Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro about 6 months ago and have never looked back. The Nik collection has sped up my editing process and has given me the tools I have been looking for that are so easy to use! There is a lot less fine tuning that I have to do by hand that used to take an hour or more. With me taking graduate coursework now I have less time to work on photos, so when I do it’s nice to have tools at my disposal that are super easy to use and do not limit my creative freedom. Enough plugging about the Nik collection, onto the first image.

Shades of Autumn is an image that I entered into the black and white Places & Landscapes class and is on display at the Iowa State Fair this year. What I liked about this image were the many layers of trees and bushes building up the hillside to the mountain where rays of sunshine filtered through the clouds. I took this image last fall at the Dallas Divide overlook near Ridgway, Colorado. I toyed with this image a bit at first in color, but the black and white version really set the mood for me. Here is the step by step editing process as I remember it.


Original image taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T2i (550D)
ISO-100, 44mm, f/5.0, 1/250sec

With all of my photos, I start off with Auto Contrast and decide whether or not I like the effects. Whether I do or don’t, my next step is to check the Levels in Photoshop. I always want to see how the light is balanced across the image and if adjusting the dark side or light side will improve the image. The screenshots below show how the levels looked before I adjusted them and what I moved the black and white triangles to. A well exposed image will have a nice broad “hill”, so to speak, across the graph. Peaks at either tail, mean you have areas of the image that are too dark (on the left) or are blown out (on the right). Using the in-camera histogram as you take pictures can help you keep an eye on this. Because the drop-offs of the histogram “hill” were somewhat far from the ends (0 and 255), I moved them more toward where the slope starts to head up the hill. This took out a lot of the haze that was present in the situation and can quickly improve the look of the photo.


The additional adjustments I made to finish the color version of this image included a touch of tonal contrast in Color Efex Pro to bring out some of the dynamic range in the shadows and midtones. This gave the trees and shrubs on the hillside a little more definition. My final adjustment for the color image was Unsharp Mask. I like unsharp mask to clear up the image a little bit more and to get rid of any remaining haze that I might not want. My settings for Unsharp Mask are generally as follows: Amount 5-12%, Radius 36 pixels, and Threshold 0 levels. I will make a note here though that if you are using multiple tools in Color Efex it may not be necessary to use Unsharp Mask. Many of the tools in Color Efex seem to take care of any reason why I would need to use Unsharp Mask.


The final color edit after using levels, tonal contrast in Color Efex Pro and a small Unsharp Mask adjustment.

If I have an image I like, I check to see if black and white would suit the image better than the color capture. This is usually out of curiosity and can yield surprises. I selected the Silver Efex Pro option under the Filters menu and started through the list of presets. I like checking out the presets to give me a starting point. For this image, I really liked the High Structure (harsh) preset. I was really able to see all of the layers of the image across the trees and shrubs on the hillsides building toward the mountain. But what I really liked about this is how well it brought out the sun’s rays shining through the clouds. It wasn’t overdone, but it was just enough to be noticeable and have it draw your eyes down to the area being lit up by the sun on the far hillside. I used this preset as is and then checked my levels again after applying this effect. Many times I like to enhance the darks just a bit more after using Silver Efex Pro.


Screenshot of Silver Efex Pro from within Photoshop


The final black and white image
Print available here


Still Standing

I took the next photo of a gnarly old bristlecone pine tree at Dead Horse Point State Park. I couldn’t help but think about potential star time lapses when looking at this old tree! It’s easy to get to and up on a little hill so it’d be easy to get a vantage point from below the tree. I just loved this tree standing there by itself and it really worked with the clouds that day. I knew immediately that I’d convert it to black and white when I took it. This photo won 3rd place in the black and white Plants, Flowers & Trees category at this year’s Iowa State Fair!


Original image taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T2i (550D)
ISO-100, 36mm, f/13, 1/250sec

This photo was really quite simple to edit. I did use the Auto Contrast function for this image because it lightened up the rocks and the sky a bit. I did not adjust any levels here as I did with the previous image because adjusting them had too much of an immediate negative effect on the image. There are not very many dark areas on the image so adjusting the dark side of the levels just made everything too dark too fast. I didn’t keep a color edit of this image because I was going straight to black and white. I don’t do much to prepare and image for Silver Efex Pro processing, usually just a levels adjustment. In Silver Efex I chose the Fine Art (high key, framed) preset to start with. This preset brought out the detail and patterns in the tree’s bark, however it left the sky a bit too light. I need to separate the clouds out from the sky a bit more.


To do this, I decreased the Red, Green, Cyan, Blue and Violet levels under Sensitivity within Silver Efex Pro. I applied a hint of copper toning because I liked the way it looked better than straight up black and white. I clicked OK to apply the adjustments and went back to the Levels histogram in Photoshop. I moved the dark triangle a touch to the right to enhance the darker regions so the clouds popped a bit more.  I applied the crop in Lightroom as I do with all of my images. And there you have it!

Bristlecone Pine

The final image
Print available here




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