Posted by: kerryl29 | November 21, 2011

Into the Archives

I’m something of a pack rat when it comes to images.  Sure, I dump what I consider to be entirely worthless as soon as I see it–occasionally right off the compact flash card in the camera, moments after I’ve clicked the shutter.  But when it comes to images that have what I consider to be promise, I hang on to the RAW files indefinitely.  Sometimes these images present post-processing challenges and every once in awhile one of these challenges proves to be more than I can adequately handle at the time when I first attempt to work with the file.

Otter Lake Dawn, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Not long after posting a blog entry detailing an editing technique I’ve developed for dealing with certain types of images, it occurred to me that this approach might work well for a number of older images–ones I’ve never been entirely happy with in terms of post-processing.  And that realization led me to revisit other old images that I felt would benefit from my overall image editing development.  I’m simply better–more skilled, more experienced, with more tools at my disposal–in terms of my ability to work with the digital darkroom than I used to be.

Anderson Falls, Indiana

I’ve spent time over the past two or three weeks slowly working on these images and have gradually discovered others that I felt would benefit from a rework.  I anticipate taking my time with the inventory process; I’m sure I’ll find other photos that would benefit from relatively newly acquired knowledge and skills.

Aspen Grove Dawn, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

All of the images accompanying this entry have been recently reworked from scratch.   The Anderson Falls and Living History Farm images were both reworked using a variation of the method linked above; both are images with extremely bright highlights and what amount to underexposed mid-tones, thereby being perfect for the technique described in the linked tutorial entry.

Living History Farm, Kings Mountain State Park, South Carolina

The other images were processed using a variety of techniques–manual blends (some using gradient masks) of multiple images, advanced single image editing and HDR.

Lake View, Crowder's Mountain State Park, North Carolina

The truth of the matter is that I should have realized, prior to this epiphany following the exposure tutorial post, that post-processing skills are dynamic and progressing in this area may produce the capability to rescue past images.   On the very first trip I took after moving from film to digital capture–to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula more than eight years ago–I dipped my toe in the water of multiple exposure blending.  On the first morning of the trip I took a pair of exposures of a spectacular sunrise at the Lake of the Clouds Overlook at Porcupine Mountains State Park.  I spent more than a year fiddling with the blend of the two frames and was never able to obtain satisfactory results.

Cades Cove Morning, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Approximately three years after snapping the shutter I returned to the Lake of the Clouds exposures, armed with a new arsenal of skills and far more experience with Photoshop (and a couple of other relevant pieces of software).  The result, shown below, has served as the entry image on my Web site since I launched 4 1/2 years ago.

Lake of the Clouds Sunrise, Porcupine Mountains State Park, Michigan

The moral of the story is, don’t give up on your old images simply because you don’t possess the skills to make the most of your photos at the time of your first attempt.  Save them and take another look after you’ve gained some additional post-processing proficiency.  There are few experiences that compare with seeing old, nearly forgotten gems rise, Lazarus-like, from the dusty regions of your hard drive.  It may not be quite as satisfactory as creating exciting new imagery but, if it isn’t, it’s awfully close.



  1. Some very nice images here, Kerry. Glad you decided to hang onto them 🙂

    • Thanks, Andy…me too. 🙂

  2. You transformed these challenges into a collection of keepers Kerry, especially the last two. Valuable lessons learned when technology and our improving post processing skills ‘catch up’ to our vision.

    I found a negative in my archives early this year that my intuition told me would have made a great image if only the negative wasn’t in such terrible condition. The neg in question was shot more than 40 years ago in Saigon. The lab really trashed it, and their print was a disgrace. I had dismissed this image as beyond hope but something nagged at me so…

    I decided to see if I could rescue the image. After many hours of mind numbing clean up, a little dodging and burning and carefully working with curves, the image finally came to life. I posted it as “A Decisive Moment Redux: Saigon 1966” back in March and made a nice 5 x 7 print that hangs on my wall.

    I’ll bet it felt good to rescue those images Kerry. Trust our intuition and never give up.


    • John–yeah, there was almost a sense of vindication (See? THIS is why I kept these files all these years!) upon completing the process.

      (I found the image you referred to in your blog’s archives. I’ll comment on it there.)

  3. I’m especially taken with your aspen grove photograph; the sky looks like it’s on fire.

    Steve Schwartzman

    • Thanks. What may be worth noting–and perhaps this fits in with my entry on Serendipitous landscape photography–I didn’t head out that particular morning with the intention of photographing sunrise. I was facing in the opposite direction of the grove in the image, waiting for the light to photograph a stand of aspens when I noticed a pinkish tint. And when I looked behind me I saw more or less what you see in the Aspen Grove Dawn shot. I scrambled to rotate my tripod (and myself), fairly quickly composed the image, took multiple exposures (this was a major dynamic range problem, as you might imagine)–several sequences of multiple exposures, in fact–and within a couple of minutes, the light had changed and the shot was gone.

      I spent quite a bit of time fiddling with this image in post-processing several years ago and ultimately gave up unsatisfied. I just returned to it about two weeks ago and I would guess it took me about 30 minutes to properly optimize it this time around.

  4. […] I deliberately describe this as relearning because I have most certainly learned it before (as this article, posted on my own blog in November of 2011, attests).  It’s noteworthy just how often it can pay […]

  5. Beautiful pictures!

    • Thanks very much!

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