Coloring Outside the Lines in Street and City Photography – Fstoppers | Ad On Picture

Coloring outside the lines is a good metaphor for when a photographer decides to take a leap outside the norm in a photographic genre.

It’s possible that you’ll be rejected by some members of the purist photography community when you apply new ideas to your work in this genre, but there’s still too much creative potential on the table to narrow down, just by the Playing rules, so for one, I’m a big fan of coloring outside the lines. An example of this is street photography – a genre I adore. If you really start a debate about rules in the street photography community, you’ll see “guidelines” pop up in the discussion. Street photography is often done with the understanding that it is meant to be journalistic in nature and is often discouraged from providing a glimpse of the moment in society in general with a lot of post-production (and don’t even think about staging anything!). As a journalist, I really understand that expectation, and generations of epic street photographers have done just that, producing images that I only dream of taking, but there’s too much thinking of “should I do this?” or “should I do that?” when the correct answer is almost always: do both.

do both? It seems such a simple answer because it is. Unless you truly desire the street credibility (a little pun intended) that comes with sticking to total photopurism, and you’re willing to miss all the creative possibilities that come with an open-minded and artistic mind the answer always no. It was a wonderful realization that my street sessions could and should be a mixture of journalistic methods and artistic intent, fluidly shifting between the two and, how fluidly, sometimes blending in different proportions. Spending a night on the town I get away with more keepers, and now it’s a mix of street photos and what could be categorized as art (which had strong undertones of street and urban photography).

The mere act of keeping my eyes open to the possibilities of both acts is almost like expanding your creative range, because rather than just being open to one type of photo opportunity, allowing yourself to think more fluently when working helps, too see how many options there really are at your fingertips. Do you feel handicapped because your street photography has stalled? Think about your other options. Nobody ever said you can only do one thing.

One of my favorite ways to transform my street and cityscape work is to apply intentional blur through a variety of methods. Purists would suggest playing with slow shutter speeds first. After that, they might suggest “deliberate camera movement” or ICM as a good option to play with creative methods in urban work, and that’s true, but as someone who really enjoys finding out how well I can match a photo to my artistic vision post-processing, these are just two of the tools in my bag. Other excellent methods for applying blur with artistic intent are multiple exposure (either in camera or post) and, my favorite, a combination of some or all. The nature of tools like Photoshop for artists can be likened to superpowers, especially when used responsibly.

The Path Blur tool in Photoshop is a source of overflowing creative possibilities when done well, and the strong lines found in urban textures lend themselves very well to applying blur with artistic intent. On my recent trip to the city, where I often take photographs, I decided to transform the towering buildings around me into more futuristic, sometimes abstract, scenes. Blade Runner even comes to mind when looking at some of the more dramatic and moody images, and the process of creating them was less complicated than the average non-Photoshop adept would assume.

At first I kept my eyes peeled for scenes that I thought would lend themselves well to the ultimate vision I had for them, and after getting into town for a few hours I always come up with a few good options back. Once settled into Edit mode, I start by choosing an appropriate image for the process and making some basic adjustments in Adobe Lightroom to tweak contrast, curves and saturation, and then export it to Photoshop. I immediately duplicate the background layer so that I only work on the duplicate and the original remains.

Under the Filters tab, a subcategory called Blur Galleries contains the path blur tool and clicking on it will take you to a new screen. Here you first adjust the direction of the blur with the blue line, which you can delete and replace or simply adjust to your liking. I went with vertical alignment to match the building lines. The sliders on the right change the intensity and appearance of the blur, and you can easily tweak them to your liking once your blue direction line is set correctly. Once the blur is the way you want it, click OK to return to the main screen and the blur will be applied. Next we make sure that only the desired areas of the image get the path blur.

This is done with a layer mask that you want to invert after applying it. Instead of painting away the blur, let’s paint it where we want it by applying white to the layer mask. After creating and inverting the layer mask on your top layer, the blur completely disappears and is effectively covered by the mask. Then I take a brush and leave the Opacity and Flow at 100% and start painting the blur onto the tops of the tallest building in the scene. After adding some blur at the top, I reduce the brush flow by 50% and start painting the blur even deeper. I repeat this process one more time or as many times as needed to create the effect of a gradual phase between the blurred and non-blurred areas of the image.

Ultimately, the creative effect of intentional blurring is clear for scenes like this, but be careful not to overdo the effect lest you fall into the trap of using techniques only as a trend rather than the right tool it can be .

This is just one example of how you can broaden your perspective, how you can take a genre of photography and create it in the way that you find best for your art.

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