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  • William Hunton

Play That Photo Music

Friends of mine know that besides photography my other artistic passion is music, especially guitar. I have played music much longer than I have been photographing. I started flute lessons when I was nine years old. Alas! I was not destined to be another Galway or Ian Anderson. I took up guitar at age 14.

Three guitars on stands
My collection of guitars

I had only one formal guitar lesson my entire life. I learned to play by asking other musicians about their styles, and I learned "riffs" of songs, that I wanted to perform.

A "riff" is a passage of music, usually Rock 'n Roll, that repeats throughout a song or tune. A good example is the easily recognized introduction and repeated passage throughout in the Beatles song, "Ticket to Ride". Another is Keith Richards' riff on the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar". There are many devotees of "Keef" and his distinctive style and gear.

I know many guitarists who learn in the same way. Over time, they combine all the riffs, string them together if you will, into their own unique sound. I mostly play finger style guitar, but not as well as Tommy Emmanuel.

It occurred me that I am learning Photoshop and Lightroom "riffs"; that is combinations of repeatable controls and tools to accomplish specific tasks. In my musical analogy, a Photoshop "riff" is much the same as a Photoshop action or preset, and it is how I personally accomplish a task. In fact, for some of them I may be able to create either an action or a preset. However, some of the steps may have to be repeated, and there may be subtle nuances that an action or preset could not accomplish. There are thousands of combinations of Photoshop and Lightroom controls and tools. I cannot remember them all, but I can remember what I need. Instagram is a great place to find them.

For example, there are several ways to get clean color balance. It is very challenging when you have a color negative scanned to digital. Old film is even more of a challenge. When you convert it to a positive, there is always a color cast, specific to the film brand and speed, that must be corrected, as well as density adjustments that probably must be made.

Film is still alive, despite current supply issues. The example below is a recent photograph I made with 35mm Fujicolor film. I also have old negatives I am scanning and bringing back to life today in Photoshop. It is great fun.

For the photograph in this post, I used a Photoshop "riff" consisting of Layers, Filter>Blur>Average, and Levels>Middle Eyedropper. I learned it from an Instagram post by Jafar Frotan (@jafar_frotan). There are many photographers out there who know their tools well. Jafar Frotan is a photographer, and a true Photoshop savant whom you should follow.

Notice the clean colors and good flesh tones in the photo. It is free of almost all color cast, that I can see. The method of using the Blur>Average filter and the Levels layer to set middle gray is also much more accurate than I can make it manually taking the eye dropper tool and picking a middle gray or white.

Maybe you learn by solving problems. Perhaps you are a musician and you can appreciate the riff analogy. Maybe you learn better in a structured class. Post your comments. I'd love to read them.


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