i won, i won!

After two rounds of judging it’s now official. My image of a chalk dudleya (Dudleya pulverulenta) is the winner in a contest looking for an image to use to promote the upcoming California Native Plant Week, which this year is April 17 to 23. The competition was held by the San Diego Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, and the winning image will be used locally in publicity and on t-shirts and who knows what else.

Woohoo! I’m jazzed!

To the right is the winning image, Chalk Dudley, Budding Out.

Down below I detail the steps I took to turn a snapshot into this final photo.

To the left is the original image that I prettied up for the contest, basically a snapshot for this blog that I took for the February Garden Bloggers Bloom Day meme. It was a few minutes before sunset when I took the photo, within the “golden hour” that you hear photographers talk about sometimes. During that time of day colors can look more saturated, and the color balance of the afternoon (or morning) sunlight shifts to the colors towards the warm golds and oranges and reds. I’d like to say it was intentional, but that was the only time I had to go out and take pictures. Sometimes things just work out.

The first modification I made was to crop the image. The original photo had the 2:3 (2 wide, 3 high) aspect ratio that my Canon Rebel camera takes. The contest, however, asked for an image that would be 8 1/2 by 11 inches, which is more like an aspect ratio of about 2:2.259. That meant I had to prune the image in the vertical dimension.

There was dark space on the left side that in the end I thought was a little distracting, so I cut that out. And the lower left emerging bloom stalk was a bit out of focus, so I placed it on the edge of the photo, moving attention away from it. Okay, so I found all sorts of reasons to crop it horizontally.

But finding a way to crop it vertically was tough. I placed the central rosette higher in the photo so that it wasn’t a plain boring formally balanced composition. Still, the photo wanted to be just a little bit taller than the rules allowed for, so this modification seemed more like an amputation. I wasn’t 100% happy with the result, but I thought it wasn’t too egregious.

The final touches were to use Levels in Photoshop to lower the white point and raise the black point–effectively upping the contrast–and to change the center point to brighten the image. Last, I applied some gentle sharpening and used the Burn tool to gently darken the edges and some spots of the image that seemed too bright, to draw attention to the parts that were most interesting. These final changes are subtle, but distinct if your carefully compare the top image and this third image.

But the contest also wanted an image that worked well in black and white as well as color. Here’s what you get if you drain all the color out of the photo. It’s okay graphically, but I thought it was pretty flat looking.

And here’s the final grayscale image after I played with the contrast, modified the black and white points, sharpened everything, and darkened the edges of the photo using the Photoshop Burn tool. As much as I like the delicate blues and greens of the color photo, in a lot of ways I like this version even better.

There you have it, from snapshot to winning masterpiece (yah right…) Anyway, I’m happy, and I can hardly wait to see people walking around town with this image on their t-shirts.

35 thoughts on “i won, i won!”

  1. Congratulations, and I can see why your photo was chosen. It’s a really arresting image, and you cropped it just right. I’ll take a t-shirt!

    1. Maggie, thanks for the good wishes. I should post the image I wanted to enter instead but didn’t because the cropping would have broken the rules. Sometimes I obsess a bit too much over what’s contained in three-eighths of an inch in a photo. I’ll post a link if the tee becomes available online.

  2. Congrats! That’s going to be a great moment…when you first see your image on a complete stranger. I wonder will you just smile and walk on? Or will you find yourself blurting out “that’s my photograph!”…

    1. Loree, thank you. I’ll have to see how I react. I suspect I’ll be pushing them real hard at my society’s Earth Day booth!

  3. That’s wonderful, James! You got fame all right. I can see the bit of golden in the photo that photographers love so much and to me it looks like it’s holding a secret when you look in the darker center of the dudleya, which it actually does! It will soon reveal a really lovely colored flower in May or June, one of my favorites.
    I had fun entering a Cool Spring Press photo contest last year and won with a seemingly ordinary photo of a milkweed pod. hahaha That’s neat that you entered and WON!

    1. Sue, thank you. Coming from another photographer, that’s a fine compliment. I do like how you can take a basic photograph and play up some of its basic qulities. Magic and mystery are wonderful things to work with. And CONGRATULATIONS on your milkweed photo! Some of my favorite photos are of ordinary things, extraordinarily observed.

  4. Congratulations. It’s a beautiful photo, in color and in grayscale. And one of our under-appreciated native plants too, I think. It’ll be nice to see those on some t-shirts.

    1. Thanks, Ryan. The dudleyas a quarter mile from me are easy to miss–except for the couple months when they pop into bloom…which should be happening withing six weeks or so. I can hardly wait.

  5. Congratulations! I do think it’s a wonderful image, and works well in color and grayscale. Will it be available in Cafepress? Our group makes their T-Shirts etc. available for sale, and I’m still happy about the sweatshirt I got from the tour 2 years ago.

    (We make 25 cents an item, but figure it’s a promotional thing).

    Anyway, I might be a T-Shirt if it were easy to get…

    1. TM, thank you. I don’t know the plans for how the shirts will be made available, but I’ll let everyone know. I like the Cafepress idea. From what I know about them, you’re able to set the item’s price, potentially netting more than a quarter’s worth of profit for the organization and a couple dollars for the site. But the promo side is the main thing, for sure.

    1. EE, of course, I’ll have to walk up to the person and congratulate them on their impeccable taste! See–we have some nice crassulaceae in California too!

  6. Woohoo indeed, James! Congratulations – that’s a really stunning photo of the Chalk Dudleya. Can’t wait for the launch of Cal Native Plant Week and the many local events on calendar celebrating our native flora. Now, where can we get us some of those T-shirts?

    1. Arleen, thanks! Do you have things going on up there too? The one thing that didn’t happen down here in conjunction with the week was a native garden tour. Everyone is having spring garden tours, and it’s hard to build momentum for another one. Next year, hopefully…

  7. Congratulations! It’s a fantastic photo. Much as I like the black-and-white version, though, I hope they use the color version as often as possible, because the subtlety of those pale blues and greens is really too perfect to be missed.

    1. Gayle, I’m glad you like the photo! Color…black and white…they really do different things, don’t they?

  8. Awesome. Awesome for winning and it’s an awesome photo. I feel like it belongs more on my wall than a tshirt, but a tshirt would be cool too. Nice little tweaks too to bring out the beauty of the dudleya. It is a really cool plant. Congratulations on a well deserved win.

    1. Brad, thanks. Wall art and t-shirt art really are different worlds, and I think I agree with you that I think I’d rather have this image on a wall. You lose a lot on a t-shirt.

    1. Thank you Colleen! I’m humbled. Still I think I’m just too ADD to be focused on the wonderful California natives. There are amazing plants from all over, and I want to explore beyond the state boundaries. (And there are some amazing California native bloggers out there–just check out some of my left sidebar!)

  9. Congratulations, James! It’s a beautiful image; and as someone who is trying to learn how to make the most of my Canon Rebel, I very much appreciated the tutorial.

    1. Jean, thank you! If anything I think this shows that what your camera gives you can be a starting point, not the final destination. Of course it helps to have good material to start with, and you Rebel should give you quite a bit of that.

  10. Thanks for talking us through your process. I would have been thrilled to have gotten the shot you started with, but it was great to get in on the tweaking and the decision-making along the way to Victory!

    1. Ricki, I liked the original photo, too, but then had fun playing with it. Digital darkroom rocks!

    1. Denise, sometimes I worry that the golden hour photos get to be too much of a cliche–a commercial New York photographer acquaintance would always get out his yellow gels when he didn’t know how to make a scene look more inviting–but gosh I really do like how those photos can look, and so do a lot of others.

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