I've been having a great deal of fun lately revisiting old photographs and even a few new ones with a new set of eyes and aided by a few new tools: Lightroom, Topaz and Photmatix. I can see now that I've been, pretty much, a purist at heart - at least with regard to my photography; the closer to "natural", the better. However, these new (to me) tools have enabled me to do some pretty "jaw dropping" things with, what I previously considered, marginal photographs.
It's quite the rush when I start tweaking a photo that I've seen for years in my collection and see it morph into something new and exciting. Subtle details lost in a (relatively) low resolution jpeg just jump into view and add entirely new dimensions to the image. Of course, the possibilities are even more profound with a 20 MB RAW image from my newer camera.
I guess it started when I began reading about HDR (High Dynamic Range) images where multiple, bracketed, exposures are merged together to bring out the details that regular photographs sacrifice to obtain an, overall, properly exposed image. I downloaded LR Enfuse and then found Photmatix to help me merge the physical images and reduce ghosting artifacts. However, they also include tone mapping tools that adjust the end result to be more realistic - or not. Some of these effects make a photograph more like a watercolor or acrylic painting while others add a more popular "grunge" feel. Putting the right effect on the right photo and making some fine adjustments is literally, an eye-opening experience.
While I appreciate the HDR process and effect, just taking a "flat" image and pulling details out of an overcast sky is probably my favorite thing to do now. It can add "drama" to the photograph and pull you right into the image. The irony is that it was always there - at some level. This picture was just that, flat and unimaginative. The composition was good and the subject was "classic" but it just didn't go anywhere. When I started playing with it in Lightroom, it started to come alive so I pushed it just a little more with the Clarity adjustment and the sky jumped out at me and it became a completely different picture. A few more changes in color saturation and luminance with a slight bump in sharpness and "ouch!" - it looked so good it almost hurt. The final touch was a , relatively, heavy vignette to add a little more drama to the sky and focus the eye on the barn as the subject.
My takeaway from all of this has been that art is not just all around you in life - it's also there in what you've already captured, just waiting to be seen in a different light.