The last place anyone expects to find beauty is their garage floor, but that is exactly where I found the subject of today’s post. In a previous post, Cameras Don’t Matter, I explained how the greatest tool in a photographer’s arsenal is the art of seeing – the ability to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Today’s post is a perfect example of that.
LEARNING TO SEE
Those of us who live where winter pays an annual visit are all too familiar with the salts and chemicals that are sprayed on the roads to melt the accumulating ice. Although these precautions are necessary to keep our roads safe, the end result is ours cars, streets and garage floors take a beating as the snow melts leaving behind a crusty white residue. Is all of this a nuisance? Absolutely. Is it ugly? Well, that depends on how you see it…
Let’s take for example my garage floor. Most people would look at my garage floor and see this:
Eeew – nothing appealing here, right? …Are you sure?
Imagine for a moment that you were standing in my garage looking at the scene above. Now I want you to close your eyes and imagine: What would you hear? What would you smell? What would feel? On closer examination, you would notice the sound of dripping water coming from the thawing cars and leaking roof. You would smell an odd, earthy mixture of chemicals and wet concrete. You would feel the cold moist air, and hints of frost on your fingertips. What would all of these sensations be telling you? They would be telling you change is happening, and maybe you should take a closer look – take some time to find out what is really going on at this moment. Upon closer examination, you would then discover that Mother Nature is creating some amazing crystal formations on the garage floor where the melted snow has evaporated leaving a salty residue:
Aren’t these crystallized patterns fabulous? Intricate, lacy and full of life, they make for wonderful abstract photography.
MOTHER NATURE GETS A FACELIFT
While the image of salt crystals above is pretty amazing, it is also…well, a bit ho-hum. The monochromatic palette actually disguises some of the delicate layering of the crystals. To bring out the hidden beauty in this image, I applied a Gradient Map adjustment layer in Photoshop (for those of you unfamiliar with Gradient Maps, watch this easy-to-follow video for a quick tutorial).
Here is the result:
Using the Gradient Map in Photoshop, I was able to add custom colorization to the various tones in the original image. This not only added depth, but also added an element of surprise, which makes the viewer wonder exactly what it is they are looking at. All of a sudden my ugly garage floor has transformed into a palette for abstract art reminiscent of images from the Hubble telescope.
Here are some more examples of this transformation (click on images for a larger view):
Aren’t these wonderful? And to think this was all made possible because I took the time to really see, to look beyond the ordinary and find the extraordinary. When I looked at my garage floor, I didn’t just see the sloppy mess that so many others would see. I saw a palette for my creativity. And creativity, my friend, is a key to great photography.
TIME TO PRACTICE
Now it is your turn. I challenge you to go out and find the ugliest thing imaginable and discover the beauty in it. Not only will this exercise stretch your creativity, it will enhance that most important of all photography tools: your ability to see.
I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may – light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful.
– John Constable