Smith Cemetery, Vallonia, Indiana – Step by Step to Final Print – Update August 6, 2015

While digging through some recently found boxes of negatives and prints, I came across this Polaroid Type 55 negative of the Smith Cemetery in Vallonia, Indiana made in November of 1993.  I have no idea why this was not with my other 4″x5″ negatives.  Possibly, I had kept it separate to ensure I printed it, but that never happened.  I really like this photograph, the perspective, the angel, the dried out grass and weeds that have gone dormant, thanks to the frost that signals the oncoming winter.  I especially like the Indiana sky, with its random wispy clouds, that is both subtle and abstract.

Original scan, normalized

Original scan, normalized

I thought it might be interesting to go through the steps that will take this scan to the final “expressive print,” which is what I visualized when I inwardly reacted to the scene, and decided to photograph it.  During this period, I was studying and immersing myself in the concept of Equivalence, as originally brought forth by Alfred Stieglitz and then expounded upon by Minor White.  This photograph was made as a result of that philosophy. The scan shown above has had its levels normalized, that is, I’ve made the photograph contain only the light that is actually found in the photograph.  Nothing else has been done to it.  The input levels, from photoshop, looks like this: Original Scan Levels Note that, even though this is a monochrome photograph, I work with it in 24 bit color to ensure the best quality file.  I use Adobe Photoshop Elements as a digital darkroom.  That is, I work within the same realm and direction as I used to in the wet darkroom making silver prints.

Next up, stage by stage adjustments to the photograph.

Update – March 24, 2015
The first thing that I did was to go over the file and get rid of all dust and imperfections using the clone tool and the spot healing tool.  I brought up the two clouds to the left of the statue by slightly dodging highlights.  This will make the clouds stand out in the final print.  I want more local contrast in the foreground within the dead weeds and dormant grasses, so I slightly burned the shadows and dodged the highlights.  This gives the entire area more detail and texture.  But, I was careful to not go overboard and make the area look unnatural.  Finally in this installment, I burned the dark fence in a bit to get it to stand out more, giving it more detail, especially going toward the fence’s vanishing point.

Adjust clouds, foreground and fence

Adjust clouds, foreground and fence

Next up, exposure and contrast adjustments.

Update – July 3, 2015
The highlights in the photograph are where I want them to be.  They are good values and hold good detail.  The angel has the highest value, which is exactly what I visualized when I made the image.

I pulled the middle and shadow tones down just a little to give the highlights more local contrast.  This especially helped the weeds and dormant grasses to continue to have more detail.  And, the middle tones in the stone below the angel now have just a very slightly darker values giving it more detail.

The edges were burned in just a little bit to give the photograph more presence.  And, I burned in the stone at the base of the fence corner so it wasn’t so bright and prevalent.

Next up, we are getting close to the final “print.”  I will have to decide if there any more details to attend to.

Adjustment of tones and contrast, burning edges

Adjust tones and contrast, burn edges

Update – August 6, 2015

After living with the photograph for a while and evaluating the possibilities of what would make a fine finished print, I made the following minor adjustments:

Brought down darker areas on the statue for more local contrast.

Burned in concrete fence base more so it didn’t draw one’s eye away from the total composition.

Brought up the highlights and brought down the shadows just a touch for more local contrast in the grasses and weeds outside the fence.

Inside the fence, slightly darkened the middle tones of the grasses.

Brought down the vanishing point to give it more definition.

This wraps up the process of coming up with the final print for this special photograph from my archive and here is the “final print.”  (Click on the photograph to enlarge.)

Smith Cemetery Final Print

One comment

  1. Darin Davis

    I visited there about a year and a half ago and would like to actually acquire permission to go on the property and take pics. I’m VERY much a take photos and leave only footprints kind of guy. I’ve just always wanted to be able to take the time needed to photograph it better.. I was there only 7 min or so, before I figured I’d better not be a trespasser.
    Any help in this matter would be great.
    I dont really intend on publishing or making a big deal of anything and I certainly wouldn’t want to disturb anything. I tour cemeteries very regularly and this one has always called out to me when I drove by.
    Thank you.. Darin.

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