Join Tim Grey for an in-depth discussion in this video The backstory, part of Enhancing a Photograph in Photoshop: Prayer Sticks.
A few years ago, I spent about a week in Japan with most of the trip spent in Kyoto. There, I visited a variety of different temples and shrines, as well as some of the zen gardens that make Kyoto and all of Japan really, quite famous. I also had the opportunity to visit a bamboo forest and I saw the macaque monkeys in the hills above Kyoto. But the trip was book-ended by Tokyo. I arrived in Tokyo and spent a full day there before taking the bullet train down to Kyoto and my first evening there, of course, was rather exciting.
I was a little bit jet-lagged but the sights were quite incredible. But my first full day I set out from the hotel into the busy city of Tokyo. And one of the things that surprised me quite a bit was that mixed in with all the hustle and bustle, all the big buildings, were many Buddhist temples and shrines. I found this fascinating. I would be walking down the busy street, I would look down a small alleyway and see a shrine at the end of that alleyway. Or sometimes a shrine in the middle of a courtyard between several high rise buildings.
At one point, I found a small cemetery and I always find cemeteries to be quite fascinating. I enjoy photographing in cemeteries, though it does make me feel a little bit self-conscious. And especially, in this circumstance, I was in a foreign country where I don't speak the language. And I wasn't especially familiar with all of the customs and so I was trying to be very respectful but at the same time taking this piece of culture. So I spent a little bit of time in this very small cemetery and the cemetery itself was adjacent to a court yard.
And there was several shrines in that court yard, I only spent about ten minutes total time in that small area. And I only captured 27 images during that short time. That compares to almost 3,500 photos during the entire week I spent in Japan. So there I was, in a foreign country, in a cemetery, feeling a little bit self conscious, but capturing images. And then, an elderly woman got my attention, and she waved me over and I thought for sure that I was going to be in trouble.
And worse yet, I would have absolutely no idea what she was saying to me. But she motioned me towards the center of the courtyard and then led me up the stairs to one of the shrines and pointed inside the shrine. And said the only English word I heard from her during this exchange, and that was, judgement. Now, I gatherered that the statue that was inside, since it looked rather menacing, was some sort of deity based on judgment. But I didn't really know. And I wasn't sure what she was trying to communicate to me. But then she started to guide me through the motions of praying. She showed me how you would ring the bell, or clap your hands in order to get the Buddha's attention, and how you would make an offering and bow and make your prayer.
And the experience really stuck with me and in fact, every time I tell the story I get goose bumps. Here I was half way around the world. I didn't speak the language and a woman was communicating with me using just gestures teaching me how to pray, teaching me a piece of her culture. It was a really wonderful experience, and one of the highlights of my trip. And in fact, the very first photo that I captured when I arrived at that cemetery was one that I felt, when I pressed the shutter release button, was going to be a very good image. And actually, it turns out, it is one of my favorite images, partly because of the experience I had, but also partly because of the adjustments I applied to the image.
When I returned to the hotel that evening, I took a look at the image. I downloaded all of my images from the day, and this was that image. And I wasn't all that thrilled with it. I really felt that it was a disappointment. I thought it was going to be such a great image when I captured it, and it just didn't seem to resonate. I wasn't sure if it was just because now I was removed from that incredible experience, or if the image just wasn't all that good to begin with. But I decided that since I had had such an incredible experience that day, and since I really thought this image had potential, that I would spend some time working with it.
And I took a path that I normally don't in most cases when I'm working on an image in Photoshop I'm trying to make it look relatively accurate. I don't tend to apply widely creative adjustments to my images, more often than not it's just a straight forward photo with a little bit optimization. But in this case I went a little bit more creative not wide mind you but it did apply to a number of different effects. I converted to black and white applied a sepia tone, vignetted the image and did some clean up work. The result was an image that I'm very, very happy with.
And it remains one of my favorite images, not only because I enjoy the image but because it provides great memories of a wonderful experience. At the time I captured this image I actually had no idea what I was photographing. These were markers that were placed in large part near grave sites, but these particular markers were just lined up along a fence, all stacked up against the fence. I later learned that these are prayer sticks, that are used to commemorate the death of those who are buried in the cemetary. And that they were stacked up here awaiting ritual burning and that knowledge made the image all that more special to me.
Knowing that I'd had a profound experience at this location and that these objects that I had photographed were very important to a number of people.
- The back story
- RAW processing
- Saving the initial image
- Converting to black-and-white
- Adding a color tint
- Enhancing contrast with Curves
- Cleaning up the image
- Finishing the image