My workroom is a mess at present. Usually I diligently clear it up after I´ve finished each project but just recently one project has run seamlessly into another and searching through the resultant chaos for anything has meant that while looking for one thing I´ve been totally distracted by finding something entirely unrelated. My most recent diversion came when, quite by chance, I discovered this photo in a folder hidden under piles of paper and magazines. It shows my husband, Herbert, (front right) crouched beside his older brother, Manfred who´s next to their cousin, Karl-Heinz. The young man at the back is his oldest brother, Wolfgang. Herbert seems to have a mental blackout regarding the other children in this photo and just says vaguely that they´re “probably” assorted cousins though they “may” be just friends. He does, however, remember who took the photo, namely a close family friend the children called Tante Luzie. More about her later. Here´s the original photo which I scanned at 300 dpi.
I like this photo for several reasons apart from the obvious. First of all it´s the background which I find fascinating. It may look as if it was taken in a studio with a backdrop but what looks artificial is actually the view from what the children used to call “Die Märchenwiese” which translates literally as The Fairy Tale Meadow and, believe me, it really has an enchanted atmosphere. I know because I´ve been there and it hasn´t changed much in the years since my husband was a little tot. Its high up in a clearing in the Spessart Forest, quite a climb, but worth it for the spectacular view of the surrounding hills and woodland. Another interesting feature is that all the boys in the foreground, apart from the little fellow in the sailor suit, are wearing so-called Lederhosen, the typical leather shorts of the Alpine regions and Bavaria. In the days before washing machines were considered essential these shorts must have been a blessing to busy mothers when dealing with messy little boys, the cleaning procedure being just to wait for the mud to dry before simply brushing it off. I´m amused to see that the little girl is wearing a light coloured dress with puff sleeves which must have been difficult to keep clean while battling her way through the forest to reach the clearing. Ditto the sailor suit and the smart outfit worn by Wolfgang. The excursion was obviously planned in advance for the sole purpose of taking this photo.
I find the photo striking as it stands. The very fact that it´s underexposed and faded adds to its vintage feeling of days gone by and the magical quality of the scenery. However, I still felt a need to add some contrast to the foreground while retaining at least some of the fading in the background. It was at this point that it dawned on me that this seemingly simple project was going to be quite tedious and time-consuming as the only way I could imagine doing this was by creating 2 layers and working on them separately. I do not enjoy making complicated extractions any more than you do. On the other hand there are people, mainly woman, who actually like ironing so maybe I´m wrong...Anyway, I digress. Before I could change my mind and restart my search through the chaos to find the project I´d originally planned, I gritted my teeth and made a rough extraction around the group in the foreground. I deliberately didn´t zoom in to do this otherwise I´d have been too meticulous and I´d have been at it all day! Then I feathered it and copied it onto a new layer.
I tackled the new layer first by increasing the contrast and altering the tone a little. After that I tidied up some of the lighter parts around the figures I´d missed during the extraction and cropped the photo to remove the distracting edges. At this point I also used the clone tool to disguise some of the white blotches in the background Here´s how it looked at this stage.
As you can see this brought out a lot of the detail in the foreground but then the background was still so faded that the figures looked like cardboard cut outs so I darkened the background using Curves, adjusted the tone a little, flattened it and ended up with this.
I suppose I could have been reasonably happy with this result but anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I just can´t leave well alone. Something bothered me about it so I went away and unpacked a parcel which had just arrived and when I looked at the photo half an hour later with fresh eyes it was immediately obvious what was wrong. It was simply too much like a discoloured black and white photo so I added the sepia photo filter at 15% rather than the default 25%....and voilà!
I´m still not entirely happy with it but I´ve kept the layers so I may tinker with it a bit more when I have the time. Right now I´m off to play with my new toy robot which has been charging its battery while I´ve been sitting here agonizing over what to inflict on this image next. I wish this little robot could do my extractions and/or my ironing but it won´t. What it will do is the next best thing. It´ll whiz around the house sweeping the floors and probably giving Dora a nervous breakdown in the process!
PS Almost forgot to mention Tante Luzie again. She was quite a character. I first met her shortly before our wedding and found her to be a delightfully eccentric and very sprightly 80 year-old. She always kept a hip flask somewhere about her person from which she took a nip of brandy every so often after which she invariably announced triumphantly in German, “Schnapps is good for cholera!” After the reception we all went back to my parent´s house where my mother was astonished when she walked past the open bathroom door to find Tante Luzie spraying her hair abundantly with air freshener. She didn´t have the heart to tell her and for the rest of the day the old lady went around taking swigs from her flask quite unaware of the fact that her hair was dripping wet and smelt strongly of pine disinfectant.