I Will Survive | A Grunge Collaboration   10 comments

There have been a few collaboration projects between photographers lately, usually revolving around HDR processing. I always find myself looking forward to the results, as they can serve to inform not only those readers who see the finals, but the contributors as well. Today, I think, we serve up another good example of this, along with a couple of surprises.

For those new to the idea: A few of us got together online and agreed to participate in the project. For each round, one person in the group provides a set of bracketed images, then each photographer applies their vision and processing skills to the set. The final image from each contributor, along with processing notes and other insights, are compiled and hosted on the blog site of whoever provided the set.

This week, it was my turn to provide the brackets for a project we call a “Grunge Collaboration.” Round 1 is here. Although the brackets can start with almost any character — a sunny landscape, even — in this collaboration we’re going for a gritty, grungy look in our results. Participants are James Brandon, Jerry Denham, Jim Denham, Jesse Pafundi, Chris Nitz, and myself, Rob Hanson. (But wait … that’s not all!)

This set of brackets came from my happenstance visit to Legend Hill Enterprises near Fredericksburg, Texas last April. Legend Hill is a buy-sell-trade business, according to signage on a large trailer near the road. Once you drive onto the property, you find yourself surrounded by literally hundreds of old, rusted pieces of farm equipment in various stages of decay, spread over many acres. After getting permission to shoot there, Susan trailed me in the truck while I stopped every few feet to click off more sets, acting like the proverbial kid in a candy store.

With a slight chin nod to Gloria Gaynor, I titled this set “I Will Survive.” It seemed fitting to me, as this formerly glorious beast was sitting amongst other pieces that had not been quite so lucky. It just needed a little quality love.

One note: When these projects first started, we posted the images without any narrative. Sometimes it’s good to let images stand on their own without commentary. It rather quickly becomes obvious that everyone approaches post-processing from a different perspective, and while that’s a beautiful thing, we’re left with only that one conclusion: Everyone has a different vision.

This week I’ve asked each contributor to share information about what they ‘see’ in the image, how it affected them, what they were thinking, and how that vision led to the choices they made in post-processing. It seems to me that we can all benefit by finding out more about this thought process as we consider each image, sort of like peeking into the mind of the photographer.

I hope this approach helps others, and if any readers have ideas on how this sort of project could be even more useful, please drop a comment and let us know. We’d love to hear your ideas. If you could ask a contributor any question, what would that question be?

We also have a special guest contributor joining us this week!  Read on to find out who jumped in, and to see his cut at the project. As he’s one of the true grunge meisters, I really admire his processing work and on a personal level I value his friendship, so I couldn’t resist asking him to join in this week’s fun. After all, he “just loves him some tractor.” I must’ve sensed that.  🙂

Here is the original 0EV bracket that we had to work with:

Original 0EV bracket for the I Will Survive grunge collaboration project

0EV bracket for "I Will Survive"

And here are the final images for this project…

From James Brandon:

James Brandon's version of "I Will Survive", part of the grunge collaboration project

James Brandon's version of "I Will Survive"

“Big thanks to Rob Hanson for a great set of brackets to work with for this week’s collaboration!

“In some of these HDR shots, I feel that you can get lost in the image when everything from foreground to background is in focus. Thatʼs fine in some cases, but in this image I wanted to get rid of any possible focus on the background (the trees, the other tractors, the junk, etc). I used textures, vignetting, and onOne FocalPoint to create some confusion around the corners of the images to draw the focus to the tractor.

“Sure, the tractor is the obvious subject here, but the subconscious can still be led astray. I also opted for a slightly cooled down white balance. The reason being that images like this donʼt exactly make me feel all warm and cozy :-). A junk yard with old tractors signifies the end of the road for these things, and I just didnʼt feel like a warm color balance and bright cloudy sky did that justice.”

From Jerry Denham:

Jerry Denham's version of "I Will Survive"

Jerry Denham's version of "I Will Survive"

“I was very intrigued by the brackets. I really liked the number of options that were available to concentrate on. I was originally focused on the two headlights but then I was very drawn to the scars and scrapes on the center of the tractor.  I tried to do what I could to try and make both areas stand out together, but wasn’t successful. Being a grunge collaboration, I concentrated on the scars and scrapes.  I really tried to bring out the red color of that portion of the tractor.  I used Picasa to do some soft focus enhancements to try and direct a little more attention to those scars and scrapes.  Had a great time with this.”

From Jim Denham:

Jim Denham's version of "I Will Survive"

Jim Denham's version of "I Will Survive

“Love tractors, and this one’s got some serious grit to it! I wanted to bring out the rusty color and texture, so I used two Topaz presets – Exposure Color Stretch and Clarify – selectively, along with a high pass sharpen. The surrounding setting was eating up the tractor, so applied a selective focus and reduced the saturation to make the tractor pop out at ya!”

From Rob Hanson:

Rob Hanson's version of "I Will Survive"

Rob Hanson's version of "I Will Survive"

“I took some liberties. 🙂

“First, I found that things just felt better if I flipped the image, and in my view it seemed to change the composition substantially. When I first worked with this new orientation, it seemed that the tractor was pulling a curved line of wreckage through the junkyard. Perhaps this has something to do with how westerners read from left to right, but I now see a clear vector starting from the willow tree, moving left along the line of junk, to the leftmost tractor grille, and then along through the subject, sort of like a rusty conga line. I don’t know, it just works for me, and whenever I flipped back to the original orientation that feeling was lost. With the discovery of that circular vector, and wanting to place this guy in his rightful place, I chose not to ‘hide’ the background junk, as it now seems an integral part of my theme.

“In keeping with the grunge motif, I wanted a decidedly post-apocalyptic feel without making the overall composition too dark. By creating a gloomy, atmospheric backdrop in the clouds and tree line I feel that the composition gained more depth, differentiating the lighter foreground from the dark background. Desaturating the image helped contribute to the gloaming. For the subject, I wanted to retain all of that rusty, gritty texture, and seeing a face in the trapezoidal front panel that reminded me of “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, I selected this area for a bit of extra treatment to call out that detail.

“This little guy has hope, thinking that he has prevailed over all the other poor, unfortunate wrecks. His proud stance; his vivid colors; his clear, baby blue eyes peering hopefully into the darkness all suggest that he’s a survivor of the junkyard apocalypse. Let’s not spoil his day by telling him it’s over.”

From Chris Nitz:

Chris Nitz's version of "I Will Survive"

Chris Nitz's version of "I Will Survive"

“I sat on these brackets for a few days before processing them. The tractor had my attention, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. It was rusty, broken down, and no longer working hard for the farmer who once owned it. This once vital piece of equipment now sits in a field left to rot.

“It did not hit me where I wanted to go with this image until I was merging the brackets into an HDR image. When I did this, there were several areas of detraction from the tractor. It was not until I moved this into a black and white photo that everything fell into place. At this point, the decay and rot called out to me. It screamed light leaks, noise, and textures. The black and white conversion help in drawing the eye back to the tractor. Everything else is there to help with the decrepit feeling.

Thanks to Rob for providing this fun set of brackets to play with.”

From Jesse Pafundi:

Jesse Padundi's version of "I Will Survive"

Jesse Padundi's version of "I Will Survive"

“When I see scenes like this, I usually look for something specific that really shows how time has taken it’s toll on the subject. In a case like this, overgrown grass taking its grip on the tractor is a tell tale sign how just how long it has been sitting here. I knew I wanted to maintain focus there.

“Now to the coolest part. I have a tendency to see inanimate objects as alive. My imagination tends to run wild from time to time, so I immediately noticed how this poor tractor seemed to be crying out for help. The lights as desperate eyes. The front opening as a gaping mouth pleading to be used. You see it now, don’t you? Yes, you do. Well, there’s my vision in a nutshell.”

From our Special Guest Contributor (Can you guess who?)

“Hey folks; Jacques “the Fotofreq” Gudé, here!  Oh, how I love me some Tractor!!  So, when Rob asked me If I’d be interested in being surprise guest processor on his awesome site, I jumped at the chance.  Thanks Rob!

“Once I had Rob’s brackets to work with, I knew I wanted to focus attention on the front end of the tractor, including the massive, cool engine.  So I post-processed and looked at my results; I was not happy!  But I sent it to Rob anyway, and asked for some critique.  Man, am I glad I did that, because I could see he was finding some of the same weaknesses in my work that I was.  Well, that just will not do!  After all, I’ve got a reputation, right?  So, back to the drawing board.

“THIS TIME, I decided I was going for the look you get when you lighting an object under a full moon.  I also wanted to give the shot a 3D look, which I did by dodging and burning depth into the various components of the tractor using my Wacom tablet.  The moral of the story is, if you don’t like your work when you’re done with it, it’s probably not up to par.  Thanks, Rob, for the honest and very helpful critique!”


Thanks, everyone, for a great collaboration project!

Please be sure to visit the web sites for each contributor. You’ll find some fabulous images and insights there on a regular basis. All links above open in a new browser tab or window, so have at it.


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10 responses to “I Will Survive | A Grunge Collaboration

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  1. Great work everyone! Even with all the varying styles there was still a lot of similar approaches which is interesting to see. Rob, big thanks for hosting and supplying excellent brackets to work with. Looking forward to next round!

  2. While I certainly enjoyed seeing all of the various approaches to the brackets, the narratives added a deeper dimension of understanding and thereby, for me, made each picture something more than the sum of the brackets. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great work everyone, these things are always a blast. Can’t wait for the next set. Cheers!

  4. Please educate me here, guys. What is meant in this context by the term “brackets”? As a professional audio visual person for more than 40 years, when I first saw the term “brackets”, I immediately thought of bracketing exposure – varying exposure of a single image…. one half stop in either direction, for example. Obviously, that is not what is meant here.

  5. Jock —

    Actually, that IS pretty much what we’re talking about, bracketing exposures. Each of the images you see above started by combining three different exposures, -2EV, 0EV, and +2EV. The brackets were shot from a dSLR camera supported on a tripod, set to automatic bracketing, using three quick shots.

    This is the start of High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing. All of these versions are HDR images, tonemapped to Low Dynamic Range (LDR) for viewing on today’s monitors.

    I’ll send you an email with more information. Thanks for checking in here.


  6. Rob these are great. Was excited to see Jacques step in as a guest. After reading everyone’s breakdowns it is neat to see how everyone looked at the brackets differently but also alike. Really enjoyed these brackets and the collaboration. Thanks for providing them and hosting the results.

  7. Thanks for taking care of us this week Rob, and for getting the HDR Morpheus to step up and supply some added juice! Love the brackets and how everyone’s shot came out! Great work everybody!

  8. I love this idea…very much a learning experience! Although all are well done I especially like yours Rob( the flip is perfect) and Jacques…can we get him to turn his around and have the best of both worlds. Thanks!

  9. This is unreal crazy LOVE it! You guys are so inspiring! Bookmarking you all!

  10. Pingback: Go Time | Huntington Beach Surf Photography | james-brandon.com

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