Under the Stars Lightroom preset and Nerstrand Big Woods

As is probably obvious, I tend to be very literal and way too serious, traits that carry over into my photography. Generally my goal as a photographer is to recreate exactly what I saw. That’s a necessity for a photojournalist, but not exactly the recipe for inspired art.

This doesn’t mean I don’t edit my work. Getting a naturally realistic looking photo doesn’t often happen by accident. I spend a lot of time editing my photos to make them match what I remember seeing. Usually that means adjusting color balance and pulling details out of the shadows; occasionally it means cropping out, de-emphasizing, or (on rare occasions) eliminating the garbage cans and power lines that seemed to disappear into the background when I shot the photo or heightening the color of the flower that I’m sure was really blue and not the purple I see on my screen. However – especially when posting on ExplorationVacation.net – I generally see myself as a photojournalist and try to keep my images as true to reality as possible.

But what if, instead of making pictures that strive to recreate what I saw, I made pictures that instead recreate what I felt?

I think that’s harder to do. After all, how do you visualize a feeling? Then there is the fact that, while most everyone can agree on the general elements of a scene (say, a young girl in a dimly lit alley), everyone’s emotional response and interpretation will be different (the girl is bored/scared/resting/thinking/watching/waiting etc. in an alley that is creepy/threatening/lonely/peaceful/calm/etc.) As with the rest of my life, I’m used to seeking the “right” answer, the photograph that most accurately portrays a particular scene. There is no right answer when it comes to emotions. (There really isn’t a right answer in accurately portraying a scene either, but most people seem to think there is.)

So I was thinking about all of this the other week when I shot Nerstrand Woods State Park. I’d already taken a lot of pictures in parks this spring and was getting bored with pretty pictures of lush green woodlands. Not that there is anything wrong with pretty pictures of trees and flowers, but they don’t say a lot about how it feels to visit there when spring is bursting into summer all around you.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.n

There had to be a more interesting approach.

So I started playing with my “final” edits. I moved a few Lightroom sliders farther than usual, but I wanted more, so I checked to see what tools Trey Ratcliff had given me in his Lightroom preset packages. It didn’t take long to find a preset called Under the Stars that gave me almost exactly the effect I wanted. All I had to do was apply the filter, dial back the yellow to get a sunny fresh green, and then check to see that the softest focus area heightened the effect. I think the images I ended up with captured the way it felt to me to walk in a brilliantly green woodland on a sunny day in late spring.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.n

I wasn’t sure how this particular effect would work on the waterfall shots, but I loved it. I didn’t have a tripod with me when I was out shooting, so very few of my shots had the soft smooth flow of water that’s considered ideal in a waterfall shot. It was a pleasant surprise to see the preset smooth the flow of water while, at the same time, preserving enough texture to give it the sense of motion so often lacking in all those “ideal” waterfall pictures.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.nNerstrand Big Woods State Park Minnesota - ExplorationVacation.n

What you think? Did it work?


You can see all of my Nerstrand Woods shots at ExplorationVacation