Rough Edges

The streets and back alleys of Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood are rich with texture, literally and figuratively. Worn brick, surprising architectural juxtapositions, and the curious traces left by passers by are all fodder for the curious photographer.

Unlike the cities of Europe or even the eastern US, Seattle’s history began fairly recently, with active settlement getting underway about 160 years ago. A city of wooden buildings grew up on the logging industry, and then the combustibility of wood took the city down, in the “Great Fire” of 1889. It was quickly built back up, this time with brick, and many of those sturdy old structures still stand in Pioneer Square, where Seattle’s moody beauty come into its own.

It was a mid January afternoon and the goal was simply to wander around Pioneer Square, take photos, and enjoy the day. The weather was far from ideal, with dull, overcast skies and glare, so my processing choices were based on bringing more life to the images and involved more effects like infrared than I typically use. Below I’ll describe the “where” or “what” of the photographs and talk about processing decisions.

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The Photos:

  1. A photographer sets up a shot in an alley near Pioneer Square.  Processing: The highlights are blown out in the original, so I recovered some of the overexposed areas in Lightroom first. The image needed more punch, or a more graphic look. Settling on an infrared filter in Color Efex, I chose this off-kilter color style because I thought it suited the surroundings.
  2. A “Cash for your Banksy” poster with an L.A. phone number, posted in a Seattle alley? I’m still scratching my head about that one!  Processing: The original had too much going on and lacked focus. Again, I chose a color infrared effect in Color Efex. The color shift brought out the Banksy flyer and “TOM” graffiti nicely, but blackened the brick, so I lightened up the shadows and blacks a bit in Lightroom.
  3. What’s left of the old brick paving still gathers cigarette butts in this alley.  At the end of the block is Merrill Place, a renovation of a clutch of hundred-year-old buildings into retail space and condos. I bet the young urban professionals who buy a tony 1 -3 bedroom unit (paying mid to upper six figures) are the envy of their peers. We have an influx of new residents, a booming economy, and a construction boom in Seattle. The city was crowned “Crane Capitol of America” for two years running, with 58 cranes stabbing the skyline as of July, 2017.  Processing: The original was so dull that I wasn’t going to use it, but after seeing how well the infrared effect enhanced other images, I tried it again. To further emphasize the dark mystery of the alley I softened the focus, using the Color Efex “Glamor glow” filter. Then I added a vignette in Lightroom.
  4. Share a bike on the fly using the app on your phone, and you’ll help LimeBike and Spin grow their revenue! You’ll be doing good for the planet, too. Your first ride is free, after that it’s just $1/half hour. When you reach your destination, just leave the bike “anywhere responsible” and close the wheel lock. Next time you need a bike, your app will lead you to the nearest one. That’s how shared bikes work, and the trend is growing. Here, the competing company colors of two bikes left in an alley made a nice picture. I didn’t move them an inch!  Processing: A garbage bin marred the original so I cropped heavily to focus in on the bikes and reflections. I should have framed it better in the first place.  To emphasize the wonderful colors I used a film effect in Color Efex: Kodak Ektachrome 400X Pro. I lightened the center of the image slightly, and added a little vignetting in Lightroom.
  5. This photograph brings together three Pioneer Square themes: handsome old brick buildings, hanging flower baskets, and construction. Tarps are a recurring subject in my photography and I’m always on the lookout for them; for me, the tarp in front of the building doesn’t hurt the picture.  Processing: Silver Efex was used to convert to black and white, using the “Full Contrast & Structure” filter, Ilford PanX Plus 50 film simulation, and selenium toning. Back in Lightroom, blacks were darkened a bit and a slight vignette was added.
  6. Seattle Steam’s old smokestack is a welcome interruption in the cube-based skyline. When Seattle’s “Great Fire” of 1889 destroyed much of this area, companies like Seattle Steam took advantage of lucrative opportunities to rebuild the infrastructure. Over the years, Seattle Steam has gone through several owners and iterations, but the company still provides steam heat to many businesses and residences. Coal and oil are fuels of the past here; natural gas is preferred, and recently the company’s carbon footprint was reduced by 60% after installing equipment to use biomass – wood waste! – to heat the boilers. That’s coming full circle for a logging town!  Processing: Silver Efex was used to convert to black and white, using the “Fine Art High Key” filter, a Kodak 100 Tmax Pro film simulation and selenium toning. In Lightroom I cropped, darkened the exposure a little, increased the clarity, and sharpened.
  7. Perhaps there’s a restaurant in this old brick building, given the serious exhaust duct work.  Processing: This image is all about that beautiful duct, the way it contrasts with the brick, and its curve. I converted to black and white in Silver Efex; I don’t remember which settings I used. Back in Lightroom, a few minor adjustments included smoothing the tones on the duct slightly.
  8. I like the way these two older buildings follow the bend of the street and I’m surprised they haven’t been torn down (yet).  Processing: This poorly lit image went through several versions before I decided the sepia tones (a Lightroom preset) worked best. I adjusted the tone curve, opening up the shadows, then lightened the garage door and street, and darkened the upper right. I cropped to eliminate extraneous “stuff” and used Lightroom “Transform” to straighten building edges that appeared to lean.
  9. There’s that photographer again, framing a shot of the rail tracks that feed freight and passengers into and out of Seattle.  Processing: For consistency with the first photo of the photographer (actually my son) I used one of the colored infrared filters in Color Efex, which turned the green-leaved tree into a pink-blooming winter wonder. I added a lightened vignette in Lightroom.
  10. A heavy scrim of tree branches obscures one of Seattle’s landmarks, the building with the peaked roof line. Finished in 1914, the Smith Tower is the oldest skyscraper in town, and was for many years the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.  Processing: The photo was taken with my phone because I was traveling light, with just one lens. It wasn’t wide enough to capture what I wanted here, but the camera lens is. I cropped somewhat on both sides, decreased exposure and contrast, and made adjustments to saturation and luminance of each individual color. Because it was getting dark when the photo was taken, noise reduction was needed along with sharpening, both in Lightroom.
  11. A dock at the Seattle Ferry Terminal, where passengers walk or drive onto ferries to West Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Vashon Island or Bremerton, a town on the Kitsap Peninsula. It’s a pleasure to walk over to the waterfront from Pioneer Square and take in the views, where the skies over the water are ever changing.  Processing: The blue-toned, contrasty look comes from converting the photo to black and white first, then adding a color infrared filter in Color Efex to the black and white image.
  12. The shiny newcomer wedging itself into Seattle’s skyline is the F5 Tower. Each floor is a different size. Rainwater collection, rooftop solar power, and glass similar to that used at One World Trade Center in New York that both absorbs and reflects sunlight, are Gold LEED certification features. The offices will house F5 Networks, a tech company.  Processing: The original photo was all about the mix of old and new buildings with the F5 Tower in the background, but the composition was just too crowded and needed to be simplified. I cropped a lot out, zeroing in on the tower’s facade. Unfortunately, I have forgotten how I made the rest of the changes!
  13. Late afternoon sun sidles through the storm clouds over Puget Sound, seen from the ferry terminal. That could be the ferry from Bremerton coming in. The rugged, snow-covered Olympic Mountains seen on the horizon lie between Seattle and the coast, to our east. With the Cascade Range to Seattle’s west and Mount Rainier rising up to the southwest, mountain vistas provide a majestic frame for the city…when they aren’t obscured by clouds!  Processing: This photo just needed subtle adjustments in Lightroom, such as softening the clouds at the top by using the graduated filter to reduce contrast, using it again to slightly darken the upper corners, and adjusting luminance in most of the colors, individually.

I don’t use filters in Color Efex as much as I did for this batch of photos, and I don’t convert to black and white as often as I did here, but I enjoyed using the effects to add interest to many photos that tended to be flat, due to overcast skies. At the waterfront, conditions improved, and the final shot’s colors stood well on their own. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


62 comments

  1. Another great series and I always enjoy how you describe scenario and processing – the bikes especially interesting with that puddle but something about the symmetry in image 12 which catches my eye especially

    • Sometimes symmetry is just the thing, isn’t it? I liked that it was a road to nowhere, at least at that instant. Glad you enjoyed the processing notes, too, Laura, and thanks for commenting!

  2. #2 is a nice shot, full of texture, and you’re right, “Cash for your Banksy” is intriguing – – do they saw a chunk out of the wall? Well I guess like Lord Elgin, pick up your marbles and go home, or those Bad Victorian Egyptologists, or the bits & bobs incorporated into Hearst Castle at San Simeon, etc.
    All the architectural shots are great! The tree branches in #10 somehow help with a 1914 feel for that lovely building. #5 I like the fluid-looking plastic in front of a very brick wall. And #3 is just the coolest thing, you could be a location scout for some detective film noir. Really appreciate you taking the time to write painstaking (and very interesting!) descriptions of the scenes and the processes. Very successful album! 🙂

    • The Banksy flyer must be a joke….you’re very funny! Yes, bits and bobs have been appropriated in all our greatest cities, and many of the others. I bet you’d love the Smith Tower interior. It has that dignified other times feeling that modern buildings lack, and the view is wonderful. I’m so glad you enjoyed the comments, Robert – I admit, they are time consuming – but I learn a lot on the way. This time I learned all sorts of local history that I just am not aware of, not having grown up here and not being a history buff. The Seattle Steam story was particularly interesting. http://www.historylink.org/File/11110
      Thanks for your interest!

  3. I don’t understand enough of the filters you used, but the results are enthralling. I like the mixture of (old and new) buildings, lines, structures and objects, the black and white contrast. Very interesting! I can only say: great work!

    • Thank you Almuth! Anytime you want me to explain more, I’m happy to do it. Color Efex and Silver Efex are wonderful free programs you can download; they’re very easy to use and have many, many effects that are fun and quick. Enjoy your weekend!

      • And these filter are about light and structure ? I can’t imagine what infrared filter does to a foto. Quite interesting effects!!! A nice weekend to you too!

  4. Once again, I’m having a difficult time picking a favorite so I’ll pick 4 favorites: 2, 4, 7 and 10. I especially like the intensity of #2. Very well done, Lynn.

    • #2 made heavy use of the Color Efex filter, which as I said, I don’t always do, but it was fun to use them. #7 is the one I was most excited about as I was working on it. #10 is a photo I’ve taken before, in various iterations – I love seeing things behind a scrim of whatever. As for #4, my son got there first – I took the photo after he did. Haven’t seen his version. Thank you, Ken, and have a good weekend up there!

  5. #7 & #8 remind me of old parts of Melbourne, Australia where I live. Even some of the modern buildings look like our modern buildings. I think #4 and #9 might be my favourites.

    • Interesting about the similarities to Melbourne! How nice that you like #9, too – that’s my son with a new camera he was trying out. Like many Millennials, he mostly has used his phone for photography, and he gets great images with it. Someone left an old Nikon D800 in the swap box in his building so now he’s learning how to use it.

  6. The bicycle photograph has to be my favorite. First I just saw the bikes, then the curb paint, then the reflection in the puddle; each revelation was a joy. I’m sure your careful processing helped that along. I could comment on others, but I still haven’t commented on your last post yet!

    • My son saw the bikes first; I had to wait until he was done with them. 🙂 I’ll admit to a little brightening up in the puddle….but Linda, what about the potato chip bag?!?! Was that not a joy too? 😉

  7. Given our gray and stormy weather, I think I’ll choose #4. It brings cheer and color. I’ve never seen Seattle for myself, but the bikes and the puddle seem to embody my impression of the city. #1 is simply gritty… surreal. Very striking effects there. (best viewed on a sunny day?) #9 we seem to have a “thing” for shooting photographers (see my most recent post). Then again YOURS is rather special! 😉

    Is it me? or did the descriptions for 11 & 12 get switched?

    • Yes, lots of puddles in this city, and bikes, but not as many bikes as Portland, I suppose. I’m glad you like the effects, in spite of the emphasis on the seamy side. Oops, you’re right – thanks to moving photos around and forgetting to move the descriptions, 11 & 12 are switched. I’ll fix it, thanks for noticing. I glimpsed your post and was overwhelmed, so many great images, including, for sure, the photographers. Then the computer began to act up, and once we got it back on track, I was worried so I came right here – wanted to do replies first.

  8. I smiled to see that #6 is Seattle Steam’s smokestack. When I first looked at the image, I saw an 1800s steamship, so I was on the right track. And I was delighted by #10 — delighted, surprised, and strangely warmed. The colors are those found in my favorite view of NYC’s Flatiron building: the famous image made by Edward Steichen. Beyond the colors, the trees add to the effect. It’s really nice.

    • You’re on the right track, for sure. I love landmarks like that smokestack. Now I need to look at that Steichen image again, because I don’t remember the colors – more the building and composition. I love the Flatiron, and there are other great buildings near it too. Thanks so much for your thoughts about that photo – and I took it with my old phone! 😉

    • That’s interesting to hear, Paula. European cities are so, so much older, and Seattle was a rough town in the early days, built up around logging, then for supplies for the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska.

  9. Very compelling city-scapes, Lynn. We have some of the old-tyme brick buildings in the older part of the inner city, mostly near the railroad tracks south of the stadium area, if you remember where that is. I find the most alluring photo to be the very last…with the broad sky under cloud-wrap and the comforting mountains behind and beyond the expanse of pewter water…with a solitary boat….. Wonderful….

  10. It’s funny you mention that area – I had to buy a piece of equipment and ended up around there, and I was struck by how interesting the area was. I saw chickens behind a fence, interesting buildings, it was fascinating. Seattle does benefit from that waterfront, with the view off to the mountains. From a number of places on highways or streets you can see both mountain ranges, to the east and west. It’s a softer look than the mountains around Phoenix, I think – certainly in winter it is.

  11. I suppose one of these days I should try the cityscape challenge – it would definitely be outside my comfort zone. How did you avoid all the people? Early start? Lonely back alleys?

    I haven’t used Color Efex much (although I used the Bleach effect on the banner rose shot in “Spring Break” – I was experimenting). Silver Efex is a great B/W tool, although I haven’t been using it lately.

    I too like the bike shot the best.

    • Seattle doesn’t seem to get crowded the way other cities do, certainly nothing like New York, but then it has nowhere near the population of NY. It was a holiday, too. I enjoy that part of the city a lot. The alleys, after living in NYC so many years, don’t seem too threatening! I guess I know what to look for. (and that day I was with my Marine vet son ;-))Try Color Efex – I’ve found certain filters, like Darken/Lighten and Tonal Contrast, very helpful for straight outdoors shots, then there are effects like Infrared that are fun to experiment with.

  12. Wonderful collection, Lynn, and its very interesting hearing your processing methods. For better or for worse, I work differently – I do everything necessary (incl most cropping) in Lightroom, then export a tiff for the Efex programs. Individual images? 2 gets to me as I’m in Banksy’s home town. 3 is subtle and simply sensational. And I too very much love the bikes in 4. Then the almost tapestry like textures of 10. And I like 11 too. Excellent series. The first SEP2 preset post is > half done. A 🙂

    • We may work more alike than it seems – I often begin in LR too, then open up the image in Color Efex or Silver Efex, but I almost always find at least one more thing to do back in LR again. 🙂 Thanks for all the work you’re doing, and for your presence….glad you enjoyed the tour around the “old” Seattle neighborhood.

  13. Love the moodiness of the images. All of them. Brings me back to when my wife and I pent a week in Seattle. Loved it. I could easily live there. Also spent a couple days on Orca Island not to far away. Yes these images really do bring me back.

  14. Your good eye works well in urban settings, too. These images are gorgeous, I love both the way you captured them and teh processing. Of course, I recognize the back alleys, from many a trip there. 🙂


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