BACKSTORY: FRA Drops

My flight from Dublin was 90 minutes landing in Frankfurt. I sprinted from one end of the terminal to the other in order to make the connection to Beijing as no courtesy golf cart assistance available. Easily a 2km sprint with all my stuff. Included enduring a thorough and maddening random search.  

Made it to the boarding gate with only a couple of minutes to spare. I had a window seat on the upper deck of the 747-8. No time to unpack my good DSLR as usual after boarding. Typically I shoot some some pics after takeoff. Just had my Nexus 6 phone cam on hand and buckled up.

Still sweating from the unplanned exercise, we made our way to the takeoff position as an early evening rain fell, providing muted light and no shadows–a rather drab scene. 

However the colorful taxiway/runway lights plus the pattern of the raindrops on my window provided a mood that caught my eye. 

Picture time!  I wanted a relatively shallow depth of field with the raindrops sharply in focus. Trouble was I didn’t have my reading glasses nearby and only had my Nexus 6 phone cam in hand. There is no manual focus option, only autofocus. That can be tricky when shooting through windows. 

Below was my first shot. Definitely has raindrops in focus and shows the mess outside, but the background didn’t do it for me. 

We inched towards our takeoff runway. I was excited to see the runway lights fading off into the distance. I knew the pilot was going to move forward just a bit more and then make a hard right at any second—and then rev up the engines for takeoff. 

At that point the dang autofocus went wonky on me. I was desperate to get it to work. It was the blind leading the blind at this point. I managed to get one more shot as we started to turn and was lucky the phone cam’s autofocus zeroed in on the raindrops and not the runway or lights. 

I was fortunate and snapped one shot. The plane immediately turned and we hurtled towards Beijing. 

So that’s the reason the final image is called FRA Drops. FRA is the IATA code for the Frankfurt am Main International airport in Germany. 

Below is the original photograph before I cropped and enhanced it.

Many of the pictures I publish are cropped and touched-up using “digital darkroom” software. 

In the old days of film based photography, “touching-up” literally meant carefully using my hands to “dodge and burn” (lighten and darken) particular areas of an image as it was projected by my darkroom enlarger on to the photo paper securely mounted in my enlarging easel. 

This was not easy to do at first and required quite a bit of trial and error, and sometimes wasted paper and chemicals until I could get it just right. 

I could raise or lower the level of my enlarger lens relative to the paper in order to zoom in or out from the original image, in order to crop the image for what I felt was the best composition. 

I used enlarger filters and different grades of paper in order to manipulate contrast, vary color saturation and tone. I experimented with retouching, inks, markers, pens and pencils. 

Overall, I believe dodging/burning and cropping are among the two most important and basic elements of post-production, no matter if you are shooting film or digital. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the entire meaning or mood of a captured scene changed by just those two simple techniques. 

In some cases I will shoot wide or tall on purpose because I envision a final image that will work well in variety of aspect ratios. Other times I just can’t get close enough to the subject or mood I want to convey, so I just shoot what I can and figure out the rest later. 

Whether you are photo “purist” or not, retouching/post-production/editing or whatever you want to call it, has been an integral part of photography since the mid-19th century. 

In the 21st century there is another word for retouching/post-production/editing. 

Photoshop. I use it often. 

I think it is an indispensable modern tool to help refine and finish my photo work. I strongly believe that understanding post-production editing techniques in photography is equally as important as understanding the basics of just taking the original picture. 

The main thing is to not overdo it. Know when to stop. Sometime I get carried away and have to reign myself in. It’s easier to go overboard with digital software. Unlike film there is little or zero added direct cost with trial and error, only the cost of one’s time and opportunity lost. 

In the case of this scene, I cropped to 1:1, no dodging or burning, increased the contrast, and sharpened the raindrops. Finally I added a tiny bit of grain to give some texture.

Below is the final product (not actual print size):

I won’t get into discussion now on film vs. digital, digital photo manipulation, removing or cloning pixels/people/whatever in a particular image for the purposes of making someone or something look “better” or removing or adding a person to a finished image. That’s for another post. Otherwise I’d love to hear opinions on this, so feel free to comment!  

The FRA Drops photograph, part of my TRAVELER SERIES, is framed and printed on archival quality fine art paper, and available in my online store, unframed or framed.

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