I had real difficulty trying to think of an idea for this one, my office is basically a pretty boring place, then I had the idea of a kind of silhouette type picture. I would have liked to have been able to capture steam from the cup but wasn't able to.
Shot with natural light coming through a white shirt used as a backdrop - so it'd be bright enough to black out the front of the cup and pencils. Auto levels, then sharpened, then converted to monochrome in the channel mixer and altered the levels there to get a balance I thought looked good (I wanted to keep the texture from the shirt here), and thatís it I think. I keep seeing what looks like noise in the dark areas of the cup but I couldnt use NeatImage as it'd loose the texture of the BG, if anyone can give me advice on how to fix this i'd appreciate it.
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In this engaging image, I see two main objects: a coffee cup and a pencil holder with a few pencils in it. They are backlit, which puts emphasis on their sillouetted forms, creating an artistic interpretation of these objects rather than a straightforward candid shot of them. I think this was a good choice.
Though your title is "Morning Coffee," my eyes go right to the dramatic lines of the pencils, and they want to stay there because the basic shapes are so exciting, so pointy and with angled lines that create a sense of drama. Some of the comments below noted the lack of interest in the coffee cup, and this may be where the problem lies. It's not that the coffee cup is not interesting, it may be that the pencils are simply stealing focus from the coffee cup. Pesky pencils! Actually, the pencils show your skill at providing elements that do add drama in your photos!
I must also compliment you on your use of light to bring the attention to these shapes. Though I'd prefer, perhaps, a brighter background, I enjoy how we get a peek at some detail, even though the objects are mainly sillouettes.
In terms of composition, I suppose hindsight is always 20/20! If those pencils command so much attention so effectively (wonderful arrangement of the pencils, by the way), you might be able to use them to draw my eyes to places in the photo where I'm supposed to look. Perhaps rearranging the objects so that this happens might be fun to experiment with.
In terms of getting rid of the grain, here are some things you could try. First, don't sharpen until you are finished with the photo. Sharpening adds grain by adding complimentary color pixels to darker areas of the photo. It does not actually sharpen; it just gives you an illusion of sharpening. (I learned this in the sharpening tutorial). Your shot might have turned out better in terms of grain had you followed this order:
1. Convert to B/W right off the bat before you mess with levels or colors. I often use the contrast feature to provide slightly LESS contrast before I desaturate, then I get more even grays with less grain. You're right: the channel mixer is a good place to do this, especially with colorful images.
2. Manually adjust levels and contrast rather than use the autolevel feature. You can see the grain happen as light areas get darker.
3. Try going to Select Color... and select the whites and Neutrals and Blacks and fiddle with the Black level. This often gives me interesting results: darker darks, brighter whites.
4. When you're all done, save the image as a full sized image, then change the image size to DPC specifications.
5. Now use the Unsharp Mask feature.
6. Add any borders you want and Save for Web...
In sum, I find the photo engaging and well done. You have a fantastic sense for arranging things to be interesting and lively. It's always good to experiment with arrangements and point of view in a still life to get its best advantage.
I kind of rambled on here. Sorry! But I hope it's been slightly helpful. I always appreciate others' eyes with my own photos. I look forward to seeing your good work in the future! Good luck with the challenges.
Too intentionally arty for my personal tastes. An angle looking into the coffee cup to emphasize the liquid, or brighter lighting on the liquid, or leaving it colour, would have worked better with your title. I don't care for how dim the lighting is on the objects being shown; it says 'abandoned' to me, which may seem an odd thing to draw from it, but there ya have it.
I think that this would have been a nice picture without the coffee cup. I like the texture of the background and the placement of the pencils in the holder. The coffee cup just doesn't seem to fit and appears ackward to me.