Sign of the Times


Rad_Drew_headshot  Sign of the Times by Rad A. Drew


For the past few years I’ve watched this computer business disintegrate before my eyes until one day shortly after I began working with the iPhone, the place was completely abandoned. I think it gives some insight into the recession and is appropriately ironic.

Apps used:

  • ClearCam
  • Camera+
  • Photoforge*
  • Filterstorm
  • Dynamic Light


* Please note that the PhotoForge products I use for this image were purchased by Yahoo! and have been retired! They are no longer for sale in the App Store, and, they are no longer supported. For those of us lucky enough to have purchased these prior to this latest sale, we can continue to keep and use them. For new users, I’m sad to say, these apps are no longer for sale and are no longer supported. That said, both have miraculously survived the recent IOS upgrades and continue to function w/o error! It is well worth experimenting with other apps that have similar functions but I can’t promise you exactly the same results – but that’s half the fun!


I liked the gray sky and the details of decline evident in the image and I wanted to bring them to life so they were focal points to tell the story.

Step 1 – Taking the initial shot

I started with a ClearCam shot. I chose the ClearCam camera app because it was an overcast day and I didn’t see the need for an HDR application. Here’s that initial ClearCam shot; the BEFORE shot.




Step 2 – Enhancing the shot to bring out the details

Next I chose to enhance the image using Camera+. This app has a filter called Clarity that does a wonderful job of balancing the color, sharpness, and contrast of an image very quickly. You always need to make sure that you like the result, but I find that more often than not, I do. Here’s a look at the Camera+ interface just after I’ve hit the Clarity filter button.




Notice below how the detail in the road and the building front has been drawn out compared to the version before.



Step 3 – Adding painterly effects and texture

PhotoForge is the next app I used, not to be confused with PhotoForge 2. Nothing against PhotoForge 2, it’s just that PhotoForge is the only app I know of that does these three things really well:

1. Sharpen using Unsharpen Mask
2. Add a Water Color filter and
3. Add an Oil Paint filter.

The combination of the oil and water give the image some color and texture and does especially wonderful things to an overcast sky.

[Note: I’m not sure of the precise origins of this technique and its evolution, but I’ve learned variations of it from Dan Burkholder, Harry Sandler, and Tony Sweet. Here’s a LINK to Harry’s recent blog post on a variation of this workflow.]

Step 4 – Sharpening the image using Unsharpen Mask

Using PhotoForge, I sharpen using UnSharpen Mask. You’ll find Unsharpen Mask… by clicking on the filter icon (the Funnel). The settings are shown below:

• Amount all the way to the right,
• Radius to “taste,” and
• Threshhold unchanged.

You can experiment with this and try different variations (see Harry’s blog post), but this is what I do. You’ll want to adjust for each image. It’s easy to over-sharpen if not careful.

Add sharpening 




Add watercolour

Next, I add a dash of Water Color to the image, as shown below. (The Water Color filter is in the Funnel icon, too.) You can see how the sky now has some color where there was none before. This is another thing that you’ll do to taste; I usually move the slider about 25-40%. Sometimes I find that I like to darken the Water Color a little here in PhotoForge and then lighten the image later using Curves in FilterStorm.



Add more sharpening

After adding the Water Color, I sharpen again, this time using the Sharpen (not unsharpen mask) filter. I use just a very small amount to avoid over-sharpen.



Add Oil Paint 

Finally, I add the Oil Paint filter. Again, this is done to taste. I rarely go over 40% and usually just “season” the image with a small “dash.” You can see how the image has been given a rusty tone and how the filter has enhanced the detail in the sky. Remember how blank that sky was in the original shot?!



After saving the PhotoForge work, the image now looks like this. Compared to the Before image, there is more detail and a hint of color, and the sky is much more interesting.




Step 5 – Selective sharpening on areas to draw the viewers attention

At this point I used FilterStorm to do some selective sharpening of the lettering in the sign, the potholes, and anywhere else I want to draw the viewer’s attention. Even subtly sharpened areas of the image will draw the eye.

Load the image into FilterStorm…



Select Sharpening from the Filters menu.


Move the slider to the desired level of sharpening. Keep in mind that we’re going to use the mask feature to sharpen only selected portions of the image. When you move the slider, before we apply the mask, the entire image will appear sharper.


Next click the Masking Icon (the brush) and select its desired diameter, softness and opacity. The Diameter should be set to correspond to the size of the area you are going to brush. I usually have the Softness up all the way so that there is no sharp line between what is sharpened and what is not. Opacity I usually start low and increase it as necessary. Now, click the brush and “paint” in the areas you want to sharpen. You can see by the mask color below that I’ve sharpened the lettering in the sign. You can apply this sharpening to any area in the image to which you want to draw the eye. After saving this, the image will appear only slightly, but significantly, different with the sharpening in the desired areas.




Step 6 – Adding softness using the Orton effect

The last step of my process for this image was to add a touch of Orton effect using the app Dynamic Light. The Orton Effect adds a wonderful softness to the image.

Load the image in Dynamic Light…



Click the FX button to open the Filter menu (below). Choose Orton from the menu.


Use the dial to select the percentage of Orton to apply. Move the dial back and forth to see how it affects the detail and the light of the image until you find the “sweet spot.”



The final image looks like this. I especially love the rain-filled potholes out front and the price of gasoline on the sign in the background. The image ironically shows a symbol of the future – computers – in failure mode. The irony of the sign, Computer Store, and the dilapidated condition of this formerly prosperous establishment, seem to be truly a sign of our times.


Sign of the times by Rad Drew


Happy shooting!

Rad_Drew_headshot   See more of Rad Drew’s work at
iPhone Creations of Rad A. Drew

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