The majority of the time, I make only basic adjustments to my pictures. Usually only enough sliders to make the picture better reflect what I recall seeing when I took the picture. My recollections about a picture are no doubt influenced by what I want or think I saw; yet, most of what I adjust is pretty common stuff.
My attempts at using the bigger toys available in the photo software usually leave me feeling unsatisfied and uneasy. It's a step too far for my tastes. While I love the abstract and distorted, fully creating an image in software, or twisting an image into something else lays beyond my creative vision and ability. I'm pretty lame.
The other day I was out taking landscape pictures during a snowstorm when a scene snagged my eye. Two birch trees, side by side, with wet snow clinging to the bark. Their trunks created a symmetry against a chaotic background of snow-covered bramble and branches. Snow was still falling heavily muting the world into a shadow-less quiet. What drew me to this little spot I do not know. It was a feeling as much as anything.
Later, in the software, one of the versions of the pictures I took of the two trees made the initial cut. Then it made a second cut and I started working on it.
All of the standard things I tend to do to a picture in processing left me flat. There was a feeling taking that picture, on that day, at that time, in a snowstorm, and I wasn't feeling it as I went through my routine. So I went to bed.
During the next day I kept thinking about that picture. Could I somehow use the photo software to get close to the feeling I had when I snapped the picture? It was a discouraging question since I have only limited experience to pull from. Starting with a raw image and taking it from there to a specific result, one I could only feel, was annoying. Maybe I need to know more about my feelings; or maybe I need more technical mastery; or perhaps I should forget about it.
Finally, I went back to the picture. The process I typically relied on didn't work so I decided to reverse everything I normally do when editing a picture. Intuitively, I started using the software to soften, mute, paint. It was unnatural to me. Several times I went back and forth on a single move abandoning it to try something else. More than once, I returned to steps taken earlier to see if it'd make a difference with a new set of conditions. I walked the dog, ate something, tried to nap, turned music on and off, walked the dog again, returning the picture after each interlude.
Then I stopped. I kept looking at the image that emerged on the monitor. It had a feeling I liked but I was wary. After all, I was pretty far down the river on these two dumb trees and they'd not been a study in objectivity. Could I trust my feelings? So I went to bed.
Following a decent sleep, oatmeal breakfast, a languid coffee time, and a sub-zero walk with the dog, it was time for a fresh look at my two trees. As with so many pictures, you arrive at a take it or leave it moment. No matter what you started out to do, there's a point where there is no more you can do. In the freshness of morning, my two trees seemed good enough. To me, at least, the picture was mellow and still while holding onto the strength of forest timber. That was it.