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July 2012

Seminar: Storytelling and Compositing


Last week I had the opportunity to attend a seminar taught by Brooke Shaden.  I always love going to these seminars to pick up on tips and tricks, especially from successful artists (as Brooke Shaden is successfully making a living off of her art – that’s a lot of street cred she has with me.)  I wasn’t aware of her work much before the seminar was brought to my attention, but her imagery really strikes a chord with me; and I think my work might develop along similar lines.

The topic was storytelling and compositing – the art of taking multiple photos and blending them together to create a new whole.  Personally I’m still deciding what level of Photoshop I feel OK with before I don’t want to call the end work a “photograph” verses a “digital painting”.  Still, can’t argue that when one hasn’t got a budget of thousands to get sets and props, a judicious use of Photoshop to get the image you want has its place.  And I really love the term “self portrait artist”, because I often end up using myself as a model in my photos – so, I’m going to have to start using that term for my photography!

This is the image I walked away with at the end of the day.  We had done another group shot with a model with a levitation shot, but due to the size of the class I wasn’t really able to get a good angle and shots to work with.  This one actually IS a composite of 3 different images, although if I had more setup time I know I could have gotten it in 1 or 2.  There’s nothing about it (such as including thing in motion, supports that really needed to be erased, etc) that couldn’t have been done with one shot…well, maybe some support.  But we had 30 free minutes to ourselves and a bunch of props in this gorgeous old library room and I was inspired to do a mysterious wrapped figure, like a library gargoyle!  A patron gargoyle of learning, as it were.

One of the most important techniques of the day was taking a blank setup shot, or plate, of the setting without any of the models or action.  This works to your advantage down the line, particularly in a levitation shot where you will be masking out a visible means of support, but it is good practice to do for any shot you know you will composite. And of course, this works best when all your shots will be take from the same angle/height/lighting conditions, so for this kind of work a tripod is necessary and a remote control trigger very handy.

I have 3 basic layers of the shot – I do love layer masks as just about the best thing ever in Photoshop.

Here’s the 3 shots I started with.  One is the background, and I admit I didn’t do this in the best way – in the end I liked a slightly different framing of the background, so you see all the subsequent images of the figure had to be scaled down to fit in the new frame.  Not a big deal, but if I’d gotten it right I would have saved myself some post processing work.  The second was chosen for the upper body.  The shelf I sat on was actually quite narrow, so I was in danger of tipping completely forward and falling off.  I wouldn’t have been able to lean forward without Wayne’ support.  The third shot was of the lower body with no support – I had Wayne draw back for just a few seconds while the shot was snapped.

thanks for the support, wayne!

I liked this shot quite a bit for something I only had a short amount of time to work on.  In retrospect, the image would have been more evocative with more story (perhaps another figure to interact with the gargoyle?)  But I do love red, and drapery.

And here’s a quick shot of the demo of how to do a levitation shot.  It was pretty neat – I’ve started messing around with them a little bit, so stay tuned for more. :)

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A Quiet Night for Tea

While I was making that cheongsam the other week I watched “In the Mood for Love”, a movie I had heard about for a long time but never got around to actually seeing.  It seemed fitting, as the supernaturally beautiful Maggie Cheung walks seductively around in a series of simply amazing cheongsams and backgrounds.  I absolutely loved the cinematography of this movie and it inspired me to do a little photoshoot with the dress I had just made.  I wasn’t intending to mimic an exact scene of the movie, but just a bit of the same feeling. 

Putting the shot together:

I did a lighting test with a single desk lamp instead to study how the light might fall in the photo.  You can see it ended up being similar but not too much like the lighting I used in the end photograph.  Single light source, but it’s reflected fairly well off the light table surface and I’m sitting pretty close to it.  I liked the  feel of that light, but knew I would end up with a different table lamp that fit the scene a bit better.  I liked how the light simply trailed off around the edges of the photo due to the single light source and wanted to replicate that – with two light sources visible in the end photo.

 Here’s what my final setup looked like.  Kind of ghetto when you take a step back and see that this is just the far side of my bedroom (which by the way, is quite large so there’s room for this kind of thing).  Cost breakdown, and set contents.

1) background – a curtain panel with fun texture from Goodwill – $5
2) Hanging lamp shade from Daiso: $1.50
    2a) already had hanging cord lamp, but did see them for sale for about $15.
3) tiger poster  from Daiso, $1.50
4) desk lamp – the bulb light is filtered though a piece of white paper I put inside the glass shade. already owned
5) teapot, tea cup, table, chair, already owned
6) fake wall trim – found some crown moulding pieces in my garage, so free.  I think you could get some cheap pieces for hm, $10 at home depot?
7) Background stand: $40 off ebay.  This isn’t something I think anyone who really wants to claim they are being uber cheap would get, but I was ready to buy and own one.  It’s a lightweight one, probably not for holding up heavy backdrops.
8) duct tape – $6. Wow this stuff is amazing.

So there it is!  I shot the thing in low light, and slow shutter speed so I was holding myself pretty still.  As you can tell, I’m quite a fan of the way light wraps itself softly around objects when you have a nice long exposure.  This was a very fun little shoot, I will definitely be doing more in the future.

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