Category 'Conceptual fine art photography'

Telekenesis seems to me to be the lazy person’s superpower of choice—which is probably why it’s my favourite. Inspired by Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’ I spent many hours as a child trying to make things move by the force of my mind alone but sadly gravity always won the battle. Now, with the power of Photoshop and some trick photography I’ve become a master sorcerer, able to make objects fly at will, which is almost as good, right? Although it’s a tonne more work so it’s not exactly fitting for the lazy person’s lifestyle.

How to photograph floating objects

As you’ve probably guessed, making objects float is not so different from making a person levitate as covered in last week’s lesson. Again, there’s two methods—the first being to throw your object around, which is great for your non breakables like paper, but you have to get your throwing, your shutter speed and your camera click right to really capture the object at its best. Still, this way is pretty fun. The second is to hold your object in the air and try not to obscure it too much with your fingers. When layered in Photoshop with an empty shot of your scene you can simply erase yourself out of the image and your object becomes suspended in mid air. For easy editing it’s important not to stand between your object and your background, but more to the side of it. Though if you do, you can just use your selection tools to accurately cut the object out and place it on your blank scene wherever you want it. I’ve used a combination of all of these methods in this week’s image. [gallery columns="4" size="medium" link="file" ids="1725,1727,1726,1333"]   What’s really great about this technique is that it combines both levitation AND multiplicity. You just photograph the same object several times, moving it all over your scene, so you can layer them together in Photoshop and make one object look like a hundred. Here’s how to set up your camera. It’s almost exactly the same as previous weeks but it’s worth repeating because it’s so crucial for conceptual photographers to master this:
  1. Place your camera on a tripod and compose your scene. For minimal effort in Photoshop you want to make sure that your camera doesn’t move between your object shot and your background shot.
  1. Switch your camera to manual and set your exposure. Do not change this between shots.
  1. Focus on your subject. If you’re including a person in the scene you’ll probably want to focus on them and not the floating object. Lock your focus by either switching your lens to manual focus or use back button focusing. Changing your focus at any time during this process could ruin the entire shoot.
  1. You’ll need a remote or to use the 10 sec timer. Even if you’re shooting a model you’ll probably be the one holding the object within the scene which takes you away from behind the camera.
  1. Photograph your subject and object. Move your object around the scene between shots and photograph it as many times as needed. Be careful that your hands don’t wrap around the front of the object too much. If this is unavoidable take 2 shots of yourself holding the object but hold it by the top in one photo and by the bottom in the other so that you have one intact top and one intact bottom which you can blend together in Photoshop.
  1. Make sure you’re not standing between the object and the background because when you try erasing the scene around your object to reveal the background behind you’re going to have a you-shaped problem. But it’s not the end of the world if you’re willing to spend time on accurate masking which you're going to have to do anyway to fully remove your hands. Also try not to stand between the object and your light source because, where possible, you want to capture natural light and shadow.
  1. Remove your object from the scene and photograph the blank scene behind. I’d suggest doing this with and without your model just so you have both options.

How to edit floating objects

With your images open as layers in Photoshop (and you may have many if you’ve been duplicating your object around the scene), make sure your background image is at the base of the stack. If you’re concerned about having that many images open in Photoshop at once you can open the images separately and just lasso the portion of the image you need (making sure you include something for reference that will help you match it up to the background) and then copy and paste that onto your document. I like to turn off the visibility of all my layers (click their eyeballs) except the background layer and work up my layers one by one. I add a white-filled mask to each layer and using a black brush I erase around my object, switching between a white and black brush if I erase too much (use x to toggle brushes). If you don’t like the position of a particular object, you can either select it accurately with a selection tool, then choose Select -> Inverse and delete everything else from that layer OR paint a very accurate mask around it and then, for both methods, use the move tool to drag it somewhere else in your scene. If you choose to do this, be sure to assess the direction of light and shadows in your image and make sure you place the image where the light and shadows are still convincing. Also make sure the perspective still looks correct. Even though you’re creating an image that wouldn’t be possible in reality you still want it to look realistic. This is the foundation of magic after all. [caption id="attachment_1733" align="alignright" width="252"]Clone stamp tool Clone stamp tool[/caption] To get rid of areas where your body is obscuring the object, try using the clone tool. Choose the clone tool (or press 's') then create a new layer making sure 'Sample: Current & Below' is selected in the tool's options. Alt-click an area that you want to clone from and then start painting over the area you want to clone to. The clone tool is tricky at first so I'd suggest hitting YouTube for further information. Once you’ve fine-tuned all your layers it’s important to think about shadows. While erasing yourself from the image you may've also erased the object’s natural shadow so if you can see that shadows are being cast in your image you will need to recreate these for believability.  I hope to talk about this more in future but for now the best thing to do is select a portion of the background that resembles the shape and location of your potential shadow and use a curves or levels adjustment layer to darken it. I tend to make it quite dark at first but then on the adjustment layer’s mask I erase the edges with a soft brush at a low opacity. Study the shadows in the room around you right now for inspiration as to how shadows look. They’re darkest closest to the object and then they fade and spread at the edges.

About my image '793.8'

I work in a library and I wanted to create an image to illustrate the expectation that is placed on library workers to find the perfect book for a customer. If only I could go into the stacks and use magic to pluck precisely what they want. I stayed back one day after work to photograph 793.8 (lying to my colleagues about what I was up to). I used two Speedlites (one with a shoot through umbrella) that were placed in front of me and to the right hand side behind the shelves. The shooting process took about two hours and I was terrified the entire time that the cleaner would come in and bust me. The outfit is made entirely of paper and was photographed separately at a different location (Barwon Park Mansion during Brooke Shaden’s workshop) and knowing I wanted to use it in this photo I had to pose in a very particular way so that I knew I could cut out the dress and hat and make it fit my body. This is called compositing and it’s where Photoshop fun truly begins. To complicate matters I had to try and obscure the mannequin’s hands that originally covered parts of the dress. Sadly I think the dynamism of the pose suffers a little for these reasons. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1714,1713"]   In case none of this worked I also shot myself a second time in a completely different outfit that never ended up getting used. [caption id="attachment_1715" align="aligncenter" width="200"]Back up pose Back up pose[/caption]   After photographing my pose (twice) I then photographed some books scattered on the floor. Next I held up books to make them look like they’re flying. Then I tore up a book from an op shop and threw the same set of 5 pages around a number of times before photographing books moving and falling from the shelves. I expanded the frame by moving my camera right and left and finally I moved my camera to another section of the library and shot a different set of shelves to composite as a background behind my character. The edit was particularly hard because trying to stitch panorama shots of converging lines that have to line up EXACTLY was an almost impossible task. But thankfully I could use my flying books and paper to obscure the dodgy seams. Because I decided to use a different background in the final image I had to mask my objects exactly rather than using the cheat’s method described above, which was frustratingly time consuming. [gallery link="file" size="medium" ids="1719,1716,1717,1718,1720,1721"]   But it’s not every day you get to play the sorcerer’s apprentice while throwing stuff around at your workplace, wondering the whole time if those security cameras in the roof are actually being monitored by someone. Good times. 793.8 library jump

I was up in the air about how to start this blog post but then I realised that’s a terrible joke and decided to get on with it. The easiest and most effective trick you can do with photography and a touch of Photoshop magic is to make someone levitate, float or fly. Photos that defy gravity are both graceful and clever and look much harder to create than they actually are. My favourite levitation photograper is Natsumi Hayashi whose work is so simple, yet so unique and inspired. [caption id="attachment_1684" align="alignright" width="200"]Jumping example Jumping example[/caption]

How to take a levitation photograph

There’s two ways to try levitation photography - one requires Photoshop and the other does not. To make the kind of levitation image popularised by Natsumi Hayashi you simply need to photograph someone jumping. Selecting a high shutter speed of 1/500 or faster to freeze motion is preferable for that hovering appearance. This method gives built-in hair movement but all that jumping in awkward poses can be fairly exhausting on the body while trying to get it right. The second method involves taking two photos and combining them in Photoshop. The first photo should be of your model perched on something, while the second photo should be the blank scene with the model and stand removed. Then all you need do is layer them together in Photoshop and mask (erase) the chair/table out of the scene so the blank background shows through. To recap on lessons in previous weeks, here’s how to set up your camera:
  1. Place your camera on a tripod or resting on something stable and compose your scene. This is important because your shots need to match up exactly for this to work seamlessly.
  1. Switch your camera to manual and set your exposure. You don’t want ANY of your camera settings changing while you do this process or your photos won’t match up afterwards. You can also choose a white balance preset if you’re outdoors and worried about the light changing quickly but it’s not necessary.
  1. Focus on your subject and then lock your focus by either switching your lens to manual focus or use back button focusing and don’t touch your focus button again.
  1. You will need a remote if you’re shooting yourself (remember to change your camera to the timer). Although a remote is great even if you are shooting a model because it also allows you to assist the model with their posing without being stuck behind the camera.
  1. Photograph your subject standing / lying / leaning on some kind of stand ie. stool (one that doesn’t swivel for god’s sake!) or table.
  1. Not strictly necessary but if you want to make your levitation more interesting and believable you can photograph hair flicks, fabric flicks and limb movements separately and composite them together in Photoshop later. If you’re going to attempt this I really suggest sketching your image and writing down all the shots you’ll need to take so you don’t forget anything. It’s best for your subject to continue to hold their position while this is happening so the background is still the same.
  1. Remove the subject and stand and photograph your blank scene.

How to make levitation look convincing

  • Try and shoot from the subject’s height or below. This will exaggerate the height of the levitation. Shooting from above compresses the distance between the subject and the ground and the levitation is less effective.
[gallery size="medium" columns="2" link="file" ids="1686,1685"]  
  • Don’t shoot from too low though or the stand that your subject is resting on will obscure part of their body and look unnatural when you Photoshop it out. Always get your subject to position themselves right at the edge of their stand, closest to camera.
  • Assess your light. If shooting in harsh light that is creating shadows you’re likely going to have to recreate these shadows in Photoshop under your subject once the stand is removed. To avoid this, aim for soft natural light such as an overcast day.
  • Where your subject is touching their stand will end up being flat which looks unnatural. You can avoid this by getting the subject to, for example, arch their back or by lying on a stool rather than a table so they can curve their body around the edges. This is why subjects wearing dresses are great so that you can drape some of their dress in front of the stand to disguise this problem. Just make sure the fabric of the dress is not too translucent or you will see the stand behind it which could be difficult to remove later. If all else fails, you can try selecting and liquefying this part of their body in Photoshop.
[gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="1687,1688,1689"]  
  • If using hair flicks to signify motion you should be including clothes flicks too to keep the idea of weightlessness consistent. If not, then you should ideally continue to follow the rules of gravity with the clothes / hair falling downwards. But of course, all this is dependent on your final story and intention.
My image, The Rise, was taken on an overcast day down the end of my street where there’s a stone circle. Stone circles are steeped in mythology so I thought it would be a great place to make someone levitate. I’d also recently watched Picnic at Hanging Rock and having tracked down a wedding dress reminiscent of that fashion (thanks eBay) I thought it would be a great outfit for the location. I photographed myself posing on a tall stool then I shot some hair flicks. Next I shot my pointed feet separately to fix the problem of ‘flatness’ I mentioned earlier, then I took off the dress and held it up from the same height as I was standing. I did this because, since the back of the dress is so long, I knew parts of it were being obscured by the stool I was standing on, which would cause problems later when I went to Photoshop out the stool. I then took my blank shot and expanded my frame by taking shots all around. Making an initial sketch of all this was vital so I could see the areas I’d need to problem solve. [gallery size="large" link="file" ids="1691,1690,1692"]

How to edit a levitation photo

Open your chosen images as layers into a Photoshop document making sure your blank layer is your bottom layer. Add a white-filled layer mask to your subject layer and, making sure the mask is selected, use a soft black brush to erase the stand from the photo, revealing the blank layer below. If you mess up and erase too much, switch to a white brush (x) to paint areas back in. You’ll find yourself toggling between adding and erasing a lot. Click here for more information about masking. If you can view some of your stand through areas of translucent fabric try using a lower opacity brush to paint on these areas, or the clone stamp tool to remove the section entirely. If you’ve shot extra photos of hair, fabric and limbs for compositing you’ll need to either have some knowledge of selection tools to cut them out precisely (hair is it’s own particular beast) but if you’ve shot them on the same background you should be easily able to mask them in and have them line up without trouble. Make sure that when you are painting along edges that you switch to a brush with a hardness that matches the natural lines in the photo and be extra careful with your masking. To add realism to your levitation you can add a shadow under your subject. I'll talk about shadows more in future but just briefly you do this by first assessing the direction of light in your photo. Then create a new layer and using a soft black-filled brush paint a shadow under your subject roughly matching your subject's shape in the area where their shadow would naturally fall. Shadows are darkest and sharpest where they are closest to the subject so you may need to create different layers of shadowing of varying darkness and hardness or change the opacity and hardness of your brush as you paint. My image was a little tricky. The feet had to be cut out exactly and the back of the dress made to fit the main dress image. The hardest part was my hair. I got it to flick nicely on the left hand side but for some reason, not the left. I also shot some of the hair flicks while I was wearing a different dress so the background was different. To fix this I had to use areas of hair from the left and flip them to the right so they fit. I then had to erase bits of the background using a mix of cloning and lower opacity. It’s still not perfect but you can sometimes get away without being exact. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1695,1693,1696,1694"]   And that's it! Abracadabra. Up and away!  

Barwon Park MansionLate last year I had a series of odd encounters with rabbits. It all started when I accidentally wore an angora scarf (I don’t support fur as fashion), which lead to a number of rabbit sightings (even though they’re considered a pest and banned in my state) and culminated in a trip to Victoria for a workshop at the home of the man who introduced rabbits to Australia (while staying in an Alice in Wonderland themed hotel.) I seemed to have unintentionally been following the white rabbit and it had lead me to a Brooke Shaden photography workshop held at Barwon Park Mansion. Barwon Park Mansion cracksBrooke is the queen of conceptual fine art photography and the delightful lady who inspired me to pursue this field of photography so it seemed apt that the rabbit would lead me to a crumbling old mansion to meet the person who’d sent me on my own journey down a rabbit hole. As part of the workshop, participants had the chance to photograph three models for 10 minutes each in different areas of the house, including the main house, the stables and the servant’s quarters. The house was full of cracks and crannies, textures, muted tones and the most wonderful natural light but despite all that it’s incredibly tough to conceive an idea, set up your gear, dress and pose a model and photograph them in such a small time slot. Before I knew it I was back home with a memory card full of “ghosts”—levitating girls and spooky expressions. Barwon Park Mansion ghostsMiss Havisham cakeBarwon Park Mansion isn’t particularly renowned for its supernatural visitors, although it does have the occasional ghost tour, and there was that one time when a photo of a Barwon ghost went viral, only to be later proven a hoax. But I guess there’s just something about wandering through an old unoccupied stately mansion that got into my psyche. It certainly didn’t help that there was an exhibition on at the time entitled “Love, Desire & Riches: Fashion of Weddings” so there were empty dresses and floating veils on display as well as a Miss Havisham style spider-web covered wedding cake; just what every girl needs.

How to photograph a ghost

There’s two main ways to shoot a ghost photo. The first involves using a long exposure and a fast moving model, but this can be a bit hit and miss so I’m saving that method for a future tutorial on long exposures. The second way is to use two or more exposures combined in Photoshop, which is the easiest way and is the method I’ll cover today. Building on the techniques I’ve covered in previous weeks, the quickest and most effective way to shoot a ghost photo is to lock your camera’s focus, exposure and position (tripod or very still hand-holding) and shoot a) a blank shot of your scene, and b) the model in the same scene. The harder method is to shoot your blank scene and your model in different locations and composite them together in Photoshop using masking and selection tools but it’s a much more advanced technique that I’ll cover in future. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="1653,1652"]

How to edit a ghost photograph

Import your two photos into Photoshop as layers, ensuring the blank layer is your bottom layer and the subject is above it. If your photos aren’t fully lining up (check by turning the eyeball of the top layer on and off), choose Edit -> Auto-Align Layers. Now it’s super easy. You can either choose the subject layer and drop the opacity of the layer by using the opacity option in your layers palette to send your model into the realm of the otherworldly OR you can highlight the subject layer and add a layer mask by pressing the layer mask icon, then activate the brush tool with ‘b’, lower the opacity and hardness of the brush in your brush options menu and paint over your subject so they become partially transparent. You can also try playing around with your blending modes (the drop down menu in your layers palette that is usually set to ‘normal’ to see if you can get a pleasing result. You may like to use a mixture of all of these methods so some parts of your subject are more or less transparent than others. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="1654,1655,1660"]

Adding effects

To make your ghost even more ghoulish, there’s a variety of other tricks you can try. To create some mist, make a new layer and using Edit->Fill, choose white or a light colour and then either using a blending mode or a black filled layer mask with a low opacity soft white brush, paint on your photo where you want the mist to be visible. To add some motion to your subject, duplicate their layer (Ctrl/Cmd J) go to Filter->Blur->Motion Blur. Play around with your angle and distance (amount). If this blurs your ghost’s features too much, add a layer mask to your blurred ghost’s layer to remove some of the effect and paint their features back in. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="1656,1657"]   With a Hue/Saturation layer clipped to your ghost layer (alt click between the adjustment layer and your subject layer), reduce some of the colour saturation in your ghost and with a Brightness/Contrast layer boost the brightness and reduce the contrast to create more of an “apparition”. You may like to use a layer mask to remove these effects from the subject’s surroundings. Using any of your colour adjustment layers add a green or bluish tinge to the image because, for some reason, these are the colours people associate with ghosts. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="1658,1659"]   Set your final image as the wallpaper on the computers of everyone you know and watch them freak out the next time they go to use it.

How I created this week's images

‘Come Away With Me’, featuring model Stephanie Perez, was shot in Barwon Park Mansion’s servants quarters while she stood on a chair so I could later make it look like she was levitating. To add to the effect I took extra shots of her flicking her hair, shots of her coat flying and took underexposed shots of the room to bring some detail back into the window area. I then composited all these shots together in Photoshop and cloned out the wall mirror. What should have been an easy edit was complicated by the fact that I only half-heartedly label my layers so I was continually losing and searching for problem layers. Lesson learnt. [gallery link="file" size="medium" ids="1652,1662,1661,1664,1663,1665"]   I then applied colour toning and textures. I also tried to sneak a rabbit into the shot but unfortunately it was too distracting. ‘Of a Different Mind’ represents the different ways we can react to a situation. One girl looks fearful as she runs up the stairs while the other looks almost provocative and inviting, two different ways to react to an unseen person. It was shot in Barwon’s stables with Peta Robinson modelling. The shot came about mainly as a happy accident. I took a few different photos of Peta as she moved slightly in each one. When I brought them all into Photoshop to decide which pose I liked best I noticed that some of the shots looked really interesting combined. Basically I layered one photo over another and masked in only the face from the second photo at a low opacity with some motion blur applied. [caption id="attachment_1667" align="aligncenter" width="684"]Of a Different Mind Of a Different Mind[/caption]   I’m so thrilled to have had the opportunity to attend Brooke’s workshop and work with such a beautiful location, great models and talented photographers, but I feel even more fortunate that I didn’t actually see any ghosts (although I did spot a live rabbit).

Whenever I’m travelling and have time to kill in my hotel room I like to try and take a conceptual photograph because … well, that’s what everyone does, right? Finding private locations to shoot conceptual photos in is one of the biggest difficulties of this type of photography so it’s always a bonus to have a new location all to yourself. The challenge though, is trying to come up with a concept in limited time when you’re unlikely to have fancy costumes on hand and the most inspiring prop within reach is some free body products and, if you’re somewhere REALLY ritzy, a pair of terry towelling slippers. Hotel room clonesFor me, the obvious choice in this situation is to take a ‘multiplicity’ photo where you lock down your camera, take photos of yourself posing all over the room and then combine them later in Photoshop. Taking cloned photos of yourself is about the most fun you can have with a camera, even if seeing yourself duplicated many times over is ultimately horrifying. Since you’ve mastered masking after last week’s lesson, the post production for multiplicity images is pretty easy. It’s just a matter of laying all your photos on top of each other and using masks to reveal yourself in each photo, and because the camera hasn’t moved this is usually a breeze.

How to photograph a multiplicity image

As we learned last week, the most important aspect of taking photos that utilise masking is to a) set your exposure and then lock down your settings so they cannot change and b) take a blank shot of your scene without your subject – this isn’t entirely necessary for multiplicity but it’s a good habit to get into. I like to take this blank shot at the end in case something in the scene has moved during the course of the session, but it doesn’t hurt to take one at the beginning too.
  1. To get started you’re either going to need a tripod or something to rest your camera on. It IS possible to take a multiplicity shot hand-held (using someone else to model) and get Photoshop to align the layers later, provided you keep mostly still.
  1. Set your exposure in manual mode. The mistake I ALWAYS make with multiplicity images is not setting a narrow enough aperture so my background people are always out of focus, so aim for f/11 or higher. If you need a low shutter speed to compensate try to keep still when you’re posing. Do not touch your settings again. [caption id="attachment_1630" align="alignright" width="200"]And for god's sake, don't be so stupid to photograph a multiplicity image in front of flashing Christmas lights that change colour. And for god's sake, don't be so stupid to photograph a multiplicity image in front of flashing Christmas lights that change colour.[/caption]
  1. If you’re outdoors, choosing a white balance other than auto is advisable because the light is always subtley changing and you’ll save yourself work in post.
  1. Think about your poses. If clones are intersecting it will take more work in Photoshop to cut around them. You also don’t want one clone entirely covering another so try and spread yourself (or your subject) evenly around your space and keep the rules of composition in mind. Be mindful of where the light and shadows are because if one clone is well lit and then you put another clone between them and the light, you’ll have work on darkening that first clone in Photoshop for believability.
  1. Focus on the area where you’ll be striking your best pose and then lock your focus (switch to manual or back button).
  1. If you’re taking self-portraits you’re going to need a remote or to use the 10 second timer.
Get cloning! [caption id="attachment_1631" align="alignright" width="300"]The photographs that make up my multiplicity image The photographs that make up my multiplicity image[/caption] I shot my multiplicity image at a koala conservation park ten minutes from my house (they grow trees here to feed koalas, but there’s no koalas just hanging out, sadly). I can’t find any information about it on the Internet so it’s a bit mysterious. I live in a state whose slogan is “beautiful one day, perfect the next” (even though there’s a severe storm baring down on us as I write this) so getting the overcast light I like is damn near impossible. This was shot on a semi-cloudy day in a bit of a rush with my assistant (mum) pressing the shutter because I was too far away for my remote to register. I chose the idea of the clones playing hide and seek because I liked the idea of having them interact in some way without actually touching.

How to edit a multiplicity image

If you’ve imported your images with Lightroom, select the images you’ve chosen to work with and go to Photo -> Edit In -> Open as layers in Photoshop. (Remember that if you’ve edited one of your photos in Lightroom, to sync those same changes to all the images you’ll be using; the same goes for Adobe Camera Raw). I don’t use Bridge but I guess it’s much the same. Otherwise you can open Photoshop and choose File -> Scripts -> Load files into stack and choose the images you want to work with. If you were shooting handheld, select all your layers and choose Edit -> Auto-Align Layers, or you can try lining them up yourself by lowering the opacity of each layer and nudging them into place (move tool + arrow keys). [caption id="attachment_1597" align="alignright" width="150"]Add layer mask Add layer mask[/caption] Make sure your main image is at the bottom of the layers panel and hold down Alt (PC) or Option (Mac) and click the eyeball of this layer so it turns off all your other layers. Multiplicity edits can get confusing so label your layers and work on a layer at a time. Turn the eyeball back on for the layer above and click the ‘Add layer mask’ button. This should add a white mask to the layer so it’s still fully visible. Then, as we learned last week press B to choose the brush tool then D to make it the default colours, and X to bring black to the front. Paint over the areas you want to hide in your image. If you make a mistake, hit X again to bring white to the front and paint over the problem area to bring it back. This can take a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to get right. As you work through your layers it might become easier to invert your mask (make it black) so nothing of that layer is visible (Ctrl+i / Cmd+i) and just paint back in the portion you need. [caption id="attachment_1635" align="alignright" width="300"]Masks for multiplicity Masks for multiplicity[/caption] Because your background is static and only your subjects have moved your masks don’t have to be perfect because your surroundings should align perfectly. But for trickier overlapping clones you may need to work on fine detail with your selection tools. I won’t go into detail about this here because selection tools can fill a whole book but there’s plenty of great articles and videos out there to get you up to speed. Otherwise, zoom into your image and using a brush with a hardness that matches the edges in the photos, do some very precise painting around your clones. If you’re also finding colour changes between your layers I would add either a levels or curves adjustment layer and clip it to your problem layer (Alt or Option click between the adjustment layer and the layer you want to affect to clip them together so the change will only affect that layer and not all underlying layers) then change the colours and brightness to match the background layer. Levels and curves default to RGB colour but if you go into the drop down menu you can change this to be colour specific ie. blue/yellow, green/magenta, red/cyan. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1633,1632"]   [caption id="attachment_1634" align="alignleft" width="199"]You can even clone body parts! You can even clone body parts![/caption] While multiplicity images are fun to photograph, I’m not a great fan of the results because I find it distracting to have so many subjects in my images. However, multiplicity is a really useful technique for duplicating objects which I’ll cover in a future tutorial. Now I must go and prepare for this impending storm. If only I had real clones to do my bidding (no playing hide and seek on my watch!) Backyard dancing girls    

  [caption id="attachment_1592" align="alignright" width="300"]Unedited supermoon Unedited supermoon[/caption] 2014 had three supermoons so that gave me three chances to try and replicate those gorgeous photos of a big ol’ moon emerging from the horizon. Three chances that were doomed to fail because I now know those photos AREN’T REAL without the help of Photoshop or in-camera sorcery. The moon is too small and too bright so these photos are usually composed of one wide shot exposed for the dark scene and one telephoto shot exposed for the bright moon that are later combined in Photoshop. Shocking, I know. Some people feel this is cheating but if you’re going to be wowed by a supermoon photo will it be the one with the tiny blown out moon or the one where the moon is impressively detailed and huge? People hate to be deceived but they love magic and beauty more, which is what Photoshop makes possible. Lightroom is the magic world equivalent of coins and card tricks, it’s great for processing photos but it doesn’t allow you to combine two or more images like grand master illusionist Photoshop does. Photoshop’s advantage is that it uses layers and masks. Layers allow you to stack more than one photo together, while masking allows you to control transparency—hiding or revealing parts of each photo. If you can wrap your mind around this concept the rest of Photoshop isn’t so terrifying. Let me explain with an analogy: [caption id="attachment_1593" align="alignleft" width="133"]Beach Beach[/caption] Say you’re at the beach. You’re standing on the beach looking down and what you’re seeing is sand. Let’s say this sand is your “background layer” in Photoshop (ie. the first photo you open to work with). Then you throw down your towel so now, instead of seeing sand, you’re seeing your towel, but your towel is still surrounded by sand (this is the equivalent of adding a new empty layer on top of your background layer, selecting a rectangular area and filling it with colour, but you’re still seeing the underlying layer around the coloured rectangle). [caption id="attachment_1594" align="alignleft" width="960"]Towel Towel[/caption]   [caption id="attachment_1597" align="alignright" width="150"]Add layer mask Add layer mask[/caption]   Next you lie down on the towel, obscuring part of the towel with your body (another new layer, select a person shaped area and fill with a colour). Now it gets a little tricky. Let’s say you put on some sunscreen (add a white-filled layer). Some of this you rub right in so it becomes invisible, some you only rub in a little and some you don’t rub in at all so that parts of your body are partially obscured by sunscreen. This is akin to adding a layer mask (with the add layer mask button) that tells the layer which parts should be visible and which parts shouldn’t (use a black brush to paint away where you don’t want the sunscreen and then a grey brush or a black brush with low opacity to show partial areas of sunscreen). [gallery columns="1" link="file" size="large" ids="1595,1596"]   Then the sun starts beating down all bright and yellow. (Add an adjustment layer, which is a special layer that allows you to change colours or exposure – in this case, one that has the brightness and the colour yellow boosted.) You put up an umbrella so the sun only affects the area that isn’t shaded by the umbrella. (On the layer mask for the adjustment layer use a big round brush to daub a spot of black in the middle of your layer mask.) To tell a layer mask what you want it to show and hide you use the brush tool to paint white (revealing the layer), black (concealing the layer) or shades of grey (for partial visibility). The great thing about using layers and masks, is that they lie on top of your base photo and can be easily deleted without destroying the original (non-destructive). Umbrella Still with me? Without getting too fancy, I took three photos to illustrate how layer masks work, ranging from easy to medium difficulty. The easiest one, ‘Flora’, I took in spring when all the bougainvillea bushes were in bloom (to the amusement of afternoon strollers and the barking dog who lived at the house). I took a photo of me standing in front of the bush holding a frame I bought at my local op shop and then, without moving my camera or changing any of my settings, I stepped out of frame and took a photo of JUST the bush. Now if there’s one lesson I want you to learn from this post it’s if you’re doing experimental photography, always, always, ALWAYS take a photo of your scene without your subject in it. This is useful for so many reasons, all of which I’ll cover throughout my tutorials. I also expanded my frame which we covered last lesson. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="1600,1599,1601,1602"]   In Photoshop I opened the background layer, placed the photo of me on top, and then added in all the surrounding shots. I added a white filled layer mask to the layer of me so no underlying layers were showing through. Then I painted black on the layer mask within the frame so my current layer disappeared and I could see through to the background layer below, making my head disappear and the area behind where I was standing became visible. MAGIC. I then got a little trickier with my editing by copying another portion of flowers into the frame because I didn’t think the fence was interesting enough. And then I put a bird on it.

Let me explain exactly how to use layer masks.

Toolbar [caption id="attachment_1605" align="alignright" width="300"]Paint black on mask Paint black on mask[/caption] When you add a layer mask it is automatically filled with white. And white means the layer it's applied to = 100% visible. Black = 0% visible. The little saying goes “black conceals, white reveals.” Write this down and add it to your mantra board. Grab a brush loaded with black (B to bring up your brush tool then check the two colours at the bottom of the tools panel, press D to make it the default colours which is white on black then X to bring black to the front.) Make sure your mask is active (check you have the correct layer highlighted and click on its mask – you can tell it's selected by the little selection marks around it), then paint black on your image so you’re no longer seeing that part of the layer, which now shows whatever lies under that layer. Using the brush tool is not very accurate though, so if you understand the selection tools you can use them instead to select a very specific area and fill it with black. (Draw in your selection, shift + F5 (shortcut for Edit->Fill) and choose black.) For my second photo, 'Beyond Reach', I got slightly more complicated. I took five photos – a bedroom door, an empty frame, a wall, me hiding behind a tree, and me lying on the ground. (Much to the amusement of the same afternoon strollers as before since I took these photos 20 minutes apart in a different location). [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="1606,1609,1610,1607,1608"]   The bottom layer is the girl lying on the ground, the layer above is the door with the inside masked out so that the door is visible but the room is not so I can see through to the girl layer. The next layer up is the wall, then the girl behind the tree, and then the frame. I masked away the inside of the frame to see through to the reaching girl below, and then masked away the remaining area of the girl photo that extended outside of the frame to see through to the wall below. [caption id="attachment_1611" align="aligncenter" width="931"]Beyond Reach Beyond Reach[/caption]   Not so hard? Here’s a third photo, 'Eye Heart You', which I created for a bit of fun. Can you figure out how it was done? [caption id="attachment_1612" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Eye Heart You Eye Heart You[/caption]   Answers on a postcard!

The majority of people with a functioning camera will at some point have snapped a panoramic photo—a process that involves swivelling the body from side to side while taking a series of photos to capture the full range of a scene so beautiful it can’t be contained. (That last bit felt like it needed to be in bold.) [caption id="" align="alignright" width="240"]A Bridge Just Right 'A Bridge Just Right' by Ryan Brenizer[/caption] Then a cunning fellow named Ryan Brenizer started using this technique for portraits, but instead of just moving side to side he moved up and down and all around while using a wide aperture to create a very shallow depth of field, and stitched the photos together later in Photoshop. Thus, the Brenizer Method was born, while Internet forums went crazy with green-eyed monsters claiming to have invented the technique first. (Those people tend to call this technique ‘bokehrama’ or ‘panoramic stitching’ because agreeing on one name is apparently too difficult.) A Google image search of any of these terms will fill your screen with examples aplenty but this one by Ryan Brenizer himself seems to be the most common example. And damn right, it’s a stunner.

How the Brenizer Method Works

[caption id="attachment_1562" align="alignright" width="300"]bokehrama, expanding the frame 50mm f/1.4 Brenizer Method[/caption] Let’s say you’re out shooting but you only have a telephoto lens with you. Then someone says “Look at this amazing sunset! Please photograph me in front of it so I can impress my Facebook pals!” With a telephoto lens you’ll only be able take a head and shoulders portrait and miss the sunset entirely OR you’ll have to move so far away from your subject to fit everything in that they’ll barely be recognisable. The Brenizer Method lets you keep your subject close and intimate but still include as much of the scene as you want. [caption id="attachment_1561" align="alignright" width="300"]Brenizer Method wide angle lens comparison Same tree with wide angle lens - the subject would be further away[/caption] And because you’re using a wide aperture the background will be lovely and creamy and blurry so the background isn’t competing with your subject but is still adding interest and context to the scene. If you’d just used a wide angle lens your subject would be farther away than this technique allows (which is what you were thinking right?)

Why is the Brenizer Method so special?

Admittedly the Brenizer Method can be tricky to pull off successfully and I wouldn’t necessarily want to teach such an advanced technique early on. But in a pared down, form taking shots all around your scene to ‘expand the frame’ (where a wide aperture is optional) is a popular technique for conceptual artists and wedding photographers so I want to at least get you thinking about shooting extra shots around your scene. Here’s some of the reasons why:
  • If you’re shooting in a confined space and can’t move far enough away from your subject to fit them in, this technique allows you to shoot your subject and environment in a number of shots and stitch them together later.
  • By creating an image from more than one photo this increases the amount of pixels in your image giving you the ability to print at a much larger size without quality loss. Obviously, if you hope to make money selling prints this is a great advantage.
  • By taking two shots either side of your subject you can create the square shot that is so popular with conceptual photographers, rather than cropping out the top and bottom of your frame and losing pixels.
  • If you were photographing a wedding (for example) in a beautiful location, you want to show as much of it as possible without distancing yourself from your couple and losing them in the scene. (Although the opposite is currently popular in wedding photography where the photographer moves far away from the couple and photographs them as tiny dots in a large picturesque scene.)
  • Self-portraitists need their camera close for it to detect their remote so this technique allows them to add in the rest of the scene when they’ve finished shooting their pose.

Shooting the Brenizer Method

To attempt this technique you’ll want to use your longest telephoto with the widest aperture, usually preferencing the latter. I considered using my 70-200mm but figured the f/4 aperture wouldn’t be quite enough, plus I had a brand new 50mm 1.4 that I wanted to play with so I chose this lens instead. Next you’ll want to find your subject and location. My only available subject was myself which is another reason why I chose the 50mm because I needed to fit myself into one frame. Many photographers who use this technique shoot portraits or models and ask them to hold very still so they can shoot their upper and lower body in different shots, which isn’t so easy with a self-portrait. For my location I was out wandering the neighbourhood when I noticed that some vandal had been getting their kicks chainsawing trees in the local parklands. As I wandered along the felled trees got bigger and bigger until I found this mammoth tree that had been cut down and I came up with the concept of a girl trying to bring it back to life. I also liked that the tree offered a lot of foreground and background interest to add depth to the shot. Generally it’s best to avoid backgrounds with a lot of detail that will specifically need to line up, unless you’re like me and want to make it as hard on yourself as possible. Some points to keep in mind:
  • Avoid windy days or elements of your scene will move around
  • Ensure the light isn’t changing rapidly
  • Be mindful of shadows caused by your subject because you want the shadows to remain in all the accompanying shots. Keep your subject in place as you move your camera in this instance.
Obviously because I was shooting a self-portrait I had to use a tripod but it isn’t entirely necessary. However, it does help with lining your shots up later. Here’s how you set up your camera:
  1. Switch your camera to manual. You don’t want ANY of your camera settings changing while you do this process or your photos won’t match up afterwards.
  1. Set your exposure by using your widest aperture and change your shutter speed accordingly.
  1. Turn off auto white balance and either set a custom white balance or, if you’re lazy like me, use the daylight setting.
  1. Focus on your subject and then lock your focus by either switching your lens to manual focus or use back button focusing and don’t touch your focus button again. And most certainly do not change your focal length.
  1. If you’re shooting between 3-9 images it’s probably OK to shoot RAW. But if you’re (crazy) like me and wanting to attempt a 30+ image it’s advisable to shoot in JPEG or your computer won’t handle the processing when stitching the images together. (I shot in RAW and converted to JPEG afterwards.)
[caption id="attachment_1560" align="alignright" width="300"]expanding the frame, bokehpanorama Individual shots[/caption] When you’re ready take your main shot and then start taking your surrounding shots using a 40% overlap. It’s good to get into the practice of shooting in a pattern, ie in rows back and forth, but if you’re like me you’ll just shoot all around and hope for the best. Shoot slowly and be careful to ensure you have enough coverage. Another really helpful tip which I always forget to do is take a picture of your hand before the sequence and after the sequence to make it easier to identify in post. While you’re shooting your surrounding shots it’s best not to change the camera’s position but to swivel it up, across and down from one point as if it’s anchored to a tripod (if it’s not already). I made the terrible mistake of removing my camera from my tripod and stepping side to side then shooting above my head and down low. In my mind this made the most sense, like piecing together a puzzle. But in doing so my horizon line was changing which meant putting together my final image was a nightmare I intend never to repeat.

Post production for the Brenizer Method

There’s two methods for combining your images together in Photoshop. The first is to combine your shots manually which is fine for 3-9 shots but I certainly didn’t want to attempt it with over 40. The second method is to go to File -> Automate -> Photomerge. Select all your images and check the ‘blend images together’ box (this tries to match colour and exposure between shots). It may take some experimentation to choose the merging option that works best for you. For example, on my first go I tried the auto method and ended up with a terrible mess because I could see that Photoshop had expected me to swivel my camera rather than move it. I then decided to give reposition a go because essentially that’s how I shot it and got a much better result. [gallery link="file" columns="2" size="medium" ids="1566,1565,1567,1564"] Going against all previous advice I chose to try to stitch all my RAW files at once. “I’m patient!” I thought, “I’ll wait for this all day if I have to!” But it wasn’t the time it took to stitch that ended up being the issue. It was that on my first attempt Photoshop wouldn’t save a file that large and on my second attempt my computer ran out of scratch disc space. There’s no real working around these kinds of issues so I bit the bullet and converted all my RAWs to JPEG. It also forced me to get rid of any unnecessary shots that just weren’t needed because I’d been over-cautious and taken too many. To ease the load on my computer I also decided to stitch 4 images at a time so I ended up with about 7 resulting images that I then stitched together into one. [caption id="attachment_1568" align="alignright" width="150"]Layer mask button Layer mask button[/caption] When this process is done you’ll get an image with white lines throughout showing you the stitch points. Flattening the image removes the lines but you want to leave this until the very end. They are quite handy guides to show you where a stitch occurred so you can follow it along and check you’re happy with the results. If you’re not happy add a layer mask to the problem layer with the button at the bottom of your tools palette and either add more or remove some until the seams look realistic (more on this next lesson). You will likely come across areas where perspective shifts (areas that won’t line up) have occurred so you’ll need to select the problem spot and use the warp tool (Edit -> Transform -> Warp) to pull areas into place. By swivelling the camera side to side you may end up with gaps at the top and bottom of each seam. You can fill these areas in using the clone stamp or content aware fill or just crop them out. I worked on this shot for WEEKS to make the stitches look convincing, all because I hadn’t swivelled my camera and because I’d chosen such a difficult subject to stitch. I was also relatively new to Photoshop so everything took twice as long. If I can do it, so can you. This is a technique I use in almost all my conceptual photos, although I usually use 9 photos or less and avoid using such a wide aperture because it makes it too difficult to find accurate focus for self-portraits. If you are interested in trying this technique I’d also suggest starting small and don’t make the same stupid mistakes I did! Taking one for the team. :) Here's another example, photographed the same day: [gallery link="file" columns="2" size="medium" ids="1572,1573"] [caption id="attachment_1574" align="alignright" width="960"]Final image: The Road Less Travelled Final image: The Road Less Travelled[/caption]  

Many photographers use their camera to capture a moment; they see an interesting subject so they shoot it to the best of their ability. But a worthwhile experiment for every budding photographer is to try staging a photo. Rather than passively waiting for all the elements to perfectly arrange themselves, take control and create the moment yourself. It’s an important lesson in thinking about concept, setting, composition, lighting and posing. It could be as simple as approaching someone interesting on the street and non-creepily asking permission to pose them in a certain way or as elaborate as the over-the-top concepts often seen in fashion or advertising. Make, rather than take. Create. My chosen style of photography, conceptual fine art, uses photography to tell a story and so while the course of this blog will see me study and explore a photography technique each week, I also need to develop a story to incorporate that technique. It’s a daunting prospect because concepting a shoot requires thought, creativity and the drive to pull together the elements needed to bring a story to life. But tackling these challenges can only improve your work. If you break your project down into its different components it becomes easier to manage. ‘Garden Attack' is the very first conceptual photograph I ever took. I am proud of myself for attempting it even though I wouldn’t call it a success. But I thought it would make a good example to illustrate all the areas that need to be considered when creating a photo. Firstly, you need to devise a concept and that’s going to involve tapping into your stream of inspiration. Not a creative person? Rubbish. You either haven’t found a way to express your creativity or you’re not yet seeing the world as an endless source of inspiration. I can’t close my eyes and come up with ideas. I need to surround myself with books and art, music and movies, and the work of other photographers. I particularly love to browse op shops for props to build a story around.  I take these influences and use my own life experiences to give them a new twist. Buy a notebook and jot down every idea, no matter how stupid. Use Pinterest or Evernote to create an inspiration library that you can turn to at any time for a little creative boost. And if you’re really struggling, try some inspiration exercises. Brooke Shaden outlines some particularly good ones here.

“You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”  - Ansel Adams
For ‘Garden Attack’ I came up with the idea purely because I liked the look of the passionfruit vines hanging over the fence and I thought about how a person might interact with them. Once you have your idea, break it down into all its components. Here, you’re thinking about:
  • Story
  • Setting – location, era, time of day
  • Subject
  • Props
  • Wardrobe
  • Pose
  • Lighting
  • Framing – angle, lens used
Story: this should primarily be guided by your idea, however if you’re simply shooting fashion or glamour it may not be especially relevant. For a conceptual photo, putting thought into your character will help get your story across clearly. Who are they? What is this situation they’re in and is it the most visually interesting part of their story? How did they get here? What happens after? Having answers to these questions will help you add extra elements that enrich the story. I wanted my character to look as if she’d been digging a hole in the garden but nature had started fighting back. It’s not a complicated story and had I put more thought into it I might have had a stronger image, but I do like that it’s open to interpretation. Setting: where and when is your story taking place? If your story takes place at a castle at sunrise then you’re either going to have to find a castle you can photograph at sunrise or recreate one using compositing. This is my biggest struggle. Either my concepts are too elaborate or the location I need is too public or dangerous. (With all the deadly creatures in Australia going off the beaten track is an extreme sport.) This means I have to think smaller, using the little pockets of trees and creeks that surround my home. My best tip is to assess your local area for its most unique features and include those in your photos. Use Google Maps to discover what’s nearby and then your car and your feet to explore further. Once I have built a portfolio I intend to approach more interesting locations for permission to shoot there. As my initial idea came from the vines over my fence, it was easy for me to shoot in my garden and tangle myself in the vines without travelling too far or having passers-by staring at me. Both the time period and time of day are not important here, but I did want to darken the photo to suggest that the weather, too, had been angered. Props: Having your subject interact with SOMETHING will make your shot more interesting and further your story. Being on an extreme budget I usually buy props from cheap “$2” shops, eBay or just use things I have lying around the house. Depending on your concept, you can even composite in a photo of the prop you want if it’s too difficult to get the physical version. For my shoot I needed some gardening implements. I had a rusty shovel lying around and I replanted an overgrown lettuce to look as if it was grabbing at my hand. I used the vines to wrap around myself and dug a hole in the ground to make it look like I’d been doing something in the garden. Wardrobe / Make up: What would your character likely be wearing? I have a clothes rack full of costumes specifically to be used in photoshoots. This is made up of clothes I don’t wear anymore, old costumes, and dresses from my *cough* goth days that are rich in dark colours and fabrics. I regularly scour eBay for vintage dresses (I never spend more than $30 unless it’s particularly special) and I visit every op shop I find. The clothes are cheap anyway but I like to go around change of season when I can usually pick up whole bags of clothes for $5 or less. For now, I wear basic make up I’ve applied myself. As my character was working in the garden I figured she’d be wearing something old and ragged. I had a pair of paint splattered overalls that I thought would work perfectly. To make myself look dirty I smeared some mud on my white shirt and arms but unfortunately I did this fairly half-heartedly so you can’t really tell. Subject: Who will play your character? What physical attributes do they need to have? If you have a willing family member or friend on hand – great! For me, mainly for ease of access, I primarily use myself but in the future I hope to either recruit friends or use models through ModelMayhem or online message boards. However, your subject needn’t be a person. An object or animal are perfectly fine too. I never considered using anyone but myself, however the story would have been stronger had I used a model and wrapped them entirely in vines. As it was I had to wrap myself up, take the photo (my camera was too far away to register my remote so I had to pull myself out of the vines to trigger it and quickly wrap myself back up), run back to the camera to check my pose and keep doing this over and over until I was happy with the photos I had. I waited a few hours to get the diffuse light I wanted and jumped outside when it was just right. It would have been tricky having a model waiting around for that to happen. [caption id="attachment_1506" align="alignleft" width="200"]Stupid remote Stupid remote[/caption]                   Pose: It takes a little experimentation to get this right but the best way to start out with posing is to think about what pose will help tell your story. Should it be powerful or submissive? I tried a number of poses for my concept, many of which didn’t work, including making it look as if my feet weren’t touching the ground and the vines had fully embraced me. My pose had to be tense and convey fear and struggle as I fought to escape the plants, but also partly submissive to make it look as if the vines were winning. [gallery columns="4" link="none" size="medium" ids="1500,1501,1502,1503"]   Lighting: Lighting is difficult and expensive, so it’s always best to start out with natural light, positioning your subject so it sculpts their features. Shoot early or late in the day and aim for overcast or cloudy days to avoid harsh shadows (unless that’s what you want). I’m just starting to dabble in the world of lighting, but you can start experimenting cheaply with lamps and candles. I photographed mid-morning but waited until clouds crossed the sun so that my skin had a milky tone and everything was nicely lit from the diffuse sun. Framing: Do you want a wide shot to see the location, or a tight shot to really focus on your subject? Do you want to shoot from low down to make them look powerful or high up to make them look submissive or straight on to let the image alone tell the story? I chose to shoot front on and in portrait orientation. I used a 50mm to get a close shot without distortion but I also moved my camera right and left to take extra shots of the garden to Photoshop in later (they didn’t make the final cut). Once you’ve thought all this through do a rough sketch of your idea to help you visualise all the shots you’ll need to take and any elements you might use to strengthen your story. [gallery size="medium" ids="1504,1505,1510"] If your shot doesn’t work out don’t feel dejected because you’ll have learned a tonne of things from the experience. It’s frustrating to fail but get straight back out there and shoot it again using what you’ve learned. This is the only way to improve. I initially considered my photo a flat-out failure because the “garden’s attack” was not how I envisioned and didn’t feel convincing enough. But I let it sit for a good 9 months before I took another look at it and with a little toning and colour correction in Photoshop I think it’s OK. I love jumping on the Flickr pages of great photographers and scrolling back to their first photos to see how far they’ve come. And I’d love to see yours too. Have you tried taking a staged shot? Show me your first attempt!

Over the coming weeks I will begin to explore the tricks and techniques used by the best photographers but rather than just saying “hey, here’s how to shoot an HDR image” I want to photograph these techniques in the style that I love to shoot. Every pro photographer specialises in a certain kind of photography and I want to talk about why it’s so important to define your niche and explain how I eventually stumbled across mine. When your passion for photography first ignites you’ll want to shoot everything in sight. Every flower, every sunset, every local event. You’ll find excuses to go places just so you can take your camera and begrudge going to events where cameras aren’t allowed. I was stuck in this snap happy wonderland for about three years before I started to consider making money from my hobby. But to be able to market yourself as a photographer you need to have a specialty. At first I thought this was ludicrous. Surely the fact that I can and do shoot everything makes me a better prospect for every photography job ever. But the more I thought about it the more I realised why this doesn’t make sense. If someone wants a children’s portrait, then they want to employ someone who shoots children’s portraits because that person will know exactly how to put children at ease in front of a camera. They don’t want someone who sometimes shoots kid’s portraits but also shoots food photography and sports because they’ll look at your website and won’t understand what they’re getting. (Unless you specifically shoot children eating food at sports games and then you have a specialty—even if it’s a creepy one). If, however, someone only shoots macro fungi then whenever a company is looking for a well-shot mushroom they’re going to save themselves time and employ the person who lives to shoot that subject and knows where the best mushrooms are and the best light to shoot them in, like THIS GUY, and not the guy who shot a mushroom once. And this is why it pays to specialise. Not just in photography, but in whatever your chosen profession is. It limits your competition and allows you to perfect your niche and be the best at what you do. I really struggled to define what it is I wanted to shoot. Whenever I tell someone I’m a photographer most people assume I shoot weddings and portraits because that’s what photography means to them and that’s traditionally where the dollars are. And for awhile I too pictured myself as a wedding photographer because it was the only field I knew I could make money from right away. But deep down I didn’t want to be a wedding photographer and I didn’t want to take family portraits. What I did like to shoot was landscapes and wildlife, but how do you make money out of those? Especially when there’s already so many people doing it better? Then one day on CreativeLIVE I saw an ad for a course on how to turn photographs into works of art and decided to tune in because the concept intrigued me. After watching Brooke Shaden’s class for a couple of hours I knew that THIS is what I wanted to do with every fibre of my being and I bought the course without hesitation in what became one of those life-defining moments. I would be a conceptual fine art portraitist. A WHAT? Well, normally when a portrait is taken it is commissioned by a person, family or company with the intent to showcase the subject’s beauty or professionalism. Conceptual fine art portraits on the other hand are created as an art form. Instead of smiling, candid subjects these portraits aim to tell imaginative stories through the use of costumes, props and posing. They are experimental in nature and in many circumstances utilise in-camera tricks or post processing to add an element of magic or the unreal, and it’s mainly these kinds of techniques I will explore throughout this blog. Conceptual fine art portraiture is a broad field so it’s incredibly hard to describe but as a picture paints a thousand words, here are some examples from a few of my favourite photographers. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="238"]Away with the canaries 'Away with the canaries' by Miss Aniela[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignright" width="200"]to serve 'To serve' by Brooke Shaden[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="253"]Set them free 'Set them free' by Erik Johansson[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignright" width="200"]These Are The Creatures In My Neighborhood 'These are the creatures in my neighbourhood' by Joel Robison[/caption]                           I was drawn to this field instinctually but over time I’ve asked myself why that might be. A few years back I would have told you I didn’t have a creative bone in my body but I’ve always loved the arts so have gravitated to jobs in this area. I can’t draw or play an instrument. I tried creative writing but it felt like drowning. I’ve since learnt that creativity is so much more than being able to dream up and make pretty things. It’s not a skill gifted at birth and it’s actually surprisingly easy to train yourself to be receptive to creativity when you find the medium that allows you to express it best. I now come up with at least three concepts for photos a day, whereas before, I was hard pressed to imagine ANYTHING. I’m also a perfectionist so being able to refine one concept is immensely appealing to me, whereas if I take a trip and shoot 3,000 photos, that’s an overwhelming amount of work for me and is the primary reason why most of my photos remain unseen. But most of all I’m a huge fan of magical realism, where elements of a magical world seep into our own and are presented in a way that makes it seem entirely normal. This idea is thrilling to me and conceptual fine art photography has given me the medium to express my fascination with this concept and a way to add magic to my everyday. So in defining your photography niche it pays to analyse your strengths and interests until you find a field that fits. If you’re really stuck this article succinctly wraps up some points that may help you define yours. But above all you need to love what you do because to succeed at something you need to pursue it doggedly and if your heart isn’t in it you’re destined to fail. Defining who you are is important because it gives your photographs intent, which makes them powerful. Good photographs have a clear subject, whatever it may be, and they tell a story about that subject. Sadly, choosing your field is not the end. Then the world expects you to have a personal style! Something about your work that is instantly recognisable and sets you apart from everyone else. Usually style comes naturally with experimentation. Mine is currently a work in progress but I know I like dark autumn colours, muted blacks, foreground interest, painterly techniques and cinematic lighting, and am sure these will manifest in my work, but for now this is still part of my journey. Discovering what you love to do is the fun part. Enjoy it! But if you’re a hobby photographer who loves taking photos for the sake of taking photos then that’s just fine too. Let me know how you discovered what you love to shoot!

12
Apr

How to photograph floating objects.

Telekenesis seems to me to be the lazy person’s superpower of choice—which is probably why it’s my favourite. Inspired by Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’ I spent many hours as a child trying to make things move by the force of my mind alone but sadly gravity always won the battle. Now, with the power of Photoshop […]

5
Apr

How to do levitation photography.

I was up in the air about how to start this blog post but then I realised that’s a terrible joke and decided to get on with it. The easiest and most effective trick you can do with photography and a touch of Photoshop magic is to make someone levitate, float or fly. Photos that […]

29
Mar

How to use opacity to create a ghost.

Late last year I had a series of odd encounters with rabbits. It all started when I accidentally wore an angora scarf (I don’t support fur as fashion), which lead to a number of rabbit sightings (even though they’re considered a pest and banned in my state) and culminated in a trip to Victoria for […]

22
Mar

How to create a multiplicity image.

Whenever I’m travelling and have time to kill in my hotel room I like to try and take a conceptual photograph because … well, that’s what everyone does, right? Finding private locations to shoot conceptual photos in is one of the biggest difficulties of this type of photography so it’s always a bonus to have […]

15
Mar

How to use layers and masking. Photoshop 101.

  2014 had three supermoons so that gave me three chances to try and replicate those gorgeous photos of a big ol’ moon emerging from the horizon. Three chances that were doomed to fail because I now know those photos AREN’T REAL without the help of Photoshop or in-camera sorcery. The moon is too small and […]

8
Mar

How to shoot and edit the Brenizer Method (aka bokehrama, frame expansion, panorama).

The majority of people with a functioning camera will at some point have snapped a panoramic photo—a process that involves swivelling the body from side to side while taking a series of photos to capture the full range of a scene so beautiful it can’t be contained. (That last bit felt like it needed to […]

22
Feb

How to create a conceptual photograph.

Many photographers use their camera to capture a moment; they see an interesting subject so they shoot it to the best of their ability. But a worthwhile experiment for every budding photographer is to try staging a photo. Rather than passively waiting for all the elements to perfectly arrange themselves, take control and create the […]

15
Feb

What type of photographer are you? Discovering your style.

Over the coming weeks I will begin to explore the tricks and techniques used by the best photographers but rather than just saying “hey, here’s how to shoot an HDR image” I want to photograph these techniques in the style that I love to shoot. Every pro photographer specialises in a certain kind of photography […]