Category 'Compositing'

The word compositing has a boring textbook definition that in a nutshell means “how the magic happens”. Compositing made it possible for Harry Potter to fly around a Quidditch pitch, for Spider-Man to swing between buildings, and for men to walk on the moon. (Just kidding.) (Or am I?) By combining elements from different pictures into one, compositing allows photographers to trick you in more ways than you could possibly fathom . It's used by wedding and school photographers to remove blinking faces in group shots, by newborn photographers to create those baby sleeping with head on hands shots, by landscape photographers to switch a boring blue sky with a moody cloud-filled one. So how does compositing work? Let's say I want a photo of me climbing the Eiffel Tower. I take a picture of me pretending to climb something, use Photoshop to cut myself out and paste me onto a picture of the Eiffel Tower and voila, there I am climbing the Eiffel Tower. However without following the rules of good compositing there’s no guarantee it’ll look convincing. Admittedly compositing TERRIFIES me, not only because it offers unlimited possibilities—the indecisive person’s worst nightmare—but also because there’s a lot to get right for a composite to look real. I’ve done compositing in previous tutorials but in most cases all the components were shot in the same location with the same lighting and camera position so the chances that something wouldn’t fit were low. The stakes are much higher when you’re trying to piece together images from entirely different situations.

How to photograph for a composite

To work through the process of compositing I'm going to use the image I created this week, 'Dream's Quest' as an example. It wasn't until I finished the piece that I realised it vaguely resembled the painting 'The Lady of Shalott'. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1871,1863"]   The first thing you need to do when creating a composite is to choose / take the photo that you want all your other elements to match. I have hundreds of photos of locations that I’ve photographed over the years specifically for the purpose of one day compositing a person into because it’s rarely practical to have the costumes, equipment and time needed to create a conceptual image whenever you see a pretty scene. This base photo becomes the one you have the least control over because it’s probably too difficult or costly to go back and shoot it again. So you need to assess this photo so you can make all your other elements match. Dream's Quest composite base imageFor Dream's Quest my base image was a photograph of a lovely painterly garden I took in Pitlochry in Scotland. I wanted to ease into compositing with the simple aim of shooting myself separately and making myself fit into the garden scene. When shooting your composite components you’ll need to consider the following:
  • The location – Where was your base image shot? In a grassy field? In a desert? In water? To make your components fit their new location it helps to shoot them in a similar situation - on grass, on sand, in water. Also, what colour was the original background? If the base image is a green field you might want to shoot your subject on a green background so their skin reflects the right colour. Alternatively, consider shooting your components on a contrasting background (ie pale skin on black, dark skin on white) or using a chroma key style blue or green backdrop to make it easy for you to cut them from the background.
Dream's Quest composite postBecause my base image was an overgrown garden I shot myself sitting in grass in my backyard so the foliage and the colour would match between scenes. Had I not been wearing a green dress, shooting on green would also have made it easy to select myself out of my background by using Select->Color Range, selecting the greens and them adding a layer mask that hides the selection.
  • The lighting – Where is the scene lit from? Is the light hard or soft? What is the colour balance of the light—white 12pm daylight or tungsten 6pm sunset? When shooting/sourcing other elements to composite into your base image you have to ensure this lighting matches in each shot so you’ll need to recreate the lighting using natural or studio lights or attempt to fake the light quality in Photoshop.
My background image was shot on a very overcast day close to dusk so I made sure to also photograph myself on a cloudy day. I noticed the light in my backyard was bluer than my base image so I changed my camera’s white balance to make it warmer although I could also have achieved this in Photoshop. The two birds were photographed on sunnier days and I couldn’t quite get them dark enough in Photoshop to fit my scene so I decided to paint in some motivated light on the right of the image to make their lighting look realistic. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="1866,1867"]  
  • Perspective / Angle – If your scene is shot front on then all other elements also need to be photographed front on. If I tried to make an overhead shot fit a front on scene the perspective would be wrong and it would look ridiculous.
I don’t know what height I shot my garden image from (which is why it’s handy to use a tape measure when shooting for composites) but I made a fairly safe assumption that it was from eye height. So I set my tripod to eye height to match. Because the boat was the feature of my original image I also guessed that I’d angled the camera down slightly, so I did the same with my tripod. The boat was lower than camera height and was positioned facing slightly towards camera so I sat on the ground and angled my body to match.
  • Dream's Quest composite oarPosing – Be sure to position your person, prop or scene so it will fit your base image. If you’re compositing a prop onto a person make sure they’re posed in a way to accommodate this prop by giving them something of a similar size or shape to hold.
I didn’t have an oar, however I remembered I’d shot one while staying at a friend’s house so I played around with that oar photo to see if I could make it fit. When I posed myself I held a rake as a stand in for the oar so that my hands realistically looked like they were holding something. I also had to be mindful to pose my hands so they’d roughly cover the original hands in the oar photo.
  • Distance – It helps to shoot all your elements from roughly the same distance and with the same lens set at the same focal length to ensure consistent perspective and scale. This isn’t always crucial (although it would be if you shot your scene with a very wide angle lens and your subject with a zoomed telephoto lens because of the distortion and compression the different lenses create) but it will mean that your components are less likely to look ‘off’.
This one scared me a bit because I wasn’t shooting with the same camera or lens. The original scene was shot at 15mm on a cropped frame while I shot myself at 50mm on a full frame. I tried to position myself in the same rough area as the boat so that the area of contact between my body and the new ground would meet (although weeds ended up covering this spot anyway). You can always paint in shadows or place something over the area of contact to stop your person look as if they're floating. I had some trouble resizing myself accurately which is where replication of distance would've come in handy.
  • Focus / Aperture – If you shoot your subject so their eyes are in focus and everything else is blurred [caption id="attachment_1869" align="alignright" width="300"]A bad composite - the girl is out of focus but the suitcase is in focus A bad composite - the girl is out of focus but the suitcase is in focus.[/caption] and yet the background is shot so everything is in focus, as soon as you put that blurry person into that sharp background it’s going to look horrible and fake. You also need to ensure that the area you focus on in the second image matches the focal point in your base image.
I shot my original scene at 1/200, f/5.6 so I made sure to shoot myself with the same settings. Because I’d focused on the boat originally I knew that if I sat in the boat then I should shoot myself in focus also. It’s best to shoot all your components as sharp as possible because it’s easy to blur things in Photoshop. Much harder to make something sharp.
  • Image quality – If I shoot my person in RAW with a full frame camera and then composite them into a background photo that’s a low quality JPEG, there’ll be a mismatch in resolution and noise.
I always shoot RAW which avoids these issues but if you're working with a purchased stock image it might be lower quality. So while it’s not ideal you could always add noise to the RAW image to make the two match. If you’re worried your composite won’t work you can try doing a test shoot and a rough composite first to see if there’s anything to it. Learn to make peace with the fact that sometimes you’ll need to shoot your components more than once to get them to fit. As frustrating as this may seem it’s all part of the learning process.

How to edit a composite

Once you’ve shot all your elements you’ll need to cut them out so they fit into your scene. Which selection tool you use for this task is personal choice. They’re either wildly inaccurate or time consuming so I personally use either hand painted masks or the pen tool. Obviously the more accurate your masks are, the more convincing your end product will be so don't take shortcuts here. Also remember to feather your selections a little using the 'Refine Edge' or 'Refine Mask' commands so your cut out pieces don't look too sharp. Dream's Quest close up detailIn Photoshop I placed the girl layer underneath the garden layer and then masked out the garden to see through to the girl below. It didn’t occur to me when I was creating this composite how difficult it was going to be masking through all the flowers, plants and the structure of the boat to see through to the girl so I zoomed in as close as I could get and painted a black mask on my background image using a square brush. Seriously guys, using a square brush for fine masking has CHANGED MY LIFE. Pixels are square so why use a round brush! Now THE most important thing in making your components match is to assess their saturation, colour and contrast. You don’t want one element too bright or too green because they’re going to stand out so use clipped adjustment layers to get each element to match. For this I use Phlearn’s fantastic ‘Checks’ method which is available as an action when you purchase a Phlearn Pro compositing tutorial and is a handy tool if you’re serious about compositing. [gallery size="medium" link="file" columns="2" ids="1878,1877,1879"]   When you’ve cut out your subjects and placed them on their new background you need to think about how to make them look like they belong there instead of just slapped on. There are a few ways to do this:
  • Shadows – Giving your subject a shadow will connect them to the ground. Study the other shadows in your base photo and try to replicate them in Photoshop for your subject.
For my image I was lucky that the contact point between myself and the ground was hidden by weeds so I didn’t have do any work here. It was also very soft diffuse light so shadows would be unlikely. However, I did draw some grass in front of the pelican’s feet and the oar to make them fit.
  • Blur – Adding blur to your background image will give some depth to your scene and pull focus to your subject.
I added a little blur to the front left of my image and some to the sky so the busy plants weren’t so distracting.
  • Depth – Adding depth to your photo so it has a foreground, middle ground and background helps pull everything together. Composite something from the scene in front of your subject. Maybe part of a tree or plant can cross over their body. Adding mountains into the background gives dimension and draws the eye through the scene.
My scene already had its own depth with the path and the hedge but as mentioned above I did use weeds and grass from the background to cover parts of my subjects. When you’re done there’s a couple of other tricks that will help sell your composite. First, add a little of the same colour to your entire image to tie the pieces together. I like to add a Selective Colour adjustment layer to the top of the layer stack and play around with the colours. Also try adding a small amount of overall noise with a noise filter or a texture as discussed previously to give your components a common element. So yes, compositing is one scary beast! But after dipping my toe into the waters this week I discovered that it’s not nearly as frightening or exact as I thought it would be. And considering compositing makes ANYTHING possible then it’s surely worth the work to get it right.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="150"]Double Exposure Sara Byrne[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignright" width="150"]Set them free 'Under the waves' by Aneta Ivanova[/caption] If I were forced to choose one photography technique to spend the rest of my life perfecting it would be the double exposure portrait. This involves taking one portrait and one scenery shot and smooshing the two together. The popularisation of this technique is attributed to Sara Byrne but for me it’s Antonio Mora who truly made it an art form. I also think the work of Aneta Ivanova is really beautiful. My biggest problem with this technique is that it has such a dull name—the double exposure portrait—so I’d really love to coin a new term for it. The ‘portscape’ perhaps? For a long time I assumed this technique would be really hard to do. Anything with such utterly stunning results could never be simple, surely? Well fortunately I was wrong. Not only is this technique easy it’s also SO MUCH FUN.

How to photograph a double exposure portrait (aka portscape)

There’s two ways to shoot a double exposure portrait depending on the tools you have to hand.  If you’re lucky you may have a camera that has this feature inbuilt, like my Canon 5D Mark III, so be sure to check your manual. If not, you’ll just have to photograph your two exposures separately and combine them in Photoshop—a method which offers much more control. Plain portraitIn either case you’ll need to shoot the portrait first. Your second image will show through in the areas where your first image is darkest. Therefore it’s best to shoot your portrait against a light background to retain the silhouette that will contain your second image, whether this be against a white sheet or a blown out sky. I shot my image in my garage against a white sheet. I used a Speedlite with a shoot through umbrella to spill light onto my face because I wanted less of the second image to be visible over my features. I kept my hair dark because I wanted more of the second image to show here. Then you’ll need to shoot your second image although if you don’t have a multiple exposure capable camera, feel free to just use images from your back catalogue. I expected there’d be some exact science for capturing the precise lights and darks for your chosen images to match, and maybe there is, but because of the unpredictable nature of this technique I’m yet to put my finger on it. From my own experimentation I can tell you that flowers and buildings look the best and blue skies look the worst.

How to create a double exposure with a Canon 5D Mark III

The really great thing about doing this in camera is that you don’t have to shoot your portrait DIRECTLY beforehand. All you need to do is make sure your portrait is on the same card that you’re shooting your second shot on. So I shot my portraits, imported them to Lightroom, chose my favourites and loaded those back onto my card. The other cool thing is that when the camera creates your combined image it also keeps a copy of both the single exposures separately so you can then play around with the two images later in Photoshop if the merge didn’t come out exactly how you wanted. When you’re ready press the Creative Photo button, choose the middle Multiple Exposure button, and press SET. Select ‘Multiple exposure’ and choose On:Func/Ctrl. I’m not going to cover what the other settings do because our purpose here is just to create a double exposure portrait. For ‘Multi-expos ctrl’ I find ‘Additive’ works best but feel free to play around with the other options. Choose ‘Select image for multi. expo.’ and find the image you want as your base portrait. *Images courtesy of Canon. [gallery columns="5" size="medium" ids="1813,1815,1816,1812,1814"]   You’re almost ready! Switch Live View on so you can actually see how the two images look overlaid. Choose the exposure for your second image and move your camera around until the two images are combining in a pleasing way. Sometimes you may end up with your camera upside down, which will be sure to amuse any other photographers standing nearby. Don’t let them ruin your artistic genius! Focus and press the shutter button and you’re done. This shooting process takes time so you don’t want to be in a hurried situation. Annoyingly you’ll need to load your base image each time you want to take a different double exposure. (If you choose ‘continuously’ in the Multiple Exposure menu the next photo you take becomes the base for the following image and so on. If anyone knows a way to keep an image loaded please let me know!)

How to edit a portscape

If you’ve shot your double exposure in camera then it may not need further editing but I was interested to see what variation I could get from the same images when combining them myself. The camera gives you four blending modes and three aren’t so great whereas Photoshop gives you over 25. In finding images to combine with my portrait I wanted to experiment with three different options:
  1. The secondary images I’d shot when photographing double exposures in camera.
  2. Photos from my back catalogue that I thought would work well in a double exposure.
  3. A special image I’d shot to use as this week’s feature image – my aim was to create an image that told a story, which I haven’t seen much in multiple exposure form before.
Interestingly I found the images I’d shot specifically while creating double exposures in camera worked much better than any I selected from my catalogue, even though I hadn’t really liked how they’d originally looked when combined in camera.   [caption id="attachment_1817" align="alignright" width="960"]Shot in camera. I should have cleaned up the portrait backgrounds first but they grey backdrop allowed more of the second image to show through. Shot in camera. I should have cleaned up the portrait backgrounds first but the grey backdrop allowed more of the second image to show through.[/caption]     [caption id="attachment_1821" align="alignright" width="240"]Cleaned up the background Cleaned up background[/caption]   Load your portrait image into Photoshop. Because the background of my image wasn’t a uniform white I had to do some clean up work so I used the magic wand (w) with contiguous turned ‘off’ to select my background. I turned this selection into a layer mask with the 'Add layer mask' button and then chose Select->Refine Mask to fine-tune the selection around my hair. Had I shot my  portrait against a cluttered background then this selection process would have taken much longer. I created a ‘solid color’ adjustment layer filled with white and dragged this underneath the portrait layer. Now I had a perfectly white background behind my portrait. Next load your second image(s) in layers above the portrait. I usually select these images in Lightroom, choose ‘Edit in-> Open as layers in Photoshop’ and then from the resulting document I use the move tool (v) to drag the images one by one to my main portrait image. I’m sure there’s a better way but this is just my process. Blending-modes-with-arrowStart playing around with your blending modes. I introduced these to you last week but to recap … Your blending modes live at the top of your layer’s palette in the dropdown box that says ‘normal’. Click the drop down menu and select each of the different blending modes until you find one that blends your images together best (a shortcut for this is to make sure the move tool is active (v) and then press Shift + or Shift – to cycle through the modes quickly.) The blending mode that worked best for me was usually ‘Lighten’. You will probably have to move your top image around so it fits to your portrait in a really nice way. I tried to line up aspects of my second image with my facial features. [gallery columns="4" size="medium" link="file" ids="1838,1837,1836,1835,1834,1833,1832"]   At this point you can get really fancy and start messing with things like levels and curves to change the contrast and colour of your images, masks to paint out anything you don’t want seen and duplicating parts of your second image to fill in areas that need more detail. But it’s totally up to you. For now I chose to spend more time on double exposures that just work, rather than forcing them to look better. Sadly the MacBook Pro I use for editing died during this process (happily it was saved ten days later) but I didn’t get to play around as much as I’d hoped to with this technique so I’m really excited about future experiments. [gallery columns="4" size="medium" link="file" ids="1828,1827,1829,1830"] [gallery columns="4" size="medium" link="file" ids="1831,1839,1841,1840"] [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="1825,1824,1826"]

Composite image for The IdeaHow I shot The Idea

Right after I shot my self-portraits in the garage I photographed myself holding a lantern shaped like a lightbulb (purchased from the Leukaemia Foundation). I wanted the scene as dark as possible with just some light on the lantern and my face (from a Speedlite with a shoot through umbrella) because I only wanted the face and lantern showing up in the hair of my main portrait image. At the time I didn’t know if it was going to work but I’m pretty pleased with how the two shots combined using the blending mode ‘Lighten’. Good idea don’t you think? ;)

This week I found myself in a rut when I realised all my photos were starting to look alike—the posing, the colouring, the framing—and while that’s all part of developing a style I got frustrated that after 12 weeks I’m not coming close to capturing the look I set out to achieve. I particularly struggle to get my colour toning right even though you’d think that’d be the easy part of creating a complex image. So I decided to start playing around more with texture. In most of my images I’ve used a texture or two but on such low opacity that you’d barely know they’re there. This week I wanted to create an image where the texture is as much a focus as the subject. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="none" ids="1766,1767"]

What is texture?

For years I’ve been photographing walls and wood and rust and rocks. I even have a friend who, when he sees me, usually remarks, “there’s a rock over there you might want to photograph”. I do this to build up a texture library because when you add a texture over the top of your main image and start playing around with Photoshop’s blending modes the textures can make your image come alive in wild and unpredictable ways. Textures are also beneficial for when you’re compositing elements together from lots of different photos. By adding a texture over top it helps to tie the elements together in a believable way. Using textures is a favourite technique of conceptual photographers because by adding texture to your work you’re showing your viewer that what they’re looking at has been manipulated in some way, suggesting an element of make-believe and distinguishing the photo from a fashion or beauty image. Using textures over still life or macro images also adds an extra level of interest and a tangible feel to the photo. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="1768,1769"]

How to build a texture library

You’ll find many photographers offer free texture packs for download. Digital Camera World is a good start and the source of some of the textures I played around with in my image this week. While I like to shoot my own textures I also download free textures whenever I find them because I see no harm in having a wide range of textures available at my fingertips. Shooting your own textures is easy and really only limited by your imagination. I’m positive if you grabbed a camera you’d find five decent textures in the room you’re in right now. Try and find textures with lots of detail and textures with minimal detail, textures that are both in and out of focus, brightly coloured and muted textures, textures with lots of contrast between light and dark and textures with almost no contrast. Just about anything can work as a texture. I’ve used clouds and flowers and leaf litter, dirt, fabric, lights and fur. When I visited Malaysia last year the textures were so magnificent that I shot more photos of walls then I did of my travel companions. You can even buy a book on Georgetown street art where half the pages are photos of textured walls. So I’ve decided to offer a free pack of Malaysian textures to get your texture library started. Click to download your free Malaysian texture pack! [caption id="attachment_1774" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Texture example Example images[/caption]  

How to use textures

When I’m looking through photos in Lightroom I’ll tag anything I think might work as a texture with the keyword ‘texture’ (groundbreaking) so I can easily sort and find them later. Many photographers convert their textures to black and white because after spending so long on colour toning they don’t want to apply a texture that’ll mess it up. Personally, I prefer to use coloured textures because they help me see which colours enhance my image so I can then recreate those colours how I want. I don’t start to apply textures to an image until I’ve finished arranging all the other elements in my photo to perfection and done any required sharpening. I’ll then cycle through my Lightroom textures choosing about ten. If my subject is in the centre of the image I’ll look at textures with light centres and dark edges which might add a natural vignette; I think about how much detail I want my image to have and choose a texture accordingly. And then I usually throw in a couple of crazy textures just to see what they’ll do to my image. If you can’t get a texture to do what you want, remember you can use filters and adjustment layers to change the texture’s colours, saturation and contrast and use masks to paint them in only where you want. It’s generally advised to mask a texture from a model’s skin so they don’t appear unnatural and it also helps draw attention to them. Blending-modes-with-arrowWhen I’ve finished working with my main photo I open my textures as layers in Photoshop at the top of my layer stack. I resize each texture (using Ctrl T) so that they cover my whole canvas. I’ll lower the opacity of the layers to about 60% and switch the eyeballs off on all but one. Then, at the top of your layer’s palette you’ll see a box that says ‘normal’. This is where your ‘blending modes’ live. Click the drop down menu and work through the different blending modes to find one that blends your texture into the main image in a way that you like best. (A shortcut for this is to make sure the move tool is activated and then press Shift + or Shift – to cycle through the modes quickly.) You may find a couple you like so duplicate your texture layer (Ctrl J) and apply both for comparison or, if the texture isn’t working at all, just delete the layer. When you’ve found a few you like, click your layer eyeballs on and off for comparison. Remember to change your layer opacity for more or less of the effect and then narrow down your textures until you have a favourite. Of course, you can use as many at once as you like and use layer masks to apply them to only certain areas of your image. [gallery size="medium" ids="1775,1768,1778,1780,1779,1776"]   [caption id="attachment_1781" align="alignright" width="200"]Disaster Disaster[/caption]

How I photographed ‘She Brings the Night’

Photographing 'She Brings the Night' was the most mortifying shooting experience I’ve ever had. Here’s me in a long blonde wig and a black velvet dress taking photos of myself on a busy beach at twilight. It took 20 minutes to blow up the round balloon I was to cradle as a placeholder for the moon and it blew away along the beach before I even got the chance to use it. It was really windy so my wig and dress were blowing all over the place and I was worried about getting sand in my camera bag. I wanted my flash to illuminate the spot where the moon would be but I couldn’t get it to trigger and I was well over this shoot before it began. As a result the pose and the camera angle are really awkward. I forgot to shoot a blank shot for compositing and I stupidly expanded my frame without it occurring to me that the sea is moving and so my shots would never line up. I nearly didn’t edit the images at all because I figured the whole thing was just a disaster. Thank god for Photoshop. Using layer masks I blended together different shots of the sea, my feet, my dress, my upper body and my arm. Because I forgot to take a blank shot, my feet were in every image so I had to clone extra sand and water around my feet to match the sea image I liked. The moon and the “moths” (really butterflies from eBay) were shot separately on contrasting backgrounds while the clouds are from a stock image. Blending modes are not only great for applying textures but can also be a fast and wonderful way to composite in other elements without having to make complex selections, so you should always try playing around with blending modes first before hitting the selection tools. I was able to composite in the clouds using the ‘soft light’ blending mode so I didn’t have to spend time cutting them out, but the moon and moths didn’t work as I’d hoped so I had to select these with the ‘quick selection’ tool to remove them from their pre-existing backgrounds. [gallery columns="4" size="medium" ids="1783,1785,1787,1788,1782,1786,1784,1789"] I used the following five textures to get the final look: [gallery size="medium" ids="1790,1793,1794,1792,1791"]   So with the addition of some textures I was able to create an ethereal deity out of an awful shooting experience and it was one of the easiest edits I’ve ever done. Amazing. Feel free to use my Malaysia textures in your work however you’d like. I’d love to see the results!

[caption id="attachment_1752" align="alignright" width="200"]Ugh Ugh[/caption]   A few week’s ago armed with my camera, my mother (who was convinced I was going to get murdered) and a $20 piece of fabric I disappeared into a forest to try and build a dress. But we got there too early and the sun was all wrong and I had to shoot all the components three different times because although I kept moving out of the sun the sun kept following me and my props weren’t working and the mosquitoes kept biting and my makeshift dress kept falling off and tripping me, and really, the whole thing was just a disaster. And it makes me wonder how many photos are born out of similar stories. Certainly most of mine. However, were I a more emotional person, I would probably weep with joy on a daily basis at Photoshop’s magical powers. Honestly, I don’t know why they haven’t changed their motto to … “It turns out you CAN shine sh*t!’ Because so often I’ve taken a photo I wasn’t feeling good about and watched Photoshop transform it into something well beyond expectation. For example, I can buy a $20 piece of fabric, throw it around in a forest and manage to create a beautiful, unique, priceless dress fit for any mosquito-bitten princess.

How to photograph dress and hair flicks

So, how to make a pretty outfit out of next to nothing? For the sake of elegance you’ll likely want to create a dress with a cinched, flattering waist and a full, flowing skirt so I recommend working on the top of your dress first. You can either wrap your top half in fabric or simply put on a dress that has a skirt you’d like to make longer or fuller. If you’re really ambitious you can choose to use a patterned dress but for the sake of your sanity when matching up all the pieces later I’d suggest working with a plain fabric. From my own stupid mistakes I also wouldn’t advise using a translucent fabric. Sheets work wonderfully, which is how my shoot started out, but clever old me changed my mind last minute. As usual you’ll need to set up your camera on a tripod. Compose, expose and focus, as covered extensively in my previous posts, then lock your settings and camera position so nothing can change. Begin by shooting you or your model’s pose first. You really want to concentrate not only on getting the pose right but also that the top of the dress looks just how you want it, even if you have to capture these in two different shots to blend together later. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="1743,1742"]   Now’s where things get interesting. Next you need your model to take the dress off. This part CAN be done while still wearing the dress but it all depends on how billowy the skirt is and how you want your final dress to look. You want to start throwing your dress or fabric around. Your aim is to photograph the dress moving in different ways so you can combine the photos later in Photoshop to make the dress look much larger than it is. If you’re still wearing the dress you can try flicking your skirt to the sides. If your model is now semi-naked you want to hold the dress (by the waist) or the fabric (by the top) and start throwing it up and around but try and pull the area you are holding back into your waist just as the camera clicks so that the fabric looks like it’s naturally billowing from the waist area as it would with a real dress. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" ids="1745,1746,1747,1748"]   The same principle works with hair. If you want to make your model’s hair look longer or more full get them to either put their head down and then flick their hair back or use their arm to flick it out to the side. They’re going to get dizzy and their face will probably look stupid but it’s all for the sake of beauty. Now hair is incredibly hard to cut out and I don’t want to go into great detail about it but there’s two ways to minimise the horror. The first is to make sure you’re shooting on the same background that the main pose was shot on. If that background is neutral or blurred, even better, because you won’t have to be masking between individual hairs. The second way is to shoot against a colour that is the opposite to their hair colour. It’s great to have a sheet or reflector handy so you can shoot dark hair against a white background and blonde hair against a dark background. The selection tools in Photoshop look for areas of contrast so this makes it much easier for it to recognise the hair. It also allows you to use blending modes (more on this next week) to speedily mask the hair into your image. This may all sound too hard but trust me, it’s worth it in the long run. And I know, because I never follow my own advice and have wasted far too much of my life trying to fix stupid hairs. [gallery size="medium" ids="1749,1750,1751"]   And of course don't forget to take a blank shot of your scene!

How to edit dress and hair flicks

Firstly you want to open your background with the main pose image layered above. Then cycle through your RAW shots and pick the fabric and hair shots you want to composite onto your main image. The dress is usually easiest so I like to start there. To save on file size I prefer to cut my fabric out of its background before I paste it onto my main image (even though this image STILL ended up being 18GB which actually BROKE my MacBook Pro). For ‘If You Go Down to the Woods Today’ I worked through all the selection tools to see what would work best. I suggest trying the magnetic lasso, the magic wand, the quick selection tool, the background eraser, the blending modes and color range (under Select ->Color Range) until you find one that works best. I thought color range would work great for me considering I had a red dress on a primarily green background but I was seriously having zero luck with all of these tools (although color range is best at preserving transparent areas so keep this in mind when working with translucent fabrics). Eventually I got fed up and drew a rough lasso around each piece of fabric, feathered the selection (using Refine Selection or Refine Mask) until it looked OK, then chose Select -> Inverse and deleted the rest of the image. I moved the fabric that remained onto my main image and placed each piece where it fit best and formed the shape I liked. I had to do this roughly at first and then fine-tuned it with a second pass. For the hair I had much the same trouble with my selection tools (I suspect because the ends of my hair and fabric have quite a bit of motion blur) so I chose the photos I liked (with some I had to Edit->Transform->Flip Horizontal to get the hair flying in the right direction), roughly lassoed around the area and copied these onto my main image, moving them into a position that looked natural. If you’ve shot on a contrasting background your selection tools should work a treat. (For a more advanced technique you can try using the Refine Radius brush in your Refine Mask options to force Photoshop to better detect the hair but I find it a bit hit and miss.) [caption id="attachment_1753" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Hair flick horror Hair flick horror[/caption]   In both cases I had some images where the colour and luminance of one flick was wildly different to the colour of the others so I had to clip an adjustment layer to the problem images Alt click between the adjustment and image layers) and use curves or levels to make them match. For some areas of the dress I wanted it to look as if there were many panels of fabric flying in different directions but usually I like the dress to look like it’s fully intact, so to blend your fabric together add layer masks to each fabric flick and using a low opacity and very soft brush, mask away parts of the fabric until it blends into the underlying fabric layers. Best to work through the layers one at a time while switching the other layers off. Sometimes the healing and spot healing brushes work great for blending fabric also. Just use them to paint along the seams. Be mindful to assess the direction of light in your image and how shadows are falling and ensure to replicate this in your dress. The easiest way I’ve found to blend hair together is to vary using a brush of soft to medium hardness on a low opacity to brush around your hairs (and because I always work non-destructively I paint on the layer mask, not the layer itself). It’s not foolproof but it’s generally good enough. If your hair is giving you real grief you can also sample a colour of the hair (alt click with paint brush tool) and use the smudge tool to paint fake hair in, or use a specially designed brush for the purpose of drawing in hair such as the one at this link. The thing I most love about using hair and dress flicks in my images is that it adds that extra element of magic to your story by bringing motion to a static image and turning your hair and dress into characters of their own.

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!

10
May

Introduction to compositing

The word compositing has a boring textbook definition that in a nutshell means “how the magic happens”. Compositing made it possible for Harry Potter to fly around a Quidditch pitch, for Spider-Man to swing between buildings, and for men to walk on the moon. (Just kidding.) (Or am I?) By combining elements from different pictures […]

3
May

How to create a double exposure photograph (portscape).

If I were forced to choose one photography technique to spend the rest of my life perfecting it would be the double exposure portrait. This involves taking one portrait and one scenery shot and smooshing the two together. The popularisation of this technique is attributed to Sara Byrne but for me it’s Antonio Mora who truly […]

26
Apr

How to improve photos with textures in Photoshop

This week I found myself in a rut when I realised all my photos were starting to look alike—the posing, the colouring, the framing—and while that’s all part of developing a style I got frustrated that after 12 weeks I’m not coming close to capturing the look I set out to achieve. I particularly struggle […]

19
Apr

How to lengthen a dress and hair in Photoshop.

  A few week’s ago armed with my camera, my mother (who was convinced I was going to get murdered) and a $20 piece of fabric I disappeared into a forest to try and build a dress. But we got there too early and the sun was all wrong and I had to shoot all […]

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 […]