Category 'Conceptual fine art photography'

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!


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 […]


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 […]


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 […]