Wednesday, 20 October 2010

A creative use of flowers

Well, it's the second week of 365 and I'm still going strong, I love this project so much. It really tests you and drives you to do better pictures. So yesterday, I was in the studio again, large tea and toast nearby while I got ready to set up. It was a lot of fun, and involved flowers, petals, glue and my face. And a ring flash. I've included images of the setup I had, along with failed photos with reasons as to why I consider them failed, so to give you insight into my thought process as I work.

First of all though, here's some recent photos from the project:

More can be found over at my Flickr photostream.

As you can see, I'm having a lot of fun with it.

Now, on to yesterday!

First of all I acquired the roses, which was no easy task. There's only one florist, and she was a bit reluctant to sell me the sorry-looking roses. In the end however I managed to get them for a very cheap price and made my way back over to college. I bought some artificial flowers too as a backup plan but they weren't needed. I'll use them for something else.

I set up, and figured a beauty dish and a reflector (read: bit of polystyrene) resting on my chest would give me the best lighting.

Vignette due to me trying and failing to remove flare with lens hood

Neat huh? Well, not really. It gave me this:

Incidentally, this type of lighting is called "Butterfly Lighting"
"What's wrong with that?" I hear you asking. "It looks fine to me, nice soft shadows, good tonal detail and even coverage. Am I missing something?"

No, you're not missing anything. But the photo is. Sure, it's fine from the front, and would be great for some portraits with dramatic lighting, but it's not what I'm after. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the rim-light.

It really is a flash. Not a gun.
See that flash with a snoot hanging behind the chair like a spider? That's the rim-light. This is where it gets interesting. Using a rim-light, as above, gives me this effect:

The edge of my head and shoulders have been illuminated in a subtle way, making me stand out from the dark background rather than blend into it. This little pop of light isn't powerful enough for me though, so I tweak with the flashes, get myself ready by curling my hair, putting on makeup and gluing on the petals and leaves. I took a load of photos, but before I show you the final image, here's an unaltered (apart from cropping it down) version with a ring flash. I was curious as to how it looked, and it was clear from the get-go that it wasn't going to work:

So, why doesn't it work? It's too harsh for the atmosphere I'm after. It's great for no-nonsense "I've got attitude" or "I'm really happy" portraits, though not so great for times when you've constructed a flower on your face. So, away the ring flash goes for another day.

I had a bit of help from the technician, John (who is amazing at what he does and very helpful), we altered the light setup a little bit, moving the rim-light off to camera left and bringing it closer. We also moved the beauty dish around a bit but I decided I liked it in its original position.

After tinkering around in Photoshop I came up with this:

Click for larger image!

So that's how I did that!

Oh, and just for laughs, here's a video of me removing the petals and leaves. It was just as much work taking them off as it was putting them on! But it gives you an idea of how I attached them, and it might give you a giggle.

Monday, 11 October 2010

365 Days Challenge

Some of you may have heard of the 365 days challenge, and others might not have done. For those who don't know, there's a group on Flickr called "365 Days" where the sole aim of the group is to show a collection of images from several people all over the world who take one photo of themselves each day of the year (or as many as they can manage) and then upload it to the group. It doesn't have to be of your face, it could be things like your shadow, footprints, an object that's dear to you - though they prefer it to include some part of your body more often than not. I'm currently on day 6 and have managed to take all 5 previous photos and upload them. I have to say, I never expected I'd latch on the way I have. I've become slightly obsessed. I thought I'd try it out for a laugh but I really enjoy it. I love the fact that it forces me to think about new ways to take a photo and to keep it interesting somehow, and I learn something new every day whether it's about myself or the techniques I use. It really is a lot of fun and I've even inspired my friend Andy to take part too! Some days I'm bursting with ideas and have to write them down, other days it's like I don't feel a shred of creativity in me. I carry on regardless though, driven by the determination to upload one photo to the group a day. My first milestone is 7 days - tomorrow! It's gone by so quickly and I'm really loving it. Here's a few of the ones I've done so far. A lot of the time I'm just playing with lighting conditions and seeing how they come across in the photograph. Different angles give different moods, as do different intensities of light.

I'm curious to see how this project holds up when my workload gets heavier, since right now I'm not really doing a lot in the way of college work. I'm finishing off my summer project (I don't have a lot to do) and I'm getting introduced to AOP tomorrow in college, and after that I have the rest of the week off. Anybody would think I'm a part-time's incredible the amount of days we have off sometimes. This could be seen as a good thing or a bad thing - the good thing being you have more time to yourself to be creative, you can come in and use the studios if they're free, you can book out equipment to take with you anywhere, and you can also get direction and feedback from the tutors. The bad thing is that if you're in the wrong frame of mind you could end up doing the bare minimum and scrape by, and I also sometimes wonder where all the money's a very good course though with excellent facilities, and the tutors are great and don't mince their words when it comes to helping you improve. I love the fact that I have access to a PhaseOne camera, RB67s, Bowens lighting equipment, a huge studio with infinity curves in several different colours, iMacs, printers the size of a small car, a dark room, black and white and colour processing, toning, and many more things it all adds up in the end. I'll also go from being in 1-2 days a week to three before long, with the introduction of critical and contextual studies on a Monday before long.

So, everything is settling down and I'm keeping myself busy :) The Margam Park shoot should happen in about 2 weeks, since that's the only time we're all free. I'll probably do a few things inbetween then though. It's gonna be a blast :D

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Monsters! Grrr...arrrrg!

Yesterday I figured I'd try a new self portrait, and I toyed around for a while with ideas, wondering what I'd do. I somehow came to the conclusion that a monsters theme would be a good idea. Maybe it has to do with various film trailers I've seen recently, or certain adverts on the internet, or the sudden influx of halloween merchandise in the shops, but I sat there smiling to myself as I decided to wait patiently until nightfall. Then the camera would come out.

So first of all, here's the final image:

The product of an overactive imagination

Scary enough? :P

Ok, how did I do it? How did I get those shadows on the wall when the light source is behind me, and how did I get that ominous green hand trying to wrench my blanket away while I was still on the bed?

Well, I live in a really old house, so I asked the monsters nicely if they'd help me out and they agreed they'd do a bit of modelling if I ordered them a pizza. Deal!

Oh alright, not really. All you need is to know how to use layers, layer masks, and the brush tool in Photoshop, and have a few photographs to hand. A tripod or other solid surface helps, and a way of taking the photos while you're in front of the camera (I used my tripod, worked tethered to my computer which is out of the shot, and my wireless remote trigger). It's pretty important that the camera doesn't move while you take all your images, or you're going to make things very difficult for yourself when it comes to stitching it all together. First of all, here's some of the images I used for the final image (I used 8 images in total).

There's a few other shadow images but you get the idea. After that it was just a matter of overlaying the shadow images on top of the image of me curled up in a corner, adding "hide all" masks to the shadow images and using a large soft brush to reveal the shadows on the wall and the hand on the blanket. The green skin colour was just adding a black and white adjustment layer, inverting it with cmd+i, and again revealing the black and white tones with a brush, though this time with a smaller and harder one. Then it was just a matter of choosing the shade of green as a tint. Finally, I altered the tones and colours of the overall image and voilà, one scary monster picture :D

I got into a bit of a funny mood by the end of it though, and started to get silly...

On a more serious note, as you can see in all of these photos, my only light source was the desk lamp on my bedside table. That's it. No flash was used. I did experiment with the flash a little however:

Go into the light my children!

Too red


For the first image, I decided it was too bright. The light bounced around too much and there just wasn't any point in me using the flash down there like that. But what about a coloured flash? I grabbed a red t-shirt and wrapped it around the flash a few times (very high tech as you can see). It fired (after fighting with it for a little while, it's a little temperamental so I'm getting a new one soon) and it clearly didn't work. So I gave up on that idea. I turned the trigger on the flash off and put it out of the frame. Weirdly though, while I was doing one of the hand-under-the-bed shots, the flash decided to go off on its own volition. Me being under the bed at the time, and in a bit of a strange mood, felt slightly weirded out by this and in the end decided to ignore it. Like I said, the flash is a bit strange (and senile I'm guessing. It tries though.) I took a few more photos just to see if it would do it again, but it didn't. Creepy!

So there we have it. That's how I made my composite monster image. And if you're wondering what those white things on my fingers are in some shots, they're paper claws. Click here and watch the same video I did to learn how to make them. They are truly awesome.

Have fun!