Monday, 27 December 2010

Research: Henri Cartier-Bresson

"If I have seen farther than others,
it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants."
-Isaac Newton-

Where do you start with someone like Henri Cartier-Bresson? Legend in the world of photojournalism, founder member of Magnum, and arguably one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century. You could almost call him a...giant of the industry! See, you just thought that was a random quote didn't you?

By the way, for the sake of brevity, I'm going to do what a lot of others seem to do, and refer to Henri Cartier-Bresson as HCB from now on, so don't get confused.

Call me conventional, but I think the best place to start is probably the HCB was born on the 22nd of August 1908, in Chanteloup, Seine-et-Marne. Although he was born in Chanteloup, his family were wealthy industrialists and merchants, so he actually lived in Paris throughout his childhood. Despite the protestations of his father, and regardless of the security his family's wealth offered, HCB decided he wanted to pursue a career in art. Like a lot of people who went on to become accomplished photographers, his initial forays in to the art world were through painting. His uncle was a painter, so he'd developed a passion for painting at an early age, a passion which continued for the rest of his life, and one he would eventually return to when he retired from professional photography. After leaving standard education he enrolled in an art school and was tutored by the french cubist painter Andre Lhote. Even though he loved painting and clearly had a natural aptitude for it, he began to feel he couldn't express himself properly through this medium, so started to look around for other forms. He'd dabbled in photography for a number of years, but it would take a disastrous affair, and a near fatal trip to the Ivory Coast to shift his focus (no pun intended.) After contracting a tropical disease in Africa, HCB was forced to return to France to convalesce. Whilst recuperating, he came across a photograph by Martin Munkacsi:

Three boys at Lake Tanganyika, By Martin Munkacsi

HCB said: "I couldn't believe such a thing could be caught with the camera. I said damn it, I took my camera and went out in to the street."

While we're talking about cameras, I'll mention another great thing about HCB (at least from a research point of view.) His use of equipment. Whereas some of the other photographers I've talked about change equipment seemingly on a whim, flitting between brands like an indecisive kid in a sweet shop. He started with a Leica, he always used a Leica, and if it wasn't for the minor inconvenience of being dead, would still be using a Leica. This is great! It means I don't have to scroll through hundreds of websites, scour dozens of books, and offer the occasional sexual favour to archivist's, just to find out what particular camera he used for a picture. I can actually get on with reading about photography. Unless he was taking a landscape he almost always used a 50mm lens as well...Thank you! So why did HCB like the Leica so much? Unobtrusiveness! As one of the first successful 35mm cameras, they are a lot more inconspicuous than the larger format cameras prevalent at the time, add to this the fact he often covered them with black tape to make them even less obvious and he could snap away in the street with alacrity. Another thing that helped him remain unseen was his refusal to use flash of any kind, he felt you should use the lighting available, or you weren't being respectful to the process.

Blimey, I've been rabbiting on for ages and I haven't even shown you a single HCB picture yet! Do they really expect you to do these things in only 150 words? Ok, lets try and focus a bit.

Brie, By Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1968

I'll get round to his street photography in a minute, but first I wanted to share a landscape shot that I like. Taken in 1968, this picture shows an avenue of plane trees (that's what they're called it's not a spelling mistake), in Chanteloup-Brie. Apart from the fact it's a nice landscape photograph, it's the strangeness of this picture that really appeals to me. Who planted a carefully regimented avenue of trees in an otherwise featureless landscape? Where do they lead?

I'm never quite sure how to talk about composition without seeming like I'm just repeating the same things I've said before, so if I do, I apologise in advance. HCB has composed the picture so that the the road acts as a leading line, naturally drawing the eye towards the trees, before continuing on through the avenue and in to the distance. By placing the foreground in the bottom third of the photograph he's used the empty sky to further enhance the sense of isolation the viewer feels when looking at the trees. Finally, and this could be similar to a Rorschach test and say more about me than I'd like to reveal, but he seems to have positioned his camera so that the foliage forms a heart shape. I'm sure I could extemporise at this point about how this is representative of the love he feels for the place of his birth, and all sorts of other nonsense, but I think he probably just liked the shape they formed.

Derriere La Gare De Saint-Lazare, By Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1932

As it's name suggests, this picture was taken behind the St-Lazare station in Paris. HCB always firmly believed in the idea of the decisive moment. A point at which the perfect picture exists, press the shutter a few seconds either side of this moment and you might still get a good picture, but you'll fail to capture the true essence of the situation. The above photo is a brilliant example of this concept. Whilst on one of his frequent forays around the city, he happened to look through a broken fence at the back of the station, and saw this man making his way across the area. Taking out his trusty Leica, he quickly took a shot and the resulting photo would become one of the most famous and lauded of his career.

HCB was always slightly bemused by the reception this photograph received, as far as he was concerned he was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time. There was no great thought process involved, he just snapped off a quick shot and it came out well. Having researched the picture, I can understand the frustration he felt when people over analyzed his photos. I've read no end of essays saying that he deliberately composed the photo so that the leaping man could be compared to the poster of the circus acrobat in the background, or that the reflection represents the duality of man. All these people seem to forget however, that HCB himself has said the composition of the picture was dictated by the width of the hole in the fence: "The space between the planks was not entirely wide enough for my lens, which is the reason the picture is cut off on the left."

During the 1930's HCB was being heavily influenced by his friends in the emerging surrealist movement, and was primarily concerned with using the camera to represent the concept of motion. I don't know whether it was deliberate, or not, but he's achieved that desire with this picture. It's possible this is all due to the film speed he was using, or the level of ambient light available at the time, but when taking the picture he used a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the subject mid leap, but one that's slow enough to blur his features, therefore retaining a sense of forward momentum. The ISO of the film is also responsible for the graining present on the photograph. I don't think this is detrimental to the picture though, in fact, given the obsession with perfection many people struggle with in modern photography I like the extra level of texture it adds. The other obvious element in the composition is his use of the water to reflect the background and main subject. Whilst I can't claim to read huge meaning in to this, I do think it's a really clever use of the available surroundings to add an extra element of interest to the picture.

In The Old Town. Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, 1966,
By Henri Cartier-Bresson

In a shameless, and extremely tenuous attempt to make this post almost seem relevant, I'll quickly talk about the way HCB presented his pictures. He never staged a photo, like using artificial light, he always felt that a photographer should create as real a representation of the situation as possible. As an extension of this idea, he always refused to crop or modify his pictures in anyway. He very rarely printed his own photos, preferring to let other people handle the day to day tasks of his work. I think this is one of the reasons he felt uncomfortable with the level of fame he achieved. He didn't see photography as a great art form, simply a way to capture his surroundings:

"Photography is nothing, it's life that interests me."
-Henri Cartier-Bresson-

I think this quote is the best way of summing up HCB's approach to photography. Regardless of his talent and his decades in the business, it was the interaction between people that he found so fascinating, the minutiae of everyday life that kept drawing him back in. I think ultimately, this is why he found it relatively easy to walk away from photography, he felt he'd said everything he needed to say, so returned to his first love...painting.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas
Happy New Year

I'm sure nobody will read this until it's all over, but just wanted to wish everyone a merry christmas:)

Monday, 20 December 2010

Research: Tom Hunter

 "Publish and be damned!"
-Duke of Wellington-

Being a well raised young man (or at least pretending to be), where possible, I've tried to get permission from the respective photographers I've researched to use their photographs. However, as time marches inexorably toward the end of the course and the panic begins to set in, I've decided to cast my scruples aside and just plow on with things. Should this result in any sort of legal action, I will of course do the right thing...and run away, but your all welcome to come and visit me in Rio!

Like some of my other classmates, I'm going to try and broaden the scope of my research a little. I'll come back to the more relevant stuff at a later date...hopefully!

I've mentioned in other posts that I've always been a fan of street and documentary photography. I'm researching a post about Henri Cartier-Bresson at the minute (thought I'd let you know that, so when Dave inevitably posts one just before I do, you won't think I'm copying;) But before I release that, I thought I'd cover someone I've only just discovered. Whilst flicking through the British Journal of Photography website the other day, I came across this article: Interview with Tom Hunter  I know strictly speaking they're not quite street, or documentary photographs, as Hunter poses a lot of his subjects, but as he uses them to portray life in and around Hackney, it's the closest description I could think of. Besides, one of Don McCullin's most famous pictures, was staged, so if he can get away with it, we can probably cut this guy a little slack.

A lot of this information is in the article, but as I won't get marked for what someone else has written, I'll give you a quick summary of Hunter and how he got in to photography. He was born in Dorset in 1965 and held down several jobs before he became a tree surgeon in Hackney. Whilst there, he was offered an opportunity to work in Puerto Rico with the American forestry commission. Like any sensible person would, he decided to take a camera with him to record his trip, and that's where his love of photography started. When he got back he decided to pursue a career in photography. After attending an a-level class, he then went on to study at the London College of Printing, and eventually gained a masters degree at the Royal College of Art. While studying Hunter had been living in a squat in Hackney, and became disillusioned with the way squatters and other people were always portrayed in a negative light by the press. He decided to use his camera to try and change the way these people were perceived. I think in a lot of ways Hunter can be compared to Diane Arbus. Though his subjects are not in any way "freaks", like Arbus's was dealing with, the squatters were never the less on the fringes of society, often trying to just live their lives, but having to deal with the outside world and it's frequently critical appraisal of their lifestyle.

Hunter decided that in order to alter the perceptions people had, he would need to find a way to show the squatters in a different frame of reference. He hit upon the idea of using classical art to make his point. Whether it was before he shifted his focus from trees to art, or if he discovered them whilst at university I don't know, but Hunter has said the 17th century dutch masters have been incredibly influential on his work. That brings us to the first of his photographs:

Woman Reading A Possession Order, By Tom Hunter

This is the photograph most commonly associated with Tom Hunter, it's also one of the most popular one's he's produced, and I can understand why. Though his later works are often more complex in their ambition and staging, I don't think any of them come anywhere close to capturing the understated beauty and subtle grace this picture has. Taken in 1997 and included in his masters degree show. The picture is part of an eight photo series called persons unknown. It's based on Johannes Vermeer's 1657 painting, "Girl reading a letter at an open window":

Girl Reading A Letter At An Open Window, By Johannes Vermeer.

Filipa was Hunter's neighbour in the squat they lived in. Hackney council had just delivered a letter to everyone in the street informing them they were to be evicted, so the buildings could be demolished. Apparently they played around with the set-up all day. Trying a number of different combinations of props, some of which more closely resembled the original paintings composition, but they eventually decided to replace the fruit with Filipa's new born baby. Although I'm sure there were aesthetic reasons for this choice, I'd assume the main reason for the exchange was Hunters desire to humanise the squatters. He could illicit far more of an emotional response by showing her as a mother just about to lose her home, rather than a simple stereotype.

With regards to the composition, Hunter obviously had certain restrictions he had to work around. The placing and stance of the main subject was fairly well dictated by the original painting, but by replacing the fruit and including her scant possessions in the background, he's added his own twist to the photograph. The fact the baby is looking at his mother also helps to reinforce the familial connection between the two.

The lighting is what really makes the photograph for me. After all the faffing about with props, it was quite late in the day when this photo was taken. This means the late afternoon light rakes across the room, and bathes Filipa in a beautiful glow. This not only allows the viewer to catch the stoic look of acceptance on her face, but also offers fleeting glimpses of little details in the rest of the picture, such as the ringlets in her hair and the metallic sheen of one of the blankets.The strong low light also helps to add texture to the picture. the contrast it creates between the light and shadows makes the folds in her clothes and the pattern of the woolen blanket really stand out.

There isn't a lot of information out there about the equipment used to capture this picture. Clearly the lighting is entirely natural, and there hasn't been any manipulation of the final image. The only information I could find was that he used a large format camera to capture the image and that the exposure was about one second long. I do know a little about the way he finally produced the photograph, but I'll go in to that further down the post, as it's a little complicated.

I think though this is a staged portrait, that doesn't in any way detract from the poignancy of the moment. These are real people who were genuinely being threatened with eviction. Hunter is simply using a different medium to try and alter peoples perceptions. Which worked incidentally! After seeing his photographs the council agreed to meet with the residents and eventually relented on their plans for demolition.

The next picture isn't one of  my favourites, but I think it's a good example of the broad range of Hunters work:

The Way Home, By Tom Hunter

Part of Hunter's thirteen photograph: Life and death in Hackney series. This photograph was taken in 2000 and like the previous picture is based on a famous painting. This time though, it's the 1851-52 Pre-Raphaelite painting by John Everett Millais:

Ophelia, By John Everett Millais

Perhaps, because as a squatter and sometime traveller he felt marginalised at some point himself, he seems to have a deep seeded need to record the events of everyday people who might otherwise be forgotten. So when he heard about a young girl who fell in to a local canal after a party, he was inspired to create this photograph.

I find the composition of this photograph a little strange. In the original, Ophelia is clearly the central focus of the picture. You connect emotionally with her. The viewer is aware that though she'll gradually sink in to the water and drown, her madness has taken away an hint of the danger she might be in, so she remains content to sing her little songs and play with her flowers. In Hunter's picture however, the subject is almost incidental to the whole thing. Tucked away in the bottom half of the picture, she seems to be enveloped by all the foliage. I'm sure Hunter feels the need to provide some context to the setting, but I find all the little buildings and other elements in the background distracting to be honest.

I don't think the lighting works particularly well either. It's flat and devoid of any warmth. Again I'm fully aware that this is supposed to represent a tragic event, so maybe the lighting is supposed to reflect the sombre subject matter, but I just don't like it.

It's completely plausible to suggest I'm missing the point of this photograph and the others in the series, but when you compare it to others Hunter has taken, I just find them...odd. His photo's in the persons unknown and ghetto series, seek to demonstrate the life and vibrancy of the people of Hackney. They might be poor and not operate by the everyday rules others do, but they're happy! This ability to portray people who are often overlooked, in a new and original way, is what drew me to his work in the first place, so these one's just aren't for me I'm afraid.

As promised I'll give you a brief description of the way Hunter produces his final images. Because of his love of large format and pinhole cameras to capture his photographs, he obviously can't just run off a few copies with an inkjet! The process he actually uses, was called Cibachrome, but is now called Ilfochrome (Ilford bought the company.) This is basically a way of transferring picture information from a photographic slide on to paper. You still use a standard colour enlarger to project the images, but rather than use traditional photo paper the sheets used in this system is actually a sort of plastic. The chemical dyes used are also specially selected for their vibrancy, and ability to reproduce colours. The benefits of this process are that the colour reproduction and longevity of the picture is much better than other similar methods.

As usual I seem to have used an awful lot of words, without actually saying anything. I think I might have to come back and rewrite this at some point. I'll probably add a few more photos as well. Still, on the bright side...research post number six! We're getting there folks:)

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Research: Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry needs little in the way of introduction. The afghan girl is probably the most famous photograph of the past 30 years. Obviously I'll be including it in this post, but, I'm mainly going to focus on McCurry's use of colour. In October I went to see a retrospective of McCurry's work at the waterhall gallery in Birmingham. As I was wandering round the exhibition hall, pausing occasionally to listen to the string quartet playing in the corner (I know..I know, I'm sophisticated), the one thing I couldn't help but notice was the sheer amount of colour present in every photo.


McCurry has an innate ability with colour. In my opinion, his use of colour is better than any photographer I've ever seen (though I haven't seen everyone.) Luckily for him, there was a medium available that would not only allow those colours to be seen, but also to remain vibrant..Kodachrome! Produced in 1935 by Eastman Kodak, Kodachrome was the first commercially successful colour film. Though there had been others before, none of them had really perfected the process. Available in a variety of formats, from 8mm movie film, to large format slide film for cameras, and sold in multiple speeds (starting at ASA/ISO 6 and continuing up past 200.) It lasted for 74years, before being discontinued in 2009. Although he has since moved on to other films and digital media, McCurry became the poster boy for Kodachrome, so much so, that when they announced the discontinuation, he shot the last roll of film to ever be developed. I'm not saying the film has anything to do with how good the photographs are, clearly this is just a development process and would be useless without McCurry's talent, but it's almost impossible to mention one, without talking about the other.

Afghan Girl

 Afghan Girl, 1984,
Copyright Steve McCurry

I couldn't possibly do a research post about Steve McCurry without including this picture. That doesn't mean it's here just for the sake of it though. Whilst I can't claim to have been influenced by the picture the first time it was published. I'd have been three at the time, so was probably more concerned with all the interesting things I could stick up my nose, rather than the geopolitical ramifications of an iconic photograph! Later in life, this is exactly the sort of picture that inspired me to learn photography, and who knows, maybe one day someone will be writing a research post about me (stop laughing!) Given that it's become one of the most famous photographs ever taken, it's strange to think it was almost never seen. The picture editor of national geographic thought that the picture was too disturbing to be used. Luckily for everyone, he changed his mind.

Taken to accompany Debra Denker's story about the suffering of the afghan people under soviet occupation, this portrait appeared on the cover of the June 1985 issue of national geographic magazine. McCurry himself says that when he took it, he had no idea just what an impact it would have on the photographic world. At the time, Sharbat Gula (that's her actual name) was just another young refugee who he thought would make an interesting subject. It was shot on a Nikon FM2 35mm SLR, with a Nikkor 105mm F/2.5 lens and using Kodachrome film (of course!) 

Although it's a relatively simple photo, no fancy lighting rigs, no digital manipulation, there are a number of things that make it stand out. The first is the defining characteristic of the photo...her eyes. I'm reliably informed by the national geographic website they're sea green, but, amazing as the colour might be, it's the depth of meaning they convey which has made them famous.You can see every hardship she's had to endure, every mile she's trekked to get to the safety of the refugee camp in Pakistan. Her struggles are also reflected in the remnants of her headscarf. The colourful scarf offers you a glimpse of better times, a time when clothes could be chosen for their aesthetic value, rather than practicality. The juxtaposition of the bright scarf and the more recent holes, not only represents the hard journey she's made, but also allow her green clothes to peek through and add hints of colour to the picture. Colour that's perfectly complemented by the green background. A background which McCurry's thrown out of focus with a narrow depth of field, thereby adding further definition to the main subject.

Well there you have it, a picture often copied, but never bettered. would be remiss of me to leave the story there, so, just for you, I've included the next photograph.

Sharbat Gula, 2002, Copyright Steve McCurry

Until 2002, Sharbat was simply "The Afghan Girl." Because of strict rules governing interaction with men, Steve McCurry never had an opportunity to learn her real name. So in 2002, along with national geographic, he decide to start a search for her. After a number of false leads, they were finally able to identify her using biometrics to match her iris patterns. When McCurry finally met her again he produced the above picture, though by this time he had moved away from Kodachrome and used Kodak E100VS film instead.

Although I think this picture offers an interesting contrast to the original. I don't actually like it that much. I appreciate she's gotten older, and her hard life has obviously taken it's toll, but she seems to have lost the passion she had in the original. In the first picture she'd suffered, but she remained defiant. In this one she seems somehow hollow, as if she's finally given up. As far as the composition goes. McCurry has clearly tried to emulate the set-up of the 1984 photograph, though I don't think it works nearly as well. The background in the original perfectly complimented Sharbat's clothes. Whereas the background in the new picture looks like the sort of thing you'd find in a cheap high street studio. It adds nothing to the whole.


The Afghan Girl might be the most famous of McCurry's photographs, but it's not the only great picture he's captured. Many of my favourites actually come from his trips to India.

Jodphur India, 2005, Copyright Steve McCurry

I love this picture! As well as seeming to contain it's own natural narrative, it forces you to ask so many questions. Who is the boy? Why is he running? Is he desperate to get some where, or, is he running away from something he's just done? Who put the hand prints on the wall? Are they merely decoration, or were they put there as part of a festival? Is this a simple shortcut, or is it part of some labyrinthine set of alleyways? These are just a few of the ones I can think off.

McCurry uses a number of clever compositional techniques to give the viewer a real sense of movement. The obvious one is the use of a fast shutter speed to catch the boy in mid-air, just as he's about to disappear around the corner. He's also captured the high walls and narrow nature of the alley, allowing them to lead the eye straight to the boy. Combined with the drastic changes of angle, they all help to add to the sense of speed. Another element I think McCurry manages to illustrate well, is the dichotomy of having gaily painted walls, but then letting them become covered with mud and giving free rein to the general decay of the area.

Rajasthan, India, 1983, Copyright Steve McCurry

This is another of my favourites and a good example of being in the right place at the right time. McCurry was actually travelling to another town when his taxi was forced to stop by a dust storm. As he was waiting he noticed some women who had been working on the road. The weather had also forced them to stop work and they had gathered together for shelter and to pray. 

I like the way that as the storm batters them, they form an island of serenity, each caught up in their own little world, but each relying on the others to keep them safe. Their faith in their friends and religion, helping to insulate them from the outside world. The colourful sari's further unify the group, the richness of the red in complete contrast to the earthy tones of their surroundings. All adding to the sense of separation from the rest of the picture. McCurry says that they were so busy praying that none of them actually noticed him taking the picture. Thus enabling him to capture this natural moment between friends. Never one to focus on the obvious, my favourite part of the picture is the trees. Apparently there had been a drought for the previous thirteen years and this has virtually denuded them of their foliage. Coupled with the dust in the atmosphere, this makes them appear almost ephemeral, like phantoms looming out of the storm, ready to pounce, or, to disappear again moments later.

I've tried to focus on the photos a bit more in this post. Including more about how they were created and how they make me feel. As I said before, hopefully this is more of the sort of information we're supposed to include.

Thank you to Hillary Rose for allowing me to use the photographs.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Useful Websites: Photoshop

I mentioned this to a couple of people in class, but I'll put it on here for anyone who wants them. There are loads of useful websites out there for learning your way around photoshop here's just a few:
This last one's not photoshop, but it's great for lighting: 

Try not to panic when you see how complex some of the tutorials are! You might not be able to get it exactly the same, but you'll learn a lot whilst your trying. 

Have fun:)

Friday, 3 December 2010

Fibonacci Sequence, Or, The Golden Ratio

Hello Everybody!

I know I should be getting on with all the important things I've still got to do, as I'm so far behind, but I'm having a bit of a mental block at the minute, so I thought I'd write a quick post about an interesting article I read the other day.

As you're all loyal readers (aren't you?) I'm sure you'll all know that compared to a lot of people in class, I really struggle with composition. So, when something comes along that might help, I'll clutch hold of it, like a drowning man would to a piece of debris! That's why, when doing one of my frequent searches for anything useful, I was very happy to come across an article about using Fibonacci's number sequence to help compose pictures. Rather than just give you a link to the article (that would be too easy!) I'll try and explain it in this post.

Now, I'm sure this won't be news to those artist's amongst us, in fact, I'm sure if you asked her, Marie would be quite happy to quote the sequence to at least 50 places;) but for those of you like me, who can only vaguely remember learning about the sequence at school, let alone, any use it might be for photographers. I'll explain what the hell I'm talking about.

Again, if you're similar to me, you'll enjoy maths about as much as you'd enjoy a nice afternoon of invasive surgery, but I'm afraid a little bit is necessary to understand the principle. Just bear with me, and you'll be happy you did at the end.

So! What is Fibonacci's Number sequence? They're a sequence of numbers (obviously), named after Leonardo Fibonacci. Who brought them to the attention of the world in the early part of the thirteenth century. Sometimes starting with 0, and sometimes starting with 1. The sequence is basically calculated, by making the next number of the sequence, the sum of the previous two numbers. So we get: 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21...and so on. and so forth, ad infinitum. Whilst this is great for calculating the direction of financial market patterns, or just showing off to you're friends in the pub. What does it actually mean to us humble photographers? Well, it can be used in a couple of ways, that basically equate to the same thing: The golden ratio!

The golden Ratio,or Phi (for you fans of the Greek alphabet), is 1:1.618... Which you can calculate by working out the ratio between two consecutive number in the Fibonacci sequence, by continuing up the scale you get closer and closer to the golden ratio. You can use this rule to compose a photograph, again in a couple of ways.

The first and simplest method is to split your picture in to three segments. Wait a minute! I hear you cry. Isn't this just the rule of the thirds? Yes, and no. The golden ratio is the rule of the thirds cranked all the way up to 11! (fans of spinal tap?) In the rule of thirds, you separate your picture in to three equal sections 1:1:1 (hence the name, thirds, you see.) But with the golden ratio, you split the picture in to three unequal sections 1:6.18:1, then use the resulting lines and intersections to compose the picture:

If you're going to use this file, the measurements aren't exact, just a guide, but I think I got them  fairly close.
It's also a png file, not a jpeg.

The second method is a bit more complicated, but a lot more interesting to look at. This uses something called the golden rectangle. A golden rectangle is basically a rectangle where the the measurements of the sides are related to phi, but when you unhitch the length from its connection with the width, then swing it round to create a new length, you also get a golden rectangle. If you continue to do this, then draw a curve from the corresponding corners of each square, you'll get one of these:

Fibonacci Curve, from wikipedia

A Fibonacci curve! This was created by starting with a 1x1 square, then creating golden rectangles and following the Fibonacci sequence up to 34. Again you can use this to compose your photographs. Simply orientate the spiral anyway you want, then place your point of interest at the centre of the spiral.This, as many artists over the years have discovered, gives you a naturally well composed picture.

Clearly, you can't be expected to work this out with the naked eye (I certainly can't anyway!) But, if you look at your photograph and aren't sure why it's not working, try overlaying one of these systems over the top in photoshop and try to crop the picture accordingly. See what it looks like. It might not help, but it's worth a try! Just be careful not to lose your original image.

Hope this helps people, and wasn't too boring.

Here's a link to the original article. It will probably explain it much more clearly than I have:Original Article

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


I was a 100yards from the front door of the college, when I got a phone call to tell me lessons had been cancelled...Damn you weather (Shakes fist at the sky!)

I shall be avenged!

On second thoughts, It's snowing wheee:)

Monday, 29 November 2010

Digital Manipulation: Filters

OK, we're getting there people! I've almost caught up with Marie's list.

For this section of the digital manipulation part of the course, we were asked to to use photoshop filters to modify two pictures. We would have to use the rectangular marquee tool to separate each picture in to six sections, and we would then apply a different filter to each section. After opening the images in photoshop, I went to the filters menu and selected which filters I wanted to use:

As you can see, for the first picture I decided to use some of the artistic filters. In the end I settled on the following: 

Film Grain, Poster Edges, Coloured Pencil
 Rough pastels, Plastic Wrap, Water Colour

For the second picture I decided to use four of the texture filters, and two more artistic filters.  At this point I'd love to show you another screen grab, but my laptop's decided to refuse to let me capture anymore (poor baby, I think I've been working her too hard over the last few weeks!)

Craquelure, Mosaic Tiles, Patchwork, Stained Glass
Palette Knife, Sponge.

I tried to make the squares as neat as possible by going to view-rulers, but something clearly went wrong with the fifth square.

Well, there you have it, a crash course in the use of photoshop filters. You've probably noticed some of them are more obvious than others, but they all give you an interesting effect to use on your photo's.

Digital Manipulation: Initial Ideas

I've been thinking about what to do for the digital manipulation section of the course for a while and as usual I've had loads of ideas, all of which are far too complicated to be done within the time frame available. I have had a few ideas that I think are sufficiently interesting, both for me and the expectations people seem to have of me. As a bonus they're possibly even achievable!

  1. Breaking out of the frame.
  2. David Hockney style Photo Montage.
  3. Photo collage.
  4. Smoke pictures.
  5. Skin Textures.
  6. General jiggery pokery.
Breaking Out Of The Frame

I'm sure you've all seen his sort of picture. It basically entails taking something like a photo frame, or book, and photoshopping a photograph so that it looks like it's actually coming out of the object. e.g a waterfall cascading out of a picture and down the wall of the house. I like this idea, but the main stumbling block I foresee, is actually getting the necessary pictures within the next couple of weeks. I've got a few thoughts about shots that might be feasible, but I'll have to talk to Marie.

David Hockney Photo Montage

If you've read my Hockney research post (and I can't see why you won't have), you'll know exactly what I mean by this. Rather than take a week to go out and shoot a scene from various angles and at all times of the day though, I'll just use photoshop to cut up the picture and then modify the frames, so they look as if they have been taken at different times. This is probably the easiest of the options (so naturally I'm shying away from it a little), but I'm not sure quite how good it will look in the end.

Photo Montage/Collage

Again, this is a relatively simple option, and will simply entail cutting and pasting various elements of different photographs, to create a new image.

Smoke Pictures

I haven't really fleshed this one out properly yet, but I've seen some great pictures where people have taken photographs of smoke, inverted the image and then added various colours. I've sort of got one idea for this theme, but I'm not sure I could stretch it to four photographs, and have them still remain sufficiently cohesive.

Skin Textures

If you take a look at the post before this about using layers, you'll see the sort of thing I'm talking about. Taking a photograph of someone, and then overlaying another photograph, or photographs, to create a new texture and pattern on their skin. Obviously, my previous attempt was a bit rushed, so I'll have to make sure the quality is a lot higher for any images I do produce (as these one's will actually be marked!) Like the breaking out of the frame idea. the only problem I can see is actually getting the necessary photographs in time.

General Jiggery Pokery

This theme would be very similar to the photos Marie showed us in class (the two halves of the apple sewn together, that sort of thing.) I'd use everyday objects and then add a digitally manipulated twist. Again I've got a couple of roughly thought out ideas, but would need to check if they're achievable in the time frame available. I'd also need to check if "everyday objects" is a good enough theme.

I appreciate none of these ideas are very detailed at the moment, but I just thought I'd get them out there for people to see. Once I've settled on a couple I'll do a more detailed post.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Digital Manipulation: Layers

I know we're supposed to use our own photo's for these tasks, but I couldn't find any that were particularly interesting for demonstrating the use of layers. I assume we aren't supposed to use other peoples photo's because of the copyright issues, so I've decided to sidestep that problem, by buying a couple from a stock website I have an account with: Because this is just a bit of fun, I've gone for some cheaper, smaller images than I would normally, so the quality of the final picture isn't great (sorry!)

I'm going to try and combine the two, to simulate some photographs I've seen on Rankin's website: He probably has a much more complicated system for producing his images, but I'm just trying to illustrate what you can do with layers (not produce fine art!)

You'll notice from the screenshots, that I''ve already produced the picture and I'm working my way backwards. I thought that would be the easiest way. I'm also trying to minimise the number of screen shots, to keep the post length down. OK, lets start.

Open the image of the girl in photoshop:

Then open the image of the flower.

Copy and paste the flower picture on to the first picture, this will automatically create a new layer which you can manipulate. Click the show transform tools check box, then rotate the picture 90 degrees and increase the scale, so that it covers the whole girl. Now go to the blending mode selection drop box and switch the blending mode to overlay:

This gives you a very basic picture, with the flower texture overlayed on the top, not bad, but it can still be improved. Go to layer-layer mask-reveal all. In the layers window, you'll now have a small white box next to the picture of the flower. Select a paintbrush (making sure it's set to black), open the paintbrush sub menu at the top of the screen and reduce the hardness down quite low (this means the brush won't create such harsh edges when you paint.) Making sure the layer mask box is selected use the brush to cover any areas you want to show through the texture layer, such as the eyes and teeth.

Again the picture doesn't look too bad, but I wanted a more dramatic effect. So dragging the flower layer down to the create new layer button twice, I created two copies of the layer (it automatically copies any layer masks and blending modes.) As both of the new layers, were also set to overlay, this creates a more dynamic picture. Unfortunately, it was a little too dynamic and I'd lost some of the detail, so, for the top most layer, I adjusted the master opacity down to 80%.

Finally I flattened the image, and here you have it:

I think it turned out quite well in the end, but then again I'm using much better photos, so that probably helps! I really like the way her eyes have become the main focus of the picture. I did think about changing my main theme to this style of picture, but I think Marie would kill me, so I'd better not.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Introduction To Unit 108: Digital Manipulation

As I mentioned I'm very behind in my work, so rather than write anything fancy for this post, I'll just copy and paste the digital manipulation section of my original introduction to the course. If it turns out I need to add anything extra, I'll come back and modify it later:

This unit involves two tasks. Task one: Image manipulation, involves the selection and manipulation of four images, again linked by a theme. I will also need to include a copy of the unmodified images, for the purposes of comparison. Task two: is the production of a written account, detailing the modification software actions used, the quality checks I've undertaken, an explanation of how the images are related to the chosen theme, and the legal and ethical considerations involved in the capturing of the images.

Main Assignment: Test Shots

Serendipity can be a cruel and fickle mistress! One moment she'll hold you in her soft embrace, gently caressing your face as she whispers sweet words of reassurance and inspiration. The next, she'll cast you aside, pausing only briefly to deliver a swift kick to the unmentionables, before running off in to the night giggling like a school girl! Would you care to hazard a guess which of these happened to me this week? That's right, the unmentionables.

Having made special arrangements with Marie to use the studio, and for Chris to come in and model, I then proceeded to be late (there were extenuating circumstances, but that's no excuse, so sorry again!) Having had a monster of a week, and arriving at college flustered. Any brilliant ideas I might have had, swiftly evaporated. And it was made worse when I realised not only would Marie and Chris be there, but so would Steve and Vinnie!  Now, having gotten to know Marie a bit, I can be fairly sure she's not going to laugh at my bumbling attempts to take a photo, but Steve and Vinnie were unknown quantities. As it turned out Steve would quickly disappear to carry out some tours, and Vinnie's knowledge of the studio was incredibly useful, so in the end I could relax a little.

We were finally able to start setting up the studio ready for the shoot. I looked through my selection of fabrics for the backdrops and I decided to use the 140cm x 3metre length of purple cloth. Knowing I needed to drape these backdrops for my photo's, Marie had arranged for a rail to be placed at the back of the studio space. But which way to orientate it? At first, we taped it so that the long edge ran along the top, but Steve suggested it might be better to have it upright, so that if I wanted to do some full length shots, we wouldn't have to rearrange the whole set-up. This made sense (he is a photographer after all), so Marie broke out the gaffer tape and secured the cloth to the rail. Problem! Not having looked at the cloth since I bought it, I didn't realise just how wrinkled it was. Unfortunately, I don't tend to carry an iron around with me (foolish I know, but that's just not the way I roll!) Knowing I was surrounded by people who actually knew what they were doing, inspired a somewhat devil may care attitude, so, we threw caution to the wind and carried on regardless. Plus I could probably get rid of the worst of the wrinkles in photoshop.

The next decision that had to be made was the lighting. When we arrived, the studio had been set-up with just the beauty dish (Vinnie said it's always better to start with the minimum, then work your way up from there.) We then took a couple of test shots:

 Shutter Speed 1/60, F/8, ISO:100

As you can see it's not too bad, but I'm trying to go for a more high key, clean shot, so the shadows were a bit too strong. I've also used the photoshop spot healing tool to remove the worst of the wrinkles, but as this is just a test shot it's not that neat.

For the next shot, we added a softbox on the left hand side, to try and even out the lighting:

Shutter Speed: 1/60, F/8, ISO: 100

Rather than getting rid of the shadow this has actually moved it further away and made it more obvious! Plan C? I've also stopped photoshopping out the wrinkles and other blemishes. These are test shots after all. so should probably illustrate the problems as well as the solutions.

At this point Vinnie said I should take a minute and try and think about exactly what I wanted to achieve with the lighting. Not being able to articulate it properly, I decided to show him the Rankin picture of the girl with pigment all over her face on my blog. Whilst I'm not trying to copy that picture, it's similar to the kind of clean look I'm hoping to achieve, if with coloured, not white backgrounds. Looking at the picture, he said to achieve such an even light, Rankin probably used a ringflash. Not having one of those handy, he suggested removing the beauty dish and replacing it with a second softbox. We could then position them both right in front of Chris to simulate the effect as closely as possible. So that's what we did. Chris also moved closer to the background to try and minimise the level of shadow:

Shutter Speed: 1/60, F/8, ISO: 100

Whilst there's still a long way to go before this is a good photograph, this is much closer to what I was trying to achieve. With the shadows and lighting evenly spread across the whole picture, it looks a lot better.

I've been thinking of some other ways to get the shot I'm after, so I'll talk to Marie, and on Wednesday I'm going to give it another go, both with Chris and hopefully Lucy.

Through one thing or another I'm falling really behind with my posting. You've probably noticed a distinct decline in the quality of the posts I've been writing (not that they were great to begin with, but you know what I mean!) At the minute, I'm just trying to get as many done as possible, so that I've got something for Marie to look at, and I'll worry about polishing them up later.

Marie told me in class that once you've achieved the appropriate grade, you are then at that level, so I've included the distinction labels, but I'm not sure I really deserve them for this post.

Thanks to everybody who helped on Wednesday. I'll try to make the next studio session a bit more productive:)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Christmas Get Together

If anyone's interested, I'm trying to organise a get together before Christmas (you've probably worked that much out for yourself.) It will either be a couple of drinks, or, if people want to, we can book a table somewhere for dinner. Not being a native burtonian/burtonite/burtie, I don't really know where there is to go, but I'm open to suggestions.

I appreciate people are busy and spending more than three hours a week in my company is probably neither advisable, nor necessarily enjoyable, but a couple of people have said they'd be willing (fools!) I just thought it would be nice to socialise a bit, so if you can't make it don't worry. You never know, If she's not sick of the sight of us by the end of the week Marie might even come?

Anyone who is interested, can either leave a comment after this post, email me, or tell me in class on Wednesday. I'll also ask Marie to put this on her blog, as for some reason not everybody reads mine (why not?) I thought with Christmas fast approaching, and the prices rising, it would be better to get it organised sooner, rather than later.

Be there, or be absent...obviously!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Research: Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz, By John Keatley

Some of you may have noticed I'm a bit of a perfectionist. Take these posts for example. It will take me several hours, multiple drafts and a great deal of tinkering after they've been published, just to write even a short post, let alone one of these important research ones. Even then, I'll look at them days later and realise I've missed something important. And the same goes for my photographs, no matter how good other people tell me they are, I can always find something wrong, something that irritates me. Except for the small details like talent, budget, the respect of my peers, and the fact she's a girl, this makes me quite like Annie Leibovitz. Unlike Leibovitz however, I do make an effort to keep it within the realms of acceptability (Marie's probably reading this with a look of disbelief, but I do try!) Leibovitz on the other hand is unashamedly relentless in her quest for perfection. She's famous for going tens of thousands of dollars over budget (often at her own expense), just to get the shot she's after. Whilst working as a photographer for rolling stone magazine she was given what other people thought was a relatively simple task. Take a picture of the worlds oldest coke bottle, when she returned, she'd taken over 300 Polaroids!

Despite the well known financial difficulties, and a tendency to get caught up in controversy now and then. Sometimes of her own making (Miley Cyrus), sometimes other peoples (yes I'm looking at you BBC!) The one thing you can guarantee, is that Leibovitz will produce a beautiful photograph.

The Wizard Of Oz, Vogue, By Annie Leibovitz

OK, lets get this straight! I know this is the second wizard of Oz themed picture I've included as part of a research post, I know, both have included good looking girls dressed up, but I'm pretty sure it's not a fetish...pretty sure. The actual reason I picked this particular picture is that I feel it's a good representation of the commercial side of Leibovitz's work. One of an eleven photo series, it was taken for the December 2005 issue of vogue magazine, and contains several things that I've come to associate with Leibovitz over the brief time I've been researching her: Fashion, New york, celebrities, mesmerising use of colour, and beautiful lighting.

Though she's said she finds the term demeaning, Leibovitz is best known as a celebrity photographer. From reprints of her early work capturing the frenetic world of the music business, to the extravagant magazine photo shoots she undertakes today, celebrities pay her bills. The Oz picture shows the breadth of her influence in the celebrity world. As a famous actress Keira Knightley is an obvious choice to show off the clothes, but Leibovitz has also been able to call in some major artists to pose as the incidental characters. Jasper Johns is the Cowardly Lion, Brice Marden is the Scarecrow, and John Curren is the Tinman. With many photographers this might seem like a waste of time, why would you need these people when all you're doing is selling clothes, but this is just the way Leibovitz works. If she thinks these particular people are best for the photograph, that's who she'll have, regardless of the cost or the problems in securing them.

She has lived in several places during her life, but Leibovitz has always gravitated towards New York. Most of the major fashion magazines are based there, so she is close to her best customers, and it also got her away from the more hedonistic elements of life on the west coast (she suffered from a recurring drug problem, before her family convinced her to attend rehab in the 1980's.) I think the use of the city's skyline to represent the fabled emerald city, is a reference to her passion for the place.

Leibovitz often uses strong colours in her pictures, and this is no exception. The bright yellow brick road with it's higgledy-piggledy arrangement of cobbles not only adds some brilliant colour and texture to the image, but also draws the viewer to the main subjects, before carrying on to a tantalisingly close emerald city. And the red of  the ruby slippers and bow in Dorothy's hair, is cleverly reflected in the poppy fields, helping to tie the subject and the setting together.

Complex lighting set-ups is another of Leibovitz hallmarks (she was sued for an unpaid lighting rental bill of $221,000) Although the rigs can be complicated, they can be used to create much more subtle lighting effects. In this picture she's done exactly that. The side lighting of the characters, offering just enough illumination to allow us to pick out the details of the clothes and expressions of the models, but creating a complete contrast to the dazzling spot of light coming from the city.

Darren Aronofsky & Mickey Rourke, By Annie Leibovitz

This picture is part of the great series Annie Leibovitz created called "something just clicked." Again created for a magazine, this time Vanity Fair, she was hired to photograph 10 highly successful actor/director partnerships (although she was forced to create a composite image of Chris Nolan & Heath Ledger). Of all the photographs this is my favourite. All of the photos contain parts of the photographic and studio set-up you wouldn't normally see. In this one it's the backdrop and the staging, but in others, it might be the lighting rig.

I really like the juxtaposition of having Aronofsky rigidly formal in both his stance and his clothes, compared to Rourke's almost contemptuous level of relaxation. With the cigarette in his hand and being stripped to the waist, Rourke's battered body (he was a professional boxer) matches the crinkled edges of the backdrop and the chipped staging.

The Pretty Young Things, By Annie Leibovitz
Fords Foundation, By Annie Leibovitz

These two pictures represent another aspect of Annie Leibovitz character I like, her ability to put aside the serious nature of her fine art photography, and just have a bit of fun with her models. The second picture is one of a series of gatefold picture covers Leibovitz has produced for Vanity Fair magazine since 1995. Each cover has been an attempt to capture the alluring nature of the current hottest celebrities. This particular cover was for the March 2006 issue, and includes Keira Knightley, Scarlett Johansson and Tom Ford. It's a typical example of her ability to convey a sense of opulence and sensuality. It's also the sort of photo that gained Leibovitz the reputation as: "the girl who gets people to undress." Split in to thirds, the viewer would only have been able to see the first part of the picture, until they folded it out fully. 

The first picture is a tongue in cheek tribute to the 2006 image, created for the April 2009 issue of Vanity Fair. Paul Rudd takes the Tom Ford position, while Seth Rogen is Keira Knightley, and Jonah Hill reclines across the front of the image, in a somewhat disturbing rendition of Scarlett Johansson's languid pose. Jason Segel has also been added.

The obvious difference between the two pictures is the level of set dressing. Whilst Leibovitz has lavished money and time on creating a sumptuous setting for the 2006 image. She has clearly to just made a cursory attempt to recreate it. The Backdrop isn't large enough to cover all the subjects and the lighting is nowhere near as pretty.

I've still got some fine tuning to do with this, and a few more things to add, but I'll post it anyway just to show I'm making an effort to catch up and not resting on my distinction laurels/distinctive laurels (I'm not sure how to describe them?) Plus it means I've posted something four days in a row!

To Be Continued...

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Research: David Hockney

David Hockney, 1976, By Robert Mapplethorpe

This won't come as any surprise to those who regularly read my blog, or who know me, or just happened to have bumped in to me in the street, but I'm an idiot! Now hopefully, you're not all sitting there nodding your heads in agreement (at least not too strongly.) Because I'm exaggerating a little to make my point, never the less, I've definitely made a blunder. You see, I was under the impression that we only had to provide four pieces of research to support our work. As it turns out, it's actually ten! Having managed to retain the contents of my stomach (I could have said something else, but this isn't that kind of blog), I realised my previous lackadaisical approach wasn't going to cut it. The upside of this, is that I'll be posting things for you to read more regularly. The downside of this, is that I'll be posting things for you to read more regularly. Still, you've got to take the rough with the smooth.

As we've started the manipulation section of the course, I thought I'd post a research blog about someone who does just that. Although he only started to dabble with the production of art using digital mediums late in his career, Hockney has been experimenting  with what's considered the conventional photographic production process since the 1980's.

Born in Bradford in 1937, Hockney attended a number of art schools and colleges before he became well known as an artist. In the early 1960's he moved to Los Angeles, where his colourful paintings, combined with an ability to make seemingly simple things interesting (usually swimming pools), ensured he became inextricably linked with the now firmly established pop art scene, though Hockney himself has always denied the connection. Through the 60's and 70's, his paintings guaranteed he was a permanent fixture on the radar of most art critics, but it wasn't until the 80's that he decided to branch out and seriously try his hand at photography.

David Graves Pembroke Studios London Tuesday 27th April,
By David Hockney

Hockney has always had a somewhat unconventional approach to producing his work, so it wasn't too much of a surprise that his method of creating photographs was just as strange. Made in 1982 and measuring 513/4  inches x 261/4 inches, the above image is actually a montage of Polaroid photographs. Like a lot of developments in both art and other fields, Hockney apparently discovered this technique by accident. He needed some reference photos of a house he was painting, but didn't like the way 35mm photos taken with a wide angle lens created distortions at the edges (I assume this was barrel distortion). He decided a better method would be to take a series of Polaroid pictures and glue them together. After completing the process, he noticed that due to the slight variations in angle and location, the pictures contained a sort of narrative, they told the story of the interactions between the location, the photographer and their subject. Deciding to explore this phenomenon further, Hockney coined the term "joiners" to describe the process and the resulting photographs.

Running the risk that I might be revealing myself as a philistine who can't understand the subtleties of fine art. I think Hockney's early attempts, such as the David Graves picture, are often more about refining the process, rather than creating an  interesting picture. The subjects are usually simple set-ups, with a seated person in the centre of the picture and often just a room as the backdrop. You can already see the elements that would become a hallmark of Hockney's collages though. The odd frame is deliberately set more out of sync than it's neighbours and in some he has allowed more time to pass, therefore changing the lighting conditions. Taking all of that in to account, I actually find these early pictures a little dull (sorry!) I can appreciate the technical aspects of the pictures, and I like the idea of using Polaroids to make something greater than the constituent parts, but the subject matter doesn't inspire me. His later work on the other hand, is a whole different kettle of fish.

Place Furstenberg, Paris, August, 7,8,9, 1985, #1, By David Hockney

After perfecting the process with Polaroid pictures, Hockney moved on to using photos from a standard 35mm camera. Often taking several days, these shoots were not only technically more difficult, but frequently much grander in their scale and choice of subject. Having said that, Measuring 35 inches x 311/2 inches, the Furstenberg picture is actually smaller than the first image. Freed from the constraints of the Polaroid layout, He's now able to add some more traditional compositional ideas, such as the road leading the eye in to the distance.

Pearblossom Highway, 11th-18th April 1986 #2, By David Hockney

In many ways, this picture is the culmination of Hockney's exploration of the "joiners" concept. Measuring 78inches x 111 inches, and consisting of over 750 individual photographs. It was produced after three days of travelling, in which Hockney alternated between being the driver and the passenger. When he wasn't driving he noticed just how many more things you see compared to the driver. Split down the middle, the collage is supposed to represent this concept. As this is America and they drive on the wrong side, the right hand part of the collage, represents the drivers view. It's sparse in detail and is predominantly constructed with roadsigns. Whereas the left hand side is the passengers view. The ability to look wherever you want, means there are lots of tiny details like the litter and the extra plants. The most striking part of the picture is the sky. I don't know if it's deliberate, or not, but it reminds me of Hockney's favourite subject: swimming pools. The rich blue and the lighter edges, creates an almost prismatic texture, as if sunshine was reflecting off the water.

Apparently one of Hockney's ambitions for these pictures, was to create a modern twist on cubism. You can clearly see this in all the works, but the thing I find interesting is, although there were elements present in the Polaroid picture collages (obviously the frames create clearly delineated edges), by removing that demarcation, these later pictures are actually far more reminiscent of the cubist paintings. I know there's not a lot to really separate the two's work (or is it just me), but for some reason, they remind me more of Georges Braque's work than Picasso's. Maybe it's just because I've seen more portraits of Picasso's than landscapes, so have different mental associations.

Les Usines de Rio Tinto a l'Estaque, By Georges Braque

I don't know if it's as obvious to you reading this, as it is to me writing it, but I'm suffering from a bit of writers block. The sentences don't seem to want to flow properly today and the syntax is all over the place. I'm chalking it down to tiredness (I had a late night last night), so when I'm feeling a little more awake I'll go back and fix it.

On a better note, Marie told me on Wednesday, she thinks these ramblings are actually at distinction level, so if you'll permit me a moment...Whoop! Did I make the noise as I typed? Yes..yes I did!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Digital Manipulation: Type

As you're all smart people, I'm sure you'll have guessed from the title (that and you're all in the same class as me, so know exactly what the homework is), our next manipulation task was to include some type in a photograph. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of telling Marie that I have a bit of experience with photoshop. This does mean I feel obligated to try and do something a little more complex than just adding a new layer and plonking some writing down (damn my pride!) Well, they say pride cometh before a fall, so brace yourselves.

I've tried a few tutorials before that involve the manipulation of a typeface, but most of them involve other peoples photo's. Not being able to use those, and not having time to take similar ones myself, I've had to find one that I could modify to fit my purpose. I eventually decided to use this one: Smoke tutorial, All be it with a few steps taken out, or changed. I'm aware it doesn't look as good as the website example, but I'm still learning, so there's bound to be some rough edges.

Having picked my photo, I then opened it in photoshop:

 I knew I was going to need more space than the photo allowed, so I dragged the background layer down to the create a new layer button, which makes a duplicate layer, I then checked the show transform controls box and dragged the picture down, revealing the black of the previous layer.

Selecting the type button, I chose Reservoirgrunge as the typeface and wrote the word smoke. I then went to filter-blur-motion blur and set the angle to 90 degrees and the distance to 40 pixels. Stick with me if I get too technical, but this blurs the word.

 Open the filter menu again, and go to distort-wave. Set the generators to 3, the wavelength to 10 and 346, and the amplitude to 5 and 35. After you've done this, go to filter-blur-gaussian blur and change the pixel radius to 10. From now on I'll start to deviate from the tutorial a bit and need to make it up as I go along.

Having downloaded and installed the smoke brushes, mentioned in the tutorial, I set about trying to blend the word in to the photo. I wanted to make the smoke appear to come from the candle, so after first making sure the foreground colour was still set to white, I placed the first brush stroke in the flame itself. The writing wasn't quite in the right place, so I again used the transform tools to move it further down and to the left.

After placing as many brush strokes as I wanted, I merged the paint layer and type layer together, before clicking on the layer styles button. Selecting the outer glow option, I picked a light blue colour (#bddfe9) and lowered the opacity to 60%.

Finally I flattened the image and saved it as a jpg.

I'll leave it up to you to decide whether it works or not (just be gentle!) Personally, I don't think it came out too badly, but it could improved. If I were to do it again, I could probably spend a bit more time trying to blend the letters and the smoke together, I'd also make the shade of the smoke a little more realistic.

Just a quick edit to show you how someone can really use type to make an amazing picture:

Friday, 19 November 2010

Digital Manipulation: Sepia

Cuttlefish! I know what you're thinking. He's talking about marine life in a photography blog, he's finally stepped off that precipice and in to the sweet embrace of insanity. Well you'd be wrong. I actually have a very good reason for talking about this humble little cephalopod. Anyone who's read a little about the history of photography (or watches QI), will know that the original source of sepia ink was the cuttlefish. In fact that's where the name comes from. Sepia is the name of the genus the cuttlefish belongs to. Sepia is a dark Brown ink secreted by the cuttlefish when it gets scared. The ink has been used for a number of things over the centuries, from dye to paint. Photographers quickly worked out though that it could be used to enhance the warm tones of a picture and improve the longevity of the photo, by making it more resistant to damaging elements it might be exposed to. Luckily these days there's a far easier way of getting the sepia look...photoshop!

As part of the digital manipulation section of the course Marie has asked us to create a sepia photograph using photoshop. It's actually a fairly simple process to use.

Crazy as it might sound, you can't do a lot without a photo. That then is the first step. Picking the photo you want to manipulate. Obviously you can use any photo you want, but it works best with one that could make a convincingly old picture. After flicking through my photo's I settled on this  image:

Shutter Speed 1/100, F/4.8, ISO: 100

Taken at Shugborough hall (the home of Lord Lichfield, fitting for a photography blog), It's not a great picture, the exposure of the sky is off and it's not that sharp, but I thought it would look quite good after being converted to Sepia. After opening the image in photoshop:

You then desaturate the image, by going to: image-adjustments-desaturate, which creates a monochrome picture.

You then open a new colour balance adjustment layer and increase the value of the cyan/red bar, and reduce the value of the yellow/blue bar. It's a matter of personal taste, just how much you adjust the level, but if you have another sepia photograph for comparison it makes it a lot easier. Being the shy retiring type, I prefer mine a little more on the muted side.

There you have it, ye olde sepia photograph. It doesn't look too bad, but, if we continue to mess around with it. We can improve it a bit.

To start, go to filter-noise-add noise. Then select the level of noise you want to create, I went for 6%, but it's up to you:

Opening a new layer and making sure you have the foreground and background colours set to the default black & white. Select the gradient tool and create a radial gradient covering the far corners of the picture. Switch the blending mode to multiply, and this creates a vignette. I then lowered the opacity of the gradient layer to make it a little less harsh.:

It looks a little better, but we can still improve it I think. If you go to they have some free resources for people to use on their photo's. One of those resources is a selection of 50 grungy frames. We'll add one of those and see how it looks. Although most of the frames are great, I decided to go with this one:

This will not only frame the picture, but also add some extra texture to the image. The problem is, that at the minute all it would do would be to cover the existing picture. Open the file and then go to image-adjustments-invert. As the name suggests, this will invert the colours in the picture:

Copy and paste the image on to the top of the existing photo, you'll need to rotate the frame by 90 degrees and adjust the size, so it fits completely over the photo. Once the frame is where you want it, switch the blending mode to multiply again.

That's a bit more interesting. Obviously this is just playing around to illustrate the principal, but if you were to take some time, add some more textures and scratches. Plus use a photo with a better overall contrast, (or adjust the levels.) I'm sure you could make a really good picture.