How I made THIS:
A few people were against me posting this entry, as they preferred me to keep the mystery of my imagery intact.
Because I’d already written it and promised it, I think it’s only right that I publish my entry on this occasion. I don’t do it with alot of images anyway.
Now, first I must advise you: I do not recommend doing something like this, ie. taking a picture in such bad lighting, with so much clutter, and then striving to drastically improve or change the image in Photoshop.
In fact, I have never really planned, for any of my images to date, to do as much work to the image in Photoshop as I might have ended up doing. Take THIS image I did for Life Pure Water, for example -
- for that one, I stitched together two main images, each taken on separate days (one with flash, one not) plus a couple of extra images, and I got there in the end, with many hours’ work. It worked (I think) but I would never recommend PLANNING to take this route. Instead, I think of these occasions as being OPPORTUNITIES when you CAN do something amazing to an image that doesn’t look so good straight out of camera. It is sometimes possible, if you have a substandard shot in your possession, to do something with it – of course it doesn’t always work, which is why you can’t RELY on this method.
I will also reiterate, before I have loads of people expressing their cynicism at a ‘fix it in Photoshop’ attitude, that I don’t overly process all my images.
I have three groups of images: the almost SOOC, slightly tweaked images; the 50/50 images where both original shot and processing style are EQUALLY contributive to the final result; and the third group, the heavily manipulated images where a lot of work in Photoshop takes place to bring together several images into a composite, looking very different from each original shot. This group includes the clone images and the trick images which seem to be the most talked about element to my stuff. With this category, things can be a blind journey, and that was very much the case with this image in question.
Besides, everyone knows that Photoshop doesn’t fix things itself anyway, it’s the talent of the user, right?
Ok let’s get to the point.
What did I want to do?
This was one of those times (like the early self portrait days) when I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, I was open to spontaneity. I had the trick images from over a year ago in my head. I wanted to do something like my picture The smothering:
In my head I also yearned to shoot underwater, but that wasn’t to be possible now. I also looked up at my ‘Yoga Cats’ calendar, hanging on the wall, that my sister had bought us for Christmas. That may well have inspired the result (ha).
What did I do then?
I decided to do some movement, and try propelling my body into the air. My flat is small and quite cluttered at the moment so it wasn’t easy getting an open area in which to shoot myself. But I was (a) eager (b) impatient (c) feeling ambitious. I cleared a gangway which was insufficient for shooting but thought, even if these shots get relegated to an archived folder on my hard drive, at least I will have blown the first layer of dust off my self-portraiting abilities.
Shot a variety of pics of myself against the wall with some curtain fabric I hadn’t used before, from a charity shop, round my waist as a skirt. I beared in mind I might composite one leg with another so it looks like both are propelled. Tossed a few playing cards over myself, a prop I have been using in my recent shots, but they didn’t really work in this context.
I must state here: these images are rubbish and I did not spend much time on the settings. I wanted to keep the ISO low enough to not create a world of noise, and to keep some low-light ambience in the image. I know I don’t have to post these images to the world to show off ‘what I did in Photoshop’, and on one level, I don’t want to even talk about this process. I guess I want to share it because I like to share tales of things I have done, whether they involve Photoshop or not. This is something I’ll be doing more of this year – and something I will be doing more of in my next Blurb book.
Did what I could, then uploaded the shots onto my laptop. Looked through them, and approved the ones that could be of use.
How did it come out?
Not good. Did a quick mockup to sense what vibe I was getting from the image’s potential. This wasn’t looking good. Just looked silly: me up against a wall, messy lighting, face looking too dark, no narrative or meaning, not sure what I wanted to try and convey: which way should I rotate the photo? Messy, poor quality, already looking noisy – next time I needed good, diffused lighting to avoid having one big hotspot on my legs.
Was that it then?
I thought so. Considered the attempt a failure, as expected, due to poor preparation. I didn’t see easy potential, I just saw a potentially futile processing nightmare, and resolved to get a better location bext time. Shut down laptop and went to seethe in the bedroom and plan what to do next. Planned to shoot some pictures of myself in the bathtub after replenishing myself with food and water.
After chopping veg, and whilst food was cooking, wandered back to laptop and had another look at the pics. Decided that if I were to do anything with them, it would take some work indeed. Decided I’d try it. I was keen to create something, right now.
Started by cleaning up the image with slight adjustments to Levels, Colour Balance, lightened a little with Shadow and Highlight.
Decided on a crop. I wanted to get rid of the clutter and hone in on the figure.
The main thing I’d need to do is bring another leg in, to replace the supporting sticky out leg, so I got stuck into this vital operation-like stage of compositing. Took the leg from another image (the third one in the 3-image montage above). Took some work to do this.
I then had to clone in patches of wall to cover the unneeded leg (as I had forgotten to take a proper image of the scene ‘without me in it’, the necessary element for trick images). I then stretched various bits of wall to cover offending corners and bits of leg. I’d need to lighten that top foot later.
Finally got the complete shape of my pose against a relatively clean background. Still wasn’t sure about it at all. Then, Matthew walked past and said ‘Oh, I like this one!’ He is never anything but brutally honest, so that was a good sign. Felt encouraged to keep going, aware that the more I was stretching and lightening and distorting the image, the more degraded it was becoming, but I did some denoising and kept going, happy at least that I had an image already more interesting than the originals.
The main thing bugging me now was the stupid lighting. The horrible dark patch of wall behind my midriff area, which was looking even more like an anomalous stripe after bringing fresh new wall to one side of it.
The more I lightened the image, the more it seemed as if I would be trying to make it look as if it were shot in a clean backdrop, when it wasn’t. And yet darkening it didn’t work: that further exaggerated the inconsistencies of the background.
I decided to go down the route of lightening the image, unsure as to how it would look in the end. Pressing on, I managed to even out the lighting with some selection paths, feathering, adjustment of Levels and Shadow & Highlight, and erasing. And some cloning tool to finish up. It was getting there. I can usually always tell whether it’s worth pressing on, or giving up. If small things can be fixed, then have a go. If the whole thing looks fake, don’t bother. I was happy enough with how it was looking at this stage, just knew it needed more and more tweaks. Of course, my judgement will only always be an opinion, others might disagree. One thing I hate about creating images in this manner is the uncertainty, the peaks of hope that can be followed by troughs of disappointment.
Ok, looking good, now what? What to add to the image to complement that open space? I can’t be holding that remote. Well I could, but the floor looks empty. In fact, is that the floor? Should that be the ceiling instead?
Flipped it 180 degrees: hmm, but how would I insinuate to people that this is the ceiling? Photoshop in some wallpaper? Checked iStock. A load of inappropriate images of rooms, shot from conventional angles, came up. No, don’t want to go down that road. Flipped it back.
Ok, the playing cards – let’s grab some virtual playing cards and give the image the same theme as my last one, to advertise the new website. Besides, the shape of the remote would match a playing card that can be easily inserted in there.
Adding playing cards
Cue a couple of hours of fiddling with selection paths, transform tools of various sorts (‘Distort’ was best for the cards) opacity and levels changes, for each playing card. One by one, cut from a screengrab of my website, they were in. Added drop shadows (handy – click FX in the little icons at the bottom of the layers palette). They looked fake, but I liked it. Not fake as in ‘crap cut-paste Photoshop’, but fake as in ‘glossy computerised Pin-up scene that is more exciting than real cards over the floor’ (at least, to me!) Maybe they actually look shit (and maybe they still need more work) but as an accessory to the wider image, I was happy.
Was that it?
Hmm, everything looks a bit floaty and groundless. Matthew passed by again and said he liked it, but I thought it was too contextless, it was again suggesting that ‘I am pretending this was shot in a studio but it obviously wasn’t, so what’s the point’ look. What about marking out a shadow where the skirting board would be behind me? No – how about more, how about an insinuation of a carpet or at least a different coloured floor ? Selected the bottom half of the image, altered Colour Balance, added some vignetting to top edges of this area. Then erased the parts where the effect was colouring unwanted areas – head, cards, tip of foot etc.
Then knew I had to bring a skirting board into the image, as you don’t generally see carpets without skirting boards… that bit was easy.
Dragged in a photo of a skirting board, lined it up, stretched it all across using the Transform tool, zoomed in close and erased the parts it overlapped. Done!
Now some extra touches: cleaning up the edges of the legs, dodging and burning here and there, replicating bits of hair to cover the darker area at the base of my head, bit of dodging and burning, slight rouge and lipstick saturation. And that was about it. Left out vignetting and any Curves adjustments because they didn’t add to the image much – the image was best left pastel-like and fresh, I felt.
When I look at the image, I see a kind of allusion to the colours and skintones in Elvgren’s Pin-Ups… I liked it because, for me, it reached that point of balance between photograph and illustration/painting, where everything is bold, and yet real. You can see the creases in my foot but not the banal clutter it was once propped up on. I felt I had entered my body and face into a kind of virtual environment without creating too many ugly hanging seams.
Very long task I would not like to do for every photo, nor set out to do. But it shows you can do it to some images, if you really want to!
Next time – I want to explore what ’self-taught’ really means. I’ll be chatting to two photography students. See you then!