Hello Everyone! I have been promising that I would eventually start releasing tips and sharing some of my techniques with everyone but time has just never liked me for whatever reason and I stay constantly busy so I hadn't been able to do that and I apologize for that. But about a month ago, I was approached by 1X.com to write a tutorial on one of my images they had published on their site for one of their tutorial books that they will be releasing within the next few months. Naturally, I was honored and agreed to do so. Whether or not the tutorial will actually be published or not remains to be seen but I thought I would share the tutorial with my followers (All 6 of you) here. :) In the tutorial I was asked to share a little about the concept and execution, as well as any post production. In my case, being this image was a very advanced composite, there was a very long post production section so if you are new to Photoshop, you may wanna open up Google in a new window in case you are not familiar with some of the terms I may have used. Other than that, I hope this gives you a sneak peak into some of the many techniques that I use to create these elaborate works that I have come to be so passionate about. So without further ado, here is my contribution to 1x...
This is the second image in a mini-series entitled, "Pneuma." This series is my artistic representation of the spirit being reborn and revitalizing its beauty inside the innocence of a child. I have always believed that there is much to learn from children. They are by far the closest representation of pneuma that we have before the effects of a harsh, cruel and unjust world take its toll and that innocence is masked to adapt to a desensitized environment. Before this happens, the series of events that take place are the greatest gifts that any being in this universe can have. To watch a soul take human form and become a life, slowly realizing and evolving its true inner beauty is something that the English language is far too limited to give justice to the true miraculous nature of this extraordinary event. So the concept was to convey this transformation, and the glorious nature of it, while at the same time evoking some of the emotions of fear and vulnerability that the spirit may experience during this process. If you can imagine being thrown into a completely new environment and being totally helpless it would seem like a very cold and dark state, which is why I used an entirely cool color scheme. It also added that other-worldly, dreamlike feel that I wanted in the image. The snow is also used to portray this harsh, cold environment while bringing a certain sense of wonder to the scene. Despite being exposed to a cold climate, the subject, who happens to be my daughter, is wearing nothing more than a dress. This is leading the viewer to feel that vulnerability described earlier. We think of clothing as a means to cover up and protect areas of our body that we would like to keep private so I wanted her flared dress to symbolize the mask that, as humans, we begin to develop slowly, over time that grows and flows in direct relation to the environment around us and the individual experiences we encounter.
Finally, and the most important elements in this image, were the butterflies. The butterfly is symbolic of transformation and was also in many cultures said to be symbolic of the soul. For example, in Ireland in the 1600's, it was prohibited to kill a white butterfly because it was believed to be the soul of a once past child. White is also used to convey purity and a child is the best representation of the pure and innocent soul. In this image, the butterflies have attached themselves to the child, while the child stands with an element of surprise and wonder on her face. The transformation has taken place, the soul awakened, and there lies a beautiful and innocent child in all her glory, her dress and hair flowing in the wind, ready to fulfill her destiny.
While the concept and idea of this shoot may seem intriguing, the execution of the shoot itself wasn't so graceful and rarely is when you are attempting to photograph a two year old. But I honestly feel that the biggest reason I chose to gravitate towards children's photography was because of the challenges it posed. It's one thing developing a concept, and directing an adult model to achieve the desired results. But it's an entirely different beast when your model has no interest whatsoever in helping you do this and in some instances, doesn't even understand what you are telling them to do anyway. This adds an entirely new dimension and level of difficulty to what you are doing. It used to involve me chasing them around the park for hours just praying I got what was intended. However, after much trial and error, I have developed a slight method to this madness and learned a few small tricks to aid in delivering decent results. The most important thing to remember, for me, was that a child does not want to be told what to do and the minute you try and direct that child, you are going to lose any connection or interest they may have had resulting in poor images. Natural reactions are your friend and those are achieved by letting the child be themselves. If you need them to do something specific, you need to think outside the box and almost "trick" them into doing what you would like them to do. For example, the look of surprise and wonder my daughter had on her face in this image was created by alerting her of the rather large dog that was passing by as she was walking away from the camera. Knowing she would turn and look, I sat ready to capture that specific moment. When you know what you want them to do you can create ways to get them to do that without specifically telling them what to do thus creating a more natural reaction as opposed to ending up with something that looks completely staged.
This image is a composite of about 8 different photos. The main image or "plate," includes the background, foreground and main portion of my daughter. This image was shot with a 50mm 1.8 lens with the aperture wide open. The lighting conditions were pretty bad at the time this image was shot between the overcast and the sun dropping below the horizon so I had to balance this out by using a slower shutter speed than I would have liked. I'm not a big fan of grain in my images so I try and keep my ISO as low as possible on most occasions. The location itself was primarily chosen because of the texture on the ground. I knew I was going to have to create a snow covered floor and the pine needles on the ground had a very nice texture to them and when I shifted the colors would create a look of snow sticking to the surface. Pulling off fake snow is not an easy task in post so I needed every ounce of help I could get and still I wasn't certain that it was going to work out as this would be the first time I attempted anything of this nature.
The second image contains nothing but snow which was shot straight up into the sky at night so that it would have a black background with a light illuminating the flakes. The black background is helpful with overlays because you can just set your blending mode for that layer to screen and everything that was black will become transparent, in this case, leaving only the snow visible.
The next three images were the butterflies which happen to be three images of the same butterfly shot at slightly different angles. The original butterfly, contrary to appearance, was a very dark brown, almost black tone with yellowish speckles covering it. The white and dark blue tones you see in the final image are a result of simply inverting the layer's colors which will give you their opposites in the Photoshop color system. So when inverted, the opposite of yellow would be blue and the opposite of black would be white.
The last three images that were used were shots of her dress taken at a later date with a remote while I was twirling the dress around. These were all taken with fast shutter speeds of 1/500 as to freeze the motion I was creating with the dress. All of the images were pieced and blended together in Adobe Photoshhop CS6.
This was definitely the most challenging composite I have tackled to date but because of this, I feel a strong sense of accomplishment and inspiration every time I look at this image and I am extremely happy with the results. This image has been a turning point in my short career and has shown me that I have the ability to turn a vision or concept in my head into something tangible and create beautiful art that is capable of touching the soul of its viewers and that, in my opinion, is one of the most rewarding feelings I know and is why I do what I do.
I use two programs for all of my editing. For my basic adjustments (ie: exposure, white balance, sharpening and noise reduction) and RAW conversion, I use Adobe Lightroom 5. Then I import my document into Adobe Photoshop CS6 for all of my heavy lifting. Composites can be very tricky; however, if you break it down into three main categories, it becomes less complicated. The three things you need to pay close attention to when you are adding elements to an image are: the light levels and direction, the color or hue and the saturation levels. If you can match these things you are well on your way to a successful composite. Your masking abilities can also make or break a composite. Masks are the most important aspect in compositing images. Masks allow you to reveal and conceal areas of a layer that you wish to either show or hide. I always start out by isolating my elements. There are many ways to do this. I tend to prefer the old fashion way by using my magnetic lasso and creating a selection around the element, in this case, the butterfly. Once I had my selection, I feathered it a bit and added a smart radius of about 1 px by going into the "refine mask" section. I did this for each of the 3 butterflies then moved them into place. Next I needed to add shadows. I knew I would be placing a light source above my subject so I had a good idea which direction I would need to place my shadows. For the main shadow, I turned the butterfly into a selection and created a new layer. Then I sampled the color of an existing shadow from the image and filled my selection with that color. I then skewed the selection of the shadow so that it was facing in the proper direction and duplicated the layer. I applied a Gaussian blur to the original layer with a radius of about 40 and repeated this on the duplicate layer with a radius of about 20. This adds a bit more depth to the shadows. I repeated these steps to all three butterflies.
For the dress additions, a precise selection was not needed as I would be masking in and out areas that were needed for each of the 3 added sections of her dress. Once I had a rough area masked and blended, I then went back and fine-tuned that masking selection, paying close attention to the outline of the dress. For areas that were not matching up well in terms of light, I manually painted in over the top with a soft paintbrush and colors sampled from the area I was blending in. Any areas that were still not matching, I corrected with a levels adjustment layer and masking in the areas I wanted this adjustment to affect. I then added a shadow of the dress on the ground using the same technique that was used for the butterflies.
Adding the snow was a simple process. As mentioned before, the image was shot so that when applied over an image, if the blending mode is set to screen it makes only the snow visible so dropped this image in, set the mode to screen and then positioned it where I wanted it.
The next step was not so easy. Making the ground appear like it was covered with a layer of snow was done by using a series of luminosity masks and curve adjustment layers right above my background layer. The luminosity masks allowed me to isolate the darks, mid tones, and brights all separately and use curve adjustments to tone and adjust areas I needed to brighten and darken. Although, I am limited in this tutorial and cannot go into great detail of this process, I urge you to research luminosity masks and become more familiar with them as the possibilities are endless with what you are able to accomplish by using them.
The light source above my daughters head was created by sampling a light color from the image, and creating a solid color fill adjustment layer. I then applied a radial gradient to the mask and using the "apply image" command with its default settings, to blend the light in better. I repeated this a few times using a bigger gradient each time to add more depth to the light. Finally, I grouped all these layers together and reduced the opacity on the group so it wasn't as strong.
A light from overhead would obviously illuminate everything underneath it, so to create this effect; I used a series of Curve adjustment layers. In the first one I wanted to darken the surrounding areas so on my curve graph, I created a point right in the middle of the graph (my mid tones) and pulled it down. This darkens the entire scene, so I went into the mask of this layer and with a black soft brush and my opacity and flow set to 100% , I painted out the area that I felt would be lit by the overhead light source, which in this case was my daughter, and a circular area on the ground below her. I then changed the opacity of my brush to 50% and began feathering out the ground area a bit more as to not have such a harsh line on this area. The next curve adjustment layer I did the exact opposite of this by dragging my mid tones up slightly. Again this effects the entire scene which I didn't need, so for this layer. I inverted the mask (CTRL-I) and with a white soft brush and it's opacity set to about 20%, painted areas on my daughter and the ground, I felt would be further illuminated by the above light source.
Once I had the entire image looking believable, the final steps involve the toning of the entire image. I wanted a very surreal atmosphere and cool tones so to achieve this, I started by creating an Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and going into my red channel (any channel other than the master channel will work) and then dragging my hue slider until my ground was the blue tone I was looking for. I then inverted the layer mask and masked only the ground area in. I wanted this image to have a sort of hazy, milky look to it. I achieved this with curves and pulling up on my shadows, reducing the contrast. I then went into each individual color channel and added blues, reds and a touch of magenta to my shadows and yellow to my highlights and masked this slightly off of my daughter's skin in areas the yellow was too harsh.
Shoot what you love ALWAYS! Never limit your creativity for financial gain. If you are passionate about what you love the rest will fall into place. So stay true to your vision and follow it. But most importantly, always be willing to help others succeed and success will find its way back to you!