My previous attempts at low key images had either been taken on a darkened theatre stage or, long after the sun had dipped below the horizon. Both situations providing an almost pitch black environment making it relatively easy for me to create the desired lighting effect. This time I was shooting around 1 o’clock on a bright summer’s day & so I needed to re-think my methods.
I selected ISO 100 & set the shutter speed to 1/200 which is my maximum flash sync speed. With the speedlight turned off (mounted on a stand & firing through a white flash umbrella), I took a shot with aperture f/11. However, the resulting image wasn’t completely black. I couldn’t increase my shutter speed to make the image darker because I was already at my maximum sync speed, so I would have to reduce the aperture size (f/16 did the trick). Now I could take shots knowing the only thing illuminating the object, in this case a cymbal, was the light from my flash.
Once I had the the image loaded onto my computer the only things to do were a black & white conversion, apply minimal sharpening & that was it. Well, that was going to be it but as I continued to play around with the image I discovered I really liked this pin hole camera style effect achieved by adding a vignette.
Scout Moor wind farm located just outside Rochdale in Lancashire, is the second largest onshore wind farm in England. Love them or loathe them, these wind turbines dominate the horizon in the surrounding areas. It was while walking around here recently, I decided to see if I could create something a little more aesthetically pleasing out of them & this is the result.
This image is the combination of six separate photographs taken using “continuous shooting” mode. Once they’re uploaded onto the computer open them all in ACR & click “select all” so that any alterations you make apply to every photo. Now open them in Elements & start combining them. To do this select the Move tool, hold down “Shift” & click the image you want to move dragging it onto the background image. This should create a new layer. Quickly check the alignment of this new layer by clicking its eye icon to hide & reveal it. If any movement has occured, reduce its opacity & use the Move tool to re-align it. With the opacity back to 100% (& the new layer selected) hold down Alt & click the Add Layer Mask icon. This adds a ‘hide all’ layer mask so you can only see the background image. Now select the Brush tool & with a soft edged brush (ensuring the foreground colour is white) paint the additional turbine blades in. Repeat these stages for each photo in the set until you have the completed image.
Taking the photographs.
A tripod is essential here as you want to keep the horizon in the final image level. Ensure the tripod head is level using a hotshoe spirit level or maybe your tripod already has one built in? Also, mount the camera in portrait format to maximise the resolution of the final image.
Take a test shot of an average part of the scene ie. not the darkest or lightest, with your polariser off if you normally have one on. If, after checking the histogram, the exposure looks OK switch to manual mode & dial in these settings. In addition, change the WB to “daylight”.
Ensuring you have an aperture providing sufficient DoF to leave everything in focus (f/8 – f/11 is often fine) hold your hand in front of the lens pointing in the direction you’re going to shoot. This will usually be left as for most people it’s easier to shoot left to right. Begin taking pictures with a 30-40% overlap (this enables the software to stitch them together easier later on). After the last image, take another with your hand in front of the lens but pointing right this time. Now you’ll have a clear sequence of images to link together when you get home.
Stitching the images together.
In Photoshop Elements 12 open all the files in ACR. “Select All” so that any adjustments you make apply to all the images. Now save them as jpegs & place them in a folder somewhere easy to find. Go to Enhance>Photomerge Panorama in the photo editor, leave as “Auto” or try a different style as you please & browse to locate the files you’ve just edited. Highlight them all & click “OK”. Elements will now do its thing (which may take a while depending on how many images you took in the first place). Once complete, you’ll probably get a message asking you to clean the edges. Either click “Yes” for the computer to fill in the blank areas or, “No” to crop the stitched image yourself. If you went for the computer option you may find you need to tidy up the corners. If this is the case, use the lasso tool to ring the bits that look wrong & then “Ctrl + Alt” to grab a section of the picture & bring it down ontop of the area to be fixed. “Esc” to get rid of the Lasso.
Finally, the new stitched image will be huge so Layers>Flatten image before saving.
NB. If you’re using the latest version of Lightroom or Photoshop CC you can stitch directly from ACR. Click the filmstrip & select “Merge to Panorama”, choose your style & click “Merge”.
There are three versions of the lasso tool:
Tip: “Ctrl & D” gets rid of the lasso tool selection.
The regular lasso tool is good for creating irregular patterns or shapes. Anything you want to draw freehand eg. a puddle on the floor.
The polygonal lasso tool (as the name suggests) is best for creating polygons. If you hold down “Alt” while using this tool though it reverts to the regular lasso tool (ideal for shapes that may have three straight sides & then a wavy fourth for example).
Tip: “Backspace” will get rid of the last click of the lasso tool without having to start all over again.
The magnetic lasso tool is used for tracing around objects. There are three adjustable controls within this lasso tool. Increasing the “frequency” will create more points around the object. However, too many can make the selection become jagged (50-60 is probably a good amount). The “width” setting dictates how far you can move the cursor from the edge of the object & still attach a point. It’s a good idea not to have this set too low. Finally, the “contrast” setting sets how much leniency you have from where you click & where the computer thinks you should put the point. A low value will place it exactly where it thinks the line should go (hence, a slightly higher value is preferable).
Once you have your selection you could add an adjustment layer & change the objects colour.
After reading an article by Caroline Schmidt in January 2016’s edition of “Digital SLR Photography” magazine I was keen to attempt this technique. It’s fairly simple to do & although it can be somewhat hit or miss during the photography stage, the editing side is very easy.
Set up. Ensuring you have a black background (a cloth or as I used, sheets of black cardboard) place the incense stick & tray at least two to three feet in front. With your camera on a tripod, shoot in RAW, in Manual mode with ISO 200, shutter speed of one second & aperture f/8 to start with. If you find the smoke drifts towards the camera you may need to adjust the aperture to keep it all in focus. Place the flash gun behind & slightly lower than the incense stick. Make sure none of the flash illuminates the backdrop or hits the lens. With the room lights on, use single-shot AF to focus on the tip of the incense stick before switching to manual focus to prevent the camera from hunting. Now recompose the shot so the incense stick is out of the frame. Turn off the room lights & shoot away.
Editing. Open the image in Adobe Camera Raw & increase the “Clarity” slider to draw out the detail. Next increase the “Highlights” & “Whites” sliders before decreasing the “Blacks” & “Shadows” sliders until you’re happy with the contrast. Don’t worry if the image turns blue due to the ‘clipping warning function’ as there is no detail in the black backdrop anyway. To colour, create a new layer (Layer>New), set the blend mode to Color & use the brush tool to paint the smoke trail in your chosen colour. Adjust the Opacity of the layer to obtain the desired effect. You can add additional layers with different opacities if you wish.
Settings: f/2.8, 1/15 second, ISO 100, 50mm prime
Set up. Open a cookbook near the middle & turn two pages in on themselves to create a heart shape. Arrange various baking props around the book. The camera was placed on a tripod.
Opinion. I have seen numerous pictures similar to this one however, the background is usually quite plain to emphasise the shape created. I wondered if it would work with props in order to create an “I love baking” message.
Settings: f/10, 1/20 second, ISO 100, 21mm
Set up. I placed my camera on the pier to get the low point of view. After experimenting with various exposure compensation settings I opted for an HDR image in an attempt to get more detail in the sky.
Opinion. Continuing my project with Cyril the cyberman, I found this bent lamp post sculpture on the harbour front in Halifax, Nova Scotia & thought it would make an interesting composition. The idea was to try to make it look as though Cyril had bent the posts himself using some strange cyberman power. I’m not sure it entirely works due to him standing so far infront of the lamp posts & with his back to them. But the original premise is sound.
Open both images. Go to the image with the head you wish to keep. Duplicate the layer (Ctrl J) & use the “quick selection” tool to select the head. Edit>Copy.
Now open the image with the body in it & Edit>Paste. Click on the “move” tool to position the head. Ctrl T (transform image) will let you adjust the size of the head until it looks similar. You may want to decrease the opacity of the head layer in order to match the face below as accurately as possible. Click the tick to confirm once you’re satisfied.
Ensuring the head layer is highlighted you could use the “eraser” tool to rub out any untidy bits around the head eg. the neckline. However, a less destructive way to achieve the same result is to add a layer mask Layer>Layer Mask, ensure the foreground colour is black & use the brush tool to erase any bits (this way if you erase too much you can turn the foreground colour to white & paint them back in). Next, to help blend the two images together alter the opacity of the eraser to about 12% & using a soft brush, go around the entire head to feather the edges.
If you need to match the skin tone a little better, again with the head layer highlighted, go to “hue/saturation” & alter these settings until you get the desired effect. You could also use the “curves” adjustment after this step if you have the full PS software.
Settings: f/13, 1/80 second, ISO 100, 29mm focal length
Set up. Looking through some wooden crate seats (taken in Halifax, Nova Scotia along the harbourwalk).
Opinion. It would have been nice to have a lighthouse or something a little more picturesque framed in the second seat but I still like the concept.