Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Feb. 28, 2008: Gummy Bear Zen Masters

A couple of nights ago I was just looking through random groups on Flickr and came a cross a really bad photo of some gummy bears. There was also a guy who had done a 365-day project on gummy bears. When he got to the point where he was sticking gummy bears in his belly button, I knew the project was going downhill.

After doing a little more poking around, I discovered there was a Flickr group dedicated to gummy bear photography. Initially, I thought this was an asinine idea. But, the more I thought about it, I realized it was a really whimsical thing to do. I really need to add more whimsical ideas to my photography to expand my skills, so I decided to try it.

I came up with an idea to put some gummy bears in my tabletop zen garden. I decide to use an odd lighting source, so I headed to Dollar General and bought a bunch of tea candles. The gummy bears proved harder to find. I finally tracked down a 1-pound package at Wal-Mart after trying to avoid going there by stopping at about 8 convenience stores.

Once I had everything together I cobbled together some lighting support from old Maxim magazines and paperbacks from my bookshelf. The image above shows the really crude setup I used. I lit the scene with 13 tea candles. Initially I tried reflecting the candle light back onto the zen garden with the white plastic behind the chair on the left. But, that made the overall lighting too even, so I didn't get the shadows in the sand that I wanted.

On Feb. 27 I did some test shooting on this.

After an hour or so of playing around with combinations of candle light, I came up with the shot at the top of the post. I got the lighting to a point where the detail in the gummy bear came out, but, I didn't like the irregularity of the lines in the sand.

So on Feb. 28, 2008, I made some more "rakes" out of chopsticks, butcher's twine, masking tape and plastic forks. Those are shown in front of the zen garden in the photograph. I experimented with getting clean lines today. I hope to shoot some more gummy bears in the next couple of days. There are a few more details I want to work out to make everything come together.

The shot above is a whimsical interpretation of the Illuminati. I drew off lines in the sand to represent the Masonic compass and used the gummy bears to form the angle finder that completes the most well know Masonic symbol.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Digital Post Processing: Kasumi Effect, Some help from Kokoro

After letting this post processing technique sit for a couple of days, I used a DOA Extreme wallpaper of Kokoro to try and refine the Kasumi Effect and add a lot more detail to the overall image. I don't like to keep experimenting on the same image because when I hit a wall, it's easier to break through it by applying the same process to a different image and compare the end results.

This process is getting a little more involved than I intended. It's more time consuming than what I wanted. But, I kind of like the effect, so I kept working on it. The image above links to a larger version that shows the detailing I worked on tonight.

There are still come hard edges in the Kokoro image that I don't like. But I'm pretty sure that's because I was working with CGI. I'm going to have to apply the process to an actual photograph now to see where the process really stands.

It'll probably be a couple of weeks before I get that done and make an additional post. I'll spend the last few days of the month moving and it's no telling when Brighthouse will get around to getting my cable, Internet and phone up and running at my new apartment.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Digital Post Processing: Kasumi Effect Chaos

I've been working on a few techniques that give photographs a watercolor style effect. I called it the Marina Effect because I used a photo of a model named Marina while I was developing it. I wanted to follow that effect up with a method for creating a comic book style drawing from a photograph.

I wanted the final effect to look more like a hand colored photograph than an actual comic book drawing. I decided to poke around on Google and see if someone else had developed a technique similar to the one I was planning.

I found a graphic artist, Melissa Clifton, that had developed a similar technique and documented it with a series of tutorials. She had written a tutorial on turning a photograph into a Roy Lichtenstein-style image. That's some nice work, but nowhere near what I wanted to accomplish.

At this point, I gave up on finding a similar technique. So, I started breaking down what I wanted the image to look like:

  • The image needs to have well defined edges, but retain a hand drawn feel. I've got several options for this, but I think the Find Edges filter will work the best.
  • I want the subject to really pop in the image. I'll need to separate the subject from the background on its own layer to accomplish this. I'll also need to desaturate that layer and then recolor the image by hand. Fill layers will be used for this task. I can use blending modes on the fill layers to let the subtleties to the image show through. I'll probably have to do some processing in the desaturated layer to get the right amount of detail.
  • To make the subject pop, the backgrounds and any foreground objects will have to be placed on separate layers above and below the subject. I'll also need to tone down the colors and will probably use the Marina Effect on those layers to really isolate the subject.
That's pretty much it. The process is going to be a little more labor intensive than I had hoped, because it's going to require a lot of hand coloring and masking. In my initial tests on this particular process, I used a desktop wallpaper of Kasumi from DOA Extreme.

The results can be seen below on links to my Flickr pages.

Close Up


Obviously, I've got some more work to do on the effect. I need to refine it a little better. So, I pulled off a shot of Kokoro from DOA Extreme in a black alligator skin bikini with a beach-side background to work on refining and correcting errors from the first attempt. I'll post up what I hope are the final results for this process.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Feb. 16, 2008: Greenville on Foot

I had planned to go to Montgomery today, but by the time I had finished packing stuff I wouldn't use for the next two weeks, it was 3 p.m. I hate having to move. I decided it wasn't any point to make a two-hour round trip for 90 minutes of shooting. I'd like to have about six to eight hours to spend in the area around the capitol.

There's a lot of historical buildings in that area as well as the Civil Rights Museum and some of the more modern buildings and Riverwalk Park. I'd really like to shoot a lot of those landmarks and still have time to set up some night shots around the 65 and 85 interchange.

So, I decided to just hit town on foot and walk around the downtown area. I still don't know this town real well and going on foot allows you to really look for photographic opportunities.

On the afternoon, I came up with about 11 shots that I liked. The photo of the gas pump above was the best one of the day. I post processed all the images with an Orton-inspired technique I'm developing. I'm getting a little closer to get all of the details worked out on that process, but the results so far have been pretty pleasing.

You can find the other three photos I decided to post on my photostream on Flickr.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Digital Post Processing: The Marina Effect

I was playing around with some post-processing ideas today based on a similar concept to the Orton Effect. The original technique was developed for positive film by Michael Orton. This link provides a good deal of information on the Orton Effect, its history with film and how to apply the technique in digital photography.

The second image is the original image I used while working on the effect. I took the photo of a model named Marina in 2001, hence the name for the technique. The first image is the result of this post-processing technique. The first picture links to the larger version of the image, which shows the facial detail much better. I have a side-by-side comparison of the before-and-after images on Fickr.

The Orton Effect creates a loss of detail in the darker areas of the image. I was looking for a way to achieve a similar effect, but without loss of detail in the shadows. I also wanted the finer details in the image to really stand out.

After a couple of hours of working through various ideas, I came up the the basis for the Marina Effect. It achieves an Ortonesque effect while keeping detail in the darker portions of the image and only slightly softens areas of the image I want to remain sharp, like the eyes.

I still have to do some more work on the effect so that it produces exactly what I have envisioned. Since I want to apply this style to a lot of my photography, I don't plan on discussing the post-processing in any detail at this time.


Photoshop my way

From time-to-time I'll be writing a few posts on Photoshop. Mostly, the posts will deal with post processing in Photoshop. I'll also be rewriting a lot of actions I wrote for Photoshop 5-7 so they work correctly in CS2 and 3. You can download the original actions from Adobe from my old account.

March 12, 2008: The Orton Effect
Sunday, July 13, 2008: Coloring Line Art

Development of My Own Digital Post Processing Techniques
Feb. 15, 2008: Digital Post Processing: The Marina Effect

Feb. 21, 2008: Digital Post Processing: Kasumi Effect Chaos
Feb. 25. 2008: Digital post Processing: Kasumi Effect, the Kokoro Enhancement


Thursday, February 14, 2008

February, 14, 2008: Viscosity Experiment 001

A few days ago, I was really frustrated by the weather delaying some planned shots I've been working on. So, I decided I needed to develop some "mini-studio projects" I could work on at home when my planned shoots ran afoul of the misfortunes of daily life ... getting off work late, torrential downpours, prior commitments, etc.

One thing that has always fascinated me is photographs of drops of liquids colliding with other liquids or a solid surface. So I used the Google and started searching for information on how these shots were taken.

I found an excellent example of this type of photography by Martin Waugh at Liquid Sculpture. I decided to try and go low tech with this because I had seen a lot of water drop photos on Flickr, and I don't really have the budget to buy an electronic audio or motion trigger.

I thought about how to accomplish this for a few days an came up with a very basic idea of how to best attempt to photograph a water droplet colliding with a solid surface or the surface of another liquid.

I set up my camera with a 28-105mm zoom with a +4 close up filter so I could get get my camera really close to where the droplet would fall. I then filled a clear baking dish with water and placed it on a table in my den.

In order to keep the camera stable, I needed some kind of support I could get close to the dish of water. So, I went to Wal-Mart and searched through the crafts section until I found some wooden slats about 1/4" thick; they only cost $1.44 for a pack of eight.

Simple enough, I drilled a 5/8" hole in one end and used a 1/4" bolt with some washers to attach a ball head to the slat. Then I clamped it to the table with a couple of C-clamps and mounted my Canon D-10 to it.

Next, I needed a stable platform to drop the water from and to support lighting. I just used a tripod for this. I centered it over the baking dish and removed the center column and tripod head. Then I took a piece of cardboard and punched a hole in it with a ballpoint pen. I centered the hole on top of the tripod where the center extension column was and taped it down.

I used an eyedropper (2 for $1.83 at Wal-mart) to squeeze out the water drops. I filled it up and stuck it in the hole in the cardboard. Then I rounded up three construction lamps with aluminum reflectors from my tool closed and clamped them to the right side of the tripod. On the opposite side, I used one of my sketch books turned to a blank page as a reflector.

My first shots were way off from where I though I should be. I was having trouble focusing on the surface of the liquid accurately. So I took out a credit card, floated it on the surface of the liquid and let loose a drop of water colored with green food coloring. I manual focused on the drop on the floating card and I was set to go from there.

I triggered the camera with my right hand and used my left hand to squeeze out drops from the eye dropper. Overall I shot about 150 frames in RAW format. This was basically old school, I just stayed patient and tried to time the release of the shutter based on trial and error. Overall, I was pretty pleased with the results. Refining my technique and improving the setup is going to be the next phase.

Here is the basic set-up. I'll post a photo of the set-up once I refine it more. There are a lot of adjustments I need to make. So, for now, my written ramblings will have to explain things.

The image at the beginning of this post was taken at 1/1000, f 5.6 and lit by three 100 watt household bulbs. There are a couple of dust spots in the image, but, I'm not really worried about that. This was an experiment, so it was a learning process and not an artistic endeavor.

However, I learned several things from this experiment. The first thing is obvious from this picture. The bright streak in the image to the right of the water drop is a reflection off an aluminum leg of the tripod. The hot areas running across the top third of the image are reflections from the glass baking dish. Both of those problems are easy to correct. From the photo, you can see where the tiny droplets moving away from the point of impact are blurred. I'll have to add more lights so I can use a faster shutter speed and higher aperture. That way I can stop the movement and increase the depth of field a little bit.

This is another photo from the first experiment. You'll notice the "e" below the impact area easily. Also, the same blown out highlights are visible as well. This series of shots gave me a pretty good understanding of the impacts of water on water. I'm going to have to experiment with a lot of different liquids to see how they react on impact. This will require me to get a little more education about viscosity. The way I see viscosity in my mind is that it is the density of the liquid in question. This isn't an accurate definition of viscosity though. It's just easier for me to wrap my mind around the concept by thinking in terms of density instead of resistance to change.

Anyway, my next step in this project is to develop a better lighting setup and experiment with different liquids. Maybe drop milk into orange juice or Diet Coke into cooking oil.

I had a lot of fun with this. The results aren't spectacular. But, is was so much fun, I want to keep plugging away at this particular project.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Feb. 2, 2008: Greenville & Georgiana

I decided to hit the road today and do a little exploring of Butler County. Georgiana, Alabama, was my destination. On the way out of Greenville, I passed the Butler County Courthouse. There was some really nice cloud cover, so I decided to stop and make a quick bracketed exposure series.

I've been experimenting with High Dynamic Range imaging. The problem with digital cameras is the sensors don't have a very wide range of exposure lattitude. An HDR image allows you to combine multiple, bracketed exposures into a single, tone mapped image. The result is more detail in the shadows and highlights and a much sharper image.

Since my last Excursion post, I've switched to strictly shooting in the RAW format. The files are huge because they are 24 bit images. Meaning, all of the data the camera's sensor captures is contained in the image. This requires additional processing in Photoshop or another RAW conversion application, but allows much more control of the final image than a JPEG format. RAW format also helps in HDR generation and tone mapping of single images.

I'm getting to the point where I'm seeing how to compose and bracket HDR images, so things are looking up. However, I really need to purchase a copy of Photomatix, a HDR generating application. That'll cost me $100, but I believe it will be money well spent. I have the trial version and can generate much better images than with the freeware HDR applications. The trial version watermarks all the images though, and I don't want that.

So, with those things in mind, I set out to explore the town of Georgiana, shoot some HDR sequences and shoot a few photos to experiment with Photoshop's RAW converter. I spent most of my time riding roads looking for interesting places. I found a couple of nice pecan groves and a well manicured stand of planted pines. But the most interesting place was what appeared to be an abandoned railroad facility. Most of the tracks had been removed, but there were still three buildings standing that had no doors and all the windows had been knocked out. Better yet, there was no fence around this facility.

I spent the next couple of hours in the downtown area of Georgiana shooting reference photos and six HDR sequences. I'm going to go back to Georgiana and spend a day shooting there. It was an interesting little town. That may be a couple of weeks from now though. I want to make a trip to Honoraville and Highland Home to see what is there first.

But, overall it was a pretty good trip. I came back with three pretty good images from what was a scouting trip. I included them on my Flickr page. I need to upgrade to a pro membership so I can make more sets, so I had to lump them into a 2008 set.