As an artist who shoots mostly composites, more often than not I'm going to be cutting out my subject and placing them in a different scene. A lot of the time I only have a rough idea of what kind of a background I'll be using, so I just shoot my subject as best as I can and figure out the backdrop later. Sometimes I have no idea what I'm going to do with my model, but a wise and incredibly good-looking man once said, "You don't always need a plan." ... HOWEVER, if I do a shoot knowing full well what my background looks like before I even pick up my camera, it makes everything a million times easier.
As an artist who primarily creates composite images, I find that one of my biggest challenges is hair - masking hair, to be exact. It can be nearly impossible to get all of those little individual hairs cut off their background so I can place my subject somewhere magical. NEARLY impossible ... Ok so it's actually not THAT hard, but there is one major tip that will make your life about a 1000 times easier. Shoot on the right background.
These days I primarily shoot in a HUGE studio with more amazing flash equipment than I could ever hope to afford myself ... ok, so I could HOPE to afford them, but at this point in my career let's just say I'm a very lucky boy to have all these fun photography toys at my disposal.I was thinking about how I've come so far from those long lost days of household lighting experiments. Every once in a while I like to shake things up and challenge myself, so why not go back to my roots and try to do a self portrait image using nothing but lights from my house!?!?
Soooo yeah, remember that other time I created a baby dragon in Photoshop? Well, in the immortal words of Britney ... Oops, I did it again. (Yeah I went there.) I was thinking about how I'd love to grow my audience (weird, right?) and get more recognition for my work ... or whatever, and one of the best things you can do to stand out of the crowd is to figure out something you can do that not everyone else can, and you know, do it! Last time that I used my wizard-y-Photoshop-powers to craft a dragon, the internet sorta lost its mind. Ok, so not the whole internet, but those who saw it seemed to be pretty into it and that blog post is still one of my most popular. I say, give the people what they want! Also, I would be lying to your face if I said I didn't love anything and everything having to do with dragons. So without further ado, I grant to you kind readers,4 tips for creating a dragon in Photoshop!
As photographers (or artists in general), we're all searching for that elusive "style" phenomenon everyone talks about. We want to have our own "style" with hopes that one day people might look upon our work and say things like, "hey, I like your style...." There is no formula for finding a style; you basically just have to create, A LOT. Keep shooting the things you love to shoot and editing the way you love to edit, try different things, fail, try them again, and your style will sort of naturally grow into a thing. One day it will just be there like a stray dog that falls perfectly into your life like it was always there. You won't even realize it happened. (Disclaimer: You might, however, notice a new dog in your house ... just an observation.) You can't force it (I don't believe anyone who goes out looking for a new stray dog finds one), just work and the style will come. (Disclaimer 2: Maybe this analogy is crap? ... because unlike a "style," if you want a dog, just go to the shelter and get one.)
I'm charging into 2018 with a fire under my ass that hurts so good! There are already some really exciting opportunities on the the horizon that I can't even believe are seriously going to happen, but before I move forward I need to do some important reflecting (get it, reflecting? Cuz of the mirror photo ... ) and hopefully bestow upon you a lesson I learned that I definitely shouldn't have needed to learn. Meaning it should just obviously be taken seriously and tended to all the time, not merely after something terrible happens. Friends, I'd like to talk to you about ... backing up your files.
Layers on layers on layers on layers .... I've been working on this image for far too long, just long enough, but also not nearly as much as I'd like to? Needless to say, I put a lot of time and love into this edit and really really enjoyed the process of adding in the countless tiny details. TBH it took some major restraint on my part to finally call it "done" and move onto the next project. Seriously though, people - I feel like I could continue to zoom way in and refine/add more details for-EVAH. Which is exactly what I'd like to talk about today: taking your time and adding more details!
Did you ever finish an image (or think an image was finished anyway) and it just didn't seem to sit right? You look at it and it's almost as if your eye can't decide where to go? Well, if you, the almighty creator, are having this issue, then odds are anyone looking at said image is going to suffer from this problem as well. One of the most important things you can do to an image is to "tidy up." Aka attack your image with the patch tool, clone stamp, and whatever means necessary to get rid of anything that might beckon the attention away from your subject.
First, let's get the tedious part of the process out of the way. For the most part, I hand paint each little particle so they fall exactly where I want them to go. I use Photoshop's default brush with zero percent hardness and click around constantly tapping the bracket buttons (right next to the "P" key - they are quick commands for enlarging and shrinking your brush size). I try to make sure there's a somewhat natural flow to them and not to have all of them too perfectly spaced out. There is definitely an art to particle placement.
Quick Mask Mode. Guys it's pretty awesome. Does anyone ever use this? If you're sitting there like "IDK, what's a Quick Mask," the answer is, "No, it's not when you use a layer mask as fast as you can." Quick Mask is a tool in Photoshop that lets you more precisely edit your selections. You can activate it by pressing the "Q" key or clicking the little rectangle-with-a-dotted-line-circle-in-it at the bottom of your tools palette. Some of you may already know what it is but hardly ever think to use it for anything. Well I'm here to let you know that it can be incredibly handy if you use it correctly.
If you're in the gym and trying to lift something heavy, odds are you need a spotter. Even if you fancy yourself to be a big strong macho man (or woman). You may think you can just do it yourself (and maybe you can), but wouldn't it be safer to have an extra set of hands to yank that weight off your chest if you try to bite off more than you can chew? Perhaps you and your silly pride can struggle through it, but odds are you're going to have bad form; the sloppy reps just aren't going to deliver the results you were hoping for. Creating a piece of artwork is no different. Sure, you can do it all by yourself and get something done, but it's always a good idea to find an artwork spotter to have your back.
I can't tell you how many times I get comments like "Wow this is so cool; it almost looks like a painting!" Not that I'm complaining about that whatsoever; I take it as a compliment. It's one of my goals when creating a work of art - to make something that isn't quite a photo, but isn't quite a painting. "Yes, but how do you make it look like that!?" Well, since you asked I guess I could explain some of the process. Obviously a LOT goes into making my images look the way they do. Fancy studio lighting and a hefty amount of digital painting play large roles, but one technique that really pushes my work towards that sort of hyper-real-digital-illustration-y-type-look is the use of the "Shadows/Highlights" adjustment.
A super easy way to add motion to an edit is to apply a motion blur filter. I know it's so obvious it seems silly, but there is definitely more to it than just slapping a filter on top of your image. First of all you have to decide what is in motion and what direction it's going in. For "The Retreat" I knew that he (the dragon ... well subsequently Niall too, I guess) would be charging towards the left side of the frame, so the angle of my motion blur was easy enough to figure out. I was attempting to emulate the look you get when you pan the camera following along with a moving subject. For example, if you were to try to take a picture of a passing motorcycle, you could track it in the center of your frame, then when you snap the photo the motorcycle would be more or less crisp and the background would have the motion blur.
Being a full-time huge fan/buddy of the guys over at the RAWexchange store, I often get asked to check out their new material. (Just to clear the air, no one is paying me to say any of this. I just love them and everything they put out ... like, for real. I DO get a cut of the sales if you happen to purchase something through one of my links, but that is besides the point. The RAWexchange Store really does just have top notch stuff that I ACTUALLY use in basically every image ... ok moving on.) Well friends, let me tell you that their newest endeavor to start selling in-depth tutorials is one of their best ideas yet. Stefan Kohler created a "Colors & Photoshop" tutorial that is two and a half hours jam-packed with everything you could ever hope to know about colors and how/why they work the way they do in Photoshop.
One of the techniques I frequently use when shooting on location (by frequently I mean pretty much every time) is to expand my frame. I believe that many of you know of this fancy maneuver and are probably already doing it like total pixel gathering pros. (Well done, friends.) However, we are all at different levels on our journey towards creative greatness, so for those of you who haven't tested out this handy trick yet - allow me to elaborate. ALLOW ME!! K thanks. (And for those that do know this technique, kindly stick around for some tips and tricks that will hopefully take your expanding game to the next level.)
I had the pleasure of shooting with Amy Wilderagain! It is always such a joy to shoot with someone who is so on top of their shit. This girl knows how to work it. Normally when I do a shoot I'm trying to get as much "right" in one frame as possible. Aka the face, pose, hair, dress, whatever other magical elements that I'm capturing in camera, all to my liking in one shot. Very often I can get pretty close and only end up adding a bit of extra dress here or a hair flip there. Although apparently there are those other times when your model gives you too many perfect pictures and you just cannot decide what to use ... so you go nuts and just combine many shots ... so. many.
Sooooooo I made some armor. Not tangible armor, though (maybe one day). You see, the site ShiftArt.com does a monthly photo contest where they give you a selection of stock images to edit however you choose, as long you use a certain amount of them. This month the prize was a 13-inch Wacom Cintiq. So yeah, um duh, of course I was going to enter. I came in second place, but I still feel like I won because I ended up putting together this badass image that I never would have made otherwise. :)
Being the self-appointed-official-fancy-pants-Photoshop-wizard that I am means one of my favorite pastimes is to take a mostly simple image and add a bunch of elements to make it SPECTACULAR. (Well, hopefully spectacular anyway.) Here, my friends, is basically how that all went down in ten steps ...
I recently started a series of blog posts in which I gab on about the various selection tools of Photoshop. So far I've only gone over the pen tool, my main squeeze when it comes to most selections. It's definitely my go-to selection tool because it's just so dang precise, but let's be real here ... it is NOT always called for. There are going to be many selections that don't require quite the amount of work and attention that goes into penning a path around something. Oftentimes when I know it's going to work quickly and efficiently, I just look no farther than the Magic Wand Tool ... I mean it's got "magic" in the name so it's got to be good for something, am I right?
We've all had them before, those moments when something goes "wrong" and yet somehow completely right at the same time. These are the things we can't really control and that you probably would never have thought to do, but the universe seems to align and sprinkle a little bit of extra magic onto your project. Well, I had that cosmic-accidental-magic-attack during one of my recent shoots and I couldn't be more excited about it!
I'm the first person to say that I totally LOVE studio lighting. I crave a few hours spent in a dark studio tinkering around with big-expensive-flash-photography-toys as much as the next guy. Probably more than half of my portfolio was shot in the studio with multiple huge flash banks and other fancy lighting tools and modifiers. I wonder if (slash secretly hope) some photographers out there see this image and think something like, "This is so cool, but I can't afford all of that snazzy flash lighting stuff." Or that some photographer who's stuck in their old ways, thinking you can only get good images with expensive lights, will see the image and say, "See look what a stunning image you can create with some good lighting equipment ..." Well, this image is a testament that with a little creativity, a good group of friends, a bag of candles, and .... some cell phone flashlights ... you can accomplish something truly magical!
As some of you may recall, one of my very first blog posts (my 4th to be exact), was about compositing. I talk about compositing constantly in many of my posts, because I guess it's sort of my "thing," but I figured it was about time to share another of my handy dandy tricks for pulling off convincing composites. So here goes nothing ... well I mean here goes something ... it's compositing tips and tricks for working with different colored lights! Or just faking the colors later. ;)
I know there are a lot people out there who want to be better at Photoshop - heck, I've been doing this for almost half of my life and I want to be better! Well, I was really thinking about it and it dawned on me that more often than any other tip, I'm telling people they really should master the pen tool. It is hands down the most advanced and precise selection tool and if you boil Photoshop down to its simplest form, it's a SELECTIVE photo editing software. So I thought to myself, "Hey self, why not really dive deep into selection tools - how to do them, when to use which one, and why they are so dang important?"
Hey guys it's me! ME ROBERT, remember me? Maybe not ... because this crazy thing happened where I haven't posted a new image in about three months. (I know eww WTF!) Well anyway, I'm here to tell you that I still exist (yay) and I'm still going to be churning out art and blogging about the process! (Extra yay!)
Dresses. We photographers love dresses. I know I've said it about a gazillion times before, but I'll say it again: Beautiful dresses make for beautiful pictures ... well at least they help a lot. I know that it's such a "thing" nowadays in the fine art photography world - more often than not, images that get a really great response probably have a beautiful girl in a beautiful dress. Sorry (not sorry), it's just the way it is. Obviously there are an unfathomable amount of other things you can have in your images, not have any dresses whatsoever, and still have an amazing outcome. However, I'm willing to guess that at least every once in a while you're going to want to shoot an image of a pretty girl in a pretty dress. I know I do!
Okay let's just start right off by saying this image is not just my baby. Anyone who has ever heard of the light painting extraordinaire Eric Paré would see this image and think, "Ummm Robert? You totally ripped off Eric's work." To which I would kindly respond, "Good job for knowing who Eric is and for being able to spot his work ... because this is his work!" Well, it's half his work anyway. You see, this new image is a collaboration Eric and I created together. If you aren't one of those people who knew right away Paré must have been involved (or at least have heard of him/seen his masterpieces), then you need to drop everything and check him out!!! Eric is an extremely talented, passionate, and creative photographer who specializes in light painting. Rather than trying to delve too deep into an explanation of his process, I'll just have you put your eyes on this brilliant video he recently released....
Recently I was wandering around that Facebook thing because it is the ultimate procrastination tool. I can't say I remember what I was putting off, but I'm so glad I was. Through a series of countless random clicks on god knows what links, I wound up on an event page with an open invitation to a steampunk studio photography weekend at Omni Lens Studios. "Hmm this seems interesting, " (Robert thought to himself). "Oh dang, and it's only half an hour from here..." I clicked the "I'm Interested" option which kept me in the loop without actually committing to anything. Then for the next several weeks I would check back in periodically to quietly stalk the various attendees, photographers, makeup artists, and models - you know, typical internet creepin.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like you to meet Marisa! (Unless you already know her, in which case ... here she is again!) She is one of my many amazing photography friends. (Humble brag?) Marisa is so talented and just a wonderful person to know and be around. You can see her being super fun and awesome in a gif in this post. I've shot with her many a time before, but by "with" I mean "near/next to." I realized during the meet up I hosted in Watkins Glen that I'd never actually shot an image of Marisa. That just wouldn't do. It was nearing sunset on the first full day of the meet up and a small group of us wandered over to this location and Marisa just so happened to have this dress on hand, so I had her throw it on and we did some shooting!
Over the years as my style and visual preferences have evolved, I've noticed that I'm kind of completely and utterly obsessed with any sort of float-y particle/dust/speckle/orb/bokeh/grit. Acceptance is the first step .... to NOT CARING AT ALL! :) I really love the way dust can add so much motion, texture, and interest to the air in my images. Some pictures call for a very clean, sharp, uncluttered feel, but more often than not I get to a stage in my editing process where I want to muck it up a bit with some atmospheric particles. I'm always on the hunt for some great speckled textures to use in my edits.
Ok, can we just agree that our beds are the most wonderfully magical places that we can call our own? Sleeping in, all snuggled beneath a sea of comforters and pillows, being warm and nestled in your happy place is just perfection. I'm now going to ask you to leave that happy place at the butthole of dawn. EWW WHAT!? Yes my friends, get your comfy little butts out of bed and go out in the cold for the sake of art!! (Unless you live somewhere with a more gentle climate year-round, in which case, get your butt out of bed and go out in the warm...)