Fantasy Edits – Starting with photography to end up with artwork [Updated]

Sometimes I get a little tired with just a ‘simple’ photography. I think this is true for most of people – we can’t just do the same thing over and over again and not get bored with it. We need to mix things up. Thinking about it, I guess it doesn’t apply to the Japanese culture, in which people can dedicate their whole life to perfecting a single skill. Have you seen the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” ?

Anyway, I got a little sidetracked here. As I was saying sometimes I get really sick with photography to the point I can’t look at my camera without wanting to puke. Well, maybe I exaggerated a little, but you get the point. When it happens though, my creative urge doesn’t go away, so I try to come up with ways other than photography to let it out.

Being a photographer I have a lot of images in my Lightroom library, and when I don’t feel like shooting new ones, I try to reuse my old images to create something new out of them. Sometimes I get lucky and something nice comes out of my efforts, and when it does I want to share it with the world!

I call these series – “Space Fantasies”.

Since one of the purposes of this blog is to educate (ambitious, don’t you think?) I will share a bit about how the  image above was created. The rest of the images you’ll see in this post were created similarly.

As you might’ve guessed it all started with a photograph. This one:

At first I was inspired by images of things with huge moon in the background so I just tried to add a moon to this image. Did you know that NASA has a great library of space imagery that is free to to use for anyone? That’s where I found my moon, since I don’t have a 600mm lens to shoot it myself. This moon:

In order for the moon to seem behind the tree, I changed the blending mode of the layer to “Overlay” (did I mention that all this is done in Photoshop? Duh! Obviously :). When I did that, the image wasn’t interesting enough for me. I felt that something is missing. So I looked and looked at it and suddenly a thought popped into my head (or maybe not suddenly. Maybe something totally different happened, I don’t remember) – what if this is not our moon, what if all this is not happening on earth? So I added another image from NASA to reinforce my idea. This one:

And again, to blend it with the rest, changed blending mode to “overlay”.

Now we are getting somewhere! I thought to myself, but still something was missing…

A few days later I looked at it again and crazy thought crept into my perfectly sane mind – What if it was our moon after all!? If this is a moon, and it looks like night – something that was missing was a howling wolf! But I am not a wildlife photographer, and I don’t have photos of wolves laying around. Even if I did, I doubt I would have one in exactly the right pose that I imagined it should be. To find a solution, or to be more exact, to find a wolf, I started browsing through Google images searching for “howling wolf”, and I found quite a few images. But it didn’t feel right to use them in my artwork – I wanted to make it myself, you know?

The solution came to me when I saw black and white logos of wolves – I realized that all I need is a silhouette! It doesn’t have to be a photograph. And still I wanted to make it myself. So I drew a wolf on a piece of paper using several different photos as references to get the exact pose I wanted. Then I took a photo of my drawing and brought it into Photoshop. Using the Image->Adjustments->Threshold filter I converted the photo to black and white:

After tinkering with the image a little bit more, it seemed that all the pieces fell into place! I was quite satisfied with the result:

But my perfectly sane mind kept poking me, saying things like “psst! this could be better! try something else“. A few days later (you see, this was a long process!) I was playing with the Prisma app on my phone and got an idea to try putting my work through it. After trying a bunch of their filters, the one I liked the most was “Wave” (A tribute to the famous painting by Hokusai).

And that’s pretty much gave me the final image.

There is one more thing left to mention – Prisma outputs low res images, but I wanted it to have much larger resolution, so here is my somewhat complicated solution to the problem:

  1. Open the Prisma-processed image in Photoshop
  2. Enlarge the image to about 11 megapixels (Image->Image Size)
  3. Use Nik Sharpener Pro (for output) changing the following settings from defaults
    1. Structure = 50%
    2. Local contrast = 7%
    3. Focus = 10%
  4. Open the resulting image in Adobe Illustrator
  5. Trace the image in order to turn it into vector using “full color” leaving the rest of the settings as defaults
  6. Export back to JPEG from Illustrator at your desired resolution

 

After getting my first fantasy-photo-collage-painting I couldn’t stop, and ended up with a whole series of works. Here they are. I hope this was of interest to some of you and provided useful info.

Enjoy!

– Greg

[UPDATE] Lately Prisma started offering an in-app purchase to be able to output high-res photos of up to 12MP.

 

P.S. If you want one of these beauties printed on canvas and hanging on your wall – shoot me an email at greg@photopathway.com

Photographing Still Life Part II

About three months ago I wrote an article about my work with still life objects. I’ve been continuing photographing still life since then and experimenting with different ways of post processing the images. In this post I will show some of my more recent works. Click on the images to view larger version.

In this image I went with simplicity in shapes but added more interest using texture.
Still Life with bottle and wine glass

Here, on the contrary, I wanted to create a more complex image with additional elements. My main problem was to choose these elements so that they would fit harmoniously into my composition. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether I succeeded or not. 
Still Life with bottles, mandarins, and leafs

I especially like this image, mostly because it wasn’t easy to come up with the idea for it. I started it by trying various compositions of glasses and the bottle, and various liquid levels. After I achieved something that looked good to me, I still felt that something was missing from the image. So I looked around for an item to add, and decided to add the two marbles. But I needed an aesthetic way to place them, and after a while I solved this puzzle with a spoon. I made a couple of shots and still wasn’t completely satisfied with the results. Suddenly it hit me that these marbles on the spoon look like musical notes! To make this idea more visible I added musical sheet to the background and the photo frame, and finally I felt the image was complete.
Still Life with bottle and glasses

 

This is my best still life image to date. It has an interesting idea and a nice execution. In addition this image was accepted to 1x.com !!! It was my dream to have my image featured there, and I finally achieved it. You can see it on 1x.com here.
Still Life with bottles

 

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Our Incredible Obsession With Gear

What do I mean by “gear obsession” ? It is the thought that using better photography gear will get you to take better pictures. I was so guilty of it in the past, and still sometimes get the irresistible urge to buy that new something that just came out.

Let’s do a little test. Does the following thought process sound familiar to you?

– The camera that I have is pretty old, and just yesterday they put out this new model with far better focusing, noise reduction, continuous shooting, _____________ (fill the blank).
– Once I get it, my photos will be crisper, sharper, clearer, and definitely MUCH better.
– Ok, I got this camera, but my huge collection of lenses (more than three I consider to be huge) doesn’t have the new 50mm f1.4 lens, which is MUCH better than its predecessor, and is not that expensive!
– Once I get this lens, I’ll really start using a 50mm lens and get wonderful photos with it! (Doesn’t matter that I already have a ‘worse’ 50mm lens and at least two of my zooms cover 50mm mark).
– Ok, I have a 50mm f1.4 lens now… But hey what about this new tripod from Manfrotto!? Yeah, I do have a pretty good tripod, but this one must be that much lighter and more stable! Having it will FOR SURE make me get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to shoot sunrises.

This constant feeling that something is missing from your photo bag, and getting it will finally allow you to take better images can go on forever.

If it does sound familiar, then you have the same problem that I had for quite a while. The real problem here is that getting all this stuff Absolutely Will Not help you take better photographs. And since the flow of new and better cameras and all other photography related stuff never ends, you are facing the danger of constantly chasing that next new thing coming out next week, month, year.

You might say that I am not totally right, and better equipment does produce better images. Well, yes and no. If by ‘better’ you mean better technical quality then, maybe yes. This is even not a certain yes. In many cases, the quality of light is one of the most important contributors to the technical quality of your work. Let’s say you want to shoot portraits in natural light, but it is high noon, and your subjects are standing in an open area without a hint of a shadow. It doesn’t matter that you have the best camera out there – you will still get unpleasant lighting on your subject and very harsh shadows. But if you wait for the sunset (for example), and move your subject into a slightly shadowed area where you’ll get beautifully diffused light, even a point and shoot camera will get you great results.

However, technical quality constitutes only about 1% of how good your image will be, and this is something that I’ve come to learn the hard way. Photographic forums are filled with thousands of bleak, uninteresting, and simply ugly images taken with the best cameras out there (Canon EOS 1Dx, Nikon D800, you name it). On the other hand I also found many beautiful photographs taken with point-and-shoots.

So what makes a photograph to be good, or even great? Well, it is a pretty tough question and here is my take on it. Good photograph is one that makes the viewer feel something, that evokes emotions within the viewer. Good photograph creates a mood or tells a story. And the more intense the emotions it evokes in the viewer, the stronger the mood – the better image it is.

How can all this be achieved within a single image? Well, most certainly not by technical quality of photographer’s equipment. It can be achieved through lots and lots of practice, through looking at work of masters and trying to understand what is it in the image that makes you feel the way that you feel. It is way past the basics such as rule of thirds, contrasts, lines, patterns, etc. Of course, you have to be familiar with all of the above, but to use it effectively, and break the rules where necessary is a whole another level of photography. In short, only developing your vision will allow you to create good photographs, and you can do it with almost any camera out there.

I find it liberating taking pictures with my mobile phone because I don’t have to worry about changing lenses, and being afraid of missing the shot because I don’t have the correct lens on my camera. With the phone I simply don’t have that choice, and instead I start to look around more, think about what I am looking at and create various compositions in my mind, The camera is there only to capture what I saw in my mind. It is really just a tool that helps the photographer express himself.

What do you think makes a good photograph? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.