Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 Photochallenge Week 51: Happy Holidays

Nearing the end of the year now and I've played along with at least 50% of the 2016 photochallenge.org challenges!  This has been a really fun way to push myself to try new techniques and take shots of things outside my usual comfort zone.  I have not done many of the portrait challenges though.  Meh.

Photochallenge Week 51: Happy Holidays

This week the challenge was to create a photo holiday card.  I wish I had done this earlier in the season so I could print and send these out!  Oh well, consider this my virtual greeting card to you!

This past weekend I camped out in our basement with my camera to observe and shoot various birds as they flitted to our two feeders out back.  The outside temp ranged from -30 to -15 that day but the sun was out and the birds were going crazy.  Some snow flurries came and went in the morning and I managed to catch this chickadee in a moment of silence with snow flashing around him. Perfect!  I did do a little Lightroom post production on this to blur out some house details in the background.  Then I put in in Photoshop CC and added a text layer with an edge glow fx.  I thought about doing a border, but felt this would affect the mellow nature of the picture.  




Have a merry Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate!  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

2016 Photochallenge Week 50: Levitation

Nearing the end of the year now and I've played along with at least 50% of the 2016 photochallenge.org challenges!  This has been a really fun way to push myself to try new techniques and take shots of things outside my usual comfort zone.  I have not done many of the portrait challenges though.  Meh.

Photochallenge Week 50: Levitation

This past week's Challenge was to use levitation in a photo.  This was open to interpretation and several methods could be used for it.  Some where simply fast shutter speeds to catch someone in the air while jumping.  Others were using people or items on stools or hanging from strings and "erasing" the connection to earth in post production.  

I've been doing some on-line Photoshop CC classes through Creative Live and have been learning some fancier techniques of masking and creating composites, so I thought this would be a good time to try this out.  

I took a small monkey table (yes I just happened to have this tacky piece of furniture laying around to my wife's dismay) and removed the glass top.  Placing this against a black back drop with simple one-source lamp light, I took a few base shots of the monkey.  Next, with the same set-up I took pictures of several of my ape and monkey themed books.  Who knew I had so many in my home library?  Next up I fired up Photoshop CC and started a base layer of the monkey.  I opened each book photo on its own, did some minor tweaks to it, then selected the book out from the dark background and copied it into a new layer over the monkey.  Repeat.  I added a drop shadow to the books on top to add 3 dimensional effect to the floating stack.  It isn't perfect but I got a chance to try some interesting effects, including rotating and transforming a few of the books.




And there you go!  A monkey in a fez (fez's are cool again)  levitating a bunch of books!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

PhotoChallenge Week 48: Bokeh

Nearing the end of the year now and I've played along with at least 50% of the 2016 photochallenge.org challenges!  This has been a really fun way to push myself to try new techniques and take shots of things outside my usual comfort zone.  I have not done many of the portrait challenges though.  Meh.

Photochallenge Week 48: Bokeh

For those who aren't familiar, bokeh is a term for the blurred light in the background of some shots.  Think of the sparkles from streetlights or Christmas trees in the background of some shots.  This can be distracting or a flaw in the picture, or can really accentuate and improve a shot--leading to a dreamy quality.

The ideal set up for Bokeh shots is using a small f-stop (2.8 f) to focus in close, with resulting blurring of the lights behind.  The lowest my lens would go was 5.8 f and I got too much detail in the background.  So I cheated!




























I ended up using an unfocused shot of the Christmas tree in our living room as background.  I then took some miniature X-Wing game Star Wars ships (Fantasy Flight Games!) and took some macro shots of them against a black background.  Then I combined the two shots in photoshop after erasing the plastic stands that the ships stood on.  The result looked pretty cool, but I went a step further and added some green laser blasts from the stalking TIE fighter!  The toughest part of this process was getting a decent fire effect at the impact point of the blasts.  There has to be an easier way!  I also added a bit of motion blur to the Falcon in order to give the impression of movement.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Inspired By Reading: Sabriel

A friend of ours, Andrew Thornton, started up a virtual book club a few years back called Inspired By Reading.  Like most book clubs, each month a new book is read, but instead of just talking about the book the members of the group are challenged to create something inspired by the book.  Most of the members are artists--especially jewelry designers--so this is a very visual take on the classic book club.  I've taken part sporadically, but my wife pretty much gets every month's challenge done.




This month's selection is the first in a young adult series by Australian author Garth Nix.  Sarajo got me to listen to the first book several years ago on disk and I promptly read or listened to the rest of the series as well.  The audio is read by Tim Curry (of Rocky Horror and Clue fame) in an extraordinary way!  

Though the protagonist is a teen girl and the books are marketed as young adult, these deal with dark themes and are quite complex.  The book begins with Sabriel finishing up her time at school in a world that seems a lot like WWI era Britain.  Soon she is thrust into claiming her birthright as Abhorsen--a magician of sorts tasked with keeping the dead in their place and keeping the world safe.  

I really, really like this series.  Since I work in photo rather than jewelry--I had a few ideas of things to try with my meager Photoshop powers.  The Abhorsen has a magic sword and uses a set of bells to command the undead back into their place in death.  Death is viewed as a dark river with 10 gates or falls, each one leading farther into the final resting place past the 10th gate, with occasional restless dead attempting to make their way back to the land of the living.






1) Abhorsen!  Here's my take on Sabriel's father (The Abhorsen prior to her taking over the job).  For this shot I took a few shots of myself dressed in cloak with sword and bell, followed by a few creepier shots of myself crouched over with a ghoulish mask on.  I superimposed my Abhorsen self into a swamp shot from our visit to Ligonier, PA this past summer.  I then warped and erased an underlying shot of myself as one of the restless dead into presence in the shot.  I'm still learning technique here and I'm pretty happy with most of the shot, but feel like I'm a bit too stark in the foreground.  





2) The Restless Dead:  Here's the underlying shot of myself superimposed on a solarized waterfall shot from a trip to Duluth this summer.  I elongated my jaw/teeth and fingernails and warped my body to seem unnatural as well.  I used a radial blur filter to blur out the outside edges and focus on the creepy self portrait.  Oh, and gave myself glowing red eyes of course!

Monday, November 21, 2016

2016 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 46: URBAN DECAY – SELECTIVE COLOR

Over the past 2 years now, I've been taking part in the PhotoChallenge.org weekly photo challenges.  The goal of these challenges is to get people taking pictures every week, gain inspiration, and to try new techniques.  I've done pretty well keeping up (except those portrait challenges) and have tried a lot of new things.  In these blog posts I'm going to post my response to this week's challenge, as well as some of my older pictures that fit the criteria... Oh, and feel free to take part, this is a free and open challenge for all budding photographers!

2016 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 46: URBAN DECAY – SELECTIVE COLOR

Last week's challenge called for Urban Decay...but I couldn't leave my very Rural town the whole week due to family and work getting in the way of my photography!  So I trolled though my back stock and found a suitable shot for this challenge.  The idea of the challenge is to desaturate most of the picture to black and white or sepia while leaving behind one color (or more) to give a different look/impression.  I've been a fan of this technique for a while and have been trying out a few such shots myself.



This is a shot I took in Asheville NC last year.  I actually replaced the sky (very pretty and blue in the color shot, but boring in black and white) with another cloud shot from the same trip.  Then I desaturated every thing except red using Lightroom CC.  I think the effect is pretty cool.  I almost greyed out the brick to leave just the grafitti.  


Friday, October 28, 2016

2016 PhotoChallenge Week 43: Little Planets

Over the past 2 years now, I've been taking part in the PhotoChallenge.org weekly photo challenges.  The goal of these challenges is to get people taking pictures every week, gain inspiration, and to try new techniques.  I've done pretty well keeping up (except those portrait challenges) and have tried a lot of new things.  In these blog posts I'm going to post my response to this week's challenge, as well as some of my older pictures that fit the criteria... Oh, and feel free to take part, this is a free and open challenge for all budding photographers!

Week 43: Little Planets

This week's challenge was a cool one.  Take a panoramic photo and manipulate it into a little planet.  There were some phone apps that did this, but I tried it out in Photoshop.  I actually didn't get a chance to go out this past week to take a good picture for it, so I used some older shots to practice the technique.

The steps:

1)Either take a panoramic shot or crop a landscape into a panoramic shape.  Ideally there should be some empty sky since it will be easier to meld together in the final product, but clouds can be cool too.

2) Change the size of the shot to a square (use the same height and width dimension) which will oddly elongate everything and look crazy.  Make sure to uncheck the constrain dimensions box or chain icon or this won't work.

3) Flip the shop upside down.

4) Use the Filter-->Distort-->Polar Coordinates to turn this into a circle.

5) The hardest part: Do your best to blend, clone stamp, and healing brush the edges and line where the photo touches upon itself.

An option that is a little more difficult has you copy and flip the photo so you get a mirror image on each side of the shot--this makes it line up well on the final product but does duplicate the resulting photo so it can look odd.  I did this with the below shots since my edges were not lining up well.



Sunrise!  I like this shot a lot and the silhouette makes it easier to blend the middle.  You can tell this was duplicated, which I don't love, but the other method left a huge line in the center that was near impossible to blend due to the complicated cloud patterns.  In a blue sky shot the odd streaking at the 4 corners is minimal and easy to blend away.




Wind.  This one was an odd long shutter speed shot I did last fall during some high wind.  To get this outside-in look all I did was skip step #3 above and this was the result.  I like the duplicated cloud pattern that looks like a dragonfly!  I wish the original had had less tree movement so only the foreground was blurred.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Inspired By Reading Book Club: Vampires in the Lemon Grove


A friend of ours, Andrew Thornton, started up a virtual book club a few years back called Inspired By Reading.  Like most book clubs, each month a new book is read, but instead of just talking about the book the members of the group are challenged to create something inspired by the book.  Most of the members are artists--especially jewelry designers--so this is a very visual take on the classic book club.  I've taken part sporadically, but my wife pretty much gets every month's challenge done.




This month's book was a short story collection by Karen Russell named after the title story Vampires in the Lemon Grove.  I didn't read the whole collection--I'm in the middle of two short story collections already--but did read the title story since I like vampires.  The story was strange, somewhat haunting and wistful.  I liked it and didn't like it at the same time.  I like the imagery of two vampires finding each other and falling in love for centuries, but just didn't really "get" the whole thing.

Regardless, here's my artistic inspiration from the story:  I struggled with this a bit, but eventually got it looking OK.  I took a macro shot of a handy lemon--destined to be used in a cocktail--for the background.  Then I discovered a shot of a fruit bat that I took on our summer trip to visit Andrew and William in Ligonier, Pennsylvania from the wonderful Pittsburgh Aviary (where the Lorakeets pooped on my).  I manipulated the picture to fit over the lemon.  The tough part was getting the edges to look right and it still isn't perfect, but I learned some new Photoshop techniques in the process.