26 April 2007

"Getting into Pictures" in Photoshop, Pt. 1

Here begins a multi-part tutorial on how to make realistic looking composite images in Photoshop where you put yourself (or someone you know) into a famous work of art.

[Note: I'm aiming this tutorial at beginner Photoshop users, hence some of the pedantic explanations, but I'm not going to attempt to explain everything about all the features of Photoshop that I'm introducing you to in these pages. There are reams of Photoshop tutorials available on the web. I'm just getting you up and going quickly, and you can read more about it later elsewhere if you want to. Hopefully someday I'll be writing my own longer tutorials like what you can find out there, only better :-) But I've found that the best way to learn Photoshop was to get my feet wet even though I was overwhelmed by everything and didn't fully understand it yet. I'd just put a "place marker" in my brain for "layers" or "masks" or whatever feature I didn't have a clue about, and say to myself or to the tutorial, "yeah, I'll come back later and learn what layers are, but for now I'll just take your word for it and do what you say."]

Start by finding a good clear photo of the person and a piece of art in the public domain that will work together. Most importantly, the angle of the face towards the camera needs to match that of the person in the painting that you'll be replacing. If you're just putting someone into a generic scene with no people already in it, the pose isn't so important.

Remember, you can always flip the person horizontally, rotate the image, and scale it up or down, so size and orientation don't matter. And of course colors don't need to match, and don't worry about whatever extraneous stuff is in the background of the photo. We'll fix all of that up later.

Start with the highest resolution version of the art work you can find online (or scan from a book at home). If it's for on-screen use only, you can get away with a smaller image, but if it's for print, you'll need more resolution. You can find works of art on the Internet using Google Images.

Here are the two images I started with for my "Mona Jane" picture. Notice that Jane's face is turned slightly away from straight on towards the camera, just about the same angle as Mona Lisa, though in the opposite direction. I knew I could flip it horizontally, so I figured it was a good fit. The Mona Lisa image is 155K and Jane is 38K, though I will only be using Jane's face, so I have way fewer pixels to work with for her -- not ideal. The resolution of the result won't be great, but I plan to use this only on screen, so it will be sufficient. (In retrospect, I probably should have gone back to the original photo I took of Jane, not this reduced resolution version I had made for emailing to her. But I'm learning such things as I go.)

Feel free, for the purposes of this tutorial, to download these images I'm using, and then you can follow along with me. For each one, click to view the full-sized version of it, and then right click on it choose "Save Picture As" and save it to a file on your hard disk.

Go on to Part 2.

24 April 2007

She's got that Mona Lisa smile

Here's what I've been learning how to do in Photoshop lately. That's my sister, peering at us from a Leonardo da Vinci canvas. Over the next couple of posts, I plan to explain how I did this, for all you budding Photoshop enthusiasts. Until then, just gaze at her and admire.

20 April 2007

My first photo exhibit

I'm pretty excited, because yesterday I hung the photos for my very first solo exhibit. All the works in it have been featured on this blog, so you can say you saw them first! Tonight I just completed the flyer for the exhibit (better late than never).

14 April 2007

More photoshop fun

Here's that "interesting old dilapidated farmhouse" I mentioned in my last post. The photo I'd taken of it seemed pretty good to me at first glance (apart from the vignetting in the upper right corner), even after having stared at it for a long time. But that was before I "met" Julianne Kost. I've been watching her DVD tutorials on Photoshop, and I had no idea how much better you could make an already pretty good photo. Today I learned how to fix lens distortion and change perspective. I wasn't even able to recognize lens distortion before I watched this video. After watching it, the distortion jumped right out at me in my original image. The photo was taken with a 24mm lens, which is a somewhat wide angle. The wider the angle, the more distortion (towards the "fish-eye" look of ultra-wide angle lenses) you will get. It's barely perceptible at 24mm unless you know what you're looking for. You might have to click the image to see an enlarged version to be able to see it. Notice how the rusty post to the right is sort of bowed as it bulges out towards you away from the center of the photo? That's lens distortion...well, one kind anyway.

Now look at the photo again after I did some touching up in Photoshop. The post is straight. The perspective on the house looks a bit more natural (not all of that tilt in it before was due to the fact that the house really is collapsing!). I also got rid of the "vignetting" (the darkening in the corners) which is another lens artifact. I probably had too many filters on my lens, and the wide angle lens will pick up a bit of the black rim of the filters in that case. Normally your camera will correct for the fact that the lens opening is round and the frame is rectangular, but in some situations it's not perfect.

I don't know what it is about falling apart buildings, but I really like to photograph them. See this other one I did.

13 April 2007

Self-portrait à deux: chip off the old block

Here's a shadow self-portrait of me with my Dad. We had gone out for a walk together with our cameras, "up the road a piece" from my parents' house to Wild Acres, with my mother and sister along for the exercise. Of course when two photographers get together for a walk, the exercise is only incidental. You can't get your heart rate up very high when you're stopping every so often to photograph the interesting old dilapidated farmhouse, or the rough texture of a barbed wire fence post. It was one of those magical, early spring, New England days when shades of grey and brown seemed crisp and glowing. This photo doesn't really showcase the glorious light of that day (I plan to post others that do in the coming days); I include it only because it's an example of another type of self-portrait. And it captures for me the father-as-mentor relationship which nurtured my love of photography. I do not yet have the patience of my Dad in setting up a shot (I remember us kids whining to him when he was taking what seemed like forever to get the family portrait up at the cottage just right, which always paid off in excellent compositions). But I think I get some of my attention to detail from him.

09 April 2007


I've always enjoyed the genre of photographers' self-portraits. They almost always, of necessity, depict the photographer at work doing his or her art (like painters' self-portraits at their easels). And they are almost always at least slightly humorous. You have to do something clever and somewhat amusing to get yourself into a photograph that is taken by a camera whose lens is normally pointing away from you. Some of the newer consumer cameras have remote control gadgets that enable you to place the camera on a tripod and take a picture of yourself that way, but that ruins the fun. There are all kinds of other more interesting ways to take a self-portrait photo. Mirrors, shadows, extreme wide angle lenses, self-timers, holding the camera at arm's length and aiming as best you can (usually cock-eyed), etc. See if you can figure out how I did this one of myself. Spoiler below.

Artists of all genres (including literary) have been fascinated by the self-portrait for centuries. Some of my favorites in the visual arts are the many of Van Gogh and Rembrandt, and the marvellous Triple Self-Portrait of Norman Rockwell. Here are many more examples at ArtLex (a wonderful resource). I'm not sure when the first self-portrait was ever conceived, but God certainly set the stage for self-portraiture by creating humans in his own image.

I remember a Vancouver photographer (whose name escapes me) who did a series of photos where the task he set for himself was to only take one photograph a day, every day, for a whole year, and the only rule was that he had to be in each shot. It was very creative, and ended up documenting some interesting times in his life (like when he broke his leg and was in a cast for a few weeks). He showed the entire exhibit at an open house at his home during the annual "Artists in Our Midst" event in Vancouver a few years ago.

I've just been watching and studying an Alfred Hitchcock film, "I Confess." The great director was famous for putting himself in cameo appearances in all of his films -- often just his rotund silhouette walking across the frame. His reason for doing so (apart from merely giving us a humorous signature), as my film class teacher Bruce Marchfelder explained, was to indicate his complicity in the dark side of humanity that he was portraying in his film.

Artists do self-portraiture for many reasons. There is an excellent web article explaining some of them, "The Exploration of Self: What Artists Find When They Search in the Mirror" (by Jeanne Ivy). Her conclusion is worth quoting in its entirety:

Self-portraits have been a method of self-exploration since humans first gazed at their own reflection in a pool of water. With the invention of the mirror came an even stronger fascination to capture one's likeness. And even within the past ten years, the public's fascination with the way an artist sees him/herself has led to exhibitions like the National Self-Portrait Collection in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery.

Self-portraits, we have found, can be carefully staged to show the audience only what the artist wishes to project, or deeply revealing, inadvertently displaying feelings of anguish and pain. Self-portraits have been used to test new techniques, make a signature mark, launch into self-study, remember the past, and as a way to release emotion. Whichever way artists choose to construct their images, they are each forced to study their own personas both physically and emotionally.

What do artist's find when they search the mirror? For some the self-portrait is cathartic experience, a letting go of pent-up emotions. For others, the process reveals new insights about themselves and their work. For all artists, the self-portrait is an exploration, an opportunity to see beyond the image in the mirror and begin to search into the soul.
I am not entirely sure why I do self-portraits, but surely there must be some element of self-exploration in it (that's a common theme in my life). The process of writing this blog post has made me more aware of how frequently I do it and the possible significance. I'll be posting some of my self-portraits in the coming days (though not necessarily revealing to you what they tell me about myself!). The one above is a reflection of myself in a mud puddle, on Galiano Island. Enhanced in Photoshop to accentuate the contrast and add a blue cast to the sky.

If you're so inclined, try taking an interesting self-portrait photo of yourself this week.

08 April 2007

Clean sweep

Another recent photo...

07 April 2007

New material

I've been cheating on my blog for a few weeks, bringing out old material, dipping into another medium, taking longer and longer breaks. It's obvious I wasn't getting out there and taking any new photos. One of the reasons I started this blog in the first place was as an incentive to create some new photos. Well, I've been getting back to that goal recently, so today I begin a stretch of some fresh material.

This photo is a portrait of Boo, my sister's cat, whom I had the great pleasure to visit last weekend in Boston (along with my sister and her husband, of course). I promised my sister that Boo would make it into my blog, as Cricket (my dog) has. So I'm keeping my promise.


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