Chaos : An Image Creation Walkthrough

Attacked by Christmas Lights

An unsuspecting elf walked into the dimly lit room. Christmas lights reflected off of his goggles and slithered across the floor in shadow like a python after its prey. Without warning, the snake of lights struck out… how’s that for an idea?

Cameras are everywhere and the technology is changing daily. Every time something new comes out, whether it be the digital revolution or something so recent as the smartphone, somebody, somewhere is claiming that the art of photography will disappear because it will be too readily available. Believe it or not, the same argument was posed when consumer film cameras were introduced, and now photography is more accessible than ever before. Creativity is exploding, but the idea of taking a picture versus making a photograph is still foreign to most camera owners.

Taking a picture is a simple way to remember a moment – it’s a true snapshot in time, destined to wind up on Facebook, but not much thought goes into simply taking a picture. Our fingers twitch on the shutter button and that’s that. Making a photograph on the other hand is essentially image creation. By controlling the lighting, the composition, the props and whatever else you can think of in addition to the camera, it’s possible to capture more than just a moment – you can capture an idea.

Starting with the props, I grabbed christmas lights, a Santa hat, a pair of welding goggles, and a gas mask. Then I worked through the lighting in my head, set up a ring flash adapter on my hotshoe mounted flash and took some test shots with the 50mm f/1.8. Unhappy with the look, I changed to the 8mm fisheye and wrapped the christmas lights around the ring flash.

With the camera set on a timer atop a fully extended tripod, I triggered the shutter with a cable while being attacked by the christmas lights and repeated the process until I saw a shot that I liked, some with the gas mask, and some with the welding goggles. It was the goggles that won, and the next step was to take the photo to Lightroom.

Inside Lightroom, I tweaked the RAW image slightly to account for my flash settings being slightly off. The exposure settings are visible in the above image. I also increased clarity, vibrance, and added sharpening before cropping and exporting the image to Photoshop (right-click, Edit in Photoshop CS5).

Knowing the look that you are trying to achieve beforehand can save time in post-processing. The crop was meant to impart a sense of urgency and chaos as well as bring in a claustrophobic feeling. Additionally, I wanted to bring out some of the details and give everything a glow, so right off, I launched Color Efex Pro 4.

New in Color Efex Pro 4 is the ability to stack filters into what they call Recipes rather than having to run the program numerous times. Starting with Dark Contrasts and Tonal Contrast to pull up some details, I added two separate glows on top of them, one to make the whites brighter, and another to add saturation to the bulbs. In the screen shot above, my u-points are visible on the image.

Once back in Photoshop, I duplicated the layer (Ctrl + J), selected the marquee tool (M), and drew a box around the outside of the image as seen in the screen capture below. Next, I feathered the selection (Shift + F6) to the max settings and hit OK before Alt+clicking on the layer mask icon. This creates a reverse layer mask from the selection. By changing the layer blend properties to Multiply and adjusting the opacity as desired, I find it creates a subtle yet more natural looking vignette than any vignette tool I’ve used. In this case, it’s barely noticeable.

With that done, all I had to do was save. The resulting image was somehow slightly comical and suffocating at the same time, but nevertheless, it was an idea followed from beginning to end. Thoughts?

Attacked by Christmas Lights

On a whim, I also ran one of the gas mask photos through post-processing to familiarize myself with the liquify tools in Photoshop. Over a decade ago I remember Kai’s Power Goo that I think eventually became liquify. Here’s the result…


Window Light

After taking somewhere close to 2000 photos in the last few weeks, I just realized that I haven’t posted much at all. As I work through my backlog, which includes a tired dog, the Pumpkinfest in Keene, NH, foliage in Northern Alabama, and various animals and locales from a vacation down south, I’ll try to share a few. The last photos that I worked through were from the Vertical Dreams halloween party which were posted to Facebook. Shooting a fisheye lens through a ring light is interesting and when something extends through the light, the result is something that catches the eye. I’m happy with the results and I wish I had stayed longer to take a few more. Days after that event, the northeast had its first major snow of the year, up to 31″ in some spots, and when the sunshine returned, the cats lounged in the light, providing me with an easy photoshoot. On my walk to dig out the car, I carried my camera along and shot some of the foliage juxtaposed with the snow. Branches and leaves were down everywhere from the weight of the wet snow and as we all know, people lost power all over the region. Of all of these shots, my favorite is of Mama. I focused and spot metered off of her eyes and let the sunlight blow out. A side window provided catchlights.

Staying Local


Seasons slowly change and I’m still discovering all the places around this city that I’ve missed. A few walks through Stark Park and out to Battery Point on Massabesic Lake revealed some scenic views and also gave me a case of poison ivy on my legs. Of these images, my favorite is the mushroom. Late day sun was shining through the forest and emphasizing the large white cap, and while I wasn’t carrying a tripod (I wish I had been) I steadied myself enough to snap a few shots. In post processing, I tried to bring out a surreal feel to things, almost to the point where it started to remind me of Alice in Wonderland, but maybe that’s just me. In the end, I have two more locations that I wouldn’t hesitate to return to for a shoot or even just a walk, provided I avoid the poison ivy next time.

Tuesday Night Photoshoot

Below the Falls

After scouting out locations in the summer heat and seeing potential in the Citizens Bank parking garage and the PSNH park along the Merrimack, I ventured back one evening to capture these images of Hannah. It wasn’t long before she commented on the oddity of posing for the HDR photos that I was starting off with. Considering that HDR images are composed of numerous photos at different exposures, the subject isn’t allowed to move. I would tell her when I was going to start a sequence and she’d do her best not to move. I’m thankful that she did such a good job. As we changed locations, the sun began to set and gave me some of my favorite images of the night. Which photo is your favorite? Post in the comments below…

Presidential Traverse

Morning Light on Madison

Given the amount of pain that our bodies were in, none of us would fess up to whose idea it was to hike the entire Presidential Range in a day. Granted, the idea isn’t something far-fetched, however, none of us have done much hiking lately. A Presidential Traverse consists of a minimum of around 18 miles, 8000 feet of cumulative elevation gain, and reaching the summits of Monroe, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce. Franklin and Clay are optional, with the additional option of continuing on to Webster. The average time for a traverse is somewhere around 14 hours, although the record is somewhere under 5 hours.

Starting the hike at 4:30 AM by headlamp is common. My camera was tucked away inside my pack for whenever I had enough light and energy to fish it out. Carrying 4 lbs of camera gear didn’t make the trip any easier and the only reassuring thought I had was that I didn’t bring the tripod. Off and on, I’d shoot something, then tuck it away. Other times, I felt too exhausted to take off my pack to grab the camera. The mile long trudge up Mt Washington was my low point, and I wanted photos of the Cog Railroad, but as it passed me by repeatedly, I hardly had the energy to pick up my feet. I suspect the three hours of sleep I got the night before had something to do with it.

People are on the mountains daily and photographing them just as often. In an attempt to get something different, I experimented with more handheld HDR and found once I had the photos on my computer that most of them worked better in black and white due to the composition and lack of much color to begin with. I didn’t bother with panoramics or any infrared, although I could spend days up there playing with either idea. This time around I think I was just lucky with the weather.