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…

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