Category Archives: composition

Logo in a light bulb

logo in a lightbulb
logo in a lightbulb

I posted this picture (well, not exactly this one, as you will discover) last week on a Facebook group for photographers and it proved to be very popular with 140 likes (as it stands). There were also lots of complimentary comments and one member said, “How did you do it, if you don’t mind telling. ”

I’m more than happy to tell, but I thought this might be better done by way of a blog as there are a few processes involved. In an ideal world I thought all I had to do was go back to Photoshop open the file and describe the process from there. It turns out this isn’t an ideal world. As I’d been experimenting with an idea I’d had, I hadn’t actually been alert enough to save the Photoshop file. In order to do this blog post, I had to go back an recreate the entire thing. That’ll teach me to be more alert about saving the experiments. In the end, I think this version is just a little more heavy-handed with the highlights but, as the main aim of this post is to explain the process, I wasn’t about to go back and re-edit.

So, here is how this image was created.

Stage 1 – electrifying the logo

This stage is all about making the logo look like an active filament in a light bulb.

I opened the white Hi-res version of my Photologo in Photoshop and, as usual, duplicated the layer. I do this to make sure that if anything goes wrong I can always get back to the original. I don’t work on the base layer.

Using the paint bucket tool, I filled the logo with orange (hex value f4a816). You need to be careful at this stage and make sure you only get the logo. I suggest zooming in for detail. Staying on the copy layer, I went down to the layer style (fx) and selected outer glow. In the layer style box I clicked on the solid colour box in the structure options and chose an orange colour. In this case the hex value is ff6c00. I then clicked OK on the colour. I set the opacity to 60% and made sure the blend mode was normal, set the size to 190 pixels then clicked OK on the layer style. The result is an orangey glow round the logo. I then duplicated the layer (CTRL+J). Then on the new duplicated layer, I edited the effect by double clicking it to open the dialogue box. I changed the colour to a lighter version (hex value f0962b), I increased the opacity to 100% and reduced the size to 65 pixels then clicked OK. The end result of those processes on the logo looks like this:

Next I wanted to add some highlights to the effect so opened a new layer and put that on top of all the others. I renamed that layer “highlights”. I find with multiple layers, it’s a good idea to rename them for ease of identification if I need to come back and re-edit. If you don’t know how to rename a layer simply roll your mouse onto the layer name and double click. That allows you to rename then confirm by hitting “enter”. On the new highlights layer, I set the blending mode to overlay. I selected a soft round brush and sized it to be just marginally thicker than the logo text. I reduced the opacity to 50% and then painted highlights where I thought they looked reasonable in giving the logo that electric activity. This stage is very much directed by eye and what you think looks “natural”.

Stage 2 – the bulb

Were I doing this other than experimentally, I’d have photographed a bulb myself but, in this instance, I chose a stock image. As my logo is wide, I wanted a bulb that was more oblong in shape.

Keeping the work on the logo open in Photoshop, I then opened the selected a photo of the light bulb. This opens as a new tab within Photoshop. The image I chose is pretty low res, so really wouldn’t stand up to enlargement and it also means the relative canvass sizes are very different between the bulb and my logo. I therefore checked the size of the bulb canvass which turned out to be 11.43 cm x 8.2 cm. This will become significant shortly. So, back to the logo tab in Photoshop. Selecting the top layer I made a new layer and then stamped visible into it by doing the following: hold down Shift, Ctrl, Alt, N to create the layer, then Shift, Ctrl, Alt, E to stamp the visible into it. This creates a new layer which has all the detail of the layers below and is the one I will copy to the light bulb image. First though, I changed the image size (please note NOT the canvas size) to 11.42cm x 8.2cm and in the dialogue box opted for auto resolution, which slightly changes the images dimensions.

Then I right clicked on the layer and select duplicate layer. This opens a dialogue box in which you choose the open file in which you want to open the duplicate layer and, for me, that’s the light bulb image. In the dialogue box there’s a drop down option for destination document. This is where I selected the light bulb image.

Next I selected the light bulb image tab in Photoshop to switch to it which now showed my copied logo layer above the light bulb. Having adjusted the image size in the logo, it is now an easier job to set about aligning it. The imported layer comes in as layer 1 which I renamed to logo. Making sure I had the logo layer selected I used the move tool to align the logo across the centre and in line with the existing bulb filament like this:

Lining up the logo and bulb

Still on the logo layer, I went to edit and selected free transform. To see the handles I hit Ctrl 0 on the keyboard (see below). Now the task is to align the logo within the bulb so that it connects to the ends where the actual filaments connect. I did this by adjusting the handles on the free transform box but held down the shift key to retain perspectives and prevent skewing the logo.

free transform handles

Next I made a copy of the background layer and moved it to the top of the layers stack. I then created a new fill layer (filling it with black) and put that below the logo layer. Then I applied a mask to the background copy layer (top) and with the foreground colour set to black and background to white, I selected a soft brush and painted to reveal the logo. This then needed some adjustments back and forth setting different brush opacities to  get to a final look that I was happy with.

final layers

I hope you’ve found this interesting and helpful in terms of Photoshop technique. There may well be better ways to achieve this effect, but this is how I ended up doing it. I think it’s a technique I might employ again at some time.

Before I close, let me give a shout out to Photologo. I got my logo from them and am using it not only as a watermark on photos that I publish online, but also as my business logo. They’ve not asked me to give them and mention and have certainly not paid me for doing so. I just think they are worth knowing about if you are a photographer who wants to do something to help protect your images and add a stylish signature to your work.

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Avoiding landscapes on steroids

I shot this photo in the pass of Killicrankie, Perthshire, on 11 November and, as usual shot it in RAW. I thought it might be interesting to walk you through the editing I did to get to the final image and I’ll try to explain my reasoning as we go.

Here’s the original shot as it came out of the camera.

Killicrankie

Killicrankie

My aim in editing landscape shots like this, is to get as close as possible to how I saw the scene with my own eyes at the time. There are a few standard initial steps I take in my work flow and I always begin in Lightroom. Seldom do I need to use Photoshop, though there are occasions when that’s definitely required.

The first thing I do is go to lens corrections and tick two boxes there: enable profile correction (which compensates for lens distortion) and enable chromatic aberration – I can’t see any chromatic aberration in this shot, but I don’t think ticking this box does any harm, just in case.

Next it’s off to the basic panel and there I could see that there was a nice looking histogram so there’s no need to do anything with the exposure (at least not at this point – sometimes other adjustments have an effect on exposure which later needs a little correction). The histogram looked very like a standard bell curve with nothing bunched at either end, so no blown out highlights or over-cooked blacks. I decided therefore to increase the whites and reduce the blacks to just before the point where clipping occurs – just to see what that did to the image which was too “thin” compared to my memory of the scene. A quick check on before/after showed that this had introduced a little more contrast and enriched the colours a little. Definitely making headway to “thickening it up”.

The next steps were to drop the highlights a touch, just enough to bring the top of the histogram off the top of the scale and no more, and to add a very small amount of dehaze, which helped to add a little sharpening in the mid-tones. Another quick before/after check to make sure I was still headed in the right direction and I was happy to move on and consider what next. I decided to take the vibrance up a fraction, judging the effect by eye, and moved away from the basics panel.

Looking now at the colours, I was happy with the yellows and greens but felt the purple and magenta tones were just a little muted compared to my memory. So to the HSL/colour panel and minor adjustments to the purple and magenta channels. In each of those I pulled back the hue a little to the left (different small amounts on each), and slightly boosted the saturation before reducing the luminance. All these changes are small and subtle but collectively begin to add up – which is a good reason for never being heavy handed in any one element. Another before/after check and we are looking good so far.

I still felt it needed just a little more “depth” so went to the tone curve and set it to medium contrast and checked before/after. Actually, I kept the before/after window open and clicked the tone curve on and off several times just to decide if I wanted to stick with that adjustment or abandon it. I decided to stick with it.

By this time I felt we were almost there but notices that some highlights had blown out so used the adjustment brush to make local changes to the highlights.

I usually have a look at sharpening, and I find that Lightroom does a good enough job with this, though if I was being really fussy I’d probably do this in Photoshop with a high pass. Working in Lightroom, with a shot like this (and don’t take this as a rule, always trust your eyes) I set the sharpening to around 30. The Alt key I drag the masking slider way to the right. This gives a black and white screen and only the white areas are affected by the sharpening. In this case I needed to slide all the way to 99 until I was happy. I aslo reduced the radius slider to 0.5 and the detail slider to 4. Another before/after check and I was happy with how it was now looking. I felt it was now a more accurate representation of how I had seen it and that it wasn’t overcooked in processing. Landscapes on steroids don’t look good – at least that’s my opinion.

The only remaining question for me was one of composition. This entailed just sitting and looking at the image for a while and pondering if there were any distractions that I could/should crop out and also what final crop ratio I would prefer. I wasn’t sure about the evergreens at the top right of frame and, to be honest, As a leading line, I’d have preferred the railway to enter the frame bottom left, but I was hampered by physical location at the time of shooting. So, what followed as a period of trial and error with different crops. I rather liked a wide format 16×9 crop but was still unsettled by the central entrance of the leading line of the railway. Finally I settled on a square crop which allowed me to bring the leading line in from the bottom left of frame and I was happy to leave just a hint of the evergreens top right.

And here is the final result:

Killicrankie

Killicrankie

I hope you like it and have maybe found the explanation of how I went from the original “out-of-camera” shot to the final image interesting and perhaps useful.

Thank you for reading and, if you do, for following me. Why not check out my Instagram account and also follow me there.

 

Sometimes it’s worth turning around

The Kelpies

The Kelpies

These are magnificant stainless steel clad sculptures standing around 30 metres tall located by the Forth & Clyde canal at Falkirk. Since they were opened to the public in 2013 they have become a favourite subject for photographers. As you can tell, I am no exception. Mostly they are photographed in a couple of ways: relatively close up and showing their context beside the canal, and also at dusk or night when they are illuminated.

I’ve been a couple of times to take some photographs and have done the “usual” thing with them, so nothing too different really apart from a couple of very tight close-ups which show only parts of the sculptures. On one occasion, I had taken all the shots I wanted and was heading back to the car when I turned round and was met by this view. I immediately liked it. I was drawn to the way the fading light from the setting sun was lighting the Kelpies and how they were contrasted against the sky. I also really liked the dusting of snow on the Ochil Hills in the distance. There is something appealing in the contrast between the softness of the snow and the hardness of the steel Kelpies. I also liked that this view set them in a context not usually represented in photographs. It also felt like the one with its head down was grazing on the trees rising from just below the ridge. That seemed to me such a natural thing that it almost brought the Kelpies to life.

I’d been shooting on a tripod but this was such an opportunity in the fading light that I just went hand-held and aimed to get a shot before the light was gone. I was also cold and keen to be back in the car. For those interested in such things, this was shot at 1/1000sec at f8 on an ISO of 400 and at a focal length of 55mm (there must have been more light than I remember). The image was shot in RAW (as per usual) and initially processed (for all the usual things) in Lightroom. I then used Photoshop to remove some distractions which included power lines and some random birds which were really doing nothing to add to the image.

The Kelpies are well worth a visit. They were designed by sculptor Andy Scott and the name Kelpies was chosen by Scottish Canals. Kelpies come from Scottish myth and legend and are  said to be shape-changing spirits of waterways. There’s some thought that the name may come from the Scottish Gaelic words ‘cailpeach’ or ‘colpach’, meaning heifer or colt. Kelpies are said to haunt rivers and streams typically appearing in the shape of  horses. Of course, horses were also a feature of canals when they were used to pull barges. This makes these magnificent sculptures so appropriate to sit by the canal.

This image is available as a Fine Art print on my website along with another couple of more “usual” shots of the Kelpies.

 

Spot the difference

Rannoch Station is one of the most remote railway stations in the UK. Here are two photographs of it. Can you spot the difference? You may need to enlarge the photos.

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Did you spot it? There are no prizes (don’t stop reading though) for seeing that in the first shot there are wires leading down to the station building from the top left of frame whereas in the second shot they are absent.

The question is, was this worth about 45 minutes in Photoshop to take the wires out? It’s not so easy to answer and is really a matter of personal opinion.

Leaving the wires in is an honest reproduction of what was actually there and there are people who would argue for that level honesty in photography. The curious thing here is that at the time I took the photograph I really wasn’t aware of them. By the time I got round to processing the photo in Lightroom, I became increasingly aware of them. I felt they were detracting from the scene as I had originally enjoyed it. So there’s another little dimension on this minorly ethical matter. When we view any scene live – by actually being there – we tend to focus rather specifically on what we take in and our brains undertake some live editing and we simply filter out things that we’re not interested in. So, by taking the wires out in Photoshop was I being true to my own memory and perception but untrue to the actual reality?

It was a fiddly and time-consuming process to remove the wires but I felt that the scene was better without them. There was no longer competition to be the leading lines into the photo and I feel much happier without that competition going on. I think the composition is enhanced by removing the wires and therefore the effort was worth it.

In the end, I take the view that Photography, of this type is art. I think the debate becomes more pointed when we get into the realms of photojournalism or documentary genres where there is much more of an overriding need to present things honestly.

So, what do you think? I’d be fascinated to read any comments on this.

 

Tree of knowledge

Tree of Knowledge

Tree of Knowledge

There’s a story behind this one.

It begins in October 2014 when I visited Westonbirt, The National Arboretum in Gloucestershire. The plan was to get some photographs of trees in autumnal colours and during the visit I took a number of photographs, some of which were OK but none were real stand-outs. Some months later I was experimenting with masking in Photoshop and had the idea of shaping a tree in a human profile. Among the shots from Westonbirt was the one below.

Tree, leaves, shadows, bark, tree, textures, colours, nature

 

I felt this offered an opportunity to be creative with a profile mask so set about working in Photoshop with two profiles I had sourced. One was clearly male and the other clearly female. I tried edits with both and, for some reason, I found the female profile worked better in aligning with the tree. I worked with it and cropped in to make the effect more evident and saved the work in a folder along with other experiments gathering e-dust, you might say.

Recently I was working on some other creative effects and adaptations and recalled this one so was keen to revisit it. Coming back to it after a reasonably lengthy absence was quite refreshing and I decided that I rather liked it but felt it needed a title. As I’d shaped it into the profile of a human head I got to thinking about what we contain in there – everything we know, our feelings, thoughts and memories. I was leaning towards the title of Tree of Knowledge which, of course, has direct resonance in the story in Genesis: The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Then later, So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. At this point I found it curious that I had chosen the female silhouette for the profile shape as, in the Genesis story, it was the woman who first ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.

If there’s a moral to this little tale of mine it’s that we, as human beings, know the difference between good and evil and we have a choice as to how we behave in the light of that knowledge and that just about anything can be used for good or harm.

I find this image of the Tree of Knowledge, to be a reminder to use my photography for good.

If you wish, you can buy a print of the Tree of Knowledge here and have it on your wall as a reminder to yourself.

Thanks for reading and for following this blog.

Falls of Bruar

The Falls of Bruar, Perthshire

Falls of Bruar

Last week I was in Perthshire for a break featuring some rest and relaxation and time to read. Of course, a photographer is never really taking a break from capturing images but I was there with no fixed plan only my gear and a loose intention to get any images on an opportunistic basis. Most days were wet and more conducive to reading than photography.

On this day, however, my wife and I decided to head to Killicrankie where I thought I might get a shot or two, which I did. After that, however, we decided to head a little north to the House of Bruar for some refreshment. I remembered there were signs to the falls of Bruar so we set off up the path with the dog and I got a couple of images I like, including this one.

I know these long exposure shots of waterfalls are something of a cliché but what captured my attention here was the swirling water at the pool below the waterfall and I thought that might make for an interesting feature. The late autumn colours were vibrant and the very diffused daylight was giving them something of a gentle glow.

I chose to shoot this at f11 to provide a decent depth of field but stay close to the sweet spot of the lens. I wanted a long exposure, so from there I opted for an ISO of 100 and added an ND filter giving me a final exposure time of eight seconds. That’s been long enough to soften the cascade and capture the swirl in the lower pool. I’m pleased with the contrast between the softness of the water and the sharp detail in the rock. There’s also a glow in the water to the top of the pool which reveals the clear but peaty-brown nature of the water. I’m almost back there.

…and a tripod was pretty essential.

If you think this photo would brighten up a wall in your home or office it’s available as a fine art print from my website. Go on, treat yourself or someone else…

Thanks for reading – if you like this, please let me know.

Being discrete

a game of pool - table corner with side lighting

Pool

How do you preserve confidentiality and tell a compelling story? This photo is my answer to that question in a very specific context.

Recently I have been working on a set of photographs for the Levenmouth Foodbank which will be used in a new brochure they are producing. One of the challenges of this project was to illustrate aspects of the work of the Foodbank whilst preserving the confidentially of those who use it. It’s important to be able to tell a story through these kind of images which, for me, fall into the genre of documentary.

Why the need for discretion? It’s probably well known that people who use foodbanks are not doing so through choice but because they have fallen on hard times financially, perhaps temporarily, or perhaps more long term. There is a natural stigma about this and, for the most part, no-one forced to use a foodbank would wish to be recognised as doing so. The trustees and volunteers at the foodbank, quite rightly, also wanted to protect the identity of their clients.

One of the surprising things for me was to find that there is so much more going on at a foodbank than handing out food. I can’t be sure if this applies to all of them, but the Levenmouth Foodbank also runs a café where clients can come in and get a cup of tea or coffee, a hot filled roll and biscuits or, occasionally, some cake. It’s also a social time when clients can meet with each other and chat with Foodbank Volunteers who can guide them with things like budgeting, job seeking etc.

During a shoot at the café I was attracted to the pool table where clients can have a relaxing game with one another or, typically, challenge a volunteer to a game. I wanted to be able to capture this and illustrate the importance of human interaction in a supportive way. I also had to be discrete.

I knew this would need to be a tightly focused shot (and I’m not talking depth of field here) closing in on the detail rather than going wide. The set up for this was pretty simple. I set up my light source (one speed light mounted on a light stand bounced into an umbrella) to the side of the table. I used a wireless trigger to allow me to roam around the table looking for compositions that would work.

The single light source allowed me to create a clear focal point for the image and the shadow cast by the player on the left emphasises the light on the table. I like that the eye is drawn to the action on the table and the cue of the player on the left provides a nice leading line into the composition. It’s obvious that there are two players here and, in the background, there is also one spectator clearly visible. Immediately, there is a sense of what’s going on here without having to reveal any faces.

One of the bonuses for me is that I feel the depth of foreground shadow helps to accentuate the action and perhaps this gives a sense that out of the darkness of despair, there is always the hope of light and better things to come.