Week 10: Independent Work

Basic Digital Photography with Matthew Swarts

Loretta Lux.

For the remainder of the semester you are free (!) to work on a project of your own design, which will make up roughly 40% of your grade for the semester.  Your work on this project must be unified conceptually, formally, and verbally. You have to elaborate your ideas, in other words, in visual, oral, and written form. Your work, however, can literally take ANY form, provided you are using as base material the skills and equipment discussed in class.  You could make a group of prints, a collection of objects, stickers, a book, tshirts, a slide show, a short animation, etc.  The point is that this work should be something you are truly excited about (as there will be no excuses anymore about the assignments!) and something that will sustain you for the rest of the semester. Please note that our class time together will shift slightly to allow you more in-class time to work on your projects. Each week you will have at least an hour of each class to work. Please choose your final project carefully, choose wisely, and have fun!

The fundamental difference in doing independent work is that now your ideas and their visual form(s) must be unified and sustained over the group of images and/or objects you create.  You must present at least 10-15 final images and/or objects for evaluation, and they must work together as a group.

So what do final portfolios from students look like?

Here is the Final Portfolio from the Fall 2014 arts1850 class here at CCCRI: 

Here is the Spring 2013 portfolio from this class:

To get you started, this week I would like you to make 6-8 images of several possible project ideas.  Please write several paragraphs about your ideas and the projects they suggest, and submit them to me in the comment form below:

Putting It All Together: Working On A Difficult File

I thought it might be interesting to demonstrate some of the skillsets we have covered thus far in the semester by working on a particularly stubborn image file together. Let’s take a look at a .dng file that, on first glance, might seem uninteresting and unworthy of further attention:

Even though it looks poor in the preview right out of the camera, this file is very interesting to me: with some careful work using only skills we have discussed in class, I was able to produce the following final image:

Matthew Swarts, Beth, Long Beach Island, New Jersey, 2012.

Let’s take a look at the steps in-between…

First, I will open the .dng file in Camera Raw:

This is an image that was underexposed at ISO 1600 in very delicate early morning light. By adjusting the exposure and compensating (as best as possible) for shifts in color and tint, I was able to balance out the .dng as follows. Note the difference in the sliders between the first image and the second:

At this point I can select Open Image and complete the rest of my work in Photoshop, where my first task will be to separate and mask separate image elements that I know will need adjusting with Curves and Hue and Saturation adjustment layers. The first such selection I will make will be to the model’s body:

Next, I will carefully and methodically use the Quick Selection Tool to separate the remaining image elements from each other. Below are views in Quick Mask mode representing these disparate “slices” of my image:

For each of these ‘slices,’ I will create a separate Curves and Hue and Saturation adjustment layer, which I will then label in the Layers palette:

Now we have each image element separated on a distinct curves and hue adjustment layer. Each part of my image can now be adjusted independently of the others, quite remarkably. We can start by adjusting the model’s body and skin tones, which in this case needed a slight bump to the curves adjustment layer and a slight decrease in the reds (which comprise much of the skin tonality) in the hue and saturation adjustment layer for that selection:

After the body begins to appear better on the screen, I can move on to a slight darkening of the curves adjustment layer for the red towel on her head, whose color has shifted unflatteringly during the adjustment process. For each of these adjustments to the curve, I selected the hand icon in the properties panel and then moved into my image with the mouse cursor until I could adjust the tonality very easily with the mouse:

After the towel on her head looks better, I can move on to the background and work on developing out the inherent colors to the sky. In this case, I adjusted (lowered) the curves adjustment layer and then raised slightly the master saturation for that particular selection:

Next, I’ll tackle the sand in the right hand foreground of the image, which has shifted in hue and saturation during the adjustment process. To eliminate the blue cast from the sand, I will slightly lighten the overall area with a curves adjustment, and then greatly increase the yellow channel of the hue and saturation adjustment layer:

Lastly in the way of quick adjustments: I will slightly darken and increase the saturation to the water on the left hand foreground of the image, using both a curves adjustment and a hue and saturation adjustment:

Now my image is starting to look interesting, with good color and tonality throughout the skin tones, sand, and water. It lacks, however, many of the ethereal and painterly qualities of the final image I showed you in the beginning:

To me, this image proved most frustrating in the sky tonalities. As I adjusted it further, either darkening or lightening the appropriate curves adjustment layer, I was unable to satisfactorily resolve the rest of the image. There just wasn’t enough information in the file to make the sky more complete on its own, so I decided to introduce some cloud cover into the sky by considering pixelated information from another image file:

First, I opened this image file (made with a different camera, a different lens, at a different ISO, at a different place) in Camera Raw, balancing it so that there was maximum highlight detail preserved in the sky:

Then, once the image was open in Photoshop, I selected out the sky area and applied a slight adjustment to a curves adjustment layer:

Now here comes the interesting part: in my original image, I reselected the sky mask and activated it in the current window. Then, for the image above, I selected Window>Arrange>Float in Window. This put my cloud image in a floating window that I could place on my screen alongside my original image of the person on the beach. Now I had both images lined up, the areas I wanted to borrow from and clone into selected out, and I was ready to consider some careful clone stamping!

I created a new layer in my original image to hold the new sky information I was about to clone out of the second image:

Next, I simply selected the clone stamp tool, selected a wide (almost huge) brush size, and then went into my second image and defined my sample area by option clicking inside the image’s sky area. With some care, I began to paint my new cloud information into the original image:

When I was done, my image looked as follows:

Obviously, this is not the end of our sky transplant operation! The sky information needed to be adjusted with a curves adjustment layer, so in order to define the layer (Layer 1 in this demonstration) that I wanted to apply a curves adjustment layer to, I selected curves in the adjustment panel and then selected Layer>Create a Clipping Mask. This created a mask in the layers palette where any curves adjustment in the Properties window would be applied to only that layer:

Creating a clipping mask is one way to ensure that your adjustments will only be applied to a specific layer. In the layers palette, the notation for a clipping mask looks like the following (in this case for both a curves adjustment layer and a hue and saturation adjustment layer):

With a little tinkering to the curves adjustment layer for Layer 1, I was able to get the tonalities of the (new) sky to more closely match their surroundings:

Still, the overall image looked mismatched because of the curves adjustments I had applied to the new, blended information. By rearranging and then adjusting the opacity of the sky layers, I was able to tone down the mismatched feeling and blend the image back toward something that felt more appropriate:

Now all I needed to do was balance out the rest of the image: increase the yellow in the sand, decrease the blue there, take the curves down a little in the water selection, boost the skin tonalities a little, and, in general, decrease the color saturation of the entire image until the whole (and all of its parts) began to feel more appropriately balanced:

Before outputting this image, I sharpened it very slightly using the Unsharp Mask filter:

Just to review: check out the layers palette! There’s a lot going on there:

My final file size is also nearly tripled because of all my adjustments. Note, the first number represents your image in a flattened state, the second is your robust (layers included) file size:

And, finally, the result of our labor:

Matthew Swarts, Beth, Long Beach Island, New Jersey, 2012.

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