Week 7: Self Portrait

Basic Digital Photography with Matthew Swarts

Yasumasa Morimura.

Lee Friedlander.

Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selsnick.

Nikki S. Lee.

John Coplans.

Lucas Samaras.

Jen Davis.

Francesca Woodman.

Cindy Sherman.

Shen Wei.

Hannah Wilke.

Nan Goldin.

For Next Week:

Download and review the slides from this week’s lecture: arts1850 slides self-portrait

Read: Exposing the Body, Baring the Soul, about Francesca Woodman

Watch and Read: about Nikki S. Lee 

Watch and Read: about Cindy Sherman.

Expose at least 60 images with yourself as subject.  When making your exposures, use either the self-timer on your camera, your own extended hands and/or feet, a remote control, or a cable release.  Do not, in other words, have someone else photograph you.

Edit, adjust, crop, and retouch your images. Select your 6-8 best files and export as small .jpeg files to Dropbox.

Things to consider while making your work:

  1. We see and converse with ourselves every day as reflections, but how is the camera distinct from a mirror?  How does it see space differently and how can you coax it into seeing your own image in ways that are interesting, useful, and otherwise impossible?
  2. Photographic self-portraits often require a certain surrendering of control that can be analogous to working with the pinhole and other crude cameras.  What’s it like to give up looking in the camera again?  How can you use this “limitation” most advantageously?
  3. Somewhat conversely:  although you usually can’t see yourself at the moment of exposure,  making a self-portrait can also be a very precise and extremely controlled event.  Think of the concern for the sense of space and detail that the work of John Coplans and Cindy Sherman demonstrates.  Both artists use elaborate studio set-ups to create a space in which to move, gesture, and even perform for the camera.  Look around as you photograph: how can you use the space that surrounds you and the objects in that space to extend the visual and narrative elements of your images?
  4. Diane Arbus said that when she was photographing she wanted to find ways to get inside “the gap between pose and repose.”  She wanted to slip herself, in other words, underneath and inside the public masks of her subjects.  Arbus is often heralded as being an extraordinarily brave and cunning photographer, one who went to great lengths and often dangerous places to bring back her images.  One could argue, however, that perhaps the bravest and most challenging thing she could have done would have been to photograph herself.  (Some have said this might have saved her life.) Can you think of ways to be brave and cunning enough to unmask yourself?  Ways that might look deeply enough into the reality of your image to the point that your pictures could become, as Arbus was always seeking,  “things perfectly real and yet utterly fantastic.”
  5. Sometimes fiction is the higher truth.  Think of, among others, Yasumasa Morimura and Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick and the personas they inhabit to make work that is essentially playful and deeply imaginative self-portraiture.  Have you thought about how you might similarly explore such fictive realities as instructive, even therapeutic metaphors about your own imaginative life?

Using the Clone Stamp Tool

Most people are familiar with Photoshop’s retouching capabilities, for the fashion and entertainment industry rely heavily on retouching techniques to present stylized and glitzy images. Applications in the arts are usually a bit more refined, but not necessarily so. Some of the artists we looked at in this week’s slide show also rely heavily on retouching to finalize their work output. This week we are going to review some of the basic strategies for retouching a photograph, starting with the clone stamp tool. Like it sounds, this tool samples a pixelated area and transfers that information to a selected destination, either in spot applications or by brushing. It’s located a little more than half-way up the lefthand vertical toolbar in the interface window, and looks like this:

Make sure you select the right tool, for the clone stamp tool is nestled with the pattern stamp tool, which we will discuss later:

Let’s start with an image that needs some retouching, perhaps an image that looks like something you might find in a relative’s stockpile of old photographs:

Obviously, this photograph shows some damage from age, chemical contamination, and what looks like water stains. The clone stamp is a good place to begin to edit some of these problematic areas of the image. When the tool is properly selected, the horizontal toolbar for the clone stamp appears at the top of the interface and looks like this:

A few adjustments to this toolbar will usually help your editing process. First, you can adjust the size of the clone stamp sampling area, by using the brush interface. Next, leave the blend mode to ‘Normal’, the Opacity at 100%, and the Flow at 100%. If you select the checkbox next to ‘Aligned Sample’, Photoshop will sample areas of your image in an aligned way that will correspond to your mouse movements. (See below). Unchecking this box means that the program will sample from the location you first selected to sample by option-clicking in an area of your photograph that you want to clone from, without tracking your mouse movements. The only way to fully understand this is to experiment with your image with the box checked an unchecked, noticing the differences in the mouse action and tracking.

It’s also a great idea to start selecting All Layers in the pulldown menu next to the aligned sample checkbox. This ensures that if you chose to work in a new blank layer to preserve your underlying pixel information, your sampling and cloning will not be in vain.

Look as well for the icon that looks like the image just above this text, for it commands Photoshop to ignore all adjustment layers during the cloning process. Select it and it will darken. Deselected it is slightly greyed out. For now, operate under the assumption that your adjustment layer applications can be honed after your retouching, and select it!

The first step when you are cloning out aberrations or blemishes is to zoom in to properly display what you will be working on. In my case, the dark spot looks like this when magnified and selected by a rectangular marquee:

Next step is to establish a new layer for your retouching. To do this simply click on the new layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette. It looks like a new, blank sheet of paper, and is located next to the trash icon.

With your mouse, select that new layer (in this case it is labeled layer 1). This means that any action you perform with a tool will be applied to a new, transparent layer above your pixelated background layer, preserving its original state. When you select the appropriate layer to work in, it will blue out like this:

Now comes the fun part! By option clicking in an area outside the selected black spot, (and after making certain that the sample all layers pull down is selected), I sample that area and location. Next I simply paint, either by amassing many clicks with a spotting technique, or by actually holding down the mouse button and brushing the information into the new pixel layer. One method does not always work better than the other. You must experiment with your particular image and blemish to figure out the proper technique for removing it. In my case, a little brushing took the black spot right away:

It’s always a good idea to play with the magnification of your image to check the way your cloning appears at various viewing distances. In my case, when I back out of the image by holding the command key and pressing the (-) key, my image looks like this:

What’s interesting about cloning to a new layer is that you can turn that layer on or off to quickly assess how your work is progressing. When I shut the layer off by clicking on the eyeball to the left of the layer name in the layers palette, my image looks just like it did when I started!

Using the Healing Brush

Next, let’s experiment with another tool, the healing brush, to begin removing the lighter blemishes in the upper left hand corner of the image. First, I select the area I want to work on with any marquee tool. This just preserves areas outside the selection from suffering any ‘damage’ by the work I might do subsequently.

Next, I select the healing brush from the pop out menu in the vertical toolbar:

The healing brush has a top horizontal toolbar to modify how the tool is applied. We have already discussed several of it’s characteristics with the clone stamp tool. It looks like this:

In our case, we want the Mode to be set to Normal, the  Source to be set to Sampled, and the Aligned Sample checkbox selected along with All Layers. In my tool bar above I have also selected the Ignore Adjustment Layers icon. Next, because I know a little about how the healing brush samples and reconstitutes an image, I want to modify the brush characteristics a little. To do this, I select the pulldown next to the brush size icon in the left hand section of the horizontal toolbar. A pop out appears that will allow us to alter the brush. In my case, I want to create an elliptical brush, because I know from experience that an elliptical shape helps the healing brush strokes I may make to be hidden most effectively in a random kind of way. To alter the shape of the brush you must manipulate the direction and roundness of the brush in the small square that appears in the lower left hand corner of the brush size interface. Play around with the sliders until you can create an elliptical brush shape easily, and then resize your brush accordingly to be slightly larger than your blemish.

Next, I want to make sure that my edits go to the new layer I created when using the clone stamp tool, or even to an entirely new layer:

With the healing brush, when you select a source point by option clicking with the mouse, the brush samples that area of the image and live previews a new transposed image onto your destination which combines, blends, and smoothes information from the source point to your destination, healing the aberrations in color and tonality. The brush reads pixelated information in a feathered radius about ten percent outward from the source point, and thus is able to calculate in most cases a smooth transition between source and destination points when you paint with the brush. This ‘penumbra’ that samples your image is why you always want to use a very hard brush when brushing with the healing brush, for its feathery nature is built-in. Experiment with selecting different source points and then painting inside your new layer with the healing brush selected. With some patience, it is usually fairly easy to smooth out rough areas very quickly with this tool. I was able to eliminate my large white spot very quickly with a few brush strokes, but again, some experimentation and practice is needed:

Using the Patch Tool

Sometimes there are larger blemished areas that need attending to, and luckily for us, the Patch Tool is useful in these applications. It’s nestled in the same cluster as the healing brush. Look for it and select it to work on the rest of the white blemish in the image above:

The first step here is to conceptualize how the patch tool works. Basically, you either draw a source selection with the tool itself or use any of the previously discussed methods for honing a selection. Then, in the tool’s horizontal toolbar, you select whether you want to clone to something or clone from something by altering the source or destination radio buttons. In my case, I want to eliminate this splotchy white area in the upper left hand corner of my image:

By selecting the area I want to work on, then selecting the patch tool, then selecting destination from the radio buttons, the tool becomes active and I am able to find neighboring areas to patch away the blemish very quickly, using the same algorithm as the healing brush but in a wider swath. With a few strokes and some careful manipulation with the mouse, the patch tool makes my blemish fade into the already worn background of the rest of the image, pretty painlessly:

With old photographs, preserving some of the characteristics of wear is desirable to me, so I am going to stop working on this image now that the major blemishes are taken away. I might print it, for example, and frame it alongside truly vintage photographs that show similar signs of wear. One thing I found interesting with this image is that after I applied all my retouching, with a slight curves adjustment, new details appeared in the original image, such as the emergence of three seated figures in the foreground!

Using the Paintbrush Tool

Sometimes it’s easier to paint the solution to your retouching needs. In my case, I am interested in correcting the aberrations in the background of this vintage portrait:

The background is sufficiently uniform to allow me to create a new layer to paint away the blemishes. After selecting the background carefully and creating a new layer to paint in, I will then use the color picker to select the appropriate color to brush with:

This part is easy, I simply use the eyedropper tool that appears when I click on the foreground color in the color picker. By placing the eyedropper tool inside my image background and sampling the most average color, I will arrive at a foreground color that will be suitable for painting out the blemishes. Next, I will go to the Select menu (at the top of your interface window) and choose Select>Modify>Feather to feather my selection a little bit to allow for the woman’s individual hair strands to show through any painting.

This will ease the transition between my painting and the underlying pixel information. The next step is to simply paint away the blemishes, being certain to paint into the new blank layer!

You can check your progress by turning off the background layer. In my case, you will see transparent pixels represented by the checkerboard pattern once the underlying layer is turned off:

It’s possible to further refine this relationship between your new painted layer and the underlying pixel information, simply by changing the opacity or blend mode of the painted layer. These options are selectable in the layers palette. In my case, I eased back on the opacity just a little bit and kept the blend mode at normal. Your application may require you to experiment further with these options, as blend modes are perhaps Photoshop’s most powerful combinatory options.

Remember that any adjustment layer can be applied to this new painted layer, without affecting the pixelated information that underlies it. In my case, I applied a hue/saturation adjustment to fade the paint ever further and blend it better. Let’s look at the finished product:

Using Content Aware Mode with the Patch Tool

Sometimes, it’s desirable to actually remove objects from scenes. To do this, it’s possible to use the clone stamp tool and the healing brush tool on their own, but the patch tool actually has a nice content-aware feature that’s worth looking at more closely. Let’s say, for example, that for some reason I wish to remove the shadow from this boy’s feet in the image below:

With the shadow carefully selected, I can switch the mode of the patch tool once its selected from ‘normal’ to ‘content aware‘, by pulling down the appropriate menu from the horizontal toolbar:

When this option is selected, Photoshop analyzes the information in both the source and destination patches and strives to eliminate the area previously selected. There is a modifier of this analysis and it is called the adaptation. To see the effects of the various adaptation modes available, select one and then apply the patch tool. In my case, after some experimentation I realized that only ‘Very Strict’ successfully removed most of the desired shadow:

By manipulating the source and destination marquees with the Patch tool, I was able to arrive closer to my desired effect:

I wasn’t all the way there, however. I still wanted my result to be more subtle (if that is at all possible in this example). To accomplish this I selected Edit>Fade and applied an opacity Fade to the working of the Patch tool. This made the effect of the tool less jarring:

The result was closer but not perfect:

To remove the barely noticeable edges, I decided to use the clone stamp tool a bit to clean things up. After a few strokes on a separate layer I was able to further refine the image in a way that suited my unsettling application: no more shadows!

Removing Dust and Scratch Marks with the History Brush Tool

Sometimes an image is really scarred by dust or scratch marks in a way that would make regular editing techniques very painstaking and time intensive. Take, for example, the following image:

There is a built-in filter in Photoshop that allows for the quick removal of dust and scratches, and it’s called appropriately the Dust and Scratches filter. Unfortunately, in it’s main application it does a lousy job, as really the filter just blurs out your image until details such as dust disappears in a mess. Let’s apply it, however, because it’s useful in a different way. To select the filter, make sure your background layer is active and then go to the Filter menu (at the top of the interface window) and select Filter>Noise>Dust and Scratches:

When the filter is active a dialog box will appear that will allow you to adjust the threshold and radius of the filter. Experiment with different settings on the sliders until the dust and scratches in your image more or less completely disappear into a blur:

Undesirable, right? Well, don’t jump to conclusions. Pull out the History palette and click back on your Open state (the state of your image before the filter was applied). With the open state selected, click on the icon to the left of the Dust and Scratches step in the history palette to instruct the History Brush to sample from this state. The History Brush allows you to sample any history state and apply its effect to the selected state selectively, using the brush interface. (Interesting!)

Now, in the toolbar on the left hand side of the interface, actually select the History Brush. It looks like this:

When selected, you can refine the brush shape as we have with other tools. In my case, I selected a very large brush because I wanted to accomplish my task quickly and elegantly:

Lastly, because the spots on my image were lighter than most other pixels, I am going to select the Darken mode from the Blend Mode pull down. This will only darken the light pixels in my image with the underlying Dust and Scratches pixel information. (Note: if your blemishes are dark you will need to select the Lighten pull down from the Mode pulldown.)

Now, with broad, swooping strokes, I can paint in the blank new layer of my image with the history brush, and watch as the dust goes right away, selectively. The program will only darken the light pixels in my image, so I really don’t have to worry too much about the nature or quality of my stroking, just that I cover the areas with dust and scratches! The result is quite remarkable, an image more or less free of the previously very noticeable blemishes!
The result is quite remarkable, an image more or less free of the previously very noticeable blemishes!

Artist Spotlight: Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman.

Watch Transformation on PBS. See more from ART:21.