Last week Thomas and I went to our Alma Mater, NAIT’s photographic technology program, to talk about what it’s like in the real world once you’ve graduated, and to also do a demo.
The one thing that we tried to really touch on in our talk was that when you’re no longer required to do assignments for classes and you’re given total creative freedom… you get stuck. The possibilities are endless which, for a creative sometimes can be debilitating.
With this in mind we thought a demonstration of the power of self-imposed limitations might perk up the creativity and moral of the students. (The previous weekend they had just presented their big Thesis project and putting your work out there for the public to see can take a lot out of you! It’s easy to get burnt out in a creative field.)
A $10 white sheet is a powerful tool for photographers. Could be a reflector, or a scrim to diffuse light. Could be a simple cheapo white backdrop. But what if we were to try and make a unique and memorable photo… with just one simple white sheet? That was our limitation. With that in mind we looked to the sheet for inspiration on what the photo’s aesthetic and concept should be like. It whispered to us “follow your dreaaaammss….”
Okay.. we made that part up, but we did have a surrealist image put in our head: a whole world made of white bed sheets with a woman walking through it, as if she fell into a dream world in her own bed. But you probably see the problem here – we only have one sheet, how are we going to make a whole world??
The easy answer is Photoshop. We know, we know. Photography purists are cringing, but the fact is use the tools that you have at your disposal.
Big productions are glamorous, impressive, and fun to work on, but if Annie Leibovitz can just barely avoid bankruptcy maybe we should all try to save a buck or two. The fact is that by replacing money with technology and cleverness you can produce amazing photos until you can reach the level where you’re able to build those kind of sets. *end rant*
Building The Set In Your Head, Then One Shot At A Time
We were obviously going to photograph the image in several pieces, but having a general idea of what pieces we would need was critical. We decided early on that it was going to be all white with light coming across and from behind to make the sheets a crisp glow-y white but to also have enough detail seen in the the wrinkles and ripples of the sheets. With our light motivation under our belt we went about photographing the sheet at a couple different angles and positions, moving and still in order to get a better idea of how the material would look. We adjusted the lighting a little bit once we brought our model Barb in, and then shot an excess of source material to choose from.
Building The Set In Photoshop
This was not a beginner level Photoshop task, but not all-together difficult. The sheets were a large chunk of white easily selected out from the grey background and other things like assistants, ladders, etc. I’m not going to give a lesson in extraction and masking in photoshop here.
I think with enough time any person can cut something out in photoshop and slap it behind a subject. No, the talent and expertise comes from understanding composition, and understanding physics. I’ll rephrase: you don’t have to understand physics, per se. No mathematical equations here, but you do have to be very critical of perspective and sometimes motion and light to see something that just doesn’t look right, and remove it, re-do it, or otherwise make it believable.
few examples of a pieces we used.
My suggestion for learning this skill is twofold: Take art classes on perspective (if you can draw it from scratch you can probably photoshop it right), and pay close attention to the world around you more often.
The image took about 9 pieces altogether to create. Because we had so critically visualized the final outcome during shooting the post-work came together pretty easily. I will admit there was a time or two when I had to scramble and grab one of the extra photos of the sheet and resize it and warp it a bit to fit some odd space that didn’t look right, but that’s why we said to shoot a lot of backup material.
The moral(s) of the story.
1. Don’t be afraid to limit yourself to remind your brain that rules are meant to be fought against.
2.Could we have hired assistants/bribed 10 friends and bought a whole bunch of fabric and clips and all other kinds of grip gear to build this fantasy set? Yes.
Would the final image have looked that much different? Probably not.
The end result is the only thing that matters, unless you’re trying to impress someone on set
We hope you enjoy the photo. Thanks to Barb for being an excellent model for us and a pleasure to work with, and the rest of the NAIT students and instructors for having us come in and being all-around great people!
Q&A in the comments below.