Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The New Photomontage

In the mid 1970s Stephen Shore and Nicholas Nixon sparked an interest in 8x10 view cameras. After seeing there work countless photographers abandoned their 35mm cameras for 8x10 view cameras hoping some of the magic would rub off on them. Many of these new converts quickly discovered it was Shore’s and Nixon’s vision, not their cameras, which made their photographs so unique.

Today we see a similar phenomena with Photoshop. In 2001 Andreas Gursky’s photographs were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. Once again countless photographers began working with Photoshop much like photographers bought view cameras in the 1970s. I suspect the outcome will be somewhat similar. Unlike view cameras where the technique was clear cut – go to the store and buy an 8x10 view camera, it is much less clear cut with Photoshop. I suspect the technique Gursky has used in photomontages that look real like 99 Cent or Shanghai is similar to the technique described below in a recent column by Tim Grey.

Digital Darkroom Questions (DDQ)
December 5, 2007
by Tim Grey
I have created a photomontage using layers of several photos of my recently deceased golden retriever. The borders of each image are of course sharp. I'd like to be able to fade and blend the borders into each other and be able to play with this effect until there is a continuous flow from image to image of each background. What technique would you suggest?
This is actually one of those situations where I don't consider there to be an ideal solution. Well, at least not one that I know of (so if a reader has a great solution within Photoshop, let me know).
The first thing I would do is try to make my work as easy as possible by first assembling the image as a montage within Photoshop. The basic steps for this are:
1) Open the images you want to include in the final montage, and create working copies that are flattened via Image > Duplicate Image with the Duplicate Merged Layers Only checkbox selected.
2) Resize these images to the approximate output size you want them at the final output resolution.
3) Create a new document (File > New) sized to the output size you desire at the appropriate output resolution.
4) Use the Move tool to drag each image into the new empty document you created.
5) Continue using the Move tool to change the position of each image in the montage, changing the position on the Layers palette (by dragging up or down) to define how the images should be "stacked" in terms of topmost to bottommost.
6) Use the Scale option of the Transform command (Edit > Transform > Scale) as needed for the individual images (select the desired image on the Layers palette first) to resize the images as desired. Hold the Shift key and drag a corner of the image to resize, pressing Enter/Return to apply the resizing. Try to keep resizing operations to a minimum to maximize final image quality.
Once you have a basic montage created, the real work begins. Here's the approach I use:
1) Select the image you'll work on first (you'll repeat this process for all images). You'll want to have some logical order here, starting perhaps with an anchor image and working your way out, or starting in one corner and working your way across the montage.
2) Use the Rectangular Marquee tool to create a basic selection that fits a bit inside the edge of the image. This will define the boundary for blending the edge of the image.
3) With the selection active, add a layer mask to the image by clicking the Add Layer Mask button (circle inside a square icon) at the bottom of the Layers palette.
4) Make sure the layer mask, not the image, is active (click on the layer mask thumbnail if you're not sure) and apply a blur to the mask (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur). Make sure the Preview checkbox is selected, and then adjust the Radius setting as needed to get the desired effect. I recommend erring on the side of slightly too much transition, as that is easier to correct later than not creating enough transition. Click OK when you have the effect applied as close to what you want as possible.
Once you've repeated this process for all images in your montage, you'll have a good starting point. Now you're ready to fine-tune to perfection. You'll basically perform two adjustments to fine-tune. One is to resize the layer mask to change which area of the image is visible, and the other is to apply an adjustment to the layer mask to alter the distance over which it transitions.
To resize the layer mask, click the chain link icon between the thumbnail and layer mask icon on the Layers palette for the appropriate layer to unlink the two. This is so you can resize the layer mask independent of the image itself. Next, select Edit > Transform > Scale, hold the Shift key, and drag the bounding boxes to resize the mask. You'll see the effect as you adjust the size of the mask. Be sure not to drag so far outside the image that you get a solid line, eliminating the effect of blending you created. When you have resized the layer mask as desired, press Enter/Return. When you're done resizing the layer mask you can click the space between the image thumbnail and layer mask thumbnail to re-link them, so if you resize again the image and mask will resize in unison.
To change the edge effect of the mask, click on the layer mask thumbnail on the Layers palette for the desired image, and then choose Image > Adjustments > Levels from the menu (I know I've conditioned you to use adjustment layers for all adjustments, but in this case that isn't possible). You can now use the three sliders for Input Levels to adjust the shape of the mask. Use the Black slider to make the transition more abrupt by pulling the outside of the transition zone inward. Use the White point to make the transition more abrupt by pushing the image outward. Use the mid-tone slider to expand or contract the visible area, effectively moving the transition area in or out relative to the center of the image.
For those of you using Photoshop CS3, you might be tempted to use the Refine Edge command (Select > Refine Edge) when you have created the initial selection for each image before creating a layer mask. However, I've not been happy with the results using that tool, so I bypass it and work with this slightly more "manual" method.

Another really great article about this technique is the following link

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ansel Adams

Although most people have a camera phone or a self contained camera, very few people think of a camera as something to be used to create art. The typical function of a camera worldwide is to record special moments - standing in a place you can't believe exists or broad smiling photographs of friends or family enjoying special moments. We are all also aware of how cameras are used as a way to record news, make calendars and cards and to make illustrations for advertisements. In the early 1900s a failed concert pianist from San Francisco picked up a camera and changed the way many people now see photography. His name was Ansel Adams. His most famous photograph is Moonrise Over Hernandez which during his lifetime brought in one million dollars in sales of this single photograph. It was made in 1941. Many things make it very different than other photographs of majestic landscapes of the Southwestern United States produced by people daily with camera phones or handheld cameras.

The first was that he chose to use a 50 pounds plus camera that could only be operated with a tripod. Also he chose to use black and white film rather than color film. He had to use film. There was no digital photography before the 1990s. The camera he chose shot single sheets of 8” x10” film. This particular camera was so slow to operate. He only got to take one photograph. The sun was setting and by the time he got the photograph the light was no longer what he wanted. He chose black and white film because he found that it was much easier to control the contrast. At the time color film was difficult to use. You had to make sacrifices in either the shadows or the highlights and he didn’t want to do this. He found with black and white he had more control of the shadows while taking the picture and more control to render the highlights the way he saw the photograph in his mind than would be possible with color film. Film and digital sensors see a greatly reduced contrast range compared to how your eye sees things. Fighting with light becomes the most difficult at midday on a sunny day. This is less of a problem on cloudy days and is least problematic in the early morning or late afternoon.

Adams was much more than a clever technical photographer. He worked long and hard on choosing where to stand, aware that how close you are to the subject is the most important factor in making a photograph. Adams worked more like a painter when taking photographs. He looked at what he wanted to photograph from more than one position before choosing a final place to stand. He considered the edges of the photograph very carefully not just the center. He found that shooting a huge area of space like Moonrise needed to be shot from a high place to give it the strongest composition.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 was unavailable in the 1940s. Adams very much wanted to do digital photography. He could see it coming, but died before it reached the market. Instead of using Photoshop he used a darkroom to create this very dark sky, to make the moon stand out, to make the clouds so bright and to make the grave markers in the foreground stand out. This would be slow in Photoshop and be something clearly beyond the grasp of any new Photoshop user.

This photograph was one of the first photographs accepted as art. Museums that own copies of this value it as much as any of their paintings. It took tremendous analytic skills in both the shooting and editing to make it look like this and over this semester I will introduce you to some of those skills. You have explored the most important element in making photographs as art – choosing where to stand.

More about Ansel Adams