Final Animation

Carrying on from my previous two posts, I took the idea from my final piece, and adapted it into video form by animating over my brother and creating this small story.


There is definite room for improvement here, but I’m happy with the sevenish hours of work that I put into this animation; the major errors would require a complete restart to overcome.

Animating the Rick Roll

Recently in my Photography class, we looked at “Letter to unknown person”, a film by Rachel Lowe where she tries (in vain) to trace the background outside the window of a moving car. The background changes, but the previous lines remain, ending in a complete abstract mess on the window pane. We decided to use this technique of tracing to create something similar in Photoshop. Eventually, the hope was to extend this to our previous projects (in my case, the animated gif I created).

Letter to unknown person

“Letter to unknown person” – Rachel Lowe

For my study, I decided to try to trace the movement occurring in a music video. I thought, what better video to use than Rick Astley’s “Never gonna give you up?”. The process began by using Photoshop’s “Motion” workspace preset, and importing a segment of the music video, as a series of frames. I then created a new layer above each frame, and for each frame I traced the basic outline of Rick dancing in black, with details drawn in grey. I originally started with a mouse at school, but then quickly moved on to using a drawing tablet to be more accurate. Once I had traced every frame, I exported as a gif and had this as a result:



Although the detail painted isn’t perfect and the lines not too accurate, since each drawing is only shown very briefly it doesn’t matter too much – it’s the motion that counts.

I then moved on to seeing what the gif would look like if the original background wasn’t there:


I was pleased with this result – it’s very clear what the animation is without the need for too much detail. The next step was to create the effect that we were trying to achieve – the tracing effect. For this, I had the frames overlap for each different scene of the animation.


This works best for the zoomed out scene of rick dancing, he really seems to be moving and leaving behind a shadow as he does so. The final step for this experiment was to reincorporate the original background.


I’m not sure which gif I prefer, with or without the background, but I do love the tracing effect. The next stage in this project will be to make this more abstract, and look into using these effects on the complicated piece I made for the end of the project before the holidays.



Here are a two other gifs that I made out of the “just do it” meme.


Photography Mock Overview

Encounters, Meetings and Experiences was the title for the last AS Photography exam, so now my class are using it as the title for our mock project where we emulate the real project we will receive later in the year, but with a different title. The way we structured our projects was as follows:

For each artist we studied we

  1. Studied their specific work of art, analysed it and annotated it.
  2. Created some images using their style, subject matter, colour, lighting, composition or anything else linking to their work.
  3. Developed our work further into some new pieces, creating our own styles and techniques.

After repeating this process several times, we then develop more work combining the rest of the project up to that point, eventually culminating into a final piece (as displayed in my last post).

My project

The three images I studied were created by Michael Snow, Chuck Close and Frederick Sommer. (Usually we’d study more but this was a shortened version of the real project). They all contain some element of surrealism, but each artist brought a style that I particularly liked and wanted to combine at a later point in the project.

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First Study – Michael Snow

Michael snow produced “Just Looking” in 1969, a series of images taped to a mirror. The images follow each other sequentially in time, the first displays the mirror with Michael Snow taking the picture, the next shows the same but with the first polaroid attached and so on. The image as a whole creates a journey through time, displaying all of the actions that culminated into this piece. A similar piece was created by Duane Michals, titled “Things are Queer”, where as we look at each of the images progressively zooming out, we go on a journey that eventually loops.


Again here we see a journey, so the idea of a journey as an experience was the theme for my images in this part of the project. Below are my favourite studies and my development, a looping gif zooming into my dad’s eye for his birthday. The first few studies all involve a sense of entering the image, or self-contained images such as one where I edit myself in Photoshop.


The gif was created in Photoshop using the motion workspace, where I was able to keyframe the transformation of four different images created earlier in Photoshop and make them seamlessly blend into each other. This is an effect I later used in my final piece.

Second Study – Chuck Close

Chuck close is an amazing artist who’s face blindness has led to his fascination with creating both photorealistic faces and abstracted grid-like representations of faces. Here are two images of his that I responded to:

In the first image, he used nine large polaroids of sections of his face to create a broken, unusual portrait. As he says, “The object is not just to make a picture, but to lay bare what a picture is made of”. That is to say, it isn’t the subject matter that is most important to him, but the way that it is presented. Above are two very different self portraits, one a group of polaroids, the other a series of abstract tiles which together strangely seem to create his face, without any one tile seeming to follow the standard representation of facial features, all containing blobs and abstract shapes. I used the ‘grid’ element of these images to create my own studies:

The first two involved compressing down a picture of a person, removing the unnecessary details between the interesting features using this grid system. The last two are experiments where using Photoshop I created a face using a grid, in the first I used the same face hundreds of times as each tile (with different exposures in order to shade the large face) and in the second I split a face and jumbled the tiles.

Third Study – Frederick Sommer

Sommer created this image of the painter Max Ernst using a double negative, by doing so imprinting the texture of the dark background onto the relatively smooth skin.


The worn and highly textured surface of the concrete gives an interesting view of ageing and wearing down over time; with my studies I hoped to use this style of combining texture with skin to create these interesting narratives:

I then moved on to experimenting differently with faces, instead removing texture:


Final Piece Preparation

For my final piece I hoped to combine all these elements. I decided to create a frame by frame narrative (as seen in the first study) where my brother reacts to his reflection being distorted, texturised (as seen in the third study) and even becoming a grid (second study). I started by creating this practice image (created by combining two images with a mask), then moving on to planning the narrative and taking the shots required.MirrorLook2.jpg

My final piece then took approximately 6 hours to create on the computer. First I imported all of the RAW files into the Camera Raw plugin in Photoshop and made the necessary adjustments giving the lighting and white balance (see how to do that in my previous tutorial). All of the 28 frames I created (with the exception of the first three) were then edited separately in Photoshop, one at a time, taking care to make each effect appear convincing. I then saved all of the images as Jpegs, imported them into the motion workspace in Photoshop and created a frame by frame animation. I set the duration of each frame to 0.5 seconds and exported the animation as a gif. The rest of the time during the 10 hour exam was spent documenting and also displaying the frames as a long strip, the first frame being the same as the last.


If you have any questions about the process of making any of these images or any other queries, send me a message or leave a comment and I’ll happily create some sort of tutorial for any of these processes.



Final image with grid lines

Martin Wilson Case Study

You haven’t experienced pain until you’ve had to arrange one thousand die and take over one hundred pictures followed by cropping said one hundred pictures one at a time. Luckily I was able to listen to a relaxing playlist of my Spotify to keep me sane.

Anyway, this week (first week of sixth form) in my Photography A-Level class we looked at the work of Martin Wilson; a photographer who uses analogue cameras (with film) then prints the film then lays the film out in order to give images such as this one:

Double Yellow Lines by Martin Wilson

Double Yellow Lines by Martin Wilson

As you can see, with careful planning he creates phrases or song lyrics using relevant subject matter, in this case a lyric from Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell. Our task was to create a study of his work using his style to present our own choice of song lyric or phrase, using subject matter related to the phrase to create a similar image. My lyric of choice was “I used to roll the dice” from Coldplay’s song “Viva La Vida”, using a grid of images of dice to create the words.

Firstly I bought some cheap dice to use, a bunch of black dice and red dice which interestingly number from 0 to 5 rather than 1 to 6 (I got them for 25p each at a game shop). Next I set up my camera on a tripod as well as two lights to light the die evenly. The tripod was vital and I used a remote to take the pictures to ensure that the distance between the die and the camera was always the same. This way, after cropping I wouldn’t need to alter the size of every image in Photoshop, saving a lot of time later on.

Camera and light setup

Annoyingly due to the position of the tripod I had to arrange the dice upside down since the camera was backwards. It wasn’t until writing this that I realised I could have just rotated all of the images at once in preview. Ah well. Since I decided to use four images for each letter, each letter would be in a 6 by 6 grid, of which I only used the 5 by 4 inner grid for the letters. The red die would be for the letters, with the rest of the space filled with black die. To make each tile unique, I had to roll the die for every new shot.

Lettering system

Two hours and 130 pictures later; I upload the pictures and begin the long, dull process of cropping them all. I cut all the images down to 425*425 pixels after reducing the size of all the images to 16% of the original (I don’t really want 4000 * 4000 pixels for each image since each tile will be a very small part of the image).

Cropping each image

Once this is all done, I went through each image one by one and copy and pasted it into Photoshop, where I’d created a grid of tiles that are 425*425 pixels each. This made arranging the tiles incredibly easy since they snapped right into place. To do this yourself, go to View -> Show -> Grid then go to Photoshop -> Preferences -> Guides, Grid & Slices where you can adjust the size of each division in the grid. The laying out was also incredibly easy since all the images were the same size, so no resizing was necessary (saving so much time).


Each letter is composed of four tiles of 9 dice

Close up tiles

When close up you can see the divisions between the tiles

Final image with grid lines

I added the chips at the sides to create a boarder similar to Martin Wilson’s images

When the grid lines are removed, the division between the images is in fact almost seamless – it appears as if all 864 die have been carefully arranged in this way. I personally feel that the slight misalignment with some tiles and the slight changes in lighting actually make the image more interesting in terms of variation of texture. Here is the final image which you can find in full size on my flickr.



Have a look at one of the black-die-only tiles:Easter egg

That’s odd, the rest of the tiles are all randomised but here all of the dice are numbers and are aligned properly. What could it mean? I’ll give you one hint: Base 6.

The Power of Masking: Making My Brother Float

I love using photoshop to create impossible images. Today I’ll be walking you through the techniques I used to make my brother float and you may be shocked to see how simple the principles really are. The main technique is masking, the process of painting an area over an image that will hide that part of the image, but is completely reversible. It is a great example of a non destructive workflow; the destructive equivalent would be to delete the parts of the image that are unwanted. This is destructive because there is no easy way to bring those deleted parts of the image back besides undoing, and this may not always be possible.

Let’s get started. The first thing I do is set up the scene. One huge mistake when photoshopping figures into scenes is that people try to take the two images separately and so the change in light gives away the illusion. To make the illusion as realistic as possible; rather than adding my brother into the scene, I instead remove what is keeping him in the air. In this case, a chair:

Lighting on my brother is the same as in the rest of the scene

Lighting on my brother is the same as in the rest of the scene

I also make sure that no parts of his body are being blocked by the chair, so I make him sit at the edge and cross-legged. Since I will be removing the chair in photoshop, I don’t want to also be removing parts of his body. Next I take the same shot without moving the camera but without the chair or my brother in the scene:

Clean shot

It doesn’t matter that my brother is in the shot because this image is just being used for the area behind the chair: when we delete the chair we need something behind it to fill the space. My next task is to colour-correct both images. I do this by dropping the raw files into photoshop and editing the first image to my liking (detailed tutorial on editing RAW images here).

I don't crop or add a vignette - I'll save that for photoshop later.

I don’t crop or add a vignette – I’ll save that for photoshop later.

Since I want to apply the same changes to the other picture, I click on the little drop down menu and press “Save Settings”, copying the XMP file that I have created for this image. This means that when I open the other image in Camera Raw, I can select the preset and all of the same changes will be made.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 11.59.26

This save is temporary as I'll only use it for this image

This save is temporary as I’ll only use it for this image

Next I save both images as JPEGs and import them both into photoshop as separate layers. Select the background layer, right click on it and select “Layer from Background”. This unlocks it, meaning we can make changes to it.

Editing 2

Make sure the primary image (with the figure) is the top layer

You might notice that the two images are ever so slightly mis-aligned. To remedy this, I set the opacity of the top layer to 50% and I do my best to move the layers until they align (to rotate press control-T then enter when done). Editing 3

Editing 3.1

Although the other parts of the image may not be aligned, the chair is the most important.

Although the other parts of the image may not be aligned, the chair is the most important.

Once they are aligned, I set the opacity of the top layer to 100% once again and begin masking. To do this, with the top layer selected I press the “Create Mask” button at the bottom of the layers menu (the rectangle with a circle in the centre). With the mask selected (click on the mask to do so) I get out a soft brush and select black as my foreground colour.


Editing 4

Select a round brush then set these preferences

Select a soft round brush then set these preferences

Now I start slowly making my way around the chair, masking over it and revealing the layer below. I use a smaller brush between the chair and my brother to have less blur due to the softness of the brush. A larger brush is better for the main parts of the chair because then the transition between the two images is more subtle.

When I feel as if I’ve made a mistake (such as accidentally masking my brother) I can use the eraser to remove that part of the mask (make sure that the eraser is using the same hard brush) or I can use the same brush with white selected as a foreground colour instead. This is because what the mask does is sets the opacity of that part of the layer based on how black the mask is, so black = 0% opacity and white = 100% opacity. By using a soft brush, the edges of the brush become grey and fade to white, so the opacity fades at the edges of the mask to avoid hard edges. This prevents that “cutout” effect that looks like a collage rather than a smooth deletion.

Once the masking is finished, I am left with a very convincing image of my brother floating:

Editing 5

I’ve also cropped the image to create a sort of frame with the window behind him

This is the main illusion complete. I could stop here but now I add some adjustment layers and a vignette to darken the edges and shift the focus into the centre of the image. These are not required at all for the illusion, I just add them in to highlight my brother as the focus of the image.

Adding a Vignette:

Vignette 1

A higher feather will blur the edge of the selection more, leading to a more gradual change to darkness

Vignette 2

The lower the opacity, the more subtle the vignette.

I won’t go into too much detail about my adjustment layers as there is a lot to talk about; they aren’t necessary but I use them to add more depth to the image. Basically I use another mask over my brother and increase his contrast and brightness, a black and white adjustment layer with its blend mode set to “Overlay” at opacity 18% to add more depth overall and a soft dark area over the sky to darken it (the sky was quite bright in the top right). Here are what the adjustments do:

Adjustment Layers

Here my brother is darker and the sky is too bright

Here my brother is darker and the sky is too bright

After darkening the sky and brightening my brother, the focus is clear

After darkening the sky and brightening my brother, the focus is clear

And that’s it! You can see the full image here on my flickr.

Post processing: Using Camera RAW to fully control my images

Up until recently I never used photoshop to edit my pictures. Instead I would use the built-in filters in my digital camera to achieve the look I wanted, such as in this image:

Built-in filter
See the “cool” filter applied here? Now although this picture may look nice, I am now powerless to change it afterwards; the camera processes the image by changing the white balance to lower the colour temperature (adds that blue tint) and adding vignette (darkened corners). However if I shoot in RAW (a file which stores all of the data recorded by the sensor, without any compression) then import the file into photoshop I am given this interface (the Camera RAW plugin built into photoshop):Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 4.06.41 PM
This menu instantly gives me much more control. The first thing I do is adjust the white balance; if I had shot in the JPEG format this would be unavailable after compression within the image (you select the white balance beforehand) but by shooting in RAW I can adjust it to ensure my image temperature (how blue or orange it looks) is just to my liking. I can adjust the exposure (brightness) of the image and the contrast, as well as individually adjusting whites, blacks, shadows and highlights of the image for full control of how I want the image to look, allowing me to concentrate on the composition and lighting when I take the picture and focus on the rest of the image later. Here is how the image looks after these initial changes:

Exposure menu

Higher contrast and lighter shadows

Higher contrast and lighter shadows

As you can see, the image already looks less dull and grey with the sky a much darker blue to contrast with the orange of the building.

Next I adjust the clarity, saturation and vibrance (I still need to learn the difference between those last two). The live preview allows me to see what these changes do to the image, and with the following changes I am able to highlight the colours slightly better.

Clarity Menu

Post-saturation image

Increased vibrancy and saturation

There are also numerous other adjustments to be made such as sharpness and noise. There is a spot removal tool, a targeted adjustment tool and graduated filters for more advanced editing (I may look at these separately some other time). I can crop the image without loosing the bits I crop off and I can add a vignette (darkening the corners of the screen) with full control of darkness, midpoint, feather (how blurred the edge is) and roundness. With the built-in filter I used for the first image, the vignette was fixed and unadjustable and completely permanent after compression in the camera, no way to revert to the original image underneath.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 4.10.54 PM


Image in the Camera Raw plugin with all adjustments made

Once I am satisfied with my adjustments I press “open file” then save the images as a JPEG file, compressing the RAW image with the adjustments I made. You can view the final full-sized image on my flickr.

The great thing about RAW images is that all the changes I make are non-destructive. All the changes are saved separately in an XMP file without affecting the original image; my changes are completely reversible. For example, if I were to import a JPEG image into photoshop and use the crop tool, the parts of the image that I cropped out would be lost after the image was saved (this does not include the undo button), but if I crop in the Camera Raw plugin, the crop is saved as a piece of code in the XMP file, without actually cropping the original image.

This is great for experimentation; when I first started taking pictures I would take 5 different pictures with different filters of the same composition to compare afterwards, whereas by shooting in RAW I only need one picture; all the filters can be added afterwards in photoshop, saving time and memory (on the camera), with the expense of having to spend more time afterwards in post-processing, but for me this is a minor expense in comparison with the benefits gained.