The advent of digital photography sped up the photography process seemingly overnight. What used to take hours or days to complete can now be done in the blink of an eye. But in the fast world of ever-evolving technology, some photographers are choosing personal projects that slow down time.
Jason D. Page‘s film-based light painting project took two years to complete. Though he shot seven rolls of film, his final series consists of fewer than twenty images. Watch the following video to see the process behind his creation of Falling Away:
Page’s vision was to create an image that made it look as if an angel was falling through a stormy sky. Over a year before recording this behind-the-scenes video, he went out at night during a lightning storm and shot dozens of pictures of the sky using Kodak Ektar 100 Color Negative film and a Canon AE1 35mm camera. The second part of the project, which is highlighted in the video, involved double exposing the film with light painted images of a model.
To make the woman look as if she was falling downward through the sky, Page asked her to pose by lying with her back arched over a black stool in front of a black background, her head and limbs weighed down by gravity. He then mounted the camera upside down on his tripod with the help of a Gorillapod.
Page demonstrates his model’s pose.
A Gorillapod secured the camera to the tripod.
With his model in place on his dark set, Page opened the shutter for a long exposure with a cable release. He then used various colored lights to paint in the model’s body from head to toe. When the film was developed, he finally saw his vision come to fruition.
Some photographers might balk at the lengthy, meticulous process of creating the Falling Away series. After all, a similar look could probably be crafted in Photoshop in less than an hour. But the challenge of using film and old-fashioned effects to complete a photography project is a slow, lost art that many photographers are rediscovering–and embracing.
Before we even get started I should make clear that this is to be used as a last resort effort to save a photograph that can’t possibly be retaken any time soon, not something we should make a habit out of. We all know that the best way to save an underexposed photograph is to simply pay attention to the histogram while taking photos and if it’s pushed all the way to the left adjust our settings and reshoot.
Of course with that said, there are cases where it’s impossible to reshoot, or we just forgot to check our settings and get home to realize everything is underexposed and in that case we can do one of two things – toss the photo in the trash or try and save it.
Today I’m going to show you…
I’d like to mention upfront that to be able to achieve these kinds of results you really must be photographing in the RAW format – no ifs, ands or buts about it! If you need a bit of clarification as to why RAW is important you can read all about the RAW format here.
Let’s Save An Underexposed Photo
If you do get home and your histogram looks the one to the right than you’ve got an underexposed photograph in serious need of some help. It probably looks very similar to the before image above with just peaks of light in the very brightest parts of the photograph.
Before you give up hope and assume that your shoot is a complete failure there are a few things you can do to try and salvage the underexposed photographs that you’ve taken.
I’m going to be presenting you with three techniques that you can use to get the most out of what you have. However it is important to note that every photograph is different and will present its own unique set of challenges. These three ideas will give you something to try in the event that you do get home and find your photographs have taken a turn for the dark side, but they might not be able to bring them back, sometimes they truly are too far gone.
For this tutorial I’m using a fairly serious example, in most cases I would hope that you won’t have nearly as bad a situation as I have for you today, so let’s get started!
#1 – Save what you can get rid of what you can’t
This might not be the best way to go about things, but it certainly is the easiest way to get something out of nothing.
By simply adjusting the basic settings a bit to expose for the sky in the photograph I create a simple silhouette of the trees and leave it at that. The final step was to clone out the little bits of the run down shack that were peaking out asking for attention, but not adding to the photograph.
Definitely not the best option for this photo, but it is an option worth considering when you are processing your own photos – sometimes you really don’t have to save everything – it might not be what you had intended the shot to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s a complete loss.
Expose for what you have clone out what you can’t save.
#2 – Use Graduated Filters and Adjustment Brushes Until You Can’t Use Them Anymore
For this second attempt at saving this image I did a lot of the same processing as I did on the first one to get the sky the way I wanted it. Once I got to that point instead of simply giving up and cloning out the run down shack I decided to add a graduated filter and some adjustment brushes to try and save the foreground.
As you can see with just a few modifications I was able to really bring out the hut and add some light to the grass as well as some much needed contrast to the road. This became the after image scene above.
Use a graduated filter to bring light back into the foreground.
Add light to the grass and hut with one adjustment brush
Darken the road to add contrast and remove some noise with a second adjustment brush.
#3 – Convert to Black and White
If we have a really bad case of underexposure, as I do in this photograph, noise will become a problem. As you recover data from the darkest of the shadows you will find that there just isn’t any data there to recover and you’ll end up with pixelated noise in those regions. This is especially true if you were already shooting at a higher ISO.
In cases like this sometimes the only solution left to do is convert to black and white. By converting the image to black and white you essentially are able to hide the color noise leaving only the luminance noise in the photograph. While it’s still not ideal, it can be a useable alternative if you have no other options.
Convert the image to black and white to minimize the effect of noise
For those who enjoy videos this photograph’s edit was part of a weekly series I run on YouTube called Let’s Edit you can watch the video of that episode below.
When using this filter, we need to create a duplicate of the Background layer. You’ll notice that this layer is locked (indicated with a padlock symbol on its layer), which stops it from being edited. But by going to the Layer menu and to Duplicate Layer, you can create an editable version above this locked one.
Find the Quick Selection tool (W) in the Toolbar. The tool is kept with the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop CS versions, but in Photoshop Elements it’ll be with the Selection Brush tool. To use the Quick Selection tool, tick the Auto-Enhance option at the top of the screen and click and drag a selection over your main subject.
When using the Quick Selection tool, you may see some areas of the selection overflow into the background. Hold the Opt/Alt key and click over these extraneous parts to remove them. By pressing Q, you can view the selection in Quick Mask mode, so you know just how well it has gone.
When you have selected your main subject go to the Select menu and down to Inverse. The shortcut for this is Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+I. This flips the selection from the main subject to the background, making it the active area. This is indicated by the marching ants around the edges of the image.
In your Layers palette, click on the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom. You’ll now see a white and black mask appear on the layer. This has used the selection to hide parts of the image. Notice how the car is shown in black (hidden) and the background is in white (revealed).
At the moment the mask is the highlighted thumbnail. Click on the image’s thumbnail next to this to edit the contents and not the mask. Head to the Filter menu and go down to Blur>Radial Blur. Set the Amount to 30 and the Blur Method to Zoom. Hit OK to see how your image has been affected by the filter.
There may be an area in your image that hasn’t been blurred but should be. You’ll need to click back on the layer mask thumbnail on its layer. Select the Eraser tool and zoom in on this area (Cmd/Ctrl and +). By erasing the area that was missed out in the initial selection process, the blur effect can show through.
How to transform your color images into stunning monochrome
My photography career began 30 years ago as a photojournalism student in college. Each week, I would be assigned a story to cover and off I’d go with my Nikon FM2 and 50mm lens in search of images. But capturing the images was only half the story. The best part, I thought, was getting to develop my shots in the darkroom. I can almost smell the chemicals to this day. Slowly, my images would come to life in beautiful, bold…black-and-white. Yes, that’s right, black-and-white.
Today, photographers get the best of both worlds. We can capture an entire photo shoot in color and decide later if we want to convert the images to black-and-white. No more harsh chemicals, darkrooms and nasty drains. Using software, anyone can convert an image to black-and-white with a few mouse clicks. But similar to working in the “wet” darkroom, understanding what makes a good black-and-white image, and how to pull that out of a color shot, is critical to creating dramatic black-and-white images.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD BLACK-AND-WHITE IMAGE?
Before we can start converting our color images in the computer, it helps to know what elements create a good black-and-white image. Or, another way of looking at it is, what color images would look better without color distracting the viewer?
Strong black-and-white images rely on design elements such as line, shape, form and texture. Images with a lot of tonal contrast work well in black-and-white. The more tones you have in your color shot, the more shades of gray you’ll have in your black-and-white image.
What if you’re shooting on a dreary, overcast day? Color photographers try to reduce the bleak gray sky in an image because it takes away from colorful subjects. But imagine that same shot in black-and-white. The dreary sky is now only another shade of gray and works just fine with the other black-and-white elements in the image.
Virtually any subject can look great in black-and-white: portraits, landscapes, architecture and travel images. Look for scenes that have a lot of tonalities and strong design elements, as these aspects can be brought to life in a black-and-white conversion.
Some cameras allow you to capture in black-and-white, but I like to shoot in RAW and convert the image with software. You capture more information in color, with the option to have both color and black-and-white versions of the photo.