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Exercise in Futility

This conceptual photoshoot is loosely based on the Greek myth of Sisyphus. He was a king who was punished for chronic deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, then to repeat this action forever.

I often find myself highly empathetic to Sisyphus and his burden because of societal structures that are forced upon me. May it be school, nutrition, or information, I feel as if I go through daily motions in spite of knowing the outcome, just to see it repeat itself. 

"Exercise in Futility" is my expression of this continuous struggle. I wanted to explore the human experience of resilience in hopes of finding respite.

To express this, I created a character who is not satisfied with the world she's in and is then compelled to fly. She then builds wings of her own using the landscape around her. Creating the wings on photoshop was one of the most challenging tasks I have undertaken so far and so I really wanted to share how I did it.

Final Image

Final Image

RAW Image

RAW Image

As always, my first step is to isolate the subject by selecting it (with either the pen, wand, or brush tool) and isolating it using a mask. I then placed the subject higher above the ground to make it more believable that she is flying. Photographing the model in the location that I want to use for the image keeps the lighting consistent and therefore believable.

For the wings, I used several images of branches and leaves from my own collection and stock images from the internet. 

Composite of branches

Composite of branches

To create more realism that the wings are responsible for lifting the character, there has to be motion. I referred to birds and looked how they flapped their wings when they are taking off. To create that motion, I used the warp tool on Photoshop.

Using the Warp tool in Photoshop

Using the Warp tool in Photoshop

When placing all of the elements together, make sure that the lighting and shadows are consistent. Make sure you are aware of all the light sources in the image. Also keep in mind how your added composite images affect the overall photograph.

Final composite image

Final composite image

The last step for this image was taking it into Lightroom. As I have previously mentioned in my older posts, I always refer to Lightroom for the final stages of making a photograph. When I have finished placing all of the elements and creating the composite, Lightroom enables me to add filters and effects that affect the whole image which adds unity and therefore adds realism.

Final touches in Lightroom

Final touches in Lightroom

  Here is the whole story of Exercise in Futility:

I edited these photos mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 4. I also used Portrait Professional Studio for retouching. If you have more questions on how I produced these images, feel free to comment here or post on my wall on facebook.

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Final Belonging

This conceptual photograph series explores the universal concept of death. Especially in this generation where the belief of isolation is increasing, I am even more interested in seeing what connects all of us together. No matter what we lose or what happens to us, we will always have one last belonging.

To fully express this concept, I wanted the character to go through suffering and leave them with one final belonging. Using fire, a bag, and the moon as metaphors, I was able to investigate the idea of death and how to accept it. 

The most challenging image from the series is when the character is enveloped with flames. Flames are always hard to work with because they are hard to make realistic. This is my first attempt and I still have quite a lot of learning but I wish to share what I did in hopes that you can learn something out of it as well.

Final image

Final image

Here is a behind the scenes photograph of my lighting setup for this shot. I had a strobe placed right behind her to get the rim effect I wanted to make the fire more realistic. 

BTS photographed by Julian van Heeswijck

BTS photographed by Julian van Heeswijck

RAW image

RAW image

RAW image

RAW image

Taking a photograph of both the background with and without the model enables me to have more control when composting and editing the photograph. I can easily isolate the background first and edit the environment, then place the model afterwards for realism. The first step for this composite was to place several stock images of fire.

When adding elements such as lights and fire, make sure that it affects the existing image as naturally as possible. For this instance, the fire adds areas of highlight and shadows. I used two layers using curves with one brighter and the other darker, then used the masking tool and the brush to create bright and dark areas.

Just like before, you want to make sure that the fire adds areas of realistic highlights and shadows. Fire creates a warm glow and I did this by using different colored brushes (different reds and oranges from the fire) with 0 hardness and a low opacity. Using low opacity, build up the layer slowly to give it more depth. 

The next step was to place the model. As you can see with the image below, the color tone of the model doesn't suit the background. Several adjustments have to be made to make it more realistic.

Just like previously, I added highlights with the color of the fire at the outline of the character to create a rim lighting effect. This decreases the created space between the model and the fire and adds realism.

The next step is simply dodging and burning the model to get more accurate lighting. For this, I create two separate layers of curves, one brighter and the other darker. I then simply use the brush in the mask to make areas brighter or darker without damaging the photograph. This gives me the flexibility to go back and do minor changes if I wish to do so.

The last step for this image was taking it into Lightroom. As I have previously mentioned in my older posts, I always refer to Lightroom for the final stages of making a photograph. When I have finished placing all of the elements and creating the composite, Lightroom enables me to add filters and effects that affect the whole image which adds unity and therefore adds realism.

Final adjustments on Lightroom

Final adjustments on Lightroom

Here is the whole story of Final Belonging:

I edited these photos mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 4. I also used Portrait Professional Studio for retouching. If you have more questions on how I produced these images, feel free to comment here or post on my wall on facebook.


Super

In Rhode Island School of Design, there are two semesters. However, there is one additional time period in-between called Wintersession, where you can take classes of your choosing either for fun or for learning. I never took any formal photography classes before so for my freshman year, I took a class called Photo Intensive. This course really inspired me to take my photography to the next level.

I had a lot of time to experiment for this class and the result was a series I entitled “Super”. The idea for this series explores the power of photography. I wanted to create photos of surreal moments that portray me more than just human. I wanted to compel people to look twice and feel a sense of fear or confusion.

This series was mainly created using composites, combining two different images into one image. This was also my first attempt into this kind of photography. I made a lot of mistakes and took me a lot longer than it should have. I want to share my process so that you will have an easier time when you create your own composites.

I’ve given tips on composites on my previous post but I still have more to share. When making composites, it’s important that your subject fits the background seamlessly. This includes their sharpness and focus. Make sure that the subject fits the sharp parts of the photo. To make this easier, use a high aperture of about f/8 to make sure everything is in focus.

This image below is one of the photos in the series “Super” and it is entitled “Run”.

“Run”

“Run”

Here are the RAW images that I used to create this composite:

Nikon D90, Shutter Speed 1/640, Aperture f/7.1

Nikon D90, Shutter Speed 1/640, Aperture f/7.1

Nikon D90, Shutter Speed 1/3200, Aperture f/6.3

Nikon D90, Shutter Speed 1/3200, Aperture f/6.3

As I did not have any models around, I had to use myself. I used the timer shooting mode on my camera, enabling me to place myself in the photo. You have to be very patient when using the timer because it is hard to get the right shot right off the bat. I used the bench for what I call "placement prop". This is to ensure that the subject will be aligned with the inserted background.

Another very useful tip on making composites in to watch out for shadows. The shadows are always what gives it away for most composites. For this image above, it was very simple to incorporate an accurate shadow using photoshop. First you have to be aware of your light source and where the shadows are. To do this, look at other objects in the scene that cast a shadow and follow its direction.

I usually follow certain steps when creating shadows. First is to use the magic wand tool to select the space around the subject (when it is in a separate layer all by itself). Then inverse select and you can do this by right clicking and selecting inverse select. After that, create another layer then fill that selection with black. Then to make it more realistic, use the gaussian blur filter then decrease opacity, depending on the situation.

Like I mentioned in a previous blog post, always composite in RAW files. The secrete i to add the color correction and filters after you have finished the composite. This unifies the image and creates a more realistic composite.

Here is another composite piece in the series entitled "Unstoppable".

"Unstoppable"

"Unstoppable"

I found the background in one of my previous folders and I thought it would make an amazing background.

Therefore, another tip I can give you when working with composites and photo manipulation is to keep all of your files. Store them in a safe external hard drive because you will never know when you will need it again for a future project. Also, always shoot in RAW because you always need that much information when working with composites.

Just make sure when you're putting images together that they have a similar light source. To make this image more realistic, I added dodging to the edges of the subject. This adds a rim light effect, which occurs when the light subject is between the light source and the camera.

Here's the last photo of the series:

"Take Flight"

"Take Flight"

I edited these photographs mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. If you have more questions on how I produced these images, feel free to comment here or post on my wall on facebook.

website | facebook | flickr | behance instagram