Monthly Archives July 2004

Badlands National Park

Imaginary Landscapes: Building Fantasy from Reality
Hello everyone, my name is Nick Pedersen and I am a photographer and digital artist currently based in the Philadelphia area. My work specializes in an intricate use of HDR imaging, photo compositing, and special effects using my own photographs. For this article I would like to talk a bit about my history as an artist, and how I got to where I am today.

“Sanctuary” (diptych) 2016

I started out in photojournalism, traveling a lot and doing more documentary style photography. Currently I work for a few photo agencies, Getty and Cavan Images, and I also take on freelance assignments, which is great to supplement my income and collect photos for my digital imaging work along the way. First and foremost, I would say my favorite part about the work I do is traveling around the US and other countries to capture the best images to use in my projects.

Early on, I learned some photo editing skills in Photoshop and experimented a bit with combining images. This series, “Migration,” was the first larger body of work I created using the style of photomontage that I use today. In my artistic work I have always been very influenced by nature and environmentalism. Conceptually this project was created in response to issues like urban sprawl and deforestation, showing wild animals wandering through the city in search of their natural habitats.

“Coyotes” Migration series, 2008

I got really into photo compositing and this whole idea that you could create something new rather than just capturing it. So, I decided to get my Master’s degree in Digital Arts from Pratt Institute in New York. I spent three years studying there. Here are some examples from my MFA thesis, “Sumeru.” This project uses the same techniques, but much more extensively, to create an entire constructed landscape in each image. The narrative was inspired by Zen Buddhism and eastern philosophy, and uses images of nature to symbolically represent various states of consciousness and perceptions. Basically, it is about an exploration of the mind. The whole series was exhibited and published in my first artist book, Sumeru.

“Mountains and Waters” Sumeru series, 2011
“Sumeru” (MFA Exhibition) 2011
“Sumeru” (narrative storyboard) 2011

Shortly after graduating, I began working on the first part on my next major series, “Ultima.” It envisions a hypothetical future world where nature has reclaimed modern civilization. I started by taking images of cities on the east coast like New York, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia. These were perfect for collecting photos of urban decay, like buildings overgrown with vines, burned down structures, and industrial ruins. The images of animals came from the wild, zoos, taxidermy shops, and museums of natural history. Finally, the characters were photographed in the studio with lighting to match each scene. It’s a much different way to think about photography, because I am capturing different elements and creating a database of photos to use for compositing.

“Remnants of Time” Ultima series, 2013

To create my images I use a complex process of digital imaging in Photoshop. Every image is actually made up of about 50 or more photographs meticulously pieced together, with each taking around 100 hours of work. So I spend a great amount of time building up an image, figuring out the lighting, shadows, color, and other effects to make it look realistic and seamless. Each image is planned out and created as an intricately layered construction, and I think that is what gives it such a hyper-real, illustrative quality.

“Remnants of Time” (digital process) 2013

Over the next year I continued working on this project and was accepted for a few artist residencies to help get the images I needed for my ideas. The first one was at the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada, where I photographed the impressive mountains and snow-covered landscapes surrounding Banff National Park. I was also lucky enough to set up an amazing photo shoot with wolves. My next artist residency was at the Gullkistan Center in Iceland, where I spent the winter traveling around the entire country photographing the incredible glaciers, icebergs, and the northern lights to complete the second part of the series.

“The Great Divide” Ultima series, 2014
“Place of Power” Ultima series, 2014

For the final desert part of the project, I took road trips all over the four corners of the American southwest. Some of the biggest highlights were the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, the slot canyons in southern Utah, and Organ Pipe National Monument on the border of Mexico.

This entire 36-image project took me about 3 years to complete, but hopefully it shows what you can pull off with a lot of patience and dedication. After finishing the work I make large-scale fine art prints for gallery exhibitions, and the whole 3-part series was collected in my newest artist book, Ultima.

“The Dream Time” Ultima series, 2015
“Ultima” (artist book edition) 2015

I have also done quite a bit of commercial work, like this piece “Green City,” in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy. Most of the time I have received commissions after clients have viewed my personal work like Sumeru, Ultima, and other projects, especially through social networking sites like Behance and Instagram. So, in my experience, having a portfolio of interesting personal work has really helped me to stand out, and has led to offers for the kinds of projects I want to work on. I am very interested in creating images with purpose that have a strong message, such as this piece “Water Protector,” to benefit Stand With Standing Rock.

“Green City” (Nature Conservancy commission) 2015
“Water Protector” (benefit for Standing Rock) 2016

Finally, all of this has led to my newest series “Floating World,” which is an ongoing project created in response to the issues of climate change and sea level rise in coastal cities around the world. I started this body of work with New York City, and I’m currently working on images of New Orleans and Miami. Eventually I’m planning to include more images of other cities most threatened by flooding in the future. With all these environmental projects, my main goal is to raise important questions about the time we live in, and give viewers a space to think about the future of our planet.

“Flatiron” Floating World Series (photographs) 2016
“Wall Street” Floating World series, 2016

To conclude I would like to leave you with these ideas I have picked up that have been key to creativity in my artistic life, and I think would benefit anyone getting into photography and digital imaging.

1. Know your conceptual, aesthetic, and technical influences.
2. Experiment through trial and error to find what works.
3. Know your technique intuitively, like second nature.
4. Develop your own unique style to stand out.
5. Create something original and authentic.
6. Constantly reinvent yourself and your work.
7. Be exposed to new places, people, and ideas.
8. Be ambitious and take steps to meet your goals.
9. Follow your own path with perseverance.

“Slash+Burn” 2017
“Floating World” (New Orleans project) 2017

You can see more of Nick’s work at Nick-Pedersen.com and follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Behance.

Hello my name is Austin Burke and I am a food photographer in Orlando, Florida. I want to thank Scott and Brad for having me as a guest on the blog and to have the opportunity to share a bit of light on something that I think gets passed over.

Everyone loves to talk about fancy camera gear that we use on a shoot, but what about the other random tools that we use on set? I shoot a lot of food photography and while I always prefer to have a dedicated stylist on set, sometimes those responsibilities fall on me.

So when that happens I make sure to bring my tool box full of random tools that make styling projects manageable.

What’s in the box?
I bring this black toolbox with me on every set in addition to all my other gear. Inside, it contains a variety of easy to find items that I have found helpful when I am photographing food. This box covers most of the items I will need on my shoots, though sometimes I find myself in the garage building custom rigs as well.

Brushes
I keep a large variety of paintbrushes in my kit, all in different sizes, shapes, and texture. I use them for all sorts of things, from adding water or oils to food to make them shine, to brushing on sauces on meats or plates.

Tweezers & Chopsticks
It can be a challenge to style food, specially when some ingredients are the size of small seeds or crumbs. This is where tweezers and chopsticks come into play, being able to grab things with precision that would otherwise be a pain to pick up with your fingers. As an added bonus, wooden chopsticks can be used to stir a beer and make its frothy head reform, helpful when trying to get the perfect shot.

Butane Torch
Need to melt some cheese or toast some edges? That’s where the butane torch comes in handy, and you can find small ones that will easily fit in your kit. You can also break it out to make some creme brulee as well! Alternatively you can use a heat gun when styling food. Both give you a lot of control when working with food to make sure you don’t overcook anything.

Level & Measuring Tape
I always bring a level and measuring tape on every shoot to make sure I can keep track of the placement of where my camera and lights are. I then write all this information down and save it with the image files. The reason for this is if a client ever comes back wanting to shoot another project in the same style as something I have shot for them in the past, or they want the look similar to an image in my portfolio, I can easily recall the setup for that shot. It saves me a ton of time when a client comes back 3 years later wanting the exact same look and makes them happy when I can pull it off.

ToothPicks & Brass Wire
Sometimes food doesn’t want to cooperate, and that’s where these guys come in. Toothpicks are great for getting things to stand up and easy to hide in a scene. I find myself using them all the time when working with sandwiches as there are so many ingredients that need to stay still. The brass wire is great for hanging and rigging things up as it’s firm enough to hold things up in the air, but not too firm that you can’t mold into any shape you need. I recommend going for a neutral color wire so it doesn’t cast colors on set and is easy to clone stamp out.

Beverages
A cold drink goes well with a nice dish, which means I shoot a lot of beverages as well. And just like food, beverages need some help to look their best. The problem with making a drink look cold and refreshing is it doesn’t stay in that perfect state for very long and the ice will begin to melt. That’s where fake ice cubes and ice powder come in handy. And when it comes to fake ice cubes, it’s worth investing in good ones. I use a mixture of hand made acrylic and glass cubes so no one cube has the same look as another.

Ice isn’t the only way to make beverages look cold. You can also add some condensation to the glass. For this I find using a 1-part water and 1-part glycerin mixture perfect for condensation on a glass. I apply it using either a paintbrush or a small spray bottle. Lastly when it comes to beverages, I find using some food dye or kitchen bouquet great for getting the perfect color of a liquid, specially when you are shooting splash images.

Lastly we have cotton gloves, one of the most important items in the box. These gloves will help make sure you don’t leave finger prints on plates or glasses that would show up in your image. We wouldn’t want that now!

So I hope this list of items I use on almost every food shoot was helpful. With these tools you can make every dish look as delicious as it really is, which at the end of the day is my job as a food photographer.

What random tools have you ever found yourself using to make a delicious looking photo?

You can see more of Austin’s work at AustinBurke.photography, and follow him on Instagram and Vimeo.

THINKING ABOUT POST PROCESSING BEFORE YOU SHOOT

Hey everyone, my name is Emily McGonigle, and I’m super stoked and honored to have the opportunity to be a guest blogger today. I’m a portrait photographer and retoucher from Nashville, TN. Being self-taught in both subjects, I’ve always tried to get my hands on every resource I could possibly find. This includes books and online content published by Scott Kelby, so getting to post to his blog today is pretty frickin’ cool.

Today I want to talk about keeping the post processing of your images in mind when planning and shooting a session.

I’m a weird, rare brand of photographer. I actually *like* editing and retouching. So much so that I eventually launched a separate retouching brand earlier this year. I was always told early on by my peers that I spent too much time in Photoshop; that I should spend more time shooting and less time learning about retouching. But being the stubborn individual that I am, I kept on the path that I was on and eventually got to the point where my photographic work started to become more recognizable as mine, partly because I was putting my signature on my images through my retouching and color grading.

As a result, post processing is something that I’m constantly thinking about, from the beginning of a session, to the last stroke of my Wacom pen.

Post Processing Starts When You Plan Your Session
This may sound like a weird concept, but it’s really not.

Color is magical. I love color. I have SUCH a hard time remembering that black and white imagery exists (and that sometimes it can make for a stronger image). But color can sometimes screw you up if you don’t plan for it.

I in no way claim to be an expert color theorist. As a matter of fact, it’s something I’m *still* learning and experimenting with. But what I do know is that the colors you start with on your set will greatly affect your coloring and mood in post processing.

If you’re planning on ending up with a moody shot, using a bright background with pastel color clothing on your subject isn’t going to jive well with the hyper contrasted, muted color grading that you had in mind. Making sure that all the elements you’re using in your image compliment your end processing can make or break an image.

The light that you plan on using is also equally important to consider in conjunction with your editing goals. Again, if you’re aiming for a moody end image, lighting the subject with flat, soft light, is probably not going to yield the results that you want in post, no matter how much you push and pull your curves and color.

For example, for this shot of my friend Lauren, I was inspired to do a monochromatic color palette with a lavender theme. I knew that I wanted a clean edit on this image, so making sure to light it without a ton of moody shadows was important.

When lighting this image, I paid special attention to the shape of the light on her face. I knew that I wanted a specific highlight on her cheekbone that I would later dodge in to accentuate her already gorgeous bone structure. But if the light wasn’t already placed correctly to create that shape, all the dodging and burning in the world wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t look natural if the base of the shape wasn’t already created by the lighting used.


In the image of this model, we actually had her outfit picked out first. After seeing the brown of the dress and her accessories, I knew I was going to want to process the image with warmer tones. As a result, I made sure to use elements in the image that would compliment that idea. A diffused garage door filtering sunlight as backlight and a cream piece of raw canvas both lend themselves to warmer color grading.


On the opposite end of the spectrum, for this image of Taylor, I knew I wanted a clean, cooler, and moody look. I grabbed a backdrop that already had cool tones in it, and used dark elements around her on set. Then in post, I made sure to use cooler tones in my color grading to finish out the look.

None of these images would have worked quite the same way if I had used different elements on set, or if the subjects were wearing different pieces, but I still tried to process them the same way. I had to keep my end processing goal in mind while building each image.

Shooting for post processing
When I’m in the studio, one of my favorite things to do is tether directly to my computer, using Capture One. The glorious thing about tethering is that not only do I have a bigger screen than the LCD on the back of my camera, but after testing the initial set up, I can take a few moments to apply some preliminary edits. I can play with the color grading and density of an image on the spot, which allows me to do a rough version of the post processing that I’m envisioning for the image. The client will know what to expect, and I can know if what I’m striving for is actually going to work.

One example of this that was critical to the end result, was this image of my friend Sam.

There is no way I would have achieved this final look without intentionally thinking about what I wanted to do with it in post, prior to actually making it.

For this image, I was experimenting with a new way to light my subjects, that I hadn’t tried before. I knew I wanted the image to be dark and contrasty, with pops of highlights.

Straight out of camera, with ZERO work done to it, the image looked like this:

After determining that the shape I wanted was there, I went ahead and applied a rough edit in Capture One, which resulted in this:

That was close enough to the color grading and contrast that I wanted for the final image, so we shot the rest of the set this way, with Capture One automatically applying my edit to each file as it was created.

After the session, I went home and put the final touches on the image using Photoshop. I applied my color grading, starting with the raw image straight out of camera, applied some skin smoothing techniques, brought out the highlights in his eyes, and accentuated the light on his face with dodge and burn.

It’s important to note that 90% of the time I begin my color grading and retouching in photoshop from the straight out of camera image that was captured, and *not* the image with my rough studio edits applied. The reason for this is that the raw image is less contrasted, and not influenced by added color casts, therefore allowing me more room to create the exact color grading and contrast I’m trying to achieve. If I had used the studio edit as my base image in photoshop, it would have been much harder to make Sam’s eyes sparkle, or bring detail back into his jacket, because the raw data of shadows would already have been pushed by Capture One.

I also prefer to light in such a way that I achieve the correct shape on the subject, and the correct shadow to highlight ratio that I’m trying to achieve, without the image being too contrasted. The reason for this is the same: it allows me more wiggle room to play with my tones and density in post.

“I can fix that in post”
GET IT RIGHT IN CAMERA.

I know I’ve been preaching keeping your post processing in mind when shooting, but I’m NOT talking about things like moving things out of your frame that shouldn’t be there, fixing fly away hairs on set, smoothing wardrobe, and anything else that you’re tempted to “photoshop out”. If you can fix it in camera… do that. It’ll save you so much headache.

That being said… there *are* instances where that will be necessary, either due to limited resources, space, or your model giving you that KILLER look, but they moved a little too far off center, exposing your set in the background.

For example, there’s a shoot that I assisted my friend on that required him to build a set. I was also going to be the one to retouch the images when they were finished, so I was very conscious of what could and couldn’t be tackled in post, concerning the set build. We had a fairly limited resources to make the set, so we bought a stack of 2x4s, some drywall, some screws, and we fashioned three “walls” of a room that was to be the set for the model. You could see the seams between all of the drywall panels, the fabric that we used between two slats to allow light into the room, and every single screw we used to hold it all together. We didn’t intend to build a clean, nice looking set. We only had enough resources for the bare bones, and it was my responsibility to clean it up and make it look finished in post.

The great thing about it though, was the fact that I knew what would make my life easier and what would make it harder, before I even had to sit down to Photoshop. I knew that pinning the fabric as flat as possible would make smoothing the seam a lot easier in post. I knew that lining up certain slabs of drywall at certain angles would make smoothing the seams easier in post. Even though we were still prepping the set for the model, we did it with the retouching in mind.

If we had unlimited time and money to build the set, we could have just made a complete, solid, painted room, but since we didn’t have that luxury, I did what I know to do, and kept my post processing in mind while we put everything together.

Another time, I was photographing the band Zobrodome for their promotional materials.

Initially we were going to line the guys up on a yellow paper backdrop and shoot everything in camera. However, what I didn’t anticipate was that not all 5 of them fit well together, side by side on the size paper that I had. If we had been doing standard band shots, it would have been fine, but because the guys needed to stand on the same plane, side by side, we ran into some issues.

I had to think fast and decided that compositing would be the way to go. The inspiration for the image came from a graphic the guitar player had made, and we wanted it to look as surreal as possible. Keeping my post in mind, and knowing that I’d need things to be as consistent to make the composite work, we took plates of the background (Plain shots of the background lit, but no one in the frame). Then one by one, I had the guys stand individually in front of the backdrop on a marked spot on the floor.

Because they were painted down the middle, I also had to be particular about getting them to line their chins up with the line going through their necks as close as I possibly could. I knew I could fudge the lines a bit in post later, but to keep things from getting *really* out of whack, I needed them to nail it as best as they could in camera.

It actually turned out to be a really fun shoot, and an interesting composite job, but every step of the way, I had to keep in mind what my end goals would be in photoshop.

The long and short of it
No matter what your style is, the way you process your images is the finishing touch to your work. Whether you do a lot in post, or tend to be very minimal with it, it’s still extremely important to keep in mind what your end goal is.

I hope that I have been able to enlighten some of you with the idea of keeping your post processing in mind from the very beginning of a shoot. I know it’s something I never used to think about, and it would frustrate me when I couldn’t get the desired results I was striving for. But now that I’ve shifted my focus to consider all parts of my image creation, including my post processing, I find that I am much happier with what I am producing.


Emily McGonigle is a photographer and retoucher based out of Nashville, TN. You can see more of her photography work at EmilyMcGonigle.com and her retouching work at EmilyMcGonigleRetouch.com. She can also be found on Instagram under @EmilyMcGoniglePhoto for photography and @EmilyMcGonigleRetouch for retouching.

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