Thursday, July 28, 2011

epic fail update

I haven't done many "epic fail" submissions lately because most contests cost money and it adds up. I did, however, submit images to F-Stop magazine and today I got the following email:

Hi there, Just wanted to let you know that one or more of your images has been chosen to be included in the upcoming issue of F-Stop Magazine. The issue goes online August 1. You will get an email then letting you know its online and asking you to take a look.

Thanks for contributing!
Ahhh. Failing to fail is the best kind of failure.

Soon, I will look at a fresh round of photo submissions and competitions, so I'll keep posting.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Would that it were true....

You may have already read this link to an Onion article on another blog, but it made me laugh so I had to post it:

“After spending more than a century exploiting urban decay to create deeply moving, socially conscious works of art, the art world announced Tuesday that it had captured all the beauty it was going to find in rusted-out cars, abandoned houses, and condemned industrial sites.” 

 (read the whole article. hilarious)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Create that sun bleached look in Photoshop using nothing but curves

Before and after a quick sun bleaching with curves

First, a disclaimer: I actually like the "before" pic at least as much as the "after." But since the whole sun bleached style is so popular, I thought I'd show you how easy it is to do with nothing but curves in Photoshop. In a future tutorial, I'll show you how you can experiment with your own photo effects and make them into actions instead of paying for them.

step 1: It should go without saying, but I think it makes more sense to choose a photo that is actually outside and in the sun, preferably with some nice backlighting or some sun streaks or flares (I'm not a fan of adding fake flares, so I won't do it here).

step 2: open your photo and duplicate the layer. It's not absolutely necessary, but I like to use the duplicate layer for the "after" and keep the background for the "before" just so I can toggle the two on and off and maybe mess with the opacity of the "after" layer before I commit to flattening the final image.

step 3: add a curves adjustment layer
I'm going to end up doing 3 separate curves adjustment layers (the better to show my thought process. you can do it in fewer or more once you know what you want). On this first curves layer I am going to click to create a control point in the middle of the grid and pull it up and to the left in order to lighten the photo pretty dramatically:
It's lighter. It's pretty. But it's not really "sun bleached" yet.

step  4: add another curves adjustment layer, bleach and warm. You will probably have to make your photo layer (not the curves 1 layer) active before adding the curves layer 2, and then you will want to drag the curves layer 2 above curves layer 1. On this new curves layer, the adjustments are going to tweak the color by making it warmer and less contrasty. Instead of just moving the main (rgb) curve, you are going to do adjustments separately (note: this is still all done on your curves 2 layer. no need to create more and more curves layers) for "red" "green" and "blue" channels.  It's going to be like my "adjust tone and color" tutorial, but more extreme. Using the pull down menu (right above the curves grid where it says "rgb", select the blue layer. If you put a control point in the middle ("ish"--just experiment) and pull towards the lower right corner, you will make the color more yellow. 
You can see that I only yellowed it a little. I also took the control point in the lower left corner and dragged it straight up. You can get a really fantastic in-depth explanation of curves here, but to be brief, I'll just say that you are basically lowering the contrast as you pull that bottom corner control point up. Don't feel like you have to have one channel perfect before you move to the next. In fact, the best thing to do is to mess with each channel and go back and forth between the three channels experimenting with changes until you're happy. It's just like adding salt and pepper to soup, except you can actually take the salt back out if you use too much. Here's what I did to the red channel:
I pulled that lower left control point up higher than I did on the blue channel and that's it.
Then I did the green channel a bit:

C'est pas sorcier! as we say in French. "It's not witchcraft" (do we say that in English?) Just eyeball your photo to decide how much you want to change each channel. 

Guess what? You could stop right here and you've got a nice warm photo that's a big change from the "before." It's warm, light, and dreamy.
But why leave well enough alone? I decided that I would like to make the background even lighter, but I don't want to wash her out completely. So...

Step 5 I added a third curves layer (be sure to put it on top), lightened it the same way I did with my first curves layer, and then brushed out the adjustment selectively on the bride.

Once you have lightened it, just select your brush tool (b)
, look in the menu bar to adjust the softness and size (which you can also do with the [ and ] keys—clicking the right bracket makes it bigger, the left makes it smaller. doing the same thing with "shift" makes it harder or softer). I like to bring the softness down to "0" because I want really gradual, diffused effects here. 

Then I adjust the "opacity" setting (up in the top brush menu bar) WAY down (like 10% or so) so I can gradually paint the effect out. NOTE: make sure that black is selected as your foreground color.

If it's some funky color just hit "d" to make them black and white and use "x" to switch which color is in front. Now just paint the effect out to varying degrees as needed. I decided that I didn't want to over-lighten the hair, the lips, or too much of the face. (It's the same basic principle at work in my tutorial, "layer adjustment masks for the lazy, artsy slob").

step 6: Mess with opacity to fine tune your effect. Too much change on a given layer? Just dial down the opacity. When you like what you see, click the eyeball icon to turn off your background layer (this is assuming you copied your background layer way back in step 1) then select "merge visible" from the layer menu (the little triangle at the top of the layers palette brings up the menu). Now you have the "after" layer merged on top and the "before" on the bottom. If you love the "after" then flatten the things and be happy. If you don't, well, ask a friend if you're just being too picky.

bonus stuff:
Want to change things even more? Create a blank new layer, fill it with some sunny color using the paint bucket (double click the foreground box mentioned earlier to bring up the color picker and then just choose some peachy sunny color),  and then experiment with blending modes. Choose "soft light" or "overlay" from the pull down menu in the layers palette instead of "normal" and then lower the opacity of your overlay color until you have the king of tinted, washed out look you like.
 I did it, and then went "meh. don't need it."

Here's the lovely final image once again:
Voilà! Easy, right?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Photoshop tutorials as "thought experiments", or How NOT to trap your friends in a jar

End result from the tutorial "Trap Your Friends in a Jar Using Photoshop."

 Thought experiments
When Galileo talked about dropping things off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, he wasn't actually proposing that anyone do it. Sure, it was an experiment, but just not the kind involving actual physical objects. Galileo's stone throwing was thought experiment—a mental exercise that explored a concept in a rational, methodical manner. The actual experiment, then, was the process of thinking through a question by applying certain theories or principles.

When I look at Photoshop tutorials, they generally do not interest me in the slightest. I don't want to turn people into zombies, create realistic 3D objects from scratch, or turn zoo creatures into fire-breathing, intergalactic, neo-grunge montages. So, I don't know why I decided to look at "Trap Your Friends in a Jar Using Photoshop" when I came across it on Pinterest. I mean, it's really not something I care to attempt in real life or in Photoshop. I thought the end result was pretty good, so I read through the entire tutorial out of curiosity, just to see how it was done. I had zero interest in doing it myself, but it reminded me that going through a tutorial as a "thought experiment" could be a learning experience in its own right

The jar lesson
Step one of the tutorial is taking the photographs, step 2 is extracting the photos of people, and step 3 is placing them in the jars. Step 4 is where it gets interesting. You've pasted photos of people onto photos of jars, but it hardly looks like they're actually in the jars at this point. This is where we see the signs of a good tutorial: instructions explain why we need to do the steps. A quote from step 4: 
"Grab a small brush with low opacity, and gently brush away parts of their body which would -in reality- be obscured by the thick parts of the glass. This is the beginning of the illusion that they are in the glass."
The subsequent steps explain, for example, how lightly tinting the subjects will help them look more like they are behind glass, how color overlays might help match the lighting conditions to the people to the jars, how adding highlights and shadows will create more realism, etc. For me, the explanation of the thought process turned this into a thought experiment.

The good and the bad
Many, many Photoshop tutorial books rely on this same philosophy. They have a series of lessons that teach you how to create posters, menus, or whatever with the hope that you will then be able transfer the knowledge to suit your own needs—pretty much the goal of all teaching. The good books (like Matt Kloskowski's Layers) help you make the connections between Photoshop tools and creative problem solving. The not-so-good books (and web tutorials) just say "do do this" and so on until "ta-dah! intergalactic grunge tiger!"

The dream and the good intentions
Of course, the dream tutorial is the one that works not only as "thought experiment," but also as something that solves a problem you actually needed to solve. This, by the way, is one of the reasons I haven't been writing as many tutorials myself (although I keep thinking I will)—I don't usually need to solve problems beyond portrait retouching (and I've given you my basic workflow), black and white conversions, and basic adjustments. My "real-life retouch" is meant to show you the thought process I go through when working on a particular photo. Hopefully, I'll make myself do some of those soon and they might serve as thought experiments for your own work. Meanwhile, I will just encourage you to think about what Photoshop (or just photo) problems you might want to solve and imagine how you could solve them.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My reaction to a post about high-brow vs. low-brow photography

I always enjoy reading Conscientious because there is clearly a lot of thought put into the posts. I just finished reading the post "High-brow vs. low-brow?" which begins with the following teaser:
With images having become so ubiquitous online, the old distinctions between the elites and the rest are fading away rapidly. Anyone can look for images online and do something with them.
 The high-brow/low-brow debate, however, is a a tricky one—one that often leads to a "no-brow" synthesis or some sort of Jamesonian  (Frederic, that is) post-modernist critique of cultural pastiche, and so forth. I find the debate both fascinating and frustrating—fascinating, because the high/low debate forces you to tackle subjects such as the limits of institutionalized power, and the nature and/or existence of "class," and frustrating because, well, you'll see...

By the height of the 80s postmodern (and poststructuralist) mass hysteria, French departments across the country were enjoying the fact that everyone had to turn to them to figure out what the hell Derrida or Baudrillard was saying. Financially, this was a good thing. It meant that French departments were relevant and professors could ask for higher salaries. Morally, conservatives saw this as the beginning of the end, the deconstruction of all values, the complete disintegration of sincerity.

But the pendulum eventually swings back. Academia, too, has fashion (just not the kind that leads to good sartorial choices). "Theory is dead," one of my professors proclaimed after I had spent 4 years trying to master  the stuff. "History is in."

So let me be a fashion snob for a minute. For a brief and enchanted moment, France was ahead of the game, but post-this and post-that was already so "last year" to French departments while English departments were still waiting for the translations to come out (pity the soul stuck with translating the French intellectual). And Art programs? Well, call me a hater, but (most, not yours, fuming reader, but most) art programs were so entrenched in boring questions of genre and provenance that they were a good 10 years behind. So, did the French go on and invent the next big thing? Nope. And that, my friends, is how the big raises for French faculty quickly died out.

Oops. Didn't mean to make it all about money. Or maybe I did. One of the many problems of the supposed dissolution of boundaries between the elite and the rest of us is that it's so hard to identify the elite. Is it, for example, the rich American couple shopping for an investment at Paris Photo (Oh, look at that one. It's so big. How much is that? Oh that's a better deal than that tiny Laaarhteeg photo.—yes, I really heard that. More or less.) or is the art dealer clenching her teeth in a forced smile while cursing the fact that money talks (and that it isn't particularly eloquent)?

If you're still reading, thanks for indulging me. I'll psychoanalyze myself and then get to the point.
Back to my childhood....
I was in grade school. I still remember quite vividly attending some cocktail party my dad took us to (why?), somewhere near campus. When an adult would condescend to speak to me, they would still condescend: What are they teaching you in school about American Indians? At age (9? 10? I don't remember that part so vividly) I knew that the whole point of the question was to secretly mock public education. Children are not stupid. I knew at that moment that I hated elitism. I don't hate education, obviously, but I hate the pretentious BS that makes people ask condescending questions.

So now the point:
Sorting through plebian Flickr photos to make art is fine by me, but let's say that you're targeting cheesy sunset photos (as in the example in the original post to which the post I read responds--how very pomo meta we are getting here). Are you doing it from the point of view of a martini drinker asking a 9 year-old about how their teacher covers Thanksgiving? Was your point really to learn something or was it just a form of self-congratulatory assertion of intellectual superiority? If it's the latter, then what your Flickr sunset collage is really doing is in fact trying to reassert the high/low divide, not dissolve it. I can't know what was really going on in the artist's mind, and I wasn't at the Rencontres d'Arles to see "Suns from Flickr" (which actually looks pretty cool) and witness the reactions of the public, but if there's one thing I've learned from too much time in academia, it's that the high/low divide never really disappears (Marie Antoinette liked to dress up as a shepherdess, but that doesn't make her a revolutionary after all) and (oops, that's two things) that devoting time and energy to questions you really care about is the antidote to detached, sterile cynicism.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Still Life in the Everyday: Snaily's Nightmare

There are so many surreal moments in daily life that are overlooked because we are not in "photographer" mode. I usually leave the home life photography to Michelle because she does a lot of it, she's there to capture it, she blogs, and her photos always turn out great. But lately I've noticed odd little scenes like the one above: Eva's friend "Snaily" left alone all night on the kitchen butcher block to stare at a menacing paring knife. Completely unintentional, I'm sure.

Who knew that two inanimate objects could be so rife with tension?

I think I'll have to pay more attention to the unexpected still life of my own home. Try it. It reminds me of the interview I did with Brad Slade about "Seeing the Everyday." Look around your home for the stories that objects tell. No cheating. No setting things up. Just look and take out the camera when you see something. Many of you are already doing it, but maybe more so with snapshots of people than with objects.

Food Photography Tips From Pioneer Woman

Here's an example of a nice little photo tutorial (tips for doing food photography) I just found (at 2 a.m. Yikes! time to go to bed) and "re-pinned" to one of my Pinterest boards.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Down the rabbit hole: Pinterest Vertigo

My wife introduced me to Pinterest before I went to Paris, but naturally I was too distracted to bother with it until I got back. Now, I've gone down the rabbit hole into the wonderland of the American art of consumption. The nice thing is that it has been purely visual consumption—completely free, although I can't say that it's not a gateway to actual spending.

 a screenshot of some of my pins

Pinterest is a "virtual pinboard" with a nifty little "Pin It" link for your browser that allows you to pin things onto your board. I decided to create a Take-out Photo collection of boards where I can add pins of my favorite photo books, photographers, ideas for displaying photos, inspiration, and so on. I will probably add other boards unrelated to photography (food, Paris stuff). My own boards are fairly sparse (some empty) for now, but now that I'm fully down the rabbit hole, I'm sure I'll create my own virtual wunderkammer (i couldn't resist, sorry). Check it out and follow me if you sign up. It's like one-click blog posting. It's like curating without the headache of acquisitions. It's like a bowl of peanut butter M&Ms without the calories.