‘finland’ BTS

hello everyone, It has  been a long time! it has been a crazy time for me, and the fact that this picture is from finland I suppose illustrates that. anyway, here is the behind the scenes of my latest picture “finland”.  it was taken on a frozen lake with the most amazing snow on it.  the snow flakes were gigantic (in fact, you can see them in the picture if you zoom in) and so light, fluffy and crunchy you could literally blow them away just by sweeping your hand near them.

this was one of my favorite pictures to color grade, it just worked, and along the way of adding the littlefolk I learned some new techniques.  lets get started. this picture was taken with my Nikon d7000 and a 35mm f/1.8 at f/1.8. the big footprints are mine, and the little ones I made with my glove. it is a collage of 6 pictures so the final shot was equivalent to a 25mm f/1.3 (calculated using this lovely extension calculator). first thing I do is merged the 6 shots:1

since the sun was setting, I didn’t have a chance to photograph my models before the sun set.  turns out, there wasn’t another sunny day for the rest of the time we were in finland.  I always try to match conditions as closely as possible between my littlefolks and their backgrounds, but I really wanted this picture to be of one of the people from finland (Tiina) and also the family’s lovely dog (Eddie).  there was nothing for it, I had to take the pictures in cloudy weather.  this added a lot of extra work for me, but, all’s well that ends well.

Tiina was standing there holding onto the leash, while someone off to the left called Eddie.  this made him strain at the leash and put both of them in perfectly natural positions.  I didn’t really like any of the shots I got for both of them, so I used Eddie from one and Tiina from another:2

I placed them onto the scene and very roughly cut them out using masks and a brush.  I then set the blend mode of both of their layers to Multiply. basically what Multiply does is make the image only appear where it is darkening the image below it, if it is brighter than what is under it, it disappears. this worked because the snow they are standing on is much brighter than what they are being photoshopped into, but they are much darker.  this saved me a lot of time hand cutting them out, and creates a more perfect edge than one could ever create any other way, preserving the slight blurriness at the edge.  the problem is, they are slightly transparent, and a little dark.  to fix this I could have changed the blend mode to Darken (basically like Multiply but with a more sharp cutoff between dark and light) but that makes the edge of them 100% pixel perfectly sharp, which never looks good.  so I make copies of each of them, set the blend mode to Normal and erased the entire edge of them so they only existed inside the originals.  now they still have slightly transparent edges, but I usually make edges of littlefolk a little transparent anyway, it blends them in.  also, it will come in handy later. using the magic wand I select the rough shape of both of them and apply that to a mask in a levels adjustment layer.  in the adjustment I up the blues and greens in the shadows a bit to better match the background image:


now I got done with all of that and… somehow they just don’t fit. this is the issue with the fact that the picture of them was taken in very different conditions then the background was. to fix this, I thought that adding bright fringes to the edges of them, like would appear when shooting this low angle into the sun, might fix the problem. how I went about doing that is by copying Eddie and Tiina (the ones set to Multiply, not the Normal blend mode ones with the edges erased). for the moment, I hide the originals (the little eyeball button next to the layer).  now I invert the colors on both of the new copies, and set the blend mode of both to Screen.  Screen, is the exact opposite of Multiply.  instead of only appearing where it darkens what is below it, it only exists where it brightens what is below it.  after inverting the colors, the snow around them is black, so it disappears, but they are almost white.  I now put these copies underneath the originals, and make the originals visible again.  using transform, I make the copies slightly bigger than the originals, so they are peaking out in a lot of places.  now, the fact that the edges of the characters was slightly transparent means the this new bright layer underneath is affecting the edge a little, which really sells the effect:4

I now drew the shadows in, (just mirrored versions of the originals, with the colors changed to a blue slightly darker than the snow around them).  the leash is just a drawn line with an outer glow and an emboss:


now for the color editing.  the first thing I do to a lot of pictures, is try a Black and White layer, set to Overlay.  it adds amazing structured contrast to flatter images. very rarely though, do I have one on 100% opacity.  it is almost always is way too much. for this one though, since the “shadows” were actually only slightly below medium gray, it worked fantastically.  I didn’t really like what it did to the sky though, so I masked out that area. I then added a vignette with a levels adjustment.  both of these adjustments were bellow Eddie and Tiina, because they darken the image a lot, and the models were a little too dark already.  above Eddie and Tiina, I decided to enhance the sun flare. I did this by creating a levels adjustment, bringing up the red, and lowering the blue channels. with a gradient in a mask, I made this only affect the area around the sun.  I copied this adjustment and made the affected area a bit bigger, and in a new layer I drew a large off-white splotch around the sun, at low opacity.  this flare helps the image not be too monotone blue, and makes it feel a little more like sunset:6

and that is it!  this was a fun picture to edit, because I found some new workarounds, and learned some new techniques.  I hope you learned something new as well.7

you can see the full size picture on flickr, and keep up to date with new stuff like this on my facebook page.


traveler BTS

here is a quick behind the scenes on my latest picture ‘traveler’. just a simple littlefolk, but here is a bit of what went into making it.

here is the picture I started with:


I then took a bunch of extension pictures of the surrounding area:

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 4.56.22 PM

merged them all together:

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 4.39.45 PM

then I cropped and fuzzed the edges of all the pictures, and here is the background done!:

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 4.43.12 PM

now here is the picture of aliza I used:

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 5.01.31 PM

I cut out the background, and placed her into the composition, here is a close-up of with and without shadows:

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 4.45.12 PM

then I added the color correction:

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 4.51.57 PM

and thats it! the final picture (bigger on flickr):

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 5.13.38 PM

as I sad above, just a simple shot, but think it came out pretty well mainly owing the the incredible light and colors this time of year.

a lot more to come, but probably not very soon as what aliza and I are working on at the moment is by far our most ambitious and exciting project to date.  stay tuned!


fly — behind the scenes

I havent posted here for far too long, here’s to changing that!  anyway, here is a bit of what went into making my latest picture, fly. it is the second picture in a new (probably) three part series.



I started by placing two music stands in a field, the airplanes are taped to string, and then taped to a piece of foam board lying in between two music stands.  I had to use multiple strings per airplane, as it was a gusty day. the foam board not only holds all the airplanes, it also acts as a reflector/diffuser, creating nice soft light on the subjects.


the final picture was taken with a lens that allows me to change the angle of the focus plane (aka the tilt of a tilt-shift lens), so I can have nice sliver of focus, and still have the background grass and trees sharp (or near to it).  here is what the final picture looked like out of camera


and the vantage point from which it was taken.


to shoot the person (me), I tried to match the lighting/background as close as possible, as it will make it easier to cut out in post, and make a cleaner final picture.  sadly there was nothing to hang from in the middle of the field, (no way!) so me and bub (my brother) rigged up a rotting old ladder contraption. it certainly doesn’t meet code, and it wasent even quite tall enough, so I had to do two pictures, one for my legs and one for my upper body.



after a whole lot of masking, a bit of color correcting and a few hours, the final picture makes a whooshing noise as it is uploaded to the internet.  you can see it full size here.Image

behind the firebreakers photoshoot

for the teleidescope theme  “freeze/warmth” nellie (aliza) and I (bobo/zev) have been talking for a while of doing a picture with fire and water. at long last, and rather on the proverbial spur of the moment, we piled into the car with our good friend eunice (or couth), brothers, mothers, torches and towels and headed to Nantasket beach just in time for sunset.

arriving at the beach, as the last glimmer of sun disappears (by couth):

once dipped in oil, we light the torches (by couth):

then set out in to the water (by couth):

and I start shooting, and shouting directions (by couth):

here are some outtakes that I shoot (by zev (me!)):

and the finale picture (by me):

after shooting, we sit on the beach and eat Indian food we picked up on the way there (by nellie):

and then we watch a amazing unexpected fireworks show (by nellie):

what a day.  here is a stop motion animation by couth of the whole evening:

how to get your uncle to clean your grandfather’s pocketwatch

since a few people have asked us what goes in to making our photos, we’ve decided to give you a little demonstration of the basic process. enjoy!
  • first step (not shown): concept development

agonize for roughly seven days on how to interpret the theme (‘memory’). this step should include (but not be limited to) finding several things that you want to photograph but are either 1) not permitted by the weather of the week, 2) would require a tremendous amount of legal maneuvering, or 3) risk life and/or limb. after all this, you should come back to the first idea that you had when you heard the theme and decide that it’s not that bad after all.


  • second step: subject hunt/capture 

locate and photograph your grandfather’s pocketwatch (pre-expansion photo shown below).


  • third step: subject hunt/capture (cont.)
invite your uncle over for some soup and get him to stand in your living room in funny positions while you shine lights on him from strange angles. a sister to hold a piece of fabric in the background is highly recommended for masking purposes. the soup is the most important part of this step, so don’t skimp on it.


  • fourth step (not shown): hours of toil

bittersweet chocolate, toasted bagel with avocado, and herbal tea highly recommended for best results.


congratulations, you may now humbly consider yourself a genius.



  • sixth step (optional): blog

get your sister to write an overly pretentious blog post about her skewed perception of the photo-making process.