Creating Drama Where There is None
Using iDesign, Laminar, iColorama and Superimpose
Conceptual photography is more like narrative filmmaking than it is like street photography – the goal is to express a story conceived in the mind of the photographer and not necessarily to reproduce what the lens sees. And the process may more closely resemble painting if the original image is only the substrate for a series of composited layers that completely redefine the scene.
In my case, I often look at images in my Camera Roll to see where a story may arise by inference (post processing decisions, image titling, etc.) or by reconstruction from the ground up (compositing or collage of new elements into a scene).
I was recently an observer at a photoshoot, and the photographer and his assistant were taking a break between shots. I captured them as they chatted about the next set up. With no editing, it’s probably a shot I would have discarded. But I saw an opportunity for something a bit more intriguing than the scene actually represented in “real life.”
In the Before and After images below, you can see that by cropping closely in on the subjects, I create the impression something more profound than a simple workplace conversation was occurring. The careworn expression on the woman’s face and the relaxed look on the man’s face clamored for a backstory.
So I cropped the image in such a way that neither face was shown in full. This automatically, without any additional steps, creates tension in the eye of the viewer. It’s a bit unnatural, and the viewer is forced to concentrate on the facial expressions of the subjects and not the overall scene or the immediate environment. Then I added elements that reinforced the idea of two people in conflict - a line dividing them, color differences on the two sides, his face half-toned, and the words (angry conversation?) spilling over the scene.
These elements in concert with a grunge texture and color caste suddenly lent meaning to the differing facial expressions - his offhand look and the fact that she is staring fixedly into the lens convey powerful new emotions that weren’t actually present.
After cropping the image to the size and proportions I wanted (I really try to make most of images a perfect square) in Photogene2, I bring it into iColorama to process a version of the image using the Halftone setting. My purpose is to merge the original and the halftoned version so that only the man's face is halftoned.
In a later step not show here, I mask and merge the original without halftoning and the copy with halftoning - using Superimpose to leave him halftoned and return her to the original look.
I then bring the image into iDesign to add two graphical elements – a vertically angled dotted line and a colored semi-transparent overlay for one side of the image. To complete the image, I add a splash of letters and word fragments, a lomo color caste and grunge texturing.
iDesign looks nothing like any computer-based program you’ve ever seen, but it’s logically laid out – and if you’ve used vector programs before (that allow you to create lines, shapes and type that are resolution independent), you’ll catch on right away. One amazing feature is the ability to export a PDF as well as the standard jpg or lossless PNG. You start with an empty canvas and import the image as a background, then you’re able to add elements in layers over top of the image.
Below, you can see some of the options open to you when you are creating an object – you can create a line, a box, a circle or oval, or a text area. I created a line, and I was presented with the option to set width, color, solid or broken in a variety of styles, etc.
After creating the line, I color it to a percentage gray:
I then use the same set of tools to create a box, and then change the color to a tan while removing the default outline:
I then output the image as a PNG, and process it using iColorama to create a half-tone effect. In another step not shown here, I import the original and half-toned versions into Superimpose, where I use masking tools to blend the two versions using a gradient - leaving his face half-toned and returning her face to the original look. This further reinforces the fact that she is the main subject.
Also in Superimpose, I add a layer of letterforms haphazardly scattered across the page. The text here implies unintelligible communications between the couple – it’s a way of representing noise visually.
I love Superimpose because it is one of the layering programs that has the most layering modes, and it allows you to see a preview of the blend at the selected percentage without first applying it. It also has fairly powerful masking tools, second only to Photoshop Touch. The only downside – you can only have one layer at a time.
Then I bring the image into Laminar, one of my favorite programs for managing multiple layers at once. It has a fairly high number of blend modes and excellent (although quirky and sometimes buggy) masking and selection tools. And it manages up to 16 layers simultaneously (hurray!).
I first add a spotlight effect to highlight her face and draw the eye to her expression and clearly make her the primary subject of the image:
I then use the FX set of controls to add several textures and color modes – Laminar has a very usable, although small, range of presets that can be adjusted after application. They can be applied directly to the layer, or applied as a new layer (duplicating the content of the layer you’re operating on). I perform this step several times to create a few layers that I can play off one another using blend modes.
Then using Laminar’s blend modes, I adjust the percentages of each version that I’ve created until I have the right tonality and contrast level that I want. One layer may be set at Multiply, the next at Darken Only, and a third at Soft Light.
Once I’m happy, I output the image. If it’s rather small (many of mine are, since they represent crops from a full size image) I will bring it into iResize to increase the size to around 4,000 pixels square.
The resulting image is shown below – a mood created that did not exist in the original scene:
Note that iDesign and Laminar are only available on the iPad, while Photogene2, iColorama (as iColorama S) and iResize are available on both.