Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Self-portrait clone-style

On a recent location scout, Anthony and I decided to have a little fun...

The technique used in the above image has been done by a lot of photographers so you're not really seeing anything new or unique. Even though, it is fun to do and it does build up skills both behind the camera (and in front) and in post processing.

Here's the principle; place your camera on a tripod overlooking an area you'd like to use as a backdrop. Meter for the ambient light and get your exposure set. Using your camera's timer mode, or have someone release the shutter, take a series of images of yourself in various places in the scene. Anthony did the honors for me for these images.

Once you have a nice collection of images it's time to load them up into your computer. You will need a good photo editing program for the rest. But before we get into the post stuff, I want to touch on a few basics about the shoot.

First rule is to plant your camera in place and DO NOT MOVE IT for the duration of the shoot. Use a shutter release cable. If you don't have a release cable use your self timer to avoid camera movement. The only thing that should move is you. Objects that happen to move through your scene against your control can simply be edited out in post processing.

Second rule is to plan your shoot. Walk through your scene to determine where you're going to stand. Start off simple and chose locations where you won't 'block' yourself from one pose to another. Use your view finder to determine the field of view so you know how far left and right you can place yourself.

Third, you will need to pay close attention to your settings. In particular your focal plane. Remember that you are going to be moving around in your scene and you want to keep any changing variables to a minimum. Use a  smaller aperture to increase depth of field. Find a central point, front to back, to set your focus on (more to the back than the front).

Keep photographic principles in mind. If your subject (you) is in shadow you will need to use flash for filler. This is where radio triggers are useful. Just make sure the flash is to one side and not between you and the camera. Don't worry if the flash is actually in frame as we are only concerned with getting a picture of you.

If you look at the 'before' shots you can see my light box and, in one case, Anthony standing next to me. Since I knew I only needed to get myself in relation to my scene it did not matter that Anthony was there. However, keep in mind that you will need to have enough uncluttered background for the final image. I usually suggest getting at least one shot of the background alone. Remember that first shot I mentioned at the beginning of this article?

Be creative with your posing. Play around and have fun. As you gain experience you can do more elaborate compositions including interacting with yourself. You can even introduce elements of humor and storytelling with your compositions. You're only limited by your imagination.

Once you have a collection of images it is time to assemble your collage. There are a couple of ways to do this but to keep things short I'll go over how I did this scene.

I first open my base image in my photo editing program. If you took an unpopulated scene first you can use that as the base image. I use Corel PhotoPaint for my photo editing. Corel, Photo Shop and other higher end photo editors share a lot of the same tool structures so you'll be able to do this in any program that allows cut and paste and layers.

Open your next image as a new layer. Give the new layer a transparency of 50-60% to make sure the images align properly. DO NOT MERGE the new object with the background yet. Once positioned remove the transparency. Select the image of yourself and delete the surrounding image. What should remain is a box with your image on a separate layer. Repeat the process with all the images you took. This is where you can decide on the final number of clones to include. Don't worry about the overlapped segments. This will get cleaned up in the next part.

You will notice some discrepancies around the clipped edges. If your clones are near each other you will also see the overlap. Use your eraser tool with a feathered edge to erase some of the unneeded background around your clones. Pay attention to shadows. You don't want to inadvertently erase your shadow on a wall or floor as it will cheapen the effect. You'll also want to keep an eye on objects that have moved through your scene. You don't want two planes in the sky behind you. Go ahead and simply get rid of both of them.

Once you have fine tuned all the clones go ahead and flatten the image, do final touches on the scene and sit back and enjoy your work.

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