Sofa Float

Continuing with yesterday’s post about my levitation experiments, here’s the second set I worked with to practice floating composite shots.

As I mentioned previously, taking the first set of photos took almost no time compared to how long I usually shoot. I got the shots in about 15 minutes, then spent a few hours noodling around with the results, and was done on the computer at a decent hour. Just as I began to put my room back together I was thinking to myself, okay, I still have some daylight here I can use to do laundry, steam the wrinkles out of some new clothes I’ve yet to wear, and exercise – and then I moved the small love seat I keep in my office up against the wall (part of my office reconstruction process when the room transitions back to that from a studio). In one quick second the thought flashed into my head that some shots levitating above that love seat would probably be pretty cool, and the wicker ottoman I used in the previous shots would just about fit on the sofa cushion for me to pose on it. Sure enough, I got the wig and the dress back on, set up the camera and lighting again, annnnnnd the rest of the day was effectively blown. Almost got out without a marathon editing session, but didn’t quite make it.

backdrop couch
The couch in question

I tossed the ottoman up there and popped off a few quick shots, then got to work with Levitation Editing Round Two:

couch float 3

As you can see, I remembered to use a fan this time to fling the hair around and create some movement. I kept having to remind myself that I didn’t have to worry about the fan showing in these shots, as I’d be layering my body over the background shot of the sofa. Trying to hide the fan in shots where I want to use it to create movement is a pain, and it was nice to be able to get it so close this time.

sofa float 1

So here’s the composite shot – not too bad, but of course there’s those shadows to worry about again. This took me awhile to get anywhere close to right, but in the end I used the darken tool in Paint Shop Pro to trace an outline around my lower body at a fairly low opacity. My first attempt at doing this wasn’t my best, but I think this worked better than yesterday’s method (which wasn’t much of a method at all). I also think having something to work against other than a white backdrop made shadowing easier, at least for me. I used the darken tool also around my body’s edges overall, as it seemed to make them less stark and more realistic.

sofa float 1 final

The end result here is okay, but the edges aren’t great, and I think it looks a little obvious. There’s also a shadow in the upper-right corner from my umbrella stand that I forgot to edit out, but I remembered to do so in the shots below.

My second attempt came out better, and started with a background shot including my dog Penny, who kept insisting on sitting on the sofa while I was trying to take my picture of it. In her defense, this love seat is more hers than mine anyway; between she and Sprocket, I never get any sitting time on this thing. I managed to get Penny off the sofa, but then she slunk down to the floor and refused to move for awhile. As soon as I thought, fine, I’ll put you in the shot too then, she of course got up and moved. By that time I’d decided it was a fine idea to keep her around, and I had to coax her back into position. She never really settled down (Penny isn’t a cooperative model, like Sprocket is) but I managed to get one taken before she split again:

backdrop couch dog
You can tell she’s not into it, though

I didn’t do any piecing together of different body parts for these shots; as I said in the previous post, I don’t at this point feel much need to do that. I just used a second shot taken when I was on the ottoman and worked with it in its entirety:

couch float 2

I tried for poses here that had cleaner lines, and that didn’t have too much going on around the sofa or the wicker, as I knew those two areas would be a bitch for me to edit away from the edges of the dress. It still provided complications, but I think I did an OK job getting this into the composite shot:

sofa float dog

Overall this was the easiest pose to work with, and Penny’s apprehension works well with the appearance my body gives of being slightly out of control. I also love it that she’s the one looking at the camera, while I am looking away.  I added shadows using the technique mentioned above, and I actually think they worked out nicely this time:

sofa float dog final

For whatever reason, the shadows really work to add the right dimension to my body floating over the sofa. Of all the levitation shots I tried Saturday, I’d have to say this one is my favorite.

I do have one more though – I had some fun poses I took while on top of the ottoman, and I wanted to get one where the hair was really blowing as we all know what a fan I am of that. So I went with this final one to edit:

couch float 1

I left the dog out of this one, as I didn’t think I could top the first one I created using her background photo. The one foot that was at rest on the sofa in this original turned out to be a bit of a bitch for me to get placed right on the background shot, and I actually had to also include a bit of the indentation from it when layering; without that it just looked like my toes were cut off. It was hard to do, and I don’t think I pulled it off in an entirely successful manner, but I worked with it as best I could:

toe couch

You can see a dark line where the layered indentation of the sofa is, at least I can, but I worked to darken the fabric around it so it didn’t stand out so much. I don’t think the shadows were quite as successful in this shot as they were in the previous one, but overall they weren’t bad. I like showing the editing steps here, as it really reveals how important those shadows are; I look awfully flat and pasted-on in the photo above in spite of my attempts to get all the edges smooth and sharp.

toe couch_final
I’ll take it though

Discovering the use of the darken tool to trace some decent shadows into the shot was a big help here, but having something aside from a white wall to put those shadows against may have also contributed to their improvement in the editing of this set. I do think that foot ended up getting darkened too much in all of this, but aside from that I think this one works. At the least, this is further than I’ve ever been able to take a process like this, and the end results make me happy. I feel like I’ve discovered some techniques I can build on in the future, and I can begin to realize some new visions I’ve had in mind for some time. I’m excited to see where I can go next.

For that last shot, I did add a filter to it after all the processing was done, just to see if it added a little punch to the photo. Still not sure if I like the one above or the filtered one below better; let me know which you like better in the comments, if you don’t mind!

toe couch_final2

Onward and Upward

When reading Natalie Dybisz‘s book recently, I skipped over the part where she talked about making composite shots for her levitation photos. What I mean is, I read about it, then rather forgot about it when trying out some of the techniques she mentioned on my own. Then, when I was reading people’s responses to my first levitation post, it suddenly came back to me that she often takes a shot of the set without being in the shot at all, then can use that shot to layer her image over it and avoid some of the complications that come up when trying to just edit out chair legs or something. I know I’m doing a lovely job discussing all this in a technical manner, so you’re welcome for that. I am nothing if not completely incapable of discussing photoediting using proper terminology. Moving on.

On Saturday I decided to quickly give this process a shot. And I do mean quickly (although once again I managed to spend the rest of the day editing). The process for these shots couldn’t be more different from how I usually work. My usual method involves very little in the way of set dressing – I just hang a backdrop, pull my lighting umbrellas out and into place, put the camera on the tripod, and jump around for an hour or two. My vision usually involves fabric, hair, makeup, color, and movement, but all the shapes that get created are a surprise to me, which is why I take loads of jumps, then pick my favorites based mostly on the shapes those jumps create.

For these shots, the workflow was totally different. I had a very set idea of how I wanted to pose and how I wanted the final shot to look. That’s pretty new for me. Because of this, the setup was more particular. A lot more thought went to being in exactly the right spot when the flash went off, too, so I posed very deliberately and carefully instead of just leaping around. Then, once I had what I wanted, which happened pretty quickly, I was done. Instead of my usual two or three hours shooting, I only shot for about 15 minutes, which was weird as hell.

And, since I had no idea how this process was going to work out, or even if it would work out at all, I decided to forgo my usual prep time on makeup and just went barefaced, with only a touch of lipstick. If I’d had any daytime makeup on before getting started I would have looked better, but it was Saturday afternoon and I’d run errands that morning barefaced, and decided I didn’t want to waste time putting any on for shoot that might produce nothing edit-worthy anyway. Even if I did get some decent shots out of it, though, I figured my face would hardly be the focus, so I just decided to rough it this time as I wanted to get to it. I did put a wig on though, since my own hair is so fine it doesn’t provide much movement.

My first step was to take a background shot of the wall I’d be posing against, so I could layer myself over it later. So here it is, in its unexciting glory:

backdrop 1

It was important to be sure the lighting was exactly in this shot as it would be when I was posing, which means I of course didn’t do that at all. Hey, this is a learning process people. Anyway, for the first shot I’m going to share, here’s the pose I chose to edit:

float1

I was annoyed at first that my hand is covering my face, but in the end it didn’t matter; as I got to working with the shot I completely overlooked it. I used a wicker ottoman that usually sits in front of a chair in my office, and covered it with a white blanket so it would provide a matching backdrop against my body to the wall – this makes it easier to layer myself over the background shot and make the edges blend.

float composite 1

So there I am, layered over the background shot. It was still a bitch to get all my edges smooth and blended, but with each attempt at this sort of thing I discovered more techniques to make this easier. I’ve got a long way to go, for sure – but one thing at a time. So far so good on this one, except that it looks terribly flat. I should have shadows in the shot somewhere – but where? Honestly I had no clue, still have no clue in fact, but I gave it a try:

float composite 1_final

Those shadows aren’t all great at all, but for a first attempt at this it’s not too bad. Moving on to attempt #2.

When taking the background shot, I’d also had the idea it might be fun to take one with Simon in it, so I could be floating above him. A little kitty snack strategically placed on the floor took care of that (as a side note, Simon is the first cat I’ve ever had who liked treats, and as he’s been taking steroids to heal up some ulcers on his lip for the past three weeks – they’re called rodent ulcers, although they have nothing to do with rodents, and they are rather common – man is this helpful. I can finally  just shove a pill into a treat and the cat will eat it. Yay!):

backdrop cat
Yep, he’s still eating

Unfortunately, when I was attempting to pose on the ottoman, I forgot that a cat would be down below me in at least one of the photos, so I didn’t take any shots where I was looking down. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot more planning that goes into shots like these, and I’m not used to thinking ahead about stuff like this. I tried flipping my body around so I’d be looking down, but another thing I forgot to do in these first shots was fling my wig about – again, just too much I was already thinking of and I forgot some details. Flipping me upside down so I’d be looking at the cat didn’t really work when none of my hair was moving in a downward motion (it looks weird enough when I’m right side up and the hair isn’t moving) so in the end, I had to just float above the cat without acknowledging him.

Also, I tried something else here that Dybisz mentions when discussing her levitation shots; I used my upper body from one pose and my lower body from another and merged them together. I’m not sure this is something I’ll do all that much in the future, but I intentionally wanted to try it here just to see how it would work out. I can see how it could be useful to twist the body into some really crazy shapes, so it’s good to know moving forward if I can pull it off. I used my lower body from the first pose already shared above, then the upper body from a different shot:

bodycollage

Doing this actually wasn’t as big of a challenge as I expected, although I’m sure a skilled photo editor could pick out my body reconstruction easily:

float composite cat 1

What was a challenge, though, was shadows again. Adding shadows is definitely the most difficult part of this process, for many reasons. Where to put them, how dark they should be (answer: NOT DARK unless you are a master at creating them), how to create them effectively (without looking like the cheesy evil spirits whisking souls away to hell in that Patrick Swayze Ghost movie), this is all pretty tricky stuff in my opinion, and I made the whole thing trickier by tossing a cat into the picture. Poor Simon kept getting overshadowed, literally:

float composite cat 1_final

As I kept trying to get the shadows right (well, right wasn’t even what I was going for here, just, not ridiculous-looking) he kept getting more and more…gray. When I finally had some shadows I was OK settling on, I went back and brightened him up as much as possible, and he bounced back all right. But working around him here was a bit of a pain.

One last shot from this first set I’ll share (yes, I did two sets this day, so I have more to share later) is one that didn’t work out, mostly due to the pose. I wanted to try one more edit using two different bodies, and used the same lower body as in the previous two shots. The upper body I pulled from this original:

float1b

I just ended up looking goony when it was all pulled together; as I mentioned earlier, the lack of hair movement meant I couldn’t flip this upside down so the cat would be getting any attention, and this upper body didn’t work too well with the legs. But what the hell, I’ll share it anyway – I’m not going to show it anywhere else, but I don’t mind sharing it with you all.

float composite cat 2_final

I don’t know, it just looks like I’m imitating a jumbo jet banking into a death spiral or something. Just a weird pose, and I really didn’t need another shot of me levitating over, and ignoring, my little cat. But once again it wasn’t particularly hard to merge the two bodies together, just the damn shadows giving me hell, so good to know.

Tomorrow I’ll share part two, where I got wild and threw a sofa into the mix. And a dog. It all sounds like too much craziness to handle, doesn’t it? But I managed.