Saturday, 19 November 2011

Crazy Composite

I've always had this scene in my mind whenever I've heard the song 'Crazy River' by Robbie Robertson, so I decided to build a composite image of my interpretation.

First, I shot an empty field toward sunset. Easy peasy. Because I wanted to give it a Louisiana bayou atmosphere, I figured it needed a big lazy moon. No problem - I had one on a slide. And stars came from a time exposure I shot weeks earlier. A bit of artistic license led to the meteor (or comet if you wish).

Robbie called for an abandoned '59 Chevy. Fat chance finding one of those, so I ordered a scale diecast model for $10 on Ebay. A bit of watercolour paint dabbed on it emulated the rust. To make it look like the car battery had been fiddled with to make the car radio work (so the occupant could listen to Little Willie John), I propped up the hood and lit up a yellow LED on the front seat to make it look like the dash was illuminated. A strobe with a blue filter emulated moonlight along the car's side.

The occupant lying in the back seat had to be created. I've never hired a model and wasn't about to for a personal project, so I was it. With a remote shutter trigger in hand, and side lit by an orange-filtered strobe, I became Robbie's character.

Using lots of layers and layer masks in Photoshop®, I built my composite using the field as a background. A deep blue photo filter layer converted the daylight field to a nighttime field. The masks were used for making the grass appear to be growing around the car and placing the appropriate parts of my body in the back seat. The burn tool added the car's shadow onto the grass. Matching the car to the surroundings was probably the trickiest part, involving a lot of edge smoothing using that layer's mask.

It took many hours to create, but was a great learning experience. One takeaway on big projects like this is to save your work as different (layered) files as you progress, so that you can always go back and rebuild if you really mess up.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Framing the Night Sky

Taking photos that include stars and other heavenly objects obviously involves a stable tripod, no wind and a clear night sky. It also doesn't hurt to gain permission (as I did) to enter property that gives you a unique vantage point from which to photograph.

There are a number of  'dark sky' locations available throughout North America that give you this access for free, but I wanted to include an obvious icon in my shots - an observatory. As luck would have it, a full moon was scheduled to come up that night. Just as it peeked over the horizon, I took a 4 minute exposure at f/8, using only the moon to illuminate the dome.

Over that time period, the stars left long streaks as the earth rotated. I decided that I wanted the stars to appear as short streaks in this shot to make the constellations more recognizable, so I 'cheated' by cloning out part of the trails in Photoshop® (yes - every one of them - and there were lots). That way, the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) is clearly visible, and points the way to Polaris (the North Star) in the upper right corner.

Using the same observatory, I've also made similar shots without the aid of Old Man Moon, but rather a flash with red filter fired off several times during a time exposure. These can be seen at