"Dancing in the Wind" by Ella Carlson
I’m the kind of photographer who uses the camera as often as not so I can have something to play with in Photoshop or Painter. Of course, I take straight photos of clients, but give me a something unusual from a photo session, something I can take into Photoshop and make into something else and I’m a happy imager. It definitely paid off in when my image “Dancing in the Wind” scored a 98 in New Hampshire and went “Loan” this past month at national PPA competition. I’ve been asked how I put the image together so here’s the process.
As I photograph, I often try to get unique angles. When I asked this dancer if she was able to do a side bend and still manage to look graceful, she was able to comply beautifully. It was the perfect start for what I had in mind. Often one of the hardest parts of photographing these beautiful body positions is getting the model to keep her expression from showing the discomfort or awkwardness I’m causing her, but she managed very nicely in this shot.The next step, still in the shooting process, was to make sure I got the body parts I needed to complete my piece. That meant getting a replacement hand or arm for the one that is carrying her weight in the beginning image and finding or creating the right background. I always have these types of extra shots in mind when I’m working with my camera. I collect images of skies and textures, and I always photograph body parts for their eventual use as ‘replacement parts” when working with anyone who I envision as part of a Photoshop or Painter project. As for lighting: in this case, the strip light I would normally use as my hair light is acting more as a rim light from it’s position above the dancer, although it's far enough forward to wrap around her a bit more than a normal rim light or kicker. There is a 3X4 soft box, a on either side of camera position, as well as a fourth light ---you can see the leg of the light stand on the right of the photograph--- aimed to light the high key background. When I know I’m going to playing in Photoshop, I generally photograph on white or black because it makes the selection process more straightforward.The process bringing the pieces together involved turning the image 90 degrees clockwise so that she would appear to been photographed upright. That allowed me to use her gorgeous foot position and make her look like she was floating on air. I then took a gracefully extended arm from another shot and moved it into position to replace the arm that was working to hold her up. I tried bringing in a foot to replace her back foot, but her skirt would have actually hidden it so I ended up not showing the back foot. (By the way, the judges later told me they might have scored it a 100 if the back foot had been visible.)I don’t worry about careful selections until I have a roughed in composition because I may end up using several different images in different combinations before I’m really satisfied. At this point I just use the eraser tool or a rough lasso tool to get rid of a lot of the excess white and that edge of a soft box and leg of a reflector light stand. (My studio is one finished garage stall and is only 11 feet wide and 22 feet long it’s pretty tight for this kind of athletic session.) I’ll usually change the layer blend mode to DIFFERENCE temporarily to match up size and position for those imported body parts, by the way. You can also lower the opacity of the layer you’re importing. Once I had the position and proportions of everything perfect, then I used a layer mask to blend the pasted arm onto the starting body. At this point, I started the process of making very careful selections. I’m a firm believer in using the pen tool. I have total control that way and it works best on anything but hair. For the hair, the extract tool can be helpful, but I will usually go into channels.
Now I ZOOM way in to double and trip check everything: edges, detritus left from what I’ve cut and pasted, rough hair edges. I will again use the pen tool to select graceful locks of hair to fill in where hair is sometimes not full enough or where the edges get funky. In her case, I just make her hair flow a little more smoothly near her face.The lighting on the new hand and arm was close to the lighting on the rest of her but it needed a bit tweaking to be perfect, so I used the history palette to paint in the exact lighting contours I wanted as well as the new burn and dodge tool in CS4 (with PROTECT TONES checked). I brought in the sky image and used “HUE and SATURATION” to coordinate the sky colors to those of her costume. I added some very subtle texturing by using a texture in SOFTLIGHT mode and low opacity. After this, I rechecked my selection of the dancer, zooming in to maximum zoom once more and fixed any spots that didn’t blend with the background. And that was how she came to be “Dancing on the Wind”.