“Ethereal” in print

I’m not sure how many people are aware of it…but I teach at a local college here. This is something I’ve been doing for only a few years now, along with freelance, but preferred to keep it on the low-low. This meant registering a domain specifically for courses rather than using my business host. Doing so allowed me to install blogs for each course, grant the web students unrestricted access to the server and admin areas, and, most importantly, have an email address separate from freelance. We wouldn’t want those clever students back-tracking from my email address to the freelance site now would we? And like I’m really going to give someone I just met (aka “student”) totally access to my freelance server. –Please. So…

…becoming acclimated to the academic world has been tricky. Expect an expansion on that later. For now, understand that I teach a course titled “Image Design” (aka “Photoshop”), “Multimedia,” “Web Layout Design,” and for the first time recently “Digital Photography.” Those familiar with my freelance efforts are probably perplexed as to why any one would let me near a web design program. Why not Illustrator or illustration in general, right? Well, I don’t have an answer for that. Mulder could come up with one I bet though. Anyhow…

…each semester I create a light painting exercise for my Photoshop class called “Ethereal.” The goal is to put their Layer Masking and compositing skills to the test. Week 7 of 15 is normally when it’s introduced -and each semester I have to shoot the components, package them, and present ’em to the class. Here’s what I mean by “shoot the components.” A model is selected (from anywhere) and asked to pose in a way that suggests they are holding a globe. This globe is a ball of light. Yes. Light. Stay with me. After a static shot of the model is captured a series of new lights are introduce to help illuminate different zones of the model’s hands, face, and hair.

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While the static shot serve as the base to the composite it’s the layers above it that’ll generate the magic. To truly capture streaks of light you need to obviously open the shutter for a long period of time. The longer the better since this allows more time to “paint.” Now…imagine a shot captured at f8 @ 1/8 second. Now imagine that same scene captured at f14 @ 6 second. The results are comparable -but it’s the 6-second exposure that allows you to wave a pen light around and…well, paint with light. What happens at this stage, as the model remains frozen (!), is one shot after another is taken, while small lights are waved and swirled around the model, to help create streamers rising from this imaginary globe.

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After successful shots are sorting from WTF shots the final picks are deposited into two folders. One folder contains .RAW files for advanced students. The second folder contains .JPG’s for those strictly out to survive the assignment. A storyboard accompanies the photography too. Just cause it’s neat to have a storyboard with stuff. I…I drew the storyboard too…uhm, just so you know. Okay. Moving on…

…so why is this a “Layer Masking” challenge? Are you really asking that? If so, well, because each shot requires masking unique to the lighting or light streams in that particular image. There are 24 images to choose from. I also throw the color balance off a touch during shooting. Whoops. I also light alil’ more to the studio than is necessary and that can cause artifacts and/or textures to appear around the model’s head. Whoops. Oh, and I also don’t provide all the component necessary to generate the effect. This forces folks to get resourceful, if they possess that gene, by seeking (or creating) downloadable brushes, textures, or whatever else they see fit. So on the surface this assignment appears relatively easy. After a few layers are joined that story changes.

Remember when I mentioned having that separate email address? It’s all about anonymity, right? Well few students knows exactly what I do, whether I have a site, or whether I could actually use Photoshop, blah-ba-blah-ba-blah. “Last semester I did a lot of the homework with the class,” I said while introducing this assignment. “So I think I’ll play along and do this project with you guys. It’ll be the first for me this semester. Plus I can’t see not doing it after shooting all this stuff.” One of my more advanced students lightly challenged me after that. “Yeah, I’d really like to see what you can do.” Pause. I was kinda, like, “Oh, cause I know you just didn’t.” Me and my tablet were about to get our Riddick-on.

Fast forward…I delivered this…

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A few weeks later I noticed “Layers Magazine” offered readers the opportunity to display their work within their “Digital Canvas” section. So I submitted the above and found it today in the “May/ June” issue…

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…which is unexpected and very exciting. So thank you Chris Main (w/ “Layers Magazine”), Stephanie King (Assistant Photographer), and Tara Adams (the “Ethereal” model).

Others featured on the same page:
– Erwin Haya (www.onesickindividual.com)
– Andre Weier (www.nalindesign.com)

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