How to

an experiment!

'in the round' technique, bandstand, Newark on TrentLast week I mentioned that I wanted to try a new technique, called ‘in the round’ where the photographer takes a series of pictures while moving 360 degrees round her subject and then combines them in post-processing to give an impressionist effect.  You can see an example of how it’s supposed to look here!

The image above is the result of my having a very casual and not very serious go at it (it’s just a detail of the whole as it was the only part that I felt was at all successful; you can see the whole image at the end of the post).  The result isn’t great and has lots wrong with it, but it’s good enough to let me see that it’s possible to produce something I’d actually be pleased with.  I got a lot of things wrong and I learned a lot from that, so here’s the benefit of my experience.

First off, you need more than nine shots, which is all I used.  Most photographers using this technique will use around 20-30 shots and I can see why.  The more shots you have to layer, the more the central subject stands out and the extra bits that you don’t want to emphasise disappear.

The next thing is that it’s important to line each shot up, as you take it, in exactly the same way, or at least as close as you can get.  When I saw each photo being layered over the previous one, I realised that my distance from the bandstand as I walked around it had obviously varied quite a bit, which increased or decreased the size of the bandstand in the frame and made it harder to align.  You need to keep the position of the subject in the frame constant, as well – I think a tripod might be the thing here.

I’m also a hopeless case when it comes to getting things straight.  I do try, because it would obviously be far better to get this right in-camera, but no matter how I try my verticals and horizontals are never straight and I have to straighten everything up afterwards – I’ve learned to add some space round the edge of the image to allow for this.  Obviously it’s important to do the straightening before you start layering each image over the others.

I am still a bit confused about how best to carry out the layering process.  The basic idea is that you start with the first image, then add each subsequent one as a Photoshop layer on top – think of piling several transparencies on top of one another.  If you were to leave the opacity of each layer at 100%, all you’d see would be the top one, so the transparency of each layer has to be increased to let the layers underneath show through.  The article I read suggested that the opacity of the first layer be set at 50%, then the next at 25%, then 12%, and so on.  However, even with only nine layers, by halving the opacity each time the final ones were down to less than 1%.  I’m not sure this can be right.  I need to both experiment and do a bit more research on how best to do it.

It’s fun to have tried this, although I didn’t get much out of taking the photographs themselves.  You end up with a batch of very ordinary images that aren’t very exciting to take and all the excitement comes purely from the post-processing.  Fortunately I really enjoy this part too, so I’m intrigued enough to give this technique at least a few more tries.

If you want to see the entire image, rather than the cropped section, here it is below.  You can see that the van has appeared three times and is quite obtrusive, and there are a lot more benches round the bandstand than exist in reality.  Although I’ve seen this successfully done with quite busy backgrounds, I feel that the simpler the background, the better the result is likely to be.

The originator of the ‘in the round’ technique is Pep Ventosa, and you can see on his website how it looks when it’s done really well.

'In the round' technique, bandstand, Newark on Trent


A simple trick for photographing art under glass

As part of the work I’ve been doing recently for Newark Town Hall Museum, I was asked to photograph a framed print with glass in front of it.  As they didn’t particularly want to take the print off the wall (it was screwed onto it) I agreed to have a go while it was still hanging, knowing that it almost certainly wouldn’t work.  There was reflected light from a window alongside it, plus spotlights shining on it from behind, and a mix of natural and artificial lighting.  This is typical of what you get when you try that sort of thing:

How not to photograph glassed artwork

Note my tripod reflection on the left, the reflections of other paintings on the right, and the generally uneven light all over the frame.

There was no doubt it would have to be taken down to be photographed, but even then it was going to be difficult.  If you happen to own studio lighting, softboxes, and suchlike equipment, then the problem is easily solved (assuming you also have enough knowledge of how to use lighting).  However, I don’t own any of those things and had to figure out how I could work with what I already have.

After spending a while on Google, and finding very few results that didn’t involve large quantities of studio lighting and complicated set-ups, I had an idea of my own.  I have a framed and much treasured photo of my last dog, but it’s faded now and a few years ago I decided I’d like a digital version that I could work on so that I could get a fresh print made.  Unfortunately the photo was stuck to the glass of the frame and I couldn’t remove it without damaging the picture.  Not thinking it would work, I scanned it while it was still in the frame and it came out beautifully.  Why not see if the same thing would work with the Newark print?

I experimented at home with another glass fronted print and it worked really well, so I emailed the Town Hall Museum to ask if they had a scanner big enough to take the print and frame.  They did, and here’s the result:

Print of Newark Market, Town Hall Museum, Newark

Pretty good, isn’t it?  A scanner is really just another kind of camera, and the resolution is equal to that of many ‘proper’ cameras.  In this instance the frame of the print sealed off any light sneaking in from the side (you can’t fully shut the scanner lid when you do this), but if it hadn’t done that then I’d simply have draped some dark cloth over the whole thing.  You are, of course, limited to using this for whatever size of artwork your scanner will take (usually A4 for a home scanner), but it is possible to scan in sections and use Photoshop to stitch it together again.

Had scanning not worked, my next ploy would have been to buy the biggest piece of black card I could find, cut a hole in the middle for my lens to poke through, and then to hide behind it as I took the shot.  This should be enough to eliminate any reflections caused by light coming from behind, and the only other thing to look out for would be side light glancing off the surface.  But I think I saved myself a whole lot of bother and came out of it with a better result, simply by using a scanner instead of a camera.

If you’re interested in other approaches to solving this problem, this article:

was one of the most useful and innovative that I found, and includes details of the black card approach as well as many others.  Doesn’t mention scanning, though!


Create your own bokeh shapes

Pooping reindeerPooping reindeer and a Baaah Humbug sheep – last year’s bad taste present!

Linking to Kat’s Creative Lights theme

One way to get creative with lights is to create your own bokeh shapes. ‘Bokeh’ is a Japanese term for the out-of-focus, blurred effect you get when you use a wide aperture on your lens.  If there are lights or bright highlights in the out-of-focus area then they normally show up as circular, or sometimes hexagonal, shapes.  However, you can turn bokeh into any shape you like with a simple trick.  All that’s needed is to make a black card mask with a shaped cutout in it that you then attach to the end of your lens.

This is what you do: place the end of your lens face down on some black card and draw a circle round it.  Cut out the circle.  Fold it in half and then in half again: where the fold lines cross is the exact centre of the circle and you need to make sure your cutout shape is centrally placed.  Using a craft knife, cut out the shape of your choice (maybe a star or a heart) so that it’s right in the centre and then fix the whole thing over the end of your lens with some sticky tape or masking tape. NPhoto Magazine has a little video on Youtube that gives nice clear instructions for a slightly more sophisticated version and should make it a bit clearer what you need to do – it’s always easier to show than to tell.

There are one or two things to keep in mind.  The size of your cutout shape must be smaller than the size of your aperture for it to work properly; if it isn’t, your whole picture will end up looking the same shape as the one you’ve cut out and it shouldn’t (what I mean by this is that you’ll end up with a heart-shaped picture, rather than just the bright spots being heart-shaped).

To figure out what size to make it, take the focal length of your lens and divide it by the size of the aperture.  So, a 50mm lens with an aperture setting of f2 would give a figure of 25mm and your shape would have to be smaller than this.  A 125mm lens with an aperture of f2.8 would give a figure of 44.5mm:

ie,  125÷ 2.8 = 44.5 (approximately)

A 75mm lens with an aperture of f4.5 would give a figure of 16.5mm (approximately):

ie, 75÷4.5 = 16.5

You can use a craft knife to cut your shape, or you could try using a shape punch if you want something more crisply cut or intricate.

You really need a fast lens for best results as the wider the available aperture, the easier it is to get this technique to work.  Ideally, you need to be able to get an aperture of f2.8 or wider.  If you prefer to buy a ready cut kit of bokeh shapes (see links at the end) then they will only work with apertures around this size or bigger.  I’ve tried using this technique with my zoom lens, which will only go down to f5.6 when it’s zoomed out, and it doesn’t work too well.

Because you’ve cut down the amount of light getting in, your exposure will be longer too, so you may need to use a tripod unless you’ve got some nice bright light around you.

Another problem that can arise is that your lens will probably rotate a bit as it focusses, so that your shape may end up not being upright.  You can avoid this by focussing before you attach it to the lens, using manual focus.

The fun bit lies in coming up with interesting shapes to try.  Hearts and stars are the obvious ones, but how about animals, umbrellas, cocktail glasses, mushrooms, butterflies, aeroplanes, arrows, snowflakes, bells, question marks, smiley faces, birds, lightning bolts, candles, bats, keyholes, flowers, musical notes or spirals?  Remember it’s the number of lights in the background that create the multiple shapes; you only have to cut one shape in your card.

Starry tree 2

This technique obviously lends itself to Christmas lights, but it can work well in other types of shots as well.  This rather lovely shot below, by J. Star from Flickr, has starry shaped bokeh in the background and shows a different way of using the effect.

Early in the morning

If you want to avoid the work of creating your own shapes, you can buy ready-made kits from The Bokeh Master.  Photojojo also do a Shaped Bokeh Kit that comes with 21 pre-cut shapes, a holster to attach them to your camera, and a pouch to keep them in.  Both sell for $25 and there might just be time to persuade someone to buy you one for Christmas…..

And if you want another really easy way to get this effect, treat yourself to a Lensbaby.  Not only is it a fun lens anyway, the aperture kit you get with the lens comes with  heart and star shaped aperture discs plus some blank ones from which you can cut your own shapes.  There’s also a separate Creative Aperture kit and you can find a gallery of photos using it on the Lensbaby site.  My own photos in this post were all taken with a Lensbaby, using the star shape.

I’d love to know how you get on with this if you decide to try it, particularly if you go down the DIY route!

Christmas glasses