The last weekend in April I took a trip to the Allegheny Mountains. I really just needed a get away, to clear my head, and connect with nature and all of her wonders. There were wonders in plenty that day; a rainbow rising out of the mist of the Kinzua Dam, hidden waterfalls, sunlight valleys, and the view from the Kinzua Bridge. Out of all those things it was this sunset that truly stole my heard. The way the colors blazed across the sky, perfectly reflected in the waters of the river, it was breathtaking. This was also the first time I literally bleed to get a shot. I am not always the picture of coordination and grace, and I was so busy staring at the sky when I climbed over the guard rail I didn’t lift my leg high enough to clear it. So I stood, not wanting to miss a moment of the suns decent, the whole while my foot was throbbing and bleeding. It was worth it. This was one of those moments, a precious memory, that I will treasure forever. And in case you are worried, immediately after I returned to my car to clean and bandage my wound. For those of you interested in the technical side of this image, it is a double exposure composited in post production, in order to preserved the rich colors of sky and still allow the foreground detail to be visible.
Before I begin my retelling of how “An Enchanted Twilight” came to be I have other news to share. First, it was brought to my attention yesterday that the location where both “Whisper” and “An Enchanted Twilight” were shot was ravaged by the chemical pesticide Rodeo. What was a blanket of lush green grass and beautiful golden flowers just one month ago is now brown and dead. Most alarming is that this was done in the location of a nest of Great Horned Owls and a known habitat for Bald Eagles. This news left me deeply saddened, and disgusted. You can read the full article here. I also have other, more pleasant news. I have entered 4 pieces into the Grand Prix de la Découverte an international fine art photography juried competition. Included in my submission was “Timekeeper”, “An Enchanted Twilight” and two other pieces I have not written about yet, but can be viewed here. I will not find out if I made it into the final round of judging until mid July, but I will share the results with you once I know them. And now on to the story behind “An Enchanted Twilight”.
When I think back on how this image first came to be I am reminded of a quote by Bob Ross “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.” I will not lie to you by saying I went out in the woods that day with a picture for “An Enchanted Twilight” firmly in my head, knowing how I would shoot it. There was no planning involved, and it was a most happy accident. Jeni and I had already shot at many locations in the Metroparks that day, the very same day I shot “Whisper”, and the sun was beginning its slow decent to the horizon. There was one last location we wanted to check out before we called it a day. Jeni was walking well ahead of me, she was much more familiar with this area, and the last location was her idea. Now those who know me well, know that I am easily distracted. As we were walking down the riverbed this one tree caught my eye, its root system a beautiful weave leading my eye to the water. I had to have a picture of it! So there I am, taking picture after picture of what I am sure is the “coolest” tree I have ever seen and Jeni just kept on walking. That is when it happened, the wind picked up, the veil Jeni was still holding in her hand began to dance drawing my attention away from the tree as a shiver went down my spine. Now I was taking picture after picture of Jeni walking away from me the veil trailing behind like a ghost on the wind. It was completely unplanned perfection and I knew in my soul that I had been allowed by the fates to capture something truly special that day.
“The heart whispers so listen closely” ~ The Land Before Time
When I first decided that I wanted to rename this series, I don’t think even I realized how big my vision truly was. Originally I had chosen the name Candyland, but that name never felt right. It matched up well with the first shoot, but it didn’t fit where I wanted to go, the places I wanted to create. The name Phantasmagoria first came to me as I was waking up one morning. You know that hazy place where you are caught struggling between dreams and reality. As the sunlight softly filtered through my window, I just knew, I wanted to create something full of magic and wonder like those first waking moments when your dreams still feel so real. “Whisper” is my visual portrayal of that moment of half-waking/half-dreaming, the moment Phantasmagoria was truly born.
Once Phantasmagoria started to really take form in my head, I knew what I wanted for the next shot, I wanted to shoot in a field of flowers… but I had a problem. It was early April in Cleveland, and winter hand lingered longer than usual. I had a few days off work so I got in my car determined to find the perfect spot. This trip took me all the way to the Pennsylvania border and back, and I found some truly wonderful locations, but no flowers. April 18th arrived, and I had plans to spend the day with Jeni. It was her birthday, and she was recovering from back surgery, so I wasn’t sure if she would be up to doing a shoot, but I had this overwhelming need to free some of the ideas in my head. Jeni was more than willing to get out of her house for a while (Thank you Jeni!), so we started discussing possible locations while I did her makeup. To counteract with the first shoot “Sweet Dreams”, I kept her makeup soft and natural and we decided on a simple black dress. It didn’t take very long to get her ready and off we went to Stinchcomb Memorial.
Back in December I had attended the Winter Solstice Sunrise Gathering at Stinchcomb Memorial. Remembering that the view from the overlook was breathtaking, I was hoping to be inspired. When we arrived I could still feel the magic hanging in the air. It was a beautiful windy day, so I gave Jeni a simple piece of white tulle as her only prop, picked up my camera and said a prayer. Jeni began to play with the tulle with what I can only describe as a child like glee. The way it danced in the wind was mesmerizing, but I am going to wait and talk more about that in a future post. When we took a break I looked over the edge of the overlook, and saw it! Blankets of yellow covering the forest floor, illuminated by the late afternoon sun filtering through the trees. I felt like I was transported back to that moment, caught back in my dream. We made our way down to the base of the overlook and began walking through the forest surrounded by these patches of yellow flowers. Jeni laid down in the flowers. Once she covered herself with the tulle, she took on this otherworldly quality. That is when I heard it, my heart whispered “This is your moment.”
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For those of you familiar with the movie Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer, Stormy has finally had her fun for the year and Spring has arrived in Ohio. The best part? I went outside yesterday and my flowers had finally started to bloom. Add a magnificent thunderstorm, and I’m a happy girl!
Even though I would love a macro lens, I have to suffer without for the time being. But I headed out with my 50mm and my trusty Nikon and photographed some of the beautiful flowers in my garden right after the rain. Bliss
I didn’t become an artist for fame and fortune. I fell in love with art because it gives me the opportunity to breathe life in to my fantasies and turn my imagination into something tangible. Art is dreams made flesh. Sunday marked the first official shoot of the Candyland project. My initial plan was to do this shoot outside, but alas the weather was not cooperative. It is because of times like this that I have learned to always have a plan b. So the shoot was moved inside and I went back out yesterday to take photos of the sky to use as the background.
The first image is titled “Sweet Dreams”, and that is where I am off to now. In my excitement to get this shoot off the ground I have been burning the candle at both ends. So I apologize for this being a short post, but I promise there will be more to come.
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Update April 9, 2013: After much consideration, I have decided to rename the Candyland project. I felt the name was limiting the actual concept. I was receiving a lot of feed back from people assuming that this project would be a recreation of the board game Candy land. So I reflected about the real story I am hoping to tell, to capture the essence of the worlds and characters I began imagining as a child, and to show how as we grow and have new experiences it affects the very nature of self. The name Candyland leaves one assuming that this will be full of light-hearted images, bright colors, and of course candy. Well, my mind and imagination is not always a light-hearted place. So I have decided on a new name for the project, Phantasmagoria, and I am quite happy with it.
There is nothing like the wonder and innocence of seeing the world though the eyes of a child. I grew up an only child, and I remember creating elaborate make-believe worlds of magic and fantasy. I loved to read, and then recreate those tales through games of dress up and pretend. Since I often played my board games alone, they ended up evolving into something so much more. Candy Land was one of my favorites. Who wouldn’t want to wake up in a colorful sugar-coated dream land, explore the peppermint forest, swim in a chocolate swamp, or spend an afternoon with King Candy in his Candy Castle.
For a while now I have wanted to create a project that would allow me to revisit the places I created in my childhood imagination. Candyland will not just be a one day photo shoot, it will be an adventure. I am currently working on hand building props, planning costumes, and finding locations. My hope it to publish the images in my first art book. Last night was the first “test shoot” with my friend and model Katie Simeone. So without further ado…
“The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter
often an unconscious but still a faithful interpreter
in the eye.”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Like most, I find the human eye captivating. So when editing a photo or working on a painting, I always give the eyes the attention they are due. An expressive eye can weave a magical story, and help make a connection with the viewer. After much trial and experimentation I have found a handful of tricks to help polish “the windows to the soul.”
When starting a new project in Photoshop, my first step is to create a copy of the background layer. This provides a fail safe if I mess up, and also gives me a reference point if needed.
Everyone has tiny red veins in their eye, so lets address those first. Using the quick selection tool (keyboard shortcut W) make a selection of the white of the eye. You can see in my selection I made sure to not include the iris or the pink of the tear duct. It’s ok if your selection isn’t absolutely perfect. In the next step we will be creating an adjustment layer with a layer mask.
Once you are satisfied with your selection, click the Create Adjustment Layer button on the bottom of your layer panel and select Hue/Saturation.
Drag the saturation bar down to -80 or where it looks good for you. I also raised the Lightness to +5. To blend it a bit more naturally select black as your foreground color, and paint with a soft round brush set to low opacity on the mask layer.
I’m not going to go into detail on skin smoothing and editing in this post, but the dark under area of the eye is too distracting to ignore.
Using the Patch tool draw a selection around the dark shadow under he eye. Avoid selecting lashes if you can. Now you can click and drag your selection to a smoother and lighter area of the skin (the cheek usually works well). Once you release the mouse the patch tool will blend the selection from the cheek over that unwanted dark shadow. Use the keyboard shortcut Shift+Ctrl+F to bring up the Fade panel. I faded my patch selection to about 60% to achieve a natural result.
When I first started using Photoshop I did not hesitate to apply a sharpen filter to … well everything! I have since learned that the sharpen filter is NOT the best way to enhance detail.
Right click on the layer named Background Copy, select duplicate layer. This layer will be converted to a High Pass overlay.
Go to your filter layer and select Other>High Pass. Set the radius around 2-5 pixels (interesting effects can be achieved with a higher pixel radius, but if you are going for a natural look keep it low.) Click OK to apply the filter and change the blending mode of the High Pass layer to Overlay.
I only wanted to sharpen the detail of the iris and lashes so I added a layer mask to my high pass layer, and using the same black soft round brush I used before (Set to around 40% opacity) covered up the areas I did not want sharpened. Mask layers are more flexible, and less destructive, than using the eraser tool.
To finish up lets add a little more contrast to the eye to create some drama!
Create two new blank layers above all the others in your layer panel. Name one Shadows and the other Highlights. Set the blending mode of the Shadow layer to Soft light.
Using a soft round brush (again… I do love my soft round brush) apply the shadows to the area painted red in the above image. Black, dark brown, and dark blue/violet all work well for this layer. I used black in the image above.
Set the blending mode of the Highlight layer to Overlay with an opacity around 70%. Paint inside the iris wherever you want to bring out the natural highlights of the eye. I used white, but have fun experimenting with different colors to achieve different effects
Leave a comment if you have any questions or would like to request a topic to be covered in a future post Or stop by and visit me on Facebook.
All images ©2013 Julz Kirschenbaum
Stepping in front of the camera has never been easy for me. Most of my life I have struggled with self-image issues, and I finally realized that those issues were really reducing the quality of my life. Last week I put my camera on the tripod, stepped in front of the lens, and decided it was time to embrace some self-love. “Timekeeper” is a self-portrait, and not just because I used my own image. It illustrates so perfectly what was going on in my mind when I created it, and gave the opportunity to mix my old love of painting with my new love of photography.
So let’s take a look at Timekeeper’s photographic start:
Technically speaking this is not the greatest photograph I have ever taken, but since I don’t take self portraits often I am willing to cut myself some slack. Before I even got started editing and painting, I had to decide on a color palate. I used the eye-dropper tool to take color selections from my eye and used those colors to begin painting the background. Smokey grey/greens were used to give the impression of a patina on the clock.
After running my usual face edits, it was time to add the painted details. I had a lot of fun with this part, transforming myself into a strange fantastical character.
I worked on the left eye first, and it really effected the rest of my decisions. I had not planned on adding the cracks, scars, and veins to my skin when I originally started out on this piece. After seeing how I looked with a glossy black demon eye, I got curious about what else I could do! The lips were stained a darker red to tie in better with the colors of the cloak, details were painted into the right iris, and finally I added more drastic highlights and shadows to the face.
Here I zoomed in and grabbed a photo of the bottom left corner of the finished painting. In order to really make the photograph and the painted areas of the overall image look like they belong together I went in with a 4 pixel brush and added strands of hair over the cloak. These little touches are often overlooked when the final image is viewed, but without them the piece just didn’t feel believable.
Timekeeper was my first project completed using a Wacom tablet, and I’m confident it would not have been able to create this piece without it.
Timekeeper has been featured by Photographers Connection Top 10 fan photo week 11 (Clock theme).
Sometimes I get so caught up in the creative process I forget everything else (like updating my blog). Here is a little peek at some of my current projects.
“Dark Fairy” was a labor of layers. Aside from creating the eerie, smoky background, I gave the model longer hair. Each strand of hair was drawn with the pen tool, and by the end of the project I had 30+ layers that were just hair. After creating “Dark Fairy”, I decided “There has to been an easier way to draw hair in Photoshop!”, so I threw myself into research and experimentation. I think I may have found a technique that I am happy with thanks to Photoshop’s new blend brush.
I still haven’t thought of a title for this one (I’m open to suggestions.) Creating the background for this image was a pleasure. I made a few new scatter brushes, and used them to create the star dust flowing from Shannon’s hands. *Tip: To extract a model from the original background, I have had the most success with creating a mask and using refine edges on my selection tool. This method allows you to increase the area of edge detection, and makes dealing with hair much less stressful.
“Come Undone” is the final image I have chosen to share in this post. Both Photoshop and Illustrator were used to achieve this effect.
The prep work for this image was the most time-consuming, once everything was in place achieving the effect was quite simple. To start I created a few curling vector shapes in Illustrator. After smoothing and enhancing the contrast to Katie’s face the next step was to create a black and white copy of the original image. I saved this copy separately to use as a displacement mask later. Then I placed my vector shapes over Katie’s face on by one, trying to match the swirls with the natural lines of her face. Once I was satisfied with the placement, I applied the displacement map filter to each shape. The final step was to make multiple copies of the “Before” image (one for each vector shape used) and assign them as clipping masks to each vector shape layer. My layers panel looked like this:
I hope you enjoyed this peek into my creative process
I am convinced it is going to be snowing forever here in Ohio, and I’m not a fan. But I will admit that this “delightful” winter season has provided some stunning photo opportunities. This photograph was taken on a morning when the sun actually decided to make an appearance in the sky. So I headed out with my Nikon, my star filter, and my crazy little dog (who happens to think that snow is the greatest thing ever.) The sun reflecting off the icicles that morning was absolutely stunning, and while I will probably never be one to love the snow and cold, mornings like this make it worth it.
About the title of this post … I couldn’t help myself