Remixed Media + In Camera Manipulations

Sierra McKenzie dolled up in a torn up assemblage.
Sierra McKenzie dolled up in a torn up assemblage.

Last year I did a couple articles for Model Mayhem about making images more creative, one about mixed media and the other about in-camera manipulations.

The entire text of both articles is below, but it’s worth backtracking to the original posts and there’s more photographic examples of what I’m talking about. I’m aware that there are many more non-photoshop techniques to make stuff interesting looking, but these are what I most commmonly use.


Part 1:

There are times when I love the computer and all it aid me creatively, and there are periods where I’ve spent so much time staring at a screen I want to scream. These are the times where I want to make tactile art- get hands wet, use paint or drawing, burn, freeze, and otherwise engage in a physical process while working on photos. I am sure this calls back to my college years in the darkroom and working with other media. Mixed media has been part of the photographic art since the first false color was painted on a black and white print, and is everywhere today, from scrapbooking to the highest level of graphic design and fashion shooting. Bringing in other media can take an ordinary image and give it a layer of “meta” context.

Sylva "Scar" reacting to her pinata.
Sylva “Scar” reacting to her pinata.

1. The simplest means of adding media is to print an image and alter it physically. Andy Warhol famously added gaudy paint to images he didn’t take, in the simplest means of enhancing what was already in the frame. Paint could also add details- for example, painting makeup on a model’s face after the fact, or adding an environment when there wasn’t one previously.

Actress Stephanie Danielson as bodypainted by artist Jamie Graden, who did the illustration after we printed this photo.
Actress Stephanie Danielson as bodypainted by artist Jamie Graden, who did the illustration after we printed this photo.

2. Drawing on a print is a bit trickier since lines then to be less noticeable and many types of print paper don’t accommodate drawing media very well. In this sample image, the bodypainter didn’t have time to paint all the details she wanted- so after the fact, using a large print and tracing paper, she drew the lines on a different sheet. This linework got scanned, inverted and dropped on top of the model’s bodypaint to create the final piece.

3. Other objects can be collaged on top of the print in creative ways. One humorous sample I’ve seen involved food items like green beans and orange slices organized into parts of a model’s anatomy, all on top of the print. More abstract means of collage may involve chaotic assemblages of multiple photos or substituting textured paper for wardrobe.

Mosh with embroidery by my wife Vesna.
Mosh with embroidery by my wife Vesna.

4. Embroidery on a print can give the impression a subject is interacting with the linework- energy forces tugging at them, a spiderweb holding them in place, something radiating from them.

5. The forces of nature can be employed to alter your print in less planned, but no less interesting, ways. Freeze the image, burn it, leave it in water or bury it in dirt and see what happens. The weathered textures some people look for in their images look more convincing when they are real and not simple photoshop blends.

Mosh wearing Vital Vein fashion latex, shot Sept 2011
Mosh wearing Vital Vein fashion latex, shot Sept 2011

These are really just the start of what one can do when other media gets mixed with photography. Far from invalidating the art form, images that make creative use of actual handwork and real life effects stand out amongst the deluge of straight digital work on the internet.

Lacheln in Jacci Jaye styling, painting by me (obviously the photo as well)
Lacheln in Jacci Jaye styling, painting by me (obviously the photo as well)

Part 2

This time we’ll look at some of the in-camera alternatives to post-processing manipulation.

It’s worth noting that all of these effects are time-tested, some going back to the very dawn of photography in the 1830s. Done properly, they still look and feel as fresh as any of the latest Photoshop plugins.

1. Controlling time

The camera controls exposure via the aperture, the ISO setting, and the shutter speed, and it’s this last factor that can create the simplest of the special effects. The shutter allows the photographer to control the amount of time that passes when an image is captured, so we can have a lot of time pass–resulting in a blurry image if the camera is handheld, or there are moving subjects in front of it–or we can shorten the length of time–making some objects freeze that wouldn’t normally be visible to the naked eye. Simple enough, right?

Throw some flash while shooting with a slow shutter speed and an effect called “dragging the shutter” occurs. It’s generally how we see these images showing, say, a baseball player in motion, with the player frozen, but a subtle blur of where he used to be.

If you are dragging the shutter– say, 1/15th of a second shutter speed– and zoom your lens, or pan quickly to the side, you’ll see even stranger effects. “Strange” as in Star Wars or 2001: A Space Odyssey style “strange.”

A more complex way of capturing multiple images in one frame, without blurring, is to use powerful strobes that fire at intervals within a darkened space. The best examples of this style are the work of Dr. Harold Edgerton in the mid-20th Century. Definitely worth a Google.

If your subject is stationary during a long shutter speed exposure, but lights a Maglite with a gel on it, or even a colored cell phone screen, and moves it around, that’s called light painting.

2. Changing the light that comes through your lens

The most common way to alter the light as it passes into a lens is via filters, those little glass circles that everyone is supposed to have on their camera. Common filters reduce haze, UV, glare, etc. but there are specialty filters that more radically alter the light coming in.

Lacheln shot in RAW Textiles, Dec 2011 Seattle
Lacheln shot in RAW Textiles, Dec 2011 Seattle

A star filter creates starry lighting effects that you might associate with cheesy 1980s Christmas TV specials, but they were popular in their heyday for a reason–people like shiny, sparkly things. Lens flares may be anathema in stock photography but interesting flaring is common enough in fashion; besides sparkles, the crosshatching on the filter glass causes unusual flares when light hits from oblique angles. The hatching shape determines the number of points on the stars in the photo.

Sierra McKenzie shot with my prism filter (promptly lost after this shot).  The hologram in her glasses is a Wal Mart display board reflection.
Sierra McKenzie shot with my prism filter (promptly lost after this shot). The hologram in her glasses is a Wal Mart display board reflection.

Prism filters are somewhat costly and less versatile. They break up a single image into multiple images similar to a kaleidoscope. Instant psychedelia. It’s a thick chunk of glass that reduces edge fidelity, and is someone what difficult to use. Suddenly, instead of composing one image, it’s composing three images across the frame, and composition rules like “rule of thirds” and “leading lines” can no longer apply.

There are many other specialty filters, more than I have the space to list. Bokeh filters give specific shape to the points of light that bleed through your images–so if for whatever reason, you wanted all those lights in the background to be hearts instead of lights, there’s a way to do it. A neutral density filter acts as sunglasses for your camera–allowing you to slow the shutter speed in the brightest of daylight. See the section on “controlling time” for reminders on how that is a useful effect.

Basically, anything you place in front of your lens is going to shape the light for the good, the bad or the interesting. Saran wrap, drier sheets, a glass block from Home Depot, a glass of water…

3. Bending the lens

A less common way of altering the light is to bend it in relation to the camera body. The simplest way of accomplishing this is removing your lens and holding it close to the lens mount as you take a photo. Not all cameras allow a photo to be taken without the lens actually attached, and it could get dirt on your sensor to work this way, so a more precise version of this technique is a Lensbaby. There are various models but they all function with a “sweet spot” of central focus, with the rest of the image rapidly blurring. It’s a fun lens that helps dissolve distracting elements, like a vending machine or people walking behind your scene.

Sierra McKenzie shot with my lensbaby Sept 2012
Sierra McKenzie shot with my lensbaby Sept 2012

If you’re very serious about perspective control, a costly tilt/shift lens may need to be on the Christmas list. For SLR cameras, the tilt/shift lens has knobs that separate the front end of the lens barrel from the rear. If the front glass remains parallel to the sensor, you can correct the way buildings appear to recede when photographing them. If the front glass is at an oblique angle to the sensor, you can get a similar effect to the Lensbaby. Large format cameras have tilt/shift built into their design–it’s that fancy accordion bellows that everyone remembers.

4. Merging within the camera

Double exposure is always a classic. It’s two (possibly more) shots on one frame, accessible through the camera menu. If you utilize a Lomography-type camera, some allow overlapping of film frames, leading to pseudo-double exposures or jagged panoramic. Some digital cameras have panoramic features to them as well.

Smartphone’s have blurred the line between what is “in camera” and what is considered post-work, but for the traditional SLR/DSLR user, these tools are a means of creatively widening a personal vision.


Five Random Things I’ve Learned

1. Magcloud doesn’t count, as in, the value of a magcloud tearsheet is essentially the value of posting your work on facebook.  And even though many print publications are going all digital, there’s a huge difference between Newsweek and something that’s selfpublished via a site called “magcloud” that doesn’t pay it’s contributors and charges $40 an issue.  And having said all that, I’ll still occasionally submit to something if they have a big following and put out a call for work that I actually have and have no other purpose for, but no one should bend over backwards for this kind of stuff.  Leading to…

2. Content has value.  If you’re a creator of any kind, your content has dollars and cents value.  Meaning it’s a huge disservice to yourself to post all your work on the internet, or do trade projects that are other people’s ideas, or undervalue your talent because you think the only way you’ll get hired for some job is to charge something really low.

As far as posting things all over the place- tumblr, facebook, model mayhem, etc… the number of “likes” or “reblogs” rarely translates into anything in the real world, unless there’s something behind it, in the way a band releases a single to promote an album that promotes a tour where they make money from t-shirts and programs.

3. Always shoot in RAW mode and don’t delete those files ever, even if you’ve made finalized jpgs.  For some reason I always assume this is common sense but someone yesterday in one of my classes said the opposite.

4. There’s more than one way to earn money as an artist/ photographer.  You could be paid to shoot or draw something specific.  You can also sell personal work, like an art fair, online print store, etsy, self-published book, pdf book, any other kinds of products.  You can also sell content to publications.  Some people are probably successful at Zivity sets but certainly no one I know.  Book covers, stock, contests, there’s a lot of places that need photos and will pay for them outside of the obvious publications.

You can sell, repair and trade gear.  Or you own gear, or software, and you can do side jobs, like scanning someone’s family photos for a fee.  I often get asked to do random side jobs like design a tattoo or cartoon for a bicycle shop.

You can also get paid to teach your knowledge- sometimes we forget we have skills that not everyone knows about, and would pay money to learn about.  And if you don’t think you can pull together a workshop and get attendance to make it worthwhile, you can still teach classes at the art stores, or in my case, several of the local city recreation programs.  You can craigslist yourself out to do home photoshop or photo editing lessons.

Write a tutorial on your photoshop technique or interview other photographers and write articles for magazines and blogs.

Get a bit of name for yourself and you can be a representative for a company, like Nik Software or Lensbaby.  Go to stores, do speaking engagements to photo clubs or associations like Arizona APPA or SPE.

The key is offering content that people want and would part money for.  For example, you could sell prints through an online store, but there’s little difference between downloading an image and having it as a piece of print paper.  But to get a lovingly packaged set of images on fine art paper, or as a big canvas, something that makes it special, people will start to care.

Another key?  Doing a lot of different things, being a multitasking freak.  Even movie stars do car ads for Japan, voice overs for GPS devices, guest appearances, speaking engagements, radio shows, their own line of cosmetics, comedy club appearances, tours, you name it.  I know this summer, Phoenix will completely die as far as shooting goes, but I’ll have a lot of teaching work at the various city recreation programs because school is out for the kids.

5. Make the lifestyle changes to accomodate a working artist/ photographer.  Instead of spending $30 at the movie theater, or $5 on at Starbucks, do a Redbox for $1.25 or watch stuff for free on youtube or whatever, and get the Circle K coffee for $1.  Don’t be out drinking or partying and then wonder why no money or jobs or gigs magically fell out of the sky to support a lifestyle of cigarettes and Starbucks.

I have a sister who is an expert at coupons and “rewards points.”  She goes to CVS every week with her rewards and coupons and walks out with $90 worth of food, batteries, and grooming supplies, and still gets rewards points for her next visit, all for essentially free because she can play the game so well.

Living a healthy lifestyle will make you a better artist in the end.  Excercise, proper sleep, fun things with the family, eating healthy food, hiking or whatever, these are the things that allow me to stay enthusiastic while slogging through photo editing.  Most of them cost nothing.


Sophie Nova shot in her house
Sophie Nova shot in her house

Photo projects can take the form of a set, or gallery show, or book, or a bunch of other mutant forms of display. “Secretly” was a set of images I felt had enough of an intimate vibe that it really only worked as a book. If something is intimate, it feels wrong to have it in a gallery as people mill about with their shades on at night swilling the free wine.

Mosh shot in an apartment in Echo Park
Mosh shot in an apartment in Echo Park

Most of the photos are from 2012. I shot a lot of nude/ lingerie models and developed a style I really liked, where the setup was very minimal, in non-studio environments that had some vintage character to them. I used Silver EFEX Pro software by Nik for the majority of the processing, as well as my usual Lightroom tricks and my precious Lensbaby. A lot of the final images were inspired by how Man Ray would present nude studies, with a touch of surrealism or psychedelia.

Anastasia Arteyeva and Rebecca Lawrence shot in my house.
Anastasia Arteyeva and Rebecca Lawrence shot in my house.

Putting this together feels like I’ve broken through the tameness that I felt was limiting my photos. And even though it was a self-published blurb book, it has a very lovely quality that I think suits the work. The next step may be a limited set of prints done on some rag paper in a special packaging, but for now it’s a series that I’m proud of in its book form.

Sylva "Scar" shot in her kitchen
Sylva “Scar” shot in her kitchen

I should mention the models who are featured in the book- Mosh, Carlotta Champagne, Sierra McKenzie, Anastasia Arteyeva, Rebecca Lawrence, Glass Olive, Scar and Sophie Nova. They are all lovely people who are great artistic muses. There are any number of attractive women who a photographer can pay to model nude or nearly nude, but it’s a very small pool of models who make an image more than about the skin and transform it into art.

Sophie Nova shot in her house.
Sophie Nova shot in her house.

My Favorite Model

little girl model photoMy favorite model is my daughter Magdalena. She’s 4 going on 16, and been present on several of my model shoots. Maggie loves getting her photo taken and tapes prints of herself to her bed. She even gets into creative poses, gestures and expressions. I thought this may have come from observing models until I flipped through one of her Strawberry Shortcake coloring books and saw similar poses.

cosmic maggie
I imagine her becoming one of those elaborately styled models into her teen years, transforming into aliens and robots and being a photo actress.

purple jacket girl photo
Other photographers have stunning images of their children. Sally Mann is the first name I think of when I think about amazing child photography. There’s no complication to her style, she was merely open to the great moments. It probably never crossed Sally’s mind to avoid photographing certain moments, the way you sometimes feel certain moments with your family are too private to turn into art. I really admire that about Sally Mann.

little girl model photoSometime within the next month or so Maggie and I are headed into a cool studio to see what we can do with her done up as a creature or character.

little girl model photo

It’s alive…

Bringing this blog back to life.

I do plenty of social networking and blogging via Facebook and tumblr.  But seriously, for art tutorials, behind-the-scenes stories, etc., WordPress is it.  So there will be two full blogs per week, from all across the spectrum of all my visual arts projects, though primarily focused on photography and living a photographic life.

Nice to be home!