Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Quick and dirty...

I have always used "quick and dirty" to refer to something that takes 10 minutes or less.  Playing around with Mischka (my dog) in a field I had the camera (D300s and a 12-24/f4 lens) on a tripod.  The light was at a relatively low angle and very bright so I was using shutter speed of around 1/2000s and shooting bursts at 7 frames per second.

When I got home I played around with creating a "quick and dirty" composite (took somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes I think).  Well I ended up liking the result so I posted it to my flickr account.  I've had a number of people ask how I did it, and while it's embarrassing simple I thought I would post an explanation.

I used Adobe Photoshop CS4, but you should be able to do the same thing in any software that supports layers.  I opened each individual file and added them as individual layers in a single file.  This just shows the lowest layer (the visibility of the other layers is turned off).  In the lower right corner you can see the layers I have (1 background and 5 additional layers).  Each layer has an eye symbol on the left side to toggle visibility, an icon of the image in the layer and a layer mask.

The layer mask determines what data is allowed to pass through to the final image.  Here I have limited visibility to only the top layer.  Anywhere the mask is white the image in that layer will be visible and where it is black it remains hidden.  You can add masks to layers and then draw on the layers with a brush just like any other image, but you are restricted to greyscale.  For quick and dirty composites I only use black and white.

Here I have made the top layer and the background visible.  Since there are no overlapping elements and sloppiness in creating the masks is largely irrelevant.

Here I have made an additional layer visible.  You have to be a big more careful about the masks here... An parts of the mask on the upper layers will overwrite the data you want to come through from the lower layers.  You can see that I made a slight mistake with a mask too large on the top of her snout and that hides a bit of the dog on the second layer.

With quick and dirty I don't have time to do it right (I would have completely masked each dog and the shadows completely and accurately).  Since I only paint the mask parts that are needed you can see some funny results if you reveal layers in the middle without the context of all the other layers.

Well that's it.  Nothing all that complicated, but probably a good first exercise if you aren't accustomed to layers.  I'm sure there are many well done explanations of layers and masks on the web (and in books).   Mine is just what I did (imperfect and messy).

There are an insane number of tools and techniques (way way more than I have time to ever explain), but my suggestion to anyone is to start simple and focus on doing things quickly before you try to spend a lot of time making something perfect - for me at least it's the fastest way to really learn how something works so that it's natural and fast enough not to distract you from the content.  There are always going to be rainy indoor days in the future to spend a lot of time focusing on making an image "perfect" later.

There are a few of these composites here:

The original singles are all somewhere in here:

Hopefully my little explanation is useful to someone.  If there is anything else you want me to explain, let me know and I'll do my best.