Monday, 26 September 2016

Holly Burns - Building an Impossible Photograph from Start to Finish

First things first, to create an impossible image, you need to have a clear idea of what you want to create and the foresight to know what photographs you will need to make it. Don't worry, I am not going to harp on about how to photograph in order to create a composited image, however if you DO want to know, please refer to my blog for my tricks and information on how to successfully create a composited image:

This article is a specific step to step workflow of my photographic and post-processing for one of my favourite photographs, ‘Kaleidoscope Heart’.

1. The Concept:

The concept is always the most important part of my workflow. I want to create something that means something to me, something I care about. I can only do that if I have a concept in mind and work to convey that idea.

For this image, I had been inspired by a short song by the name of ‘Kaleidoscope Heart’ by Sara Bareilles,

“All the colors
Of the rainbow
Hidden 'neath my skin
Hearts have colors
Don't we all know?
Red runs through our veins
Feel the fire burning up
Inspire me with blood
Of blue and green
I have hope
Inside is not a heart
But a kaleidoscope”

I love the notion that we might not have a heart that bleeds red, but of blue and green and every other colour that denotes an emotional outpouring!

Upon hearing this beautiful and ethereal song, I immediately starting picturing a heart with colours emanating from it. I could see in my minds eye the kaleidoscope of light and colour coming from the heart and a woman allowing herself to be consumed by it. To me, the different colours symbolised the spectrum of emotional qualities that make us who we are, our identity. Lets face it, not one of us has just one shard of personality. Today, if I were a colour I’d be red, a bright swinging red. Last week I was covered head to toe in Van Goghs acidic yellow, brown and orange, like the ghastly patterned wallpaper that my grandmother would have been proud of 60 years ago. When my little boy comes out of school I will be completely pink with a candy floss texture.

The theme of understanding identity is prevalent in a lot of my work. I began to think that accepting these contrasting colours within us would allow us to embrace ourselves and be an uplifting experience. I had my concept - Light needs shadow, and the most profound understanding of our identity includes both. Embrace it, love it.

2. The Planning:

As soon as concepts enter my head and form into an idea, I like to sketch it out and map out the photographs I would need in order to create the final piece. Here I needed at least two images of a woman, one of her head and torso and another of her waist and legs. I’d needed extra shots of a skirt hanging and a tranquil looking background.

3. The Shoot:

I had this concept in my little book of ideas for about 2 months before I found the right location to shoot in. This happened to be in Sennowe Park, the Edwardian home of Thomas Albert Cook, when at a photography retreat hosted by Brooke Shaden. There I met a wonderful model by the name of Jen Brook whom, as soon as I saw her I knew, had the perfect look and demeanour for my Kaleidoscope Heart concept.

In order to get the model to appear as if she were floating, I had to take the following pictures with a selection of a skirt that I could replace her crumpled one with. I also took many pictures of the background without the model so I could create a big stitch in which I could move the model around independently:

4. The Editing:

I blended the two images of the model together and added a new skirt to give the illusion that she is levitating above the ground.

Once the main compositing was done, the only thing left to do was to add light and colour. I firstly added a big burst of light positioned over her heart and masked the effect off the parts that her body would be blocking.

Easy to use sunburst brushes can be obtained for free here:

I then began the fun part: adding the colour! This was simply done by making shard-like selections with the polygonal lasso, feathering by 20 or so pixels and changing the colour balance.

I quickly realised that my initial idea of light and colour being enough to give the feeling of a kaleidoscope wasn't working. I almost tore my hair out and threw my mac out of the window trying to figure out how to translate what I could see in my minds eye to reality. Eventually after a lot of aimlessly searching ‘Kaleidoscope’, I found this free vector on deviant art made by Kaze Hime and finally it clicked as to where I must take this image.

I warped it to look like it was projecting out from her, duplicated it and changed the blending mode to luminosity. I repeated the effect on the floor and finally it was beginning to look as I had envisioned.

The next step was to warm up the image as a whole and bring out the colours of the light burst using gradient maps and selective colour.

This remains one of my favourite images because to me it represents having love for myself, warts and all.

Holly Burns

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