Urban Fantasy: A Voyage over Sunset Boulevard (plus mini-tutorial)

So I’m supposed to think of something called “urban fantasy”.

1 photoshoot, 14 different photos, 14 hours later, I end up with this,
A Voyage over Sunset Boulevard
(click on the image to go to my flickr, where it’s bigger!)

The astute amongst you would have realised I’m a little anachronistic here – merging both Noir elements (the city, the period clothes) with Steampunk technology. You be the judge if this little experiment worked. I really love those two genres! Also, some people have said I cannot possibly pull off the 50s era noir look, I’ll wager I didn’t do too badly here did I. 🙂

It’s not perfect. Had I the time I would have loved to work on the city until it really popped as a Noir/Steampunk aesthetic city. But I’ve already spent quite a bit of time on this and a backlog of unedited photos from a photoshoot beckon. At least this time I didn’t take as long as that infamous castle picture (that took upwards of 20 hours).

At the bottom of the post I’ve pasted thumbnails of the source images. Some are mine, some are taken from flickr, sxc, used under creative commons(non-commercial). Just to give a sense of scale of how much editing’s involved in something like that. It isn’t hard, just time-consuming. But the ‘fun’ of seeing building fantasy should drive the tedium away. Here’s some techniques I’ve used that you can try out. (WARNING – This assumes knowledge of basic photoshop techniques. You’ll at least need to know what is Masking.)

Understanding Light

Any good Photographer would tell you that light is one of the most (if not THE most) important aspect of Photography. Just because in compositions such as these you can place light wherever you want, doesn’t mean you can ignore it. Light needs to react reasonably with its surroundings. Shadows need to be cast in the right places, and rim lighting is needed to add depth to the image.

If you look at the buildings and the airships – I tried as much as possible to let sunlight fall in the right place. You can use the Burn tool to control your shadows, and the Dodge tool to lift the shadows.

In this example, the sun is coming from behind the airship. A wrong placement of shadows will make the airship look odd to be there, while a right placement of Shadows will really help with blending the images together.

(click to embiggen!)

If Burn tool doesn’t work for you, painting in shadows with the humble paintbrush tool (0% hardness) at about 30-50% opacity often does. If you do it on a separate layer you can find tune it the layer opacity!

Rim Light/Highlights
Highlights, or “adding rim light” as photographers know it, is absolutely essential to give your images the ‘3D’ blend. This is especially important for dark objects against a bright background.

What is this light? Well, because the Sun is such a huge & bright light source, light doesn’t exactly stop cleanly at the edges of objects, it “wraps around” them. In the following example you’ll see that without this highlighting “rim” the subject has that pasted onto the background look. With it, the subject blends much better!

(click to embiggen!)

You can easily achieve this effect by painting the light it with a paintbrush (again 0% hardness) set to SOFT LIGHT, and about 20-50% opacity, depending on the object that is highlighted.

Behold the Power of Adjustment Layers

How do you blend so many objects of various colours harmoniously? Here’s where CS4 & 5’s adjustment layers come in REALLY handy. Better yet, because each adjustment layer has it’s own layer mask, you can REALLY fine tune which parts of the image you want the adjustment to affect. Don’t worry about making mistakes, you can always dive back in and adjust the adjustments 😛

Here’s the before and after of applying a combination of adjustment layers.

(click to embiggen!)

Hope these few tips will inspire you to create your own fantasy scene!

Source Photos


Website updates & Flash Composite How-to

Whoopiee! Small thing, but I actually made the Page header picture swap with every fresh visit, or page change in the site. Looks more professional? 🙂

Also did this quick and dirty flash composite yesterday.

It’s pretty easy – provided you’re already comfortable with manual mode & off camera lighting
1.) Set up the shot on Tripod, and expose the scene as you see fit (a la the usual strobist 1-2 stops below camera’s metering)
Tip: Prefocus the shot and lock it using MF. Remember to set a manual WB setting too!

2.) Position the subjects (and tell them, as much as possible, keep still!)

3.) Literally walk into the frame and light the subjects one-by-one (you can light a few people if they’re closely packed too!), each time taking a shot.
Tip: Using a wireless remote saves you running between camera and subject!

4.) Merge the different shots in Photoshop.

There! Nothing to it! 😉

Impressions of Light – Film Noir

Second of a 3 Part exploration of using light. I will need to pick one image from each set to submit.

Part 2 – Noire (playing with Shadow and Colours.)

The objective was to recreate the usually B&W Film Noir genre but in COLOR. This involves colouring the different areas of the scene, and playing with casting shadows. My chief inspiration was Rockstar’s game L.A Noire. – particularly the hues from the cover art.

It was actually rather mind-boggling to think of it – 3 light set ups, gels, and two models. Quite tricky for me! But thankfully, with the help of my wonderfully able friends/assistants, I pulled it off!

I’m still not 100% satisfied with the alley shots. The angle could be a tad higher, the lighting a tad more dramatic. But as they say, you live and learn. An experience like this now, makes me a better photographer in future.
Detective Ngien & the Case of the Short-Pants Snatch Thief (Take 2)

Walking Dangerously for Safe Streets

And since the costume was just way too nice, I figured a few shameless self-portraits were in order.
Shameless Noir Self-Portrait
View the full album here.

Impressions of Light (Part 1) – Storytelling & Fairytales

So need to do 3 sets of photos showing creative uses of light. This is the first of three!

See how others have used bokeh creatively, like this one, I wanted to use it to tell some kind of story. It’s no coincidence then that I used a magical, fantastical theme for this shoot. After all, Bokeh always had a magical quality to it.

( FYI- the Bokeh is genuine, not PS-ed. )

Eenette: Thanks for being the beautiful model!! 🙂 And for being so patient and having saved the day by bringing the christmas lights that no one else could find!

Sara & Jeremy: My uber helpful lighting assistants!! Thanks for helping setup the messy lights and being my “lightstands”& “human ETTL”. Sorry for the mess we created Sara, and hope your arm didn’t cramp jeremy!

Fairytales are Magical.

See the other two photos in the set here.



Justin & Shimin

What a joy it is shooting for two of my good friends 🙂

To be part of the process was so joyous, and also a learning experience.

Technically, I got to try a lot of light ideas I was toying around with, but never really got the chance to implement because of a lack of people patient (and un-bashful) enough to let me photograph them. Justin and Shimin proved to be very patient and accommodating subjects!

Scent of flowers

“May I have this dance?"

Face to Face



Twilight Kiss

The Wide View

Wave 1

Wave 2

Sprinkling of bokeh


The Couple's Rings

Click here to see the full album on flickr.