Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An alternative to collages ......

A friend of mine, who had a mother-in-law with a significant birthday, asked me if I could put together a collage of old photos of her life that he and his wife could give her as a birthday present.  I agreed to do it but was not overly enthusiastic about constructing the types of collages I had seen others make. 

Usually these collages are the result of hours, even days,  of work collecting the old photos, negatives, computer files and developing a system of filing that will allow these precious memories to be returned to their respective owners.  When this is done there are even more hours put into making the construction which, generally, is a physical one that brings its own set of problems.  All this produces, to my mind, a homogeneous mass of imagery that as a unit does not have any picture merit when hung on a wall.

I don't mean to demean them - a huge amount of work goes into making them not to mention the consideration that has to be given that there is 'fair representation' of all the people in the collage.  You know the sort of thing.  "I see there are three photos of Mary and only one of me!"  or  "Of all the photos you had of me you picked that one .... in THAT dress!"  You get the idea.

So, I decided I would try something different ......

The first job was to scan the photos.  I have an Epson 4990 scanner.  It's an old scanner and is now discontinued and replaced by a newer model - the Perfection V750-M Pro Scanner - which has a significant price tag of around $850.  Mine is still working fine and I don't do much more scanning than the odd document, photo and old negative so I guess I'll keep using it for a while longer.  I don't use any of the bells and whistles that it comes with.  I tend to be a person who likes the army rule of KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid - so I set up the scanner software relative to what I am scanning.  In this case it was a photo, so set it up for photos - some at 300 dpi, others at higher resolutions to give me larger images that I could fix in Photoshop Elements.  Some of them were in bad condition and some were very small.  Some were both.  The process of scanning the photos and restoring them is also to make them equal in size and appearance.  This a time-intensive task and if you don't have patience then use one of the many places that offer this service otherwise you will be less than enthusiastic when you get part way through the project and it will show.

Once I had all the photos restored and sized it was time to place them in my collage.  I had visualised a picture - a table with a family tree being drawn up on parchment complete with quill pen and a bottle of ink on a beautiful wooden table and the photos scattered (artistically) around the work area.
First I needed pictures of a table, a quill pen and an ink bottle.  I would gladly have photgraphed them but I didn't have any or even access to any so I used stock photos from iPhoto.

Wood image from iPhoto duplicated and rotated

Pen and Quill from iPhoto
 I wasn't able to use the shadow that came with the pen and quill (ignorance on my part) so I cut the pen and quill, less the shadow, and brought them into my photoshop file.

The next thing I needed was a family tree.  Luckily I had a program called Coreldraw which I was familiar with so it was relatively quick to construct a page with the family lines on it and export it as a jpeg.

Family Tree parchment created in CorelDraw

Next step was to put the ink bottle and quill on the table.  But as you can see they don't look realistic without the shadow.
Ink bottle and quill without shadow

So, I created a shadow.  There are various ways of doing this.  You can load up your palette with black and reduce the opacity then use a very soft brush and paint the shadow.  That's if you're a bit of an artist.  I'm not that much of an artist so I painted a fairly hard-edged black shadow, softened it with Gaussian blur and then changed the layer opacity to about 65%.

Shadow added on a separate layer

Now to add the photographs.  The job wasn't overly difficult - just time consuming.  It was a case of placing the photos in a reasonable chronological order, sizing them and rotating them so they looked liked they belonged. 
Added picture

A further small refinement was to create a very small shadow under each photo as though the light was from above otherwise they would look 'too clean' and unrealistic.  I achieved this by duplicating the photo layer then using the fill (paint tin) tool and clicking on the photo and filled the photo area with black

Black fill.  Original photo layer is underneath and turned off.
Then I applied a Gaussian blur (about 5 in my case)

Gaussian blur applied
and reduced the opacity (to about 65%) so that it looked grey and so you can see 'through' the shadow. 

Opacity changed to allow layers below to show
To complete the shadow effect, I moved the layer below that of the photo, then shifted the shadow so that it showed.
Shadow layer moved down and to the right.  Photo layer moved above the shadow layer 
Now repeat for the rest of the photos ......

The last job was to put in radial gradient to create a vignette that resembled a lamp selectively lighting the table and you have the finished collage.

Click on the image to get a larger size - reduced resolution.

No comments:

Post a Comment