August 14, 2020

Applied Practice | Dream Theory Project | Creating final composites 02

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Working through building the composite images for my final selection.

Building a collection

I'd reached the stage now where I had a good selection of images to work on. Building composites out of this selection took some time, not least because of the process I had chosen to make these images.

A shoot of a single location would result in hundreds of images, for example, a forest scene would result in a a bracketing group of 5-7 images per focus point, typically 3 to four for a forest. And each complete image might be up to 14 portrait aspect images to stitch into a panorama.

This would result in having to work with almost 400 images per scene. I'd like to emphasise that I don't think of this process as a virtue or a benefit of my process. Much of this comes down to the end result I'm hoping to achieve in terms of print size (or potential print size). This is because I would like to show this work eventually, or shoot in such a way that enables me to print large format images in future.

Also there are the limitations of the equipment I'm using, full frame digital. If I had access to a large format film camera the process would have fewer steps.

It's also possible to get unnecessarily obsessed with sharp focus. As I learnt how to do this I found that focus stacking can be more of a hindrance to the final image than a help.

Pine forest

The first image that I wanted to achieve in this project was the pine forest. I was struck by the Botticelli sequence detailed in an earlier post and wanted to attempt something that was inspired by the formalised, imagined forest and the ghost story of the knight slaying the woman. I was struck by the idea of a supernatural fate being played out for eternity in a certain place—and of the living suitor's ability to interact with the spectre.

I wondered if I could try to interpret this dreamlike coda using a pine tree scene and my motif of strings to shatter the image, or suggest the supernatural forces at work in the space.

I made three attempts before I arrived at the final image.

Pine forest, first attempt

First attempt, second shoot

There was a steep learning curve in making this image, necessitating a second shoot shoot at the location, hundreds of images and chopping down a tree. But in the end I don't think this image works. I chose a scene that has an almost stage-like appearance. There is very little depth and there's a lot of uniformity across the image. I should have realised that my experiments with negatives and adjustment layers were a sure sign that the image wasn't going to succeed.

However, I did prove to myself that the concept could work, but I'd have to shoot a better base image.

Pine forest, second attempt

At first I rather liked this version and I felt it was much closer to the kind of image I wanted to achieve.

It's a focus-stacked multi-image panorama and think it's a huge improvement on the previous version. There is more depth, more detail and more variation in the image. I think it's a lot more interesting to look at but it does have some critical flaws technically and aesthetically in my view.

FIrstly, I had failed to appreciate that the slight movement of the trees (it was a windy day) would result in some motion blur on the tree trunks. Secondly, I felt that the abstract treatment was a little too oblique. It seemed to lack the narrative quality that I was looking for in connection with the Botticelli sequence that inspired the idea to shoot a pine forest. It strikes me as a triumph of style over substance.

I thought I might find a use for it, but not as a final piece in this form.

Pine forest, third attempt

I view this image was a very time consuming failure. Learning from my mistakes in the previous shot I had done various tests to determine the proper balance between ISO, shutter speed and aperture when shooting a slightly swaying forest. With this shot I went all-out, merging 14 images tother, each with 3-4 focus versions.

The reason for focus stacking so much being that it's not possible to photograph a moving forest with a high F-stop for deep focus and a low ISO plus a high enough shutter speed to freeze the trunks. I had to to open the aperture and focus stack.

I then went through the painstaking process of masking the focus by hand using a tablet and stylus. But having doggedly pursued this process across the entire 14 source images, I wasn't happy with the result. The image didn't seem to have what I wanted. It was really just an attempt to recreate the previous image but without the motion blur—it failed to address the more important narrative issues.

Pine forest, final attempt

This image is the basis for the eventual final image that I chose. Shooting a less abstract scene allows more interpretation for the viewer. I was reminded of WWI battlefields that I've visited in France. It's not hard to see the similarities to some of my research images my research images, in particular Botticelli and Rousseau.

Pine forest, final image

I have an explanation of the process of reaching this image here, but I include it on this page for reference and to show the progression.

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