Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Photographing a Mask Tutorial

I'm still moving my artisan craft blog entries from my art blog to here.  This post is from 2010 so when I say 'latest mask', it was my latest mask from 2010 at that point in time (which is old by my standards now).

It's time for yet another impromptu tutorial! Upon completion of my latest mask, I took some shots of my photography setup for the morbidly curious.

I am not a professional photographer! This is just the way I do things that gets results for me. I'm sure there are better ways to go about what I'm doing that I haven't discovered yet.


A Decent Camera (I use a DSLR, Nikon D50 with a 28-80mm lens) - DSLR are great since you can customize the lenses you use based on your space and lighting limitations.  Point and click cameras, especially Canons, are pretty good these days too. I suggest getting a tripod to keep your camera still, unless you can hold it still, which is impossible for this particular caffeine addict.

Indirect sunlight with
soft shadows is what
we need!
Naturally Lit Space - I use our sun room, which has tall open windows that let in plenty of natural sunlight.  I tend to take photographs in the late afternoons so the sunlight filters in instead of shining directly into the room, creating harsh shadows.

TIP: A white muslin sheet hung over the window can help filter light as well!

Crushed Velvet Backdrop - I use a piece of silver crushed velvet fabric I purchased by the yard at Joanns Fabrics.  It provides an interesting backdrop that isn't just a flat area of color since it's lightly textured, but also not strongly textured or patterned enough to be distracting.

TIP: If you don't have fabric or sheets for backdrop, try a piece of mat board.

Car Windshield Shade - A plain metallic shade meant to reflect the sun from your car windshield. It can be used to reflect light onto your photography subjects as well!

Burts Bees is the
best, for lips
AND propping!
Chapstick - For propping your mask if it doesn't want to stand up by itself. Or for those with constantly chapped lips, like myself.

Photoshop - I use Photoshop CS2.  Other alternatives include the free program GIMP and any of the photo editing software that generally comes with your camera or printer.

Step 1 - Set Up Your Area.
Start by arranging your mask on the tabletop which has been covered by your backdrop cloth. I like to arrange my masks facing towards the window so that the highlights are on the right side or front, illuminating the most detail usually in the nose area.

Next, put the reflector next to the opposite side of your mask which is in shadow.  I've wrapped the reflector around a chair to keep it upright. Prop the mask with the chapstick.

I've also made use of a low night stand, which works well since it is lower than my tripod and lets me view my mask from above, allowing me to photograph the most surface area of it. The tension of the backdrop fabric draping over the table's edges also keeps the backdrop flat, where it would wrinkle and be hard to manage if it were laid out on the floor.

TIP: The closer the shade is to your object, the more strongly it will illuminate your shadow side.

Step 2 - Photograph Your Mask.
Using your preferred camera settings, take shots of your masks.  I set my camera to the Nature/Macro setting (a little tulip icon) since I don't have a lot of space to back up and zoom in to get the best shots and angles with an actual macro lens.  This setting allows me to capture closer shots at a shorter focal range.

I like to take three angles on most of my masks, a front angle and two side angles.  This allows me to show the varying detail on both sides.  If the focus of the mask is on the side, as it is in this fox mask with the fox's face being on the right side, I like to make my main display image a 3/4th's angle to show off more of the mask's focal point.

Interlude - The Importance of Reflected Light

To illustrate the importance of reflected light, check out how much darker this image was before I used the windshield shade. The details in the fox tail are almost completely drowned out!

Step 3 - Post Processing
Before you can show your masks to the world, make sure the details are visible and sharp.  I use Photoshop to alter my photos, but you can also use a free photo editor that most likely came with your printer/camera or GIMP, a free image editor which works much like Photoshop.

The tweaks I use the most are under Image>Adjustments>Exposure where I usually up the Exposure and Gamma until I'm satisfied my image isn't too dark.  This tends to work more effectively than using Contrast/Brightness, which can drown out your detail in unsubtle ways.  (I use this method of tweaking a lot for my watercolors to preserve their color and sharpness too).  Sometimes, I like to use Smart Sharpen (under Filter>Sharpen) to help define the detail on the mask even more.

TIP: Don't up the Exposure too much or you'll start losing the details in your image! Notice how the Fox's stomach fur starts to lose detail when I've raised the Exposure too much. Pay attention to your highlights when tweaking a photo. You want to bring out as much detail in them as you can before they start to get lost.

And that's it! Here's the finished montage:

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