Unreal Nature

October 31, 2007

My Valuable Assistant

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:31 am

How do you get water to ripple in random patterns for as long as it takes to get the many photos needed for the Black Water series?

First, find a deep pool of clean water in open shade.

Second, make sure there are large white sunlit clouds overhead (clouds are in the sun; you are in the shade).

Third, have a Jack Russell terrier (‘Munchkin’) who will rush around in the water forever, trying to catch … frogs? minnows? her own shadow? Or maybe she is performing. She watches me out of the corner of her eye to make sure I am paying attention.

October 30, 2007

What is the Single Overwhelming Limitation when Making Photorealistic Composite Stills?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:58 am


Actually it’s two consequences of gravity: angle and base/feet. These are almost certainly not what a non-compositor might have expected to be the limitations of this medium.

People who don’t mess with their straight photographic content seem to think we can do anything we like. Not even close. First, compositing requires considerable explicit knowledge of lightfall, and the skills required to create that in Photoshop. The latter is immediately intimidating to beginners, but I can tell you that the harder part of that skill set is learning what light (shadows) really looks like and why. Tint, angle, stretch, edge blur, fade within the shadow, overlapping shadows … first why? and then how?

Those are skills; hard but not insurmountable. You can’t get around gravity. Consider the Sky Stones series. Why, when you look at those pictures are you so intensely aware of weight and balance? Why must the rocks be where they are? After all its just colored blobs on your screen. Then consider why it doesn’t bother you that the sky behind the stones is sideways; those clouds should be above the stones, not behind them. Sky Stones

 Angle has to match. If I use a background that is at a 45° angle then all objects added must have been photographed at a 45° angle. It is almost impossible to know at what angle you are shooting unless you always use a tripod fixed to the same angle and sitting on flat terrain. In addition, lightfall of overlapping objects then becomes many times harder to estimate. Therefore, I stick to shooting and compositing perfectly horizontal or perfectly vertical (straight down). The latter has the great advantage of removing all issues of lost base/feet on objects.

The feet or the base is that upon which (because of gravity) something must sit. Must! The rocks in the Sky Stone series can sit on almost any of their round edges as long as they appear balanced, but living things, and many inanimate objects have a particular base upon which they must stand in the absence of a clear reason otherwise. Unless I am lucky, or take care in the setup arrangement (assuming I am in control), every object that I collect for compositing has missing content at its base. For example, a single sunflower seed can obscure most of a bird’s foot. Reconstructing a birds foot is not impossible (by borrowing from other birds – of the same color, same angle, same species…) but it’s not practical when dealing with seven or eight birds per picture. I can and do almost always have to reconstruct bird mouths which are full of bird seed but beaks are less complicated than feet.


Therefore you see in my composites where feet are obscured or cut off. The base of whatever is being composited is almost always a rigid limitation on what can be created. When I start thinking about a new series, the first thing I think about is not how to make fantastic, wildly creative beautiful scenes. The first thing I think about are (bleeping) feet.

October 29, 2007

A Game for You

Filed under: Photoshop — unrealnature @ 10:38 am

Do you like those games where you have to find hidden objects or words in a big picture? Then this is for you. There are fifty moved or changed things in this image. All should be visible to you without my providing any hints. The hard part will be to figure out which objects have not been moved or changed since I used only things that were already in the picture. Good luck. The original of this is 4800 px where this one is 800 px, so the downsizing will have mangled the detail. However, I believe it should still work. Good luck!


This is from a new series that I am working on called erehwoN Nowhere (which is a big hint for what you’ll be looking for). These are fun and relaxing to do. I’m giving myself a break after working on the Judgement Day series for about six months (with an additional six months prior devoted to getting enough bird pictures and masking about 3000 of them).

What Works and Why; How Far Can You Stretch Reality Before It Breaks?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 10:29 am

I am not interested in making blatantly fantastic images. I am also not interested in mimicking straight photography – which is, after many decades of looking at zillions of (straight) photographs good, bad and indifferent … boring (imitations of imitations of imitations). Somewhere in the gray zone between fantasy and reality is what interests me – grabs and holds my attention, makes me want to look again.

As long as I use real objects, coordinate all lighting and make sure the ecology and behavior of all participants is rational, I seem to be able to do things that are plainly not real and get away with it. At least to my eye. And I’m not sure why some of the things are acceptable to my mind. For example, look at this image from the Four Ways series: http://www.unrealnature.com/rf_1019.htm . Clearly the background is not real. I have made no attempt to conceal the seams between the four flipped sections of sand. Yet the use of a single light source over all knits the scene together. The rest of the Four Ways series is more aggressively unreal, but still works for me. http://www.unrealnature.com/FourWaysThumbs.htm

I know it’s not real as soon as I look at it, yet I feel that it is a space into which I could go.

In-Mind Reality vs Camera Reality

Filed under: Birds, Photoshop — unrealnature @ 10:13 am

The backgrounds in my Winter Birds series series were made in Photoshop from content that did not come from a woodland background photograph. http://www.unrealnature.com/WinterThumbs.htm

Actual photographs of a bird (or any other object) taken by a long telephoto at large aperture would not result in anything similar to what I have put behind those birds. However, in my mind, when I remember (without looking at a picture) what a bird looked like when seen in a woodland setting, the backgrounds that I have made in Photoshop are exactly what I see in my mind’s eye. Which background is more real? Does the camera’s vision trump my own?

Light is Volume; Light is Depth

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — unrealnature @ 12:04 am

Properly integrated lighting between and among objects doesn’t just knit up the scene.

 It also provides critical depth cues. Consider the following arrangement without light:


… and with light:


October 28, 2007

It’s the Light, Stupid

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 11:56 pm

What really makes a composite fly? Not the extraction, the edgework, the merge, the interaction of the ‘players’, the common tint, the over/under in/out of the shapes … though all of these have to be perfect.

 It’s the light (and therefore also the shadows). Below is the image from a previous posting but with all of the lighting removed. It’s flat, it’s dull, it’s does not work.  This is often as far as many compositors get with a picture, but it’s not far enough. You absolutely have to be able to work the light to make the picture sing.


To Each His Own

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 11:46 pm

On second thought, I think I will skip worrying about why so many photographers are hostile to image manipulation. I can’t think of any other medium in arts (and letters) where creativity is frowned upon by a considerable percentage of those engaged in making it.

Where do these prohibitions come from? Why does the ethic of journalism invade non-journalistic photography?

Eh. Whatever. The first cave man or woman who painted on the first cave wall probably had fellow cave dwellers telling him it was not okay to mess with the natural ‘realness’ of what was already on that wall.


October 27, 2007

Digital Photo Manipulation: Why is it threatening to photographers?

Filed under: Birds, Photoshop — Tags: , , , — unrealnature @ 1:24 pm



 I am a digital artist, maker of pictures that are compellingly real, yet clearly not real. I use Photoshop, and parts from digital photographs that I ‘collect’ myself specifically with the intent of extracting and recombining parts.

 However, I don’t do jokes, spoofs or scenes that violate basic physics — gravity, light-fall or psychology (of all animals, including humans).

 For some reason, this type of art, which stands with one leg in photography and the other in ‘from-scratch’ art provokes surprisingly (to me) intensely negative reactions from artists in both of those camps. Photographers, in particular, seem to feel that the integrity of their medium is damaged by the mere existence of digitally manipulated photographs. The better the manipulation (meaning less detectable), the more threatening it is.

I would like to find out why this is so and also to possibly recruit more talented and creative Photoshop users to get serious about making realistic art that is not just for laughs.

In this blog, I will follow the development of my own projects as well as commenting on anything that I like that I find on the internet. If any readers can recommend web sites which you believe I might like (not jokes, or Photoshop silliness), please let me know! Thanks.


You can see my full portfolio at unrealnature.com .

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