From behind the shutter
Disneyland is our routine gateway. Seven hours drive for guaranteed mind floss. But what is it about Disneyland that makes it so unique? Is it the claim to be the “Happiest place on Earth”, its size, its colors and music, its creativity, its shows and rides, or simply the opportunity to spend family time?
All of the above is probably true to some degrees, but Disneyland is for me also a photo paradise. Between people, lights, shapes and colors of all sorts, water, smokes and night shows, there is not a minute without a great photo op.
Toontown is no exception, and I always found the fake 2D-ish background hills fascinating. Their size and perspective merge perfectly with the (real) sky and (real) clouds. It creates a unique tension between reality and fiction. Is the sky real? Are the hills real?
During our last trip, I tried to capture that tension. Here is the original and un-edited shot:
Original: Nikon D90 • Nikkor 70-210mm f/4
100mm • 1/3200s • f/6.3 • ISO 400
Note that I used a high speed (1/3200s for no visible motion effect) and a good depth of field (f/6.3 to reduce the sense of distance) to reduce the visual references to the reality of dimensions and perspective.
But this image remains to me un-finished. It doesn’t express my feeling of the place. So, I felt the urge to explore and play with it, like a sculptor would do with clay. How to express the feeling? What visual techniques are available? What would work, what would not work?
And wait, there is more… can a creative work alter the very reality of the memory I have of the place itself? Can a photo I took be modified to the point where it creates a new reality that never existed in the first place?
After all, Walt Disney said once “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.“
And so I let the dream come to me. How did the idea come to me? I don’t know, it just came. Suddenly I saw the final image before my eyes, the image of the dream coming true through the hand of the craftsman. The hand of the designer who once made Toontown come to reality, or the hand of the photographer recreating the dream while adding another layer of tension to the perception of reality.
Once the idea is there, time to execute… and sometimes details are tough to control. A few pixels can make all the difference at the end of the day. I used Photoshop CS5 for this project.
I first took a picture of my hand, nothing fancy, handheld, over the kitchen table.
Original: Nikon D90 • Nikkor 18-70mm
35mm • 1/100s • f/9.0 • ISO 640
Steps to integrate the hand over the photo:
- Flipped the hand horizontally
- Created a mask to isolate the hand from the background
- Used a hue/saturation effect layer over the pencil using a mask to match the color of the photo
- Used a curve effect layer to brighten a bit the inside of the hand
- … and some man-icure touch-up
I then added a paper background texture to create a canvas. The canvas is an important part of the image, it turns the photo into a drawing and helps create a continuity between the image and the image-to-come.
I also created a mask to create the perception that the drawing is in progress. I used a pressure sensitive tablet and stylus and a pencil-like brush to create the mask. The mask is applied to the texture layer, and the see-through effect achieved using a “multiply” blending mode to the photo placed under the texture layer. Here is a close-up view of the edge of the mask of the texture layer:
I then added a few more details
- Added a shadow under the hand
- Added a shadow behind the lead
- Added a shadow behind the lower part of the pencil
- Added a light reflection on the lead
To finalize the image, I added a light vignetting that darkens the outside of the image. It helps add some unity between the different elements (along with the background texture). It also helps the eye focus on the main focal point which is the lead of the pencil.
Here is the final layer palette in Photoshop:
And here is the final image: