"Eleven Kinds of" Editing

I started this image at midnight on January 1, 2013, and finished, with only a couple breaks, at 4 pm or so. I tried to leave it and get some sleep, but I like getting things in order before leaving it, and it was not settled in enough for me to leave it. I went to bed, and a half hour later, I gave up on that idea and went back to it. Starting with the raw shot, I knew more or less what I wanted this to be called, and what mood and concept was to be added to it. Getting there is never logical or easy, with many things started then deleted, and things moved around here and there. But those things are impossible to stop and document, so this step by step is partly edited - it did not go this smoothly or orderly, but for the purposes of this blog, here is the layer by layer process:
This is the raw photo as shot, no editing, no tweaking...
Next comes "pre-treating" in Adobe Camera Raw:"
My first task was to blind him! I used the clone tool to partially close up Ed's left eye:
It's not a perfect clone, but it doesn't matter, since I will be adding textures and damage layers over it. I just wanted to obscure the eye detail. The damage layers are added and masked into logical shapes. I used cracked paint textures, grayscaled, and overlaid:
Here is a closeup of the eye area with damage added:
Next, the sky is added. This sky mask was particularly hard, firstly because I was using a transfer mode of hard light, which made the sky more robust, more "there," which meant the mask was quite hard to make acceptable, and at least an hour was spent finessing the mask around the model shot:
Using a few shots of potting soil sifted in a column and captured at high speed, I added some "debris" to the lower half of my model. I wanted to imply a structural breakdown, a weakening of the motion of the man:
The color of the potting soil was very easy to blend with the suit color. Here is a closeup:
next, the "eleven" of the shot were added. Eleven umbrellas, but really, just one shot of my umbrella cloned 9 times (there were 10 floating umbrellas, plus the one held by the model, making eleven). This step, seemingly easy, took a LONG time, because it's not just a matter of plunking them in the scene, it's about compositional balance, and finding where they will best fit, in terms of scale, dispersion, etc. I think I moved these around a dozen times until I settled for their final positions...
Next I added wires or strings. I wanted to give it a sense of entaglement, of being trapped or hindered. I didn't think on this too much, it felt right for the tone, and for an in-joke, I made seven of them (7 11, get it!?). You will see eight here, but I deleted one at the last minute!
Now that all the elements of the shot were in place (they moved around a bit, but you get the idea), I spent a long time adding light enhancements. Light effects are one of my favorite things to do, and they do take some time to make look organic, but these lights gave some definition to the umbrellas, added more depth and drama to the sky, and gave my model a weird, backlight ethereal glow:
The next step was adding some grungy texture. Lately I have been easing off the texture overlays a bit, but this one needed it, not only to marry all the images together, but to add some "moody noise" to the scene. There were a total of three different textures used, including a scratchy grunge, a textured paper with some gradient, and a rusty metal texture used lightly to add some punch of color to the somewhat muted palette:
On top of all this, I add a color solid, lightly applied to push the image to a soft blue (blue is a lonely color after all!):
Once all this is done, two adjsutment layers are added: Curves and Levels. I cannot stress how great these two items are in terms of punching up the image, adding depth and drama, and pushing the contrast to the "epic" scale. The highlights are brought as close to overexposed as possible, and the midtones are tamped down to the point where the items in the shot are visible, but just so...
After all this is done, the PSD is saved, and then a flattened, TIF version is made. This TIF version is further edited, punching up detail and some other techniques that add a "painterly" quality to the image. Here is a final closeup detail of the final shot:
And that's it. Here is a shot of the layers palette, and while it looks simple, these layers are mostly groups. There were:
2 shots of the model used
2 layers of sky
7 layers for wires
10 layers of umbrellas
3 layers for "damage"
4 layers of "debris"
3 layers of textures
32 layers of "lights"
2 adjustment layers
2 color layers
67 layers in all! It took 15 hours total from beginning to end, and my computer was NOT happy dealing with this file. Should have asked Santa for some RAM this Christmas. Oh well!
I hope you liked the before and after, and if you have any questions, shoot me a message here or on my FB page at www.facebook.com/MichaelBilottaPhotography

Thanks for looking and reading, and Happy New Year!
Michael, January 1, 2013