Monday, March 31, 2008

They're Coming for You, Barbara

There's something about cemetaries, isn't there? For photographers they offer some obvious advantages: the subjects aren't going anywhere, there's lots of drama. Let's face it: it's interesting to see what relatives have done and had to say about their dear departed.

In the middle of Brownsville is one of those cemetaries. It's in one of the seedier parts of the city but we were lured there by the promise of really old graves.

There are old graves here. Some of them date back to the civil war.

I took the image above this afternoon and I was struck by the oddness of the little angel. It stands there year after year over top of a grave that really looks forgotten. Here's a thought about composition: when photographing statues you either have to go with little parts of the whole "picture" or, if it serves the graphic better, you can put the image into context. ('Context' is the fifty dollar way of saying "where the thing was.")

I knew the picture was here somewhere. I took a number of pictures of this little angel, (ALWAYS take a ton of pictures of something you KNOW you are going to use. It's digital. Relax. What doesn't work can be deleted) close ups as well as long views. Nothing was working when I got it back onto my Photoshop screen until I put the little angel into her own context. The image is much stronger for the background context.
The statue to the above is a good example of how to use a close-up of a statue instead of the whole thing. There are three main components to the graphic: the woman, the cross and her hand gently drawing the cross close to her.
The actual statue is fairly heavily time worn so I needed to take some time to restore parts of her face and smooth out her hand a little.
The final touch was turning the picture into a black and white graphic and actually adding grain. Why make that decision? A couple of reasons: the grain masks some of the rougher areas of the statue. It also ages the graphic quite nicely. There are a couple of ways to easily add grain without going overboard.
The first is to make a copy of your graphic, add as much grain as you like (I use Exposure by Alien Skin, but you can easily add grain with some of the brushes already included with Photoshop) and then FADE the OPACITY so that the grain is more gently added.
The second method is to add grain and then play around with the Blending Modes. Try increasing the Contrast and then doing an Overlay Blend.
When taking pictures on a grey day -- like today in Brownsville -- you will find that your Dodge and Burn tools are your best friends. Give them about 50% power and move gently over your graphic to increase shadow and lighten areas where the graphic is too dark.
When photographing in cemetaries, just keep one eye peeled for shambling zombie types clawing their way out of the ground. Just in case...