Update 1: 19.11.16
Update 2: 10.12.16
Update 3: 29.12.17
Update4: 10.01.17

Pandora’s Box

Pre-Production

During my year two’s assignment on Rough Cuts, I had experimented with kaleidoscope mirrors to produce works where I thought I had found my limit I could push. At the time I had used larger mirrors to build the kaleidoscope. It did not work well because of its bulkiness. I was thinking of how I could reuse these mirrors to produce new works for my third year. As I continued my research, I came across Keith Arnatt’s works of using cube mirrors in his landscapes. Hence, I decided to reconfigure those mirrors into a cube and experiment with it.

References

To view my analysis of the artists/photographers below, click Visuals With Mirrors.

Keith Arnatt | Anish Kapoor | Karen Granger  | Dan Tobin Smith | Yayoi Kusama |
Benoit Paillé Barry Underwood

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Mirror Plug, 1968, Keith Arnatt.

 

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Sky Mirror, Anish Kapoor.

 

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Re: Series, Karen Granger

 

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Dan Tobin Smith

 

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Infinity Mirror, Yayoi Kusama.

 

Process

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I brought the cube mirrors out for a test shoot and discovered two challenges:

    1. First was that the angle of the mirrors was positioned that made it challenging to take photographs. Angles were very limited and I did not like any of the compositions.
    2. The second challenge was that despite using large apertures, the depth of field were still too different. I could not get the sharp crisp imagery. To make matters worse it was raining, hence focusing was much difficult than expected.

I tried merging two different depths-of-fields into a single image. Perhaps I needed more time to do focus stacking technique. Overall it did not work well as I had anticipated. I decided to continue my experiment both outdoors and indoors concurrently.

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Indoor Shoot

On my next shoot, I had projected landscape imagery in the studio. This technique would be similar to my final rough cut experiment last year. My initial setup for the shoot was to use laptop screen projection. After setting up, I quickly realised the limitation of my laptop screen; the size and angle of the image reflected on the mirrors were a technical challenge. Then I thought of using a larger screen via a projector.

With one projector, I managed to project an image onto one side of the mirror cube through trial and error. I was able to get one image angled to the mirror pane. Due to time constraint, I shot more of one side to see what image works best and digitally manipulate after that. I did not like the result as it did not look realistic to me. I also realised this shoot had the same problem as my previous rough cut: too much black, empty space.

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On my next attempt, I figured out a complex two-projection setup with Mike the technician. One projector connected to my laptop and the other to the mac computer. I used “dual screen” configuration on the mac computer to feed my landscape images. What came out was a reversed image.

I thought of using green screen because I thought of replicating the natural green element and also though I could easily cut the image out if I wanted to composite.

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This setup alone took two hours to figure out. Once the desired lighting condition was achieved I went on to project more images onto the cube. I liked the setup and how I was experimenting but I had no idea what I was really doing. Time constraint as usual, and I was almost out of creative juice.

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I projected a sublime image and experimented with the projection angle and alignment, so as to achieve a seamless landscape in the cube. I was also conscious of the reflecting visuals off the Perspex glass surface. More trial and error with Perspex glass and green screen, with an additional Speedlight hitting the background. This was a combination of the shoot setups I had done earlier last year.

My only problems with the result were that:

  1. The green space wasn’t large enough, probably because I’ve placed the setup too far out.
  2. The difference of colour in two projections was an eyesore. Both were different projectors and I could not match up the colours in post process.

Outdoor Shoot

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I brought the mirror cube to a cemetery nearby. It was the same location as I had attempted for year two’s project. Weather, light and timing were crucial for me. I had to work things out quickly while the sunny weather was prevailing to my advantage. I quite liked how the landscape was reflected on the mirror panes as I experimented various position and background. I felt cropped off cubes were less desirable. The only thing that was disturbing me was that the mirror panes were not a perfectly aligned cube as I manually focus stacked the images. I had to keep trying this outdoor shoot again.

Took the cube out to a different location. I was out for location recce for a different concept shoot, meant to be an alternate solution in case it did not go well in-studio. I placed the mirror cube onto the log and see how comes out. I took a clean slate image for recce references. On post process, I tried to merge both visuals to create a new result. A comparison of the straight photography and the digitally manipulated. Of all the shoots I had done with this cube, I still wasn’t satisfied with my outcome.

Back to the cemetery, as it provided the ideal autumn landscape I was familiar with in Norwich. I attempted another outdoor shoot session while the sunny weather was still prevailing. By shooting low angle up with a wide angle lens, I was able to capture most part of the surrounding environment. This time I was more satisfied with the colours and structural elements in the image. On detail I had aligned the midpoint to the tree, using the bracketing exposure.

After post process on the previous shoot session, I realised it was the perfect condition on that day. What I did not anticipate was that the centre of the mirror cube aligned symmetrically between the trees might have provided a stronger visual. Hence, I did a reshoot on the next available sunny day.

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The conditions were very different compared to the previous shoot. I think this was the best attempt with the strongest visual so far. For a quirkier result, I converted the image to an infra-red filter on post process.

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Post Process

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On my post process, the only major adjustment I did was on the luminance and manually corrected the perspective angle to compensate for the barrel distortion caused by my wide angle lens. I adjusted the colour luminance on camera raw to bring more saturation on selective colours.

As I start blending the three exposures into a single image, taking only the best shadows and best highlights and apply where appropriate. I have also blended in the sharp details, particularly the edges of the mirror pane and the details inside.

Next, I create contrast by adding tonal curves and colour balance adjustments. Warm colour balance on the orange areas and highlights, cool colour balance on the blue sky and shadows.

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Last but not least, I used Adaptive wide angle tool to straighten the image. The mirror edges were still slightly slanted. For the finishing touch, I applied Google Nik filters to give it a slight punch.

To view my contact sheets for this project, go to Downloads page.

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Conclusion

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