A Studio Without Walls and Lighting Without Lights

The image you see here in my blog is my second Editor's Choice. Creating it was actually very simple and it may be of interest for the amateur stock photographer in how it was done.

There are three layers in the image. (1) The dungeon cell (2) Man in wheelchair (3) The color black.

The dungeon was shot while on vacation and touring through a medieval structure in the Middle East. When I saw that room I knew it had potential for SOMETHING though I had no idea for what. I snapped the picture and filed it away into my stockpile of stock images.

Wheelchairs and other props don't fall out of the sky. Where I live there are shops that sell secondhand items donated by people who wish to help a charity. On occasion I will browse through the stores to see what I can find and purchase items that have potential for stock. The wheelchair cost $6.00.

Did you hear that? SIX DOLLARS!

It's not in the best of shape but it only needs to look good for the camera. So, of course, with a wheelchair you can shoot a number of specific concepts. While I was planning the wheelchair shoot the gears in my head started turning... It's easy to photograph Sad-Lonely-Man-Wheelchair but how do you convey that concept in a way that will stand out? You can see I remembered the dungeon cell image I photographed a while back.

Thus you have the two layers so far. Remove the background from the man/wheelchair and plop it into the dungeon. When you do that it looks like a cheap photo-editing job. The little shadows behind the chair and underneath the wheels, that was done with the BURN tool. All you do is "paint" darkness and shadows where you would expect to see them and the image begins to look natural.

However, you should also notice the various lighting effects. What I did was this: I created a third layer and used the PAINT BUCKET tool to fill it in with black. When you do this, your image will be completely black if the layer is on top, and it should be the topmost layer. If you change the OPACITY, the image behind the black will begin to show through. However, it's still a solid shade of black which doesn't look very good.

At this point you use the ERASER tool to remove the black layer where you want light. Easy does it! You may want to reduce the intensity of the eraser and/or change the size. You are literally painting on the image now, using careful strokes. It takes practice to get it right but Oh-So-Simple once you figure out the workflow. It's "negative painting" too, you're painting the black where you DON'T want black. Normally you paint where you want the color to appear.

OK... by using a few photo-editing tricks you can greatly enhance an image and make it pop. In this case, we made it dark and moody which gives the image emotion. These tricks are good for certain images, I don't think you will want to make a sunny beach scene dark and moody.

Here's the kicker: The dungeon was shot by pure luck while walking around in the right place at the right time. But you have to recognize opportunity when you see it. Props can be had for low cost if you take a little time now and then to see what's out there in the second-hand market. And the lighting effects? It was done with software, no expensive lighting equipment!

Yes, a real photography studio can be considered a tool and any task is accomplished better when using the right tools. But those of you with limited resources, are you connecting the dots here? Take away the walls and the world becomes your photography studio. And you don't always need lights/equipment if you have a little imagination.

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June 15, 2013


congrats! cool tips. thanks for sharing.

June 15, 2013


Thanks for sharing. Congratulations!

June 14, 2013


Another great article with a number of excellent tips and tricks!

June 13, 2013


Great blog, thanks for sharing. Good luck with your images.

June 12, 2013


Congratulations! And thanks a lot for sharing your knowledge!

June 12, 2013


Great Image! Thanks for sharing your tips and ideas. :)

June 12, 2013


You're onto something conveying emotional, symbolic ideas.

June 12, 2013


Great job! Editors choice are rare awards. You have lots of great advice about shooting and filing away your own stock images for later use. I too check out my local charity stores for props. Trick is too spend carefully and avoid the wrath of the wife when bringing home these treasures. ;-) Sometimes my props end up getting donated back to the same place.

June 12, 2013


Wonderful picture - I'd forgotten about the eraser tool in Photoshop. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

June 12, 2013


Awesome work

June 11, 2013


Great job !

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Photo credits: Wisconsinart.