“Air” by Meggan Joy Trobaugh


At the Project 52 2014 group, the assignment was “Air”. There were many wonderful submissions. This one by Meggan Joy Trobaugh was exceptional I thought. She carefully planned out the work and made the elements for the final work with a previsualized image already in her mind.

Here are Meggan’s steps.

“I made this smokey ballerina to represent air. I wanted to make something that “felt like Monet” would like it. It might of ended up more along the lines of Degas but I will take it either way.

This image was made with only a tripod, smoke bombs, a patient husband and a well placed mask in Photoshop.

First, I sketched my idea. I would share my sketch but I actually lost it while shooting to some mud. Basically, imagine a very crude drawing of a stick figure with smoke all around it. THAT, was the starting point.

While I was sketching, I was trying to figure out what I needed to do to make it happen. I knew I could layer multiple images and mask out certain parts of them to make a negative human shape. So that was the rough plan.

But I was still not sure it would visually work. So before I spent my afternoon shooting and the rest of the evening buried in Photoshop for nothing – I did a test shoot. That way, I could figure out any bugs and if the idea needed to be abandoned I could toss it and have plenty of time to come up with a new idea.

So I went to the backyard and “volun-told” my husband to stand in as my human shape to mask out in post.

It went bad.


I learned that my background needed to be out of focus and that my human shape needed to be almost “too perfectly human” for the eye to recognize it. I also learned that I did not need a “real” human to stand in which was good because my husband was not enjoying this. We also figured out that we needed a better way to hold and manipulate the smoke bombs, because they actually get hot and can burn you. Go figure.

So while the test was ugly as all get out, it served it’s purpose. I regrouped the plan and found a better natural backdrop (that may or may not of been on private property) and made a container to hold the smoke bombs. We spent about an hour shooting different frames with smoke coming in all different directions. Also making sure to get a “blank slate” starting point to build off of.


The technique I used to layer in the smoke is hard to see with the type of images I was using if you are unfamiliar with masks, selections and the like. So I will demonstrate what I did with some solid color adjustment layers. Then come back to the actual files later.

First, I made and saved a selection so that I could apply it to my mask for each individual layer and keep it matching. I purchased and used a ballerina vector file so I could get a head start using the magic wand tool, it cost me a dollar and saved me a couple hours of work. Well worth it in my opinion. But you could easily make a selection in any shape you wanted and it would work just as well. As it were, I ended up changing the shape of my ballerina quite a bit to suit my own tastes.

At this point, I would suggest saving your selection. You can find out how to do that in a quick google search. For now we’ll just assume you know what I mean when I say that.


I am going to add a yellow fill layer to represent one of my smoke layers.

* there are a lot of ways to add a selection to a mask, this is just the way I do it *

To make a mask with my selection shape – I first, need to make sure I have the layer I want to cut out selected WHILE the marching ants are on my project.

From there, I just add a mask and POOF.


I am sure there are much prettier and sexier photoshop ways to go about this, but this is what I did.

By nature of my image – being full of smoke and all – I needed to refine this mask to feel more smokey. You can do a gaussian blur or you can feather the mask – I did different versions of all of these, but I also used a custom brush tool that was made to look like smoke.

This brush was from a tutorial from www.Phlearn.com which is a go-to check every day website for me. This is the tutorial I learned this trick from it even has the brush I used there to download for free. http://phlearn.com/atmosphere-and-effect – it really is handy.


I was being really heavy handed with the brush for this yellow layer – normally, I would have it at 10% opacity at the most and just build up into masking out parts that I don’t need.

However, my aforementioned finished image was a mix between the ballerina being shaped by negative space AND being filled with smoke in select places. So, on my next layer I need to do exactly the same thing only before I start refining it with a smoke brush I need to invert it.


Inverting a mask is rather simple. Highlight the mask and hit Command-I / Control-I or you can double click the mask and a properties panel will show up with a invert button. That is also how you can easily feather the mask as well.


These two layers demonstrate the basic principle of what I did. Only I did it with layers of photos of smoke taken on the tripod. Here is what my actual working file looked like while it was coming together. I will highlight the mask so you can see how each layer was built up.


and …


Some of my masks only included a tiny bit. This is because the smoke was all over the place. I had to create a uniform shape out of many images. To keep myself organized I cropped them and toned them all the same in Lightroom. Then I pulled each image in one by one depending on what I felt I needed.


I would like to think it helps Photoshop run smoother if I keep the files out of the program until I absolutely have to use them.

Once I got my shape the way I like it, it still had that “photoshop” feeling to it. So to help bring it together I added a few adjustment layers. Including: a few washes of color with a blending mode, a brightness/contrast layer masked to fill just my “subject smoke” with more “light” and then a vignette made with a curves adjustment layer. I also sharpened a few things and added a blur around the edges with the Iris filter run on a stamp visible layer. If any of these details interest you, or confuse you – I suggest either Phlearn (again) or reading Lesa Snider’s Photoshop CC: The Missing Manual. (http://www.amazon.com/Photoshop-CC-The-Missing-Manual/dp/1449342418) Both of these resources are invaluable to me and could not come any more highly praised.


From there, I saved it back into Lightroom and did some final adjustments there. I like to add the split toning ext in Lightroom because I have custom presets made so that my full body of work feels more cohesive together. That is my personal preference because I certainly could of finished off the image completely in Photoshop with the same results.


So there you have it. A ballerina-air-smoke thing. Made from a few smoke bombs and Photoshop.

P.S. It actually took much longer to type out what I did then actually completing the post processing, so don’t be intimidated. I also used a crappy old windows laptop and this was all done with just the trackpad. If I can do it, anyone can. So no excuses. And if you do make something similar – let me know! I really would love to see it.

Thank you so much Meggan. A wonderful tutorial for such a unique image.

Visit Meggan’s site.

Adding Texture to a Portrait for Added Drama

Adding Texture to a Portrait for Added Drama

We haven’t done a lot of Photoshop tutorials on LE, but I plan on doing more. The amount of requests I have been getting tell me that there is a lot of interest. And we will be responding.

This tutorial shows you a simple way to add a texture to an image. As with almost anything dealing with Photoshop, there are a lot of ways to get to the same end. This way is mine and it works very well for me. I hope you enjoy the tutorial and have some creative ideas in mind.

Before we get going, here are a few websites where you can get some great textures.

100+ Textures for Design
And here is a great collection of texture tutorials.

And here is a great list of Photoshop Beauty Tutorials courtesy Smashing Magazine.

An Interview with Steve Kirk, Austin PhotographerThere are a lot more out there, try Deviant Art for one, and even Flickr has a couple of forums where textures of larger size are offered free. Look around for some cool ones you like.

This week will find us in Omaha (June 6, 7, 2009), and then we will be heading to Missoula and Chicago for workshops. If you are interested in taking a workshop, consider the Lighting Essentials workshops for a fantastic weekend experience.

Check out our previous posts:
An Interview with Kirk Tuck, an Austin based commercial photographer.
Shooting an Ad from a Sketchy Layout.
Mixing Ambient with Strobe: Seeking Balance.

Learn to Light at a Lighting Essentials Workshop
The photograph of Vanessa on the beach was shot during the Anna Maria Island workshop this winter. We were at the tip of the island, and it was mid-day. I liked that little passage of sand and grass so I placed Vanessa in the middle. Lighting was added with a 430EX on 1/2 power on a pole over my camera and just out of the frame. The strobe and the white sand helped open up the shadows a bit. I had Vanessa throw her hair for a dramatic gesture. Working with a wide angle lens, the sense of “place” was brought into the portrait. I knew when I shot this image that I wanted a textured, desaturated look to the final print.

Now let’s take a look at how I added texture to the image above.


Tech Sheet: Using a Tilt-Shift Lens

Tech Sheet Tilt-Shift on Lighting Essentials

Tilt-shift lenses provide the small camera shooter with the functionality of a view camera. At least some of the functionality of a view camera. The front half anyway.

The ability of the camera to change the relationship between lens placement and film or sensor placement can provide many different possibilities. Two of the most popular are the tilt lens and the ability to shift the lens above and below the sensor axis.

Let’s examine the tilt tool on the Tilt Shift lens. Tilting helps control the Depth of Field on images. By tilting the lens forward, the photographer can manipulate the amount of focus by increasing
the angle of the lens’ DOF.

This 3 page Tech Sheet will introduce you to the many things you can do with this extraordinary lens. If you want to try it out, you could rent one for a week from our contest sponsor, BorrowLenses.com. Or you could go to win the contest and get a weeks rental free.

Workshop news. San Diego this coming weekend, then off to Seattle, and then sunny Florida. If you haven’t checked the workshop schedule, now would be a good time.

EDIT: February 18, 2009
“Pre-PMA 2009: Canon has today announced a pair of new tilt and shift lenses, in the shape of the TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II and the ultra-wide TS-E 17mm f/4L. These two optics share a brand new barrel design that allows the directions of the tilt and shift to be rotated independently of each other, offering a high degree of control over the positioning of the focal plane. They also feature Canon’s latest sub-wavelength structure coating (SWC) for the minimization of flare and ghosting, high-precision aspherical front elements to keep distortion to a minimum and multiple UD elements to reduce chromatic aberration. When used on the 35mm full-frame format, the TS-E 17mm f/4L offers the widest angle of view of any similar lens currently available.” LINK HERE

Now on to the Tech Sheet on The Tilt Shift Lens.


Tech Sheet: Beating the Sun with Small Flash

Using a small strobe to 'beat the sun' on Lighting Essentials

Our Tech Sheet on using a meter will be next time, we decided for a variety of reasons to bring you this Tech Sheet on beating the sun for effect instead. Explanation could come soon on why, but I wouldn’t wait for it… heh. It just happens when you are a one man publishing mogul. LOL

OK, there are times when you want to be able to beat the sun, that is, provide light that is equal to or brighter than the sun. When using small strobes it becomes even more tricky because there is a limit to the speedlight’s power. And to beat the sun we do need some power.

We are going to take this in two parts, the first being this tech sheet with small speedlights, and later this year with some large strobes. We will be using one and two lights for this exercise, so it should be something most will be able to do easily.

Before we get going, I want to say how cool it is that people are calling from all over the country asking me to bring the Lighting Workshop to their town. We have added Montana, Omaha, Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland, and they are filling up pretty fast. I have decided to lower the attendee count a bit because of how well they have done with a few less photogs. We would like to keep it at 12 with an assistant.

Now, let’s get on with the Tech Sheet for the end of February, how to beat the sun with small strobes.


Creating an Ambient Look with Speedlights on Location: Tech Sheet

Using strobes and speedlights to create a natural, ambient light look to your portraits

Here we are for our second Tech Sheet of the year. How to create a natural light look to a photograph when there is little to no ambient light to be had. We will be using a couple of speedlights for this Tech Sheet.

It has been a wild first couple of weeks for me, and I don’t mind telling you all that it has been exciting. Clients who had ‘gone dark’ came out with plans for work for this quarter, LE is doing well and the workshops are getting more attention.

I have been furiously working on materials for the workshop, and developing some other interesting things for LE… and on top of that, I have assignments and editing to do.

Hey, I ain’t complaining.

I hope you have checked out the workshop page for our itinerary for the first couple of months. And we are adding some more in the coming days. As always, we are looking for hosts in the areas where we have scheduled workshops as well as entertaining ideas you all may have about the workshop coming to your little part of the world. We need 10-12 attendees and we are ready to roll.

NOTE: I was asked about some Photoshop techniques and have added that to the bottom of this post.

Be sure to check out all the tech sheets we have done by clicking on the Tech Sheet Category above. Now, on to creating a natural ambient looking light when there is none. (And, look… the downloadable Tech Sheet has a third page bonus feature… that’ pretty cool, eh?)


Using a Speedlight for Environmental Images that Pop

Shooting The Natural Environment with Speedlights

I have been working on a personal project, shooting some of the old mining towns in Eastern/Central Arizona. Sometimes I shoot natural light and sometimes I like to pull out my speedlights for a little drama.

Let’s take a look at some easy ways to add a sense of lighting drama with a single speedlight. I use a 430EZ on a tethered hotshoe cord. I could use wireless remotes, and sometimes do, but the tether keeps me working within a set of limits that I like for this kind of shoot.

The tether means it fires every time, and there isn’t a bunch of things hanging off of the strobe or extending it. Anyway, if it wasn’t actually attached to my camera I would probably lose it.

We are shooting the towns of Superior, Miami and Hayden which are just east of Phoenix about an hour or so. They are very damaged towns, and I want to document where they are, because I really don’t know if they will make it or not.

We are working on Friday’s tech sheet now, and it will be really cool so check back.

Now, on to some fun, and easy ways to use your flash to pop the natural landscape and make some cool shots. If you want to try some shots like this, all you need is a camera and a flash that can be fired off camera… not on the hotshoe, but from another place. I handhold mine a lot.