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A5 C&N: process

This post follows my post on the concept for the assignment, Making it up (see here). It explores my detailed approach to the concept of life-choices and how, as one ages, it becomes more difficult to change direction.

The image will feature a double-self-portrait. One-me reflecting my younger aspirations and the other-me reflecting the way my life has turned out so far.

Props and symbols used in the image:

  • Rock musician-self: dressed casually with guitar and amp
  • Businessman-self: dressed smartly with laptop in lap
  • Location – cellar with blocked door to the outside. Cellar representing a sense of being closed off or trapped and the blocked door, the difficulty in finding a way out or forward.
  • Props related to musician-self: guitar manuscript book, glass of cider (the drink of my Somerset youth), a leather hat (similar to the one I wore as a teenager), a few coins on the floor (only a little money), electric guitar in hand (the same guitar bought for me by my mother when I was 16), plastic container of cider (tucked under my legs).
  • Props related to businessman-self: accountancy magazine, pile of money notes (enough money), passport expensive imported Russian vodka.

Moving the equipment in/out was tricky with the limited access, so I resolved to complete the shoot in one day.


The cellar is dark without electricity supply, with some daylight through a ventilation hole and a small door, if left open (it was once the butchery for the old farm-house where I live). To light, I ran an extension-lead around the outside of the house to power three studio lights recently bought on eBay. The lighting was more difficult than anticipated because of the small, enclosed space and remains of white lime-wash on the vaulted ceiling reflecting light in all directions. I eventually settled on this arrangement: large softbox directed at floor to avoid too much shadow on props; snoot directed at recessed, blocked doorway to illuminate a ‘way out’; and bare studio light directed at ceiling to illuminate the self-portrait subjects.


The shoot:

  • Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon 10-24mm lens – remote-controlled with Fuji iPhone app for self-portraits. Over 100 photos in total, including test-shots for lighting arrangements. Wide-angle was necessary because of the limited space in the cellar.
  • Musician-self: several poses attempted and props adjusted before arriving at final choice. Similar approach for businessman-self.
  • Empty scene (without self) including just props – here I was looking for good exposures of the floor (including props) and wall/ceiling for the details during Photoshop blending.


  • Photoshop used throughout with Nik Silver-efex as a smart layer for black and white conversion.
  • Made background composite of floor/ceiling, using blend-if for correct blend of white ceiling and dark stone floor.Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 22.27.05
  • Used masks to overlay musician-self and businessman-self over background composite, including levels adjustment to each self. Followed by levels adjustment to combined images.
  • Created flat layer from composite layers, converted to smart-layer and applied Silver Efex Pro. An ‘adaptive wide angle’ filter was applied to the composites to correct the perspective.Within Efex, applied general and local adjustments to arrive at final image.
  • So, in total 4 images were used in the composite (RAW unprocessed files are shown below).



Raw files used in composite

The initial version of the final image was shared to the OCA 1 Facebook group and feedback received from a fellow student (thanks to Sue Eyre!) that the brightness of the walls distracted from the foreground details and the props were difficult to see.

C&N5 Andrew513879_blog

The feedback was valid and I’d clear become snow-blind to the image after looking at it for too long. Initially, some corrections were made by dodging and burning in Photoshop using layers.

DSCF9831-PS edit-Recovered

While this offered some improvements to visibility, it also created some difficulties: applying the dodge/burn on top of the Silver Efex Pro layer, caused saturation of the yellow tint and the foreground detail didn’t draw attention in the in the frame. This was down to the original composition focusing on capturing everything from the floor to the top of the arch – a mistake in framing in retrospect.

For the final image shown in the submission, I completely reworked the image. A cinematic 16:9 crop was applied to cut the head-room and bring the foreground up. During reprocessing, care was taken to reduce the brightness of the walls and bring more attention on the props through careful brightness and detail adjustments.

Contact sheets

Below are contact sheets containing a selection of the unprocessed RAW files from the shoot.


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