October 10, 2012

Photoshopping magic united cast and crew

As published in The Erin Advocate

It used to be said that the camera doesn't lie, but that was never completely true, and it is less so these days. You can never be certain that the image you see is what was originally captured by a camera (unless, of course, it is a news photo in The Advocate).

Seeing can still be believing, if you trust both the photographer and the photo editor. It is a bit like the theatre, where reality is served up in an artificial way.

When the Murder By The Book was staged last May at Century Church Theatre in Hillsburgh, a group photo was taken as usual.

Brigida Scholten, however, played a character who appears in two different guises in the play. Which one should appear in the official picture? I got an unusual request from my friend Jo Phenix, a master of stage crafts, looking for some special treatment for this actor.

"We have taken a cast and crew picture with an empty space on the right end of the box she is sitting on. We also have several pictures of her in the blond wig. Would it be possible to drop the blond into the picture to sit beside herself?"

The idea is not as outrageous as it would have been before the invention of Photoshop software. The use of a computer to alter or combine images is now called "photoshopping", in which I had some practice through my (former) graphic design job.

Then there was a second request, along with an image of Jo herself. As the photographer, she normally gets left out of production photos, and she wanted to be included for a change.

Here's how it is done. One photo is the "base", while others are layers pasted over it. Each layer is edited and moved separately.

When an image is added, it covers up what is behind it, so the trick is to carefully delete the background of the new layer, so only the person floats in the scene.

In this case, parts of the new images need to be "behind" parts of the base image. To accomplish this illusion, parts of the base (a head, a knee, a foot) are clipped out.

They are pasted on another layer, closest to the viewer's eyes, so they partially block off the new arrivals. With a bit of luck, the new folks look like they were always there.