It is a while since I created my first photo mosaics of parrots, for a group challenge on Redbubble. I have recently returned to the theme for inclusion within My Monash Exhibition at the Highway Gallery. However my PhotoImpression technique has developed a lot since the original Gaia Bird series back in 2005So I figure it is time again to explain some of the processes I use and why I am applying them. I actually adopted the term photoimpression to describe my process back in 2006, and I have noticed that the term is used a lot now for other photo related things, including as the name for a few competing phone apps which have nothing to do with my process. Further the wide spread use of “magic” filters and photoshop trickery means that a lot of people seem to believe I am just using a one click style filter or pre-set. Nothing could be further from the truth, so I’m taking this opportunity to explain my steps and why I do them. My focus of late has been on trying to look at the photographic processing as an artist might. In this series I have refined my workflow into four basic steps which map into four processes any artist might recognize and probably uses.
- The Sketch, the first step is to look at the composition and tonal values of the image. Not all images make for good photomosaics, they need to have a strong compositional toning. I have found the easiest way to construct my sketch is to work in black and white. There are dozens of methods to create a black and white image of your photos, including a lot of presets and filters. In fact it is a bit of a holy grail to many traditional photographers, that perhaps yearn for film days. A lot of these conversions try to closely match the original film look and many of those popular films had different responses to different colours, for example red are often represented by darker tones and some blues or greens will appear lighter. This could misrepresent my tonal composition, so I have found I like to do my black and white conversion myself just by bringing saturation right done (moving the slider fully to the left). Most photo editor let you do this and it is very simple in picasa or lightroom. I might crop my image and possibly use the tonal sliders to better balance the highlights and shadows. At this stage I also like to generate a test mosaic, for which I still use mosaic creator. I pay particular attention to the shape of the tessellations I am using for the mosaic tiles. In the case of this series I liked a simple diagonal diamond tile which compliments the birds feathers. What has happened now is the photo has been largely deconstructed into a very pixelated image that still has the lorikeet just visible but you will probably only see it if you know it’s there and half close your eyes.
- The Kuler Palette, the next step is to mix my colours. Whereas in the past I have used a conventional colour wheel and the theory of harmoniously and complimentary colours or computer based palette pickers (such as now in many web design tools). Adobe has such a utility called Kuler and under their Creative Cloud Service, the new version now has the facility to select the colours directly from your photo in a variety of moods from colourful, deep, dark or muted. This chooses 5 colour in a suitable palette and indicates the area on the photo that was used. You can also move these point to get subtly or even radically different colour schemes. You can save and edit these schemes in the more familiar colour wheel format. There are a few images on lorikeets in my series so I created a set of complimentary colour palettes, some harmonious some complimentary around the Lorikeets and their forest background I thus choose my palette from a number of related images not just the photo I had selected to process. This hopefully reflects the way an artist might take in the atmosphere and ambience of a place, when painting “en plein air”. Not just "copying" a single photo.
- The Brushes, my next step relates to how I make my marks, the type of brush strokes I wish to use is a simple artistic analogy. My objective here is to use the limited colour palettes I have selected above and introduce a little variety in the texture of that “brush mark”. I know that it is frequently this strength and direction of these small textural details that make the work of some artist so distinctive, appealing and interesting. In essence it is these marks that let you see the artist’s hand. For this aspect I have been experimenting with using mathematical patterns based around fractals (geometric shapes first identified by Benoit Mendelbrot that have special dimensional aspects) With the aid of a computer these crumpled shapes can be simulated in theoretically infinite detail and echo many real world phenomena. For this series I have use a open source program called Apophysis since it not only allows me to select and control the shape of the fractal trace it also allow the selection of the colours of the rendering, for both the background and the gradient of colours mapping the multidimensional fractal into a two dimensional rendering. I took care to use a strong triangular seed shapes for the fractals and thus into the patterns generated so as to compliment the diamond lozenge shape of the tilling for the mosaic. For this series I generated these tile patterns in considerable detail (over 3000 pixel wide). I also generated over 350 coloured and textured tiles to give the mosaicking process a decent range of brush strokes to selected but limited palette of colour.
- Applying the Paint, this is the final step and again carried out in mosaic creator. This time the resolution of the image to be generated is increased and the library of new coloured fractal tiles is used to infill the photomosaic, but within the same tilling as the preliminary grey scale mosaic. I return the colour (Hue) and use not only the best match for tone but also a closest match for colour. Many colours in the original photo thus needed to be “shifted” slightly to match the selected palette of colours and the degree to which tone is matched is also refined making the matching within the mosaicking process by going from minutes to almost hours for this final render.
If you now look closely the individual diamonds in my tile tessellations are now replaced with the swatches of the fractal flames, which add new colour and texture back into the image. The magic is that your eye now sees the photoimpression (see first image above for the full image) as having nice detail and the colours as perhaps richer but the bird is again realistic, it just no longer has the detail or exact colours of the original photo. These have been refined as if by an artists eye.