Making of Icarus

Inspiration for a photo or art work can arrive at any moment. This was the case with the above art work Icarus. Originally I was looking out of my window and wanted to take a shot of the setting sun will the horizon line close to the bottom of the frame. 

I took two shots, one to expose for the brightness of the sun and the other to expose for the shadows of buildings below the horizon. I put both shots into Lightroom and used the HDR option to blend them together.


I then went around the shot looking for any dust spot and came across a single bird to the left of the Sun. I used the spot removal tool in reverse, to select an area near the bird then select the bird to the clone it to the new position.


I then had an evil thought and placed a copy of the bird directly in the middle of the Sun. Ha! I thought, don't fly to close to Sun! .... oh hang on a tick!

At that point the whole image changed for me. I no longer wanted to have a portrait shot with a low horizon, I wanted to crop in and make this an art piece instead.


The crop was quite severe and lowered the resolution quite a bit but I think the aspect ratio of 21:9 really adds to the piece, the birds on the left and the Sun slowly barbecuing the GPS challenged Avifauna. (thanks Wiki).

The Sun rays were created by shooting at an aperture of f22. This a tiny aperture and creates diffraction of the light that enters the lens causing the Sun to become a starburst shape.



Curiouser and curiouser!

During a recent shoot with Miss Morphic, we set up a shot to simulate Ana falling while wearing an Alice in Wonderland costume.  I thought sitting on the Box of White Doom while having her rest her foot on the White Chair of Unspeakable Horror would be preferable than actively pushing Ana down a rabbit hole. The studio was lacking in rabbit holes to begin with.


We tried a number of poses but the one above was the best out of the lot. I originally planed to have a tree and a tube like tunnel stretching down from the top of the frame. However this wasn't coming out right so I decided to try some with a little more weird.

The first thing I had to do in post was to cut Ana out from the background.  This would have been much easier with a green screen but there wasn't one available. Using the Blend If function allowed me to key out the majority of the white leaving Ana suspended in the air. Some of her dress and legs looked like they had been eaten by moths so I had to paint those back in from the original shot. I used a blurred ellipse positioned below Ana to act as a shadow.. 

No rabbits to be seen...

No rabbits to be seen...

Totaly fake floor..

Totaly fake floor..

Next would be the background. I used Google images for Alice based inspiration and choose a chessboard as the floor. This was easy to make in Photoshop, black square, white square, rinse and repeat till I had a large floor print to work with. I used the perspective tool to form the floor them bent it 90 degrees to point upwards to form wall which was then covered by a smoke image which had been bent around its polar axis. This would form a sort of ethereal tunnel ending at the floor. The floor was given a grungy look but adding a gritty texture image over the top.

Next up was the clock image, representing the White Rabbit's time piece. This was colored red, the layer duplicated and a radial blur filter applied to make it look a bit zoomed out.

You also have to have a reference to the Queen of Hearts so a simple heart brush sprayed across a white layer and blurred out accomplished this.

Did you spot the reflection in the floor?

Did you spot the reflection in the floor?

Bringing all the layers together I decided on an overall red tint to the composition. Total edit time was around 2.5 hours, to get everything right. I used dark brush to darken parts of Ana to add a bit of depth to her arms and legs otherwise she would have looked a little flat. Also added a reflection in the black tiles of the floor.

I could have added more but called it after 2.5 hours otherwise I would still be doing it!

I think I will print this one for the portfolio book!

Flaming hot...

It is now June 2017 and the Earth is now tilted towards the Sun so everything is getting hotter. With that in mind I decided to edit one of the shots from recent shoot with Briar Rouge. I took inspiration from her red hat, with the intention of creating a much warmer photo.

First thing I wanted to do was to blur out the background more than my 70-200mm f2.8 Sigma lens could achieve. This was done by creating a selection around Briar then using the Tilt Shift blur tool in Photoshop. If you just make a copy of the picture and then try to blur that layer and mask out the figure you will get a lot of halo marks around the subject. Making a selection can take more time but the effect if much better.

Next up was the colour grading. I wanted to darken the image so any fire and lighting I applied later would show up better. I used the free Greater than Gatsby Photoshop actions to create a darker mood to the image, I chose Giant Peach, Hammer and Strings and Ombre. You can find the free actions at

At this point I was going to add stars and a planet but though better of it as it didn't fit the image to well. Instead I used a couple of frames from a recently purchased animated fire pack and added them in, changing the colour a little using the Hue/Saturation filter. One of the flame bursts had the Radial Blur applied to create a nebula effect in the dead space to the upper right of the frame. A flare shot was added to draw the eye from the top right towards the center of the frame.

From the same animated fire pack I chose a number of frames to add to Birars left side. I applied three flame images and used a mask to remove the fire from her torso. One final colour gradient was added with a red hue to bring out more of a flame look. The white rune around Briars hand and those on her arms were provided from

Let there be light.

I was looking on Amazon for a cheap portable light to take with me on night shoots. I settled on a cheap option of the Mcoplus®130 LED Dimmable Ultra High Power Panel. This can take a 9v power supply or 6AA batteries. However it also comes with an adapter to take a camera battery that my Canon 70d uses. It has a rated lifespan of 50000 hours. I better not drop it then.

It has an adapter for the hot-shoe on the camera and a light stand plus can be attached to another panel if I had two of them. The LED's are very very bright and if you look at it for a second they will start burning into your eyeballs. It comes with two diffuse panels soft and orange. Unless you really want to burn your models eyes out I would suggest using the soft panel every time.

So on to the experimenting. After I could see properly again, I joined up with a couple of friends in Regents park to show them how to use side and front lighting plus it gave me a chance to wield my reflector around the place. I found a  recently  planted tree that was held up by a piece of wood which was the right height to balance the LED light. I asked one of friends to stand close to the device with her back to it so the light would illuminate her hair.

In camera settings I set the Exposure compensation to -3ev so the photo would come out dark, but balanced that by popping the flash. So we had front light on the ace while the LED would illuminate the back of the head and the hair. The result is below, it worked a treat. I will be lining up a couple of night shoots to test this out again soon.


Thanks for posing Joanne!

Gotta catch them all

While attending the Royal Vauxhall Tavern to shoot the live performances of Cabaret Roulette - Evolution, I fired off a number of shots of a performer called Ruby Wednesday.

Her take on Evolution was of a Pokémon character Eevee who would evolve from one state to another with lip-synced music for each one. It was a great performance and I immediately thought this would make a great composition piece to work on later.

Below are the eight pictures I choose from the set that I thought would work well. I looked for expression and the stance of each to work out the composition. I wanted them to be close together to create the illusion they were all on stage at the same time.

All the shots were loaded into Photoshop as layers. The canvas was extended to create a large wide screen format. Each layers opacity was reduced to 50% so I could where arms and legs would overlap. Once in place the opacity was raised again and the task of masking each one together began. At this point I switch on my music play list and just get on with it. After an hour of brushing, cloning, swearing and two cups of tea I had my result below.

The resolution of the photo was around 13k on the long side but was perfect for a Facebook banner ratio once I added the bars at the top and bottom.

I like doing compositions of live acts, they are a challenge.


Hazy Autumn

Original - Click/Tap to enlarge

Once in a while I go back to older photos and apply newly learned techniques. It is a great way to see how far you have come.

I tend to go through the old photos and think 'What was I thinking??' at the time, I was probably thinking how great it looked.

With the photo to the right, taken at Morden Hall Park in Merton. The bridge you can see is very old and probably dates from when the park was constructed. Morden Hall itself was built around 1770's.

At first glance, I still like how the original looks. But.. it lacked something. Colour for one thing! OK green is nice and the white behind the bridge looks good but to my eyes now it looks flat and bland. Also I wanted the bridge to stand out. From memory this was taken with probably my Canon 18-55 lens which wouldn't have had the depth of field I wanted in this shot.

So I threw the shot into Photoshop and attempted to create a mask to blur out the back portion of the shot, behind the bridge but keep the trees to the left and right of the bridge on the same plane. This was fiddly.. and take a long time. Fortunately I knew that some of the extra work I was planning would mask some of the fiddly bits as I was going for a 'painterly' look. Once the mask was completed, I then used Gaussian Blur to soften the back ground part. If this was done to much then it looked odd and out of place.

The shadows had to be pushed up a little on the left hand side to balance the composition. I used a colour mask to change a lot of the leaves to red and yellow to reduce the large amount of green in the shot. The whites were pumped up to add more light to the background. Finally a layer was added with a white ball to the left hand upper corner, blurred heavily and opacity brought down to around to 20% to create a haze of light.

Hazy Autumn - Click/Tap to enlarge

I am often asked 'Which is you favourite photo?', this is one of the closest one so far.

Worth having arms of lead...

Recently I was asked to shoot Burlesque Idol at the Century Club in Shaftsbury Avenue. I was using my Sigma70-200mm f2.8. The heavy lens! After nearly two hours of shooting my arms felt like lead.

During the shoot, one of the performers was Fräulein Litchi Klein. I reviewed the pictures and found one that I made a note of to work on later. The next day after the photos of the whole show were sorted and sent to my contact, I turned my attention to the photo.

Now this is not a bad shot to begin with but there were a number of things that stood out for me that needed changing.

  •     a light flare above the talents head
  •     a line of light opposite the right knee
  •     the audience in front of the talent
  •     the light on the talents face
  •     the background in general

After sorting out the light flare above the head, I then threw the image into Portrait Pro. PP can sometimes exaggerate features so I always tone it down to taste. The first thing was the to clean up the skin, not that there was anything wrong, I was after a certain look. I smoothed out the skin, reduced the shine on the right cheek, even shifted the light source around to the front of the face a little.

The focal point of this photo for me is the expression of the face especially the eyes. The whites of the eyes were brightened and the eyebrows, lashes and lips were darkened and enhanced.

The hair tool was also used. I love this tool as it is similar to the Oil Paint filter in Photoshop CS6. I highlighted the entire head of hair (not the initial area chosen from the program) and ramped up the effect. This filled out the hair and made it more wavy, also added a little bit of purple to match the lipcolour.

You may notice the hair decoration have been changed to little heart shapes. This was from a program I am trialing called Exposure 7. I wont go through each of it features but the one I like is the Bokeh feature. You can de-focus and blur areas while causing the highlights to take on certain shapes, from triangles, hearts and squares among normal aperture lens types.

You are given tools in Exposure 7 to de-focus areas; a circular tool to draw attention to certain areas, a single line type, I suppose this would be good for landscapes and a double line type useful for making tilt shift effect images. Neither of these options worked for me though. So I removed the default and blurred the entire image. Even the talents face was a blur of hearts.

This image was saved with the Portrait Pro version and thrown from a great height into Photoshop as two layers. I then added a black layer mask to the Bokeh image. Then used a soft white brush to bring the Bokeh image back through, therefore being 'selective' about where I wanted the Bokeh effect to appear. This also had the effect of blurring out the audience members quite nicely to as they were a little too sharp in the original photo and tidied up the background too.

The last point that for me was a bit distracting was the streak of light opposite the right knee. This was sorted out by Lightroom using the spot healing brush, covering up the light source with a patch of darker curtain close by. Finely, used an adjustment brush to add vibrancy to thecostume.

Before and After

Fräulein Litchi Klein is a performer who is strongly influenced by dance outside of Burlesque some of these include Blues, Lindy Hop, Dance hall and Tribal Fusion Belly Dance. You can find her on Facebook at

Fast Processing

I thought I would write a quick piece about my processing method. I have been called 'a machine' because of the speed at which I can get photos of the event back to the producer/performers. I don't stop there, I always pick one or two shots from the event and work on them to create a unique piece of art work too.

I am still working after the event has finished. While on the way home I maximize the time by looking through the pictures and grading them by eye. If there is a shot that is blurry or completely missed then it is deleted. No sense in wasting time copying it to the PC if I am only going to delete it soon after. This also reduces the over all amount of shots to be loaded.

The remaining shots are loaded into Adobe Lightroom and again graded. This time I can see in more detail. This time around anything that has to much motion in the hands or legs (which in my opinion spoils a shot) is moved to a Rejected folder. This process is fast as it picks out the best of the crop.

The rejected folder is given the once over, and each is given consideration. If a shot has a good expression or action then it may make the grade and is added to the main group. I then have my picks which are sorted by performer into separate folders. Each is then highlighted and named recursively after its host folder name. I hate giving photos out to performers and producers with the names IMG__ or DCIM_001 etc...

Colour grading is next. Once the white balance is sorted for one shot, I can quickly make the same changes to a group of photos as the lighting rarely changes in a stage performance. This process is done for each group of photos from each performance.

One final check is done on each group of photos. Along the way one or two will catch my eye and I will add them to the Live Show Edits group for later processing.

Then comes the processing to JPEG. All the picked shots are exported to 2000px on the long side to a prepared folder with in my Dropbox location. That way, once the last one has exported I can send the producer/performer the link immediately.

I am a bit of a digital archivist as well so I always keep my work on backups. If the producers/performers loose anything I will still have a copy.


Adding Fuel to the fire...

OK the odds of this happening are very small but I wonder if anyone in 7th century China, after watching a firework explode over head, had any idea that centuries later I would be photographing a performer call Red Sarah on stage at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London? Probably not.

The art of pyrotechnics is lost on me. I light the blue touch paper and run. So it was a great surprise to see not one but eight devices being used on stage. I have seen fire performances before but not live sparkling fireworks held above someone's face!

Initial Clean up

I was happy with the original frame seen here and it looked fantastic on the LCD screen on the back of the camera but the lighting on the skin caught my eye so I made a mental note to make this the image to edit.

I firstly went over the image and cleaned up some of the distractions.

  • There a couple of sparks at the top and around the main grouping that needed taking care of.
  • Some of the highlights of the curtain behind the performer were just a little too bright.
  • A couple of wrinkles on the dress had to come out.
  • Used the clone stamp to add back the addition of one of the pyrotechnics that didn't fire on the night.

This gave me a clean frame to work from.


This clean frame was duplicated in Lightroom and exported to Topaz Glow. After playing around with the settings I found one that looked liked the skin was translucent enough for the bone structure and veins to be seen. This was saved back to Lightroom and both it and the clean frame were sent kicking and screaming into Photoshop as layers.

I created a black layer mask over the Topaz Layer and named it 'Skin'. I then used a soft white brush and painted back the Topaz level. The effect only really worked on the chest and arm areas. I wanted to leave the face as it was and left the neck mostly intact.

To the left is a 100% close up of the detail. It really did look too much like a cadaver was up on stage if the effect was all over. I added a curves layer to brighten and enhance the area below the waist as this was a little to much in shadow. These two layers were combined to a single frame back to Lightroom.

Click to see full screen

Selective Blur

I have been playing around with using selective blur on my edits and this was no exception.

I opened the image in Photoshop made a copy of the layer and added around 40% Gaussian Blur and a Radial Blur. These are the two main effects I have in my work, they complement each other so well in shots like these.

I added a black layer mask on the blur layer and used a large white brush to bring back the layer below. This really anchored the performer to the center of the image, focusing on the head below the sparking firework. I then added a sharpening layer to the face, hair and exposed chest area.

Final Image

Below is a before and after. The selective blurring technique is one I intend to employ a lot for now on to drag the viewers eye to the focus of the image. I also intend to purchase a few more plugins to add to my work flow. I have always been an advocate of using little plugins that can make a massive impact to an image. Well worth the money!

About Red Sarah

This blog post has been possible with the blessing of the performer Red Sarah.

Red Sarah - The Doyenne of Disguise and Mistress of Make-Believe, with an act for all occasions and uncountable skills. From fire performance to crafting and drag-kinging, Red Sarah is the essence of true showbiz. Drawing on her 15 years in the limelight, booking Red is like booking your own piece of stardom itself. Red Sarah is a top billing performer who knows how to steal a show and deliver entertainment like no other. You can learn more about Red Sarah at and

Saving Spaaaace!!

Hard drive costs are getting lower while capacity is getting bigger and bigger. However I have always felt that if you can compress something without loosing quality then you should do it.

I regularly spend time saving space whenever I complete a photo shoot. I have the rejected photos exported to Jpeg and crunched with JPEGMini. These of course are for archival purposes only. They will not be used for editing again. It is the .TIF files that can take up the most room on your hard disk but there are steps to reduce their overall size.

Please note that these steps are taken once I have finished with the file, compressing a TIFF file with the methods shown below can really slow down your work flow when saving/opening the file.

These are the save options for TIFF files in Photoshop. I will be concentrating on the Image Compression and Layer Compression sections.

The image above is one I took of a pepper corn dropping into a shallow pan of water. It has four layers. Dust, Curves, Smoke and Background.

If this file is saved with Image Compression (IC) set to none and Layer Compression (LC) to RLE then the file size is 150mb.

If saved with IC and LC set to ZIP then the file size is 91mb.

If saved with IC and LC set to ZIP and the layers turned off the file size is 76meg.

Turning off the layers does mean that in Lightroom the image will be displayed as a white block. For this reason I also save out a JPEG (crunched with JPEGMini of course) and have that next to the TIFF as a guide. The resulting JPEG was only 400k in this instance. That combined with the 76meg file was still below the 91m one.

As a reference I also use the handy snipping tool in Windows 7 to quickly clip out the layers tab in Photoshop as a guide too. This is saved in the same folder as the main shot.

You may be thinking well its only around 20mb difference between the two and the 91mb file would display better in Lightroom. Which is true, however this is one of the smaller TIFF files I have. Some of mine are around a gigabyte in size and the method of compression using IC - Zip and LC - ZIP is far greater than shown above.

This massive panoramic file saved with IC - None / LC - RLE resulted in a hard drive chewing 1.7gig of data.

Saved with IC - ZIP / LC - ZIP resulted in a better size of 900mb.

While saving with IC - ZIP / LC - ZIP with the layers turned off resulted in a less heart attack inducing 755mb.

That is a saving of nearly 1 gig of data!

As said I only use this as end of use compression as the saving and loading of the files are too slow other wise.

Hope this article saves you some spaaaaaaaaace!

Undressed vampires

I am challenging myself to pick a shot from each shoot I do and create a more advanced edit that I would normally do. This will keep my Photoshop skills up and I can learn new techniques as I work.

On the 12th of June I was asked to shoot for the House of Burlesque at the Electric Carousel in Piccadilly. It was a standard shoot of the show with a few shots of the stage and audience thrown in. Images were sorted, edited and delivered the next day. I then looked for which of the shots I would like to edit beyond the standard.

I choose a shot of performer Trixie Kixx. There were a number of things that I wanted to change from the original. I was going for a ‘vampire’ type vibe as an end result. This was taken with my 70d and the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8.

  • The red curtain needed to be removed in favor of the better right hand side of the frame.
  • Skin needed to be smoother and somewhat waxier.
  • Remove distractions.
  • Reduce the overall redness.
  • The lighter and darker parts of the clothing needed to be enhanced.

If the above worked I should be looking at something that may have been shot in a crypt rather than on a stage.

One of the first thing I did was to clean up the image, using the spot healing tool in Photoshop CC 2015 to remove scrapes, blemishes and other pieces that I knew would be trouble and stand out later. On the inside of the coat there looked to be stains of some sort. These turned out to be flower patterns woven into the fabric. I didn't think flowers were very 'vampish' so these were removed.

The next stage was to tidy up the curtain on the left hand side. I used a shot a couple of seconds after this one where there was more of the right hand side showing. I add this as another layer and used a mask to remove the parts of the shot I didn't need. The mask followed the line of Trixie's arm and right leg.

I then decided it would be a good blend the two layers together to make a background layer and then create a mask of Trixie herself to aid in edits further on. I darkened the Background layer a little to reduce the red glow.

I made a copy of the Trixie layer and used a slight Gaussian effect to blur the skin. Again a mask was used and brushed back the clothing and necklace. This smoothed out the skin and allowed me to also add a brightness layer to brighten the skin and make it stand out from the background.


A Trixie layer was exported back to Lightroom and opened in Topaz Glow. I had an idea to enhance the clothing and necklace. Choosing a preset and saved back to Lightroom, opened back into Photoshop and copied to the main project.

The whole of that layer was effected by the Topaz Glow effect so I added a mask and brought back only the areas of the clothing that I required. However this had the effect of making the highlights look like diamonds. It was a nice effect but not what I needed here. So I used and Curves adjustment layer and reversed the effect.

This had the effect of darkening and reddening the detail which fitted the vampish effect I wanted. I darkened the rest of the clothing to make it darker than it's original color.

The final TIFF was saved with ZIP compression to layers so the overall size was around 600mb rather than 1.4gig.

Final adjustments were made in Lightroom were used to sharpen the red highlights of the clothing and headpiece. With slight darkening around the edges of the arms and legs just to blend Trixie in a bit better with the background.

Adjustment brushes were used to lighten and De-saturate the skin where needed. I didn't want the skin to look to undead like but not quite 'alive' if you know what I mean.

Finally I used a custom preset to darken and add a slight blue tint to the background. This needed removing from Trixie again so back went both the darken and normal images as layers to photoshop and the the dark parts removed.

The final image is below along with the original for comparison.

Before and After... no vampires were harmed in the making of this image.

Trixie Kixx is a Neo burlesque artiste with all the curves and all the moves!

Follow Tixie on Twitter at, Facebook and Instagram.

Thanks to Trixie for allow me to feature her performance in this blog post.


There are a few times when something new comes along that makes me think the follow:

  • Really? Nahh...
  • Hmm.. Maybe..
  • OMG!! How the f*** does it do that?

This was the case with JPEGmini. I now quote from their website.

JPEGmini is a patent-pending photo re-compression technology, which significantly reduces the size of photographs without affecting their perceptual quality.

Now before you shout 'oh the loss of quality etc' I am not advocating this for use on a final product, just use it to reduce the file size for various reasons where saving that space is a bonus.

These are the reasons I am using JPEGmini

Social media sites

Even though social media sites such as Facebook and Flickr give you lots of storage, it is nice that I can now upload full resolution shots at a greatly reduced size. Before I was resizing to 2000px on the long side to save space. I have not seen JPEGmini remove any metadata or EXIF information either!

Nexus 7

I used to have a 3gig folder on my 16gig Nexus 7, these were the 2000px long side shots.  JPEGmini took it down to 1.13gig, which is a God send for a unit with finite capacity. ( I know I don't need to have them all on there but hey...)


If you are regularly sending photos to clients by email then this will reduce the overall size of the attachments as some emails systems have incoming mail size restrictions. Email sites like GMail offer a lot of space but not every one will be opening them on a computer with access to broadband speeds. They may be receiving them on their smart phone with a reduced data plan and lower than broadband speed.

This program has been added to my workflow. Once I am done editing the files in Lightroom I then export them as a Full JPEG, (bye 2000px Flickr export profile!) and then throw them at JPEGmini

Very simple process for this, run the program, then drop the files into the program window. You can even drag a top level folder or whole drive to the window and it will recursively find you photos. It will automatically save the files in the same place they came from so if you want to experiment do it on copies!

It has an upper restriction of 28 mega pixels but that is bloody massive but some of my panoramic photos were rejected. I would like to see a command line feature added or the option to not have the images previewed while it is working. I know what they look like! Just get on with it!!!

Ahem... in conclusion BUY IT!!