The Ghosts in an Image

One of the key importances of photography is its ability to show evidence that we were here.  Yes buildings could probably last longer but it is the photographs that document anthropological existence most extensively.  I’m quite a fan of long exposure images, the ability to capture time with what is both there and not there is still fascinating to me.

One of the first images to show a human being was captured in Paris by Louis Daguerre, one of the early pioneers of photography.  This was at a time when ‘film speeds’ were incredibly slow and the instantaneous photography we have become used to today was a long way away.  The reason this particular image is the first to contain a human is purely because of the gentleman stopping in the bottom left corner to have his shoes shined.  The reality is that this street would have been packed and bustling, yet all bar two of those people are mere invisible ghosts in this image.

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To photograph long exposures in the day time can require special equipment and particular conditions.  However in a world of Photoshop we can create images that eliminate other people with just a few clicks turning the three images below in to the image beneath them.

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But how?

The first step is to set up in a location and photograph multiple images of a scene, a tripod is highly recommended to keep the parameters the same in each image.  I also recommend using an interval setting on your camera, or simply control it yourself, either way you should shoot one image every ten seconds until you have a collection of around 20 images.  In this particular example I was in the process of shooting a timelapse so the composition contains 120 photographs! I don’t necessarily recommend this as if you’re computer isn’t up to it then you will struggle.  Next, using Photoshop, we simple go to File > Scripts > Statistics, as shown in the screenshot below. (You may not have this feature, it depends on the version of PS you have).

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In the next window we select Browse and load out images into the dialogue.  Ensure that the ‘Stack Mode’ at the top is set to ‘Median’ and click OK.  Depending on the specification of your machine, the number of images and their file type, this could take around 10 minutes to process.

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From here Photoshop identifies what’s different with each image and what’s the same then creates a median of the collection. Then, hey presto, you have an image with no people on show.

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The Power of Filters

I love a good filter, whether it’s doing something fancy like extending your exposure or serving a purpose like a UV filter to protect the front element of your lens.  One of my particular favourite filters is a Circular Polar.  They serve a whole range of purposes which include helping to remove a shine from a surface like a glass cabinet (below) or to help pull some definition out in your landscape photographs.

The particular example, below, is from a recent and ongoing project photographing clouds but that’s a whole other series of posts.

You can buy ‘Polarising’ filters which serve the purpose of a Circular Polar filter when fully applied however I feel that the Circular variety allow for a lot more flexibility.  The image on the left of the above pair is an example of a Circular Polar filter being rotated to a position where it is not serving a purpose.  The clouds are softened and the blue of the sky is dulled slightly.

The example on the right of the above pair shows the filter fully rotated in to position.  The clouds are more defined and the blue is a lot richer. The image ‘pops’ a lot more.  The principle of a polarising filter could be compared to wearing a pair of sunglasses.  Next time you are outside on a sunny day, try taking your sunglasses off and on repeatedly while looking at some clouds.  You’ll notice a very similar affect to what we are doing here, but why do it?

In the image below I used a Circular Polar filter to add loads more drama to the sky while shooting this wedding.  The results are superb!Watermark-48

As with many filters, the type you buy is crucial! Although cheap filters can be desirable if you’re on a tight budget, you can never replicate the capabilities that can be obtained by a more expensive ‘branded’ filter.  I use a combination of Hoya and Cokin filters.  Hoya for ‘screw-in’ filters such as UVs or Circular Polars and then the Cokin square system for Neutral Density and a whole host of others to be covered in future posts!

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