Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stock Photo of a Wrecking Ball produced with quality images and Adobe Photoshop tools.

Perception Is More Important Than Reality

Out with old, in with the new! That is the concept behind my concept stock photo "Wrecking Ball". But perhaps more importantly, the image is a good illustration of the fact that the "imagined" image can be more powerful than the literal one. In stock photography I certainly believe it is true that “perception” is more important than “reality”! I believe the viewer is more comfortable and more accepting of an image that fits their mental picture…and let’s face it…so many times reality just does not live up to what we picture in our heads. Also, when a viewer sees an image and it matches their perception of something they can quickly, in their thinking, move onto the message…rather than using their subconscious process to fit the reality into their pre-conceived notions. At any rate, in my experience, catering to preconceptions seems to work well in conceptual stock photography.

Difference between Perception and Reality

When I first decided to do this image I went to a demolition site in San Francisco and shot a few images. It was, however, immediately apparent that the reality didn't match my mental picture. What I had pictured in my mind as a wrecking ball was a steel ball on the end of a chain…smashing through brick and concrete as it swing laterally from the end of a crane. In reality, it is a tear-shaped concrete device on the end of a cable usually being "dropped" onto a building…at least that is what I was witnessing as I set about shooting that demolition scene. My “imagined image” was far more graphic and powerful than the real one. I decided to go with the perception rather than the reality.

Finding the Parts

As I was walking back to my studio pondering how to create my image it occurred to me that a manhole cover might do as a wrecking ball. Since I had my cameras with me I photographed one about a block from my studio. I also photographed the sidewalk including a portion that was cracked. Once back at the studio I set up an old rusty chain that had been gathering dust for some time in my prop room and shot that. I scrounged up a brick and shot several angles of that too. In my stock photo files I found some pictures of a simulated computer explosion I had photographed years before for a magazine cover. Shots I had taken of a freeway demolition (after the 1989 quake) provided the background. In short time I had all the parts I would need to create my new photographic reality.

Creating the Image

To create the image I started with the wrecking ball. I used the "spherize" filter in Photoshop on the manhole cover, a cover that had been worn smooth by years of traffic. The filter, at 100% turned the flat manhole cover into a steel globe. I added a specular highlight by creating a new adjustment layer (Brightness and Contrast) and maxing out the brightness…then using the accompanying layer mask to isolate the layer effect to just one small hotspot. I repeated the process, this time darkening the adjustment layer and painting it around the bottom edges to provide an even greater illusion of roundness. I used the pen-tool to create a clipping path around the outside of the ball…turned the path into a selection (with a one-pixel feather) and then inverting the selection before deleting… leaving only my new very “dimensional” “wrecking” ball.

I created another clipping path to separate the chain from its background. After copying and pasting the chain into the image with the ball, I used Free Transform to size and position it…then used the warp filter for adding some curve to the chain…and the motion blur filter to add just a touch of movement.
The pen tool and clipping path again did the job for selecting the sidewalk, which, after pasting in, I turned into a crumbling wall by the use of layer masks “painting” the sidewalk in and out as needed . The layer masks also worked well to “paint in” the exploding computer shots to look like dust and flying debris. Finally, the same technique was used to add the bricks. To integrate the whole image I used an adjustment Hue and Saturation control in an adjustment layer to give the image a sepia-toned look. That is how a manhole cover and a sidewalk become a much more powerful graphic than the real thing....


Though done many years ago, the image is a timeless one. By creating images that match our “perceptions” rather than “reality” we can create stock images that have both more impact (OK…pun intended), and provide a longer revenue stream. The best of both worlds!

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