Messing About with Mood in Image Composites

Taking another stab at visual assignments, I opted for Switch up the Mood, mostly because I had a few photographs that I had taken with a colleague’s top-shelf digital SLR camera the other day. Consequently, shooting in RAW format, I would be able to crop with much greater ease.

In my first attempt I was really playing around with filters more than anything. I am not even sure that I really accomplished the assignment, at least how it was intended. Mood is kind of an ephemeral thing and perhaps this wasn’t the best image to use. Still, it was worth the experience of playing in Photoshop.

Four Flags Mood Composite

I started with the original image in the upper-left corner, very little adjustments made, save a few auto touch-ups correcting the color, contrast, and tone.

One of the initial problems was determining how large the final composite image would be and doing some of the basic calculations. Mat is not my strong suit, but I knew I was going to quadruple the original image size, even though I was going to do some cropping too for the additional versions of the image. This helped determine the aspect ratio that I would use in the cropped images.

At that point, I just started playing around with adjustment layers in a separate, mock-up window. In the upper-right corner, I was going for an older, darker feel with the cropped version of the two flags. So I played with the exposure settings to get darker tones and deeper contrast. I also toyed with the hue and saturation to pump up the color saturation. I even used a photo filter to enrich some of the warmer colors.

In the lower-right corner, I mostly amped up the saturation and pushed the red color as much as I could without completely distorting the image. I wanted the colors to be brighter and more vibrant, kind of overly rich reds. It was meant to be a riff of the original shot.

In the lower-left image, I had played around so much that I was kind of filtered out and wanted to drain a lot of color out of it. I didn’t really want to go black and white with a full grayscale. So I used a black and white filter, but then kept pushing out the gray until I got the stark, simple black and white look, kind of like old newspaper prints, which seemed fitting for the subject of an antique shop full of old items.

Playing around with all of the filters got a little overwhelming at some point. Without really knowing what I am doing other than trial and error, it does highlight the need to keep track of what I am doing to achieve certain effects. Otherwise, I would never be able to replicate the intended effect.

One of my original ideas was to just riff off of the red, white, and blue scheme in the flags, so I thought I would make another attempt. THe second time I simplified even further, again beginning with the original image. This time I chose to use the same cropping for the other three parts of the composite. This seemed appropriate since I was already thinking of working with three color tints.

Four Flags Mood Composite 2

This effort proved to be a lot faster and simpler. I had already been playing with the cyanotype option in the hue/saturation adjustment layer. So that produced a nice blue-tinted version. Thus, to get the red image I used the same adjustment layer with the cyanotype setting, but then adjusted the hue setting until I got the red look I wanted. The black and white image was adding the adjustment layer of the same name. Then I made a couple of minor adjustments to the contrast.

In each of these images, I had to work with each of the images on separate layers. So I would basically mock-up the look I wanted in a separate window, only to paste them into the window where the final image would be built.

In order to get all the adjustment layers and looks, I would have to flatten the mock-up version before copying and pasting into the final image window. That was a lesson re-learned for me, since I had forgotten some of those little wrinkles.

Originally, chasing some stars in the assignments, I had not at all considered doing the same assignment more than once. It just kind of worked out that way, because I don’t think I was completely satisfied with my original attempt. Also, I did want to see if I could do the red, white, and blue thing relatively easily and quickly, more as proof to myself than anything.

I know just enough about Photoshop to make me dangerous and routinely get frustrated knowing that there is definitely a way to achieve the look I have dreamt up in my head, despite not necessarily knowing which combination of options to use to make it happen.

Still, these were opportunities to explore some of the tools and options that are available. Plus, it was a great reminder of the importance of narrating the work, in part as a way of keeping track of what and how I am getting certain results, even if sometimes they are happy accidents.

The Shape of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet

In the last couple of days I have been wrapping up a Shakespeare experience of Romeo & Juliet with my ninth grade students. In an effort to keep things light and entertaining when introducing students to Shakespeare, I use a host of video clips from both stage and cinematic productions that present the play in a variety of styles, as well as reading and enacting bits and pieces. Adding this video clip was an easy fit.

Since we had just finished the story, I thought an interesting and fun summative task would be to ask the students about the shape of the play. Plus, I wondered what they might think of Vonnegut’s idea about the shape of stories.

I wasn’t sure if a bunch of fifteen year-olds would like Vonnegut’s presentation or not, but figured I would try it out on one of my best sections. Almost no one in the room had ever even heard of Kurt Vonnegut, so I gave them a one minute introduction. Then somewhat surprisingly they seemed to enjoy it. Vonnegut’s initial “man in a hole” shape triggered some idle chuckling. “Boy Meets Girl” almost slipped past them without much reaction, but by the end they were all whispering “Cinderella, Cinderella” and laughed, along with the audience, in the video as he mapped out that story’s shape.

Afterwards, I asked them how we might find the shape of Romeo & Juliet. Immediately, hands rose and before you knew it we had list of over twenty key turning points in the play.

From our list, I asked them to coach me as I graphed the story across the Vonnegut’s Good/Ill Fortune and Beginning/Ending axes. It was actually great fun, as they cried out why say the balcony scene couldn’t rise higher than their wedding night together or how banishment had to dive far deeper even than Tybalt’s death. It was a low stakes way to see just how well they understood the play and some of its nuance. We even had a brief but very interesting discussion about just how high the final moment should be on the Fortune axis.

Romeo & Juliet Story Shape

Yet the best aspect of the exercise of all were the handful of observations made after we mapped out the story’s shape. One student shrewdly said it looked like a heart monitor, another emphasized just how extreme the highs and the lows were. All of that discussion proved a great way to discuss why that was the case and how the play worked on a dramatic level. Even a colleague who teaches history walked into the room, saw the graph, and asked about it. It promoted a short chat about the benefits of info graphics as a learning tool and representation of understanding.

While a slightly different application of the assignment, it was pretty effective and successful.

Remixing Some Sci-Fi Cult Classics

SyFy Troll Quote

While I am already a bit behind and feeling some self-imposed pressure to keep working in DS106, I took on my first visual assignment. I am, after all, still trying to wrap up the school year with my own students and in a bit of a grading bottleneck. Unfortunately, my full fledged Camp Magic Macguffin experience will have to wait for a couple of weeks. Right now, the best I can do is participate as a day camper, not the overnight variety.

Nevertheless, I scanned the assignments looking for something that was a little more challenging, to gather a few stars from the start, but not so tough that I would be toiling for hours on end. If I am to gather ten stars for the week, I will likely need to bang out three to five assignments.

Still, the Troll Quotes assignment was a great chance to mess about in Photoshop a little. Photoshop is one of those applications that I always wish I was better at using than I am. I have some basic skills, but I still get plenty lost and frustrated rooting around for the tool I want and likely miss a whole lot that are not even familiar. This assignment was simple enough that I could work with what I know how to do, however.

Troll Quotes Instructions:

  1. Find an image of a well-known figure.
  2. Add a famous quote by someone related in some way to the figure in the image.
  3. Attribute the quote to a third, related figure.

I think it was the Yoda quote in the assignment example that put me on the science-fiction tip. Plus, Star Wars was a natural thread to follow. So, I did a quick search for some Star Wars quotes with the hope of finding something relatively short and difficult to pin on a single character. That criteria led me to the menacing Darth Vader comment, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” In fact, I didn’t remember the line immediately, but then was certain it involved choking. I was right.

At that point, I was just kind of riffing off some cult classics of the genre that would potentially serve as clever combinations. At first, I was thinking of looking for an image of Han Solo, because I liked the irony of the line associated with him. Yet, I didn’t really want to stay in the Star Wars universe. Thus, the Harrison Ford connection prompted the mental jump to Blade Runner, which I considered for an image. Nothing jumped out at me instantly from my initial image search, but I have always been attracted to the use of light in that film, loving the way many shots were cast in neon ambient light.

Ultimately, I wanted something distinctive look that any sci-fi fan would instantly recognize and had the same cult appeal as Blade Runner. Firefly seemed a natural connection to cult classic, with its hardcore fans of the series still longing for its return. A quick image search for Firefly rendered my chosen still which jumped off the screen at me, Captain Mal leveling his retro gun at an off-screen target.

At that point, the combination kind of fell into place. I would use a color that evoked the Blade Runner look and feel, as a tint, and attribute the Vader quote to Deckard.

From that point, it became more about knocking the rust off my meager Photoshop skills. One of my challenges was trying find the right amount of space for natural placement of the words. Hoping to give it a more cinematic feel, I opted for a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. This gave me some space beyond the barrel of the gun to fit in the words.

I masked a lot of the image with blackness to really bring a cool, steely focus to Captain Mal and push the already dynamic, diagonal nature of the shot. I also felt like having him sort of emerge out of the darkness added a little menace, which I felt matched the tone of the quotation.

Playing around with the arrangement of the words on some level became the thing that made me most picky. I wanted a clean, modern sans-serif font as a contrast, especially because the image does not immediately evoke the science-fiction genre, being that Captain Mal’s gun looks like a Smith & Wesson revolver from the Old West.

Then it was all about experimenting with line breaks that I thought might enhance the tone and nature of the quotation and image combination. Initially I was just thinking visually and looking for how to break the words to fit in the space, but kept feeling unsatisfied with the different ways I tried. What freed me up a little was thinking about the quotation as a poem. Once I did that, I tried to break the lines like a poem, in a way where the line breaks enhanced the quotation’s meaning, as well as the overall effect I was trying to achieve with the mixture of the elements and the piece overall. So, I was trying to take as much advantage of the form and space as I could.

Overall, I like it a lot. It was fun, and I really tried to embrace the spirit of the task which was “Pick something close enough that a non-fan might legitimately confuse.”