Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Fragments of Your Imagination

My last article on this "BPB" covered the concept of shooting a little bit wider and cropping to reveal an array of alternative composition options, well this time I want to zoom in a lot closer and create images from small sections of the image, fragments in other words.

Years ago it occurred to me that often very small parts of the image can offer up material for interesting abstract or painterly images, often these crops were less than 1/2 megapixel. Yep, it sounds crazy, but with the right upscaling methods these little fragments can offer another string for your creative bow.

You can combine the fragments with fragments from other images as well, maybe overlay them out of registration, grain them up, and more.  There's no limit to what you can do and you'll have some pixel-happy, trippy fun along the way.

It's not a process for those folk wedded to the ideal of using their full frame cameras to seek out maximum and perfect image quality, you folk might find all of this an affront to the senses, no, this is definitely for those looking for a more relaxed and less than pixel perfect interpretation.  If you hate blur and image noise, best you leave now and check out one of my other blog articles.

Up front, it's not that easy to find images that lend themselves to this method, but I offer you three tips to kickstart the process.  

First, you're not looking for image parts that provide literal, high-quality crops, rather you're looking for segments that possess a painterly rather than photographic look to them. 

Next, perhaps surprisingly, you'll find images from low res cameras and smartphones tend to work best, especially those shot in RAW.

Third, the texture of the file has a big bearing on how well this all works, if you're not sure what I mean, zoom way in on some JPEG images from different cameras, you'll soon realise they have quite distinct textural characteristics.  RAW files, however, give the most creative freedom because you can arrive at different textural renderings by using various interpolation algorithms and processing methods.

With practice, I found I could recognise the likely contenders a little more efficiently, but really, I still need to open them up on screen in a RAW converter to get a solid handle on the potentialities.  Just so you know, you can open JPEGs in your Raw converter as well and while you cannot re-process them, you can certainly fine tune them and interpolate them to larger sizes using different algorithms and sharpening/blur methods, application dependent of course. Iridient Developer on the Mac is an excellent example of a suitable app for this, Lightroom not so much, as you have no choice over the processing methods used.

I found from experience that the best way to pick out fragments was to create a smallish square crop box, zoom in on the pic, then move the box around until I fall over something that looks half interesting.  Once the fragment is isolated, I can fine-tune the image for an optimal result for that specific section. With fragments editing, again, I'm not going for a literal photographic look, so the adjustments/settings I use are often rather radical. Chillax guys, it will all work out I say, just experiment. 

Fragments are then exported out and saved as TIFF or Photoshop files, resizing them to something more useful along the way, which often means a 200 to 400 % upscaling.

I have a folder on my desktop computer for collecting fragments, I just pop em in there as I find them, and just maybe, later on, I'll further processes them or combine them with something else. Maybe they'll get flipped and flopped, stretched, mirrored or just serve as a vehicle for a little downtime fun.

I've never gone out and shot images specifically to extract fragments from them, but that could well be a fun and purposeful approach, for now, it's just a matter of looking for happy little accidents.

So what makes a useful fragment, technically speaking, I mean?

Well, images that are over-sharpened usually look pretty ugly at the fragment level, likewise poor and in particular over-exposed images lack tone and texture when given the big blow-up.  

You might get away with some under-exposed fragments. Of course, they'll look noisy but  that can be dealt with, and in most cases, I add noise to the fragments anyway, so I just roll with it.

On the other hand, fragments derived from low ISO full-frame images don't often gel well because, well, they are just too darned clean. Clean fragments just end up looking like they've been blown up rather too much, rather than possessing a sort of arty or creative character, but, anything is worth a try I say.

Surprisingly perhaps I have found many a contender from high ISO raw files taken by my iPhones! By that I mean those pics shot between 200 and 400 iso, which is high for a smartphone.  Also, again surprisingly, the latest smartphones with all their fancy schmancy computational methods produce compressed files that are just too smooth to work well, but your mileage may vary. Some of the best fragments in my collection came from my ancient iPhone 3GS!

Most of the editing could easily be done on a mobile platform, but I usually use Photoshop CC on the desktop.  Here's a few tips I can pop your way that might bear fruit:

1) You know those rubbish paint filters in Photoshop, yeah they really need some updating, but they can be applied to fragments with great success, I've used most of them at one time or another so I won't pick favourites, but you can always create multiple layers and try a few different options then compare the results and maybe even blend them.

2) Adding noise is great, embrace the noise, there are a few ways to do this and all give subtly different results.

3) There's this wonderful option in the layers area of Photoshop, it's called blend modes....take it to the need those blend modes to get real creative control.  Experiment, you won't break anything.

4) Forget about normal colour balances, think cinematic colour, blue it up, warm it up, twist the hues, pop that saturation, c'mon live on the wild side.

5) You absolutely, positively will need combos of blur and sharpen filtering, but not just basic "hit it with the simple unsharp mask" method, again try wild, crazy settings in USM or better still, use the High-Pass filter options. And blur filters with blend modes..... oh, there's some real magic to be had there my friends.

That's enough of me, let's have a look a few samples that I've whipped up using different methods and cameras and hopefully it'll get your creative juices flowing.

Fragment of DNG file from iPhone 6S Plus, less than 1mp, various paint filters, blur, noise, high pass and blends. Imagine this one on canvas about 30 inches wide.

Fragment of DNG file from iPhone 6S Plus, around 1.2 mp, find edges and texture filters, blur, noise, high pass and various blends. Again a great contender for canvas printing.

Fragment of RAW file from Sony NEX 5n Plus, approx 1.5 mp, find edges and texture filters, blur, noise, high pass, hue shift and various blend modes.

Fragment of RAW file from Sony NEX 5n, approx 1.5 mp, find edges and drawing filters, blur, noise, high pass, hue shift and various blend modes. This one looks a bit like a saturated water-colour in real life, it is quite yummy.

Fragment of JPG file from iPhone 3GS,  approx 0.4 mp, find edges and texture filters, blur, multiple noise filters, high pass and various blends, hue shift.  Actual print is 24" wide on canvas!

Fragment of RAW file from Sony NEX 5n Plus, taken at high ISO, multiple image overlays, donor crops approx 1 mp.  Find edges and drawing filters, blur, noise, high pass, hue shift and various blend modes.

Fragment of RAW file from iPhone X DNG , approx 1 mp, find edges and drawing filters, blur, grain/noise, high pass, hue shift and various blend modes. I really like the semi abstract feel of this.

Fragment of RAW file from Sony NEX 5n, taken at high ISO,  approx 1 mp, image flip with copy/paste, blur, noise, high pass, hue shift and various blend modes.

Fragment of RAW file from Sony NEX 5n Plus, mirrored fragment, approx 1 mp, find edges and drawing filters, blur, noise, high pass, hue shift and various blend modes.

So there you go, now go off and have some fun, oh, and by the way, should you decide to go out and deliberately "shoot for fragments" I'd love to hear from you and see what you come up.

Happy Shooting.

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