Up for Discussion – Combining Film and Digital Images
When I put the call out for people to guest blog I received an email from R.C. Fountain from the blog, THE WORLD IN TWILIGHT , saying “I’d like to write a post about some sample methods of marrying film with digital techniques, e.g. compositing a digital image with a film image.” I thought it sounded like an interesting idea, we often don’t think of combining both, so I have been looking forward to hearing what he does.
The Frankenphoto: Fusing Analog and Digital
When I was a boy, I looked at the world through squinted eyes. I closed those eyes to mere slits so that only a faint line of light and moving shadow remained to show the world. It was a filter that lended itself to dreams and one that I still occasionally find myself applying in order to recall those fantasies of my youth. And I sometimes use it to create new ones.
My fellow photographers, I have a revelation: it’s a mysterious universe no matter your age. Powers exist that we shall never fully know: truths that would overwhelm us because they are too grand and wonderful. There are enigmas right around the corner that we will never solve, fancies that will remain larger in our minds than the actual facts. And the artist whose vision is shaped by the unknown has a task that compels her creative faculties to rise to the task of making a story in pictures.
The target of that creative impulse can rapidly and unexpectedly present itself. Not far from where I now live is an old boarded-up house. Its inhabitants are long dead and the current owner, for the present, has left it for time to try its teeth on. I was naturally drawn to the rotting bulk; for, laying aside the fact that I’m an armchair history buff and lover of all things old, the structure seemed to stare at me. And technical application rapidly followed imagination.
As photographers we’re often pushing ourselves to improve our craft in the name of our own vision. This means not only making each image a bit better than the one before, but learning techniques that might be wholly new to us. But if this sounds too much like slogging toil, take heart! There’s no reason it can’t be a lot of fun.
One day a little web surfing led me to discover the world of cheap plastic cameras. Their unpredictable results contrasted so sharply with the precision of the digital world, I knew I had to try them out. But I still love the fine control the modern DSLR gives. So I wondered what might be produced if the two were somehow married to one another.
The first step I took was to capture the house digitally, precisely. It was during magic hour and I brought out my trusty Canon 7D. Because I’m often a stickler for the moist noiseless digital images I can get, I chose ISO 100. The light was so abundant that even with an aperture of f/16 I was able to handhold the camera with a shutter speed of 1/200. A few Photoshop effects later and stage 1 was complete.
A few months later, winter had set in and I found myself driving by that selfsame house. I decided I wanted to take the shot again, but in a more candid, unplanned manner. I had a Diana F+ with me, known for its unpredictable results. I snapped another shot and produced a modern day Polaroid with an “instant back” attachment filled with ISO 400 Fuji Instax film with exposure settings of f/22 for aperture and shutter speed of 1/60.
Remember when I mentioned I often looked at the world through slitted eyes? After looking at both photos, the analog and the digital side by side, I began to remember all those stories I ever read about hyper-reality, dream worlds, and the unknowable universe from the pen of every writer of the fantastic and inspirational from Lewis to Lovecraft. I interlaced my fingers and decided to form a composite where the house itself stood out amid a soft and hazy backdrop.
What followed was a fairly simply operation. After scanning the polaroid and bringing both shots into Photoshop, I used the polaroid image as my starting point and created a new layer. In this layer I placed the digital representation and used a soft eraser tool to remove all but the house itself. By the way, It’s important to note that both the shots needed to be taken at roughly the same angle or this composite would not have worked.
Once the digital house was rotated and dragged over its analog counterpart, I flattened the image and added a few minor effects, such as non-destructive vignetting, to put a bow on the project. I was rather pleased with the final result.
Does anybody remember that old Jonny Quest cartoon from the sixties? When I was little, I caught that show in syndication and saw the episode where a scientist on a desert island accidentally gave birth to a monster with his experiments. Lying in the ruins of his lab he cried out, “What have I created?”
In a way, I suppose that the resulting “frankenphoto” is a little risky. It’s not what most would call tack-sharp, and it’s not purist to either digital or analog camps. But I tend to laugh at the elitists of both factions; to paraphrase Jared Polin, don’t let anyone tell you what is and what isn’t a “proper” photograph.
Occasionally I find my eyes wandering back to this picture, and I let my mind take its own trip along imagination’s paths. And the deep voice of the dramatic reader Wayne June growls in my ears, speaking of a place that Poe passed by, not noticing what was in the corner of his own vision…
“And yet that house, to the two persons in possession of certain information, equals or outranks in horror the wildest phantasy of the genius who so often passed it unknowingly, and stands starkly leering as a symbol of all that is unutterably hideous.” (H.P. Lovecraft, “The Shunned House”)
There’s probably no vampiric entity in this house’s basement. But I have a few friends who understand how my mind works and who give me that knowing smile when they see my eyes settling on a crumbling building. I think they’d be disappointed if I didn’t start to imagine a weird and hidden history for a nameless house.
But then again, it is a mysterious universe after all. Who knows? Squint your eyes with me. Maybe it’s not in your imagination…
Thank you RC and if any of you would like to find him and more of his work, here are the links:
Website: THE TWILIT LENS
Blog: THE WORLD IN TWILIGHT
I am going to put the above images and a couple of extras in a gallery for you now.