Miniature Life Tutorial

Title

In the past few months I’ve received quite a few requests and questions around creating a tutorial for how I do photos like these, making myself miniature! I’ve been meaning to write a tutorial for how I achieve this look but haven’t had much time to sit and write one out, until now!

I’ll break the tutorial down into two parts, shooting the actual images and then editing them.

Shooting The Photos!

The first thing I always try to before I take any photo but especially these miniature ones, is make sure that I have a solid concept and an idea of any props or supplies I might need. The more prepared you are for shooting, the easier the entire process becomes. From my experience, shooting miniature scenes works best with simple backgrounds like walls, windows, or lush forest areas. If you have a busy background, even one with a lot of bokeh it can be difficult to make the images match in lighting.

Once you have your concept and your location it’s time to shoot. Here is where you really have to put yourself into tiny shoes and imagine what the scene would look like if you were only an inch tall. I think one of the ways to make these photos look as realistic as possible is to have the focussing and DOF spot on. To do this, you don’t want to just take a photo of an empty scene, you want to have a stand-in for yourself or your model so that the focus is accurate and appropriate to the scene you’re trying to create. I usually use this guy:

wall-e stand in

This Wall-e figure is a great stand-in, it allows me to set the focus on where I will be layering in my own image or the image of someone else and it also gives me the opportunity to use shadows. Shadows and reflections are some of the smaller details that really help to build up an image and by using a toy stand in (lego figures would work too) it allows you to not only set up your focus and scene but also keep and use the shadows that the toy casts.

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After you’ve set up your stand-in and you have the focus where you want it, lock the focus. Take a few shots with your stand-in and then remove it to get some photos of what we’ll call the “blank scene”. This is where you can get creative, you can do an expansion if you like or keep it to one shot. You can start to add in new elements (dropping coffee beans) or you can leave it simple.

Blank Scene

Blank Scene

Once you’ve finished with your blank scene it’s time to take the portrait side of the image. This is where things get a bit more particular. I always try to shoot everything in the same time frame and in the same location as possible so that the lighting and colouring looks as similar as can be. What I tend to do is look back into the first few images of my stand-in to see where my pose should be but more importantly where the camera angle should be. If you’re shooting the miniature at floor level, it means that you might have to sit on a chair or get your camera lower to make sure the angle and shadowing is similar. This is where you can go a little crazy with the photos, take more than you think you need to and check your results often so that you can adjust pose or angle if you need to. After you’re happy with the images, it’s on to editing!

Self

shootingtips

Editing!

The first thing I always do is open up my blank scene photos and expand them (if you’re not doing an expansion, skip this part!) I usually include a layer using my stand in, just in case I need to use the shadows later on. If you’re not familiar with how expansions work, I do have a tutorial here that explains it! http://joelrobisonphoto.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/an-expansion-tutorial/

After you’ve set up your blank scene, it’s time to add in your Mini. Depending on the images, it can be as simple as layering the mini images in and simply masking out the parts you don’t want but usually it involves resizing the “mini” layer to fit the scene.

Resizing the “mini” layer is where things can get tricky. You have to keep in mind the original scene that you set up, how tall was your stand in and what is the focus set to? If you shrink yourself too small or not enough, it sets everything slightly off. So, using a lot of trial and error simply resize this “mini” layer. I usually mask the layer roughly first just to get the sizing right and then do a clean up after I’m happy with it.

unprocessed

So now you should have the basis of a “mini” shot! This is where those finer details come into play. In the shot below, I knew I would need to have a shadow of my arm and hand over the egg, so using the layer with Wall-e I copied his shadow and layered it into the image. I also knew that there’d be some more shadows needed around my feet and legs so using the burn tool I lightly burned the area to darken the shadows. Sometimes I also use the soften brush on a low opacity to add some DOF to the “mini” layer, this is helpful to give some realistic DOF. Just by doing a very subtle soften of shoulders, knees or other body parts that are a bit further away from the camera it helps to give a more cohesive and finalized look to the mini layer.

Finished

If you’re unsure of shadows or reflections, just return back to your stand-in shot to see where things should be and if you need to add in any final details. Once you’ve finished with the smaller details, you can continue to edit the colour tones, curves, textures etc of the image all at once!

editingtips

As always, if you read this tutorial and you enjoyed it please comment below and if you take a miniature photo, please send me a link! I will be drawing a name from all the people who create an image based on this tutorial and that winner will receive a very special “mini” themed prize!

March Madness

It seems like I say this after every trip I go  on, but I have no idea how to sum up how incredible the last two weeks have been. I`m going to try my best to recollect all the incredible memories that spanned 3 cities, dozens of friends and thousands of miles.

My adventure first start when I landed in Vancouver to visit my amazing friends that decided to organize a mini-meetup with local photographers. I first spent some time with my good friend Gurbir, attending a fundraising concert and exploring the UBC campus. Later that night we met up with the rest of our team of amazing photographers; Kindra Timmerwilke, Austin Tott, Noah Friebel, Lizzy Gadd, Emerald Shatto, Esther Gadd, Michelle Ellis, and Sandy Chu.

Noah

We spent the weekend at the lovely Gadd house and had many adventures around the Vancouver area. On Saturday we ventured to Lynn Canyon, stopping for a traffic jam photo shoot along the way. The canyon was beautiful, with huge tree stumps and lush forests leading us down to the river where we posed in each other`s photos and lit about 50 smoke bombs, watching the sun carry the light through the river canyon.

Lynn Canyon

 

We then rushed through Vancouver to drive to Wreck Beach near UBC so that I could shoot a client shoot I had booked. A local singer/songwriter Jordan Klassen had contacted me about doing some promotional photos for him and it was great to meet him and spend some time shooting some conceptual photos. That night we lit a fire on the beach and then stuffed ourselves full of amazing vegetarian food.
dinner

Sunday we spent the day exploring local minnekhada park. The weather was chilly but we made it much warmer by lighting huge torches for photos and layering on cloaks and blankets for photos. I love meetups like these where I can just stand-off to the side and see amazing hubs of activity and photos. We hiked along the beautiful roots and caves and stumps up to the lookout where we stayed for quite a while shooting photos of each other. That night we said goodbye to Austin and Kindra and Sandy and Michelle and our group was suddenly smaller.

groupified

Monday we agreed would be a lazy day and it was spent partially in pajamas and partially in White Rock where we walked along the shoreline with dogs and a kite and prepared to say goodbye to everyone. After another great meal and some late night Harry Potter, it was time to get ready for the next chapter in my adventure.
white rock

Tuesday the 12th I boarded a plane for Las Vegas and was greeted at the airport by a trio of wonderful people, Whitney Justesen, Brooke Shaden and KD Stapleton. After some hectic driving we checked into the hotel and our group grew with addition of Rob Woodcox and Peter Jamus. We explored a tiny bit of Las Vegas before we had to get ready for the whole reason we were all there, the FRAMED AWARDS!  Rob, Brooke and I were each nominated for awards and after taking some prom-style photos we literally ran from our hotel to the exclusive party, twitching with nervous excitement as we were led to the VIP section of the MGM Grand.

airport

pretty peeps

The party was incredible, getting to meet so many talented people who I`ve looked up to for so long was truly an incredible experience. Being able to literally rub shoulders with Aaron Nace, Ryan Brenizer, Kirsty Mitchell, Jeremy Cowart, and so many more was just surreal. Even though I didn`t win my category I felt like the biggest prize was being able to call these people friends by the end of the night. After the party ended, some of the Phlearn crew joined us for continued adventures around the strip and we stayed awake long enough to say goodbye to Rob before crashing into the beds.
Vegas

Wednesday we said goodbye to Whitney before heading off to see Brooke present a speech at the WPII expo. Peter and I sat in the front row and Brooke`s presentation was just as thought-provoking and insightful as I would have expected it would be. After she was done we kind of hobbled around the expo, bumping into all our friends from the night before along the way. After a few more “my life is amazing!”  moments, we left and drove around Las Vegas to find a vegan restaurant. In one of my favourite moments of the entire trip; Brooke, KD, Peter and I just hung out at a cafe, laughing like old friends and enjoying tasty treats. It was a happy heart moment that I`ll always remember. That night, Brooke and KD left and it was just Peter and I left to fend for ourselves! That night we ended up crashing a penthouse party (actually we were invited by Ben Von Wong) and after about a 5 hour conversation with some amazing people on the balcony we finally headed back to the hotel at about 5 a.m. That night really changed my own view on my photography and solidified my desire to become the best I can possibly be.

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After a short but wonderful sleep, Peter and I split off for a few hours. I walked up and down the Las Vegas strip, enjoying the warm weather and stopping to see various things. Randomly saw the Blue Man Group film a commercial, saw a few wax statues and had a great time just walking and thinking.

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Later that evening we met up with a duo of beautiful photographers, Janelle Flom and Katie Ruther and ventured into an aqueduct/wash thing and took photos until the sun went down. It was great to actually get some photography done while we were in Vegas, especially in a spot that wasn’t so traditionally Las Vegas.
group

Friday was our last day in the city and after a great morning coffee with Ben Von Wong, Peter and I walked (it was really more of an epic journey) to Whole Foods so we could finally eat food that was nourishing and not crazy expensive. We then met up with two amazing new friends Samantha and Corey who drove us out to the most amazing place, Nelson’s Landing where we got to shoot photos on a crashed plane, in some cool vintage busses and watch the sun go down behind the Nevada mountains. It was the most amazing way to wrap up my time in the sun there.
plane

 

Saturday was a full travel day. Between 8am and midnight I spent my entire day in airports and in the sky flying to Chicago and then finally to Atlanta. The next day, St.Patrick’s Day, I met up with one of my favourite people, Taylor McCormick and after we walked around downtown Atlanta and saw more than we ever planned to, we met up with AJ Brustein a friend and fellow photographer who works at Coca-Cola and first discovered my photos and started my whole project with them.

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We decided to check out a cool spot, an abandoned train yard which was absolutely incredible. I feel like I could have spent days there taking photos. Big huge warehouses, a train car, trees growing inside buildings, a brick throne and so many cool spots. It turns out the next Hunger Games movie filmed there and I can see why, it’s pretty awesome! I managed to get a lot of photos done in a short amount of time and it was great to be able to shoot photos with Taylor and AJ.  That night Taylor and I met up with another local photographer and friend Patrick Di Rito for dinner and we had a great time hanging out and laughing.
TaylorAJ

Monday the 18th was the big day. The whole reason I was in Atlanta was to visit Coca-Cola HQ and meet the people behind the company, specifically the people who had been a part of my project with them. The day started with a wonderful tour of the HQ, we went to the former president’s office which was fascinating and told a lot about how the company grew from humble beginnings to where it is now. Then I took a tour down to the archives which was incredible. I was shown original Norman Rockwell sketches and paintings, pieces of memorabilia that have been in movies and television shows, I held an olympic torch and a can that had been on the space station. It was so crazy to know that I was actually there!
Torch

Later I met with Wendy Clark, the VP of Marketing Communications and we talked about my project and I had the opportunity to discuss my photography and how I’d love to continue with them in any new projects. Then it was on to lunch in what Casey refers to as the Saved By the Bell Diner inside the complex. In the afternoon I met with Kelly Kozel and the Licensing department where I was able to see how Coca-Cola works with artists and designers around the world to create one of a kind and high-end works of art. It was really assuring to me to see a company actually reaching out to artists in a way that supports and encourages collaboration, something I’d love to keep doing with them. Then I was gifted a huge bag of goodies that weighed half as much as me and was totally a surprise! After that we went to a brand team meeting where I was given the opportunity to voice my opinion on a few topics and share my ideas with the group, it was refreshing (pun!) to see a company valuing a fan’s voice and I felt very comfortable sharing my thoughts and ideas with the group there.

brand team

After the visit at HQ it was a quick trip over to World of Coke where I held a Google+ hangout with a few fans, friends, and fellow photographers. Not everyone showed up but it was still a fun time getting to broadcast a little chat from the lobby! You can watch the whole thing here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=vJIY-JXPADY

Then I was given a VIP tour led by a kind tour guide, Linda. We watched some videos, toured the whole museum/world and wrapped it all up with the sampling room in which I probably drank about 20 litres of various flavours of different drinks. Just as I was about to leave, she let me know that there was a tornado warning and that I should probably plan to stay a bit longer. I waiting and drank more and finally headed back to the hotel to change for dinner with more Coca-Cola people! We had a nice pizza dinner and it was great to wrap up the entire trip with a laid-back and entertaining evening.
the vault

The day home was long, about 12 hours of travelling but after a few close calls I’m finally home and reflecting back on what feels like a few months worth of adventures and people. I networked in a new way on this trip, I talked to business and top photographers and met people who inspired me to keep chasing my dream. I always leave these types of trips inspired and fulfilled and this is no exception. I feel almost validated as a photographer to know that just in the last few years my life has become so enriched just because I enjoy what I do and I create what I like to create and other people like it to.

home!

I’m hoping to use this new energy to reach further in my photography and try to become more engaged with the community that supports me and hopefully keep progressing and growing in the meantime.

Now to unpack!

Group