How To Write A Photography Book - Part 4

I'm writing a book! Join me as I share everything... how to write, photograph, market and publish from start to finish! Click here to find earlier posts in this series

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It's my fourth post & already I'm feeling more confident than ever that I might finally get this project completed - there's a long way to go but I'm writing a little bit every day and it's starting to add up.

Today's post is not about writing though... it's about photography. More specifically, I am going to share how I plan to illustrate the book. 

In my last post I described how I wanted a hand-drawn, lovingly crafted feel to my book but none of the artists I engaged were quite hitting what I wanted. Their work was great but it wasn't matching my vision.

In the end I hit upon what I think is an awesome idea... 

  • I hire a model & studio to photograph the scenes I need in the book
  • I share a behind-the-scenes view on the whole process; from casting, designing & planning through to lighting & shooting on the day
  • I process the images in photoshop to make them look like pencil drawings

I think this is a fantastic idea - not only am I in total control for the whole creative process (which is admittedly sort of scary) but I get to share much more about how I am bringing the book to life - I'm especially happy it means I can get back to taking photographs too! 

I've already started looking for a model who might fit the bill but it's early days. When I plan a model shoot I make sure I know exactly what I want, how to shoot it, source any props and book a studio... I don't want to book a model and have them waiting for weeks until I'm ready, or to book the perfect model who then disappears.

Instead, for the last few days I've been experimenting with the process to turn photos into drawings. I need to prove it works because if not I will need to rethink the plan.  What better photo to start with than a selfie....

Here's one of my earliest attempts at converting a photo into a drawing - 

National Portrait Gallery here we come. 

National Portrait Gallery here we come. 

The photo below is the source image I worked from, actually taken from my Project 365 back in 2013.

IMG_1246.JPG

A few caveats - this image is far darker than I would probably want to use the book. The plan is all scenes will be photographed against a white background to match the paperwhite of the book. I'd also want much more colour & vibrancy in the final image whereas this is much more muted, almost monochrome. Still it was the first time I processed the photo and found a result that worked out. Getting the pencil effect right is key, colouring in is easy.

Image processing is a hugely important consideration - I need it to be sophisticated, look original, flexible enough to let me tweak to taste but easy enough to repeat dozens, maybe hundreds of times. I tried at least half a dozen excellent Photoshop tutorials on YouTube but even though the results were impressive it was taking hours and hours to edit a single image. Not going to work!

Eventually I found a photoshop action which at the click of a button would analyse my image & produce the pencil drawing effect inside a minute or two. It's the most complicated action I've ever used in Photoshop!  I'm typing this blog post on my commute so can't share the author's name - I'll try to remember for a later post.

Immediately I bought the rights to use the action for only £5. It's perfect - not only does it do the hardest part of the processing for me, the sketching effect, but I can tailor the end result in all manner of ways. It gives me the baseline I need to tailor it to what I want and I can apply a consistent, reproducible action to all images. This means all illustrations will have the same look & feel.

I've posted some images below - these are from model shoots I did in Singapore and I used them to experiment with processing. Remember, I haven't settled on the final look I'm going for - these images are helping me make that decision. It's a WIP!

The source photo here is practically black and white and I think that's why this has worked so well. However what I was REALLY looking at was how the pencil action would render the strong shadows on her face - and it had worked well!

The source photo here is practically black and white and I think that's why this has worked so well. However what I was REALLY looking at was how the pencil action would render the strong shadows on her face - and it had worked well!

This is testing a white background would stay white and not be "pencilled in". The shadows on her face were also less pronounced than before but still came out well. I need to figure out how to get the skin-tone coming through the pencil shading properly.

This is testing a white background would stay white and not be "pencilled in". The shadows on her face were also less pronounced than before but still came out well. I need to figure out how to get the skin-tone coming through the pencil shading properly.

Really pleased with this one. The skteching and the skin-tone work very well together, there's good defintion on the original image (it's not "swamped" by the pencil effect) and even the lips and eyes come through. For this image I added a new step in processing - after creating the pencil sketch I went back to the original image and added a very contrasty "harsh structure" layer using Silver Efex Pro. I blended that in using a 40% luminosity mask. The result is I get sharp edges, sharp detail - look at those eyelashes - but it still looks like a drawing. If I can replicate this effect on the other images I'll be very happy.

Really pleased with this one. The skteching and the skin-tone work very well together, there's good defintion on the original image (it's not "swamped" by the pencil effect) and even the lips and eyes come through.

For this image I added a new step in processing - after creating the pencil sketch I went back to the original image and added a very contrasty "harsh structure" layer using Silver Efex Pro. I blended that in using a 40% luminosity mask. The result is I get sharp edges, sharp detail - look at those eyelashes - but it still looks like a drawing. If I can replicate this effect on the other images I'll be very happy.

I've found that testing the process is a very useful exercise for showing me what photos work with the action and what don't - this is hugely important as it means I won't run the risk of getting a load of unusable images during my photo shoots. Instead I can arrange my scene & lighting to maximise the number of shots I know will probably handle processing well.

Speaking of this, I found one image that did NOT work. 

The lighting on her face was flattering in the photograph but didn't have sufficient contrast or shadow for the pencil action to work. Blending in the underlying image didn't work either - looks like I need to have very well defined areas of highlight & shadow for faces to work.

The lighting on her face was flattering in the photograph but didn't have sufficient contrast or shadow for the pencil action to work. Blending in the underlying image didn't work either - looks like I need to have very well defined areas of highlight & shadow for faces to work.

I'm considering a blue dress and red hair for Pel so wanted to test a blue & red image. I didn't have one that fit so found a free stock photo and tried experimenting on that. It isn't too bad - I just need to figure out a way of boosting the vibrancy of the colour without losing the pencil defintion

I'm considering a blue dress and red hair for Pel so wanted to test a blue & red image. I didn't have one that fit so found a free stock photo and tried experimenting on that.

It isn't too bad - I just need to figure out a way of boosting the vibrancy of the colour without losing the pencil defintion

The source image, free stock from Pexels

The source image, free stock from Pexels

So as you can see, I've been busy this week. I still haven't settled on a final art-style and although the effect I am producing now is close to what I want, it's not 100% there. When I do finally get the effect I'm looking for I'll do another blog post going into step-by-step details of the processing I apply.

I'm going to be away for a few days which will delay progress for a while but I have a few things I want to talk about in the days to come -

  • Branding, marketing, advertising
  • Copyright & trademarks
  • Publishing options

However, because I've also made progress actually writing a few sections I might try and do a partial mock-up of what I have and share it.

The problem is there's so much I want to work on I need to focus and do what's important now!

Hope you enjoyed this week's post and I'd love to hear some feedback. What do you think of the test images? What do you like/what would you change? Do you have suggestions or sample images I could experiment with that you are willing to share? 

Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook!

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