Smoke & Mirrors

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We now continue with our original programming….

Well, mirrors, anyway.

I get asked about this photo more than any other, lately. It’s the lead photo in Chapter 10 of my book (“Advanced Reflections”), and it seems everyone wants to know how I did it.the answer, after the jump

And the answer is……[insert drum roll] ==== PHOTOSHOP!

In case you aren’t hep to the issue, what’s puzzling some folks is why you can’t see me or my camera or any lighting stuff in the wall-to-wall mirror I’m shooting into.

Well first of all, I didn’t use lights in the bathroom portion of this shot — it’s one exposure, all ambient light. I did have a light in the bedroom, which is what you’re seeing through the reflection of the doorway. And I’m not there because I used the self-timer mode on the camera while I stepped aside. And the camera is simply removed in post-processing, digitally.

There are a couple of ways to do this. One (and this is how I did our bath photo) is to use the Clone Stamp to replace the image of the camera with the appropriate colors and textures, borrowing from nearby parts of the photo. The secret to this is to position the camera in front of things you can easily re-build.  Let’s take a closer look at what I was working with, in this case:

Here’s  a larger crop from the original, RAW file. What you’re seeing is NOT an ideal situation. If I could have put the camera just a couple of inches to the right, I would have been able to retain the corner of the bedhead, and the edges of the pillows, all of which I had to re-construct freehand later on . It doesn’t help that the faucet handle is sticking up into where the camera strap shows, either.

Unfortunately, I didn’t do that — moving the camera to the right would have wrecked the composition, revealing too much shower, and leaving out too much tub. In retrospect, I could probably have moved the camera and shot a bit wider, planning to crop back in later…but….I didn’t think of that. And I don’t like to shoot that wide, either. This is already at 19mm, which is creating distortion that would only get worse with a shorter lens. Besides, while it was a bit of a pain in the ass to fix up the background, it wasn’t impossible.

Another way to deal with this, and my favorite, is to use a shift lens. A shift lens allows you to move the image circle left or right, up or down, by as much as 12mm, which translates into a huge transit in the field of view. I could have plunked the camera down almost anywhere, and shifted the field of view back to what I wanted.

So how come I didn’t do that? A) I didn’t own a shift lens when I made this photo, and B) I’m shooting at 19mm here, and Canon’s TS lens is 24mm. I know, I know, there are 1500 dudes out there shouting that they also make a 17mm TS, but I’m sorry, guys — 17mm is just too damn wide for interiors work. It just is.

The third method, one used regularly by my friend Dan Achatz, is to shoot the bath with camera, photographer, and anything else right there in the mirror, and then un-mount the camera, walk into the room, and take a photo back towards the tripod (move it out of the way, please) — a photo from the mirror’s perspective. You’ll want to make note of what exactly the field of view is in the reflection from your original camera position, and then replicate that FOV when you take the reverse angle, as best you can. Then you simply paste that shot into your original photo, and voilà — who can tell? You won’t have the exact angles all perfect, probably, but as long as you’re close, who the heck is going to care, much less be able to call you out on it?

Got a special technique of your own? Share it in the comments.

8 responses to “Smoke & Mirrors

  1. OMG! That looks like a pia to clone! Nice work.

  2. Thanks so much for the info!!!! My mind was boggled every time I looked at that photo.

  3. Cool, thanks for explaining. Dan’s method sounds cool too – makes total sense in retrospect.

  4. When shooting some bathrooms or reflective surfaces, I tend to use the marquee tool or pen and create a new layer of something I can copy and follow the theme of the view. I duplicate it a couple of times and feather it in. Of course, it’s never pre-planned. I get home and think–who is that standing next to the camera and why is the camera in that mirror?

  5. I usually take a second shot from the position of the mirror to where i was shooting the first picture from and clone that secon photo in the first one. You can shoot mirror-walls with your complete reflection on them and clone yourself away with no problem…

  6. Ok i see this allready was mentioned as the third option 😀

  7. Olivier Koning

    I agree with you that 17mm is too wide for most situations. Nice to own one if you can afford it.

  8. The shift lens has made it to my wish list. More than impressed with the effort! Having caught the camera in mirrors not on purpose a few times, why not go for it with style. Oh, I’ve had to do the occasional shot knowing I’d fix it in PS later just to get the required image. This has inspired me to go for it in a more creative way next time the opportunity presents it self. Sure to impress clients. Thanks Scott!