How I Did It: The Hand Photo

April 14, 2010
f/4.0; 1/10sec; 55mm; ISO 800

f/4.0; 1/10sec; 55mm; ISO 800

I got a message on flickr recently about how I took and edited the above picture, and so I thought it was time for another “How I took it” segment over here.

The Set-up

The set up for this shot was not very complicated, and I’ve re-enacted it below:

The Set-up itself

The Set-up itself

The section marked in blue is where the light from the bathroom was hitting my hand. As you can see, I used a very fancy tripod called A Kleenex Box. The reason I did this was that my traditional tripod didn’t get low enough for my liking, and my camera already had the little shoe thingy for my regular tripod on there, and honestly, I got it on so tight I can’t get it off now, so I had no way of putting my camera on my gorilla-pod. Sooo…. the Kleenex box worked.

To the right of the banister there on the right are the stairs to the main level of my house, and I was laying on those stairs and had my hand out front of me so that it hit that light in the section in blue.

I had all the lights off in the hallway, and in order to add some extra oomph to the light coming from the bathroom, I had a small spotlight pointed at the door, like so:

Doesn't everyone light their photos from the toilet?

Doesn't everyone light their photos from the toilet?

There are a couple things to note in this photo. The first is that the light is not shining directly out the door, I was afraid that would make the light a bit too harsh, so instead it’s pointed AT the door itself and not the opening.

The other thing has nothing to do with the photo itself: see those two switches on the wall there? Those turn on the light/fan in the bathroom (which is one of the quirks of living in a house built in the 1920s), which make it really easy to turn off the light while someone else is in the shower. Not that I would ever do such a thing.

Taking the Photo

I wish I had taken notes when doing this, because I did struggle with this one. I mentioned that I had all the lights off except for the ones in the bathroom, so that made it tough for the autofocus to figure out what it needed to focus on. I can’t remember what I ultimately worked, but I know I tried the following things:

  • Tried and tried and tried as-is with the wireless remote
  • Turned the lights on, used the remote trigger to take a picture and then went back and set the camera to manual focus, turned the lights off, and went back to the same place.

This process probably would have been easier if I had a second person around to switch the camera to manual focus and turn the lights off for me. But John was off playing Halo or something, and who am I to disturb Halo? (hint: NO ONE disturbs Halo.)

One other thing to note – I purposely under-exposed this shot by 2 full stops.

Editing the Photo

Really, this is where the magic happens. Because get ready to see the photo SOOC:

SOOC = Straight Out Of Camera

SOOC = Straight Out Of Camera

Not quite so dramatic, right?

Now I’m going to recreate the process. I took notes on what I did, but not any exact values, so it might turn out looking slight different than how I edited it the first time, but we’ll be pretty close. Hopefully.

So, the first things I did was convert the photo from RAW using UFRaw. I didn’t use the auto exposure, because it was trying to get all of the photo exposed somewhat properly, including the wall and floor which I wanted to be underexposed. So instead I manually moved the slider until my hand seemed to be exposed how I wanted it, and ended up with this:

First brought into Gimp from UFRaw

First brought into Gimp from UFRaw

At this point, you might be really annoyed by the fact that this photo isn’t level. And I am, too, but I’m not going to fix it. Because ultimately I want the whole background to be black anyway, so you won’t notice that the floor isn’t level – and the way it is now, the beam of light is level, and I like that. So, all I’m gonna do now is crop it to get rid of my chin:

Cropped!

Cropped!

Next I used the Lasm Channel Extract from FX-Foundry to convert the photo to black and white. I’m pretty sure I ran it with Red, Green, Blue, L, A, B, and Value checked. Ultimately, I ended up liking the Green and Red layers the best. Liked the Green because it had the wall and floor the darkest:

Green channel

Green channel

…and I liked the Red because of how bright my hand (and more importantly, the reflection of it) was:

Red Channel

Red Channel

So I dragged the Green layer above the Red layer and set it to Overlay at 70%:

Layers

And so now my photo looks like this:

Green channel over Red channel, set to Overlay at 70% Opacity

Green channel over Red channel, set to Overlay at 70% Opacity

Getting closer, but I need to make the background darker. So I create a new layer from visible (under the Layer menu) and bring up the Levels (under Colors –> Levels). I want everything that’s Dark to be Really Dark and I want everything that’s in the middle to get darker too, so I move the left and middle sliders both to the right some (I don’t want to move the right slider, because I’m happy with the lighter parts of the photo – the stream of light and my hand/reflection). Here’s what my levels look like:

Levels

And now here’s what the photo looks like:

Final Photo

Final Photo

Which is pretty darn close to the first one I edited, so I guess I am getting better at writing down the steps I take so I can duplicate them later.

If you have any additional questions about this photo, or any other on my flickr stream, feel free to ask! I always include a short description of how I edited each photo, but if you’d ever like to see the before photo, or more detailed steps of what I did, I’m always willing to share!

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  • Margaret

    Great how-to, thanks for sharing. I'm going to need to check out the software you're using. It's all free, right?

  • praveen_ek

    Iffles.. I love your composition and moreover your way of explaining things in the real layman's perspective!!

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