Natalie Dybisz's Post-Processing Secrets

February 2, 2010 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | Comment |

Digital processing was one of the main aspects of creating images that drew me into photography. I enjoyed manipulating images in post-processing, and experimenting with surrealism and fantasy. My earliest self-portraits that I uploaded to Flickr were cloned images with more than one of me in the frame, such as "The oak chest." (main image)

However, it would be misleading to say that my love for photography lies only in the processing rather than the shooting. I believe that digital post-production is a fantastic tool that can potentially transform an image, but it can only do so when something worthwhile has been captured in the original shot. Some of my images take more processing than others, and some barely any. So, I often refer to there being three categories in my work. The first category is for images that take only a slight tweak of processing. These images are composed almost completely in-camera, so the role of processing is to moderately emphasise and enhance its features. An example would be "Life on the downs." I slightly tweaked levels and colour balance to enhance what was, compositionally, all originally composed within the frame.

Natalie Dybisz's Post-Processing SecretsLife on the downs

The second category is what I call "50/50," for images that are not dependent on the shooting, or the processing; it's an equal weighting of both. My image "South by southeast," for example, took on its filmic look through the black and white conversion made in Photoshop, and there was a blurred dog visible to one side of the frame, which I cloned out. I also flipped the image horizontally, owing to my personal preference. My windblown hair and expression in the original capture are key components to the final image. I took numerous similar shots, but no other shot taken that afternoon resulted in that same effect after the same application of processing, so there was something about this one particular shot that worked. One can see that various changes have transformed the image, but there was not a large operation of compositing used in the process.

Natalie Dybisz's Post-Processing SecretsSouth by southeast

The third grouping is comprised of the images that seem to raise the biggest talking point when people look at my work. In my cloned images, for example, I bring several separate photographs together. I layer them together, in the manner of a montage, to create a composite that brings all the action into one image. Each original photograph, contrasted to the final result, seems insubstantial by itself, and is very different from the finished, polished composite that may take a few hours of work. An example is "Their evening banter," in which I shot several images of myself running and posing round a table in a hotel. I could not see, during the shooting, whether the result would turn out the way I wanted. It wasn't until I brought the shots together that I got an idea of what the final composition would look like.

Natalie Dybisz's Post-Processing SecretsTheir evening banter

I also do other kinds of composites that use a similar layering effect, not so much to multiply subjects, but to use one image to hide another, so that an illusion is created.

Natalie Dybisz's Post-Processing SecretsSprung

These "trick" images are made from a series of shots that are then put together in a way that suspends an illusion – of levitation, flying or falling, for example. There are several ways to achieve the action you want: You can either simply position your limbs in different places for each photograph, as in "Sprung" (above), or you can use an aid to support your body into a position, and then mask out that particular prop. You can also go one step further and have someone propel you into the air. In "The smothering," one shot would have me holding my head into a box, and for another shot I asked my boyfriend to propel my legs into the air. I also took another shot of the scene with nobody in it, which is important to use as part of the masking process.

Natalie Dybisz's Post-Processing SecretsThe smothering

I am still experimenting with additional ways to use post-processing. Sometimes I am surprised when it transforms an image in a way I wasn't planning. At other times, it is important to plan ahead, or your intention might fail. Sometimes I will take a photo and know instantly that I have what I want, because there is a distinct shape within the photo that has already been perfected. Other times, that ‘shape' is taken on through the merging of several photos, but generally, one can always tell whether an image has any potential from the start. It's important to experiment, and see where both the shooting and processing stages take your ideas.


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