A Look at the Uncanny Valley

In the world of photography, artists pursue the ideal of creating hyper-realistic images which look almost surreal – high contrast HDR images, panoramic images which can be viewed on curved screens to create a sense of immersion, and fast-shutter images, like city illustrations, which capture explosions, water spillages and other “in the moment” happenings which look almost impossible when frozen in time.
Other artists, however, create illustrations that strive to be photo-realistic, and they’re almost there. You can find paintings which are almost indistinguishable from photographs, and 3D models of people so realistic that you can’t tell that they’re computer generated until you see them animated – and even then it’s something minor like lipsynch which gives them away. We are approaching the uncanny valley.

The Uncanny Valley

The Uncanny Valley

What is The Uncanny Valley

The uncanny valley is the point at which something that is a replica looks too much like the real thing. When robots were first being built, engineers made them look humanoid – giving them arms and legs, and even a robotic form of a face, because they thought that made people feel more comfortable around them.
As design has become more sophisticated, and replicas have become more realistic, the caring, empathic relationship that people have with the “look alikes” has evaporated. If something looks almost 100% real, but isn’t perfect, the resemblance is “uncanny”.
While the uncanny valley refers mostly to replicas of humans, the same can be said for illustrations – abstract paintings, line drawings and oil on canvas are all things that critics can appreciate, and that stand alone as their own form of art. An “almost photo-realistic” painting that doesn’t quite achieve that goal is usually dismissed as being a good try. The artist gets no points for creativity because they were simply re-creating what they saw.
Now that we’ve reached the uncanny valley, maybe it’s time for more innovation – especially in the world of computer generated art. We can build any virtual world we want – so why replicate the real one?

Tips for Taking Great Portrait Photos

When most people think of portrait photography, they think of unflattering passport photos taken in photo booths, and ugly school photos taken against sickly green backdrops. As well as for taking good landscape photos, or attractive illustrated map, there is an art to taking good portrait photographs, but once you learn the secret you will be able to take impressive looking, flattering portraits.

Portrait Photography from Cyclic by CheriJ

Portrait Photography from Cyclic by CheriJ

Use Exposure Compensation

When you are taking a portrait photograph, it’s common for the photo to come out under-exposed – especially if you are shooting a fair-skinned person, or if there is a lot of white in the scene. It doesn’t require HDR Photography, just use your camera’s exposure compensation feature to correct this issue.

Choose a Wide Aperture

Set your aperture to f2.8/f5.6 when taking portrait photographs. This setting captures a shallow depth of field, ensuring that your subject will be in focus while the background will be slightly blurred, making the photograph stand out. If you want a truly professional looking photograph, swap your lens for a specialist portrait lens which supports apertures of f1.2/f2.8.

Manage Your Shutter Speed

If you are shooting in aperture priority mode, the camera will automatically manage the shutter speed for you. If you are shooting in manual mode, then you should choose your shutter speed carefully. It is similar to like show motion in Cartoons Illustrations. Pick a shutter speed that is higher than the effective focal length you have chosen. If your focal length is 200mm, then your shutter speed should be 1/250 sec.
When shooting in aperture priority mode, you can increase your shutter speed simply by raising your ISO setting.

Use a Tripod

Even with a fast shutter speed, camera shake can be a serious problem. Using a tripod to keep your camera steady should alleviate this problem. If you have the option, use a remote control rather than the button on the camera, to take your photos.

How to Take Great Landscape Photos

Landscape photography is a challenging but satisfying hobby. Anyone can point their camera at a wide open space and snap a quick photograph, but capturing a scene in a way that would be worthy of a place in a tourist brochure or set of illustrated maps or as a print for the wall of your home, requires particular skill.
Here are a few tips to help you capture the perfect landscape photo.

Landscape Photo Illustration

Landscape Photo Illustration

Use a high depth of field

Choose a small aperture setting to get the highest possible depth of field. This will ensure that you have as high a depth of field as possible, keeping as much of the shot in focus as possible. When you use a small aperture setting, less light passes through the lens, so you will either have to increase the ISO setting or lengthen your shutter speed in order to compensate.

Always Use a Tripod

When you use a long shutter speed, the camera becomes incredibly sensitive to movement. To prevent your shots from becoming blurry and out of focus, set a tripod on solid ground and do not let the camera move at all while a shot is being taken.

Frame the Shot Carefully

Landscape photography
Choose a focal point for the shot, and try to have some sort of framing around it so that there is something for the eye to look at. A shot that has no focal point looks barren and empty, and a shot that is too busy looks cluttered – neither of those are desirable.
Take a look at some of your favorite illustrations. There is a good chance that there is one object that the eye is drawn to – that may be the sun, a mountain, a tree, or even a brightly colored beach ball on an otherwise plain beach (like it happens sometimes on posters). Practice picking out objects to focus on, and hone your craft until you can capture the perfect shot.

Photo Illustration in Journalism

Photo illustration is considered to be something of a dirty word in the journalistic space. While “new media” journalists, bloggers and some of the more progressive magazines love the concept, many traditional newsroom workers feel that it is deceptive, cheap and a step backwards in reporting.
Why is it that photo illustration is so unpopular while it uses even in illustrated art books? Well, many journalists feel that it is misleading to the viewer. To them, editing a photograph in a tool such as PhotoShop to turn it into something that it is not is “taking the easy way out”. They believe that it takes away from honest reporting and that, if the manipulations are not disclosed, it is a form of deception.

Abstract vs Real

One of the biggest dangers of Photo Illustration is that it is all too easy to make something that looks incredibly realistic, and to the passing viewer the image may look like a genuine piece of reporting. When you can add or remove people from images, take one person’s head and put it on another’s body, add fake tears or fake scars, or change other parts of an image in a way that makes it almost impossible to tell that the image has been modified, that is a lot of power to have.
Abstract photo illustrations of the kind used on cartoons propaganda posters, recruiting adverts and billboards are one thing, but Photoshoping celebrities to make them look thinner or more attractive, or changing someone’s height or appearance to make them look more authoritative is, in some minds, morally a different issue.
Many journalists feel that if the illustrations are clearly marked as having been modified, then their use would be acceptable. As long as the pictures are being passed off as real, however, then viewers are being mislead. It’s no big deal if someone has a few spots removed from their nose, but the technology available today allows for much more impressive, and dangerous, blurings of the lines between reality and imagination.

What is HDR Photography

HDR Photography, or High Dynamic Range photography, is a specialist form of imaging which creates intense images. HDR can be used to create a stronger level of realism, bringing out starlight, brighter colors, and more contrast.

How Does HDR Photography Work

HDR Photography

HDR Photography

None-HDR photography (traditional photography) involves taking a single photograph at a single exposure level and with only a small contrast range. This kind of photography leads to a loss of detail, especially in parts of the macro photo which are either very dark or very bright. In contrast, HDR Photography usually involves taking several photographs at different exposure levels and putting them together to create an image that is more detailed than any single image.
HDR photography, if taken to extremes, can create exaggerated images. This technique is often used in art and in illustrations for book covers and magazines.

The History of HDR

HDR photography is not actually a new illustrative technique. Gustave Le Gray used a technique similar to HDR photography in the 1850s to correct images which were taken with too much luminance. When taking photographs of seascapes, he used one image for the sky and another for the land, and combined the images to produce a clear, attractive photograph.
By the 1950s, several prominent photographers were using similar techniques. A single HDR image could take as long as five days to produce, but the level of accuracy and tonal representation was incredible, especially when compared to standard photographs from the era.

Modern HDR

Today, it is easy to produce HDR images in most illustration packages. Adobe PhotoShop CS2 added the ability for users to select multiple photographs and “Merge to HDR”. The images must be identical in all respects except for exposure, however this can easily be achieved as long as the camera is in a fixed position or on a Tripod.

Trauma – The Photo Illustration Game

Trauma is an indie game which has attracted a lot of interest recently, as it was re-released as part of an indie game bundle. The game is quite simplistic – if anything, it is simply a “hidden object” game with an interesting narrative. You play the role of a young woman who has been in an accident. While in hospital, suffering from head trauma, she has many strange dreams which help her work through various “coming of age” issues.

Trauma - The Photo Illustration Game

Trauma – The Photo Illustration Game

What makes this game stand out is the amazing illustration work that the developer has done. Trauma is essentially a photography portfolio. You navigate through the game world using mouse gestures to turn, pan and zoom the “camera”, in a similar fashion to how you would navigate Google Street View.
As you explore the game world – made up of a huge collection of panoramic photographs (including illustrations with Post Processing), macro shots and zoom photography, you play a “hunt the Polaroid” game, collecting Polaroid photos which are hidden in the high resolution photographs you are looking at. Each of those photographs contains a clue, and when you have collected enough of them you will be able to figure out what gesture you must perform, and upon which object, to complete the level.
The illustrations in trauma are exceptionally high quality. They have been creatively edited, and are a true visual feast. Unfortunately, the game itself is rather simplistic. You can complete the basic story in just half an hour, and it does not take much longer to collect all of the polaroids and uncover the secret endings and extras.
If you’re a fan of art and photography, it’s worth looking at this game just to see what the creator has done with the images and the interface. It’s a great way to put together a photography portfolio. If you’re looking for an exciting game experience, however, look elsewhere.

3D Photography – The Ultimate in Realism

3D televisions and computer monitors are finally becoming affordable for the average homeowner, but 3D photography is still not something that is being explored in the mainstream. If you’d like to experiment with taking photos in 3D, check out these tips that will help you make realistic, exciting images for viewing in a 3D player.

Learn to Think in 3D

3D photo illustration example

3D photo illustration example

Before you can create good 3D photos for your portfolio, you need to learn to think in 3D. Looking at 3D Maps can really help. If you take a photo of a static painting or flat object, it won’t look very impressive in 3D unless you add something else to the scene to create a feeling of depth. Sculptures, buildings and people, however, are 3D no matter what angle you use for the shot.

Use the Foreground and Background

3D photo

3D photo

It is important in Macro Photography and Illustration too. But for an effective panoramic 3D image, you need to use the whole scene. Soft-focus backgrounds that look great in 2D illustrations do not work for 3D photography. Make sure that there are things in-focus in both the foreground and background of the scene so that it looks good in 3D.

Keep the Scene Clean

If you have a strong focal point in mind, make sure that it stands out in the image. It’s OK to add other elements to the image for perspective, but do not clutter the image with busy backgrounds or objects that are on top of or very close to each other. Sometimes these objects mess up the scene and end up looking like they are at different depths after the conversion to 3D.
Successful 3D photography takes practice, but when it works well the results can be mind-blowing. Take lots of shots from different angles and experiment until you figure out what works best for your audience.

How to Take Great Macro Photographs

Macro photography is the art of taking extremely detailed close-up photographs. Every photographer should have one or two macro photographs in their portfolio, and if you want to have your images used as book cover illustrations, or in advertisements, or map illustrations, then learning the art of macro photography is essential.


Macro-photography Illustration

Taking good macro photographs requires using a fairly specialized camera. While modern digital cameras have gotten better at taking macro photos over the last few years, keeping the image in focus and achieving a suitable level of contrast can be difficult. Ideally, you should use a lens with a 50-60mm lens, although you can still achieve good shots with a 100mm lens.

Filters for Macro Photography

Macro-photography Illustration by Andrey Osokin

Macro-photography Illustration by Andrey Osokin

If you want to achieve an even greater subject-to-lens ratio, then one way to do this is to use a Dioptre filter. This kind of filter is essentially a single-element lens which screws into the front element thread and acts like a magnifying glass.
A dioptre can turn a compact camera into a serviceable device for taking macro shots.

Choose Your Focus Carefully

Super macro-photographu by Andrey Osokin

Super macro-photographu by Andrey Osokin

When you are taking macro shots, you should choose the point of focus carefully. In fact, you should consider taking multiple shots with different focal points. Even changing the focal point by a few millimetres can make a massive difference to the appearance of the shoot.

Use Ambient Light Carefully

One more great Macro photo by Anrey Osokin

One more great Macro photo by Anrey Osokin

If you are photographing static objects, playing with ambient light can also change how the image looks. It is not a good idea to use a direct flash, because this will create too much glare, or wash out the image. However, a small amount of ambient light, or an off-camera flash, combined with a slight increase in shutter speed, can increase the clarity of the image and make your chosen focal point stand out.