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Today’s post is from Mohamed Rafi, a fine art photographer from India.

“Every artist is an illusion to the rest of the world “


I recently graduated with an MBA from a British institute and could call myself a struggling artist. It was soon after my graduation and during the phase of job hunting and so called ‘settling down’ that I was hit by a wave of introspection. My parents asked me about marriage and I was faced with the question of maximum import in our stereotypical society, “What’s my profession?”  The radical views of the people around me with regards to the same got me feeling quite low and depressed. Everyday I have been told, advised, warned or encouraged ‘to be’ or ‘not to be’ an artist. And shockingly enough, even in this day and age, some people do look down upon creating an art as an appropriate way of earning one’s living. I was very amused with such perspectives towards art and artists, and my bafflement leads me towards conceptualizing this photographic script.

I started cultivating the idea and let it brew in my head for some days as I usually do with most of my photographs. I was just a step away from the final concrete image when one fine day I saw this huge mirror at a friend’s home, which immediately struck me as the best prop to imitate the world’s view of an artist. It was then that I finally scripted the whole idea in my diary and managed to find through Google, this beautiful location, 200km away from the city (Bangalore, India), which was just apt for this composition.


The Equipment and Settings

Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 85mm f1.8
Manfrotto MKC3-HO1 TRIPOD
1/8000 sec @ f/2 & ISO 100
Manual exposure, Manual WB, RAW
Total images taken 28
18 blank shot for extension
10 mirror shots

How I Shot It

I am always very particular about the location as it adds just the right mood to the composition. I knew this concept wasn’t going to be a single person’s job so I convinced my brother and my friend to accompany me for the shoot and they happily obliged, being among the few people who have shown great conviction in my potential as an artist. On the scheduled day, we group of friends woke up early morning around 3 A.M for the shoot because I prefer shooting during the golden hours (before and after sunrise), also known as ‘magic hours.’ My brother Mohammed Kasim was chosen to model for this shot, and his being well tuned with me and just as efficient prevented us from facing any time management issue.

I had pre-planned everything anyway to be executed exactly the way I wanted, which helped me save a lot of time and confusion on the field. I explained the entire concept to the model on the location in order to make him understand my vision and showed him how to pose. I told him to keep his emotions neutral to suit its mood (my experience with expressions and visual connect through numerous past selfies helped me prep him for the shoot). The entire shoot took place at a fast pace and we wrapped it up within 20 minutes of reaching the location (the only time consuming aspect of this shot being the 200 km drive to the designated spot).

The most important part of this composition was holding the image consistent and taking all shots with the exact same settings. So I fixed my camera on my tripod and set everything manually except the focus before taking the first image. After taking some test shots, I set the AF on (only for the body shot), set the WB to K4800 to create the moody atmosphere, the aperture to F2 to get enough details, shutter speed to 1/8000 sec and then the ISO to 100. I directed the model to a desirable spot and took the body shot (SOOC) as you see below.wasim

Then, I double-checked the photograph by zooming right through to make sure that the subject was in focus because one should never trust the camera’s LCD screen. As soon as I was done with the body shot, I asked the model to move away from the spot and changed the AF into Manual to hold down the focus. Then I started shooting in a pinwheel rotation. As the camera’s focus was locked, I would get the same depth of field as the body shot. So I literally went along a grid from the top left corner to the lower right corner. I shot the images in such a way that each one slightly overlapped with the previous one and tried my best not to miss any spots. After that I also took 18 blank shots to be used for image extension.

Now came the most essential element in the frame, the mirror. I asked my model to resume to his position in the frame. At this stage, I sought help from my friend Deepak who would play the crucial role of holding the prop in place. I asked him to hold the mirror in a different dimension, as per the script. This way I took almost 10 different shots with various dimensions and angles with different reflections of the model in the mirror.

For these mirror shots I had switched the focus to AF because I wanted them to be captured with maximum detail, the camera still being on the tripod. The image below will give you an idea of the entire process of the shoot.


Post processing (Photoshop CS6 & Lightroom 5 )

Post processing was a very crucial part of creating this image. Extending frames wasn’t so difficult for me because that’s how I often shoot my photographs in order to get a beautiful square frame. I started stitching from the body shot by placing frames one on top of another with low opacity and applying inverted layer mask and painting white. Using layers mask helps me have more control on erasing and restoring the content of the photograph.


Once I was done with the extension, I cropped the image according to the composition. Whenever I crop any image I leave the deleted cropped pixels unchecked, so that I can alter the image as I would wish to. Shown below is what the extension image looked like.


After this I started adding the mirror images one by one by cropping them out from the respective shots(which I had taken with the help of Deepak), by using inverted layer mask. Out of the 10 mirror images we had shot, I used only 8, which were eventually compatible for the composition. I played with these mirrors by placing them in different positions, but it still didn’t fulfill my original vision of the final image. Then I started converting every single mirror layer into 3D objects, which helped me place the mirrors in different dimensions. Tweaking these 3D objects took a lot of time and patience, but it was worth it as I could now see in front of me the image i had originally conceptualized in my mind.


Once I was done with positioning the mirrors, I started working on styling the image with various tools such as dodge & burn, color tones etc. To enhance the mood of the picture, I added fog on top of the water and around the feet (bottom) by painting off white with soft brush (opacity 50 , flow 10) and by applying Gaussian blur filter with 90 radius. Most of the color correction was done with the help of curves and selective color adjustment layers. As a final stage, I exported the image into Lightroom 5 to sharpen it and to save different resolution images for various requirements. And this is how the final image looked.


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About the “How to Shoot It” Series

This educational series highlights amazing images from our writers as well as our community. The goal is to not only feature inspirational work but to provide valuable education for our photography community. If you would like to submit your work, please click here for more info on writing for SLR Lounge.