Port­fo­lio in­ter­view

Gary Ni­cholls on steam­punk pho­tog­ra­phy, the im­por­tance of de­tail and ded­i­ca­tion, and how he cre­ates his work

Photoshop Creative - - CONTENTS - @ar­timag­i­nar­ium

Gary Nicholls on steam­punk pho­tog­ra­phy, the im­por­tance of de­tail and ded­i­ca­tion, and how he cre­ates his work

od is in the de­tail when it comes to Pho­to­shop work, but Gary Nicholls has re­ally taken that to a whole new level. The pho­tog­ra­pher has spent 40 hours a week on his Imag­i­nar­ium project – a fine-art photo book – for the last six years.

We asked him about how he cre­ates his work, his tips for fel­low Pho­to­shop users and what he’s up to next.

How long have you been a Pho­to­shop user?

I started us­ing Pho­to­shop prop­erly in 2007, af­ter buy­ing my first en­try-level Canon DSLR. I now own a Canon 5D Mk IV as I need the res­o­lu­tion to cre­ate my art. I use Pho­to­shop on av­er­age for 40 hours a week. Pho­to­shop en­ables my imag­i­na­tion to come to life and I never use stock im­ages. All the im­ages I use I have per­son­ally taken.

Have you al­ways been into art?

I stud­ied de­sign tech­nol­ogy and tech­ni­cal draw­ing at school (and later be­came a teacher in those sub­jects), which meant I was not al­lowed to take Art as an op­tion. My fa­ther had taught me to paint. He is a great ad­vo­cate that ev­ery child needs hob­bies! I later took art night classes at Southend Tech­ni­cal Col­lege.

How does your work start? Do you cre­ate a sketch first, or just build an im­age and go from there?

Nei­ther of those! The ideas are prob­a­bly the eas­i­est part of the process: I eat, sleep and drink them. They come to me at odd times and I “see” them com­pletely fin­ished in my mind’s eye. In or­der to find the set­ting I have “seen”, I search the in­ter­net for lo­ca­tions, then travel there, wher­ever in the world that may be. The end re­sult has to repli­cate the im­age I first “see” for that pic­ture, so re­search­ing the lo­ca­tion has al­ways been para­mount. Fi­nally, I then or­gan­ise a stu­dio shoot with the char­ac­ters so that I have full con­trol over the light­ing.

What are your favourite Pho­to­shop tools?

Firstly Cam­era Raw. I use this a num­ber of times through the process, cre­at­ing dif­fer­ent ef­fects. Then a Nik Colour plugin to paint in de­tail where I need it. When drop­ping in the sub­jects, I use the Se­lec­tion Tool and Re­fine Edge. In terms of fin­ish­ing the im­age, Hue/sat­u­ra­tion and Colour Lookup are used in ev­ery im­age, to cre­ate my “look”. I do not use Fre­quency Sep­a­ra­tion to edit skin, pre­fer­ring in­stead to use High Pass Fil­ter, Gaus­sian Blur and Layer Style. Liquify, Colour Dodge and the var­i­ous scal­ing and dis­tor­tion tools I use in most im­ages and I love dis­place­ment map­ping. I only use Pho­to­shop, not Light­room.

Do you have any top tips you’d rec­om­mend for how to cre­ate work like yours?

Only learn the Pho­to­shop tech­nique you need to cre­ate the im­age you are work­ing on. Write your “new” tech­nique down in a note­book: this is cru­cial as Pho­to­shop is such a vast pro­gram, you will never learn it all. To be­gin cre­at­ing a fine art im­age, start by writ­ing a ran­dom sen­tence. For ex­am­ple: “The dog sat watch­ing the girl in the blue Vic­to­rian dress, walk­ing up the crum­bling wall while car­ry­ing a bas­ket of flow­ers.” This will then gen­er­ate an im­age in your mind. Be­cause you are close to that sen­tence, the im­age will al­ready be there in your mind.

So do you see your­self as an artist or a pho­tog­ra­pher?

Hard to ac­tu­ally give it a name, but I am an artist with a cam­era. My style is a cin­ema­graphic one based on de­tail, from cor­ner to cor­ner of an im­age, ‘with an old masters’ look but a sur­real feel.

Your style must have evolved from your arty be­gin­nings to more pho­to­graphic im­ages now.

My style evolved through my work­flow, try­ing new tech­niques and adapt­ing them to cre­ate a look that I like, work­ing layer af­ter layer in the same way the old masters did, to cre­ate the im­age. My style is cre­ated us­ing light, not fo­cus, be­cause the im­ages are so de­tailed. I watch pe­riod dra­mas to un­der­stand how to cre­ate a cin­ema­graphic look to the fin­ished im­age and study the light­ing used.

You’ve been work­ing on this project for six years. What’s com­ing up next for you?

I am cur­rently work­ing on the sec­ond vol­ume of The Imag­i­nar­ium, which will be com­pleted next year. Af­ter that, the fi­nal vol­ume should take a fur­ther two years. Given it is a fine art story, I have to write it too. How­ever, I will be trav­el­ling the globe to visit as many steam­punk groups as pos­si­ble in mul­ti­ple coun­tries to cre­ate a 4,000-per­son im­age, with no cloning. So the fi­nal book might take a lit­tle longer!

The Scream­ing Tree The back­ground is Yosemite, in the USA. The tree is made up of mul­ti­ple women, with a bark tex­ture over­laid us­ing dis­place­ment map­ping and Liquify.

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