Spend a moment looking at the image, can you spot something other than a forest scenery? Read on to get to know more about the image and how it was made.
– entrust yourself in Mother Nature’s care – feel secure – get enlivened by her warmth – let your mind be nourished by her beauty –
INSPIRATION – A walk in the woods
I was walking through the forest enjoying the warm day. Every now and then I deviated from the track strolling through the thicket since that’s always much more interesting. After a while I arrived at a place completely covered with the kind of soft long grass that you mostly find in the forest and which seems to form pillows inviting you to rest on. So I sat down for a while listening to the rustling of leaves. I felt the warm sunlight dancing on my face with its special scattered quality when shining through the moving treetops. I felt well and secure at this moment and on the way home I decided to make this feeling the subject of my next artwork, which should also be the first one intended for high-res printable wall art. There is a german word that describes the feeling even better for me: ‘Geborgenheit’. Translated it means secureness but it also implies things like comfortable, snug and homey. Somehow I associate that word with the feeling I imagine an unborn child might have in the mother’s womb. So I decided to compare these feelings – these kinds of secureness – in the artwork as a means to express how I felt.
I decided to depict such a place, where you would like to sit down and rest, surrounded by elements of trees resembling the figure of an unborn child in a typical pose sucking it’s thumb. I made some really rough thumbnails with this idea in my mind:
Then I created a speed paint in Photoshop to concretise the idea and to find out which elements I would need to shoot. You can see the reference image of an unborn child that I used.
I could (should?) have spent much more time working on the concept but I really like getting inspired by the photos that I take and the lucky accidents that might happen here and there.
I knew it would be a bit of a tightrope walk between making it seem too obvious and artificial compromising the look of a natural forest scene and making it too unrecognizable so that nobody could make the connection. But I also like pictures that take a while to fully unlock, especially with wall art that you will see over and over again and where you have the time to really take it in.
SHOOTING – the raw materials
Here you can see some of the images I took in two different forests nearby. I used my good old Canon 450D, shooting in RAW.
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I learned quickly that you definitely want to use a tripod in the forest, since the light can be pretty dim even on clear sunny days. Since I had no tripod available at this time I made a compromise with the ISO setting increasing it from 100 to 200 to have shorter exposure times. Even higher ISO settings were not useful since too much noise would have been a problem for high-quality poster artwork. When shooting I got the idea to only use elements of birches to depict the child in order to make it stand out a bit more.
A WORKING (RE)SOLUTION
As mentioned ‘Feel Secure’ was the first artwork that I created with the intention in mind to print it in high resolution as wall art and I still feel like having quite a bit to learn regarding that matter.
If you are not interested in the technical details, feel free to skip that section.
I thought it would be a good idea to aim at a print size of DIN A0-format (118,9 x 84,1cm) at 300 ppi. Which means a pixel resolution of 14043*9933px (or 14044*7022px respectively since I work at a 2:1 aspect ratio and round numbers are better for scaling down).
Since I always work in double resolution and reduce size in the end that would have meant to work in a resolution of 28088*14044px, which I was a bit afraid of for performance reasons.
Instead I chose to work in 14044*7022px and reduce to 7022*3511px in the end, which corresponds to the width of DIN A0 in landscape format at 150 ppi (and 300 ppi when printed in A2 size) which should still be a reasonable quality.
Later I noticed is that a lot of POD (print on demand) services for some reason want minimum widths of 7100 or 7200px in order to offer the large size (or DIN A0) format option. But down sizing from my working resolution of 14044px width to 7022px looks a tad better (sharper) than down sizing it to 7100 or 7200px because of the interpolation that necessarily occurs.
Maybe it doesn’t matter too much at all, but I will have to think again about the best working resolution for the next one. If you have any experiences in that respect I’d be happy to hear from you!
After creating a concept, shooting elements and marking my favourite images it was time to do a rough layout in Photoshop.
At the time I started working on the image I had only my laptop available (i7 from 2010, 6GB RAM), which meant working at a high resolution with a lot of layers would be a pain in the ass. But working it in a low resolution with normal layers would have meant doing it all twice. That’s why I chose to try a workflow with smart objects at a comparatively small resolution for the first part and I can recommend that regardless of what machine you are working on:
The layout process needs to be very responsive in order to try out different combinations and to find a pleasing composition and balance of elements. This is also where the lucky accidents tend to happen. I created a document with 2000*1000px (exact resolution did not matter at this point) and added each new element as a smart object into that document positioning and repositioning them, creating rough painted layer masks and adding adjustment layers to make the elements fit roughly together.
I generally add things like color correction/grading/tints and vignettes early on to always get the best idea of what the final piece might look like. Always in a non-destructive way with adjustment layers and colored masked solids with different blend modes. I also already add a bit of noise on top of everything by creating a solid grey layer with 50% brightness (or R128/G128/B128), applying some noise to it and putting it in overlay mode.
I chose to contrast cool and fresh blue and blue-green hues mostly on the bottom and right side of the image with warmer yellow-orange and even reddish hues for the sunlight that’s scattered through the foliage mostly on the top left side. I made the red tint much stronger in the end since it reminded me of light shining trough skin tissue, a bit like in a mother’s womb.
One of the lucky accidents: This patch of moss reminded me of a belly button once pasted into the document.
That’s when I decided to make the ‘place to rest’ more like a mossy patch than a hollow cushioned with grass.
When I was satisfied with the overall balance and look of things and had access to my desktop workstation I scaled up the document to my working resolution of 14044*7022px. All the smart objects looked nice an sharp, only painted elements and layer masks looked pretty ugly, but those were done quick and dirty anyway.
The document was pretty heavy and slow to work in tough. So I hid all layers, switched them back on one by one starting with the background layers, cleaned up masks, merged and rasterized things wherever possible and matched the sharpness of different elements. This is also a good time to name, color and group the remaining layers to establish order in the (of course creative!) mess.
Before rasterizing elements that needed to be separated from it’s background I went into the smart object – in order to take advantage of the full resolution – used the channels to key it (e.g. blue channel for branches against blue sky), cleaned up the mask with a bit of painting and saved the smart object to return to my master document, where I then rasterized the layer.
At some point you may also want to crop your document (Strg+A, Image -> Crop) which removes all the stuff outside the canvas borders and reduced the file size of my PSB-file from 14 to 9GB (still a lot of layers).
A BIT OF 3D
I wanted the birches in the foreground to be wrapped in ivy. I discovered a lot of those trees in one of the forests I took photos in and it always looks a bit as if mother nature embraces and secures the trees.
I tried a while stitching it together from photos and bending it in place, but it didn’t look right. That is why I roughly modelled the birch stems in Cinema 4D, exported that model as an .OBJ, imported the model into a tool called Ivy Generator, played with the settings and watched the ivy grow. Back in Cinema 4D I imported the resulting .OBJ, created some simple shaders with the provided leaf textures, lit the scene with a physical sky + global illumination and used the current state of the artwork for reflections.
The rest was more clean up, painting details and atmospheric light rays, replacing some elements and tweaking the balance of color tints and adjustment layers.
After merging everything I applied a 1px blur to everything, added some chromatic aberration with the ‘lens correction’ filter, sharpened it a bit again, applied some noise and halved the resolution, which – together with the preceding adjustments – merges everything together (photographic elements of different resolutions, painted elements, cg elements).
FINAL THOUGHTS – what I learned
Next time I will probably spend a little more time in the concept phase messing around with composition, silhouettes and separation of elements.
Cropping the document at some point really helps to keep the file size down, when there is a lot of stuff going on outside the canvas boundaries from the layout process. In this regard it is also a good idea to work with an over-scan of a few pixels in case you choose to reposition elements later, otherwise there would be no margin due to the cropping. This also helps when introducing chromatic aberration in the end which shifts the channels against each other and can cause ugly edges.
Shooting in the forest? Have a tripod.
Not all places in the forest that look comfortable are actually pleasant to rest on but might be inhabited by little soldiers. I found a clearing which was completely covered in moss and grass, after a few minutes of shooting there I realized that the whole area was also covered in small holes as wide as a finger. Giant ants already tried to invade my shoes like I did with their spacious kingdom. I’m glad I didn’t want to rest there!
Go outside more, refill the creative batteries, feel the warmth of natural sun light!
Thanks for reading! Let me know if this was inspiring or helpful to you and if there is anything else you would like to know.
Prints of ‘Feel Secure’ on poster, canvas and more are available here.
Have a great day!