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Bring me my x-ray glasses!

November 17, 2013

I thought it would be a good idea to blog this next photo and share some quick handy tips on what really is a simple set up and process yet yields impressive results. This latest photo is a little bit different to the norm and although it looks heavily processed I can assure you with a tiny bit of photoshop knowledge this snap is very easy to obtain yourself. The majority of this process was learnt from a great book I picked up called '52 Weekend Digital Photo Projects - Carlton Books' a great place to grab some tips and inspiration too.

Back to the task at hand...

The idea of the X-ray photo is to break down an object that can be easily disassembled (and hopefully reassembled) into it's component parts. Then to photograph all these parts on the same plane and perspective to make your life in Photoshop easier and finally combine them with some simple blending techniques, to achieve a mock X-ray effect without the hazards of irradiating your precious body parts!


Step 1: The set up

A simple plain white background is essential here, good lighting and a very stable surface. Note: you must use a tripod, there is no way you’ll be able to match the angle and perspective for every shot, especially after dismantling your item and returning to the camera. As you can see, I’ve used a small soft box with a continuous light source here, although a bright white background or clean white sheet will do just fine. I’m using one Speedlite 430EX II, left of camera deflected forward as my light source. There’s no need for a flash in most situations, natural lighting or normal household lighting should do, as long as it's nice and soft, consistent and most importantly illuminates the subject well.

Step 2: The object

Here I decided to use one of my 35mm SLR cameras as it can easily be broken down and put back together, plus… it looks quite cool! Choose any item with interesting inner workings, electronics and handbags are great ideas.


Step 3: The shoot

Once your camera is set up on a tripod and the image is framed correctly, adjust the settings to shoot at a very small aperture of f/11 or more to ensure pin point sharp detail. Rattle off a few test shots to ensure you have good lighting and adjust if appropriate. Happy? Switch to manual mode and lock these settings in. Note: I recommend using a remote release or a timed release to illuminate camera shake. Another good tip is to focus manually and only once during the whole shoot, just return to the camera to take the shot after framing the next item in the tear down process.


Step 4: The process

After taking your first shot, start the process of dismantling the item piece by piece, returning to the camera and taking the next shot. A tip I learnt from this was to place the item on a sheet of A4 to start with, pencil the outline of it and ensure every part of the break down sits in the same place, this will help later on with the PS work.


Step 5: Photoshop it!

Now comes the part where a little Photoshop knowledge is needed. A quick tutorial on handling layers and simple image adjustments from YouTube is all you need to finish off this run through if you aren’t already competent with PS.


Step 6: Import and align…

Import all your images that you wish to stack in the x-ray into Photoshop. Hopefully there shouldn’t be too much realignment to do if you’ve followed much of the process above. Starting with the base image, import all the other images into one Photoshop file, to do this, copy and paste the images on top of each other (they will automatically create new layers for each photo.) Once this is done, hide all the layers apart from the base layer and one other, this can be done by pressing the 'eye' symbol next to each layer. Turn down the opacity on the remaining top layer to help you align it correctly. Select the layer, then 'Ctrl + A' to select all of the image on that layer, now move the layer or rotate it until it is aligned with the base…. repeat for all your layers until they are aligned.

Step 7: Duplicate and blur...

Simple technique to get that x-ray glow effect on the photo, just duplicate the base layer and place it on the bottom of the layer stack. Then, select that layer, go to Effects > Blur > Gaussian Blur and turn this right up to get a totally blurred out image that will make a great x-ray glow!

Step 8: Desaturate and invert

Once all your layers are aligned and the base later has a blurred duplicate, in turn select each later then go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate …. and then, Image > Adjustments > Invert…we are starting to get there now... instantly your image will start to look more x-ray like.

Step 9: Blending

Here we need to change the transparency of all the upper layers so that the x-ray effect really begins to work for us. Make sure all your layers are visible (i.e. the 'eye' symbol is shown next to the layer)… then move to the base layer and its duplicate, ensure these are at 100% opacity. Now for every other layer, drop the opacity to 50% or lower, and in turn balance these out so you get a good view through the image and the makings of a good x-ray shot. Quick tip: Try adjusting the levels (Image > Adjustments > Levels) for each layer in turn as you go through the transparency process, this will make some features stand out through the layers.


Step 10: Add that X-ray tone

Finally, add an effect layer or two. This is done by selecting the contrast circle symbol in the bottom right of the layers toolbox. A new effect layer will be added to the layer stack, ensure it sits on top of all the other layers so that it applies to everything in the stack. Now lets firstly add a simple ‘Brightness and Contrast’ layer to add some overall definition, try upping the contrast and brightness to enhance the look. Secondly, add a 'Photo filter' and try choosing a colour from the palette that gives your photo an X-ray look you're happy with.

Finally: The result…

Shooting with filmShooting with film

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