Once more, another round has been completed in Get Pushed. As usual, the round featured many interesting and unique images, but the one that we picked to be featured is this shot by Matt Lincoln. Matt has been a long time contributor to the group, and his shot was only one of his many fantastic contributions to the group. His challenge for Round 30 was to ” take a ‘multiple me’ style photo, where your me’s are interacting, or working together to achieve a similar goal.” Matt created this photo, Multi-Matt’s Mountain Music. We’ve asked him to tell us about his thoughts in regards to this challenge.
SP: The challenge that you were given was quite unique! What was your reaction to it at first?
Matt: I had noticed a couple of “Multiple Me” shots in Get Pushed in earlier rounds. The first one I remember was this one by Graham Ashton. What struck me about this shot was the way he managed to create the impression that the two figures were really there at the same time, and were interacting. So I was quite pleased to be pushed in this direction. Then I remembered Ruth Raymond’s wonderful image of her step-daughter in three costumes as three musicians. Since I have been very involved with different forms of music over the years, and have played several different instruments (none terribly well!), her idea looked like a good one to follow.
SP: The fact that one of you is in sepia is something that really stood out. What gave you the idea to add a former shot of yourself into the image that you were creating?
Matt: I started to mess around with my various instruments, and felt sad about the fact that the mandolin that I had played for 25 years had recently self-destructed in its case after a life of roughly 90 years. That got me thinking about a photo of me performing on that mandolin at a coffee house only a year or two after it came into my possession. For me, playing folk music or jazz is a very social activity, and one that gives me a lot of joy. You can’t see the other musicians in the old picture, but they were there. The picture has been in a scrap book for years, so I pulled it out and scanned it.
Both in spirit and in technical challenges, that picture created the basis for the Get Pushed shot. It was going to look like fun and togetherness, and I had to set up the camera and lights in a way that would permit the old picture to look like it fit in with the rest of the scene. That meant deducing where the photographer had been relative to mandolin me. I think I came pretty close. The old shot was taken in portrait orientation, which meant that the on-camera flash was immediately to the left of the lens. Using a synch cord, I put the flash on a second tripod immediately to the left of the camera and hoped for the best. I think the camera is positioned a little higher than in the original, but nobody’s perfect!
SP: The photo has a very candid and fun look to it. Did it take a while for you to get the shots that you wanted?
Matt: After figuring out exposure, etc., I put the banjo player’s chair to the left of the spot that I had mentally reserved for the mandolin me, to give me an anchor while positioning myself as the other musicians. Then I took three or four pictures of each instrumentalist. Because Canon cameras come with a software utility that allows you to see the live view from the camera on a computer, I was able to make sure I was in the right place for each shot, using the 10 second delay to get into position and start playing! You wouldn’t want to hear the notes I was making, but at least I LOOKED like I was making music!
SP: As the image is a composite, it’s worth noting that the blending of the shots into the background was very well done. Would you tell us a bit about how you accomplished that in post processing?
Matt: The key to blending the shots is having actual shadows on the background to work with. They are all caused by the same light source, so they tie all the figures to the setting. The shadow of the mic stand is the real shadow from the old picture. That showed me that I had been seated close to a white wall in the original shot, which I replicated in the set. I only had to fake a little bit of shadow where the banjo player’s leg crosses in front of the mandolin player, and also behind the mandolin player’s head, because my sweet mother cut the original shadow off with scissors to put the picture in the scrap book!
All of the blending was done by stacking 4 pictures as layers in a Photoshop image. Then, rather than erasing the upper images to let the lower ones show through, it’s best to use a layer mask, which makes the masked part of a layer invisible. It has the same effect as erasing, but infinitely reversible and flexible. So the base image was the banjo player. Then I added the mandolin player, then the bass guitar, and finally the penny whistler. Ironically, there are several instances in which a layer at the front of the stack shows a musician who appears to be behind another. For instance, I masked a bit of the bass guitar neck to get it to appear to be behind the banjo player’s hat.
SP: How do you think “Get Pushed” helps you to loosen up some in photography and get out of your comfort zone into new things?
Matt: This wonderful group, “Get Pushed,” has given me many hours each month of rewarding time spent dreaming and imagining before I even pick up my camera, as I get out of my soft nest of familiar subjects and styles of shooting. I wouldn’t say it is uncomfortable to get out of one’s comfort zone; it’s more like having half of my creative side awakened from a nap. The nap is very cozy, but being given a good reason to wake up is also very rewarding. It feels more like being pushed into the next adventure rather than being pushed out of something I don’t want to leave.
The challenges I find most rewarding make me focus deeply on the subject and content of the image even more than the technical matters of getting it done. That makes those technical challenges worth the effort. I also get a lot out of seeing other peoples pictures, and learning about the challenges that prompted them. Finally, one of the most interesting parts of the process is pouring over another photographer’s body of work, thinking about what makes them tick, and what kind of experience might help them go further in taking the kind of pictures they love.
Many thanks to Matt for allowing his image to be used in this article, and graciously supplying us with answers to our questions! Please check out his photostream, and if you feel up to it, join us for Round 32! (Deadline: March 9th)