I said last week on Facebook that I was working a series of holiday themed images with kittens and first up was Halloween.  I also posted a variation of it, mentioning that it would be posted on Halloween on Dane County Friends of Ferals Facebook page.  Well that day is today and I thought I'd delve a little deeper into what went into making the image since it is most definitely the most "created" image I've done to date.

First up, it may be obvious to some, but this is not straight out of the camera.  It's actually a composite of 3 different photos.  Perhaps the sky is a dead giveaway, but the bottom main image is the more important part.  The dynamic range doesn't exist in today's cameras to capture everything that was there, and hdr isn't an option with kittens that don't sit still, so it's time to fall back on old film techniques of layering different exposures and content.

iPhone shot while assembling the stage

First up, let's just look at what was staged.  I got some spanish moss, some other type of moss ground cover (forget the name), white and black "spider web" material, a ghost, fake mushrooms, orange and purple led light strings, a couple varieties of branches and/or leaves, and a wicker type pumpkin for the cat to sit in.  Minus the ghost and branches, here's what we had with window light only shot on an iPhone.

It already looks pretty good, but sticking a cat in the basket and hanging the ghost off to the side will never be seen or lit the way I want, so flashes were needed. 

As you can see towards the end of tests I also backed it up a little farther to allow for more cropping options later.  Now that I have the lighting down, it's time to press the shutter about 400 times trying to get a shot of the kittens actually looking at me or perhaps doing something interesting other than trying to escape the second I place them.  People who say kids are hard to work with haven't tried to photograph cats.  They're almost impossible, but eventually you'll get one.  Really I wanted 3, since there were 3 kittens, but that didn't happen, so I settled on just getting one.

So now that I have it, it's time to shoot the low light version.  In all of the above shots you can't even see the fine detail and miniature lights in the scene, so it's time to shut the flashes off and bring those to life.  All in all, there's about 30 little leds strewn underneath the moss (orange) and jammed inside of the "fog" (purple), as well as a mini flashlight stuck behind the back "fog" illuminating that white and lighting up the black tree.  To capture them all at their different intensities, essentially, this is going to be an hdr. 

So now that we have all of the shots, it's time to bring it into Lightroom and Photoshop.  Having chosen the shots that will make up the composite, I edit those a tad in Lightroom before opening them all in Photoshop.  And really there's no secret here, two layers and a layer mask to "paint in" the bottom dark detail into the brighter top.  Then it's a matter of making localized adjustments for color, contrast, etc via adjustment layers and layer masks.

Now initially I was done and thought that it's interesting as it is, however after sleeping on it a day I figured it could use some environment.  So I dug back into some of my night time shots, mainly of auroras from the past few months and landed on one I've posted already.  This works because even though it's landscape and the above images are portrait, the horizon would only need to blend right about at the middle of the image.  And seeing how most of the detail of the cat image is in the lower half, it becomes trivial to make a layer mask to cut that out and stick it right below the tree line of the aurora image.  And seeing how the ghost is the only thing that sticks up above that horizon, you can even make it sloppy for an added effect of making the ghost slightly transparent.  After that I was merely messing with the hue/saturation in an adjustment layer of the background to make the clouds purple and the aurora orange to match the colors in the bottom of the image.  In the end we have what is essentially our final image.

So what about the text?  Well, if we've already gone overboard on the image, let's go overboard on the text.  Kitteh likes him some fire! 

The final bit of text is just plain text.  Originally the text was all placed on the bottom of the image, but a 2x3 crop ratio on Facebook doesn't always make the best post.  Square is better, so I moved it up to the tree area to allow for a square crop.  Then I thought of one additional feature.  My logo.  I'm not really a fan of watermarking.  I'd rather people just credit my photos, especially with portraits, but on images like this that might get away from my potential control, I want to stick something in there.  However, I want it to be subtle and not a distraction, so I decided to go a little overboard with that as well.  I've always wanted to be able to build the logo into the scene beyond just some sort of a stamp.  What to do...  Kitteh has a desire for some more fire!  There just so happens to be an easy way to do this with Photoshop CC as of 2014 v2 that I discovered after having done the laborious version on my Happy Halloween text.  Filter -> Render -> Flame...  It requires a path to draw on, and I just so happen to have one.  I built my logo out of vector shapes, so I actually have a brush on the ready to put one on anything at any size.

And here we have it.  The final version cropped into all of the squareness glory that Facebook and Instagram have created.

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