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Altered Reality

Most photographers are artists at heart. Some are well aware of their artistic side, while others need a quick fix to awaken the artist within. In this column, I’ll share with you seven techniques for creating artistic images by removing some of the reality from a scene—because when you remove some of the reality, your pictures can look more artistic and more creative. Let’s begin the adventure of creating your own reality with your photographs.


We see in color, which is why black-and-white photographs are eye-catching and can look artistic.

You can make beautiful black-and-white images in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, and with plug-ins like Google’s Nik Silver Efex Pro, onOne Software’s Perfect B&W, Topaz B&W Effects and Macphun’s Tonality.

No matter what technique you use, contrast and shadows become very important. If you’ve made black-and-white images, go back and boost the contrast a bit. My guess is that you may be a bit happier with your images. Also experiment with different digital color filters. A color filter can make a big difference in the tones in an image.

2 | Alter Time

We can easily remove some of the reality from a scene by slowing down time, especially when it comes to moving cars, clouds and water.

When slowing down time, experiment with different shutter speeds. You need to do that because the speed and movement of the subject, the lens you use and how close you are to the subject all affect the end result. What’s more, it’s good to have a choice of different in-camera effects—from just a bit of blur to lots of blur—to choose from. In this image, I used a shutter speed of 2.5 seconds.

3 | Try HDR

High Dynamic Range (HDR) images can reveal detail in a scene that we can’t see in a single image—and sometimes even with our eyes.

A series of seven exposures, combined into a single HDR file (processed in HDRsoft Photomatix), shows the bright sky, as well as the darker interior of this old truck, which my friend Spike is "driving."

When it comes to HDR, make sure you take enough pictures over and under the average exposure to capture the entire dynamic range of the scene—from the darkest to the lightest parts.

4 | Get Super-Close

Larger-than-life photographs take on a creative look because we normally don’t get that close to a subject.

To get larger-than-life photographs, you’ll need a true macro lens, as opposed to a zoom lens with a close-up setting.

Supertelephoto lenses can also remove some of the reality from a scene, especially when the photograph shows a far-off lion or tiger filling the entire frame—and the background is beautifully blurred.

5 | Create a Composite

Composite photographs also change reality. This image is actually two photographs of the same bald eagle. I combined them to show that this magnificent animal can go from flying right side up to flying upside down—with its head upside right. Amazing!

About creating composites: Honesty is the best policy. When showing this image in my slideshows, I always say that it’s a composite. Honesty is important because you don’t want someone to think you took an amazing photograph when, in fact, you created one.

6 | Go IR

Infrared cameras record infrared light—the light we can’t see. When it comes to removing the reality from a scene, IR cameras are very popular. converts digital cameras to IR-only cameras. Several different conversions are available. Some conversions show a blue sky as black, while others, like my conversion here, show a blue sky.

Before you order your conversion, make sure the conversion you choose is the one you definitely want.

I took this picture with a converted Canon PowerShot. By the way, I took this picture in the summer when all the foliage was green.

7 | Play With Plug-ins

Plug-ins from onOne Software, Google’s Nik, Topaz, Macphun and many others offer quick and easy reality-altering options, usually via presets and sliders. Most have 30-day free trials.

My suggestion is to find a plug-in effect that matches your photograph. In this case, I thought a faded sepia filter (Nik Silver Efex Pro) was appropriate for my Old West photograph.

Also try combining filters for extra plug-in fun.

Okay, my friends. That’s it for this column. Have fun creating your own reality. See you back here next time.

Rick Sammon is a longtime friend of this magazine. See more of his work at

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