Digital Photography, Photoshop, and the Spaceship Under Glass

Spaceship Under Glass
Spaceship Under Glass

Did you ever start out doing one thing and get distracted by something else? I was asked by the Adler Planetarium to teach a class about NASA's Project Gemini – the frequently overlooked program wedged in between the Mercury and Apollo programs. I happily agreed. For more info about the class, see Gemini: Stepping Stone to the Moon (ST1).

As a part of preparing for the class, I went to the Adler armed with my Nikon D50 to take photographs of their “Return to the Moon” exhibit. The centerpiece of this exhibit is the Gemini 12 space capsule. This was the final mission of the Gemini program and carried James Lovell and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin into space for a mission that lasted just shy of four days.

The lighting in the exhibit area was low, especially in the room housing the Gemini 12 capsule and flash photography was discouraged. Fortunately I had the foresight to bring my tripod with me so steadiness for long exposures wasn't a problem. However lighting did present another challenge in that the spacecraft was housed within a large glass exhibit case. On the wall opposite the case were some brightly lit quotes. Unfortunately I did not notice the reflection that these quotations created on the glass case at the time. Last weekend upon a closer review of the photographs I took of the capsule's interior, I was dismayed to discover the presence of these “backwards” quotes in a number of my shots. Fortunately I had taken photographs from a number of different angles and a few managed to come out clean. But I digress.

The real purpose of this story is to highlight the synergy of the camera and the computer. Synergy is the combination of two or more elements in which the net effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects, or the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The marriage of the camera with digital image processing is one of the best examples of synergy that I can think of. I had always been interested in photography at an amateur level and I have worked with computer graphics off and on going back more than 20 years. It was my move from film to digital that renewed my interest in photography. Combining my love of computer graphics with the image capturing ability of the digital camera has led me in a new direction graphically speaking.

An example of this synergy is seen in the image used to illustrate this story. Titled “Spaceship Under Glass” I took the photo only to serve as a reference image of the Gemini capsule. Following my initial visual examination of the photo in Photoshop, my first thought was to just adjust the image to lighten the underside of the spacecraft. One thing led to another and before I knew it I had multiple adjustment layers and an image that was looking increasingly psychedelic. The true power of digital image processing is that it encourages experimentation.

One thing that I found very annoying in the original photograph was that the upper right quadrant of the glass case was obscured by a movie projection screen which was showing a movie about the Gemini mission. I could have cropped out the top of the image to get rid of it but that would have entailed cropping out all the lights as well and I was determined to keep them. Instead I resorted to a combination of the clone stamp tool, the healing brush tool, the eraser tool, and segments of the image copied to another layer and then blended in with the underlying layer to remove the intrusive movie screen. A companion screen was also present at the extreme left of the image. However, it only intruded over the background wall, rather than the glass case, and was easy to digitally “erase.” Note that the left portion of the photograph was cropped out of the version of the image shown here.

In summary, I began just wanting to use the photograph of the Gemini capsule as a simple illustration in the Open Office Impress presentation I was preparing. Instead of just making minor image corrections in Photoshop, I began a digital excursion that led me to an entirely unforeseen result. On the bright side, I suddenly found myself with the perfect title slide for my presentation along with some new image processing techniques under my belt.

Ad Astra, Jim

| Return to the Blog Index | This entry was posted on Friday, November 24th, 2006 at 11:14 am and is filed under Digital Photography.