Recently I participated in this challenge and after dragging my feet I really dug in and had so much fun doing it. So now it’s your turn to pick a song and create an image that represents it.
There are a few guidelines and suggestions for doing the challenge, but I’ll get to those shortly. But first I want to share my image and how I created it to give you some ideas and to help get you inspired.
Step #1 – Pick the right song
The first thing you need to do is pick a song. Choose one that will lend itself well to some great visuals and one that has some personal meaning for you. A song that you know, one that makes you feel something, will be easier for you to make an image because you have a connection to it.
Think about your skillset and the kind of photography you enjoy doing. Then browse YouTube or Spotify and see what’s in your playlists or favorites. Get your creative juices flowing and see where it leads.
I was a judge for a local photography competition that was spread over 12 weeks. During one long week the judges were challenged by the participants to do this one so I started off by considering what I could shoot that the other judges didn’t do. Night photography came to mind immediately.
That lead me to searching for songs about the night, moon, spooks, spirits and ghosts which finally had me hit on this one:
As a child of the 70s and 80s, this song and movie takes me way back and comes with fond memories. I have even visited the NYC fire station used as a set in the original movie. So I had my song. Next, I got to work on ideas.
Step #2 – Brainstorm ideas
Once you have chosen a song that is meaningful to you, make a list of things that come to mind as you listen to it. Find a copy of the lyrics and look at each verse and the chorus. Is there something in the lyrics you can represent well in an image?
Keep in mind you don’t have to be literal. What does the song make you feel when you hear it? Do you want to get up and dance, or is it more melancholy and reflective? Consider those things as well as the actual words.
For me these theme song makes me think of the green goblin, Slimer, and the Ghostbusters with the ray guns they used to catch the ghosts. It makes me think of a dark night with a spooky feeling. But at the same time, it’s also fun and light-hearted.
Step #3 – Plan the shoot
Once I convinced my husband to pose for me as one of the guys, he got into it and even found some old coveralls to wear and got the hose to our vacuum to use as a prop. We rigged up a backpack for him so I had my model all set.
Next, I needed just the right location and background. I asked people in a local photography group where to find graffiti walls in my area and scouted about eight different locations. I wanted something grungy and ghostlike in an area that would be relatively dark at night.
Here are some of the scouting shots I took with my phone.
IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: Never ever photograph in or near active train tracks. It is not only dangerous but illegal in most areas. Decommissioned tracks or inactive ones like this are okay ONLY if you know for sure 100% that they are NOT IN USE!
The location in the image above worked out great in the end because there is a big empty parking lot right in front of it and no pedestrian traffic. As a bonus, the lights in the parking lot were out (not sure why) so it was also almost pitch black. so it was perfect.
For light painting you need the ambient light to be very dim or non-existent or the painting doesn’t show up very well if at all. Getting out of the city is ideal but because I wanted graffiti I was limited for locations.
#4 – Execute the photo shoot
Now it’s time to go take your photos. Shoot in raw format if at all possible for the best image quality.
The only tips I will give you are the following.
Slow down, take your time, and do things right
Check your exposure (use the histogram), check for sharp focus, expressions (if you have a model), review the background, etc. Check and double-check everything!
One of my only regrets on this shoot is I wish his expression was meaner or angrier like he’s fighting a ghost. I set up my main camera on a tripod with a remote trigger to fire the camera and another on the hot shoe to fire an off-camera flash.
I set the camera’s self-timer to 10-seconds so that after I pressed the trigger, I had time to run over to the right to hold the flash in position to light him. As you can see I missed a few times or the flash didn’t fire. Just wish I wasn’t so focused on the technical and had looked at expressions too.
Note: Just to further complicate my own shoot, I had a second camera taking behind-the-scenes shots set up on a tripod behind the main camera. So I had to push the button to fire the back camera, then trigger the main camera, then I ran into the scene with the flash.
You’ll notice that I did some things that didn’t work out and even the pros experiment and have failures too. You really have to shoot a lot and try things – that’s how you learn!
Please remember that each botched attempt isn’t a failure – it’s a learning experience and as such is infinitely valuable!
Shoot a lot!
Take lots of variations of the shot you think you want. Try both vertical and horizontal. Try different lighting and camera positions. You can’t do more later so shoot away and make sure you have lots of options later.
For the light painting part of my image, I had to take a lot of shots because I had to predict where he was going to be in the frame later. I took about 30 different shots, the exposure settings were ISO 200, 30 seconds. I needed that exposure time to be able to make the green swirls.
Watch the behind-the-scenes video clip (below) of me using one of the Light Painting Brush tools to paint in the green bits. This is how light painting is done. FYI it’s really hard to take video in the dark! This was shot on my Samsung S9 phone which is great in the dark.
The bottom line is to make sure you get what you need when you’re in the field. It’s easier to just delete on the computer later if you have extra shots than it is to go back and reshoot because you missed something.
Step #5 – Use photo editing to style the final image
The final step is to process your photo in the style in which you envisioned for the image to match the song. That may involve a black and white treatment, color or sepia toning, adding a special effect, or simply just basic adjustments and cropping.
If you aren’t sure where to begin or are new to photo editing, you can tune in to my YouTube channel every Saturday at 1:00 pm MDT (3 PM EDT, noon PDT, 8 pm UK time). I am editing reader-submitted photos LIVE. You can submit your own photos to see how I would edit them, watch live and ask questions in the chat, or you can watch the replay later if you can’t make it.
Likely your image will require as much processing as my song project. But I’ve been asked by a few people how I made it so here are the steps I used to build the final image.
Basic edits in Lightroom first
In my workflow, I import all my raw files into Lightroom first and do all the basic edits there. I adjust the color or White Balance, Contrast, Clarity, and do some tone control where needed.
If you want to master your Lightroom skills, check out my brand new for 2022 Lightroom for Photographers course. With over 16 hours of video lessons and multiple hours of student initiated Q and A sessions, you’ll learn to use Lightroom quickly and efficiently.
I chose the best image of my ghost-fighter and edited that one so the background was dark and not distracting, and no highlights were clipped or blown out on him. I also had one shot of just the background in case I needed it for masking so I edited that one to match.
Next, I edited all of the images of the green swirls so they matched the color and tonality of the image above. Once that was done it was time for Photoshop.
Making a composite image in Photoshop
To add in the green swirls, smoke, the electric rays, and the green monster Photoshop’s layer capabilities were needed. You can do this with any program that has layers, meaning you cannot do it in Lightroom.
I opened the images from Lightroom by selecting all the ones I wanted to combine, then right-clicked and chose “Open as layers in Photoshop”. The advantage of doing it that way is that the editing image then gets added into Lightroom after it is saved and for cataloging purposes, it’s handy to have it there.
Note: I cover working with Photoshop layers in great detail in my Photoshop for Photographers course.
Add the green swirls
Because I had a lot of green swirl images, I used layer blend mode set to Lighten and turned each one on to check the placement of the green glow. I ended up choosing the best four and deleted the layers for all the unused ones (the more layers you have the larger the file, so I recommend dumping any not used).
NOTE: In order for this image to work I did NOT move the tripod the entire time. I shot the model and all the green swirls with the exact same camera position and cropping.
Add smoke and fire
After I had all the green swirls in place, I decided the image needed some smoke. So I did a search for some free stock image sites and found a smoke image I wanted to use. I added it to the image 3 separate times and rotated and moved it so each looks different.
When adding images as new layers in Photoshop the order you put them in matters. Here the smoke layer is above the model layer so the smoke appears in front of him. I wanted it to have more depth like the smoke was swirling around behind him too.
In order to do that I had to cut the model out from the background and put him on his own layer. Then I could move the smoke behind him.
Next I found some fire or electrical looking images I could use for the ray gun to make it look more realistic.
NOTE: If you need images for things like this never just grab some from Google Images. Those are not necessarily free to use or copyright free. Always look on a site that offers free stock images and illustrations and check that the licence is Creative Commons.
Add the monster
Finally, I just had to find a monster and add him to the image. I didn’t use one of the original Slimer from the movie because, again, that is a copyright and trademarked image and character. So I found a green glowing monster on a stock site that I liked.
NOTE: As each element was added that layer’s blend mode was changed to Lighten (with this mode anything that is lighter in the active layer than the one below appears, anything darker is hidden). The monster had a black background so Lighten blend mode completed knocked that out. so no masking was even needed.
There you have the final image and all the steps needed to make it. All up I spend about 2 hours location scouting, 3 hours shooting and preparing props, etc., and about another 4 hours processing. So nine hours approximately total.
I tell you this so you have an idea of the kind of time that goes into a shot like this – it doesn’t just happen. It takes planning, executive and dedication.
Sometimes things don’t work out even after all the effort. But I was determined to pull this off even if it wasn’t perfect – AND we both (me and my husband) had a lot of fun doing it. We actually did the photo shoot on my birthday so that’s my idea of a fun night out.
Your turn to get started
Okay now it’s your turn to pick a song and do this challenge. You do not have to get nearly as complicated as I did with my idea but do challenge yourself a little bit. Try something new and difficult. Just keep going until you get something you like.
I did one last fun and rather appropriate version of the image for you with the Coronavirus monster!
Please share your song images in the comment area below. Remember to post the image and the song it’s representing. Give us a link to the lyrics or video of it on YouTube.
I can’t wait to see how creative you get – just remember to HAVE FUN!!!