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Pep Ventosa is a Catalan artist who creates incredible images that explore the boundaries of photography. Made from multiple layers of similar photographs, they create an abstract and often surreal effect with a painterly feel. Ventosa usually creates pictures outside, but you can borrow his ideas to create a Pep Ventosa inspired still life.
This is an ideal experiment for someone new to working with layers in Photoshop who wants to try and create a fine art inspired still life. You’ll find that even the most mundane objects can create beautiful, ghostly images.
First of all, you’ll need your base images. I started with a simple tabletop set up next to a window so that I could work with natural light. You could also use studio lights or lamps for this technique, and different lighting will produce quite different results!
Once you have your camera set up and an interesting object in place to photograph, take your first image. Then rotate the object a small amount and shoot another. I like to take at least ten images, which seems to always create a good effect. If you choose to start working with lots more images, you begin to run into Photoshop’s file size limitations quite quickly!
Make sure that you place your camera on a tripod the first time you try this out. This will keep your background consistent and allow you to move the object without worrying about having your camera in the same place each time. Once you’ve mastered the technique, you can experiment with moving the camera as well as the object in a different variation of the Pep Ventosa inspired still life.
You can choose to import the images straight into Photoshop and layer them into a stack manually if that’s your preferred workflow. However, I really like the Lightroom Classic functionality that can do all this for you.
As you can see, the images are all very similar, but each one is slightly different from the last. I’ve tried not to blow out any highlights or get too much black in the shadows. Having the images quite flat in this respect can be helpful when you start to work with the layer blending modes in Photoshop.
Take this opportunity to also clean up any blemishes or marks on the backdrop. Anything left in now will be harder to tidy up later.
When you’re ready to start layering your images, select them all in Lightroom Classic and then select the “Open as Layers in Photoshop” option. This will create an image file that has all of your base photographs stacked on Photoshop layers. Now you’re ready to start the fun bit of editing your Pep Ventosa inspired still life.
Blend modes can be intimidating if you’ve never used them before, but this experimental image can be a great time to play with them. There are 27 different blending modes in total, which gives you lots of options for your Pep Ventosa inspired still life.
At the top of the layer stack is a drop-down box that is available as long as you have a layer highlighted. This is where the blend modes are hiding. Each option allows the layers underneath to show through according to different computer algorithms.
For the image above, I set each layer to “multiply” blend mode and changed the opacity to between 25% and 50%. This results in an extremely dark image at the end (because the colors multiply together mathematically), so I also added a Curves Layer to bring the exposure back up to something normal.
Spend some time experimenting with different blending modes. In my experience, Soft Light and Overlay also give interesting results. Some of the others might, too depending on your base images.
Once you’ve finished adjusting your layers, you can save the image, close Photoshop, and open Lightroom Classic back up. Now you can polish the image, adjusting the colors and tone to suit your style.
Once you’ve edited an image in Photoshop and taken it back into Lightroom Classic, you can treat it as you would any other image. That means you can apply any effects, filters, or presets to the image.
If you’ve never worked with presets in Lightroom Classic before consider buying a large set to get you started. As you experiment with them and use them more and more, you’ll get to know how the settings work, and then you can start building your own.
Changing the colors in Lightroom Classic can change the whole mood of a photo. A dark, shadowy blue image can feel quite melancholy and introspective, while a warmer-toned image can feel more hopeful and even joyous.
When you shoot a still life image, it’s not just the subject that conveys emotion, but the colors too. So while you’re finishing off the colors in Lightroom Classic, make sure that they’re helping to communicate your message.
These kinds of images are really begging to be printed quite large on beautifully textured paper. And there are plenty of labs that will do this for you. A textured paper can really enhance the fine art feel of a Pep Ventosa inspired still life, working sympathetically with the multiple layer effect that you’ve created in Photoshop.
If you don’t intend to print your image, you could try adding textures to your work instead. Open the image (again) in Photoshop and try out different textures until you get an effect that you’re happy with. Remember, textures are always best kept subtle!
There are so many different ways you could use this technique. You could combine it with other photographic techniques, or different post-processing. And of course, there is an infinite number of different subjects that you could photograph.
Please do try your own Pep Ventosa inspired still life. And don’t forget to post your results in the comments – I’d love to see the different ways that we all interpret this idea!