DPP: Part 4: Assignment 4 ? Real or fake?: The Image, Ethics and Self-reflection

Having chosen the theme for the assignment image the next step was to set up the studio and shoot it.  I got hold of a couple of soft boxes and a background stand with green and white backdrop sheets.  This is roughly how the setup looked with the green screen, albeit without the chair which was set up for a portrait shot (I was trying out some Joel Grimes-esque shots for fun):

Studio Setup for Assignment 4

Studio Setup for Assignment 4

The soft boxes are arranged to try and cast a fairly even light on the backdrop and provide constant light, while the light with umbrella is a flash unit, so only lights when triggered and is there to light the subject itself.

The Hand

The first part of the image to create was the hand in it’s delivery box.  I used one of the bulb cases that came with the soft box which was “handily” enough, hand-sized.  I shot two images, which I would then edit together in Photoshop.

Shot 1: The empty box

Shot 1 - The Empty Delivery Box

Shot 1 – The Empty Delivery Box

Shot 2: My hand in a box

Shot 2 - My hand in a box

Shot 2 – My hand in a box

Shot 3: Mask for the cut

I also created an image which I could use for the end of the hand:

Shot 3: Mask for the cut

Shot 3: Mask for the cut

Editing them together:

I took the images in to Photoshop.  The first job was to remove most of me from the image which was pretty simple:

Editing together - removing my body

Editing together – removing my body

Then came the finer detail, making it look like the hand was severed neatly and packaged in the box.  I had to adjust angle slightly so it didn’t look as though it was rising out of the box as much as it was in the image above.  I did this with free transform, adjusting angle and shape slightly.  I then tidied up with the clone-stamp tool, ensuring the colour of the box internally was reflecting the colour from the hand.  I also used the curve of the can shot to create a “seam” at the end of the hand.  This is how that looked:

The hand in the box

The hand in the box

The final task then was to remove the green backdrop.  I used Photoshop’s “Select -> Colour range” tool to mask the green area and remove it.  For illustration purposes I put a gradient in the layer beneath the hand-in-a-box layer to show the removal of the green screen:

Hand in a box - green screen removed

Hand in a box – green screen removed

The Background

The next job was to create the background for the shot.  I’d changed my idea from the original intention of two shadows behind, and decided to go for one – but with the right hand removed.  I kind of see it as though the hand is being packaged for delivery, having been removed from the clone.

Initial failure:

My first attempt was rather poor, for several reasons:

  • I’m too far from the sheet, so the shadow is too large and vague; details like fingers just aren’t obvious.
  • The white sheet is too folded, it’d be an hour-or-so’s work just to clean that up.
  • The outline of clothes is really obvious.  That really doesn’t suit the idea of a “lab grown” clone, especially as they’re described in the book as essentially “farm animals”.

This is how the first attempt looked:

Background - Initial failure

Background – Initial failure

Revision and Improvement

So, I tried again.  First off I got the iron out to smooth the creases in the white sheet.  I didn’t get rid of all of them, but certainly eliminated the worst of them.  I also ended up in the nip, having tried various states of undress to see how the shadow looked.  Here’s how the final one turned out:

Background - Revised

Background – Revised

It needed some tidying up, and then the right-hand (left on the picture) removed to match the hand in the box:

Background Edited

Background Edited

Putting it all together

With the components made, it was then a case of putting the background beneath the boxed hand layer.  I adjusted the saturation on each layer as I felt the whole image would benefit from a “colder” look, especially the separated hand.  I also tidied up the join between foreground and background, using the eraser tool so it merged more neatly.  This is the final image, with no text:

"Spares" - no text

“Spares” – no text. Click to see on Flickr.

Text-wise, I experimented a bit and got some feedback.  My first version was this, using colours from the hand and the skin from the hand for the word “Spares”:

"Spares" - text, take one.  Click to see on Flickr.

“Spares” – text, take one. Click to see on Flickr.

It didn’t quite work, so I tried a suggestion from a friend, which while sort-of-clichéd from a  design perspective worked (ying-yang kind of style) and is my preferred version:

Spares - Final.  Click to see on Flickr.

Spares – Final. Click to see on Flickr.


The assignment brief calls on an ethical justification for what I’ve chosen to do in this assignment.  I have no qualms at all with the extent of editing done here.  The image is illustration for a science-fiction novel, it is clearly fake and in the context of a story so doesn’t pose any ethical dilemmas in my mind.  It does not pretend to represent reality.

If the book were a non-fictional account of trafficking in human body parts then that would be a different matter, as a naive viewer might think they are seeing something that is described in the book.  It’s association with commentary and documentary would raise concerns that it is misrepresentation.


I’ve completed this assignment within the suggested time-scale given by my tutor for the first time since I started with the OCA, this despite spending some time reading around the subject, including a number of the suggested reading items from my tutor following assignment three.  This makes me wonder what I’m missed…


I’ve set up a “studio” environment to suit my objective, with additional lighting to create several images required to produce the final image, and feel I’ve lit subject and background well, though I initially had overlooked the fact the hand would cast a colour cast reflection on the box which was quite a challenge to recreate when editing the empty box and hand together later.

I’ve made use of Lightroom and Photoshop, using layers, selection tools, clone stamp and erasing to create a final composite image.

I feel I’ve successfully composed the shot, creating a balance between the dark table and the light background, which draws attention to the main subject.

Quality of Outcome

I’m really happy with the results; especially as I struggled with the exercise of editing together the landscape and cloud earlier.  I think the greater control afforded by a studio setup helped greatly in this area.

I deviated slightly from my original sketch as I felt I had a better idea (removing the hand from the figure behind the sheet).  I think the book cover does have a fairly contemporary science-fiction look to it, that fits the theme well.

Demonstration of Creativity

I used my knowledge of the book to create a concept that fitted.  I think I’ve drawn on some almost clichéd science-fiction ideas; certainly the sort of clean/crisp look to the background is something commonly seen (and even the silhouetted figure behind a sheet/frosted glass).  On that basis it probably isn’t the most imaginative of images.

However I have realised my original idea effectively, refining the idea and technique to implement it as I went.


This hasn’t been an assignment where I’ve researched much in the way of techniques.  I found a few YouTube videos on green screening, but apart from referencing even lighting (which I knew was important already) there wasn’t much to glean from them.  I did find a blog which mentioned the Select -> Colour range too, but I don’t have the reference for it, I think because I dismissed the rest.

Related to composite overall, however, I did take a look at the work of Joel Grimes, having discovered some of his work via an episode of [F]ramed on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1c0_pLKtG5Y

In terms of the ethical debate on alteration, I’ve commented on this as I’ve worked through the exercises – and I believe the ethical case study post sums up my position: http://phillong.me.uk/2014/07/dpp-part-4-reality-and-intervention-ethical-case-study/


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