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Shooting the Enterprise

I was recently asked if I could help out providing an image for a magazine article about stress management. For reasons as yet undiscovered the requested image would be of the USS Enterprise flying through a storm in space. Unfortunately I didn't have a lot of time (just a couple of hours), but I did have a very nice model of the Enterprise D I could use to build the image around.

Thinking fast, I rigged up a rather slapdash rig consisting of a black reflector backdrop, an umbrella and stand from which dangled the model by a thread, and a couple of strobes. One light above, diffused, to provide the key light, and another, reflected and lower power, to fill some of the very dark shadows. It ended up all looking something like this:

Using a fast shutter, f/16 and cunning flash positioning I managed to keep the background black and give the model suitably textured lighting so it didn't have that flat, uniform, shadowless appearance of, well, a model. The narrow aperture obviously helped with the depth of field, although it was still only around 1" so I had to be careful with the focal plane. A tilt lens would be lovely in situations like this.

To get the desired effect of Star Trekky space type things, I had to do some post-processing. A starfield background from NASA first, followed by a zoom-blurred mass of swirling colour to give that classic Trek feel. They sure did love that swirly mass of colour. One or two minor lighting alterations to give a little more colour and texture to the model, as well as glowing nacelle and dish lights, completes the look except, of course, for the lightning.

The lightning is randomly generated by applying a difference filter between a gradient and random cloud-like noise, then crunching the levels so only the brightest whites are visible. It means you only have limited control over the output (direction and waviness is roughly controlled by gradient width and direction) but it's quick and easy so you can make a whole load and pick your favourites.

Layering the swirling mass of electrical charge over the ship and liberal application of masks to make it go under, over and around the hull finish it off nicely. I toyed with colouring the lightning, but decided the swirling mass of colour was enough.

So there it is. Not bad for a couple of hours frantic snapping and Gimping. Given more time I'd have liked to try some more dynamic angles, render it in higher quality, and other such enhancements. Maybe I will, later. Or maybe I'll do something completely different.


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