Community Balloon

Posted on June 5, 2010 at 1:52 am
Error! 25472: Could not connect to the web service

Local singer/producer and all-around talented guy Matthew Carefully has a new album out, “Community Ballon”. I invite you to check his work, it will bring a smile to your face and raise your karma. Contributing to this adventure with my photographer buddy Bennett “Valerie” Campbell was a great pleasure, and honest fun. I do not believe in creating contents in a vacuum; while I have the chance to share my photos on this blog, there are only a few opportunities when a group of artists can cooperate on the same project. The proverbial whole, once again, ended up greater than the sum of its parts. Here is how it all happened.

It all started a while ago when Matthew decided to involve members of his newsletter in his creative process: let ideas, samples and snippets flow, and you shall receive. From these heterogeneous contributions of sounds, feelings and lyrics he assembled and nourished quite a fine collection of songs, a feat he effortlessly reproduced a few months later on All Over Albany. This is a fascinating talent and you will soon be able to read more about how “Community Balloon” came to fruition on the album’s new swanky blog

Error! 25472: Could not connect to the web service

He didn’t stop there, mind you; after cranking a whole new album he asked a few more people to contribute to his vision, come up with some visuals for this project. With a strange dream in mind, he approached his old roommate Bennett about producing the album art. The BNut, in turn, asked me to be his lovely assistant. I said “oui” of course, Bennett has given me a hand on a few projects in the past, he can hold a light reflector with style and I value his input as much as his perfect hairdo: time to return the favor. Fast forward a few weeks later and our happy bunch met in Lincoln Park, Albany, where we found Matt already struggling to get a dozen balloons out of the Mattmobile.

Error! 25472: Could not connect to the web service

I liked the idea. You know who didn’t like the idea? The goddamn wind.

He and B had discussed the concept already, and I gathered that our small army of volunteers would hold the balloons in the air while we capture the scene, eventually leaving the balloons out of the camera frame to get this feeling of being “tethered to the sky”. I liked the idea. You know who didn’t like the idea? The goddamn wind. It turned out quite the challenge to get a few shots of this tangled mess. I took a few photos myself, in case Bennett would miss an opportunity (he didn’t), carried some of his equipment along, and gave my obviously nervous friend supporting nods and dubious directions. He delivered like a champ. You can read his account of the whole experience on his blog. I can’t compete with that much eloquence, my French accent doesn’t work in writing.

Error! 25472: Could not connect to the web service

Photo tips. We interrupt this episode for a quick advice: “better know what your final product is, for no amount of Photoshopping will save a bad composition”. I knew we were working on a CD cover, therefore a 1×1 (square) aspect ratio photo, but I was unaware Matt was gunning for a seamless front-to-back cover, a 2×1 rectangle stretching both sides of the CD case. Basic geometry, really, but a whole different beast altogether: in such situation you would probably want to put your main character(s) in the right half of the picture (front cover), leave the left half (back cover) fairly unobstructed to provide room for the track list, and plan enough space vertically to crop the camera’s 12×8 original into a 2×1 cropped rectangle. I dead-centered instead, and only a few of my shots ended useful enough to backup Bennett’s. Lesson learned, young padawan, now back to our regular programming.

Error! 25472: Could not connect to the web service

We moved around the park for a good hour, positioning people left and right, up and down, and found an inviting hill where Bennett ended up taking the sweet photo that adorns the cover of the CD. Most people enjoy digital photography from the convenience of their Point&Shoot cameras: a click and you are done, your JPEG file at the ready. Step into more serious amateur photography and the whole process becomes actually closer to good old film photography: I call it digital developing. We take photos in RAW format indeed, though this is only half our story: we spend an inordinate amount of time developing and tweaking this soup of pixels into glorious tones and smooth gradients. Turns out I started shooting RAW about a year before B, and I’ve extensive experience Photoshopping people’s head on monkeys. I offered my mad post-processing skillz and gave Bennett’s picture a bit more oomph. It isn’t very far from my photo below but the composition and wind direction makes it.

Error! 25472: Could not connect to the web service

Say what? Yes, 90 degrees clockwise.

Matthew ended up using some of my shots for postcards and merch, and for that I’m grateful. You can find them in the limited edition “Community Bundle” (click on the small thumbnails), and if we were on Facebook right now, I would “Like” it a few times. We wrapped our adventure with candid shots of the man himself. I had an ace in my sleeve though, a long, shiny one that is: my trusty Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. I’ll marry that lens one day, on a beach, riding a unicorn. I took some close-ups and sent a few decent ones to Matt days later. He liked one very much and elected to use it in a poster… after rotating it 90 degrees clockwise. Say what? Yes, 90 degrees clockwise. See, that’s the difference between a creative guy like him and myself: he thinks outside the box. Rotate that photo below, and here is what you get: back to people tethered to the sky. Ingenious.

Error! 25472: Could not connect to the web service

I can’t thank Matt and B enough for the opportunity to collaborate on this project. The CD sounds great and I’m proud my name is attached to it. I love local arts and I try to support my community by documenting what’s going on in and around Albany. “Community Balloon” fit right in and I hope this little story will inspire you to give the CD a shot, and get involved.

Error! 25472: Could not connect to the web service

More photos

More photos below, or check the full-screen Flickr slideshow, or click on any of the thumbnails below to open a larger view.

Error! 25472: Could not connect to the web service

Tags: Albany, Lincoln Park, Matthew Carefully, Matthew Loiacono, music, tips


  1. B says:

    That’s a lot of big English words there! Nice job, didn’t see all of these behind the scenes pics before, love it.

  2. Sebastien says:

    Thx :) Note how I stayed clear from “serenpidity”. I haven’t graduated to 5 syllables yet.

  3. Go Phish says:

    Could you do a blog post sometime about post processing? In particular, maybe how you PP’d this shot.

    It seems impossible to get the sky, the people, and the ground all exposed properly so this must have been fairly heavily photoshopped. I’d be interested to see the process you went through… Or if you know of a good tutorial out on the web already, a link would work too… thanks.

  4. Sebastien says:

    Good idea. Yes I’ll plan to do that. I used Lightroom on this one, I didn’t have much time, and I can clearly see a problem with some balloons that I could easily take care of from Photoshop. I explained how to do that to my friend B last year, and since he wasn’t aware of it, I’ll assume other people might be interested to.

    But long story short, you need to shoot RAW. Open the photo in PS, and adjust the exposure slider for the foreground to be visible: your sky will indeed be blown. Open the same photo again, adjust the exposure slider for the sky to be nice and detailed: your foreground will be underexposed. You have now two windows in PS: copy the contents of one in a layer in the second. You now have the same image, aligned, on top of each other, at different exposure. It’s a matter of having one “show through” another. There are tons of techniques to do that, layer masks being the easiest one. Select the sky, create a layer mask for this area, and it should show on top of the second layer. Blending both layers is where the trick is, and it’s all about making a nice sky selection. Use Select Color Range in PS, and feather or Gaussian Blur the resulting mask.

  5. B says:

    Good catch Go Phish, I think the goal is always to make the final image look more or less believeable (“real” is, I think, an unattainable goal), and this one might be slightly pushing it. The real key is getting a handle on your selection tools, which Seb is excellent at, and knowing how to made necessary fine adjustments. The highest balloons give away the technique for that example and I think the result is a little too heavy on the sky and too light near the horizon. It could work, that’s an editorial choice, but it’s a bit drastic for me.

    There are plenty of great tutorials on Youtube, searching for “layer mask” is probably a good starting point, but it’s hard to overstate the value of really knowing your selection tools.

  6. Sebastien says:

    Yep, I wasn’t going for “real” indeed, since the concept was kinda “dreamy”. But I think you made a fair assessment here, I most likely will revise this photo for a PS tutorial; unfortunately Lightroom really lacks good selection tool so neither the horizon or the balloons could be fixed easily in my time frame.

  7. Go Phish says:

    While not necessarily looking “real”, I’d say that a picture like that could be made possible by a large enough flash to fill in the foreground… so it isn’t too far beyond the possibility of “real.” But beyond that, sometimes “real” doesn’t look as good as… well, not real… and I think this is one of those cases.

  8. Sebastien says:

    Absolutely. I didn’t know how to use a Flash unit at that time, and I’ve definitely worked on flash techniques since then, including fill flash and high-speed sync. I’ve now a 580EXII and a 430EXII: I’m eager to learn. This requires more preparation and interactions with your subject(s): in this case this wasn’t my photoshoot, it was B’s, I was here to help and support, so I had to be sneaky to get some shots in between. Fast glass and some post-processing helped.

One Pingback

  1. [...] Sebastien has a post up about his experience on the Community Balloon shoot, with a few more outtakes. Including the above [...]