Take a swim into the creative talents of Mike Berceanu, one of Australia's premier photographers. Watch while his superb skill and expertise welds an underwater camera, a trusting little girl and several hungry sharks into this frightening yet truly wonderful visual masterpiece. Could it really be happening? You bet!
...in Mike's own words:
In working up an image, I first thing I always do is to sketch the idea, in part to crystallise my thoughts but also to create a usable layout. This is particularly helpful with scaling and positioning. I also scribble notes on the layout for future reference. To capture the original images, a kind friend allowed me the use of his pool and another ( yes I have two friends! ) loaned me a Nikonos underwater camera. It was obvious that the most difficult image was going to be that of the little girl struggling in the water, so that's where I started.
I came across a talented little girl with helpful parents and dug out my old diving apparel, and put some extra lead on the weight belt because I'd have to be sitting on the bottom at the deep end of the pool. Because it's been a while since I shot underwater, on the day before photographing the girl, I did a test roll of my friend in the pool at the same time of day, got the film processed, and checked the results. It's always better to be safe than sorry. I'd already scouted an aquarium and done some test shots there so I knew what sort of lighting I'd have to match.
Examining the processed transparencies of the girl in the pool, I found several that I liked, and went off to a couple of aquariums to get some sharks.
Watching the lighting constantly, I shot eight rolls of film which yielded about six likely candidates. This may not seem much from so many takes but the light levels were low and of course sharks move constantly so it was tricky getting them sharp, totally in focus, with the right expression and in a correctly lit, appealing pose.
To achieve a photo realistic effect it's important to match lighting, camera angle and lens angle of view. For example, if the image element is going to be a small part of the composition, then it's appropriate to use a longer focal length lens. In this case however, all the elements would be approximately the same size and I wanted the immediacy that a wide angle lens would give so I used a 35 mm lens for the sharks and a 28 mm lens on the Nikonos underwater camera. Water refracts light differently so that the 28 mm lens under water is roughly equivalent to a 35 mm lens above the water.
PhotoCD (above right) records 36 bits of scan information, allowing some adjustments to be made to yield the best 24 bits. Here the image is lightened and a lot of Cyan is removed before aquisition.
Scanning: Usually I order drum scans for full image outputs to transparency film at high resolution, but in this case each scan would contribute only a small part to the total composite so it was possible to make considerable cost saving by having all the scans done on Kodak Professional Photo CD.
In Adobe Photoshop, I acquired the images as RGB flies of about 18 MB, but cropped to the essential area
Color Corrections and Masking: The key picture of the girl was acquired first and the others adjusted to suit it. Since the major work was to match the sharks' color to that of the girl, Hue Shift was employed first. This kept the density and contrast values constant while changing the hues only, allowing me to tinker with each image till the hue was just right. After this some separate adjustment to contrast was also made.
In Adobe Photodhop, Color Range is used to select the bubbles, and the Fuzziness slider is used to adjust the amount of background water to be masked out.
The masking was done by firstly making a selection with the Paths tool and then using a variety of brushes in Photoshop's Quick Mask mode. A selection of another shot with a nice collection of bubbles was also acquired. A mask was applied to exclude all but the lightest parts of the shot; that is the actual bubbles, so that they could later be easily applied over the shark shots.
I often do such composites completely in Photoshop, but because I knew things were going to get complicated and a relatively large file ( 90 MB ) was required, I chose to do the rest of the work in my old favourite, Live Picture. So, finally all the prepared scans together with their masks were saved in Live Picture's proprietary Ivue format.
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