Michael McAuliffe Creative Photography

Putting it all together

Sometimes what looks like a simple shot really isn’t. The trick is to make it appear as if it were a very straightforward and natural shot when in fact hours of prep and post production are required to pull it off. Creative problem-solving often involves handling the assignment in such a way as to exceed the client's expectations.

In this particular case I was assigned to cover the development of the mural tracing the history of Henderson, Nevada which was to be displayed on the side of a local building. In addition to the working shots in his studio which would accompany the story, the art director wanted a full-page shot of the artist, Robert Beckman, and the building which would house the finished installation.

Upon scouting the building, I realized it would make for a very blasé shot. Once I had captured the AD's requested image I suggested a digital solution for a more dynamic visualization.

The opening shot as originally requested

At Robert’s studio I realized some additional work would be necessary to craft this image  as not all the panels had been painted yet.

You'll notice in the shot to the left the mural panels on the wall, but only five of the ten pieces were in full size production. I shot those pieces from a ladder to get them straight and centered and then took a close-up shot of Beckman's working sketch that is at the bottom of the photo. I used a grey card for each shot to make sure the finished piece matched the artists specifications.

Once I had the assorted pieces, I returned to my studio to begin post production. Back in the early days of my career, I spent many hours in the darkroom seamlessly building multiple exposure images. When Photoshop came out in the mid-1980s, it was a revolutionary development.

The first step was to match and size the higher resolution mural pieces with the hand-drawn and colored sketch.

And right is the combined image with five working murals on the bottom being fitted into the digital photo of the original sketch.

After this portion of the image was compiled, I then needed to clean up the original street side shot to remove a street sign, some trash and discoloration on the sandstone bricks of the building, and is seen below.

Once I had a clean background image to work with, I was able to begin placing the individual pairs of artwork onto the appropriate sections of the building wall. In order to achieve a realistic and visually believable effect it was necessary to skew each image to match with the angle of the building where it would be placed.

Although I originally photographed the shot as a horizontal in order to maximize my pixel detail, I added sky to turn the format vertical for full-page printing in the magazine. Also, I had to erase corner of the lower left mural and blur the line in order for it to appear behind the artist in the original photo.

I delivered the picture above right along with the rest of the job, and as expected it was used as the full-page opener. The art director was pleased and so was I. Over the years I've always enjoyed finding disparate elements and bring them together for a cohesive visualization that is more than just the sum of its parts.

Although I thought I was done with the picture at this point, this assignment had one final twist for me. About a month after the image ran a representative from Sprint, the sponsor of the project called me because they wanted to run the photo in their own publication to highlight Sprint's commitment to funding works of art for the public. The only catch was that they wanted to portray the artwork and not the artist.

Looking through the files of the original shoot, I realized that the only empty building shots that I had were closer and therefore of a different angle than the finished shot I desired, but I saw that I had moved Robert to different positions in different photographs. Doing something that would've been virtually impossible in pre-Photoshop days, I erased him from the finished shot and combined elements of two different shots to bring in the tree and building detail to what was my previously delivered photograph.

To fulfill the needs of the second client, the photo that I wound up delivering was both more and less than the specs by the first client when he assigned the job to me. The final result looks like a simple snapshot of the building that anyone could've taken as they casually strolled by.