Category Archives: Conceptual

Light Painting a Dancer: Jennifer

On Halloween, I had the chance to do some more light paintings. It was also my first time working with a professional dancer, Jennifer. We decided to try some urban settings as backgrounds, and more specifically wanted to explore the area around the Royal Mile. After a bit of scouting, we came upon a close just off the Royal Mile that seemed to offer a number of picture opportunities. All the pictures in this blog post were taken within about a 30m radius.

Light paintings typically stand out because the lighting is quite surreal and grabs our attention since we are not accustomed to seeing subjects in this kind of light. But there is another way to grab people’s attention, and that is by placing your subject in a totally unexpected environment. Like a dancer on a bunch of kegs at the back of a pub, as in the pic below. The light painting technique further adds to the surreal nature of the concept.

classical dancer on kegs of beer at the back of a pub on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

This picture opportunity did not immediately present itself, as the location was somewhat hidden from view. But I’m very glad I decided to just ‘look around the corner’

The photo shoot took place on Halloween night, and we were fortunate to find some lit
carved pumpkin. The stairs also offered plenty of elements of design, such as lines, shapes and textures. I learned from Joe Baraban’s “Stretching Your Frame Of Mind” classes to look for these elements of design and incorporate them into my imagery.

Classical dancer on stairs with carved pumpkin, on Halloween night in Edinburgh, Scotland

It was Halloween night after all, and we jumped at the chance of a Halloween themed light painting

On the other side of the close, there was another location with similar elements of design, and it got my attention as well. I also liked the contrast between the urban setting and the classical dancer.

classica dancer in an urban setting off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

I really liked the pipes, the texture of the walls and the autumn leaves on the ground. It is also not the kind of location where you’d expect to come across a classical dancer, a good opportunity in my mind for an interesting image.

And finally, one cannot be with a classical dancer and not get a photograph of her doing the splits. Since this was my first photo shoot with a dancer, I didn’t really have an idea of how to place my subject relative to the background, or what kind of background works best. And while I’m happy with the lighting on Jennifer, I think the background needs a bit more work. This photo shoot got me to think about other ideas. So, maybe next time…. I’ll keep you posted.

classical dancer doing the splits on a short wall off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

I just had to get a classical dance pose out of Jennifer.

Photo Shoot in the Forest

I really believe in personal projects. They give me the opportunity to hone my craft and try new ideas and techniques, so I can better serve my clients.

I recently did a photo shoot in the forest of Blackford Hill, Edinburgh. My collaborators for this project were Electra Gouni (actress/model) and Miriam Wilson (makeup artist).

I wanted to try a number of techniques on location for this project. But I always make sure that I take some photographs that the model and makeup artist can use, in case the experimentations don’t work out.

Edinburgh model leaning against tee with a forest background and texture added in Photoshop

I asked the model to wear a red dress, because it provides the best colour contrast with the green forest background. I added a texture to the photograph in Photoshop

Close-up portrait of model with tree bark as background, taken in the forest of Blackford Hill, Edinburgh

I shot some close-up portraits for the makeup artist. I decided to pose the model against a tree because I liked the contrast between her soft skin and the rough texture of the tree bark.

In a previous blog post, “Gravity”, I described an experiment with levitation photography in my flat. I wanted to try that technique on location. I’m relatively pleased with the result, but I need to make the levitation effect more striking. This is part of the learning experience. It usually takes a few tries to get it right.

Model levitation in the forest, Blackford Hill, Edinburgh

Levitation effect achieved in Photoshop. I also added a texture to the photograph in post-production.

If you follow this blog, you know I’m a big fan of multiple exposures done in camera. Thus far, I used this technique on natural subjects, like flowers and trees. I want to see what could be done with a model. By combining two exposures, one with the model and one without, one can give the person a ghostly appearance. Similarly to the ‘levitation’ experiment, I need to work on this technique a bit more before I get a photograph worthy of putting in my portfolio. Live and learn.

Model in forest, Blackford Hill, Edinburgh, ghostly appearance

Ghostly effect achieved in camera with multiple exposures (two in this case)


Edinburgh Fringe Salon Photo Shoot: Candy Girl

My previous blog post, “Leopard Lips”, describes a beauty concept shot at the Edinburgh Fringe Salon in collaboration with Josh Sommariva, Chelsea Ross and Maria Carmela Chierchia.

Beauty model with Candy Girl themed hair, makeup, having a great time doing her hair.

Just having a good time.

The second concept for the shoot was a fun theme, “Candy Girl”. It is difficult to imagine how much work actually goes in producing a series of pictures like this. The hair and makeup were quite involved and took a few hours. Setting up the lighting equipment, getting good exposures and colour takes about half an hour. And I can’t remember how long I took pictures for, but it took quite some time. You want to make sure you get the best out of the model/hair/makeup, especially given the time and effort that goes into it. And then the pictures are retouched to make them look as good as possible.

Beauty model with candy girl themed hair, makeup and nail with lipstick and makeup brushes,.

It’s makeup time.

But in spite of all of the hard work, we had a great time with this idea. I think the photos speak for themselves. And our model Cerri seemed extremely comfortable in front of the camera, even though she is not a professional model.

Beauty model with candy girl themed hair, makeup and nails showing off her dazzling smile and nails.

Showing off her Candy Girl nails.


Edinburgh Fringe Salon Photo Shoot: Leopard Lips

In some of my previous posts,  “Shelfie” and “Couch Potato” in particular, I explored conceptual photography using Photoshop composites.

There is a more traditional way of photographing concepts, which involves hair, makeup and styling. I say traditional because it dates back to film photography, i.e before Photoshop or to the days when Adobe only referred to the kind of clay used to build houses, to paraphrase photographer Joe Baraban.

Beauty shot with leopard lips

The leopard lips are essential to the look, even though they are just a small part of the image

In a collaboration with Josh Sommariva, Chelsea Ross and Maria Carmela Chierchia, I recently did a photo shoot at the Edinburgh Fringe Salon exploring a couple of conceptual ideas with hair and makeup.

Beauty shot with tilted head and leopard lips

A slight tilt of the head can make a big difference in the look of a portrait or beauty shot.

The first such concept revolved around leopard lips. Our model, Saskia, was to play the role of the unattainable dream girl, in a Catwoman kind of way. The look I asked Saskia to give me was really out of character, because she was very approachable, friendly and a pleasure to work with in person.


Couch Potato

As a former academic, I obviously believe in the value of education. Which is not to be confused with the education system, but that is a different matter altogether. So I always try to learn new things. And as a scientist by training, I also love technology.

Philippe Monthoux as couch potato, Photoshop composite of Philippe on a couch and a potato

I felt pretty miserable living the life of a couch potato

Given the large number of people online consuming visual content, the demand for imagery has never been greater. The flip side of the coin is that it is even more important for your images to stand out.  By making use of recent advances in technology, one can create images that were simply not possible (or practically impossible) to create before, which guarantees that the public hasn’t seen this type of photograph over and over. It gives your pictures a chance to stand out. The ever improving digital darkroom software is making it easier to create fantasy images by combining elements photographed at a different time and/or place. So I decided I wanted to get better at creating photo composites in Photoshop, and I gave myself a few assignments. The photograph above is the latest in the series.



In the quantum theory of a particular physical system, the lowest energy attainable is higher than the minimum energy of the system predicted by the classical Newtonian theory. This difference in energy is called “zero point” energy.
For example, in the classical theory of the hydrogen atom, the electron orbiting the proton would gradually lose an infinite amount of energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation and fall onto the proton. In the classical theory, the hydrogen atom would therefore be the size of a single proton, or roughly 10-15 m. In the real world, the hydrogen atom is way bigger, with a size of about 10-10 m. The quantum theory, which gives a very good description of the properties of the hydrogen atom, only allows the electron to lose a finite amount of energy until it reaches an energy 13.6 eV below that of the ionised hydrogen atom. But no more. The zero point energy in that case is infinite. We also find that the electromagnetic zero point energy of empty space is infinite, or at least extremely large if we assume that there is a minimum wavelength (the Planck length) for electromagnetic radiation. But it is no cause for alarm, since in electromagnetism only energy differences matter, and not their absolute value. The zero point energy cancels out of the calculations.

Levitation or zero gravity using Photoshop

Making someone levitate is relatively easy with Photoshop. Zero gravity without the space shuttle.

This is different in Einstein’s theory of gravitation, in that the absolute value of the density of matter determines the curvature of space-time. Einstein’s celebrated equation E = mc2 states that mass and energy are equivalent. Hence the very large (essentially infinite) zero point energy predicted by the quantum theory should be equivalent to a very large mass density that in turn would produce some enormous gravitational fields, which are not observed.

The development of a quantum theory of gravity is an important and yet unsolved problem that is occupying some of the best minds in theoretical physics.

Fortunately, the solution of problems caused by gravity is a lot easier in Photoshop. In the photograph above, I appear to float in zero gravity in my flat. A problem I was able to solve in relatively little time. Thank you Adobe!


There are many reasons I’m not into selfies, pictures of myself taken with a cell phone.  The first reason is that I’d rather be behind the camera.  And as a photographer, I tend to prefer better quality portraits in good light.

Shelfie, Photoshop composite of bookshelf and Philippe Monthoux

My first Shelfie pic.

On the other hand, something totally up my alley is a shelfie. Reading is one of my favourite pastime. In my many years as an academic, I amassed a rather large collection of books. But the book buying didn’t stop when I got into photography and business. My interests keep expanding and you can get an idea of the range of books I have on my shelves from the above photo.

The shelfie picture is also a good illustration (pun intended!) of the kind of imagery the digital technology and Photoshop allow one to create.  This shelfie photomontage is part of a personal project of mine involving photo composites. Apart from the creation of interesting surreal images, the technique of compositing has some very practical applications. For example, a reflector (or white card) may be needed to get the light just right on the subject, but the placement of the reflector is such that it appears in the shot. A combination of photos with and without the reflector allows one to solve the problem.

I believe that the mastery of Photoshop is a requirement in this digital age, and I plan to explore other kinds of composite ideas to hone my Photoshop skills, because I just love to learn new things. So look for other Photoshop composite experiments like the shelfie picture above in the coming weeks and months.

Impressionist Photography and Photoshop

In a previous post, “Impressionist Photography”, I talked about a couple of camera techniques one can use to create photographs with an impressionist look. The effect is achieved at the moment of capture and I find it most fulfilling as a photographer when I can create the image in camera rather than later in Photoshop.

However, there are certain effects that are simply not achievable in camera and must be done on the computer. The two camera techniques I discussed in my previous post, multiple exposures and panning, create an impressionist look by eliminating the fine details in the image.

And once the details are gone, it is impossible to bring them back later on the computer. A creative technique I learned while taking an online Fine Art Nature Photography class with Kathleen Clemons consists in keeping the details in your subject but not elsewhere in the photograph by applying a Photoshop filter to simulate panning and create an impressionist background. The image looks very different than one with a sharp subject in front of an out of focus background, and definitely has a surreal feeling to it.

Tree in Blackford Hill Edinburgh with impressionist background created in Photoshop

The background is blurred with a photoshop filter while the subject, a tree with fall leaves in Blackford Hill, Edinburgh, is kept sharp.

Tree in Blackford Hill Edinburgh with impressionist background created in Photoshop, example 2

Another example of a Blackford Hill, Edinburgh forest scene treated with the same technique.


Contrast in Marketing and Photography

We are not very good at judging things in absolute terms. Is £100 for that brand X widget a good deal? Who knows? But when that deal is compared, or contrasted, to the offers from the competition, like brand Y widget costs twice as much with half the features, then we get to think that £100 for that brand X widget is a pretty good deal after all.

Savvy marketers know that you can use the power of contrast to be more persuasive. The classic example is that of the discounted price. The new price is contrasted to the old one to give the potential customer a good reason to buy.

And if your real estate agent takes you around to show you a few houses, it is a safe bet that the first one is going to be expensive and in need of a bit of ‘freshening up’. By contrast, the subsequent houses you visit will all look like great bargains.

The blue background creates a strong colour contrast with the red strawberry, making it 'pop'

The blue background creates a strong colour contrast with the red strawberry, making it ‘pop’ from the photograph

In other words, marketers use contrast to make their offer stand out. And photographers also use contrast to make their subject ‘pop’ from the photograph. In an image, one can use tone contrast, a bright subject against a dark background for example, or sharpness contrast, where a sharp subject stands out from an out of focus background. The photograph above uses colour contrast to make the red strawberry ‘pop’ from the blue background. The use of contrast can be just as effective in photography as it is in marketing.



Vision training: upon reflection

As a scientist, I was always looking at new ways to solve old problems. In the words of Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman “… every theoretical physicist who is any good knows six or seven different theoretical representations for exactly the same physics.” The reason is that while an old problem may yield to a particular solution method, new problems may not. In other words, it is vital for the progress of science to always look for fresh points of view.

Given a world saturated with imagery, it is also of prime importance for photographers to look for new points of view. For example, Joe McNally recently took his camera to the top of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Since I couldn’t possibly hang 800m up in the air from the top of that building, I’m looking for other ways to create interesting imagery.

The use of reflections is a way to produce images that people may not be used to. The possible distortion from the reflecting surface can give your subject an unusual appearance. In the photograph below, the buildings are distorted by the curved windscreen of the tram.

Reflections in the windscreen of an Amsterdam tram

Reflections in the windscreen of an Amsterdam tram

And the combination of the reflecting surface and reflected object can yield interesting juxtapositions, as in the picture above and the two below.

Crane reflection in modern building, Lausanne, Switzerland

Crane reflection in a modern building, Lausanne, Switzerland

Sky reflection in modern building, Lausanne, Swizterland

The sky reflecting in a modern building, Lausanne, Sitzerland