Was that title corny enough for you Craig? Everyone welcome Craig Sparks! This Fleetwood, United Kingdom resident is by far the most creative HDR photographer I have seen to date. I am honored to feature him on the blog and am humbled by his presence! Craig has a masterfully creative spark (seriously I am done with the puns…no more :)) that ignites inspiration in every square inch of manipulated pixels! Craig tells many stories in his work from comical kitchen wars to thought provoking societal diatribes. I have been an avid fan of Craig’s work for quite sometime now, I finally have the chance to pick his brain…without further ado….Craig Sparks:
What equipment do you use for your HDR images?
It may surprise you to hear that I just have an old age Canon 350D that’s been round the clock thrice. It was generously donated by my dad, Sid when he decided to upgrade. Up to that point (about 4 years ago) I hadn’t touched a camera since the age of 15. I’m now 39. A cable release. An old rickety aluminium tripod. The software I use is Photomatix Pro 3 and CS2.
It is respectable to see you shooting HDR images and even more respectable to see you using them as a resource and not necessarily a means to an end. Can you go into your HDR workflow a bit?
Ah, I was afraid you were going to ask me that one. The idea is the first thing. It’ll pop into my head at any time I’m awake, without warning. I have a terrible short term memory and I forget a lot of them before I get the chance to do something about it. I expect snippets of the past to arrive any day now.
I try to set up the backgrounds as pleasing to the eye as possible. I love bare, polished or worn wood and metal together. The shinier the better. Those two things look amazing in HDR and they’re a nice juxtaposition in the composition. I try to shoot during the day but in the UK our winters are about 8 months long these days and it’s easier to use my 10 year old desk lamp. I don’t worry about the white balance, as I shoot in RAW format. I generally take 3 exposures but sometimes 5, which I try to avoid as there shouldn’t really be any need in a very enclosed shot. I use a 10-20mm lense because you can get some pretty mad things going on with the perspective. Plus I can’t afford a different lense.
My workflow in Photomatix is just play around until I get something I’m happy with. Micro-contrast is king in HDR but there’s a fine balance you have to strike with the controls of whatever software you’re using to process your HDR. I only recently looked back through my progression using HDR software and the difference is startling. Avoid halos everyone…where possible. Even if it means extensive photoshop work!
Your Egg Wars images are incredible, where did you get the inspiration for them? Are the facial expressions self portraits?
My terrible short term memory prohibits my brain from remembering how I came up with that idea. I seem to recollect that the original Eggsecution pic was called something different. But guess what…I can’t remember. I used my own portraits for the faces, as it was just easier to tell me what face I wanted me to pull. I hope people don’t think I’m an Egg abuser. I love Eggs.
You have many images depicting “Ed” in a gas mask. The gas mask is a pretty powerful icon. What message would you like your viewers to get from “Ed”?
I’ve known Ed (that really is his name) for about 13 years now. He’s a cool dude. I say he’s a Goth, he says he’s a Steampunk. He’s always late. The gas mask was an item I picked up randomly. I thought it would look pretty wacky and scary. Wacky and scary – brilliant combination. Ed and I are both big Terry Gilliam fans and…well, extrapolate. There’s no real message I (we) are trying to get across except come and have a look at this! Don’t get me wrong though because I do try in the majority of my pictures to get something over. Usually ironic humour.
Your Photoshop skills are unparalleled to many I have seen, many times I can spot imperfections. However, with your work it is extremely difficult, or should I say next to impossible! Where did you learn to create such seamless images?
Imperfections? You’re not looking hard enough. They’re all over the place! But there again there’s only ever been one piece of work I’ve ever been 100% happy with. I couldn’t possibly go into my photoshop workflow in depth because it’s extremely chaotic and history-redos a-plenty. I just use it like a canvas rather than a computer program. I have a 600 page CS2 instruction manual that I have been beaten by on page 42. I have no idea what 70% of photoshop actually does. I need that space in my brain for remembering to feed my cat.
The tools I use most are eraser, …erm, well that’s about it. I swear to you I’m telling the truth. I may occasionally use the lasso tool or the burn tool but pretty much for 95% it’s the eraser. I of course use multiple layers but prefer never to have more than 10 open – lest my laptop collapse under the weight of calculation. I find if I prepare the shot carefully there’s very little editing to be done. Make sure the light’s coming from the same direction in all leyer shots, that kind of thing. I occasionally let loose with some of the free brushes I’ve downloaded. Some of them are ace. I must learn how to create them some time.
Cripes! I’ve gone on a bit. Or is that not enough?
Keep on HDR’ing Craig, you truly are an inspiration!
YOU MUST see more Craig, you will NOT be let down: