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"Alone": montage inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe

by  Christophe Kiciak

"Alone" is a montage inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. It reflects the surrealism often associated with Poe, and it proves that the secret to creating a powerful image is inspiration.
I like the works of Edgar Allan Poe for many reasons. In particular, I admire how he carefully crafted his writing to emphasize a particular mood or feeling. He used words to bend reality and accentuate a peculiar effect. In his poem "Alone", Allan Poe described how his perception of the world was different from others, and how this, at times, made him feel lonesome.

This photo was awarded the Gold medal at the TRIERENBERG SUPER CIRCUIT 2012, category "Unusual "

Canon 5D MarkII  .  24-70mm f/2.8  .  f/16

I decided to illustrate these ideas in a photomontage. To achieve this, and do justice to Poe and his work, I knew I would need to take an otherwise normal scene and present it with the surrealism often associated with Poe and his writing.

"After many hours of researching online for a suitable location to shoot, I found a tree-lined road just an hour away from home."

After many hours of researching online for a suitable location to shoot, I found a tree-lined road just an hour away from home. The weather was relatively poor that day, but that did not deter me, and I went there to shoot it anyway. On the way back I shot some old tombstones in a graveyard, and I was fortunate enough to capture some ravens as well.

The photos were all taken using a Canon 5D Mark II and the 24–70mm f/2.8 L lens. In order to maximize the depth of field, I prefer to shoot with a small aperture (at most f/16, but quite often f/18 or even f/22). Because of this I will usually use a tripod, and my Gitzo GT3541LS has never failed me. The studio shots were all realized at home on a black background. In those shots I used three Elinchrom strobes with various modifiers.
I processed all of the images in this montage in Photoshop.

1) I began by bending the trees to create the oppressing atmosphere I had in mind. 

2) Once I was satisfied with the shape of the trees, I worked on the branches. They looked a little sparse due to a lack of foliage, so I used the Clone Stamp tool to clone more leaves into the entire picture. This completely obscured the sky and created a relative darkness that suited the mood I wanted to achieve. 

3) It took few hours of work to produce a background image that I was satisfied with. I added the tombstones and the birds for more detail. But then I was not sure how to continue. I had no idea how Poe would interact with the scene, and lacking further inspiration, I was stuck. This was quite unusual for me since I often plan everything right from the start. 

4) I returned to the poem and read it again and again, hoping for that extra bit of inspiration. It became clear that adding a cloud would be ideal, but it seemed unnatural to represent one without showing the sky. This is when the idea of a pipe with a cloud of smoke emerged as a demon came to mind. In the end, the cloud morphed into the shape of a skull, as it was the most convincing shape I managed to create. 

5) Extra photos were then shot in a studio setting. After I bought a pipe, I dressed myself up as Poe and shot a self-portrait. The smoke was then shot using the classical incense stick method: I used a black background and a single light source to illuminate the smoke from the side. All images were then merged together, and the scene was almost finished, except for a few final steps. 

6) I spent many (and I mean many) hours on the final steps. I played with a vast array of settings and tools in Photoshop, tweaking the atmosphere and mood of the merged image. I experimented with the Curves tool, Photo/Color Filters, increasing and decreasing the Saturation, rendering in black and white or with green, blue or yellow hues. I almost lost myself among all the options. 

7) Despite the extensive trial and error, nothing I achieved felt right or truly representative of Poe's poem. Finally, after reading "Alone" a few more times, the words "autumn tint of gold" gave me the key. I opted for a darker approach to these colors, and as soon as they were applied, the image really popped. I was now satisfied that this image truly reflected how Poe perceived reality.
1) Inspiration is the key to creating an image such as this one. It may come from many sources and it will be different for each individual. However, it is often the case that the people in your life can be great sources of inspiration. Appreciating whatever inspires you can motivate you to work hard and achieve the best possible result for your image.

2) No matter how inspired you are to create, you should never rush the project. There is no use in grabbing your camera and shooting random photos around you. Instead, I advise you to sit down with pen and paper and start making rough sketches of how you could compose your image. Do not hesitate to create many versions or options. This step helps you to realize, and thus avoid, many bad ideas or concepts that will not work in the final picture. 

3) Do not accept compromise. If you are not totally satisfied with a shot, redo it until you are. The same goes with the processing. Do not count hours — just work until you are satisfied and feel you cannot improve anything. 

4) Take breaks in your work. Things often look very differently a few days later.
I am 40 years old, and I live in a small town slightly west of Paris, France. Although my wife, Marianne, and I both work in the city, we enjoy escaping each night to the relative calm that our small town enjoys. It is located between a forest and a river, and it provides a nice escape from the busy urban life. 

My work in the IT security field is very different from photography. It requires me to think outside the box, and I apply this practice when I am creating images as well. I began to explore photography in June 2009. At the time, I was searching for a way to express both the rigorous scientist and creative artist. There are few hobbies that satisfy both personalities, so I have really embraced photography. Now I spend my free time studying various techniques, contemplating the fantastic work of my peers, and of course, making pictures.

Some use a camera as a tool to capture a moment in life or to show the world as it is. I mostly use it as a way to communicate ideas through carefully studied and created setups. I am not afraid of strong edits as long as they serve a purpose. To me, the final image and its impact are the most important aspects of photography, regardless of the methods and techniques applied in the creation process. Conceptual photography and surrealism are what I enjoy the most.