Sword in the Stone Work Log

I’m starting out on my 3rd consecutive 52-week photo challenge for dogs. The idea is to post 1 photo each week of the same dog… for a year. This year I’m hoping to push my photoshop skills and get more into compositing and making fantasy imagery.

I thought it would be interesting to make some notes on the workflow for each image that I make with lessons learned etc. I don’t know how much momentum I’ll have throughout the year but I’m hoping I can do a few of these this year.

The Concept

The concept was a basic sword in the stone type of image. I sketched the following out in my notebook.

I also found some images on pinterest that had a feel that I liked. I thought this framing was nice, along with the fairy.

I thought the mood and tones and foliage were nice in this one.

The Shoot

I went out and did some location scouting at a local park. It was extremely foggy that day so I shot all of the location photos in HDR so that I could have more exposure choices when it came to post production.

I liked this framing, I thought it would work nicely to place the sword/stone on. This would be the main backdrop.

I didn’t intend on using this next one but I thought the water and fog were so cool that I just wanted to capture them. I ended up replacing part of the sky with this image later on.

I then moved on to shooting the talent. This was actually quite a challenge, how do I get Artsy to grab a cylindrical object with her head sideways? How do I make sure that the object doesn’t move so that it stays in focus? First, since I had planned on having a light ray cast from the top-right of the image, I lit Artsy from the top/right with a bit of fill on the left.

This was my final process for capturing this image.

  1. Place a stool as a stand-in for the stone, put the backdrop over it so that Artsy will be easier to mask.
  2. Stick a piece of gaffer tape on the stool in the location where the sword should be.
  3. Put a placeholder on the piece of tape so I can set my focus.
  4. Slide my monopod inside of a used cardboard paper towel roll and push down firmly on the mark.
  5. Drop a treat into the paper towel roll and tell Artsy to get it (she kept using her paws).
  6. Once she had eaten the treat, I kept telling her “get it” and as she kept failing to find a treat that was not there, she eventually got frustrated and went into a full “I will burn this place to the ground” mode.
  7. Remote camera trigger like mad and I ended up with 3 photos before the cardboard had been decimated.

Finally the sword/stone, captured with the same lighting as Artsy. I was thinking a lot about how to mask the stone to make it look like it was slightly sunk into the ground. I borrowed a planter from the garage and shot this. The black card behind was so that masking out the sword would be easier. The sword and stone are actually a Legend of Zelda letter opener. My dad gave it to me, we were both super into Breath of the Wild at the time.

Initial Composite

My first problem was an issue of scale. When I scaled the stone down to the size that looked right on Artsy, the sword was clearly waaaaay too big. She can’t be grabbing the sword by the blade… I should have seen this coming.

After shortening the sword, the wings on the hilt were then sticking right in Artsy’s face! So those had to get cut off. After some cloning and adding of shadows I had something I was happy with.


I wanted some cool fog, so I went back into the studio and got my fog machine out. I had thought, why not place a light where the sword is and a light where I wanted my sun to be? Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Fog just makes everything better right? So I added the fog and then quickly decided that I didn’t like my backdrop, so swapped that out with some foggy water.


Next up I wanted light rays, about 2 hours of youtube later I had this.

Finally some fairies and some general dodging, burning and color adjustments leads to the final image, which for some reason when I see it in my browser doesn’t look like it has the color profile attached. Here it is on flickr as well.

Original concept achieved. I have mixed feelings about the final image. I still feel that there are things that are off but at the same time I don’t really know how to fix them yet or maybe don’t have strong enough opinions on the style I’m going for.

I’m improving but feel like I have a long way to go still in my compositing skills. I also go through periods where I’m super excited to work on the photo and others where I just want to be done with it. Luckily, being time-boxed means I have to ship it at the end of the week.

Overall my time spent totals come out to:
Concept: 10 mins
Photography: 2 hours
Photoshop: 14 hours
Final Layer Count: 30

Lessons Learned

  • Don’t panic those first few minutes in photoshop when everything looks like a cardboard cutout!
  • Consider object scale before shooting. I could have measured things and calculated proportions and perhaps found a better prop or at least known that certain things would need to be done in post.
  • In the future, shoot fog with 1 light, it’s more universally usable especially once I start scaling.

Youtube Tutorials Consumed

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