Faux X-ray Flower Photos
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Faux X-ray Flower Photos

Creating See Through Flower Photos


 By Liz Masoner, About.com Guide to Photography
Published March 1, 2012 ©
Contact About.com for reprint requests
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Ghost Flowers

X-ray, or radiographic, photography has been around most of a century. However, due to cost and access to equipment, there are very few photographers in the world capable of creating these images. One of the more experienced radiographic photographers is Steven Meyers, who has been creating ghostly images of translucent flowers for decades.

Making a Fake X-ray Photo

Oh, you don't have an X-ray machine lying around in the garage? That's ok, there is a way to create a reasonable facsimile. While we cannot completely duplicate the X-ray effect because those images are recorded with a different spectrum than visible light, we can get pretty close and create some very appealing "faux X-ray" images.

Setting up the Shot - Supplies Needed
  • Light Box
    This can be anything from a commercial light box to an empty aquarium turned upside down over a shop light. Just be sure that you provide enough ventilation that the light box does not overheat.
  • Two Panes of Glass
    A couple of pieces of glass from photo frames works perfectly for this. Be sure that at least one piece of glass is streak and dust free (this will be used as the top sheet of glass).
  • Wax Paper
    Just enough to cover one piece of glass.
  • Clamp or Tape
    Basically, something to hold the pieces of glass together without slipping.
Select a flower/plant that is not particularly dense. If you can see through parts of it when holding it up to the sky then it is probably a good candidate. A plant that is not very 3 thick is also easier to press between the glass.

Once you have your selected plant, place the wax paper on top of one piece of glass. Then arrange the flower on top of the wax paper. You may need to bend stems and blooms a bit to get them arranged as you want. Next carefully lay the top piece of glass on the flower. A slight angled motion when setting down the glass is often helpful in pressing the flower without crumpling it. Don't worry if you have to try a couple of times to get the flower to lay like you want and some crumpled leaves can add character to the composition.

Carefully clamp or tape the glass together and set it on top of your lightbox with the light turned on. Photograph the flower with a normal to 1/4 stop over exposure.

Getting the X-ray Effect

You've now got a pretty neat looking flower photo but to get to the faux X-ray style we've got some editing to do. Open the photo in a program that allows layers, levels, and has channel mixing capability. Photoshop Elements is an example of a program with these capabilities that is not extremely expensive.

Lower the Contrast
First use the levels adjustment in your program to lighten the midtones slightly. You do not want high contrast in the flower itself before you begin the style conversion in black and white. Don't worry about getting things perfect the first time you make adjustments. You can always try again with different values on the adjustments.


Sharpening
If you need to sharpen your image, go ahead and do that at this point. (Instructions for sharpening your photo)


Change to Black and White Infrared
If your program has an infrared preset in the black and white conversion it is a good place to start. If not, just convert the photo to black and white and open the channel mixer. Again, exact amounts applied in each channel will vary based on the individual photo but the red channel will be the strongest, then green, then blue, and contrast will be the weakest. This will result in what looks like a slightly offset set of two lines on the slider controls (see photo). The goal is to have the highlight bright but still have plenty of detail showing. You will be lightening the photo a touch more so don't worry if the background is a bit too dark at this point.


Final Adjustments
Using the levels sliders again, make final tweaks to the brightness and contrast of your image. Be especially vigilant for noise in the shadows if you adjust that control. Remember that older radiographs had a lot of noise in the end result so that is a great option if you want to go for a vintage feel with your finished photo, especially if you'll be printing the photo on metal or or other specialty surface.



 

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