Alex Musgrave tells how he makes his beautiful photographs

“Photography is a constant learning process,” says Vancouver photographer Alex Musgrave of his ever-evolving skills in the field. He’s been practicing these nifty photography techniques for a decade now and getting better with each new shot.

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One of the earliest forms of what I would consider trick photography was probably when Grandpa took a picture of me sitting next to me. This was done about three decades ago, when I was still walking around with a compact camera for most of my photography adventures. I remember he bought a circular filter half of which was completely black. Setting up the camera on its tripod in our living room, he made me sit to one side. Using a threaded cable release with his SLR and the aforementioned filter, he only exposed half of the frame. I then quickly changed clothes while he carefully turned the filter 180°, trying not to move the camera at all. I moved to the other side of the frame and it cracked again. Mind you, this was all done in camera, and he had managed to expose the same frame twice without winding the film advance lever. I vividly remember the resulting photo, which turned out to be perfectly exposed. Although trick photography is much easier with digital cameras and software, I remember that grandpa photograph every time I see an image like this.

Essential camera gear used by Alex Musgrave

Alex told us:

The Phoblographer: Hi Alex. Tell us about yourself and how you came to photography.

Alex Musgrave: I’m from Vancouver Island. I got my first camera when I was a kid (a Polaroid camera), but I didn’t get interested in photography until I was in 12th grade. I had friends and family members who had DSLR cameras; this is what started to interest me more in photography as a teenager.

The Phoblographer: Many of these images remind me of a book called Rigged photography and special effects by Evan Sharbonneau. When did you start trying this kind of photography, and who were some of your inspirations?

Alex Musgrave: I started making this type of images in 2012. Some of my cinematic and literary inspirations have been Tim Burton, Guillermo del Toro, Annie Lebovitz, Rosie Hardy, Erik Johansson, Roger Deakins, JK Rowling, JRR Tolkien and Christopher Nolan . I find that going for a walk or going to the movies can help to find inspiration.

The Phoblographer: How difficult (or not) is it to focus precisely on yourself when taking self-portraits?

Alex Musgrave: It’s easier now since both cameras I use have an iOS app, so I can control the focus of the camera. It’s a bit easier with the Nikon as it has face/eye AF, but the Hasselblad app is more user-friendly.

The Phoblographer: Does it often involve multiple takes? How have you facilitated the process over time?

Alex Musgrave: Usually my images are made from multiple images and then I use parts of each to create the image. I sketch my ideas in a journal to help build the concept, so I can write notes to help with the image. I also do it so as not to forget my ideas. If I sketch my ideas and write notes, I also look for a location that best matches the idea.

Le Phoblographe: You have probably received requests from friends who want to make similar portraits of them? How did some of them turn out and what was the response?

Alex Musgrave: Well, friends I’ve done portraits for have been happy with the results. I find that the images turn out better if there is more collaboration. Since my Photoshop skills have improved over the years, it helps with photos that require more complicated Photoshop skills.

The Phoblographer: Have you ever dreamed of something surreal that you tried to turn into a photo?

Alex Musgrave: I made a photo where there is light coming from my chest. I rip my shirt off and the light shines from my chest. I used my Aputure MC RGBWW for the light source, and Photoshop made it more realistic.

The Phoblographer: The few times I’ve tried something like this, the realistic layer blending process has left me baffled. What advice do you have for readers who would like to try something like this?

Alex Musgrave: I try to get as much in camera as possible, so it’s easier when it comes to stitching the images together in Photoshop; it’s easier for me. I’ve spent countless hours on YouTube over the years when I couldn’t figure out how to do something in Photoshop. Photography is a constant learning process.

All images by Alex Musgrave. Used with permission. Take a look at his website and his Facebook, Flickr and Instagram pages to see more of his photography.

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