Screw City Skyline Reflection
Macro,  Photo Processing,  Photography Projects

Stay at Home Photography Project – Create a Screw City Skyline

Sometimes we are forced to stay in the house to pursue our photography hobby.  It’s a good idea to have a list of photography projects we can work on while staying at home. 

Building and photographing a Screw City Skyline is a fun photography project that will also help you to learn lighting and post processing techniques.  If you are like me and have a bunch of screws on hand, you won’t need to buy anything for this project.

Topaz Labs

In this blog, I’ll explain how to build your own Screw City Skyline plus I’ll give planning, shooting, and post processing tips for the project.

Building Screw City Skyline

Look at Photographs of City Skylines to give you ideas on how to build and arrange your own Screw City.

Collection of Screws for Screw City Skyline
Collection of Screws for Screw City Skyline

Collect a Bunch of Screws

  • Select a variety of screws (metal & wood screws, different diameters, different colors)
  • Put bolts on some of the screws to give them a different look. Think of the Space Needle in the Seattle Skyline.
  • Make sure they have completely flat heads.  Hex nuts that just have the edges touching the surface tend to fall down.

Preassemble your Screw City Skyline

Set up your skyline in advance of the photoshoot. It may take some patience setting up the screws and not knocking others down. Things to consider are:

  • How many rows of screws will I have?
  • Do I have enough screws of different varieties?
  • Are the screws straight?
  • Do the screws have blemishes or rust that won’t look right in the photograph?

Photographing Screw City Skyline

Screw City Lighting Set Up
Screw City Lighting Set Up

Lighting

Screws are made of metal which is highly reflective so you will want to control the lighting on your subject.  I used a DIY Lightbox with a dark piece of Plexiglass as the base.  I used two LED Reading Lamps (one on each side) on low power for the light source.  I also closed the blinds and turned off other light sources.

Camera Setup

With the controlled lighting on your subject, you will have long exposures.  I used a tripod and  a remote shutter release due to the long exposure time.  If you don’t have a remote shutter release, you can use the delayed shutter release setting on your camera.

Here are the camera settings for the photograph at the top of the blog:

  • 31mm (micro four thirds – 2X crop factor)
  • ISO 400
  • f/16 aperture to ensure all the rows of screws are in focus
  • 25 second exposure

Reflection

A Screw City Skyline looks great with a reflection.  There are 2 ways to do this.

1. Set the screws up on a mirror or dark plexiglass and photograph the reflection.  You will likely need to photograph from a higher angle to get the entire reflection in the frame.  Also keep a microfiber cloth and rocket blower handy to clear the dust from the foreground.

2. Photograph the screw skyline without a reflection (or discard the reflection) and create a mirror image in photoshop.  This will let you take the image at a lower angle and reduce the amount of dust you need to remove in photoshop.  This is the method I’ll describe in the post processing section of the blog.

Make sure you look at your photographs on your computer before you disassemble your Screw City.  Check to see that:

  • The screws are lined up the way you want them
  • The lighting is good and none of the screws are blown out
  • The reflection looks right
  • All the rows of screws are in focus.

Post Processing with a Reflection Mirror Image

First do all your basic processing on the top of the image that will be copied to create the reflection.  You may have some bright spots on the screws, reduce the whites and highlights to lower the brightness.

Use the healing brush or clone stamp tool to remove dust specs from the photograph.

I used Boris FX Optics to add the clouds to the photograph but Photoshop Sky Replacement will work as well.

Once you have the top of the image the way you want it, you’ll need to create the reflection.  I wrote a couple of blogs that I’ve linked to below on how to create a mirror image and reflections in photoshop.

Here are a couple of tips for the reflection:

  • Remember that a reflection is darker than the image that is being reflected.
  • Also, there is usually a shadow on the shoreline where the image and water meet

If you just want to create a mirror image of the reflection, this blog explains how to do it. You can use a graduated filter in Adobe Lightroom to darken the reflection.

If you want to create a more realistic water reflection with ripples, this blog will show you how to do it in Adobe Photoshop.

For me, this was a fun indoor photography project.  I hope you try it out and have as much fun as I did creating and photographing my Screw City Skyline.

Written by Martin Belan

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