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onion skinning motion


intro i’m not sure that calling this onion skinning is an accurate description of the result, but it reminds me of the onion skinning feature in flash so that’s what i’m calling it. this is a pretty simple effect that requires just a little bit of preparation, a lunatic to jump off the roof, and some masking in photoshop.

preparation checklist

  • tripod
  • camera that can burst shots at a decent rate (this shot was at 3fps)
  • remote release (not essential but it helps)
  • girlfriend’s reckless brother
  • most importantly: a cape

first thing to do is to set up your tripod and camera in an area where your subject isn’t going to fall out of frame. just try to imagine how high and far your subject will jump and just to be safe go a little bit wider cause you can always crop later.

Next set focus so that your subject remains in focus throughout the entire series of frames. this isn’t really hard if your sensor is parallel to the trajectory, but if your subject is jumping towards or away from the camera a bit then you’ll have to set a wider depth of field. lock the focus of the camera so that when you start snapping the shots your camera doesn’t try to refocus cause that would be a huge waste of everyone’s time.

be sure to have a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the motion. if it’s not fast enough amp up the iso or open your aperture wider. in this shot i don’t think i used a fast enough shutter speed, but at the same time i like that there’s a bit of motion in each frame. so it’s up to you really.

at this point you’re pretty much ready to give the signal. i like to use a remote so that there’s no camera shake introduced by holding down the shutter on the camera body, but in this particular case it’s not really a big deal cause any minimal camera shake will be hidden in post processing.

yell out an a-ok and hold down the shutter release. you’ll end up with the following:

frame 1
frame 2
frame 3
frame 4
frame 5

notice how in the animation there’s all sorts of movement in the water and tree. that sucks. we’ve gotta do something about that.

post processing
open your files in your raw processor and ensure that all the settings are the same in each frame. same white balance, crop, saturation, exposure, etc. open each image in photoshop and stack each frame on top of each other like so:


each frame save frame 1 has to be masked so that all that’s revealed is the subject that’s moving. add a layer mask to frames 2 through 5 and paint each layer mask black so that the frames are completely hidden and frame 1 is visible.

stacked step 2

now starting with frame 2 take a soft brush with white ink and start revealing your subject.

frame 2 masked in

the masking doesn’t have to be really precise because for the most part each frame is very similar. just try to stay relatively close except in the cases where there is overlap such as where the cape in frame 2 overlaps frame 1. those areas require a tight mask so take your time with those spots.

repeat this process for each frame and then apply whatever other post processing you want to do, but remember that when you sharpen you have to flatten the layers otherwise you’ll have to apply the same sharpening to each layer separately and that’s just inefficient.

view the final image at thinsite

also check out mute’s and bluehour’s explanations of the same technique.

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