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New Photo Project Book Really Delivers!

By Albert Chi—

Despite its quirky title, this new photo book by Chris Gatcum will introduce you to a plethora of projects, allowing you to achieve creative mastery of the digital photography medium…stuff you’ve always wanted to do but never quite figured out how.

The subtitle of the book is “52 weekly projects to make you a better photographer” but don’t mistake this for the usual run-of-the-mill book of its kind; it’s way better. The book is divided into four sections: Shooting Creatively, Equipment, Lighting, and Processing. Each covers topics that can be easily achieved by beginners to professionals.

For example, under Shooting Creatively, you can learn how to camera toss, shoot high speed water droplets, use free-lensing, and even how to levitate your subjects so they look like they’re floating off the ground. If some of these terms are foreign to you, don’t fret; they were to me, too, and I’ve been shooting for years. Others, like painting with light, diffraction star effects and panning still objects may be more familiar and this and you’ll learn how to execute them.

The Equipment section really shines with projects like improvising lenses from eyeglasses and magnifying glasses, how to use an inexpensive, replacement welding mask glass to make a super ND filter, and even how to shoot through the viewing lens of a cheap, old, twin lens reflex camera (available on the web for just a few bucks) to create antique images.

The two other sections of the book are packed with easy studio and on-site lighting projects and techniques, and how to use simple, post-processing steps found in most any imaging program.

In short, once I started to page through this well organized 176-page book—with its clear and complete instructions—I was sucked in and, while I’ll never do all 52 projects, there’s enough that’ll keep me busy for 2022. At only $22.50 at Amazon— including free shipping— it’s a bargain. There’s also a  Kindle digital version for just $12.00.

Now, with permission of the publisher, I’ve picked an example from the book— one that’s easy to do and brings back those lazy, hazy, crazy days of manipulating Polaroid SX-70 film. All you need is a printer, an imaging program with a smudge tool and Red River paper.

Digital Polaroid SX-70

When Polaroid abandoned production of its instant films, a range of unique materials and techniques were lost, from emulsion lifts to emulsion transfers. However, prior to this, another unique emulsion was sidelined—
SX-70 (or Time Zero) film.

If you’re unfamiliar with this particular film, it was designed for the “instant” camera of the same name, which became something of a cult classic. What made it unique—and exciting to creative photographers—was the way in which the film was made. The emulsion was sandwiched between the Polaroid backing and a clear plastic cover, and because the emulsion took a short while to harden, there was a window of opportunity where the emerging image could be physically manipulated and pushed around to create impressionistic, painterly images. However, while the film is no longer produced, it is still possible to achieve a similar effect using your editing program.

What You Need

An image and Image-editing program with Smudge tool 
(e.g. Photoshop or similar)

Original image.

To emulate the “plastic” feel of a genuine Polaroid, use a high-gloss paper for images made using this technique. To take it a step further you could also add a Polaroid-esque frame made out of thin, matte white paper.

The key to re-creating the manipulated Polaroid look lies with the Smudge tool, which hides in Photoshop’s toolbar alongside the Blur and Sharpen tools. While it might not have the most appealing name, it is perfect for re-creating the look of a manipulated Polaroid.

Strong Smudge added to image.

Basically, the smudge tool works like a paintbrush, so you can set different brush sizes and change the hardness of the edges. However, instead of applying color to your image, the Smudge tool “smears” the information that’s already there—exactly like pushing the emulsion around on Time Zero film. By changing the “strength” of the Smudge tool you can alter its effect, so it has a lesser or greater impact on your image.

With your image open and the Smudge tool selected, it’s time to re-create the look of manipulated Time Zero emulsion. Experimentation is the key here, so play around with different brush sizes and vary the hardness of the brush to see what different effects can be achieved. Alter the strength of the smudging as well.

Strokes of vaious kinds can be added.

As the smudge tool is used freehand, different effects can be achieved by applying it in different directions. For example, to remove a background quickly, a large brush and high strength combined with a circular smudging action does the job well, whereas “straight” smudges can create a regular, abstract background.


Depending on how dry the emulsion was, and how hard you pressed, one of the properties of Time Zero film was that black or white lines could be added to the manipulation, creating outlines and fake highlights that didn’t exist in the image to start with. The obvious way of replicating this digitally is to use the Pencil or Paintbrush tool to add thin black or white lines that you can blend into the picture using the Smudge tool.

The finished image.


This excerpt from #PHOTO52 has been reprinted by permission of the publisher, ilex Press, a division of Octopus Publishing Group, Inc. It has been edited and abridged for this article.


More details about the book at Amazon.

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Original Publication Date: December 20, 2021

Article Last updated: September 15, 2023

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