Robert Cornelius Interview
Tell us a little about yourself:
I lived in the-middle-of-nowhere-Ohio until I was ten. It was a pretty magical place to grow up, seeing as my grandparents’ house was a one minute walk down the dead-end gravel road. They own a few acres of forest, so a lot of my youth was spent in the woods imagining fantasy worlds with my sister and cousin.
I still spend most of my time dreaming up fantastical worlds, but now it’s done at a photography studio. I’ve finally honed in on the skills I need to show the world what my brain has been envisioning my entire life. When I’m not creating art … well.
I’m usually creating art actually … haha. I have a full time job at a photography studio, and then after work I shoot and edit all the person work that you see in my portfolio. On the rare occasions that I’m not shooting or editing my next masterpiece, I’m probably at the gym, out for a run, snuggling on the couch with my wife watching a movie, or possibly playing a video game.
When did you first begin to make art?
When I wasn’t off in the woods battling imaginary dragons, I was drawing them. My parents owned and operated (and practically lived in) a pizza restaurant throughout most of my Ohio years. I spent many hours there with not much to keep me entertained other than my imagination, so I started to draw on the backs of the waitress pads. Go figure there were lots of dragons, wizards, castles, strange creatures, and all things otherworldly taking form in the booth closest to the kitchen.
From then on I never really stopped drawing, painting, sculpting, gluing, collaging, and pouring my thoughts into artwork. I love any chance I have to be creative in any way, really (and have no problem admitting that during school I was always one of the art teacher’s favorites hehehe).
By the end of the year I was teaching the teacher how to do things.
When did you first start using Photoshop and how did you learn?
My sophomore year of high school I decided to take a digital art class. I was already taking absolutely every traditional art class available and this was another hour of my school day that could be spent creating. (YAY!) We started off with Adobe Illustrator which I definitely enjoy and thought was the greatest thing ever until we began to learn Photoshop. Where the heck had this glorious program been all my life!?!?! I couldn’t get enough of it. Class was great and I certainly learned a lot, but then I would go home after school and spend hours scouring the internet for any tutorials I could find. By the end of the year I was teaching the teacher how to do things.
What inspires you?
So when I see a crazy detailed, incredibly epic matte painting, it just makes me want to run out and do a photo shoot!
Oh man, uh EVERYTHING!? Well, as you can see from my work I’m obviously inspired by anything fantasy and science fiction related, but I’ll get an idea for an image from just about anything. Movies are a big inspiration as I’m sure they are for many artists. I do my best to make my images seem cinematic, as if they could almost be a freeze frame from an epic fantasy film. I don’t really create verbatim moments from actual movies, but I’ll get inspired by attributes like a color scheme, a subject matter, a costume, or maybe a type of location.
I’m also constantly inspired by digital paintings, probably more so that I am by other photography. My work relies heavily on digital painting, and when completed I like to think my images lie somewhere in between a digital illustration and a photograph. So when I see a crazy detailed, incredibly epic matte painting, it just makes me want to run out and do a photo shoot!
Who are some of your favorite artists?
This is such a hard question for me because I have many very good friends that are talented photographers. I’ve always been a big fan of my good friend Aleah Michelle, even before we were friends. Her work is so creative and absolutely beautiful. She is currently working on a 365 project that brightens my imagination every day. Marina Gondra from Spain is one of my photography friends I’ve yet to meet in person, but I can’t wait until I get the chance to. I just love her work. Marina’s portfolio is so colorful and interesting; I can spot one of her works from a mile away and tell you who created it. Also, I’m always blown away by the incredibly detailed and perfectly edited images of Cal Redback. His series of peoples’ faces turing into plants is perfection. Oh, and I’m constantly inspired by the imagination and skills of Aaron Nace from Phlearn.com. Lastly, one of my favorite artists will always be my wife Sara, who has an illustrated food blog, and she is just ridiculously talented. I could seriously go on for hours naming how much I love SO many different artists!
Many times though, I have absolutely NO idea at all what I’m shooting for.
What is your typical process when creating a piece of art?
This all really depends on my mood and how I go about starting a shoot. I’d say about half the time I have a very solid plan as to what I want the finished piece to look like – everything form the pose, to the outfit, to the color pallete is pre-imagined. Sometimes I have a sort of vague idea as to what direction I’m headed, so I just go ahead and photograph it knowing the idea will evolve as I shoot and edit. Many times though, I have absolutely NO idea at all what I’m shooting for. This is a pretty fun way to create, but is far more time consuming. The shoot might go quickly because I just have my model try some different interesting poses, but then I end up taking a long time to figure out what the heck to do in post.
Once I get into editing I wind up trying a ton of different things, placing my subject in all kinds of different situations and backgrounds before I settle on something that I like. I actually have a whole blog post about how you don’t always need a plan!
Where do you get your source materials from?
I do my very best to shoot as much of my work as possible, but I always shoot at least the main subject myself. I’m not against using stock images when it’s called for, though. If I could be the one to shoot every single piece of my creative puzzles that would be fantastic, but I just don’t always have the time or budget to fly off somewhere when I need an image of an expansive desert scene or something like that, which isn’t within reasonable driving distance.
Also, my images are so heavily edited that if, for example, I end up using a stock image of an owl for a piece, it eventually feels almost like my own after the amount of digital painting, coloring, detailing, and shading that I do to it.
. . . I use about a zillion of the same little tricks I’ve been using for years in every single image I make.
What is your favorite Photoshop trick/method at the moment?
Hmmm, this is a tough one for me because I feel like I use about a zillion of the same little tricks I’ve been using for years in every single image I make. I guess right now one trick I’m really enjoying is sharpening an image (or part of one) using the high pass filter. If you duplicate a layer you’d like to sharpen and run the high pass filter (Filter Menu/Other/High Pass,) then set that layer’s blending mode to overlay, it works wonders!
I also like to run it a couple times, one layer with the filter set super low to bring out the very fine detail, and another duplicate layer set to a higher number that sort of boosts the mid-tone contrast a bit. Note that either of these high pass overlays might need to have their opacity turned down so they aren’t too intense, especially the second more contrasty layer. Also you have to be careful if your image is noisy at all because it can accentuate grain.
What is your favorite Photoshop tool or plugin at the moment?
Most of my images are finished using the “HDR Efex Pro 2” filter from the “Nix Collection.” It does wonders for bringing out the details in shadows. It’s especially nice to give everything a similar quality and help meld together some of my images that contain many different elements composited together. Like most steps in my process, though, I don’t want to overdo it so I tend to run the filter on a duplicated layer, and then turn that layer down until it’s a bit more subtle.
What work of your own are you most proud of?
I think at the moment it would have to be “The Storyteller,” featuring singer/songwriter Mackenzie Johnson. First of all I just adore her and it was a total blast to shoot! It’s one of those images that I pre-imagined and could see it perfectly in my head. The finished product is exactly how I envisioned it, yet even better than I could have hoped! It took so many hours of careful, detailed work and I loved every second of it. It’s definitely one of the more involved pieces I’ve done – having to match all of the different images to get them to look like they cohesively existed in one space was quite the challenge.
What are you currently working on?
Last fall I hosted a photography gathering in upstate New York. Basically myself and about 25 amazing photographers met up in Watkins Glen, NY for a few days to just hang out and create art together. It was one of THE BEST times ever, and on top of acquiring wonderful memories I was also able to shoot over a dozen different concepts. So right now I’m working on editing the images from that little adventure. You can read more about the meet up here if you’d like.
What would you tell someone who is starting out making Photoshop art?
Well to be perfectly honest, Photoshop is not the most user-friendly program when you are first learning how to use it. There are just so many tools and filters and about a zillion ways to accomplish anything. That said, DON’T GIVE UP!! Just take it one tool at a time so you don’t get too overwhelmed and you’ll get there. I feel like the first thing you should do is master the art of making a good selection; if you can get the pen tool down pretty well, it should be smooth sailing from there. The internet is a wealth of Photoshop knowledge (as it is for most things), so spend as much time as you can watching tutorial videos, reading articles (like all the lovely tutorials and features here on shift art!), and just trying new things. I have been doing this for nearly half of my life and I still find new little tricks and tools that I’ve never tapped into! The possibilities are seriously endless.