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Kenneth Rodriguez

Kenneth Rodriguez

Modern Metamorphosis

Using a Wacom pen tablet, AfterCapture Digital Imaging Contest grand-prize winner Kenneth Rodriguez transforms photographs for his series “Modernizing Fantasy.”

t was late at night at his aunt’s house in Kenneth Rodriguez’s native Corozal, Puerto Rico, when he found his shot. Rodriguez had been working on a series called “Modernizing Fantasy” for six months, and the first image he had in mind for the series had not yet materialized. In this collection he was aiming for fantasy based imagery but with modern undertones. Four other pictures had come to fruition already, including a water dress image titled “Water Nymph” and a steampunkinspired image called “The Flight of the Valkyrie,” but the one he had imagined to begin with was still waiting in the wings.

Now he was home visiting family, and Rodriguez’s cousin, Maritere Mediavilla, was graduating from high school. She asked him to shoot her senior pictures, and as a seasoned portrait photographer he was more than happy to do it. “It was really dark outside, and I was taking the opportunity to shoot with a new lighting set-up. We started around sunset and continued until almost midnight,” he says. “Maritere was a ballerina, and I wanted some shots that showed her form. These weren’t traditional senior portraits—they were something special.”

Around 10 p.m. on a warm evening last spring, Rodriguez shot the photo that would become the fifth in his series, this photo titled “The Fall of the Crown Princess.” He had tried for this moment many times in Manhattan, Kansas, where he lives, but none of the pictures he had taken with models were quite right. This time, as Maritere leaned forward into the light and pointed her left toe behind her, Rodriguez knew he was almost home.

The “before” and “after” photos of “Water Nymph,” an image from Rodriguez’s series “Modernizing Fantasy.”

His struggle to find this perfect capture reveals his progression as a photographer over the eight years he has been shooting seriously. “I used to take a lot of pictures—I mean a lot—and then sort through them to find the right one. I grew weary of that way of doing things and a few years ago I started going after certain photos that I really wanted. It is a more aggressive approach, and it can be risky because it might not work. But at this stage I would rather try for something specific than hope for a workable outcome,” explains Rodriguez.

Once he had his shot, it was time to get to work on post-production. “Manipulating images is really what grabbed me early on. I love the whole process of finding a picture and shooting it, but working with the image and transforming it into something from my imagination is what drives me,” he says.

The “before” and “after” photographs of the image “The Flight of the Valkyrie.”

“First, I tweaked the white balance and exposure in Lightroom. Then I went into Adobe© Photoshop© and did the whole edit. I isolated the subject using a masked layer. I copied the layer and masked everything but the dress. Then I turned that layer into a black and white layer and added “color overlay” to change the color of the dress to red. In another layer, I changed her hair using a brush. I added the mask, red feather, red bow and arrow, each in its own layer. I applied some smoke brushes and added two crows. Then to achieve the reflection on the floor, I copied the image, turned it vertically and changed the opacity. Finally, I added the background and with the “burn” tool created the shadow,” says Rodriguez.

Rodriguez owns a Wacom pen tablet, “and without it, I don’t think I could edit this image the way I did,” he says.

“I bought my Wacom tablet last year because a friend told me I should really have one,” says Rodriguez. “He said my workflow would be more efficient. I wasn’t sold on the idea, but I bought one. Then I let it sit on the shelf for a while, because I was so used to my mouse. Big mistake. Once I committed to using the Wacom pen tablet, it completely changed the way I work for the better.”

After owning the tablet for a few months, Rodriguez decided to spend a full day using it exclusively. By the end of the day, he was able to get rid of his mouse. “The tablet makes editing so much easier. It is like having a touch screen. If you have to draw a line with a mouse, you are going to try 20 times. But with the tablet you are actually making a line the way you want it the first time. Eventually I started playing around with it more, using it to make logos and other illustrations, and each experiment helped me get more comfortable and expand my skills. A lot of the detail in my winning photo in the AfterCapture Before and After Digital Imaging Contest is the result of my confidence with the Wacom pen tablet,” he says. Rodriguez had studied Computers and Business Administration at the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayaguez Campus, but left before finishing his degree. After a short period of time in the U.S. Army he left because of an injury, and in 2004 he returned home.

The “before” and “after” photos of Rodriguez’s AfterCapture Digital Imaging Contest grand-prize winning image “The Fall of the Crown Princess.”

“I immediately bought my first digital camera and started taking pictures of whatever was in front of me. I started with landscape photography, and then my family’s portraits,” he says. “Then a friend of mine practically forced me to cover his wedding and I got hooked on wedding photography. It was fast-paced and demanding, and I loved it.” Rodriguez soon got married himself, and he and his new bride moved to Kansas, where they’ve stayed.

“The seasons here in Kansas are in great contrast to Puerto Rico. Here, I can actually see the seasons go by. It was September when I moved here. The trees were changing color. When I saw the pink, purple and yellow, it inspired my photography in a new way and gave me a fresh start. Then winter came, and I saw my first snowfall. I felt like a little kid—it was totally magical. I quit doing weddings because I needed to expand my range of subjects,” says Rodriguez.

He moved on to portrait photography: couples, infants and seniors. These portraits have become the basis for the work he is doing today: portraits enhanced in post-production toward the end of telling a full-fledged story with a single image.

“Now,” he says, “I go into shoots with a vision. I don’t go into it just to document, but rather to create something new from the basic material in front of my lens.”

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