Wandering the crowded aisles of Berkeley’s Urban Ore—a somewhat dodgy cross between an upscale junkyard and a down-at-the-heels flea market with an added smidgen of green ideology—with my camera and Otus, I came across a beautiful cut crystal bowl in a locked cabinet. It was love at first sight. Finding the person with the key to unlock the cabinet and negotiating the price took a bit of time, but soon enough Otus and I were making our way home to photograph our new treasure.
I photographed my crystal bowl straight down using a light box and a bracketed high-key sequence of exposures. This is the technique I developed to capture flowers for transparency (actually, for translucency), and as I note in my presentation on the subject the technique produces interesting results with many subjects in addition to flowers. In this case, the high key HDR approach emphasized the contrast between the edge lines of the bowl and the negative spaces created by the transparent glass.
My next step playing in Photoshop was to invert the essentially monochromatic image, transforming black lines on a white background to black lines on a white background. It’s hard to get me going on this kind of thing without wanting to play in Photoshop, so I started using LAB adjustments. How do you make a mandala from a crystal bowl?
In this case, in addition to LAB inversions and equalizations, I used Nik Color Efex filters, direct painting on layers, layers, layer masks, and repeated application of some of the oddball blending modes such as Difference. Play around long enough in Photoshop and you never know what you will find!
With this imagery it was visually important to me to “square the circle” with a square crop. With some of the Crystal Mandalas, like the Holographic Mandala, there is almost a three dimensional look—part of the image jumps off the plane. In contrast, with Mandala Inside, the effects create an outer translucent shell or layer, with an inner core that is much bolder and more defined.
These could be small virtual worlds, and have become something completely unrelated to the original sequence of photos. When I first looked in my crystal bowl, I did not know where it would take me!