Bay Area photographers Greg Lorenz and Kim Avelar specialize in tricking the eye, in creating images that appear to be real but couldn't possibly exist. In their world, woodpeckers have drill bits for beaks; barracudas cruise the deep with submarine propellers; plants spread solar panels instead of leaves.
And clouds are launched with just a brushstroke and a stepladder.
Although this whimsical scene looks like a clever trick of perspective, it's actually a carefully constructed composite image – a specialty of the husband-and-wife duo. The background image of field and sky was taken on a road trip in Montana. The ladder and model were shot later, using the same 24mm lens under similar outdoor lighting conditions, and merged with the first image via Photoshop.
"Everyone assumes that we added the cloud in digitally," Lorenz says about the popular photo. "But actually, the cloud was really there in the first image."
Shot about 10 years ago, the cloud-painting photo was created for their stock collection during the more labor-intensive days when Lorenz and Avelar had to match film grain in Photoshop to give their composite images a uniform look. They also used to have realistic models of animals and other subjects built in a studio to represent their visions. Today, with digital imaging, they are able to use CGI to create seamless fantastical worlds and situations they could only dream of in the days of film.
"We always want to create images you couldn't otherwise get in the real world," Lorenz says. "We want people to look at them and say, €˜How'd they do that?' "
Although still images are the couple's specialty, Lorenz's first love was motion pictures. He graduated from the Brooks Institute in 1990 with a degree in film studies. It was at Brooks where he first met Avelar and began a partnership that continues today. After working in the film industry in Southern California, they moved to the Bay Area in the mid-1990s and switched their emphasis to photography and digital videos.
The photographic process for the couple is very much a collaborative effort. In broad terms, Lorenz says, Avelar focuses mostly on the photography while he works on the digital imaging, but both artists share duties quite often.
Despite its age, the cloud photo is still a popular stock image used in greeting cards and other media around the world. In fact, during a recent redesign of their website, the couple turned the cloud-painting image into their home page.
"It didn't take much thought to put the concept together," Lorenz says of the cloudscape. "Those usually end up being the best images."
To see more of their work, visit lorenz-avelar.com.