The Photographers Art: Tino Hammids Brave New World

Tino Hammid is a household name in gem circles. It comes attached to some of the world’s most breathtaking gemstone and jewelry photographs, appearing in practically every form of visual media. Now Hammid, who has been photographing gems and jewelry for 15 years, is branching out: he has flung himself into the mysterious world of “virtual reality.” Hammid’s art – some of it shown on these pages – brings a new dimension to our view of gems and their startling colors.

The work at Hammid’s studio these days is no longer the product of a subdued or darkened room. Tino still peers through camera view-finders and squeezes shutter releases for a living. But an increasing percentage of his days (and way too many evenings, says wife Mary) is spent scrutinizing a computer screen. There, Hammid’s creative juices become a virtual Niagara Falls of creativity as he manipulates his gem images of choice. An opal or a ruby stock photo may become a renewed subject of interest.

Opals in the mist: The manipulation is done electronically. Hammid tweaks, enlarges, modifies or sculpts the images, literally raising mountains and ridges out of ordinary gemstones, using his Macintosh Quadra 950 computer to fashion surreal Sci-Fi landscapes.

Staring at a completed artwork, you may cast yourself as a Ray Bradbury character clambering over a mountain ridge and staring out at a red island (made of ruby) afloat in a sea of greenish brine. In the sky above, an asteroid collides with the moon. You begin to wonder… will you ever make it to the island alive?

Another image sends you flying over the ocean where an opal island rises, enshrouded by mist, from the waters. It is a scene that the artist Christo himself would never even have dreamed of..

Hammid does it all for fun.

Really? “Yes, it certainly is fun,” says Hammid, “and for me it was unavoidable. The photography is great, but it has a limited creative latitude. The computer has become a place where I can express myself visually. It has provided me with a whole new creative avenue. Back in the fall of 1991, I talked and borrowed my way into [computer graphics], and attended many, many seminars.”

Hammid, who is a member of a Los Angeles photography users’ group for Macintosh computers, says: “So much has been done with Macintosh as a standard platform for graphics. Its software is just destined for visual fields, a factor which software creators eagerly participated in. The resulting graphics capabilities just blossomed – and caught my attention.”

Which brings us to the question you surely have asked by now: How does Hammid create a landscape from a gemstone?

Gems as terrains: The first necessity is a good gemstone photograph. Tino, of course, has a virtually unending supply of such source photos.

Coupling a computer with a program that unleashes creativity gives Hammid the perfect canvas for his art. He uses a program called KPT Bryce, which he describes as “a 3-D rendering program designed expressly to create landscapes, realistic and surreal.” The original program was the brainchild of Eric Wenger, a Frenchman, but another Macintosh guru named Kai Krause gave Wenger’s program a “friendly interface,” making it user-friendly for Macintosh enthusiasts. Hammid says, “It is designed to encourage exploration.”

The artist has a wide variety of choices. “The Sky& Fog Palette, for instance, includes cloud altitude, frequency, sky type or cloud type, coupled with separate color, turbulence and complexity controls. A weather model takes into account lighting direction such as sun or moonlight or atmospheric haze.”

A Terrain Editor allows the user to create and edit terrain shapes. “For example, it can take a color image (photographic or otherwise) and translate its light and dark values into terrain height: white being highest, black lowest and each shade of gray in between assuming its particular gray value height. The color image is then mapped onto the surface of the terrain.” Adds Hammid: “The potential is limited only by the user’s imagination.”

So far, Hammid has composed, manipulated and tweaked approximately a hundred of his stock-photo images. Three of them are shown on these pages.

What’s next? Hammid is not entirely sure, though much depends on his continued interest in the artwork and, to some degree, on its eventual use and sales potential. Regardless, it’s clear that Tino Hammid has “unearthed” an entirely new collection of gemstones.