How Jay-Z’s “Blueprint 3″ Album Cover Was Shot Using a Projector and Paint

The photo above is the album cover for Jay-Z’s 2009 album Blueprint 3, featuring a photo of a pile of musical instruments and recording equipment with three red lines across the front. It might look Photoshopped — an easy way to create such an effect — but it was actually done with perspective trickery and good ol’ fashioned hard work.

After stacking the white-painted equipment into a corner, the team dimmed the lights and used a projector to display the three lines across the scene. They then took paint and covered all the areas that were highlighted by the projection. Once these areas were filled in, all they had to do was replace the projector with a camera to obtain the neat perspective illusion seen in the photo.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes time-lapse video showing how it all came together:

Click here for a higher-resolution version of the album cover photo.

We’ve featured a number of perspective art photo projects here before, and this projection trick was likely used for some of them (Bela Borsodi’s amazing alphabet letter photos, for example).

For others, you’ll need to have a through-the-viewfinder perspective of the scene (e.g. wireless live view). Zander Olsen’s wrapped trees and Golpeavisa’s food face are two such projects that come to mind.

(via Fstoppers)

Update: Reader Marco points out that the photographer behind the image was Dan Tobin Smith. Here’s what Smith had to say in a 2009 interview with It’s Nice That:

I love still life, and the way I shoot is quite old school. It took 3 days to shoot, was all shot on 10×8 inch film, so the quality in the whites is fantastic, so much subtle tone. We worked long and hard on the colour work on the post and even in a single page mag advert I can see that effort. You could blow the image up to the size of a building and it would still hold up. It seems the album is about that old school crafted production so its nice that that same method went into the shoot.

  • jeremysexton

    They really did a fantastic job on this, but (pardon my ignorance) why? I mean, does it really look better having painted in those lines than just doing them in Photoshop? Seems like a lot of work just to say you did it to me.

  • OCM

    It’s called elbow grease. What would feel better… you spent all this time painting and arranging these items and then you got lazy and photoshopped three lines painted …. or you spent all this time painting and arranging these items and then also painted the three lines BY HAND. Anybody with a brain can do three lines in photoshop over the background composition but it takes time, talent and creativity to do what they did with the lines.

    IMHO putting all that work into it, and then doing the lines in photoshop would have been lazy. You might as well just created the scene in Modo or another 3d modeling app, rendered it and photoshopped three lines if you were going to be lazy enough to photoshop three lines after all the other hard work.

    Art is about challenge just as much as it is about creativity. Kudos to them for using their hands.

  • jeremysexton

    Creating the scene in a 3D app would not have looked as good. It would’ve effected the quality of the work. Doing the lines in Photoshop would not. Your client doesn’t care how much elbow grease went into the work you did, they just care about the end product. If they’re doing it just for the challenge of it, more power to them, but that was exactly what I posited to begin with.

  • Pete Marriott

    Photoshop is an awesome swiss army knife solution for both photographers and graphic designers, but capturing this image the way they’ve done is brilliant for a multitude of reasons and it really defines the art within the album’s artwork. I applaud this move and glad to have seen this video.

  • Dave

    I think it is more like walking from New York to LA instead of flying. All you have to brag about is how much work it was. There will always be people that take a less efficient, more difficult way to do things…..for bragging rights?

  • Graham Case

    While I agree with you on principle (that “There will always be people that take a less efficient, more difficult way to do things” and that this is often just “for bragging rights”) I think that for many people, and still a few photographers, the path of least resistance /for them/ is what they know and understand. A handful of photographers find film/doing things “the hard way” easier than learning photoshop – and they want to do the whole project themselves.

    And sometimes, people want to try things that challenge them, rather than take the easy route that they know and understand. I think this project is probably more along these lines.

    I also think that doing it hand made makes a very different, and noticeable, statement than if it was done in a computer. The final image isn’t perfect the way simply making rectangles in photoshop would have made it. This hand craftwork is noticeable in the final image (lines aren’t perfectly straight, there are spots of white peeking through).

    On a different note, I love that the image was shot on 4×5. I don’t care if it was on film, or a digital back (well, I kinda hope it was shot on film…), but I do care about the guy utilising the Scheimpflug Principle to get a tack sharp image throughout :D

  • kirsty mitchell

    My entire work ethic is to create my images and sets by hand, taking months / weeks to do so. I completely understand this and its good to see. You wouldn’t get the same effect using photoshop – the results are imperfect and give depth to the red lines – its more of a sculpture recorded. Theres nothing wrong with working in this way, its purely an artistic choice that was made. I don’t understand why photographers are getting grumpy and rude about it demanding to know why Photoshop wasn’t used instead. Its not about proving a point either way, it just how they decided to produce the piece. It looks great… so why can’t people just enjoy seeing the working process behind the image? !!

  • marco

    Surely it’s about the idea and process as much as the finished image? Credit should also be given to the photographer, Dan Tobin Smith, and his team. See his other work at

  • derekdj

    While I aplaude the photographer and studio assistants for their work, I would like to know how much the entire production cost. In an age where consumers are constantly crying about how the music industry sucks and have a hard time paying 99 cents for a song, budgets to produce these gimmicks (because a high profile artist say they want it) often kill marketing and production budgets over all on the album. I really doubt Jay-Z paid for this himself.

  • John Kantor

    3 days. For a concept that deserved 3 minutes of Photoshop.

  • Lee Young

    it’s like why people would write a letter instead of typing an e-mail. It’s just better.

  • Lee Young

    Large format and medium format film cameras still rule.

  • Jo Rodrigues

    While I appreciate all the hard work I am also a bit of a tree-hugger. To spoil all of this equipment JUST to get a photograph is just not right. Some of the equipment is even close to rare enough not to ruin.

    The effect is great but the ends does not justify the means in my humble opinion.

  • Thatcher

    Brilliant! I love how they didn’t take the easy way out. They worked to create details that people may not notice. As the old saying goes, pay attention to the details.