Tag Archives: highlights

Shooting Portraits with vintage cameras and film

Who says film is dead? Not by a long shot around here. I just got a roll of 120 Ektacolor Kodak Pro 160 film back from the lab and scanned in a few of the negs. I shot this roll of film using my 1958 Yashica model D TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera. This camera is older than I am by a few years and after 90 dollars for refurbishing, it takes awesome pictures with that great vintage depth of field and “feel” to the picture.

 

Portrait using Yashica 120 film camera and adjusted with photoshop CS5This picture was taken out the front door of my house and I took two of them since the girls would not sit still and were goofing around.  So it’s a bit of a marriage of modern software using CS5 Photoshop and vintage film. I did a head swap on the center subject and did some basic color balancing and sharpening.  But that is pretty much it and what you see is what came out of the camera.

It only takes a few days to get the film back from the lab and then I load up my Epson 4990 and scan away. Once the film is scanned, I treat it like any other digital film with one exception, I do not run any noise reduction software on it. The grain of the film is a significant part of the charm of the look and feel of film and I dont want to loose that to overly agressive software.

The one thing that a photographer who is not used to with film is the wide exposure range. What normally would abruptly blow out is a nice gradual blowout and even then, you can still pull back detail that a digital file just will not  have available.  The key difference is that film is analog and has several stops of latitude (except slide film) where as digital has about three stops, maybe four stops on a really good day and IF you are shooting RAW. This is why when I first starting shooting digital in 99, I had some issues with getting my exposures correct. I was used to shooting for the shadow details since I could always bring the highlights back with more printing time for that part. Digital required me to shoot for the highlights since when the numbers hit 255, there was nothing left, not even a trace unlike a film negative.

This is probably the biggest gotcha for anyone new to film who has only shot digital. It is a small but critical item for the photographer to know and to remember as they switch around from film to digital and back. But, as you can see, when you get it nailed, you get some really cool images. Long live film 🙂

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Reflections of Light

No, not what you think. I’m talking about using a reflector to bounce some light into or onto your subject. I had a chance to shoot a fun family portrait session a few days ago and I walked into it not really knowing what to expect. I ended up at a public facility on the base without any trees or shade to speak of at 10AM on a bright day. I did find some shade by a gazebo and so I set up shop there. I was on soft grass and a bit of slope with a three year old running around so I was not comfortable in setting up a softbox with my SB800s so I went another way. I tossed a diffuser on the SB800, put it on the camera (yes, I hear the howls already about the evils of on camera flash) and set the camera to manual. The flash was set to TTL but that varied from -1 stop to +1.5 stops.

I was shooting pretty much head on to the subjects so you would think “washed out, hard shadows etc” and normally you would be correct but this time I pulled out a 36 inch silver reflector. I put it on a stand and locked it down and used it to cross light my subjects and fill in alot of those nasty shadows from the on camera flash. I did not have to worry about it being knocked over or anyone getting hurt. I did not have to go hunt for power (none around) and I didnt worry about the softbox falling over in the breeze and soft soil.

I could have used the white one I had but I wanted a bit more “edge” to the light so I went with silver. It has a brightness to it that works well with the SB800 flash.

Family using light infrared preset

Family using light infrared preset

Cross light with SB800 flash and reflector

Cross light with SB800 flash and reflector

You can really see here on the arm and around the boots, there is not the hard shadow you would expect from the strobe being on camera and just a piece of plastic to diffuse the light. Her hair on camera right also has some really nice light bringing up the highlights while there is a touch of the sun on her hair on camera left.

SB800 TTL manual mode and silver reflector

SB800 TTL manual mode and silver reflector

Here is a quick diagram of the shooting situation. I had some shade, bright sun and a silver reflector. The SB800 provided most of the light and the reflector provided the fill light.

 

lighting-diagram-Reflector and SB800

lighting-diagram-Reflector and SB800

So get a reflector or a few of them. And it does not have to be a California Sunbounce.. I used a cheapo that came with a strobe kit I bought off ebay a few years back. You can also use those windshield reflectors or anything else that reflects light. White fabric will provide a softer light than the silver while gold will provide a warm light.

 

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Black and Blue

Black and Blue Portrait

Black and Blue
I was in Irvine, CA last night for the Westcott Pro Tour and this was one of the results from shooting at the event. We used the Westcott spider lights with the tri-flector and the new vintage backdrop from Westcott.
Herman Rodriguez was our mentor photographer for this shoot and he had alot of very good information on shooting portraits with a tilt to fashion. The point above everything else was “shape the light”. It was all about lighting and how lighting can make or break an image. It definitely got me thinking more about how I light my own subjects.

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Color to High Key Black and White

One of the most classic looks in photography is Black and White. It is very interesting to me how even with our fancy digital cameras and ultra clean image files, we strive for a retro, grainy old school look without color. We will use all kinds of tricks to make our clean image look like the old Tri X or illford or TMAX. We add grain (noise), we unsharpen the image, we do all kinds of things to “ruin” the digital perfection that we as photographers pay dearly for.

And why? Why do we do this thing that we do? Because we have a collective embedded memory that black and white is artistic, it’s clean and pure and it really can make you focus on the image, not the colors. I’m sure there are a lot of other reasons but those are what come to my mind as I’m writing this missive.

I remember learning photography years ago in a community college and being very disgruntled to learn that my first semester would be just black and white. I thought it was going to be a terrible semester, why did we need to learn this old crap when we had Kodachrome and E6 slide film and more. Who even WANTED black and white?

That sure changed by the end of the semester to the point that when I signed up for my second semester, I took a second semester of black and white film studies. I lived in black and white film, I lived in the dark room with it’s chemicals and red light. I pored over catalogs looking at exotic papers to print my B/W images onto. I learned how to make my own developer to tweak the film into a direction I wanted it to go. Only then did I start to explore color.

But technology marches on and B/W became a niche player with color owning the world. Then came digital and really changed things around. Color was everything, saturated was better, grain or noise was the great evil and we strived to get as clean of an image as possible and some of us thought we might have lost a piece of our soul in the process and chase.

So now I see B/W more but I see really bad conversions where the folks end up with a monochromatic middle grey image and call it “Black and White” because that is what the preset says it is. With this thought, I’m going to write up a few entries on my ideas of B/W and how I got to certain pictures that I really like. My first one is a high key look where it’s dark blacks, stark whites and very little grey. It’s also a study in how to salvage an image that otherwise was not much to look at.

So lets start with the original image, no retouching or other processing. It’s got a bit of lens flare since I was shooting a 1.4 50mm wide open against the bright white background.

Jo Original No Retouch

Original Image - No retouch

As you can see, aside from the killer body, technically speaking, the image is not very special or very strong. But lets see what we can do with it. I always start in Lightroom since that is my workflow. The very first thing I do is apply a camera profile preset which brings in the various settings to match my camera, in this case, a Nikon D300. Then I will apply a B/W conversion preset and do some basic adjustments.

BAM – FREE Camera Dojo free Lightroom preset.
WOW BnW_02 – FREE Jack Davis B/W conversion preset from his How to WOW series

Highlights +40
Darks +75
Shadows -19
sharpness -80

The sharpness has been dialed down to let me run the noise clean up, then I reapply the sharpness as needed

luminance +54
color noise +27
sharpness +40

After Lightroom Conversion

After Lightroom Conversion

Now I bring the image into Photoshop to fine tune it and to clean it up.

I first apply a curves layer with a sweeping curve that starts from the lower left corner and bows to the left and up the right hand corner. This brings out the whiteness of the skin

Now I make a duplicated layer and start to sample the image and paint it using the samples. In this case I evened out a shadow under the chine, I made the eyelashes darker, whites of the eyes brighter and so on.

After Curves

After Curves Adjustment

I then apply a blur to a duplicate of the painted image. But I apply a layer mask which hides the new blur. Then I use my Wacom to paint in the blur at something like a 20% opacity.

Jo - Final Image

Final Image after retouching

Now we have a pretty sweet and dramatic black and white image. It really shows off her eyes and the overall beauty of her face without the distraction of lens flare, color and other attributes. Print this on black and white paper or aluminum and you have killer wall art.

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How to remove reflections from a glass case

Reflections are normally a very nice thing to have in a picture. They can add quite a bit of visual interest to an image with colors, textures and shapes. But, you do not always want a reflection. For example, I was the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford taking some pictures and I want a very close up detail shot of some engravings on a musical instrument. The problem was that while I could shoot the instrument with my G11, it was encased in glass and the ambient light made for horrible reflections and I could not find any position to get rid of them.

You can see the reflections in the image below. This is the unaltered image straight from the G11

Reflections before edits

So now I have image loaded into Lightroom and I’m really wondering what I can do about the reflections. I’m looking at the image and it dawns on me that I might be able to “paint” the reflections out by using a couple of techniques. I mean, the reflections really do not lose the subject underneath, they have just “faded” it a bit.

With that thought in mind, I first applied a graduated filter to the right side to bring down the exposure a bit. I started at the lower right corner and went at roughly a 45 degree angle. I flipped the image to B/W by a simple desaturation of the colors. I brought up the black point a bit overall and also brought the whites.

Things were looking better but not perfect yet. So into Photoshop we go from Lightroom. Once in CS4, I added an exposure layer and darkened up the gamma a touch. This brought the transparent blacks from the reflection more in line with the normal blacks in the rest of the image. I put a layer mask on it and used my Wacom to brush out the adjustment on the whites leaving the blacks nice and dark. As a final enhancement, I applied a high pass filter to the image and put the opacity at 70%,

The results of all this mucking around is shown below. No reflections, nice clean whites and the details of the engravings are easily seen.

After Edits

I now have my reflectionless picture with the clear detail I wanted. The best part is that even just feeling my way around only took about 30 minutes to clean up this image. Next time it will go faster since I already have a good set of steps to draw from.

Some of you will be saying that I did not keep the color, yes, you are correct. The original art is black and white so I did not “need” color, I needed black and white. This trick will be somewhat selective in how you can use but the basic idea transfer even if the image really is in color.

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Over Processing, Just because you can doesn’t mean you should

Fads come and go and photography is not immune to the fad of the day any less than other creative endeavors. From selective coloring to the current trend of blown highlights and vintage yellowish looks, photographs are being over processed and passed off as art.
Yes, I’m ashamed to admit this was one of my own earlier misadventures into selective coloring. And no, I did not do it again.
Colorized

In particular, with wedding shooters, the advent of easily acquired Lightroom presets and Photoshop actions have unleashed a deluge of hyper sharpened, over saturated, distressed and generally mangled images. A good wedding image is not about the action used to create the colors, it’s about the moment in time being captured. And a good picture stands on it’s own, without needing to have it heavily manipulated. I just finished a wedding album where only one image was heavily processed for a very specific reason. I did flip a few to B/W but most of them were just cleaned up, sharpened a bit and cropped here and there. The bride, when she saw the KISS album for the first time, commented on how classy her pictures looked.

Bride and Dad in Black/White

In this case, this was the last set of formal pictures the bride has of her dad who passed away several weeks after the wedding. I’m proud my images are a timeless version and not a worn out trendy version. You never know how your images will be view in the future, I prefer mine to be viewed as keepsakes and not kitsch.

I an not a Photoshop luddite, I use Photoshop alot and would not give it up. There are actions and presets I use often in my own workflow. Most times I use them because in my work flow I need to repeat something over and over again. My most commonly used preset is a freebie from Cameradojo called “Bam”. There are three versions and all come very close to a D300 preset I made (was making) and since it was close and I liked it, I use it. When you shoot RAW, you have to process the image and at the very least apply a camera profile to it so the image on the screen matches what you saw on the LCD which is a processed JPEG. The Bam preset fits very well into my Nikon work flow and saved me the trouble of creating my own from scratch.

There is a set of commercial actions I like for eyes and teeth called The Eye Doctor and Dentist Actions from MCP. I love them because they put each adjustment on a layer so when I need to brighten the eye whites or work on the pupil, no big deal. I go to that layer, turn it on and dial it in. Done. I’m not getting weird with the colors or saturation, I’m working on the basics.. color balance, initial sharpness, eye clarity, teeth coloring.. all the small things that can really make or break a picture. It’s called “Basics” for a reason, one should always pay attention to the basics. Another source of knowledge and inspiration is David Cuerdon who has the Beauty and Portrait Retouching Kit on Kelby Training. He shows how to really get into the eye to make them beautiful and not alien.

When I have my basics in place, I do use a palette of actions by Focht Creative (partner of Fundy) called “Retouch Palette: or Touchflo. This is a very nice set of Photoshop actions that provide a lot of tools for touching up images fast. And there are some processing “tricks’ in the bag of actions for popping the color or going with a soft B/W conversion and so on. There are times that something like this is of great use. One action I seem to go back over and over again is called “Creamsicle” which is by Kevin Kubota but I got mine in OneSoftware Protools.

And lets talk about another basic skill, sharpening an image or what happens often, under or over sharpening an image. With the advent of digital photography, the photographer can now sharpen to his or her heart’s content. And many try to use sharpening to salvage an out of focused image. Sharpening will NOT save an out of focus image, it just makes it look jaggy. Sharpening is to bring up the contrast between light and dark areas which tends to be a bit smudged by the way a digital image is processed in the camera. When it’s done properly, it will add some “pop” to the image. My preference is to lightly sharpen an image in Lightroom and then use a high pass filter in Photoshop to really bring up the edges on a layer where I can really dial in how much or how little I need. In CS5, the claim is the sharpening tool really works like it should. I will be testing that shortly myself to see if I can optimize my workflow a bit more. Lightroom 3 will also help in the that regard. But even then, the tools will not fix an out of focus image. The photographer still has to get it right inside the camera first. Someday we will have software that can recalculate the path of the light through a given lens but not yet.

And the eyes!!  Man, I know the eyes are the window to the soul but having devil eyes popping off a subdued image is not a good thing. I’ve seen way too many pictures of late where the eyes are so over-processed compared to the rest of the image that it’s scary looking. You want to clean up the eyes, brighten them a bit, enhanced them not have them looking like polished glass marbles. And let us bring in skin smoothing while we are at it. Humans do not  have ultrasmooth skin without a single wrinkle or even texture. We have pores!!! we have wrinkles!! Again, the idea like the eyes, is to ENHANCE and not plastify the skin so much it should belong on a store bought barbie doll. Do I smooth skin? you bet I do.. I also remove major wrinkles but in both cases, I leave enough behind so it looks like the real person but a bit more polished. A good job in skin smoothing evens out the tones and still leaves some visual texture but loses the huge open pores, the blotchy skin and munge like pimples. I also remove large wrinkles in a few key places but I leave much because those wrinkles are what gives character to the person. It shows they have had a life and it has marked them to some degree. The exception are babies and children which tend to have lovely skin without the wear and tear us “older” people have. Even on children I will even out the tones and watch for blotches.

This little cowgirl had just a touch of tonal smoothing. You can still see faint freckles and shadows. Her eyes were cleaned up just a touch. They do not pop out of the image but they do draw you into it.

Today’s digital cameras can be too good at picking up details, even more so with a super sharp prime lens. I dont have any numbers but in looking at portraits I took with my film Canon AE1 with a 50mm lens and my digital D300 with roughly the same lens, the digital images are so much sharper across the board. I did shoot a batch of images using my old Tamaron 28-80 film lens on my D300. Definitely sharper even though I used the same lens nearly 20 years apart. And this sharpness does need a bit of smoothing to really make people look their best.

There is a time and a place for all looks and styles. High fashion loves the smooth, no fault look. I dare you to find a wrinkle on a Playboy bunny 🙂 But those images are not selling reality or a memorable moment in time, they are selling a fantasy that is unattainable by mere humans. When we as photographers shoot a wedding or a portrait, we are creating a visual representation of a moment in time and we need to be accurate and mindful of what that moment means now and can mean later. It’s not time to show off how much of a Photoshop junkie you are or what cool action you just bought. It IS the time show off how good you can make your clients look today and tomorrow.

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D300 firmware update now has copyright info

This is just a fast post to encourage you to upgrade the firmware of your D300. The overwhelming reason is that you can not enter copyright information to be embedded into the EXIF data of all your images. There are some other fixes like a bit faster focusing and higher shutter speeds in automatic mode. But the copyright info is a biggie to anyone who shoots for a living, or even if you dont, you should put in your info to show ownership on the chance that someone “borrows” your image.

You can download the new firmware from here at Nikon.

To set up the D300 for copyrihg information, follow these directions:

D300 -> Setup Menu -> Copyright Information

“Attach copyright information” setting checked

“Copyright information” setting to “ON.

The information can be entered in upper and lower case plus you can use symbols.

Here is all the details of the upgrade:

  • The Highlights playback option has been moved from Display Mode > Basic photo info > Highlights in the playback menu to Display mode > Detailed photo info > Highlights.
  • The size and color of “Demo” displayed in the monitor with playback when No memory card? in the Custom Settings has been set to Enable Release have been modified.
  • The range of settings available for ISO sensitivity settings > ISO sensitivity auto control > Minimum shutter speed in the shooting menu has been increased from 1/250 – 1s to 1/4000 – 1s.
  • When shooting in hand-held live view mode and the frame is magnified prior to autofocusing, operation has been modified so that display returns to the magnified display rather then the full frame display.
  • Images captured with Rotate tall, in the playback menu, set to On, are not automatically rotated for display immediately after capture (image review).
  • A Copyright information has been added to the setup menu. When Copyright information is enabled, the copyright symbol ( © ) is shown in the shooting info display.
  • Recent settings can now be displayed in the place of My Menu.
  • Custom Setting e3 Flash cntrl for built in flash ( e3 Optional flash when an optional Speedlight is mounted on the camera) can now be added to My Menu using the Add items > Custom setting menu > Bracketing/ flash.
  • The degree of the High ISO NR setting can now be confirmed in the shooting info display while the High ISO NR setting item, in the shooting menu, is being applied.
  • Ankara, Riyadh, Kuwait, and Manama have been added to the Time zone options for the World time item in the setup menu.
  • When a GPS device is used and no heading information is available, –.–° is now displayed for the Position / Heading option in the GPS item in the setup menu.
  • When shooting in live view mode using Camera Control Pro 2 (ver. 2.2.0 or later) with a PC-E lens, the aperture setting can now be adjusted from the computer.
  • Focus acquisition performance in dynamic-area AF mode has been improved.
  • Focus acquisition performance with contrast-detect AF has been improved.
  • Auto white balance performance has been improved.
  • The fourth digit in seconds display for GPS latitude and longitude information is now rounded off rather than omitted.
  • The current MB-D10 battery type setting can now be confirmed in the shooting menu display when R6/AA- size batteries are used with the Multi-Power Battery pack MB-D10.
  • An issue that caused an increase in noise when shooting in [M] exposure mode at a shutter speed setting of bulb with the shutter held open for less than 8 seconds and Long exp. NR enabled has been resolved.
  • An issue that prevented shutter release at the specified shutter speed when no operations were performed for 30 seconds in mirror up mode has been resolved.
  • An issue that caused abnormal image display when Image review was set to On and the playback zoom in button was pressed immediately after shooting at the following settings has been resolved.
  • Image quality: NEF (RAW) + JPEG
  • NEF (RAW) recording: Lossless compressed or Compressed
  • Image size: S or M
  • When the Speedlight SB-800 was mounted on the camera with flash mode set to distance-priority manual (GN) mode, and the camera recovered from standby mode triggered by the auto meter off function, the distance information in the SB-800 changed. This issue has been resolved.
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