Tag Archives: rules

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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Traveling Light

Don’t you just love being invited to see someone’s travel pictures? Does the groan escape your lips before you can stop yourself or do you just bite the bullet and suffer quietly? But here is the kicker question, how do YOUR travel pics look to everyone else? hmmmmm? Thought so.. so here are some tips on creating memorable travel shots that wont put your audience to sleep OR cost you and arm and a leg in glass.

Bones of a BE2c

My first tip is a bit odd and not so much a tip as something to think about. Travel is all about seeing the sights and experiencing new things, people and places. Unless you are getting PAID for the trip, it’s NOT about dragging two bodies, half dozen lenses and assorted equipment along. So my first piece of advice is to consider, strongly consider getting a really good point and shoot camera.

In my case, I got a Canon G11 because I truly believe that Nikon’s point and shoots are best left home. None of them equal the G11 in features or flexibility. I also feel that Nikon is making serious mistake with that line of marketing. But anyways, there is the G11, there is the slightly cheaper but in some ways, better S90, the Panasonic LX3 and there are the newer four thirds which are a a marginal point and shoot with swappable lenses. I tend not to include the four thirds in this talk because of their size. The Canon G11 is almost too big but still qualifies as a “point and shoot” due to it’s fixed lens and smallish size.

I suggest a good point and shoot because when traveling with one like the G11, you have virtually all the control that you have with the DLSR. You do NOT have swappable lenses but then the zooms on the P/S camera are pretty amazing at the ranging they can work. I just spent a week in the UK and never pulled my D300 out of my ThinkTank bag. I shot everything with the G11. This leads to another tip.

Leave 90% of the “must have” accessories at home. I did a week in the UK and never used my remotes, my SB800 flash, graphics tablet, D300, 17-55 F2.8 lens, 50mm 1.4 lens, spare batteries etc. I DID use my Epson P5000 to archive my images from the Sd card, I DID use my Macbook Pro for email and fast edits for posting to Flickr so friends and family could see a few shots as I went and I DID use my USB hard drive for my Time Machine backups while in the room. So when thinking about the trip and really think about what you plan to do, be ruthless! Most museums will NOT let you use the fancy flash and/or camera without hassling you about it. Nobody gave a damn about my G11. I lived in my Luma Loop strap and it was great at the checkpoints where I could just unsnap the camera, hand it to security and then snap it back on. No mess and no fuss trying to lift straps over my head and jacket. I like it much better on my G11 than I do on my D300. For my D300, I prefer the Rapid Strap but since we are talking about lightweight point and shoots, really take a look at the Luma.

I consolidated quite a few of my chargers down to three and one I didnt need. The AA charger was not needed since I never used the SB800 flash I brought. The old Razor charger works on my Crackberry and is lighter and smaller than the OEM for the Blackberry. I had the Canon charger and a USB cable for the iPhone since it can charge while connected to the laptop. I had two more USB cables, both the same type so I could plug in both my flash card reader and the external HD at the same time. I did bring a spare power pack for the iPhone for while I was on the airplane since it was 11 hours of flying time and time at the airport. I also have a small two piece plastic stand that holds the iPhone horizontal and at a 50 degree angle for watching movies or podcasts. I brought spare earbuds since I have them fail before.

So what can you do with a point and shoot you ask? Am I going to “give up” anything? Yeah, weight and size. A good point and shoot can perform almost as well as the DLSR. Note I said Almost.. not As well. There is some give and take but we are talking TRAVEL pictures people, not the cover of Vanity Fair or Country Life. You want nice shots that wont bore people to death when you show them. And that my friend is more of YOU than the camera. So learn how to use the point and shoot CORRECTLY. It’s not the same as your DSLR and it will require a different technique to some degree. And it will require more post processing to get the most out of the image. There is distortion in the wide angles, noise even at relatively low ISOs like 400 and on my G11, a distinctly narrower tonal range between shadow details and totalling blown highlights. The G11 also fringes blue like mad on blown or close to blown highlights. So experiment before you leave and make sure you understand the limits and how best work around them.

When I use my G11, 90% of the time I am shooting full manual mode. I tend to shoot ambient light and the G11’s smarts do not do so well with backlit scenes. There is a feature on the G11 that I absolutely love. I can be in full manual, focus on the subject and dial up or down F stop and/or shutter in real time and see the changes on the screen. No guessing, I just focus and dial in what I want it to look like or as close as I can get. This is such a cool thing is nasty lighting like a dim church or museum. I dont have to take the camera away from my eye and look at the screen to see the shot. I just hold it up, focus and watch the screen in real time. The G11 also has a rotating screen which I LOVE!! My old Nikon 950 has one and that is the one feature I miss the most on my D300/D90.

Another tip is to shoot RAW if you can. The JPEGs on the Canon just plain out and out suck. In RAW, I can recover alot of those “blown” highlights and pull back the fringing if I want. I also can run my normal workflow of Noiseware and a highpass filter which gives me clean and sharp images. Much better than the in-camera JPEG processing could ever hope to be.

Use the built in flash but use it wisely. In other words, dont turn it on and leave “on”.. learn to set it just like you do aperture or shutter speed. The built in flash works very well as fill for getting rid of those nasty shadows under someone’s eyes in bright light. It works very well to bring up the shadows in a dim museum assuming you are allowed to use the flash.

Amanda Oxford Portrait

Play with different techniques and post work flow. Dont be afraid of blur or Black and White. I learned a trick from Jack Davis (How to WOW) about using slow shutters while shooting out the window of a moving bus or car for an impressionistic look. With a bit of luck, it looks very cool. Also, take interesting shots of family, they are the models traveling with you and since they tend to ignore you anyways, play into that.

Rider
Blue Skies

Black and white is easily accomplished with today’s tools and remember, it’s BLACK and WHITE, not middle grey which is what you get with default settings of greyscale. It’s all about tones and texture in B/W, not color so strong subjects, close ups and something with a large tonal range can work very well in B/W.

WWII in B/W

Stairs of Light

Dont forgot to use interesting composition!! Dont take the same damn shot everyone else takes. Well, take it first and get it out of the way then start experimenting. You have digital film for pete’s sake, damn near unlimited assuming you either have a large flash card or you brought spares. You DID bring spares yet?

Hyde Park in London

Museum of Natural History Oxford

And FOOD!!! Remember, this is traveling and you are not eating at the same old places (you had better not be!) So sometimes, the food can be quite interesting to shoot and share with friends later.

Pizza

Every one of these pictures were taken with my point and shoot Canon G11 under a varity of conditions. All are not your typical crappy image out of a point and shoot. The equipment helps but in the end, the photographer working the camera makes the biggest difference. The point and shoot allows you to travel very light on equipment and in many ways, frees you to be more creative by doing more with less. Try it and I think you might yourself addicted to using the point and shoot alot more than you think you will.

Happy trails!!

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Stabilize me

It used to be in the old days, you needed a shutter speed roughly the same as the focal length of your lens. So if you were shooting with a 200mm lens, you need to use about 1/250 to have a chance at a reasonable sharp lens. And telephones were the worst since their length amplifies the wiggles of unsteady hands, age, too much caffine and so on. If you were active, it was worse. You learned to pan very carefully, you learned to cradle the camera right up against your body like a gun. And you still ended up with fuzzy images.

Move up 20 years and now we have IS (Image Stabilization), VR (Vibration reduction) and other names for the same thing. Some work in the lens and some work in the body of the camera. It has become cheap enough that most new point and shoots have a form of it available. I can hand hold the lens at 1/80 and get a sharp image at a wedding without a tripod or monopod. In other words, I can get difficult shots much easier.

VR will not save the world in spite of the marketing propaganda. Sure, you can shoot at 1/10 F5.6 and get a sharp picture but whats the point if the subject is moving? Like kids at a party? So you get a sharp wall and a blur that was the kid running past.

But what does it DO? In simple terms, with the Nikon, there is a package of electronics that move the front element of the lens set actively to get the sharpest image when the shutter is triggered. On many Nikon DLSRs, you can hear a “clunk” as the system engages. I know alot of professional photographers who sneer at VR (I shoot Nikon, so I know this system) as a crutch and that “real” photographers do not use VR. To be honest, I did too for a while and then I thought VR would save the world but finally I understand that VR is just another tool that an help or hinder depending on how I use it.

For example, I spent quite a bit of money on a 70-200mm F.8 lens that is also VR. Why VR on a “fast” piece of glass you ask? Well, the lens can take amazinly sharp images but with the VR engaged, I expand my working range of settings. Instead of having to be still at 1/250 shutter, I can be in a car at 80 MPH and shooting 1/360 at F8 with the lens racked out at 200 mm and still get sharp images inspite of the car and the camera bouncing around on the roadway.

Lets take a look at VR (IS) and see when it’s useful. A typical arrangement for Nikon shooters is to use something like a D80/D90 with a 18-200mm F4.5 VR zoom. So the typical shooting would be something like ISO 1000 to 1600 to keep the noise manageable. So shooting at F4 which is wide open for this lens means in a semi-dark event, that you are shooting something like 1/20 of second shutter. It will be bad enough that the subjects will be moving but at 1/10-1/20 hand holding a zoom lens at something like 100mm on average means alot of blurry pictures. On the other hand, VR will at least give a clear image of what is not moving while you shoot. VR normally is like 3 stops.. so the 1/20 is really shooting at about 1/60 to 1/100 “apparent” shutter speed. It wont stop the action but the background, tables etc will be sharp. Where VR really shines is shooting something like a stage show with enough light that you will be shooting about 1/60 ish and you are shooting long like 100 to 200mm. The shutter is just fast enough to catch people standing still and the VR will give a good focus even at 200mm since the “apparent” shutter is around 1/200.

Here is a family shot taken at 200mm with a 18-200mm zoom shooting wide open at F5.6 and 1/100 shutter. Normally, this would have blurred unless taken with a tripod or supported some how. In this case the camera was held by hand and resting on my forearm. The VR gave a clear image with the low shutter speed relative to the smallish aperture.

Little Angels

VR is not a cure all and it does cost you some in clairity at least in the cheaper lenses like the NIkon 18-55mm VR and 18-200 VR. I always seem to see a bit of softness instead of a really sharp focus with these lenses. This even holds true for the expensive F2.8 VR but on that lens it is very dependent on how bright the image is. Shooting VR in good conditions gives a razor sharp image that you can count nose hairs with. In low light, it’s a bit fuzzy on the edges. But I got the image and it’s usable unlike shooting with it and not getting a usable image. I find that a high pass sharpening works wonders at cleaning up the edges.

Here is another shot where VR really makes a difference. I shot several pictures together by hand at night with the F4 aperture and about 1/30 shutter. Then I stitched them all together. With the VR, all of the images were sharp in spite of hand holding and the low shutter speed.

Christmas Block

VR works in the daytime also. One of my favorite lenses to shoot with for daily stuff is a Nikon lens that costs about 150 USD and looks like it might blow away in a stiff breeze. It’s scary light when you pick it up but it can really take some nice pictures when given a chance.

These images were taken with the 18-55mm VR and both images have sold. It is not always about the equipment.

This image of the Disney California Adventure Zephyr was taken by hand with a shutter of 1/2 second

Zephyr

This image was taken using a shutter of 1/40 and panning with the zoom at 18mm. Look how sharp the people and rocket is. Hard to believe it was a 150 dollar lens huh?

Rocket Ride

So the bottom line is that stabilization is your friend and even in a cheap lens, it can really make a world of difference. You just need to know the limits of VR (IS) and remember that some basic rules apply even with VR. Shutter speed is shutter speed, a slow shutter will give blurred motion to moving objects without or with VR enabled. Stationary objects work best with VR. VR is not perfect but it will certainly help.

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iPhone can do it

Monorail Controls, originally uploaded by wybnormal.

I get really tired of being told that the only reason I can take “good” pictures is that I use expensive cameras. So every now and then, I intentional take a point and shoot or my cell phone camera to my favorite site to shoot, Disneyland. You can find ANY kind of shooting you want there, fast, slow, dark, bright, people, places and things.

In this case, I was in the front of the Monorail with the kids and just the iPhone. With a couple of simple tricks and honoring the limitations of the camera, I was able to get several very usable images of the kids, the Monorail and the castmember pilot.

More and more established photographers are doing the same thing using their iPhone as an extension of their creativeness. It’s not the hardware that makes a good picture, it’s the person using the hardware. A bad picture with a 5,000 camera is just as bad as one made with a disposable point and shoot. Maybe sharper and color balanced but still bad.

And I have to say that shooting with the iPhone and not the 10 lbs of D300 and F2.8 lens is very liberating in some ways. The iPhone has a fixed lens, no flash, no VR and no finesse.  What you see is what you get IF you are lucky and know how to work with the limits in place OR how to bend the limits. Turns out things like borrowing a friend in a white T shirt to reflect some light works just as well with the iPhone as it does with the DSLR. Holding a polarizing sunglass lens in the front of the iPhone lens can work pretty well also. So stretch out your skills and imagination and use a cheap camera and see just what you can do with it.

What ever you do, dont blame the equipment, it is rarely at fault.

Monorail Pilot, originally uploaded by wybnormal.

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Composition Notes

Taking a good picture is just not about subject or colors, there is a very important aspect of any image called “Composition”. This is how the various items in an image are arrange or how images are arranged. Artists have worked out various “tricks” in the past to aid with composition. There is using part of the foreground as a border to help focus the eye on the subject, you can use the rule of thirds where there are four point on an image where the subject can look it’s strongest, you can use curves and lines to help guide the eye to the subject and more. The number one composition error that most photographers make is the “bulls eye” composition where the subject is dead center in the frame. An additional error is that people tend to take pictures all from their eye level either tilting the camera up from their eye or down from their eye. This is very problematic when taking pictures of children who are much smaller than the photographer.

But I really want to talk about composition and how it  applies to how you arrange your prints. What? it’s true, you can use more than one image on a given print. When you do this, you can really make a nice print by paying attention to composition within the images and how they are arranged on the mat. 

Consider the image below, three images of the same field of flowers, boring by themselves but with some simple layout tricks, it becomes a very different image.  Remember what I said about using lines to help guide the eye?

Summer Glow

 

 

When you look at the image, the eye wants to start at the top left and go right.. so you see the wide angle of the flowers. Then the next line down starts at the right and draws the eye back to the left side with bigger flowers and then back to the left again. Finally, you stop on the bottom with a close up of the flowers.

This simple trick of cropping and arranging the strips of flowers makes for a pleasing picture for the eye and allows for the eye to follow the path how it would naturally move.

Layout composition also can work with size of images used.  In the following example, I used three images from the tea house in the Chinese Gardens located in Portland, OR. The image on the left is the smallest and it goes left to right with the right being the largest of the three. I also used a muted image for the background to help tie all three together.

Tea House

These two samples are just a couple of ways to use composition in your layouts of multiple images.

Try arranging multiple images next time you have a set of  images you like. Play with them and see if you can combine them using layout and cropping to build a stronger overall picture.

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