Tag Archives: technique

Hollywood Glamour and Noir Portraits

One of my newest projects is ramping up to offer old school style of portraits in the Hollywood Glamour and Noir style. This type of portrait was made famous by photographers such as George Hurell in the 30s, 40s and 50s.  They were a very dramatic black and white picture with very distinctive light and shadows. Many times these were shot with fresnel hot lights that normally would be used to shoot movie films. Many folks have tried to reproduce this style of image using strobes, snoots and reflectors. But while these can get close, the old school equipment has some unique qualities that add subtle but very important changes to the image.

Hollywood Hotlight Glamour

Hollywood Hotlight Glamour

Lets take a look at the one of the biggest difference between shooting with continuous lighting vs. shooting with strobes. Many photographers of the digital age have no idea what a hot light (I’m referring to continuous lighting here)  is since all they know are strobes. In their mind, who would want to use a light source that is big, bulky, can run very hot (unless shooting fluorescent bulbs ), need AC power, barn doors, scrims, dimmers and more? The “disadvantages” are many in most photographer’s minds.

There is one very important detail among everything else that the hot lights excel at. And that is the small fact that since the light is continuous,  you can shoot as fast as you can hit the shutter. So when the model hits her/his stride in providing the EMOTION of the shot, you can catch it without fear of the strobe being in the middle of recharge cycle. Most strobes require a second or two to recharge unless the photographer is shooting with multiple strobes and the power levels dropped down to encourage the faster recharge rate. Or the photographer is shooting with very expensive packs that can recharge very fast. Either way, speed costs money, how fast do you want to go?This does not really apply if the photographer is shooting posed shots where the model is set in place and needs to hold that pose specifically, I’m talking about the more organic style of shooting where the model has some latitude on the pose. In the static poses, you can afford to wait the 1-2 seconds between pops of the flash since the model’s job is to stay still till told otherwise.

Other points in the hot light’s favor, in particular, in the fresenel’s favor is the ablity to focus the beam and that the light is fairly constant over the diameter of the beam. Also,  the beam has a naturally soft edge which is great for feathering the light on the subject and the ability to very quickly and easily adjust the shape of the light with barn doors. All of this leads to a very flexible lighting solution for portraiture shoots.

One more possible advantage is that with the hot light, the photographer does have to work around the model flinching every time the strobes fire off. This is not always the case, a model used to strobes would not normally  have this issue but a new model or someone who is a non-professional paying client will not be used to the bright strobes firing off in their face every few seconds.

For my glamour project, I looked at different brands of fresnel hot lights because I really wanted to recreate the old school hollywood glamour and noir images. So I went back in time a bit and decided I would use equipment close to what was used then for my lighting. I had tried strobes and I was not at all happy with the results. What really changed my mind was a shoot I went to a few months back that used hot lights and I had very little experience then with hot lights. I had grown up on strobes so I was really curious to why we would be using such old technology. I know that the film industry used continuous lighting but I could understand that but why use them with still photography? After shooting for a few hours and seeing how I could catch very small but critical changes in pose and expression, I got it.

So I went shopping to find some hot lights of my own. I could buy used lights but the bulbs can be very expensive if you dont know what you are buying but ARRI lights are bucks. I found some ARRI clones on eBay but over at Coollights, I found the same basic clone ARRIs, scrims, nice air cushioned stands, barndoors and a good quality roller case as a package deal. The ARRI package was 1800 and Coollights package was 1,100 USD. So for a savings of 700, I have what is for all intents, three ARRI 650 frensel lights, stands, scrims and case. The big difference is the stand mount, the cut edges are not as cleanly cut as the ARRIs and the aluminum is not beaded and coated. I can live it for now. I have pictures below of both lights

So what you do with hot lights? Set your white balance to tungsten and rock and roll. One piece of advice, get a light meter. It’s far easier to meter tungsten then trying to chimp when you have ratios of lights. I also bought 3 cheap speed controllers from Harbor Freight which are perfect dimmers for the hot lights to get the lights right on the money in intensity without having to move anything. Also get some toughspun for diffusing the light.

Hot Light Glamour Shot

Hot Light Glamour Shot

This shot was taken using a set of ARRI 650s. The shot below was taken with the Coolight ARRI clones. I could not find any difference in shooting with them or in post with them.

Hot Light Noir Shot

Hot Light Noir Shot

Above all, be careful and make sure everything is secure on the set. Use sand bags and plenty of gaffers tape to secure everything down. Hot lights are, well, HOT.. very hot and will remain hot for several minutes after you turn them off. Keep in mind your model is baking under the hot lights and so breaks every 10 minutes or so is the norm. It’s also very hard for a model to look directly into a hot bright light so dont think you will put a light head on and have the model gaze into it.

A parting trick is to get the 650 hot lights and then put in the 300 watt bulb if the 650 is too much all the time. You can always do down in wattage but not up. Also, using a dimmer to cut the output by 20% or so can give the lamp about a 50% increase in lifespan. The bulbs for the ARRIs and clones will set you back about 15-20 USD and they are rated at 200 hundred hours when used at full power. Never touch the glass of the bulb with your skin, the oil will cause the bulb to get a hot spot and burn out very quickly.

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Winter Portraits

Ahh.. Winter.. brightly burning logs, toasted marsh mellows, hot coco and snow. Really bright snow in the daytime that completely confuses your automatic camera into thinking its about 2 to 3 stops too bright.  So many pictures taken in the winter by people end up looking like blown white outs and very dark stick people or serious racoon eyes from the nasty shadows under the eye sockets. Trying to shoot in the snow in unlike anything else other than maybe the Gobi dessert. It’s cold, batteries die an early death, your fingers freeze, it is incredibly bright and people dont want to sit still very long.

So is it impossible to get good natural portraits in the snow? Not at all, it’s very possible so long as you follow some basic rules. You will almost certainly have to use a flash, you will almost certainly need to go manual to override the camera’s non-winterized brain and you need to be able to shoot fast before everyone including you freeze.

It’s does not need to be a fancy flash, the onboard popup flash can really work wonders by staying within it’s working range. You will need to overdrive it, I typically shoot at +1 to +2 stops over flash compensation. I keep the ISO between 200 and 500, I look for shade if possible and I do like to use the sun as a natural backlight. In the image below, I put Sara directly in line with the setting sun. This was while we were out just walking around the neighborhood in the late afternoon. I had my D300, a 17-55 F2.8 lens and that was it.

ISO 200, F3.5 and a shutter of 1/125 using the popup flash at +2. With the D300, the 45mm works out to be almost 70mm on a full frame sensor

Snow Princess

Snow Princess

To pull this off, you MUST know your equipment and how to set various settings. When your fingers are getting stiff and cold is not the time to fumble around for menus. I set up the shot first to get the background the way I wanted it and then added the flash. It took about 4-5 shots to dial it in completely the way I wanted it. As you can see, I put the sun behind her head so her face was in shadow but her hair was rimlit by the sun. The flash provided the fill light.

On the next shot, it was the same basic settings but I did not like the look of the colors against the white snow but it black and white, I think it works really well. Again, you need to pay attention to the posing as much as you do to the camera settings.

B/W Snow Princess

B/W Snow Princess

In this shot, there are some apparent tricks. One, the shadow gives away that Sara is backlit again, I do this so I can light the face and not get the blown highlights from the bright sun. The hair looks really nice when backlit and in this case, the snow blows out to almost white. I have just enough texture so you can tell she is on snow  but it does not distract. I’m shooting down at her so she can stretch the face and neck up a bit and get that nice curve. This stretch helps her look natural and relaxed. Her bent knee provides a good place for her to put the arm and gives some nice lines.

My final image was taken on the side of the road and in partial shade. I made a point of putting Sara’s face into the shade and letting the sun dapple the rest of her and the ground. The bright patches provide a nice visual interest and works with the fence in the background for some texture. In a perfect world, the bit of ground would be cloned out but I wanted to show portraits with minimal work. I had to start to scoop up some snow with her hands and then asked her to look up.  It is a very natural pose and works well. Again the pop up flash was used to fill the face with some light.

Sun and Snow

Sun and Snow

I hope you can see that you dont need alot of gear to shoot nice winter portraits with just a bit of thought and knowing your equipment. Many times, your current equipment is more capable than you think and the popup flash is  a perfect example of something that is very much maligned by the “pros” but used by those in the “know”.

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Where are all the pictures?

I read an interesting comment the other day that continues to dig at me a bit. Over on Flickr, a poster put up a complaint about how he could not shoot because of the weather. It had been pouring rain for several days and his excuse was the weather sucked so he could not shoot.

I countered that with a single image and pointed out that pictures are where you find them, not where you think they are. Here is the image. I used just the light from the window and LR3 was used for the post work.  This is a rainy day image that was not staged or planned, I saw her playing by the window, ran to my camera, ran back setting the camera settings as I went and managed to get about five frames.

Rainy Day Imp

Rainy Day Imp

I’ve shot all kinds of things when other say they cant shoot.  I’ve shot toys on my desk, pull cords on the window blinds and my coffee cup. There is no reason in the world that you can not shoot at any time of the day or night and at any place. The shot below of my window blinds was taken in the afternoon while testing my 70-200mm F2.8 VR lens.

Shade

Shade

I’ve used my pro cameras, my point and shoot, my phone and even my ancient film cameras. It’s all about shooting no matter what or where. Dont get locked into the idea that circumstances have to be perfect to shoot, many times my best work as been shoot on the fly or at the last second. I’ve gone out in the rain knowing full well it’s dismal conditions for shooting but I find a way.

Art is where you make it and sometimes it comes to you but sometimes you need to go to the mountain and find it. Art does not take breaks or vacations. Art is around you all the time if you just take the time and the trouble to see it. So the next time you have plans to go shoot and something interrupts them, take advantage of the interruption and see where it leads you. You very well might be very surprised and pleased at the outcome.

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How to be a better photographer? Just Shoot more!

In the last few years, I have been investing quite a bit of effort into upping my game as far as photography as the craft. And with watching my friends and colleages going to dozens of shooting events and all the seminars, one thing has really started to stand out. You can train as much as you want, you can study as much as you want and you can spend a boatload of money on workshops but NOTHING works as well in helping you be a better photographer than getting out and shooting FOR REAL. Thats right, for real…  dealing with weather, clients, stray people, schedules, crying children, bad traffic, balky equipment while in front of a paying client and trying not to sweat in front of them.

Book learning (or DVD, streaming boards etc) all help but you will learn the most just by getting out and shooting. And not just shooting your favorite stuff, you need to be put into an uncomfortable zone with demands put on you to produce. When you stretch out your skills and wing it, you learn alot more than by sitting in your favorite chair or goofing with some friends in a studio somewhere without any pressures on you. And the funny thing is when you are done, what you used to think was hard and uncomfortable is really not any more.

Case in point, I used to hate taking portraits. I mean, I would photograph buildings, cars, landscapes with a vengeance but not people. I didnt want to interact with people, I didnt know how to capture the emotion in people. When I decided to go pro, I knew I would have to learn to shoot people so I grudgingly started to learn how to shoot weddings.  At least I didn’t think I needed to interact too much, I mean, it’s not like a up close and personal portrait session is it? My first mistake was to spend all my time “learning” about shooting weddings. I read books, I watched videos, I watched streaming classes, I was on the boards. I did everything BUT shoot weddings. Then I got drop kicked into actually shooting a wedding as a favor. Now I had to perform so I gathered up everything I had and shot the wedding. It was different than all the “learning” I had done up to that point. Between the chaos, the pressure and the demands of the various groups, it was quite the learning experience. And now after photographing more weddings, I do not view weddings with nearly the angst I had before. In fact, I really enjoy shooting weddings now, there is so much going on, so many opportunities to make art while making families very happy by capturing one of their most important days.

Colorado Bride

Family and single portraits were another “interactive” path that I initially rebelled against. But again, after being put into the position of shooting Christmas portraits for 30 families and shooting Operation Love Reunited deployment mini-sessions of military families where you really want to do your best, I find that portraits are probably what I enjoy photographing the most. It is very satisfying to shoot a deployment portrait for a family with a service member and be told that they never knew they had such a beautiful little family. This comment came from the young wife of a Marine being deployed in a few days and they had never had any kind of formal portraits taken of the family.  It’s the kind of thing that makes it all worth while when you see the wife go “OMG, I cant believe thats MY family”

Daddy's Little Girl

Daddy's Little Girl

This image is a classic “real” world shoot. High noon on the beach with a small child and lots of distractions. Big difference than shooting in a closed studio with a model being paid to tolerate the wannabe photographer. I had to find a good place to shoot, arrange the shot, work out the settings for some pretty adverse conditions, work with mom and child to get the needed smile and move on to the next one.

I’m still learning every time I go out to photograph someone or something. But I learn more when working against a deadline and a high level of  expectations  from my paying clients. If you want to improve your craft, you never stop learning from any circumstances. And the more you shoot, the better you will become at adjusting to those circumstances and be able to step back and catch the lesson being offered.

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Posted in commercial photography, photography, portraits, technique, training, wedding photography Also tagged , , , , , |

Always give more than expected

One of the tenets of customer service is to always deliver more than what is expected. I’ve been shooting some volunteer work with a group called “Operation Love Reunited” and part of the deal is I send out an “album” to the deploying service member at no cost. While thats nice, the folks left at home  always want to see the images. Sometimes they want to buy a few but the reality is that many of the families are young, on a very limited budget and are not in the position to pay for more than a few prints at a very substantial discount even for that.

The rules say a small album like a slip cover album and that just bugged me. As a professional, I wanted the work even as pro-bono to reflect my standards or at least, better than snapshots. I always shoot the mini-session as well as I would for any paying customer. I use the same gear, I behave the same  and I treat them as a “real” client which in my mind, they are. I touch up the images and apply treatments to some here and there and it offended me to just use a slip cover album. I’ve settled on using MyPublisher.com and their soft side 5×7 books. It’s a nice compromise between the Little Kisses and a slip cover album.

I still wanted something nicer for the family to share other than a gallery. I bought Proshow Producer not long ago for a project but I had really not worked with it much up to now. I decided that a nice slide show would be a nice touch to the shoot and if I did it right, it would not take too much time to set it up. It would be a very nice vehicle to show off my images and skills to someone who might want to hire me for something else. And it would give the family a really nice memento of the shoot.

So with that thought, I used the final images for my last OpLove shoot and spent about 10 minutes setting up fast slide show with some music that Tara and her husband feel is special to them. I paid attention to the lyrics and tweaked the order of images to better reflect the spirit of the images with the lyrics.

In the end, it took about 20 minutes to build the slide show, add the music and send it on it’s way. Thats as much of a testament to the software’s design as it is my skills 🙂 ProShow is very easy to use but very powerful when you need it to be. And the extra book on using it is available on the Kindle so I have it on my iPad now for some light reading. I plan to make alot more use of this app in the near future. Also, since it’s a Windows app, I use VMware’s Fusion to run a virtual XP session on my Mac to run this app. Works like a charm and did not miss a beat.

So without further ado, here is Tara’s new OpLove video.

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Controlling your light

They say that shooing portraits in broad daylight such as high noon is nuts, that it cant be done and that anyone with sense will avoid it like the plague. Most times these experts are correct but one of the things that a professional photographer has to learn is to adapt and make things work out the way they need to. So with that in mind, let me tell you about my weekend of shooting Santa Claus.

I got an email from a acquaintance asking if I would possibly be able to shoot a session involving Santa Claus, families and a public park with four days notice. I had to juggle things but I replied yes, for a small fee and the list of names of the families with their email addresses. Now shooting this event was going to be a royal b**ch since it was going to be a  public park and starting at 11AM then running till 1PM. No tent, no cover of any kind. The last four years showed snapshots taken with on camera flash blasting the families to overpower the sun. Last years was pretty underexposed since it had been a grey day and the camera didnt get the settings right.

I decided to raise the bar and execute this event better than anyone there had seen before. I have a very cool Christmas themed muslin backdrop that is pretty decent quality and I have several 20lb sand bags. I also have reflectors but no portable strobes yet. I was bummed but I could not find a battery pack to run my Photogenics or get a small generator on such short notice. So I ended up using my SB800s instead.

I put up the backdrop, doubled it over to keep light from leaking through the back and had the back facing the sun directly to get the most shade I could. I put 25lbs of sand on each leg (ended up with 50lbs before the shoot was over) plus two 10 lb bags clipped to the bottom of the shortened backdrop to keep it from flapping around. I did not care about lighting it separately as there was so much ambient light, I didnt need to. On the SB800, I used a 1/2 cut CTO gell to squash the bluewhite “daylight” look of the flash. I prepped two more flashes with batteries ready to go. I had a spare body prepped and ready to go.

I put Santa in his chair and metered him using my older but reliable Minolta meter, the camera meter gets very confused with this type of shooting so I dont trust the brains of the camera. I then put everything on manual, dialed it in and shot off several images with my 17-55mmF2.8. I ended up going with my 1.4 50mm at F10 and ISO 200. The shadow was just long enough to keep me in shade without too much flare in the lens. The images did need their black points pushed way up as they were flat. I knew that from the first few pictures. I used a gold reflector to throw a dash of golden light on Santa Claus and the clients. The SB800 was dialed down -1/2 exposure compensation to avoid blowing out skin tones knowing that by shooting raw, I can easily dial it in.

You can see here the extreme differences between the sun and shade of the backdrop. I took this with my iPhone to avoid screwing with my numbering sequence on my shooting body.

Park shooting set up

Park shooting set up

So I ended up shooting about 40 families over three hours. Everyone had a lot of fun and everyone was blown away by the backdrop. But when I showed off the images, jaw dropped. The images really looked good and nobody believed that they were shot at noon and in a park. The grass was not a problem because 99% of the shots were “head shots” style.

Santa Claus with vintage treatment

Santa Claus with vintage treatment

Final Santa Claus image in park

Final Santa Claus image in park

Now that we had the shots, I used BayPhoto’s ROES software to make up the Christmas cards. My client was giving away a free Christmas card and we settled on the 4×8 photo card. I used Bay’s templates and treatments to make a simple card with a place for my friend to sign his name.

Christmas Card from Belmont shoot

Christmas Card from Belmont shoot

So in the end, with about 400 dollars in studio stuff that I already had from past shoots and 30 minutes of set up time, I was able to produce killer event shots of Santa Claus in a public park at high noon. I did this by using quality parts, by knowing how my equipment works and most importantly, how to work around problems on the fly. Were the images perfect out of the camera? No, they were not. They were flat and washed out even though they were correctly exposed based on the histogram. Thats partial due to the 50mm lens I shot with it. Partial from having to be very careful shooting into the light even though I had shade, there was still some spillover from the top of the background. But with shooting RAW, a few simple adjustments applied to each image and they all snapped into place.

So dont take the common wisdom as gospel like “you cannot shoot portraits at noon” or you can not use onboard flash effectively and so on. When you know your equipment and you know how light works, you can do amazing things when others say you can’t.  I have a happy client and 50 new possible clients who saw me shoot under difficult circumstances and still nail the shots.

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A Scanners Tale

Fujitsu Logo
Image via Wikipedia

Paper is the bane of my office. I have magazines that I want to keep articles from, torn sheets from magazines that have ideas for shoots, bills, reference paperwork  such as maps from travels and more. All this information, no way to search it, no way to catalog it and no up to now, no way to digitize it quickly or easily.

Change is upon me in the form of a new scanner from Fujitsu called the Snapscan S1500M. This scanner comes in two flavors, Windows or Mac. And unlike many shops that claim Mac compatibility, this really IS compatible with the Mac. The software installs easily and has been absolutely reliable, not a single crash or hicup. The scanner is not cheap compared to others but 400 dollars for a scanner that does double sided scanning of 100 pages in less than five minutes is pretty cheap. The processing that takes the scan and makes it a searchable PDF only adds another five minutes to the time of scanning 100 pages.

So I have this PDf now on my computer,  just what can I do with it? Well, what I do is what I had told to me by XXX. I got a premium membership with Evernote and I sync this folder and files up with Evernote so now everything is in the “cloud” and available to all my devices. This includes:

  • iPhone/iPad/iTouch
  • Windows
  • OSX
  • Windows Mobil
  • Palm Pre
  • Blackberry
  • Android

It’s searchable so I can run a search on a topic and get just those matches. I do not have to thumb through old magazines guessing where I saw that article at. Or look for the sticky hanging off the outside with a scribble on it.

Here is the user interface for the OSX application. Clean and to the point.

Evernote OSX Application

Evernote OSX Application

And Evernote is not just for scanners, you can clip from the web or use your webcam to snap a picture. I love SOHO Notes but this might just replace it for me. You owe it to yourself to check it out even if you dont want to scan anything.

Now I can either chop the spine of the magazine off and scan it all then clean it up with Acrobat or I can just razor out the pages I want and scan those. In the past day, I’ve cleaned out one year of Photoshop User magazines and a pile of razored clippings. I clean up my scans by deleting all the ads and stuff I dont want since there is a monthly limit to the uploading at Evernote of 500 meg. This sounds small but the typical razored article is about 3 pages cleaned and under a meg in size or a tad over if I keep the color images.

I just put the scanned files into one directory and I have that sync automatically with Evernote’s website and I’m good to go.

So in short:

  1. Razor articles
  2. Toss remains
  3. Scan articles
  4. Clean up ads
  5. Sync

So far so good, I can access my new files on my iPhone or iPad without any issues at all no matter where I am. I have copies locally on my MacPro and I have them in the cloud. I have pulled about 50lbs of magazines out of my office and more on the way. I can even find things now with Spotlight. This is a win all the way around as far as I’m concerned even more so at the modest cost involved.

  • Scanner = 450.00 from Amazon
  • Evernote = 50 dollars a year for the premium account, the entry level account is free
  • Supply of razors = 10 dollars

Optional cost would be a real nice guillotine cutter that can handle 200 pages at a whack to take care of the magazines but so far, the razor works fine.

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Review of Knoll Light Factory for Photoshop

I was given the opportunity to try a new plugin for Photoshop by Red Giant Software called “Knoll Light Facotry for Photoshop”. It’s a pretty nifty plugin that gives you access to over 100 preset types of flare and lens reflections. These open up a new creative angle for your images. They can add a whole new dimension or they can enhance flare already there. You can even build up your own presets using custom elements and settings. The claim is that the effects are based on real physics and I have to say that as a non-physics major, I think they look really good. You judge for yourself.

Some of the product highlights are:

Here is a screen shot of the user interface in CS5 Photoshop. You can see that it’s very clean and easy to understand. One of the best features for me is the real time preview of the effect as I dial in different adjustments or add/delete elements of an effect.

Knoll Light Factory Plugin UI

Knoll Light Factory Plugin UI

The system requirements are pretty easily met by any recent OS and hardware. For my demo, I used a MacPro dual quad workstation with 14 gig of RAM. I did run LR3 and Cs5 in 32 bit mode to get a better handle on how the software would perform under memory constraints. The performance was very good, no slowing that I could detect and no stability issues of any kind.

Apple Macintosh

Mac OSX 10.5.8 and later
Intel Mac
1 GB of RAM
30 MB of Hard Drive space

PC / Windows

Windows XP 32-bit/64-bit
Windows Vista 32-bit/64-bit
Windows 7 32-bit/64-bit
Intel or AMD processor 1.6 GHz or higher
1 GB of RAM
30 MB of Hard Drive sp

For this demo, I used and image I shot at Disney’s California Adventure of a Dobro player. The lighting was good and bad, good that it was shade but bad in that the shade did not do justice to the chrome resonator of the Dobro. Enter Knoll Light Factory. I used Lightroom 3 to dial in my basic adjusts which were a preset called “Heritage” from Power Work FLow 3 , fill light, contrast and dialing down the red channel a bit. Nikons run a bit hot on the red channel and I almost always bring it down a touch. If you have not seen PWF3 from Seim Effects, you should check out Gavin’s work. Also, his podcast is pretty cool so check them both out.

Once I had the basic edits in place, I opened CS5 Photoshop and loaded up KLF. What I wanted was a starburst flare on the chrome, it would be a low key effect but very effective at drawing attention to the metalwork.

Here is the basic image before I applied the KLF effect.

Prior to Knoll effects added

Prior to Knoll effects added

And here is the image after the effect as been applied. The effect took less than 2 minutes to decide on, place, adjust and save out. Now you would be very hard pressed to know that I was in total shade shooting this.

After Knoll flare applied to metalwork

After Knoll flare applied to metalwork

After working with the plugin for a few weeks now, I have to say that I’m pretty happy with how easily I can add/enhance flare in my images. One must like flare in images to really enjoy this plugin so it’s not for everyone, I mean, after all, major camera makes spend alot of money to PREVENT lens flare but there are those of us artists who really like it and will use it with abandon given a chance 🙂 So whether you are an artist of flare or curious, I would suggest to get the demo and try it out.

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It’s all about the eyes

Eyes, the windows to the soul, dark pools to lose one’s self, the one thing that can seriously make or break your portraits. Radstone Creative Workshops is working with RedGum studios in Anaheim to bring good training at a very cheap price in a world class studio. This saturday, November 13, 2010, we had a four hour session that was all about the eyes and how to really shoot a portrait to show off the eyes. We also got BBQ burgers and ice cream out of the deal so for 20 bucks, it was a killer deal. If you want in, drop a line to either RedGum Studios by way of Darin at redgumstudios dot com or Richard Radstone

Richard makes good use of continuous lighting because the emotion that the eyes convey can be fleeting and even unexpected. So waiting or a strobe to recharge could break the shoot but with hot lights, Kinoflows or other continuous lights, you can have a good chance at catching that small tilt of the head and the flicker of the eyes that makes it a killer shot.

And as the noted shot below shows, you dont need alot of expensive equipment to get the shot. In this shot, the model was still getting make up on and sitting in the make up chair with a hot light lighting her. Not a “studio” hot light but a beat up what looked to be a beauty dish with a hot light instead of a strobe. That was it. Nothing more.

The rest of the images were taken over the course of four hours and more show what the workshop is about. Most of the lighting was a single main light, either a hot light or Kinoflow.  Nothing very fancy just light, some diffuser material, C47s (C47 Media Attachment Clip or clothespin ) and a assortment of gaffer tape 🙂 Really goes to show that you dont need a whole light money in hardware to light someone well. I will say that there was a small fortune in grip equipment holding up the few lights, flags and scrims.

The shoot also shows that having a makeup artist on hand or a couple of them can really amp up the shoot. You can change the “look” with a few clothing changes and some really good makeup. We had six different looks in four hours and it was amazing to watch. It was also important to learn that some makeup does not work well at all with HDLSR video due to how the light reflects and the same applies to this type of shooting that relies heavily on specular skin highlights. The wrong kind of makeup will go “waxy” or “muddy” in the images so a good make up artist is worth her or his weight in gold on the set.

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Painting for Photographers

The title is a double meaning, one is the obvious meaning, how can a photographer “paint” their images. The second is a reference to a book by Karen Sperling called “Painting for Photographers” which has been a guide for me while I explore how to use Corel Painter and Photoshop CS5 to change images into paintings.

I am a photographer, I am not a painter or at least I’m not in the classic sense of the word. But, as a portrait photographer, I use light and shadow just like a painter does to add texture and depth to my subject. Karen’s book really helps with understanding what makes a painting work and why it is different at times than a picture. I will say that while she is mostly oriented to the user of PainterX or Painter 11, she does not leave out the CS5 users who have the new bristle brushes and blending modes. Much of what she teaches crosses over to both. For example, when painting in the background, things like transitions, blending of hair, using different brush textures are not specific to one application but can be used by many different applications.

Karen shows alot of information on different styles of images using “chalk”, “watercolor”, “sponge” and more plus what makes each work for a particular style of image. You would not want to try to take a dark dramatic image and try to make it a watercolor. It would not look or feel right. Oils can lend a sense of formal stature to a portrait and sponge can really make a landscape pop with texture. Karen has all of this and much more in a relatively thin book.

What does all this mean to a photographer? Another revenue stream is what it means. Seeing a “painting” that is on canvas and LARGE is impressive to clients.  Most people really do not understand what a painting is all about, they are used to seeing pictures and snapshots. When they see a large portrait with the drama of blending and texture, they “get it”. And it’s unique enough that clients who really want that something “special” that few others have will be very interested.

So what can you paint? Portraits of all kinds, wedding shots are common because they lend themselves to a painted style of image. Landscapes are another type of image that works really well as a painting. Virtually any type of image can work with the right kind of technique.

I have a small gallery of a current project that shows the transition from a nice normal portrait to a painting that looks really nice. I’m still working on it and learning some of the fine points. I will say that you need to get used to using layers. I have several layers of painting so I can try different things and not ruin work already completed that I’m happy with. One of the big differences between the un-retouched and the painting is that I was able to really clean up the eyes and catchlights by painting. A second huge improvement was made to the overall image by the removal of the background to a more artistic painted background. One thing to remember with a painting is that you paint out alot of small details and use large details to carry the painting. This is true for most paintings and one of the hardest things for a photographer who has spent a fair amount of money to get megapixels of detail to turn around and paint out all the tiny detail. Why? Because it would never show in a real painting and since you are making a painting, you need to work like a painter. I personally find I like to blend the two where I keep some fine detail and lose other detail. But that is just a style of painting that I find myself falling into. Everybody has their own style or will have their own style just like their photography.

Digital Wedding Painting Bride

So what do you need to start painting your photographs? You need some type of software, normally Corel Painter or Photoshop CS5. You can do this with a mouse but I can not too strongly suggest a tablet like a Wacom tablet and pen. The control you get from using a tablet/pen is unparalleled compared to a mouse. With the pressure sensitivity of the pen, it gives you the feel and touch of using a real paint brush. So now that you have software and a tablet, what else? Find a picture you want to make into a painting. I did forgot one important item, you need to read Karen’s book FIRST and then use it as a reference as you start your painting. I will say this, while painting with Corel Painter is well documented, painting with CS5 bristle brushes is not nearly as well supported at this time.

To the end of trying to find some help for those with CS5 and not Painter, here are some links to help explain how to use CS5’s blend modes and bristle brushes.

Peachpit Press #86 Using the Mixer Brush

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