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The new cool, Vintage Collections and Props

Mad Men is a runaway hit in part for the fantastic  sets, costumes and not in the least, the acting. But there is a deeper part to what we connect to. There is a longing for what we were and what we had in the past. Each generation always looks back and wishes at some level that they had what is now gone.  This drives us today to the point of shows on cable about restoring old stuff to new, picking or the finding of old stuff in barns and garages and the uptick in vintage style photography shoots. it’s fun to dress up as Sam Spade for a black and white shoot or as Don Draper, Peggy Olsen or any of the other cast members from Mad Men. We have vintage style Pin Up photo shoots with cars, cafes or planes and then some retro post processing. We use vintage cars,  motorcycles, cameras, fans, radios and more as props for shoots to add authenticity to the vintage look. Vintage style clothing is making a huge splash in the market along with DIY books on vintage hair styles.

I’m not immune to this, in fact, I was probably ahead of the curve with antique telephones, my collection of vintage movies and restoring old tube radios as a hobby. Now it has spilled over into my photography and I’m not complaining at all. I have put together some images of some recent shoots using my cameras and radios plus a teaser from a Mad Men styled photoshoot I attended recently. So today I was goofing with my 1.4 50mm lens and some of my own vintage items.

The radios work and the camera do to. I love to have vintage items but I also like to use them as they were intended to be used. There is nothing sadder then seeing something stuck on a shelf never to be used again. My cameras and radios take pictures and play but they also serve as props for my themed shoots.

If you would like to set up a themed session, just drop us a line using the modern internet or call us and we would be happy to talk it over and work out exactly what you would like.

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Shooting a veggie a day

So today was a practice day for me. I have been threatening for weeks and weeks to shoot some food and today was it. Or at least some of it. I used a 50 dollar battery operated LED video light, a mirror and a home made silk that uses Toughspun. I spent about ten dollars for the various veggies and fruits which is cheap for models. I used a c stand to hold my video light attached to my monopod stand which doubled as a boom. The mirror provided some light from the side and underneath the glass. My post processing was done in Lightroom using a preset that emulated Kodachrome 25 since I wanted that very contrasty punchy look. You can see from the set shot that I didnt do anything special other than clean off the end of the dining room table.

I used my D300 with two lenses. My first lens was a favorite of mine, the 17-55 F2.8 and the second was a Lensbaby composer at F4. My ISO was 400 and I shoot from 1/60 to /1/160. No flash was used, just the video light which I got from Amazon for something like 50 dollars plus 30 for a battery and charger.

When you are shooting something like this, it can be trickier than people at times as the still life does not move at all unless you move it. So you are always on the look out for reflections, lines, composition and so on. You need to worry about color and texture plus what props you are using. Lighting becomes critical for shadows and highlights.

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Important things to remember

Just a short piece today.. I found an awesome short video that reminds us of the important things. Enjoy!

 

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How to show off your images in a retro viewmaster reel

English: A GAF View-Master Viewer Model G red....

English: A GAF View-Master Viewer Model G red. Italiano: Visore View-Master GAF Model G rosso. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you remember the viewmaster with the wheel of pictures? You know the ones, pictures of national monuments, theme parks, cartoons and the like. You would insert the wheel of pictures, hold it up to the light and, klunk, wheel rotates, klunk, wheel rotates and on and on.

You can still buy one of these machines today and look at Hot Wheels or any of the old wheels so long as you have a bright light handy.

So why am I bringing this up? Because I was trying to work out in my head the other day how to show off some pictures from my 4th of July party and I was inspired to make and fake a View Master picture wheel as a prop of sorts.

A bit of googling and I found the perfect template created by ScrappinCop in the form of a Photoshop PSD file ready to go. So one template download later and we are off and running.

I did make each image a clipping mask to ease the adjustments and cropping. I used the transform tool to resize images to the dinky openings. And I make each “image” a smart object so I can go back and swap out the image pretty easily.

After I put my images in the openings, I added a used paper texture to the wheel so it had the used and aged look to it.I selected all the openings and outside edge and added a brownish stroke of 1 pixel to set it off against whatever background I have on.

Here is what I ended up with as my vintage prop to show off my images in a unique way. Go ahead and give it a try.. it was a lot of fun to do and everyone liked the results as a fun way to show off a collection of images.

Vintage View Master Wheel of Personal Images 4th of July

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Repurposing a light box to be a light table

I saw a very interesting blog posting on how to shoot flowers using a light box. I took a different approach since I did not want to build a cardboard box so anything else. I took my large softbox and flipped it upside down. I could do this because I use C stands with boom arms and it becomes very easy to change the orientation of a modifier. I just made sure that the legs were in the right position to take up the low weight and added a few sand bags for good measure.

I then put a piece of clear plexiglass on top of the softbox or now light table and put my subject on top of that. I have a Photogenics 1250 strobe but now I would pull it and put in the 600 instead. The 1250 is too strong even turned down as low as it can go. I plan to try it with white plexiglass whereas I’m shooting with clear right now. The white should be worth a couple of stops.

White on White Lilly

 

 

I had a second mini softbox using an SB800 in SU mode on a monopod that I held over the subject. I manually set the SB800 to something around 1/8 power and about 3 feet high. I tried straight on, sideways and all kinds of angles. The best results seemed to be feathering the small soft box slightly to pick up some edge shadows.

I used a pair of Atlas pocket wizard clones on this shoot only because they were handy and my real PWs were packed away. I shot with:

 

SB800 flash mounted to small softboxLight table set up shot

Next time I will put the small light box on a second C stand instead of holding it. That was just too much trouble but I was in a real hurry to try this and get back to the family outside. The ladder was the only way I could get enough hight to shoot down on my subject, anywhere else and I was shooting across it and it did not work nearly as well.

 

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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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How to prepare for your portrait session

A tanning bed in use.

Image via Wikipedia

Your  best portrait will occur when you collaborate with me on your objectives for the portrait. This way if you have specific interests or goals for your portrait, I can work towards achieving them. We can meet in person which is best or we can discuss on the phone. I find that email is not an effective way to work out the collaboration. Ultimately, you need to be comfortable that I understand what you need and desire from the portrait session. I will do my level best as your photographer to meet your goals.

Here in Southern California, we are in the capital of sunshine and tans. But these things do not always work out well for your portrait. Please, please, please (did I say please?)  avoid the “spray tans” or “self tanning” products as they will not go on evenly and they will leave an uneven build up on unusual areas. Many of the spray tans will actually turn an orange in the pictures. Please do not use a tanning bed or lay out in the sun three days or so before the portrait. Sunburn is virtually impossible to remove well in post and makes the skin dried out and unsightly in the photographs even with good makeup.

Please avoid drugs, alcohol, excessive salt or too much partying the night before (24 hours). All of these will show in the portraits with issues ranging from bloated skin to droopy eyes, blood shot eyes and lines in the face not to mention the odd hangover. Keeping yourself well hydrated a day before the shoot will help your skin look it’s best.

Plenty of rest the night before is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your portrait. Your eyes and temperament will thank you by the end of the day.

Lets touch on marks in the skin. If you want to shoot something off the shoulder, strapless or the like, please do not wear a normal bra for several hours before the shoot. Either go without or go strapless and give the skin a chance to smooth out from the normal strap line over the shoulder. This also holds true for tight sleeves and other tight clothing. Lines in the skin require extra retouching and it’s best to avoid them as much as possible.

Please come to the shoot after you have eaten a small meal. Hunger pains makes it hard for you to concentrate on your shoot and eating too much leaves you ready for a nap instead of being awake for the shoot.

make up artist preparing model for her photo session at Redgum

If a make up artist/stylist is to be used for your portrait, then please arrive with a clean and fresh face. When the make up artist has to scrub down your face, it takes away from the time available for the shoot.

Make sure you allow plenty of time to pack and to arrive a bit early to the shoot. This will help you be calm when it comes time to actually shoot your portraits. Unless you do this often, a check list will go far to help you from forgetting key items your outfits.

And talking about outfits, use outfits that fit well, not the favorite outfit that is two sizes too small or the oversized but comfortable clothes. Do not forget nice shoes, even if they dont show, they help you feel your best while posing for the camera. A favorite piece of jewelry can help set off an outfit and scarfs, headbands and ear rings can really dress up an outfit. If you want a more “Classic” look, bring some pearls, they always add a touch of elegance to a portrait. But too many rings or too gaudy of a piece of jewelry will detract from your portrait.

If you are having a group portrait, pay attention to what your partners or family members are wearing in both color and texture. Paisley and plaid really do not go together and no amount of photoshop will help. Keep in mind the type of pictures you want, if you like the dark background, wearing dark clothes will just make it harder to get a clean shot.  White on white is the same problem. While I can shoot either well, why make it hard? And if you tell me you want a more formal portrait, please do not think that a pressed T-Shirt is formal (really happened once).

 

 

Christmas Card from Belmont Park photo shoot

Christmas Card from Belmont shoot

Kids are a bit different and we all need to accept that up front. Their favorite clothes are probably not yours so the trick is to bring both sets. We can shoot their favorite first in exchange for changing into something you would prefer to see. For the smaller family members, a favorite toy or soft friend can go a long ways to comforting the child in a strange place with really bright lights in their face. I find that a few books with mom or dad reading stories can have a wonderful calming effect, besides, it can make a fantastic image.

 

 

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Playing director on a shoot

One skill that any photographer of people needs to work on and constantly improve, is the ability to direct clients/models/subjects to be where you want them, how they need to look and generally for them to feel comfortable with you. After all, you are shoving a camera in their face and most normally people are not used to that sort of thing. Professional models are more used to it but even they only give you what you ask of them.

A few years ago I would have never put myself down as a “people person” or a photographer that enjoyed shooting portraits. My how things have changed over the years. I used to shoot anything except people and now I tend to shoot just people with other things on occasion. I just had a client give me what I consider to be one of the best compliments in a long time when she said I was “a very relaxed photographer and a great people person”. On this one shoot I had adults and a child to work with and I had a ball with them.

High Key Child

High Key Child

The relaxed photographer comment showed in the images. My clients were happy and really having fun with each other and part of this was I was gently directing them where and how to be. To really get good images, you need to connect with your client. Standing behind your camera and just shooting without any direction or encouragement is a recipe for a disaster of a shoot. This is true even for a professional model. They need to know what is expected just as much as a average joe client. Sometimes even more so.
In the case of my little client here, I had connected with her about her stuffed bunny and I had let her rummage through my collection of AA batteries. I took a few fast shots of her goofing and let her see the preview screen and after a bit of time, she was used to be me being there and taking pictures. When I goofed around with her, I got very natural smiles and great expressions. When the parent were sent the proofs, they were thrilled as you can imagine.

 

Along with the personal connection, you need to tell your subject how to move, pose or look. They WANT your direction, you are the EXPERT and if you have made the personal connection, they TRUST you. Along with direction, running feedback for the subject is most of the time a good thing. Especially for non-professionals who are not sure of themselves or if they are doing what you asked. This “patter” is one of the most important skills a photographer can have.

Another “skill” you must have is the ability to make it look like “you meant to do that”. Very few things unsettle a client more than the photographer wandering around mumbling to themselves, looking lost, fumbling with equipment or looking at the camera view screen and going “oh sh*t”. You really need to know what you are doing, how you are going to do it and when you are going to do it. Or at least act like you. There isa quote from a set of commercials with celebrities  saying “never let them see you sweat” and that is so true in photography. You need to, no, must project confidence in yourself and how you make images in order for the client to be comfortable and to trust you. Dont mistake arrogance for confidence, there is a difference. If you are arrogant, you come off as a jerk and with confidence, you are someone that they can trust.
Happy Family

So after an hour or so, I was able to shoot this image of my clients and have everybody relaxed and interaction at a very natural level. It shows in the image with the body language and how everyone is comfortable with each other in this moment.

These types of directing and interaction people skills are something you need to learn and to practice. Salesmen know this and use it all the time. Watch a good salesman at work with a customer, they make the customer comfortable and feel relaxed around them. As a photographer, having good people skills is just or even more important than having that new hot shot 200mm F.28 super portrait lens. If you clients can not relax around you, it will show in every single picture you take.

So relax a bit, loosen up and enjoy the time with your clients instead of viewing it as drudgery.

PS – a friend of mine had some really good thoughts on this also:

Thomas Churchwell “Do not let the escort take control of the shoot. The first 15 minutes will always be your worse pictures even if they are great. The Tension and anxiety will take about 15 minutes before the models stops her posing that she knows are winners and relax enough to be herself. If you act as though your not there to be impressed but to have a good time then you will get a more pliable model who will stop trying to impress you and start being your muse.”

Thomas makes a very good point that when you are the director, YOU are the director, not the escort, not the model, not the friend, YOU are. Your images will sink or swim by how well you do your job not just as a photographer but as a director.

 

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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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More hotlights and vintage portraits

I’m have a ball with my new hot lights. The vintage portrait project is coming together as I work out how to use the lights, get Lightroom and Photoshop to rework color to black and white and get a good workflow down. I’m also relearning how to shoot film as part of this project.

So the last entry on this subject was about shooting with a single light and this week, I’ve taken it to two lights. The idea is to provide some fill and highlights. And lest you think that one needs an expensive studio or alot of room for this style of shooting, that could be further from the truth. The sample shot I have included this week was taken in a 5×5 space right in front of my front door entry way with some white polarplus gaf-taped to the wall. Pretty low tech if you ask me.

So here is the “studio” shot. I have used my Wacom to mark it up a bit. As you can see, not very high tech at all or expensive.

Vintage studio in house marked up

Vintage studio in house marked up

But the results you can get are pretty amazing. I used Lightroom and Seim’s Power Workflow 3.0 Snapped B/W as my basic conversion from color to Black and White. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with this one but it’s a starting point. I then moved it into CS5 and used Focht’s Touchflow Palette to smooth out skin and add a touch of pop. I also used my Wacom to paint in and paint out extreme shadows, hot spots and such.

Blowing a kiss to fans

Blowing a kiss to fans

Not bad for the price of a doorway studio huh? I’ve found a book at Amazon called Hollywood Portraits: Classic Shots and How to Take Them
which goes into quite a bit of detail in how the old school Hollywood shots were created so that has been ordered. I’ve also ordered up Nik’s Silver Efex kit since it’s on sale at Adorama for a killer price. And yes, it soon will be 64 bit which makes those of us running 64 bit Photoshop very happy. You can download a free 15 day trial from Nik and give a workout to see if you like the outcome but I have to say, it makes some really nice B/W conversions.

I’ve mentioned the clone of the Arri lights before but here are the real deal if you are inclined or feel more comfortable with the brand named item. This can be very important if you want to rent out the kit as grip equipment or the like. This is the complete kit with 3 650 watt lights, roller bag, stands, barn doors etc.

 

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