Tag Archives: workflow

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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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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Lights, Camera and Action!!

Back of a Blu-ray Disc. I took this.
Image via Wikipedia

Oh yeah.. baby loves video 🙂  So I finally bite the bullet and bought ProShow Producer by Photodex. I used some images from the Westcott photoshoot at Photoshopworld as a test for a quick and dirty slide show. I tossed this together without reading ANY docs, just ran the wizard, clicked around a bite and off we go. In less than an hour I had pretty much made this show which included finding music on the internet.

Now I need to really dig into the software. It can do so much like layers and masking on the slides.  It’s a lot easier than Premier and I like the end results more than Animoto. A cool part is that it has a kick butt “create” menu panel. Anything you would like to export the show into is there. BlueRay, DVD, self contained EXE, Flash, Youtube, Facebook and more.  Way cool and one of the best export panels I’ve seen for video like this. Right now I have it running in Fusion on my MacPro in a Windows XP image and it works just fine. It would be nice to have an OSX version but this is very workable for now.

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Westcott Model Shoot

The vendor, Westcott, sell various lighting and light modifiers to photographers and studios. They are a constant vendor at Photoshopworld and other Photography related shows. One of the most popular features of their booth has been the model shoot where a rep will demo product using a live model and then allow photographers to try their hand at a fast shoot using the same setup and equipment.

I think they just raised the bar in a big way by having four “sets” set up where they had live models and at times a still life available to shoot using the Westcott equipment. There were simple rules, you could not touch the model or the lights but you could direct the model on how you think a pose might work. This time you can submit your final images to be a possible catalog cover.

Popular? You bet!!!  They had photographers coming out of the woodwork with everything from the high end Canon/Nikons to the cell phone with any number of camera in between. it was amazing to shoot and even more so just to watch. It was pretty clever in a way since you can only really make the photograph yours by model position and post work. Since the lights were fixed, you had to move the model to change the mood and you had to use some solid techniques in post to “fix” things like lights being in the image, fashion model fixing, getting rid of backdrop seams and so on.

Here are some of my shots along with a description of what I had to do in post to get to the finished or close to the finished image. Most of what I did to these images is not much different than what I do in my wedding shoots or portrait sessions here in my studio in Orange. When I shoot, many times I know when I take the shot, that I will need to do something in post like removing something or enhancing the bride and so on. Sometimes I make a mental note that a certain picture will need something specific because I know it’s a cool shot but needs editing to make it cool.

Here is my Catwoman shot in the raw. No retouching, no post of any kind except to convert it from camera RAW to JPEG to post here on my blog.

Catwoman in Gotham City RAW

Catwoman in Gotham City RAW

You can see from the above shot that there is quite a bit of work needed in post to make a usable image. There is a light in the upper left, the bike is on carpet, the background is too short and does not touch the carpet just to name a few things. Here is the final version or very close to my final version of Catwoman

Catwoman in Gotham Final

Catwoman in Gotham Final

I edited out all the extra stuff like the lights and reflector panel. I used content aware fill and free transform to stretch and edit the background. I used the Lightroom Graduated Filter with a blue tint to darken and add mood to the background. I added a concrete texture to the carpet to make it look more like asphalt. I did a fair amount of selective burning in like the front rim of the bike which was too bright. I tweaked the intensity to get the deep reds and dark blacks. I added a dark vignette around the image to help blend in the transition between backdrop and carpet. I think it turned out pretty well 🙂

In the next shot, we have a retro looking “Pin Up Queen” but we need some work here too. There is a red fabric that is competing for attention, we have tattoos on the model and we have some unsightly bulges on the bustline and arm.

Pin Up Queen RAW

Pin Up Queen RAW

And here is my final image after using several tools and some hand work.

Pin Up Queen Final

Pin Up Queen Final

I used liquidify to smooth out the bustline and arm. I used Portraiture to smoothout the skin and give a glamor look to the over all image. I removed the red sash hanging down in the background and I removed the tats showing on each arm.

Here are some of the rest of my shots from the Westcott model shoot. Westcott even had a couple of still lifes for those who do not like shooting people. As you can see, many times you need good post processing to really bring out the best of a picture whether it be a still life, a fashion shoot or even a wedding. I’ve seen good images with bad post processing and they just do not work well. I’ve seen marginal images but with excellent post processing and they work pretty well.  Taking the shot is just one step to having a killer image as the final result. Ansel Adams was a master of this and understood clearly that the raw image was only the first step to showing the world your vision.

Thank to Westcott for putting all of this together and letting the photographers have alot of fun over the past three days shooting gorgeous models on fun sets.

Queen of Hearts RAW

Queen of Hearts RAW

Queen of Hearts FINAL

Queen of Hearts FINAL

Steam Punk RAW

Steam Punk RAW

Steam Punk FINAL

Steam Punk FINAL

Natural Pair RAW

Natural Pair RAW

Natural Pair FINAL

Natural Pair FINAL

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Repurposing Your Software Tools

Photoshop or your editor of choice actions can  help you cut time corners to make a better end product like blog entries. Say what?  Oh yes, you can adapt tools normally used for a task  like making albums into a killer tool for making story boards for blogs or displays or whatever else comes to mind. I just used my favorite album software from Fundy to make a batch of story boards for my blog here. Yes I could buy actions to do this but I wanted to see if I could do something close on my own with Photoshop.

I already have a couple of flavors of album making software, LumaPix, You Select It (YSI) and FundySOS Album builder. Since I’m on a Mac, I prefer to use Fundy Album builder. While LumaPix would do a really nice job, it’s Windows only and I need to start up XP just to make these. It’s more work then I want right now. Fundy means I never leave my workflow.  This is not intended to be a review of Fundy’s software but suffice to say it’s pretty powerful and is adaptable to virtually anything that requires arranging images, not just wedding albums.

Here is a sample of a three by three story board of a shoot in Colorado that I shot last year.  I tossed together in Fundy Album builder in a few minutes. Not only can I make the grid but I can save it as a design then load it back up and automatically fill the grids or fill them by hand. It can takes less than 5 minutes to make the entire grid and fill it this way. And I just have to insert ONE picture into the blog instead of a dozen or more.

3x3 Wedding Story Board

3x3 Wedding Story Board

And it does not have to be squares, it can be any shape I want, singles, squares, grids, puzzles and more. Also,  this is not just for blogs, this technique of story boarding or building paneled images  can be sold to a client or used in an album or picture book. So the time invested in making the templates can be time well spent. And yes, I had to buy the software but I had bought it  to make my wedding albums so now I’m using the same software for two or three other uses without having to buy anything else. That is money saved and in your pocket.

Here is a type of grid that is called a “puzzle” with several images from a local coffee house in the city of Orange  called Chapman Coffee. My business, Michael Sweeney Photography, had some art hung on the walls  there for a while and I had taken pictures for their website. Now I’m using them to illustrate a second type of collage that you can put into your blog by using album building software. I started with a blank canvas set to 1024 pixels square and used Fundy’s Album Builder Ninja layout and CS4 to make the puzzle. You can of course, make the squares manually using just Photoshop.

Chapman Coffee House Puzzle

Chapman Coffee House Puzzle

And you can take a single picture and use the panels as a design element. Use a strong picture and add a bit of space between the sections and you get a very cool effect. In this case, I made a quad panel and used a picture of a 1957 Chevy Bel Air automobile that I shot at the “Cars and Coffee” car show in Irvine, California. This image of the car works well spread across  the four panels with a visual break between each panel and gives an idea for a wall hanging upsell to the client.

1957 Chevy Quad Panel

1957 Chevy Quad Panel

If all this is cool but you either dont have existing tools like FundySOS  or you just dont want spend the time to mess around with Photoshop, then you can buy actions from a variety of places such as MCP who has the “Blog It Boards” among others. The actions give you a very fast way to get started on this type of presentation of your images.  You can find some free ones at coffeephotography.blogspot.com but keep in mind that free is good, sometimes paying for something is better.

So the take away is that for your blog, instead of fighting with posting a dozen images which can also be swiped, make a storyboard of them and post that. Everyone gets to see the pictures, admire your artistic skills in layout and you can shave time off the editing of your post.  You can also incorporate your album software or actions into your workflow as design elements.

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Free is always good

Just a quick post today with some free links from CreativeLive. If you have not heard of them, you need to. They have been putting on some amazing training sessions live on the internet with an option to buy it for a very cheap price. How cheap? How about three days of  Vincent Laforet and his class on shooting movies with HD DLSRs of  for 120  bucks? Oh yeahh..  champagne info and beer prices.

So here are are few more to check out – These are free for now!!!

Creating PDFs and eBooks with CS5

Photoshop CS5,  0 to 60

Watercolor 101

Right now I’m watching a three day treat with Zack Arias called

Studio Photography with Zack Arias

If you have not been to one of Zack’s training classes, you owe it to yourself to get this one given how cheap it is and the amount of information he presents.

And yes, these videos are iPad friendly. I download them to my iPad and play them during my “school time” which is really my lunch break 🙂

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Why edit snapshots?

I get teased alot for taking the time to edit my snapshots. I tend not to hand out any images that I have not make a quick pass for color adjustments, cropping and minor clean up. Sometimes though, my cleaning up can pay off nicely. In the following example, my six year old was jumping on a air powered rocket that would trail bubbles. But the bad news was she had her back to me for a good bubble shot. But then as I kept shooting, she flipped sides and now she was facing me but the bubbles did not have a nice look. Can’t win huh?  Not exactly!  Through the magic of Photoshop, I was able to make a decent snap in just a few minutes of work.

The trick is to pick the keeper image and then swap out the subject for a better version. Portrait shooters do this all the time in swapping out heads, eyes, smiles and more to get that perfect portrait. I just wanted a nice snapshot of a fun moment so I swapped out Sara’s back side shot to the one of her facing me and put it on the good bubble shot. The magic in this type of swap job is in how to use masks and the pain brush. This tip is pretty much effortless since we do not have the cut out the subject, just get around the subject.

Here are my  two original shots.

Bubble rocket Backside

Bubble Rocket Back View

Bubble Rocket Jump

Bubble Rocket Jump Front View

You can see that the front shot is more interesting since it shows her face but the bubbles are more fun on the back shot. Here is the final product after I used CS4 to paint in the correct version of Sara on the right bubble background.

Final version after painting

FInal version after painting

So how did I get there from the two originals?  Easy..

Photoshop Masks

Photoshop Masks

I made two layers, each with one version of the image and each with a mask. The first image is my subject or the subject I want to see and the second is my background I want to keep. First, we need to put the two images into alignment and to do that, you can use auto-align to line up the images or you can do it manually. I used auto-align and painted (blended) manually. You can find the auto- align tool at EditAuto align layers and choose automatic. Do not blend, you need to do that part by hand

The subject I want

The subject I want

Here is the second layer with my background.

The wanted background

The wanted background

With the two layers in place, I paint in my top subject layer at 100% on the subject and then fade in the borders at 50% and 25%. I also use a Wacom which lets me blend with pressure which gives me considerably more control over the blending. Once I have a good blend job, I then apply global adjustments for color/contrast etc. And whammo!  I have a nice snapshot of my daughter launching her bubble rocket with good bubbles AND her face showing. Total time was about 10 minutes in Photoshop.

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Further Development Using Corel Painter

So I’ve been on a high key kick of late with Lightroom and Photoshop. I mean, EVERYONE does black backgrounds or vignettes and it’s old.. very old. I stumbled over something of a Hybrid High Key look while working on a junk image several weeks ago. I even posted an entry here on it and how I made it from junk to art. That just got my interest up as a new business angle. So for the past weeks, I have gone from fooling around with it to writing a Lightroom preset called “White out” to working in Photoshop to “paint” the final image.

Now I’ve extended it further with the use of Corel Painter 11 or you could use Corel Painter Essentials 4 which is considerably cheaper to get started with. I love digital painting. I love taking a sharp and detailed photograph and turning it into a painting or close to a painting that lacks the sharp details but has a wonderful texture and feel to it that a photograph is lacking. I will also add that a Wacom or other graphics tablet is pretty much required to do this well. A mouse is painful to use when you want to paint and you will get frustrated with it. In my case, I did try painting without the tablet and then I bought a used tablet for a cheap price to see if I really wanted to stay with it. I just bought a new medium Intuos 4 Wacom so I have committed myself to this style of post processing.

Photoshop CS5 has some basic painting elements now built in but I find them more of a play toy than anything ready for serious painting. But, they will get you by on the cheap if you already have CS5 and would not rather not sprint for Corel’s software OR you would rather not learn a new software package. I also feel that these basic brushes in CS5 are just the opening move for CS5 to move into Corel’s space. I think if Corel were smart, they would offer plugs for CS5 that extend CS5 more into the Corel way of painting. At least the 800lb gorilla is not quite as ready to step on you if you are a partner of theirs.  Just my opinion and I dont know diddly about what goes on in the backroom of Adobe or Corel.

White out conversion

White out conversion

So here is a picture that shows my original image plus the basic reworked image that has the background replaced with white and the levels reworked using my Whiteout action plus some manual tuning. I also used Portraiture to smooth out the skin.

I took this image, added about two inches around it in white and saved it as an eight bit TIFF file and brought it into Painter. I cloned the image and added a layer to the clone. Then I used the basic blender brush called “grainy watercolor” and painted out the edges. Then I used the same brush in various sizes to brush out fine details and to blend tones. I did add some color to places like the nose and lips which had blown out to white in the processing. I used black to add some lines to other blown areas, just a touch of a line, a hint as it were. I might add some color background but that defeats the point of a high key look in white.. but I might do it anyways. I also did some heavy retouching on the reflections in the glasses. Since I wanted the black dots on the hat and the black glasses to provide a counter point to all the white, I needed the glasses to be almost solid black with just a bit of reflection to provide the texture. Smooth black in my mind would be too much.

white out then painted

Whiteout when painted

You can see that while the painting looks good, there is still some room for improvements here and there. That is the trouble with this style of post reworking, you can get so caught up in refining things, you never finish it. I love to paint and I have several ideas for my business revolving around using painting as a tool. But like the basic art of photography, this will require a fair amount of practice on my part or yours if you want to try it also. I would warn you not to get too discouraged at first. Painter is not intuitive or at least I dont find it that way. Some of my Photoshop commands transfer but by in large, it’s a completely new set of skills and commands to learn. This is the attraction of trying to see how far I can push the new bristle brushes in Photoshop CS5 where I already feel comfortable.

Tools used in this article:

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