Friday, February 28, 2014

Day 47, Learning 47: Polarizing Filters

A quick post on polarizing filters, which baffled me for years.  These reduce the amount of reflected light.  In other words, light entering the lens at an angle.  They're useful for glass reflections, wet surfaces, and glare.  It's makes skies slightly darker, and shadows may be less rich.  Skin, however, pretty much stays the same.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Day 46, Learning 46: Meter for the Light You Can't Control

Meter for the light you can't control

I ran across this sentence in my notebook today and tried to remember what it meant.  I had deconstruct the statement: the light you can't control... ambient light.  The meter part wasn't simply about measuring, it was about  creating your exposure based on the ambient light, and then adding the light you can control.  In the outdoor setting, this advice seems simplistic and self-evident.  For the above image I placed my model in the shade; then I under-exposed her a stop and adding a soft box with an SB800 on camera right to give more energy and shape to the light. 

But you can apply this same principle indoors.  If there are windows, the light outside is the one you can't control.  French photographer (and Lightroom guru) Serge Ramelli makes most of his income from photographing hotel rooms.  He has great advice about waiting for the Golden Hour before photographing hotel interiors. Turn off all the lights and see what the environment looks like, then building your lighting scheme around that.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Day 45, Learning 45: The Pre-Session Meeting

I'm big on the pre-meeting.  I don't really like talking on the phone, for one; I also find that meeting in person is a great way to both cement the client's commitment to the photo shoot and build excitement for the day.  It has its risks, of course.  You have to impress them.  Having a plan for the meeting is a great way to show you know what you're doing.

You don't need a studio to have a pre-meeting.  A coffee shop works just as well.  Here are some things I talk about in the pre-meeting:

  1. Review what the purpose, hopes, and expectations are for the shoot. I listed those together, but they are three different things.  Purpose: what the images will be used for.  Hopes: the feel or concept of the images.  Expectations:  how many images, what format, and when.
  2. Review what clothes they should bring
  3. Review make-up issues
  4. Once you've addressed all of their needs and concerns, talk about the contract and usage rights.
  5. Exchange contact info

Those are the topics I address, but I'm also using the meeting for a little homework myself.  While you're talking, look at how they express emotion.  Is it unrestrained or considered?  What's the best way to coach them in the session? Plan their face.  What's the best lighting set-up for them?  You don't have to stick to the set-up, but it can be your starting point or "safety."  Is their face round?  (Short light it, perhaps?)  Long and slender?  (Broad light it?)  Instinctively do you want to bathe them in warmth, or push them with something edgier?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Day 44, Learning 44: Hyper-Realistic Portraits ala Joel Grimes

This is a simplified version of Joel Grimes' hyper-realistic style of portraiture.  In terms of photographing a person, I don't usually manipulate images in this way-- whether it's Grimes, or Lee Jeffries, or Jill Greenberg-- and instagram type affects make me a wee nauseous.  But portraits are not always of people, sometimes a portrait of a person is really a product.  The person exists in the frame not reveal themselves, but to sell a product with a certain style.  And that's where these techniques are the most interesting for me.

The basis of Joel's work on the portrait side (he also does considerable work on their environment, which he photographs separately), is really pretty simple in Photoshop.  The artistry, of course, is in how you manipulate and tease out nuances, and that's just practice.  Here's the original image.

This is how it goes:

1.  Duplicate your image, as always
2.  Now add a Black and White Layer adjustment layer.  Tweak the sliders to get the best look in Black and White.
3.  Go back to your layers and set the Blend Mode to Overlay.
4.  At this point, go back to the adjustment layer and tweak the sliders to create the look you want, now that you see it in color.
5.  Put a Mask on the layer and paint in the background so it remains natural looking.
6.  Flatten layers, and duplicate again
7.  Apply a Gaussian Blur to the top layer.  Set your Radius between 10 and 20.  It'll look pretty bad, but don't worry.  Hit Okay.
8.  Adjust down the Opacity of your Blur layer to between 20 and 30 percent.  It should have a nice glow to it.
9.  Flatten and Duplicate again.
10.  On the top layer, apply a High Pass Filter (Filters - Other - High Pass).  Set your radius between 2 and 4.  Everything will turn grey with the faintest of outlines.  Hit Okay.
11.  Set the Blend Mode on your High Pass layer to Overlay.  Now you should have some sharpness to the edges, but a glow to the surfaces.  Flatten and Save.
12.  That's it. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Day 43, Learning 43: Nikon SB800 flash duration

Okay, sticking with the Nikon flash theme.  Understanding how your flash creates or emits light can be helpful, especially working with high speed photography like photographing a droplet of water.  The little-known, little appreciated aspect of all flash units is that they adjust their power by adjusting their duration.  To say it a different way, at half power your flash doesn't emit a less powerful amount of light, it emits the same light for half the time.  And it's quantifiable.  For the Nikon SB800 (a wonderful unit that you can get used for half the price of its contemporaries), those times look like this:

Full power =  1/1,050th of a second
1/2 power  =  1/1,100th of a second
1/4 power  =  1/2,700th of a second
1/8 power  =  1/5,900th of a second
1/16 power = 1/10,090 of a second
1/32 power = 1/17,800 of a second
1/63 power = 1/32,300 of  a second
1/128 power = 1/41,600 of a second

Why is this helpful?  Well, first it's a nice conceptualization.  Working with your flash at full power, even if your shutter speed is 200, it's effect is the same as if it's at 1000 (for the exposure that's attributable to the flash; obviously is there's a lot of ambient light, that's being exposed at 200).  The other is that droplet of water I mentioned before needs to be caught at 1/17,800 of a second to be perfectly clear-- or 1/32nd power on your flash unit.  So to photograph the splash of water from an ice cube dropping into a cool bourbon, you need to set up your system so that the correct exposure occurs at 1/32.

Studio strobes, on the other hand, tend to be about 1/5,900th of a second (or the equivalent speed of 1/8th power).

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Day 42, Learning 42: Modeling Light

I've said it before:  I'm a Nikon shooter.  So this one is specific to Nikons (though maybe Canon, Sony, and others do it as well).  Nikon flash systems from SB600 and above have built in modeling lights. They're close to useless, emitting a very week strobe light for about 2 seconds.  But in the right sort of pinch you may want to use it to help with your setup (I would never use it working with a person, but for product or still life, yes). 

Go to E5: in your camera's menu and switch it to on.  Make sure your Preview Button (Depth of Field), which is located on the front face of the camera below the shutter button is set to Preview.  Now, when you pop up your on-camera flash and press Preview it will trigger your modeling light; it was also trigger the modeling light on any Nikon flashes in your CLS system.

Personally, I prefer to have my Preview button assigned to lock my focus.  This helps in low light situations when the camera is hunting, and I know my subject isn't moving.  More adventuresome people set it to AF-ON.  This transfers the focusing to the Preview button.  The drawback is that the camera will never focus from the Shutter Button in this mode.  It's either one or the other so you have to commit to a new way of shooting.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Day 41, Learning 41: Miksang Photography

Chances are you've practiced a little Miksang without knowing it; if you're a street photographer (or a compulsive iPhone photographer) you've definitely dabbled, perhaps knowingly.  The term "Miksang" is Tibetan and means "good eye."  It has been described as the art of seeing without biases, filters, or judgement, with a focus on the "discovery" of everyday things.  It's an exploration of how the elements of design-- line, shape, form, texture, color, and pattern-- illicit emotion when stripped of their meaning.  The image isn't a chain wrapped around a pole, it's texture, strangulation, liberation, and confinement.  (I'm not suggesting that the above image is a good example of Miksang because frankly I have no real expertise in this area; it is, however, Miksang.)

Such a broad and vaguely defined term begs for abuse, and it wouldn't surprise me if in a couple of years it "becomes all the rage" amongst undisciplined artistic types.  Frankly, I'm surprised it hasn't already, especially in a place like San Francisco where I'm from.  Nonetheless, I think the idea poses an interest challenge, a reminder to look deeper.  I wrote about pre-visualization a couple of days ago.  This is the exact opposite.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Day 40, Learning 40: Eye Room

All rules are meant to be broken.  That's the only one that seems to point true North.  But all rules serve a purpose, and there are several for framing the face in an extreme close up:

  • Always include the chin
  • Always keep the eyes in the upper 2/3rds of the frame; you can go higher, but lower is dull
  • If the person is looking away from the camera (and their face isn't centered) put the negative space in the direction their nose is pointing

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Day 39, Learning 39: Photographing People with Glasses

Photoshoping reflections out of eyeglasses is a real pain, and it's difficult to make the eye behind the glass look good.  The better solution is to shoot it in a way that eliminates or reduces the glare. 

Reflections are caused, of course, by the light bouncing off the glass back in the direction of the camera.  One solution is to place your light source well to one side (or turn your model away from the light).  This works well, but it also changes the lighting everywhere else-- something you might not want.  The other way to avoid glare is to tilt the eyeglasses down by raising the backside of the frames up above the ears.  The hair typically masks this cheat, and the eye isn't drawn to the back of the glasses.  No Photoshop in the above image.  If you look carefully you can see that her frames are a good inch above her ears.  Be careful, though, that they are on straight-- lift one side higher than the other and they'll sit on the nose crooked.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Day 38, Learning 38: Pre-Visualization and Improvisation

Let me take the long road.  Most people in the photography business are liars.  Camera makers lie by saying that a great (new) camera will make great images.  Photography enthusiasts will insist it's not the camera, "it's the glass... spend your money on good glass."  That's a lie, too.  Professionals often insist that it's all about light.  Master the Light and you'll create "stunners."  Each argument ads a little bit of truth to the matter, but that one's pretty much a lie, too.  Annie Leibovitz's portfolio is full of crappily lit images that somehow manage to mesmerize.  You want to create a stunning photograph?  Do your homework.

A lot of folks talk about pre-visualization, but I've yet to see a blueprint for how to do it.  Being a playwright and stage director, I know my craft is all about pre-visualizing what the play will look like, how the characters will reveal their internal workings.  The playwright Athol Fugard once described his craft as creating "truths the hand can touch."  Making an abstract truth into something physical.  Photography is the same.

One form of pre-visualizing takes place in the moment, camera in hand and the subject before you.   It's called "having an eye for..." and it's pretty much impossible to teach; you can only nurture it.  No, today I'm writing about pre-visualization that happens with homework.  It's this:  learn your subject. 

If it's a person, learn their passions.  Learn their place in the world, and most specifically their place in the environment you're about to shoot them in.  Think about what emotions that person's life evokes, and then how you can convey it in posture, gesture, their dress, or the setting. Tell a story; your story of them, or their story of themselves.  Read Gregory Heisler's 50 Portraits; hidden in the narrative of each image is the story he tells about how he decided to take that particular image, his pre-visualization homework.  It's a steal at $25.

If you're subject is a place, learn it's history.  Understand its light before you get there.  Wedding photographers will often visit the church the day before the wedding, at the same time.  Ask, what belongs in this space?  What doesn't?  This is pre-visualization.

When Illy Coffee asked me to cover  their Valentine's Day event and photograph members of their staff, I Googled the event location; then I Yelped it.  I found pictures.  They told me I had white walls for bouncing light, a big bay window, several nooks and interesting paintings/displays.  The online images also told me the space was modern, edgy, with bold, cool-toned colors.  I jotted down several options for each person on the shoot list.  The owner-- master of his environment; the award-winning barista, connected to his machine.  Giorgio Milos, the barista, was very animated; he connected quickly with people and knew how to work a camera for a good photograph.  Not surprisingly, one of my favorite images of him was a moment of quiet, rest.  It was something I couldn't have planned in advance; it was improvisation. It was my story of him.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Day 37, Learning 37: Room Interiors

Some quick tips for shooting interiors:

  1. Shoot just before sunset to just after sunset if there are windows in the room
  2. Open the drapes, but keep the sub curtains (the semi opaque ones) closed
  3. Stage the room, make it look great
  4. Turn on all the lights
  5. Shoot wide, of course (15-24mm, f/8 - f/16, ISO 100)
  6. Use a tripod, and shoot from the corner, waist level
  7. Under expose but don't crush the blacks
In Lightroom:
  • Correct your white balance, keep it on the warm side
  • lighten the image
  • Dodge and burn the shadows and highlights
  • Correct any lens distortion
  • Sharpen
  • Reduce noise
In Photoshop:
  •  Remove cords, outlets, dust, blemishes
  • Smoothen bed wrinkles and the like

Some people recommend bracketing exposures to bring out the shadows, and that's certainly acceptable, but you won't notice a vast improvement over under-exposing and then lightening in post.  Just make sure you're shooting at ISO 100 for the least amount of noise.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Day 36, Learning 36: Tortured Pixels

Tortured pixels is a term/concept that refers to editing that damages the pixel quality of an image.  One of the ways it shows up is in "banding," which is when a gradual gradation of color becomes distinct bands.  You can see the banding in the above image on her forehead and cheek; it becomes abruptly white rather than gradually. Really, anytime you adjust an image, you're torturing the pixels, which is why Photoshop gurus recommend non-destructive editing (which at its best is keeping edit adjustments localized rather than global-- for example using a mask so that some elements are left untouched). 

Sometimes, you can't tell that you've over-tortured a pixel until you see the print.  Your software program's histogram is an easy way to see if you're damaging the image integrity.  The image above I blew out in Photoshop for a high key look (specifically for this post; it's not something I'd do in life).  Below is the histogram.  Notice the broken lines?  That indicates pixel torture.  This image may look fine on screen, but print it anything larger than 4x6 and you'll see the image degradation. 


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Day 35, Learning 35: Looking for Movement

Something I don't do enough is look for movement in my background.  Certain items/ideas are easy-- moving cars blurring in the background.  But there are also things like drapes in the wind, trees bending.  Look for contrasts between moving objects and still ones and slow your shutter speed to allow for blur; or use your flash in combination with a slow shutter to simultaneously freeze and blur motion. It can add dynamism to your image.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Day 34, Learning 34: High Pass Filter Sharpen

This is an alternate sharpening method in Photoshop.  It's pretty simple, and quite effective. 
1.  Duplicate your image (as a safety precaution).

2.  Select Filter - Other - High Pass.
3.  Set your Radius between 2 and 4 pixels.

4.  Now your image will be grey with the faintest outlines.

5.  Set your Blend Mode to Overlay and the gray layer becomes your sharpened layer.

You can toggle the layer on and off to see the effect.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Day 33, Learning 33: Your Inspiration Book

Alrighty!  We're officially one-third of the way through my 100 Learnings in 100 Days experiment.  To celebrate, I'm going to cheat a little.  This was something of a learning for me, but really more of a way to learn.  Like the first best learning tool/investment you'll ever buy, this is a way to boost your learning because it's strengthens the foundations of your craft.  It's your inspiration book.  There are really two types.


The first type of book is an e-book (or plain old Word document if you want to go that route) that is a collection of images that inspire, intrigue, or challenge.  Beneath each image you will deconstruct its creation: lighting, exposure, depth of field, editing, as well as theorize on how to make it better.  It'll look something like this:

          Flash or Fresnel above and to camera right; ambient fill.
          Medium depth; f/4-f/8; 35-50mm lens   
          Dodge and burned, darkened on the lower half
          Fairly "un-posed." Face and smoke rings work on the diagonal, bringing focus to the subject.  Arms at angles but not 90 degree.
          The wide horizontal framing has an interesting effect, isolating the subject
          Open the eyes further; dodge out the floating hands in the background; have light spill onto the back of his shoulders.  Mostly I miss the eyes.

Each image will have the deconstruction beneath it.  That's the first type of inspiration book.


The second type, which I use regularly, is a set of images I've found (through google, other photographers websites, blogs, etc.) that inspire me as examples of what I could be putting to use in my current work.  These may include interesting poses, lighting, angles, environmental portraits, examples of theory put to spectacular use.  I put these in a folder and transfer it to my phone so I can have them at my fingertips. 

This group of images is ever-changing.  I'll remove them after I've tried something similar or if I become bored with the image.  I add new images constantly as I find them.  When I book a shoot, I'll often go back and look through these images for ideas I can put to use.

I ran across a tip the other day that I thought was interesting.  It hard to remember the different poses you thought up while in the midst of a session.  You may not want to refer to your notebook (I often write my ideas down), especially if you're feeling nervous.  Another option is to take a picture of them with your camera, so you can check them during the shoot without being noticed.  To do it effectively, you want to format or delete your card, then take pictures of the poses on your computer screen.  That way, your cheat sheet will always be the next image on your camera during the session.  You won't have to hunt for them.

Happy V-Day, all.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Day 32, Learning 32: Client 'Bring Lists' and Communication

I just wrapped up a portrait session with an actress, so I thought I'd touch base on the "bring list" and other considerations.  First, I'll say that what made the session so great, was the attitude and experience of the model/actor.  She knew how to move, had a sense of how she looked on camera, took the session seriously, offered input, took director, gave trust.  Our shots evolved far beyond the actor headshots we originally planned.  Based on her approach alone, I have no doubt she's a fine actress, because those are exactly the attributes you want as a stage director.

I can't stress enough the importance of the pre-shoot communication.  You need to completely understand what they want out of the session.  She initially said she wanted "headshots."  That's the term actors use exclusively, but models and corporate clients use the term as well.  Furthermore, a stage headshot is different than a film headshot.  90% of stage theatre headshots are truly that-- head and shoulder.  The lighting should be bright, friendly, and the expression needs to communicate a willingness to be open and do the work.  90% of film headshots will include the torso or more.  Film directors want to know the fully physicality before the audition. 

After you learn about their needs, WRITE THE CONTRACT.  Tell them you'll bring it with you.  Make sure you have their contact info including mobile phone number.  If they are willing to send you a recent picture of themselves, that's great, because you can start to plan.  My client's image told me a number of things:  I should be playing with warm tones to match her skin (including a warming gel on her rim light, and warm background tones); her face would do well in butterfly and broad lights (I was wrong about this... the majority of our images short light); jewelry would be helpful; and a number of poses came to mind.  I decided to bring a tux shirt (we didn't use) and a fedora (we did).

DISCUSS THE OUTFITS -- this is the "Bring List."  For women I typically recommend:
3-5 outfits of different types
2 pairs of shoes, different types
Scarf or shawl
Accessories, like earrings, bracelets, necklaces, gloves

With the outfits I recommend a white button down shirt, a "little black dress" or colored equivalent, and something that is off the shoulder or spaghetti strap.  I tell them if there our outfits that consist of layers, it gives us more to play with, and most importantly they should like/feel comfortable in whatever they bring.

For men the list is similar, only smaller:
3 complete outfits
Accessories like hat or scarf
Any item, thing that they feel is truly them.*

*This is the big difference.  Men get passionate about things-- cars, watches, shoes, ties, gadgets.  Unless this is for a corporate client, it's not a bad idea to have them bring whatever it is if they want.

And don't forget to send a "looking forward to our shoot" email the day before, with all of the information: time, place, logistics, repeated.

These lists are, of course, for lifestyle types shoots and non-corporate headshots.  Family photos, musician/artists, and corporate are different....

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Day 31, Learning 31: Additive Light

Yeah, now you think I'm messing with you: yesterday was subtractive light, now I'm saying there's something called additive light.  What's more, they're totally unrelated concepts.

Subtractive light is a process/technique of shaping light by blocking light sources.  You can do it by positioning your subject under the shade of a tree on a bright day (or the shadow of a lamp post/building/whatever).  Or you do it on an overcast day by moving them under a tree or next to a building. On overcast days it reduces drab by making the light more directional from the front.

Additive light is for technical geeks. 

We should start with the question:  if you're using a key and fill light, is the fill adding to the amount of light produced by the key (since they overlap)?  And if so, by how much?

The answer is yes.  Light molecules add up.  The answer to "how much" is that all math: if your fill is 1 stop under your key, it will add 1/2 a stop to the key light where they overlap.  A 2 stop difference between light sources adds 1/4 of a stop to the key, and so forth.  Why the hell would you want to know this?  Well, if you are using a light meter (and I recommend you do in certain situations), then you should know that your key light measurement isn't precise until you add in your fill.  It's an important consideration in studio.

So, if your key light is at f/8 and your fill is f/5.6, then your aperture should be set to f/9 for the correct exposure (f/9.5 actually, but lenses don't do that).  The difference between f/8 and f/5.6 is one stop, so the brightest part of the image will be f/9.5 according to additive light theory.  If you're working with a 2 stop ratio, then the correct aperture is still f/9 (f/8.75, technically).  Which tells us that as you increase the ratio between your key and fill, the amount you need to compensate for becomes negligible. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Craigslist Photographers Please Stop Complaining

I have refrained from writing back to photographers who complain on Craigslist about a poster who is seeking free photography, largely because Craigslist isn't a discussion forum.  But for the love of everything that's holy, please, please, please stop haranguing other posters and whining publically.  Yes, someone is asking for a professional service to be given for free, or in mildly insulting exchange for "recommendations" or "future opportunities" or trade.  It happens about 10 times a day in my neck of the woods.  Compared to the 50 posts by "pro" photographers seeking free models who are "confident."  Jump all over them if you're feeling jumpy.

The truth is that giving your work away for free isn't always a bad idea, and only the photographer knows when it's appropriate (to expand their portfolio, gain experience, practice, etc.).  If the poster thinks they can get the quality they want for free, then most likely they weren't going to pay a respectable wage for the images-- so you haven't lost any business.  There's no competition between photographers who shoot for free and those who only do paid gigs.  They are two completely different markets.  Little fish, Big fish.  If you don't know which you are, we can probably guess.

Day 30, Learning 30: Subtractive Light

Whew.  There are days when it's tough to reach the goal of a learning a day.  This one came a bit late.

Subtractive Light:  One of the most basic rules of shooting outdoors is "find the shade." And then stick your subject in it (especially if it happens to be human).  It's surprising, of course, how often we forget to do that-- after all, the sunshine is lovely.  But the reasoning behind the rule is simple: sunlight creates harsh shadows on the face-- the exception to which is near sunrise or sunset because the sun is both softer and the angle more "dead on." When you place your subject in the shade, the harsh shadows disappear, and the lighted area behind them glows.  It's especially nice when the subject as dark hair.  This is basically subtractive light theory in practice.  You're subtracting sunlight.

What many people don't know is that even on overcast days it can be beneficial to move someone into the shade.  When you study a face on an overcast day, you can still see dark areas under the eyes and chin; they're less severe, but often make the person look washed out and depressed.  Move them into a "shaded" area, and the shadows disappear.  More importantly, if you face them towards the open area, then you are shaping the existing light.  The open area is now coming at them from the front rather than the top.  Angle them and you create a subtle Loop light with a 2:1 ratio.  What's wonderful about this is that you are essentially sculpting the sunlight.

The picture above was taken on a high overcast day with the subject sitting under a tree.  His back is to it, and you can see the shadow that creates against the side of his face and underside of his arm. Because the tree is tall, the light is still able to press down upon him, pushing a shadow under his chin, and there is a highlight in his hair where the branches part.

My subject here is a business man in Papua New Guinea, a wonderful soft-spoken gentleman who's gentleness and wisdom is present in this photograph.  Want to see something awesome?  This was him the next day:

A totally different kind of wisdom at work.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Day 29, Learning 29: Working with Kids

Happy Monday!  Today's post is 9 tips for working with kids.  Of course, "kids" isn't really one category; working with a five year-old is different than working with a high school senior.  So for right now I'll limit the tips to working with youngins, say five to thirteen.

1.  Put your camera into a basic set-up and be ready to shoot on the fly
  • If your camera has an AUTO ISO mode (the D600 does) set an acceptable upper limit and you'll be sure to have proper exposure and the ability to play with aperture and shutter
2.  When you meet your "model," do a quick assessment:  shy or outgoing? engaged or "too cool for school." Work accordingly.

3.  If they don't want to be here, acknowledge it.
  • Where would you be if you could be anywhere but here?
  • Set a time limit with them for the session, and count it down if necessary
4. Talk to them about their interests.  Avoid the questions they always hear ("what's your favorite subject in school"), and throw in the occasional oddball question

5.  When they've lost interest and appear to be spacing out in that dreamy place kids go, take a pic!

6.  And after that pic, startle them back

7.  Play with them.  Play a mirror game.  Have them play with one of their toys.

8.  Have them play with their clothes

9.  Speaking of clothes, look for complimentary colors in their environment.  Pictures of kids should be vibrant!

10.  Did I say "play with them?"  And, of course, get down on their level-- never shoot (or talk) down to kids.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Day 28, Learning 28: Black and White Preview

So this is a technique from the astounding Gregory Heisler:  Shoot in RAW + JPG and set your picture mode to Monochrome (or Black and White).  The image on the back of your camera will appear in black and white, but the RAW file will, of course, retain all of the color. 

Why, you ask?  Heisler maintains that color shows you the real thing, while black and white shows you the essence or emotional qualities of the image.  I'm not sure this is universal to every subject, but it sure trains your eye differently, seeing in black and white but envisioning in color.  I tried this technique on the above image of the Mormon temple in Oakland (quite by accident, actually).  Seeing it in monochrome on the back of my camera helped me decide to process the final image in B&W.  It was dusk, but the sky was rather bland because of an overcast sky to the West, and the face of the building in shadow.  I put the camera on a small table tripod, opened the Aperture to f/22 and slowed the shutter speed to about 2.5 seconds to make the water creamy.

I have my doubts about how dear this technique is to Heisler's heart.  All of the images in his brilliant book, Gregory Heisler: 50 Portraits, are shot on film cameras.  If you haven't purchased his tomb, buy it now.  It's a wonderful exploration into the art of portrait photography, offering dozens small, well-chosen nuggets of information about all aspects of the process, both technical and personal.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Day 27, Learning 27: Lightroom Shortcuts

For today, a handful of Lightroom shortcuts that I find the most useful:

A   =    Constrain Aspect Ratio
H   =   Hide/Reveal Pin spots (in adjustment brush mode)
I    =   Show image info
J   =   Show clipping
M  =  Graduated filter
R  =  Crop Tool
O  =  Cycle through golden triangle, rule of thirds, etc.
P  =  Flag
U  =  Unflag
Q  =  Spot removal tool
Y  =  Show original/compare
[   =   Rotate
Ctrl/Shift/E = Export

Friday, February 7, 2014

Day 26, Learning 26: Inverse Square Law

Honestly, I thought I'd covered this one early, but I guess not.  It's one of the sides of the lighting "Rubik's Cube" I mentioned before, and will definitely, definitely get around to discussing.

Inverse Square Law.  Every pro photographer knows it and so had you.  It's simply this, if you double the distance from the light source you end up with 1/4 the light.  If your light is 4 feet from the subject and you move it to 8 feet, you end with 1/4 the amount of light, or 2 stops difference.  If you move that 4 foot light closer, to 2 feet, you have double the amount of light.

In terms of F stops it looks like this:

LIGHT:  2'          4'          8'          16'
F STOP: f16      f8          f4          f2

At 2 feet your proper exposure is f16; at 16 feet your proper exposure requires the aperture to be f2.

So yesterday I wrote that if you knew the inverse square law, you could balance the shadows and light from a single flash above and a reflector below....  If the flash is located four feet above the subject's face and the reflector 4 feet below (a total of 8 feet), then the light hitting the reflector is 1/4 the amount illuminating the face.  That's 2 stops.  But of course the light has to travel back up to the face so we're looking at closer to 3 stops difference between light and shadow (this doesn't take into consideration the amount of light lost in the reflective surface which may be white, gold, silver, or a mirror).  If you want less of a difference (i.e., a smaller ratio), then all you have to do is raise the flash higher so that the distance between the flash and the subject is closer to the distance between the flash the reflector.  If the flash is 8 feet above the subject and 12 feet above the reflector, than the shadow is closer to 2 stops.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Day 25, Learning 25: Modern Light Patterns

Back on Day Five I wrote about the Classic Lighting Patterns.  If you page through any magazine and look at how the models are lit, you'll realize that probably 80% of all photo shoots are using the classic patterns as the skeleton of their design.  At least when it comes to the face.  But there are alternative "skeletons" upon which to build and improvise, so I'm offering up a couple here.

2 Sides and a Reflector

This puts the shadow area in a line down the center of the face.  It's a very angular, masculine look.  The reflector keeps the shadow from being too dark (though this can also be accomplished without the reflector if the ambient is close to the flash strength).


The Diagonal setup is very similar to a classical Loop with a rim light.  The difference here is that the back "rim" light is down lower-- approximately head-height-- instead of from above, and it's at the same strength as the "key."  This moves the shadow to the far cheek.  It works best with short hair (or if the hair on camera left is pulled back to reveal the face).


Generally speaking your fill light is usually on axis with the camera, but there's no reason why it can't be 30-40 degrees opposite your key.  That's essentially what this set-up does (though you can have the flashes set to equal strength as well).  The bounce cards are 4x4 feet or so, creating a nice big light source.  Often times you need a reflector to fill in the center of the model's face.  I'm actually not a huge fan of this one because it seems to use an awful lot of "power" to create a fairly traditional look.

Now the pop quiz.  How was this shot lit?

At first glance it looks like there's light coming from either side, but then how are my nose and lips lit?  There's only one light and a reflector in this rig.  A 24" softbox is above and slightly forward so the light is feathered onto the face; reflector is on the floor angled up to catch the remaining light and bounce it back up to reduce the shadows.  Now if you know your Inverse Square law you'll be able to balance the ratio of shadows and light without futzing about.  Don't know your inverse square law?  Tune in tomorrow.

Oh, and Whoo-Hoo!  I'm one quarter of the way through my 100 Days of Learning!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Day 24, Learning 24: Photoshop or No?


Most likely everyone has a personal answer for this one, and that's great.  There are some basic principles I go by when deciding when to photoshop a portrait and how much (actually, I always do some photoshopping).  The truth is everyone wants to look good, and everyone wants to look like themselves in the picture.  The problem is that these things don't always go together well, and it has nothing to do with the attractiveness of the person.  A photo is an image of a specific moment in time.  It captures things that are ephemeral (like sunburns) and presents them as if they are eternal.  More importantly, the light and the physical position can exaggerate qualities unfairly.  Short lighting, for example, brings out imperfections in the skin that might be otherwise unnoticeable.  Wrinkles that only appear when you smile are now continuous, and were probably not very noticeable when you smiled in life.  So in a way we are obligated to do a certain level of re-touching in order to present something closer to the truth.  Sounds like a huge contradiction, doesn't it?

Here is how I put it to use. 
  • Temporary blemishes like acne, stray hairs, and red noses.  I always re-touch these.  They are here today, and gone tomorrow.
  • The "everyone" re-touches that all images receive for things like color tone, sharpness, removing glare, increasing vibrancy, etc.
  • Wrinkles and skin issues that are strengthened by the lighting.  These I will do moderate re-touching.  I won't eliminate them, but I'll soften them so there are closer to how I remember them in my mind's eye, not the camera's.
  • Moles and permanent marks.  These I pretty much leave alone. 
  • Slimming.  I also avoid slimming whenever possible.  Unless it's clear that bulge was the result of me posing them in an awkward position, or "slimming" if it is for commercial purposes.  Truthfully, if I shot the image I should have corrected that during the session.  See my post on posing plus sized models.
My general rule is that I don't ask if they want re-touching (because most people don't understand the range of options or why I might choose to work on an area), but I'm always ready to respond if the question comes up.  And if a client specifically asks for it (or doesn't want it), I become more aggressive or less in my re-touching.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Day 23, Learning 23: Easy Skin Tone Correction in Lightroom

This is one of the fastest methods for correcting skin tones in Lightroom that I've run across.  Scroll down to the HSL / Color / Luminance panel; click on HSL for the greatest control.  Now click on the adjustment button (just under "Hue"), then click and hold on the area of skin you want to adjust and scroll up or down until you get the right tonality. 

You can do this in the "All" mode, but for even greater control adjust the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance separately.

I find that most skin tone problems are the result of the skin appearing too red.  To correct this click and adjust the Hue slightly up, the Saturation slightly down, and the Luninance slightly up.  Keep your adjustments subtle, between 4 and 10 points, and make sure you do it after you've finished any "global" tone adjustments.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Day 22, Learning 22: Photographing Bands

Twelve Tips for photographing bands:
  1. KNOW THEIR NAMES.  Memorize them before you show up.
  2. Learn about them, their music, their public personas, and hopes for the shoot
  3. Conduct a pre-interview to get to know them better and understand their hopes/desires
  4. Match the music to the clothes to the location
  5. Scout, scout, scout (location, location, location)
  6. Bring a set piece: a chair, couch, tractor, whatever.  Consider working with opposites-- put a ratty chair in a dreamy location
  7. Make a shot list.  1 shot per 10 minutes, 15 minutes between for setting up, and an additional 15 minutes if they need to change clothes
  8. You or they need an assistant, someone to help corral them, grab things, etc.
  9. Be strict with the time schedule; get everyone there early to "touch base."  Musicians and punctuality often don't mix well
  10. Be confident and give direction just as if you were working with an individual model
  11. Take candid shots between the set-ups
  12. Capture personality.  Look for their individual personalities during the pre-interview, and pose them accordingly.  Let the shy one look away, the dominant take the frame.  Then mix it up
  13. Be ready for a square format request (for CDs)  and frame accordingly
And of course, have fun.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Day 21, Learning 21: Iris vs Pupil

This one is obvious if you stop to think of it, but many of us don't.  In portrait photography we really want big, bright eyes-- or, to be specific, irises.  Since many portraits are done with flash lighting, this can be a problem.  A dimly lit room makes for a big pupil, not a big iris.  The answer is to increase the ambient light in the room.  If it's not the right color temperature you can lower it in the exposure by raising the shutter speed (and thus reducing the ambient light).  When when you don't want the ambient contributing to the overall picture it's easy to forget that it's still important for the subject's eyes. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Day 20, Learning 20: Light Ratios

Whew, 20 days into my project.  Overall, it's been pretty energizing.  I still recommend everyone grab an empty journal and start their own journey.  There's not a photographer out there who couldn't benefit from 30 days of learning.

Ages-o-go back on Day Two I wrote about Reciprocals, the relationship between aperture, shutter, and ISO.  The Big Three.  But this is just one side of the Rubik's Cube.

Let me wax philosophical for a moment.

If you spread 20 great images on a table you wouldn't be able to tell if they were shot with a Nikon or a Canon, at 16MP or 30MP, or whether they spent $100 on their lens or $1000.  But you would be able to describe how the light created the image-- it's location, size, continuous or flash-- because the light is more apparent and important.  Camera makers barrage us with advertising to draw attention to their product, but if we're going to be spending money (and mind you, I never encourage that) it should be on light.  We should be learning how to sculpt the sun, because you can.

I'll come back to the Rubik next week, but for today it's about the final effect, understanding light ratios.  The "light ratio" in simplistic terms is the relationship between the lit and shadow areas.  This is true if we ignore the background, because we are typically referring to the ratio of light on the subject.  So a ratio of 1:1 means that there is no difference.  They are evenly lit.  A ratio of 2:1 (key to fill light) means twice as much light (or the equivalent of an f-stop) is striking the bright area compared to the "dark" area.  This seems like a big difference, but it's actually quite subtle; a ratio of 3:1 is traditional for classic portraiture.  16:1 is in the realm of "noir," where the shadow is almost devoid of detail.

Certain light ratios produce a more masculine or feminine look.  1:1 is flat and boring for both genders.  A 2:1 or 3:1 ratio has a very open, gentle feel that works well for more "feminine" portraits.  The higher contrast of 4:1 or more brings out a darker, more closed quality that tends to feel masculine.

Now consider the "equivalent of an f-stop" remark.  If you were to measure ratios with a light meter it would translate thus:

1:1  =  f/2.8: f/2.8
2:1  =  f5.6:f/2.8 (or if f/2.48:f1/4, which is the same ratio)
4:1  =  f8:f/28

And so forth.  Why is this helpful?  Because if you know what look you're going for, you can adjust accordingly.  And it's not just the Big Three.  Say you want a fairly classic portrait look for the company boss.  He's male, very masculine featured, so maybe that's a 4:1.  You've got your fancy TTL flash system so it'll do all the thinking for you, right?  Nope.  The TTL function will give you the right light for the key, but you'll have to tell the second flash what's right for the fill.  Since you know that it's a two-stop difference you can adjust your flash's exposure compensation to -2. 

Or maybe you couldn't afford the pricey TTL flash?  Set one flash to 1/2 power and the other to1/8 power and keep them at the same distance from your boss.

Light Ratios seem to be "beginner" level material, but they're really the entry into an advanced understanding of lighting.