Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Blond Flying Dreadlocks

Here is something you don't see every day, blond dreadlocks.  Well, maybe *I* don't see them everyday, so I thought she was a fun model to shoot.

The concept was to create motion, emotion, and expression.  The problem is making them look like the belong in the photo.  The sexy look on her face and emotion in the image is out-of-place if she is just standing there, so we need to add a bit of "something" to make the image believable.  We discussed a similar problem in a previous photoshop concept I shot, and I needed to come up with something nice for this one as well.

Let's start with the lighting.  Today we are using a DIY (do it yourself) beauty dish.  This one is made from a large wooden salad bowl that has been painted white.  A cheap auto-mirror was mounded on the front side by some long threaded screws and will reflect the light back into the bowl and out around the edges.  There plans on the internet for these all over the place.  I eventually bought a beauty dish from Paul C. Buff since I would rather spend the money than the time.  The difference with the one I used on this occasion was that it was powered by my Nikon SB-800 speedlight, not my AlienBees.  This is a single light shot with reflectors on either side and a gray wall behind the model.

Post production was an adventure.  I wanted to give this a lot of emotion, movement, and all that without distracting from the model in such a way as to obscure her beauty.  My final direction was a "light-painting" type of effect.  Creating something like this is pretty simple if you have a Wacom tablet. For those of you with only a mouse, you are going to have a much harder time.  I heavily suggest you bag one of these (even the cheap ones are awesome), so you can open your creativity in new ways.

In the end there are 3 layers here (not counting the original hidden smart object I imported).  Basically the model is sandwiched between two layers with the same bunch of abstract lines on it.  The bottom layer has some of the lines that intersect the model removed, as does the top layer (albeit a different mask asI do want some to pass in front of her).  I also changed the blending modes of the light as well as the final layer to get the best result.  In the end, I wanted lines to cross and surround the model, and I even liked the "rule breaking" centered composition I often abhor.

Let me know if you like the image.  Total time to complete ~30 minutes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Subtlety Is Often King

The image I am posting today is one where the post processing is very subtle.  The base image is wonderful and not much was needed to bring it to closure.

We are going to be shooting at a wider aperture for this shot to eliminate some depth of field we don't really need.  That means lower power for the strobes and a faster recycle time.

A wider aperture makes your focus plane very shallow.  If I can carry her eyes and lips, I won' be upset if the rest is slightly blurry as I think if this is all in focus, one might  find the eye has no where to start.

Pay close attention to how you look at your work, specifically eye movement.  It takes practice, but once you understand how your eye moves over an image, you will have a lot more command on how people perceive your work.  One nice trick to test this is to flip the image upside-down.  Where did your eye go first?  Because there is no "face" where your eye is normally drawn, you should pay attention to where the eye went first and see if you need to make adjustments if that landing place wasn't ideal.

Ok, lets talk about the lighting I used for this photo.  We have 6 light in total, which is a lot more than I typically use.

There are two lights illuminating the background, and I could have probably done this with one larger modifier and a single strobe.  However, I was shooing a lot of poses using this setup, and this is just how they happened to be at the time of the shot.  The background lights are my trusty AlienBees AB800s, with the default strobe reflector in place and a 30 degree grid to prevent the model from being illuminated.  They were metered at ƒ5.6 or so. 

There are also two AB800's on either side of Helena here with small softstrips and cloth 40 degree grids on those.  I could have been a lot more efficient with my lights in retrospect and let the background light spill onto her for rim lighting.  The issue would have then been one of contrast, so moving the lights closer to the background and further from the model would have been required to get the exposures "desirable" in both locations at the same time.  Remember your inverse square law here, as the distance of the light to the target makes all the difference in the world when it comes to exposure.  If things are just too bright, and you are at your lowest power setting, you can always back the light away from the subject.  Just remember the softness of your shadow will suffer as the size of the apparently light source gets smaller.


I used a large reflective umbrella for the ambient fill.  I often like the fill light just behind & above me, or very close to the plane of the camera.

The key light was my AB1600 (the big gun), which had a large softbox attached.  This was positioned camera right.  I use the light triangle under the eye on the shadow side of the face to determine the correct position.  You want light to fall into both eyes if at all possible.

The photoshop in this image is all about being subtle.  The original image is very nice, so there were only a few tasks to handle.  First, I always give my images a bit of a curve as I find digital cameras are a bit flat.  Secondly, I also added a bit more brightness to the entire image.  I took a moment to remove a scratch or two she had on her skin, but was otherwise as olive as one can hope for (mind blowing considering she is no longer in her 20's).  Probably one of the easiest retouching jobs I have yet encountered, make that two models in a row that make this part of the job easy.

I did NOT add any sort of light to her eyes!  The amazing "moon" illumination in her iris was caused by all the powerful lighting going on around her.  I love it when a plan comes together.

The only effect I added to polish off the image was to create a copy of the entire work and add a lens blur.  I then used a mask to remove the blur from around her face.  I did this because they eye was "swimming" around the image (despite my shallow depth of field) and trying to find a place to start, and by adding the blur the eye now goes directly to her face.  Another part of the problem is the brightness of her shirt causes you to look their first because of the saturation.  So, I desaturated that a bit as it was really over the top after I added that curve.

I might as well pimp my free upcoming workshop on manual mode and exposure in Racine, Wisconsin on May 15th.  (http://photo.meetup.com/102/calendar/12940050/).  There is also a paid event immediately afterward on the basics of lighting (http://www.meetup.com/StudioMLP/calendar/12939983/).  Everyone who is interested in those events can sign-up on those respective pages.

Hope you enjoy the image, and as always let me know what you like and didn't like (or if people are even reading this).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Universally Foxy

Was looking through some images in my archive as I had an itch to draw something.  I found an image of a model named Kristen, who goes by Mrs. Foxy in the modeling universe.  The image is a good candidate for my art fix because it has a great expression and decent lighting.  It is also "out-of-place", meaning her level of expressiveness is unexplainable given the lack of activity around her.  So, lets add some activity!

First a bit about the lighting.  I am using three lights in this shot, Alienbee AB-800s, both left and right but slightly behind model at ƒ5.6 with a small softstrip and cloth grid on them.  The grids prevent spill as well as keep the light out of my camera.  The key light is another AlienBee AB-800 with a 22" beauty-dish about 4' in front of Kristen and 2' over her head.  It is also set at ƒ5.6, which is plenty of aperture to keep her entire body in focus.

Photoshop was the fun part, and the reason I decided to get this image out in the first place.  The tool of the day is LIQUIFY!  Get to know this tool (shortcut is Shift-Control-X), as you can do so much with it.  Normally one used liquify to remove bulges and other little bumps, but you can also be creative with it.  I have even used it to turn a head 20 degrees or so, but that took a long time.  On this image there are around 15 or so layers with abstract "smudges" placed on them.  Here is what I did to create these:
  1. Create a little doodle on a new layer with a soft brush
  2. Enter liquify and use the twist and push brushes until it is more "flame like".  I did this my moving in-and-out of the shape.
  3. Create a color overlay layer effect and set it to an interesting color on the new doodle you have just finished.
  4. Use Control-Click on the layer thumbnail to load the transparency mask for the layer.
  5. Contract the selection, I think I did this by 30 or 40 pixels
  6. Create a new layer and paint in the new selected area with a similar color
  7. Set the layer blending mode to Screen or Hard Light (or fiddle around with other modes)
This should give you a nice shape with a glowing middle area.  As you add more layers of this type keep playing with the blending modes.

Add some finishing touches with some little wretched sparkles and glares on the models skin from the light behind her.  Avoid using the "render lens flare" as it is just to typical.  It was very simple to create the light bursts I have in this image from scratch depending on what I needed to complete the look I was after.

It should be noted that the model loved the image so much she contacted Fredrick's Of Hollywood about it.  However, they will only look at a photo if you print it fairly large and mail it to their offices, along with another stamped envelope if you want the image returned.  Needless to say I was dumbfounded at their grip on technology and wondered if they perhaps would prefer delivery of images via FAX so they could step into the 1980s with their review of images. :-)

Total time to complete, 90 minutes.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Hard Body In Hard Light

The model in today's image has one of the most chiseled physiques I have seen to date.  Not an ounce of fat on her from what I can tell.  I do have several more shots of her that I will be posting over the coming weeks, so stay tuned for those.

The lighting is going to be similar to what you have seen this past week with the high contrast beauty shots, but we are going to cover a photoshop treatment I do with hair quite often that I feel really ads a lot of zing to my images.

So, for the sake of those just tuning in, there are two lights going on in this shot, the beauty dish and the rim light.  The beauty dish is a Paul C Buff 22" white dish powered by an AlienBee AB1600 at ƒ16 with a 20 degree grid.  The power is up so high because I am shooting in an open room, and beyond the model is another photographer working with yet another model.  The rim light is at ƒ11 or so and has a 40 degree cloth grid on it.  The goal with the grids is not to accidentally light any of the other stuff in the room.  The rim light is behind the model and to camera right about 7'.  The key light is overhead about 2' up and 2' in front of the model.

Photoshop work on this image was also pretty easy.  The model's skin is flawless and doesn't have a single pimple or anything to remove, so not very satisfying in that department (yes, I will live).  However, the hair was a problem, as I had her throwing her head around to get this great effect, the hair opposite the rim light was severely underexposed.  The image would have been just fine as it was, but I really wanted a bit more pop on that side to balance the image.

The first thing I did is to Create New Layer Via Smart Object Copy and then set this new layer to the Soft Light (or Screen when I am feeling edgy) blending mode.  You should always be working on your images as smart objects if you can.  From Lightroom you can right click and choose Edit as Smart Object, so get used to doing that (I was I could make that the default from Lightroom).  Anyway, at some point during the development of an image you will need to rasterize these smart layers, so try and get your big moves done while the image is still smart to prevent damage to the underlying data and creation of noise.  In her case she had no marks to remove, so I didn't have to do these in any specific order.  If there were assorted hickeys and other marks, I would have to handle the hair issue first so that I could flatten the image before removal of those.

Once the new smart object is created I can then bring up the exposure and the fill light in camera raw.  Don't pay attention to the rest of the image, only the problem side with the hair.  Once we like what we see there go ahead and create a mask and fill it with black (thereby hiding all the corrections we just made).  Once you are ready grab a round, soft brush and set your color to white. We will ONLY be painting on the mask layer here.  Just go in and paint in the lighter version of the image where you feel you need it.  You can also consider things like the tops of the shoulders, collar bones, eye sockets and so on even though our real goal here was the hair.  You can easily undo any areas you dislike by painting black into the mask.  Once you are done, you can adjust the overall opacity or go back to camera raw and make minor adjustments to the corrected layer until you are happy with the result.

You can use this technique to easily correct portions of an image, and hair seems to be my favorite target for this treatment.  You can also do something similar with an overlay layer, but that is a topic for another day.

We do these shooting workshops quite often, so if you are in the Milwaukee area or can be, please drop me a line and I will add you to the list.  The models are all provided, and we also have some extra lights hanging around.

If you enjoyed this post, please leave me a comment so I can focus on answering any questions with future articles.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Zombies Love Brains

I am going to go out on a limb here and say, "almost everyone likes zombies" because I am pretty sure grandma didn't.  Well, and my wife isn't to keen on them either.  Come to think of it, I am guessing only people who are into video games really can appreciate a good zombie.  That is the case with today's image, where the make-up artist (Amber) is really into video games, so her Zombie love factor is pretty high compared to others that come to mind (pun?)

At the photo shoot last Saturday I noticed Amber gleefully applying disturbing make-up to this lovely young model and it caused me to pause and ask what her vision was and where it was going.  We got into quite a vivid discussion of Left 4 Dead (a popular video game), and so I decided I needed to definitely shoot this twisted concept as I am also a pretty big fan of the game as well as zombies in general.

Lighting this was similar to a few others I shot this day as I wanted mega high-contrast.  In fact, breaking the very rule I spoke of in my last post in not abusing the clarity slider in Lightroom became am almost mandatory action in my options for this image.  If it could have gone to eleven like the volume knob on my stereo, I would have tried it.  In all seriousness, this is at 100% clarity to really bring out everything we can.  The 22" beauty dish was mounted on an AlienBee AB1600 studio strobe metered at ƒ16 pretty much over her head.  The rim light set to camera right with a small soft strip and a 40 degree grid.  However, I placed this soft strip and flash combo directly on the floor, tilted upward toward the subject.  I wanted the light lower on this side, and made sure not to accidentally hit her in the eyes with it.  If I would have done that, I would have created a very classic beauty setup called a "clam shell" (that would also involve repositioning the rim to the front under the dish).  As beauty was not our goal here, I kept these 2 light from hitting the same part of her body.

In Photoshop I did do my standard blemish removal on the model even though we are going for a zombie look here, I wanted to be sure she was pleased with how she looked in the shot.  I could have placed more wounds and really added some gore, but what you see here is the talent of the make-up artist, and because they want an image in exchange for their hard work, that alteration would not be fair to them.  However, the background needed some zing, so I found this image out on the interwebs and the position of the lights in the street photo would work well with the highlights on her body.  The next part is getting the coloration of the two images to match and look like their were shot together.  I do this in a rather methodical method, but it always works.
  1. First, copy the layer with the model on it and erase anything that isn't really the color you feel is proper for the image.  In this case there was nothing out-of-place, so I move onto the next step.
  2. Use Blur -> Average the new layer copy of the model to get the average value of the entire image.  Use the eyedropper and copy the HEX value of this color because I am going to need it in a minute.
  3. Delete the layer containing the average blurred image (should look like a big solid color at this point)
  4. Create a Photo Filter adjustment layer and set it to use the color you just copied from the image average.  Be sure to clip this to the background image only, not the model (hold down ALT and click between the two layers).
  5. Torque up the strength of the new adjustment layer until you firmly believe you shot them at the same time.
What you have now is a background image that has been filtered to use the average color adjustment of the model's layer.  Of course you can always tweak this as it is only as adjustment layer.

Hopefully that was understandable and helpful.  Please let me know if you have any questions and if you enjoyed the post.

Click on the image to view it larger.

Strawberry Locks

Today we deal with a fun and high-contrast image of Kristen as opposed to the damn scary image we discussed yesterday.  She bought this wig off of eBay and was all excited to don it for a shoot.  I was in the mood for something high-contrast and this outfit and wig work well to create a nightclub kind of feel to the image (in my opinion anyway).

Lighting was created by 2 unique sources, a 22" beauty dish and a small strip box.  The beauty dish was about 2' on front of her and about the same distance above and mounted on an AlienBee AB1600.  The goal here is to create a "butterfly" or Paramount lighting on her face.  This lighting type is identifiable by the little butterfly like shadow under the nose.  I personally prefer the term Paramount, as I don't see an obvious butterfly, so the term is kinda silly to me.  This dish is white on the inside and makes a bit softer quality of light than a silver one would.

The rim light is camera right and is an AlienBee AB800 outfitted with strip softbox and a 40 degree cloth grid to control the spill.  This was shot in the middle of a large room, and another photographer and model are working directly behind Kristen.  Rather than deal with having to remove this motley crew from the image later, we can just brighten up the strobes enough that the ƒ-stop required to correctly expose  the image (ƒ11 in this case) will kill any light from beyond her position.  The grids on the lights are used to keep the light from spilling on other things that I don't want in the photo.  Remember from previous posts that as a Nikon shooter my shutter is always at 250th of a second, and I am not going to change it unless I want to mix some of the yucky yellow ambient light.

In post processing I had two goals with this image, one was to boost up the contrast as far as her skin would allow, and the other was to make sure nothing was lurking around in the background of the image.  I added my typical curve to fix the flatness I see in most digital images and made sure my white balance was where I wanted it.  After that I do my complexion corrections and remove anything else I find distracting (most of this is with the healing brush or the clone stamp tool).  I also did a quick check around in the background and didn't find much there that needed hiding, so my ƒ11 paid off as expected.  The rest of the processing was in lightroom prior to publishing the image.

I find the "clarity" tool in Lightroom to be a nice, yet often WAY-TO-OFTEN abused tool.  It can do some wonderful things to images where you want higher contrast, but the effect on skin can be devastating.  I have seen hundreds of great images ruined by zelous use of this simple slider.  It will cause dark lines, blotches, and dark halos around everything if used in the extreme.  It might look interesting at first, but one must really walk away from the image and view it with fresh eyes later before you decide on a very high setting.

There are a few cases where you can get away with a super high clarity, and most of those are with darker skinned folks.  They can really take a higher than average setting and I think it does wonderful things for their eyes.  I will be posting an example image of this in the coming days so you can see what I mean.

Thanks for taking time to read this, and if you like it please leave a comment.  I am writing this blog for the benefit of others that want to know how I make some of my image, but unless I get feedback I don't know if anyone even cares :-)

Friday, March 12, 2010

From The Black

The shot for today is another one from the catalog shoot I did for Daria Karaseva. I find this one interesting even though several things are "technically" wrong with it.  However, I really like the expression and pose for this model and love what the mistakes add to the image.

Ok, so the first questions is what is wrong with this picture?  Well, the major "flaw" is the fact the light isn't going completely into her eyes.  It is hitting the iris, but not very much, so it is not ideal in the minds of many.  However, I choose not to use a reflector in this shot simply because I like the "smokey" look in her eyes with this light source.  I also removed much of the outline created around her arms by the back light because I wanted her to fade into the background but still wanted the effect of the light in the hair.  Normally when using a beauty dish in this type of a configuration you would put a reflector under the model's chin (or waist in this case), to carry some of the light back into the eyes.  However, I really like the "single light look" on this shot, so I didn't do so.

For the key light, I used an AlienBee AB800 attached to their white 22" beauty dish and a 30 degree grid.  It is positioned about 1' over her head and about 1' in front of her.  The stand was so close I had to remove it in post, as it was in the shot.  I love the grids that you can get for this light, pity they are almost more expensive that the dish itself.  However, they are a great investment so I encourage those of you that like this type of modifier to bag them.

This was shot at ƒ11.  Why such a high f-stop?  Well, this shot is in the middle of the floor in a large room.  Behind her is a pile of junk against a wall, and I didn't want to dig out some black background when one isn't needed.  To put it another way, if we look at the ambient exposure of the room, it is black at ƒ11 and 250th of a second (my top sync speed without cheating).  So, if I expose the model at ƒ11, there should be nothing in the background that will be exposed because the grid on the light is not allowing the junk to be exposed.

Behind the model is one of my Nikon SB-800 speedlights modified with one of my trusty cereal-box-snoots to expose her hair.  That light was at 1/4 power or so, and is about the same exposure as the front light.  I did have to attach a radio trigger to this light, as the SU4 mode (slave), was not going to see the key light because of the grid.

Post processing was done quickly in Lightroom and Photoshop and basically involved a curve and a slight pop in contrast.  I also put a mask over her hair and pumped up the clarity to really bring out the details there. There is also a layer set to the Screen mode and masked to pop the jewelery.  I did this in a somewhat random way on the bracelet to give it a bit of a glare.  The opacity was reduced afterwords to something reasonable.

Hope this was a helpful post.  Please let me know if I am heading the right direction.  You can click on the image to see a much larger view.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Daria Karaseva Editorial Shot

This is one of the editorial shots I did for Daria Karaseva's fall line of formal dresses.  Lighting was not restricted creatively for the editorial photos, so I went a little nuts as I wanted something with some nice contrast and some additional details.  There is no real post processing on this image other than a white balance and a bit of a curve as I find all digital cameras take shots that are a bit on the flat side.

Main light is a large softstrip on an AB800 at ƒ8.  I think this is one of my favorite lights.  It is a HUGE beast of a modifier, probably over 6' tall and a little over 1' wide.  The cloth grids that are available cost more than the modifier itself, so I simply go without it.  This is a Norman modifier, not one from Paul C. Buff.  I do plan to buy the Buff one soon though, as his folding stuff rocks and is very well built for the price.


Camera left and behind the model (just out of frame) is a Nikon SB-800 with a straw gel on it, firing at 1/4 power.  There is also a snoot on this to restrict highlight to her arm area and a bit of hair, just to pull her out of the background darkness a bit.  I make my snoots from cereal boxes, and then reinforce them with gaffers tape.  That way I can destroy them or cut them up in the field without much concern.  Thanks to Strobist David Hobby for that tip (and a whole lot more).  So, why use a speedlight here?  Well, after I had the shot setup, I decided I needed to add a little pop, and I was not going to drag out another light just to see if my thoughts were sane.  Another reason I love speedlights is they deploy very quickly on these super tiny stands I keep in a gym bag.  2 minutes later the light is up and working as expected.  At 1/4 power, it fired all day without an issue.

Behind that light and far camera left (actually against the back brick wall) is an AB1600 at full power up very high (10' or so) with 2 full cuts of CTO partially over the reflector and pointed at the wall camera right (obviously).  I only secured the gel over 1/2 of the light, as I wanted so white mixed in with the dark yellow.  Again, this was done to add interest, but not enough to draw the eye away from the dress which is the focus of the shot.  All of this was triggered by pocket wizards as my cyber commander did not want to cooperate due to a firmware bug (that has since been resolved).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spherical Considerations


A work based on a photo I took last weekend. I wanted to communicate motion as well as beauty. The model, background, and some of the bubbles should give one a sense of motion across the image. I desaturated this because the model has fair skin and I really like how it worked with the dress. I also feel the lightness of the image is almost angelic and wanted to emphasize this.

2 lights were used and triggered via Cyber Commander
AB800 into a 22" beauty-dish about 4' from the model and 2' over her head in line with camera and directed at her shoulder, not her head. I also didn't use the reflector on it, so this is not behaving like a typical beauty-dish, more like a big reflector because the strobe is directly illuminating her, but the light coming from the side of the tube is being reflected out of the dish at the subject.

Camera left there is another AB800, but this one is shooting into a small soft-strip with only the outer diffusion material in place. The inner baffle was removed (I don't typically use them as I like a bit more specularity). Both lights were metered at ƒ5.6 or so from the CC.

Obviously the background was added later, and I did this mostly to add a mystical nature to the image.  Using a variety of blending modes I was able to "blow-out" the details in some areas and create a very bright feeling.  I also did this with the bubble over the martini glass, to draw the eye to that part of the image.  Blending modes are a key to getting a foreground object to blend perfectly into a background without having to create some extremely complex mask.

I also desaturated the image considerably while simultaneously adding brightness to the model's skin and dress.  I am a big fan of desaturated and really like the subtly of color.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Kicking It Into Gear

The image I wanted to discuss today was one from a catalog shoot I did for Daria Kavasera, who designs wonderful high-fashion dresses.  I was working with two of her dedicated models as well as her regular team of hair and make-up people.

Posing the models was quite easy, as both of them have much experience in Daria's outfits, so there wasn't much to watch out for there.  I am a big fan of the ring and middle fingers being together, or nearly so, as it helps keep the hands looking feminine.  Again, that might be a bit over-the-top, but I am a detail lover so I like these kind of little touches.

In the above image we have 3 lights working to create the photo.

1) Fill Lighting is used to adjust the amount of contrast we want between the bright side of the face, and the shadow side.  In most female models and images like this, we want some, but not a ton.  If you have to much the image takes on a darker mood, and that isn't the goal with this series.  In this photo, the fill light is a huge octabank that was placed in front of the model and pretty much on axis with the camera.  This could have easily been a large white sheet with a light shooting though it as well.  In this case it was an AlienBee 800 set to ƒ5.6 (metered at the model).

2) Key Lighting was provided via a large softbox and AlienBee 1600 at camera left.  It was metered at ƒ8 and was tilted 45 degrees clockwise so the spill was directed a bit further to the right than it would have been in normal position.  I love the fact you can rotate the softbox.  A lot of people don't use this feature, and once you figure out you can do some nifty things with it, you will want to use it more often.  A great example is when you do a portrait.  You want to be sure to not expose the ear on the light side as much as the face.  My turning the softbox, you can feather the light that falls on the ear and solve the problem!

3) Rim Lighting was a small stripbox with a 40 degree cloth grid placed on the outer diffuser of the box.  This was done to prevent the light from falling on the background.  The client really wanted a gray background, so spill needed to be controlled.  The rim light was also metered at ƒ5.6 and was positioned a bit high to keep the lighting off the floor.

As always comments are welcome and let me know if you found any of this interesting.  I will post a few more in the coming days and if interest is there I will keep them coming.

-sed