Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lady On A Blue Chair

I would make a lousy goth.  However, I still have an appreciation for this look, but really only on women.  Men just can't seem to pull off the eye-liner and other aspects without looking... well, weird.  At least on the female species the goth look has an enduring appeal to me, probably because you can really bend the images into the realm of the surreal and they still work.

So, today we are going to do exactly that.  We are going to take an image of a lovely Gothic model I have known for quite a while now named Jen.  We have a great location in a building with several wrecked rooms and lots of texture.

Posing Our Gothic Model
Poses with models can be fun and yet frustrating.  A solid knowledge of anatomy is a great plus here, and can really help you position the body so the most flattering things fall into place.  We want a sexy pose, but not one that is over the top.

I am a big fan of "un-lady-like" poses on my models, but they must be positioned in a way as to not really make the position super revealing.  We want sexy, not an anatomy lesson.  Use of shadow as well as props and "cookies" are your tools to turn a photo from nearly pornographic to highly suggestive.  The term "cookie" is short for cookaloris, and it is basically something that you put between the light and the model to add some variation or mottling to the light falling on the subject.  Those fake Ficus trees make great cookies :-)  In our example today Jen is sitting in a very sexy way, backwards on this chair.  We want to be sure we have some shadow fall between her thighs to really frustrate your typical male viewer.  The other aspect of this pose is making sure we pop the muscle in the upper inner thigh (Abductor Longus), otherwise the flat of the leg will rest on the chair seat like a balloon full of water (not good).  There easy way to do this is to have the model lift her leg slightly as well as push forwards on the knee.  To compound this, we want a nice calf, so she will have to push her toe into the floor.  They say if a pose is difficult it will look spectacular on film.  In this case I am very pleased with the left leg and the effort that was put into it.

Creative Portrait Lighting
We have a lot of texture in the room in which we are shooting.  I found this chair in another room and after some considerable dusting of the seat it was acceptable to her buns.  I want to light this pose in a dramatic way, so we will not be using anything to soften the light.  I choose to use one of my AlienBee AB800s with a 15 degree grid, mounted on a boom.  We are using the grid to control the spill to the rest of the room and confine the areas exposed to the local region of the floor and the wall behind her.  The light is almost directly over her head, and that will give us the shadows we need to keep the picture sexy but not overly revealing.  I metered this at ƒ5.6 at the models face and triggered it with my CST radio transmitter.

Post Production
Alrighty, now for the part where using a gothic model pays off.  We can mess with this image in the harshest of ways and the model will probably love it (turned out to be true in this case anyway).

I loved the textures of this room, so we want to really compound them into the realm of the surreal.  Most of the retouching for this image will be in camera RAW, and then into photoshop for some masking and any other little goodies that remain.  As to not wreck your chance to expirament I will not be giving you my exact camera RAW settings for this image, but I will give you some hints so you can discover your own look.  First load the image into Photoshop as a smart object, and use "Create New Layer via Smart Object Copy".  You must use this otherwise your other smart object layers will follow suit.  We will then double click on the smart object icon on the layers palette on the upper layer.
  • Clairity:  PUSH it to the right.  Don't look back, take it to 100%
  • Fill Light: Push it all the way to 100%
  • Recovery: Flattens the light, but also adds some bizarre effects
  • Vibrance: Amplifies the effects of Saturation
  • Saturation: What if this isn't normal?  what would vibrance do then?  Hmm? Play with the combination.
  • Curve: Always add a slight curve to digital images, they are always a bit flat for me.
Ok, so once I have my settings making the background all awesome and gritty, the model looks like crap.  So, we need to take and mask this newly gritty layer to exclude the model.  Now, there are places on her where the effect might be nice, so paint the model out, don't paint the background in (depends on if you start with a 100% masked layer or a 0% masked layer).

The rest of the work is basically retouching anything on the model.  I did add a bit of the above gritty layer to show through on her necklace as well as the top of her thigh (both at a lower opacity on the mask).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Babe In The Breeze

It is always easier to create a great piece of photographic art if you have a solid image on which to base the work.  This is in fact the case with the image we will be discussing today.  Most people would probably just call the original image "good enough" and move on.  However, I think we can squeak out a few more bits of interest to finish off the photo.  Now, this is of course a matter of personal preference. I can almost always find something I would like to "improve" later, but this is subjective and directly effected by the consumption of good scotch.

Lighting Setup
Today we are working again with my trusty AlienBees.  We have a large softbox to camera left with a powerful AB1600 mounted about 5' away from the model (about 45 degrees in front and to the right).  I have it so the center of the softbox is about shoulder height compared to the model.  It is also angled slightly downward to make the most of the light coming from the highest point on the box.  I have removed the inner baffle to make the light a bit more specular (edgy), cause I like it that way and for no other reason :-)

To camera left we have another AB1600 with no modifier on it other than the default reflector that comes with the light.  I am not a huge fan of this reflector, but it does what it is supposed to do reasonably well.  I have this light up pretty high (3' over the model) and angled down toward her mid-section it is also slight behind her.  Since this rim light is not being controlled by a grid or other means, it will spray light everywhere, but I am cool with that here as I don't care about the background.  I also have a silver reflector camera left to add a bit of fill to keep the contrast in check.

There is no background light, as we will have all we need to illuminate the background enough for me to be satisfied for whatever end processing we care to do later.  I tend to shoot on white rather than green or blue even thought I plan to pull the model out of the photo.  I don't care for the subtle tones left from these chroma-key background, but I do use them from time to time just for variety.  They do make life easier for removal of the model, but there always seems to be a tone left on the photo that bothers me.

Posing the model
I have worked with Cambriea more than any other model to date.  She is easy going and understands that I don't just want a typical beauty shot.  I asked her for dynamic poses that will use a lot of space and really play to the rear light.  Remember my rule from other articles, "don't point the rack towards the key light!".  If the model does this, it will flatten their chest and leave no alluring shadows or highlights that really accent their curves.  On this image you can clearly see we have succeeded in this goal.  I am also using a big fan that is just out-of-frame camera right.

Post Processing with Photoshop
Overall the original image is fine.  The lighting is interesting and the model has nothing that needs to be fixed like pimples, bruises or anything else that one might find distracting.

Most of you that know me have probably noticed I prefer desaturated images.  For the most part this is true, although every so often an image is screaming for something different.  When I start on many of these for post production I have an idea of where I want it to go, but often the image will tell me what works and what doesn't.  Today is one of those rate images where saturation of color is the proper recipe.
  1. Well, I screwed up when I took the image and cut off a bit of her shirt that just caught the fan when the shutter clicked.  As a rule you should always leave yourself room to crop later, but in this case the fan added a bit of an unpredictable snag to my otherwise highly organized and completely predictable life (if you believe that, I have some land for sale).  I simply copied the layer and moved the entire thing to the right a bit and then used the Liquify tool to pull on the end of the shirt.  This was enough to make the thing look believable, so I moved on.  Note I also flatten the image at this point as I have no need to keep these two layers around anymore.
  2. The next I did here was add a Brightness/Contrast layer and add a tweak this a bit as I think most digital camera images are a bit flat to start with.  I will also set this layer to "soft light" to punch the image and bump up the colors.  Note that I could have done this as two separate steps, but this single adjustment layer does both and helps keep the image small.
  3. After we have corrected the brightness and contrast we can really move on to the background, as their isn't much more to do with the model.  However, by the time I am done here she will have one more layer.
  4. The background is blah, but I do like the brightness of the white.  So, I added a large "smear" of light from the left to the right with a large soft brush.  This works with the movement created by the fan but does not create anything distracting in the image.  This is a very subtle addition and this layer was set to "screen".  Note that one layer was not enough to stand out, so this layer was duplicated to double the effect.  Also, I did try other colors rather than white, and they were pretty cool, but I felt ultimately the white was the best for the overall image.
  5. Once I had all this done I decided to take the model a bit further with some insane saturation in her hair and jeans.  I added a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer and left the settings untouched but I did set the layer to "color dodge" and lowered the opacity quite a bit.  I also added a mask to this layer and then "painted" on this effect for the hair and jeans as well as a few places on her skin, which makes them brighter.  Normally highlights on the ridges of the arms and shoulder are desirable, so I accented them in this case.
Hope you enjoy the image, and if you have any questions, please feel free to post a comment.  Total time to complete ~20 minutes.

If you would like a copy of the Photoshop file for reference, I would ask for a $5 donation to help me fund my mad little hobby.  Use the button below, and if you do donate, please keep the file to yourself. Donations will appear as greenmartini.com my model and photography networking site.




Monday, May 10, 2010

I Dig Chicks With Swords

I can't really think of anyone outside of maybe those being eviscerated by Joan of Ark that don't dig a chick with a sword.  So, in celebration of the wicked combination I thought I would produce an image to commemorate this sexy duo.

Our model for today is the lovey Lacey and we will shooting in the dark recesses of the basement under my studio.  I have 12,000 sq/ft of dark spaces in which to play, even thought I often don't really illuminate this space, I love to use it for the mood it gives the model and myself while shooting.

Portrait Lighting Setup
This image is lit by two unique sources, an AlienBee AB1600 with a 22" white beauty-dish and a 15 degree grid as well as a Nikon SB800 Speedlight with a cardboard snoot.  These snoots are easy to make from either a spaghetti box or a cereal box.  If you cover them with gaffers tape they can be very durable and a cheap alternative to some of the other options on the market.

The AB1600 was placed directly overhead on a boom (3' above her cause I only have a 7' ceiling down here) and metered at ƒ/8.  The SB800 was placed camera left and was actually behind me quite a bit.  This was because I wanted the spread of the light to hit her face and illuminate the upper body and I was just not in the mood to cut the snoot down to size, so I moved it back for the same effect at the expense of power.  This was metered at somewhere just over ƒ/5.6 and was to be insurance we had light in the models eyes as well as a touch of ambient to bring her black outfit out of the darkness of the basement.


Posing The Model
I wanted to do something that was interesting and yet sexy.  I felt this partial draw and a unique stance would make for an interesting portrait.  We shot about 30 takes or so and was quite pleased with the results on the back of the camera, but was only able to keep 8 or so because of a trigger issue.

Cyber Commander Issue
I was having one hell of a time getting the speedlight to fire.  The basement was around 40 degrees and I am sure the model was getting cold.  So, I was replacing batteries as well as cords in an attempt to figure out why this thing would work just fine one minute, and then fail afterward.  I finally tracked this down to having another lighting setup upstairs and realized two of the receivers were on the same frequency.  Rather than fire both of them as one would surmise, the system becomes confused and fires 1 unit or none of the units based on the position of Mars or something magical.  So, a word to the wise, if you get this strange behavior happening you should check the channels of this awesome trigger.  I love these things, so these little surprises are not going to dissuade me from using them in the least.

Post Production / Photoshop Magic
As you can see from the unmodified image, this entire scene is a bit on the dark side.  In retrospect I should have probably moved the beauty-dish a bit forward and angled it in towards her face so I could illuminate more leg.  However, all is not lost as I think there is a lot of merit to the mistake in the great shadows and contrast here and we can easily bring back any lost details with some magic.

First thing I did was create a curve adjustment layer and set the blending mode to "soft light".  Even if you don't touch the curve at all, you will find the image a lot more exposed.  I use this trick over a duplication of the entire image because it keeps the file size small and we still get the benefits of the curve.  I did fiddle with the curve a bit to bring up some of the shadow while avoiding a blowout on the lighter parts of the image.

Next I created another curve adjustment layer and masked in her outfit and the sword.  I also set the mode of this layer to "soft-light" and ended up duplicating it to double the effect.

Returning to the base layer of the image I used the dodge tool to increase the exposure of the ground around her.  I am not at all concerned about how fake this might look, as I am not going for realistic here in the least.  I also love the gritty feeling the dodge and burn tools give to concrete, so I was all for this texture increase.

To finally round out the playful nature of the image I added the glimmer to the blade of the sword.  This was just a simple X shape with two layers set to different blending modes to make the light pop.  Sure it looks totally fake, but I love the hero/villain look and this was mandatory to that feeling in my opinion. 

As always, please take a moment to comment (even thought I know most of you won't). :-)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dear In Headlights

In several of my previous posts I have shown shots from the "Heavy Metal" shoot I did in the Green Bay area.  Today I want to cover another shot from this event and discuss the particulars that might be of interest to readers of this blog.

At the event they had this big yellow car (showing off my car knowledge here).  It was unique in that the color was this matte-metallic-yellow and it was pretty bulbous.  You car junkies can feel free to comment as to the car type if you would like.  My goal was to produce a CD type of album cover image and realism was not really in play so going over the top was encouraged.  First thing I needed was to find someone with shiny pants, and given the event, this was not difficult.  I also needed someone with a nice behind, which was also not difficult.  I totally lucked out with the addition of the fish-nets as I think the texture adds even more interest.

Lighting and Ambient Conditions
This factory had awful florescent lights all over the place, and they were not going to be useful.  So, in order to have a predicable color of lighting, we need to eliminate this awful greenish hue coming from above.  This is fairly simple as we just push our shutter speed to 250th (Nikon D300), and call it good.  Sure, we might see a bit in the background, but we are going to overpower whatever is left with our speedlights on the subject matter.

I lit this image with 3 SB-800 Nikon speedlights and a camera mounted Nikon SB-900 using the Nikon CLS system for triggering.  A very symmetrical layout with 2 on either side of the car (in-line with the model as you can tell by the shadow), and one in front on a boom over her head and in front of the camera.  The two speedlights on the sides have my trusty Lumiquest III softboxes attached to them.  I actually have permanent Velcro on 2 of the speedlights at all times because I use these so often.  The center speedlight had this nifty no-name 28" softbox on a boom arm.  This was to get her cheeks and the front of the car properly exposed as there won't be any ambient to speak of to help here (we eliminated that with the shutter speed).

Posing & Capturing The Image
Posing the model here was pretty simple but also subtle.  We need to be sure her hips are not square to the camera, as that will add pounds to anyone, and we all know how women love images that add weight.  Secondly we need to get her stance and arms wide to add power and impact to the image. If she didn't have her arms in such a wide gesture, the image would not have the same impact.  Her legs could have been together, but that would have a completely different look, and although very sexy, it isn't really what we need here.  I had her twist one ankle to help with the shifting of the hips and also had her push her toes into the floor to activate her calf muscles.  This normally happens when women wear heels, but if the are comfortable in them they might not be on their toes as much as they could be.  Doing this will add some nice tone to her great legs.

Post Production & Photoshop Work
First thing I need to do is mask out the boring background garage ceiling.  It isn't interesting and has that nasty glow remaining from the overhead lights.  Once this was done, now we can work on making things pop.  One of the first things I will do is add a curve adjustment layer and set it to "screen" blending mode.  This will instantly add a ton of brightness to the image and possible take it over the top.  You can lower the opacity or try "soft light" to dampen the effect.  I also played with the curve to add some additional contrast while being careful not to lose details in the pants.  Often I will add a curve adjustment layer and change the blending mode and not really play with the curve.  This is the equivalent of making a copy of the image to add a blending mode, but takes a lot less drive space and keeps the image manageable RAM wise.  However, if you have a curve, you might as well play with it and see if you can improve the image somehow.  Experiment with things, as you aren't going to break it but you might discover something new.

Once I had her nice and bright/contrasty I decided to work on the floor.  In this case I love the dodge and burn tools as they really pop the gritty feeling of the floor while adding the brightness I want here.  I also took a moment to add some lights to the celing.  This was just an image of a garage with copies of the lights and use of the perspective warp to get them to look realistic.  We don't really anticipate people looking at them with those cute buns on the page, but just in case we want to be sure the lights look real.  I also added a photo filter adjustment layer to the image to help tie the tonal range of the garage lights to the car and model.  This keeps things from looking weird and unbelievable.

For the final step I really thought the headlights being off looked pretty dead.  I fiddled with a lot of ideas here and even ventured to the should be avoided at all costs overused lens-flare tool at one point.  However, I regained my sanity and went with something a bit more comic-book in appearance since realism was not one of the goals.  This was a quick brush I created and applied.  I made the first pass with the brush quite large and then several more passes on new layers while decreasing the brush size and changing the blending modes to screen or hard-light.  In the end I feel I accomplished the goal of an over-the-top CD type of album cover and am pretty pleased with the image.

Feel free to be one of the RARE people that takes a moment to comment on what you thought of the article and the image.