Thursday, March 31, 2011

Making Friends The Hard Way


Being a fan of the unusual often wins me the chance to take photos that no one else would probably approach.  Around the end of last year we had a body painting extravaganza and one of the suggested themes was the Frankenstein type of stitched-together person.

Out of the camera this image is pretty decent, but it really lacks depth and storytelling, as as it is now it makes for a somewhat disturbing glamor shot.





Lighting The Image
This image was lit by two lights:

A 22" beauty dish with a 30 degree grid on it.  This was positioned directly over her face.

A strip softbox with a cloth grid  was camera left and a little behind her.  This is the "boob" light as it will cast the desirable shadow in the cleavage as well as add a rim light to help her be more three dimensional.

The goal of the grids is to keep the background from being overly illuminated and control fall-off of the light.  I much prefer to shoot on a gray background than on white because of the "splash" of light that bounces back onto the model from a white sweep.  Because I often composite my images with others, that annoying splash can make the transition quite noticeable.

The image was shot at ƒ5.6, 250th at ISO 200, which is very typical for much of my studio work.  The recycle time on my lights at ƒ5.6 is very quick and the depth of field is plenty deep to keep the model in focus.  I shoot my Nikkor 70-200mm ƒ2.8 for most of my work.  I LOVE this lens because it is super sharp and allows me to work from a distance to keep distortion to a minimum as well as shoot on a relatively small background because of perspective compression.  I can explain that in depth if there are those that don't understand what I mean by all that gibberish.  Ask questions in comments and I can address them.

For those interested I use Paul C. Buff Einstein's for my studio lights and modifiers.  Occasionally there will be a rogue Norman or a Speedlight in there as we have some around the studio, but since I much prefer the Einsteins.

Posing The Model
As far as the story should go, we have a woman that has been sewn together from the parts of others.  Having her be cheery and happy would be out of character.  The sad and forlorn look is much more in character.  Also, we need to sexy this lady up a bit, so I dropped the shoulder straps to show off her chest and paint job therein.  Not much more to say here as the pose will work with the story we need to complete.  I do have a ton of other shots from this brief session that are awesome, but the pose here really made it work over the others.  I prefer this one because she was not looking at the camera.  I find that engaging the camera is often nice, but just as often I don't desire this.  I suggest you balance your session and be sure to get some of each as you will kick yourself if what you really needed you didn't bother to shoot.

Note that I made sure to show off as much of the body-painters work as possible as they will probably want this for their portfolio.  Always keep in mind the make-up, hair, wardrobe, etc and the needs they have  when you are shooting.  I often shoot closeups of make-up just to be sure those people can walk away with something at the end of the day.  I find it rude when someone is only shooting full body shots of a model and isn't concerned about the fact the details added by make-up will be to small to be appreciated.

Post Production In Photoshop
Well, we have quite a bit of work to do, so lets get to it.

First thing we need to do is to correct any issues with the model.  This might include liquification of arms, abs and so on.  Kristen does not have any issues there, so we can skip by this step.  I did adjust her hair position a bit but not much.  While we are focused on the model, take this time to fix any complexion issues weird wrinkles and so on.  One of the main things I use liquify on is armpits.  The folds of skin there can often lead to the dreaded "armpit vagina", so posing is important or you will have to deal with it later.  Liquify allows you to fix that area, but it is a ton of work.

The next thing I needed was a room that worked with the lighting I used during the shoot.  I was able to find this shot of a hospital bed on the web.  Please note that if you use images they either need to be under the Creative Common's License or ones you have purchased or have permission to use.  Don't go stealing work, as I am sure you will be upset if someone did the same to you.

The photo of the room had some wacky light thing hanging from the ceiling, so I had to clone that out (using the aptly named clone stamp) and correct some of the drapes over the windows.  Once I had the background working I created a mask of Kristen so I could drop her into the image.  I use a lot of tools for extraction, but I don't use the Photoshop extraction tool as it makes me want to throw things.  I much prefer the masking tools and the new "refine edge" commands in CS5.

Now that I have the model in place over the background I make a copy of Kristen so I don't screw her up.  I then proceed to dodge and burn her image to match the lighting.  A great example here is the stool in the shot.  It should not be illuminated if the light from the window is to be believed.  Using the burn tools I darken this until it looks proper and believable.  It does not need to be perfect, as this is art dammit :-)  Note that I also used the dodge and burn tools above and below a few of the stitches on her body.  I did this because I figured the skin tones of the people used to assemble her would be unique.  I decided not to go overboard on this so it is subtle, but I feel it helps sell the idea and story.  In the end I also added shading around the perimeter of the room to bring the focus to the middle.  This is known as a "vignette" and is actually undesirable in the optical world, but it can help with focusing the eye in specific areas of the scene.

My final step is to get the colors of the two images to be somewhat similar.  At this time I also decided on the final tone of the image and greenish was the winner.  I selected it because of the somber feeling and almost sickly/solemn feeling it might give to the viewer.  Using a curves layer I adjusted the colors of both images independently until they were close.  I then added an adjustment layer of "photo filter" or whatever it is called (looks like a little camera).  That was used to add a tone to the entire image and resolve any minor differences that might have been present after my tone curves.

For the final touch I added a hue/saturation adjustment layer and dropped the saturation of the entire image.  The happy red of her dress needed to be not-so-damn-happy.

As always a "Like" s much appreciated using the Facebook button at the top of this page.  Comment if you have questions or just want to say "hi" :-)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Said The Spider To The Fly

We have some very unique places to shoot in our studio, being that it is a nearly 100 year old abandoned factory.  One of those places is an old tool-crib.  For those of you that don't know, a tool crib is where factory employees can beg for expensive tools at a service window in order to do their job properly.  The goal of the crib is accountability for that costly saw and its expected return when the worker is done hacking things in half. 

However, all this tool crib has to offer these days is a plethora of spiderwebs!  Yup, and along with those webs come a ton of the little creepy workers as well.  In some places they are so thick they are almost opaque.  I guess that is what you get with 20 or so years of letting them run the place.

We do rent the studio if you are ever in the Milwaukee/Racine area, please let me know and we can make some arrangements for you to test your arachnophobia.

Posing The Model
The model today is actually one of the hair dressers I had with me, but because all of the models were making squeeling noises, she volunteered to be in the shot.

Basically I was looking for something that really worked the creepy factor.  Lots of poses come to mind, and I am sure I will get in more shots of this space in the future.  I was actually there this weekend, but we decided to play in an old power room filled with valves and forgo this for a day when the model isn't making high-pitched noises at the thought of entering the room.

This pose was a "come here" type of pose.  Because she had on a little-girl type of dress, we went with it reminiscent of something one might see in The Shining.  I would like to note that this room is HUGE, in there are probably 8 halls like the one in the image, so I am not really doing the space any favors with this tight crop, but then the space is holding the subject, not the other way around.

Lighting The Scene
In this case, I used a ƒ2.8 24-70mm lens (racked out to 70mm) and mounted this on a tripod.  The overhead lights were plenty bright and the "raccoon" under the eyes we normally try and avoid is making my neck-hairs stand on end, so we went with it and didn't add anything else.  Yes, the model had to stand damn still, but I think the exposure was around 1/30, so very attainable without pushing ISO up very far (I avoid that at all costs).

Post Production & Photoshop
OK, now is where the fun begins.

The initial image isn't bad, and that is always the goal of course.  If you can shoot it, do so.  Don't use the "well, I will just fix that in Photoshop" excuse if you don't have to.  No one likes additional work later when you can take a moment and fix it at the point it is taken.

My first issue is always color balance and I am looking for something on the *old* side, so yellow it will be.  Adding a huge adjustment layer we can mess with this color as often as we feel the need as we continue to develop this creepy visage.

The model didnt' really have any cosmetic issues, and from this distance if she did they would not be readily visible anyway.  We can pretty much blow past that and get onto the lighting.

The image is under exposed as far as I am concerned.  The center point of the image is of course our pretty lady and we really need to get her up to snuff.  The easiest and most non-destructive method to fix this to do this is a curve adjustment layer set to the screen blending mode.  I could have increased the ISO to get the proper exposure, but I also would have done damage to the exposed areas where now I have more control.  In the end the image will be textured anyway, but at least I can make decisions about what I want blow out. 
This curve-screen method is my favorite because it does not increase the image size as much as a copy of the layer set to screen.  Plus we also get the benefit of the curve in case we want to adjust the overall adjustment.

Once that layer is in place I might go in and mask out areas that are overly bright.  Remember a mask can be added to about any layer and is automatically put in place for adjustment layers.  Just paint black on the mask and it will block out the effect from that area.  You can also paint shades of gray if you only want a partial effect as well.  In this case I had a 20% black brush and painted on the mask over areas to remove the effect (darken), and in some cases I would go over an area several times.

Next I wanted to add a texture to add some age as well as another level of detail.  Again, if you don't already own The Fly Paper Textures, just go get them now.  I can't tell you how often I use these, and many of my future images also utilize one or multiple images from this awesome set.

I choose one of the textures from the set and set it to overlay blending mode.  I then used the mask on that layer to remove the texture from areas like the models face.  I also took the dodge and burn brushes and proceeded to bring out more of the concrete texture on the floor.  The area behind the model was also lightened to "bring her forward" and increase the contrast and focus for the overall image.

Questions, comments, witticisms, criticizes, heresies, or fallacies?  Please leave me a comment.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Inverted With Pearls

I don't often do glamor shoots, but I do find they are a lot easier than most of the things I attempt and they do keep one sharp on some of the basics of lighting and retouching.  In fact, from a lighting perspective they are often very challenging as one as to take extra time to "sculpt" the model with the light because they are always self conscious about something.  That in itself cracks me up, as these beautiful women always think their boobs are too small, too large, lopsided, whatever.  Of course this has quite the level of entertainment value, but also gives you a lot of clues on how they should be lit and for that you really need to pay attention.

Posing The Model

In this shot I wanted something a little more interesting then her just standing there looking pretty.  So, I had her leaning backwards over a stool.  I thought this did nice things to the hair and also gives us a unique view across the chest.  The pearls were added to give you something to look at .

Lighting The Model
There are a lot of books that go into great detail on how to light people.  Basically you have to hide the stuff they don't like in shadow or by using their own body to obscure the view, while you simultaniously highlight the things they do like.  One of my favorite rules is, "keep the rack away from the key light".  Meaning, don't point the chest at the key light or it will flatten the chest.  You want shadows there, and you are not going to get them if you have the light heading right at them.  Rim lights do a wonderful job in the chest area as they can help highlight or shadow depending on the pose.  This is a huge mistake I see from beginner photographers, as they are trying to light everything evenly and you don't want that!

OK, so now that we have that rant out of the way I wanted to use Rembrandt style of lighting on her face for this shot.  You can tell it is Rembrandt (modified loop), by the triangle of light under her eye camera right.  I used three softboxes on this shot, one on the right for a rim light, one of the left for a rim, and the key was just outside of the frame camera left. The rim lights are barely on, and I could have shot this with one light quite easily, but I already had them in place for another scene so I just used them since they were there.

Powerful Yet Dangerous

I take the time to ask the model what they are self conscious about, but I also take into consideration what I think is attractive and find a balance.  Justine here doesn't have any issues of which I am aware (and I did ask).  She is just a happy and attractive young woman and is open to all my strange ideas in the hopes of becoming a professional model someday.

However, a word needs to be said here on the power the photographer has to really screw up in a big way, and I don't mean from a photo perspective. 

People all have feelings, and you don't know all the specifics going on in their heads.  They might be near the brink of a break-down and the last thing they need is a shot that makes the look fat, flat-chested, or fugly.  If they get shots from you that deflate them personally you can really wreck someone's day, or even worse be the straw that broke the camel's back.  I read an awful article a few years ago about a woman that turned to modeling to help her gain self confidence as she was in a personal slump.  The photographer was a "friend" that had a camera, and he sold her on the idea of taking some images to show her how attractive she was.  In the end her shots were so bad they affirmed what she was already feeling.  Of course she became even more depressed and nearly committed suicide.

I realize that story is pretty awful, but it does illustrate an important point in that your images are not just your best attempt to make a model look good, as their might be more at stake they you realize.  In this case the photographer could have also had the opposite effect and really made her feel good about herself.

Photographers have a HUGE effect on the self confidence of the model!

Take time to talk to the model about what they want from the shoot and where they might feel they have issues you want to downplay with pose, light, and shadow.  I would rather tell the model all the photos were destroyed than deliver any image that makes them look poor, and then offer to re-shoot at my expense. 

If you are just getting started working with models take time to work with an experienced model as they already know how to pose themselves and can actually help you quite a bit.  I know I learned a lot early on while working with some experienced folks, and this was a lot smarter move that I realized at the time.

Sorry for the depressing subject there, but I felt the need to toss it in here as it is important and is something you might never have considered.  But consider it or not, it is still there.

Photoshop & Post Production
Post production here is basically retouching the skin using the healing brush and dodge and burn tools.   I should point out that I prefer the older version of the healing brush where you need to designate the source area.  I prefer this control to the new one that makes a pretty good guess 80% of the time.
Dodge and Burn were used to even skin tones in areas but they also don't remove or alter the texture.

Once I had the image where I wanted it, I added a few lens blurs to the image to put more of the focus on the face and finally sharpened the eyes for the final touch. 

Total time to finish the image was around 30 minutes.