Monday, March 18, 2013

Waiting to Prey

Final Image
Well it has been over a year, I finally decided to write a few more articles and see how this goes.  I was getting a lot of readers (I think), but very few comments, so I gave up.  If you are one of those readers and like this blog, take 30 seconds and leave a comment, as I spend hours on each article and need to know it is worth it.  So, don't just be a drive-by reader, show me a bit of love. :-)

Green Bay Fear

Each autumn I get a chance to travel to Green Bay, Wisconsin to a large car-show/haunted house event.  This annual photographers smorgasbord is put on by Green Bay Fear, who show us all a great time and put on a wonderful event.  Most of the time I avoid the automobiles, as they are parked right-on-top of each other and the event is packed with people who have a knack for photo bombing.  I find it hard to get a decent shot without some elderly guy strolling through my shot eating a brat, so I tend to work in the haunted house, which is more my style anyway.

Lighting The Image

When I am in Green Bay I always tend to use my Nikon speedlights rather than shlep all of my Einstein strobes along with me.  Aside from being lazy I often don't have the space to setup large strobes with their even larger stands.  Tiny speedlights on small stands tend to work better in confined spaces, who knew?

Normally I tend to avoid the exterior places around the haunted house, as it is typically cold outside this time of year, and I don't much care for the sun wrecking my lighting plans.  However, this past year we have some surprise time limits for each interior space, and that put a significant cramp in my style and mood.  On my first shoot for the day, I had just finished setting up my lights when I was told that it was time for me to move on to the next room. as the space was scheduled for a different shooter every 30 minutes (would have been nice to know ahead of time).  I decided at that point the sun and I would have to come to an agreement for the day.  I was not going to get along with this arrangement where I only had 30 minutes to be an artist in each interior space.

The model and I then wandered around the creepy sets they have planned outside of the building.  I would like to point out that I get to see this place during the day, and I am sure it is quite gripping at night, especially once you add all those actors that jump out and scare the patrons.

This little outbuilding we finally found nestled in the rear of the property had some great character and a lovely bench for us to use.  The sun was on the other side of the building, so it was providing some ambient, and that was about it.  I didn't want my poor speedlight to have to complete with that bad-boy.

On the speedlight I had a 12"x8" Lumiquest III softbox.  I have discussed these in the past, and they are great little modifiers, as they are small and collapse easily to fit into my tiny speedlight bag.  I placed this on a small light stand and put it camera left (A in the diagram), just out of the frame.  I wanted to keep this light as close to the model as possible so the fall-off is significant.  Remember, the closer the light is to the subject, the faster the light will fall-off in intensity.  Moreover, the closer the light, the softer the shadows will be, simply because the apparent size of the source will be larger because it is closer.  Now, she is young so her skin can take a harsher light source, so this diminutive softbox won't be her enemy.  I won't be shooting a grandma with this tiny modifier unless I want to really show off all those wrinkles (probably not good for repeat business).

Camera Settings & Lens Choice

  • Shutter Speed: 125th
  • Focal Length: 36mm at ƒ4
  • ISO 100
For this shot, I used my 24-70mm ƒ2.8 lens which normally lives in the bottom of my bag and seldom sees the light of day.  I don't prefer this lens because of the distortion, but in this case the look lends itself to a more dramatic image.  I normally don't like to shoot portraits with anything less than 85mm, but then again you have to be open minded when you are looking for something out-of-the-ordinary.  Try shooting a few portraits of the same person using a shorter focal length, and then with a longer one, and see what the differences are and what you prefer.  Note that you will have to move much closer to the subject with a wider lens, but that is why this starts to become problematic.  But hey, go ahead and give this a try, you might find your preference is different from mine (though I doubt it :-).

Posing The Model

This young woman is an accomplished model, so no real direction was needed.  I just worked with her and  got her into an ominous mood (call it a gift).  Giving the model a character to play makes posing much easier, and because her make-up lends itself to a specific genera, the rest was quite easy.  Note that getting low to the ground (laying on it actually), was critical to making this shot interesting.  We have some great texture on the ground, and the wide angle lens will really make the perspective pop.  Yes, I got dirty, but I lived.

Post Production in Lightroom 4 & Photoshop CS6

The image straight out of the camera
The image straight out of the camera wasn't a bad one.  It had good lighting (critical, 'cause you can't fix this later), and I liked the pose with the legs all akimbo.  The problems I had with the image were that the textures on the building were not as obvious as I would have liked them. There was also WAY to much red in this image for me, and specifically in her skin tone.  With her solid tan, and the make-up people loving their flake blood supply, I needed to desaturate things a bit. If you follow my work at all, you will notice that I tend to prefer muted colors, so get used to me saying things like "there is way to much color in this image".

In Lightroom I took a moment to bring up the lighting in the shadows just a bit, as I wanted to be sure I had no clipping there.  I wanted to have data in the darkest places if possible, as I want to be sure all of the textures will print well later on. I also removed a bit of the Vibrance from the image, but left the Saturation as it was.  The Saturation control in Lightroom is much more of a hammer than I needed for this specific job.  Vibrance tends to remove colors based on how prevalent they are in the image, so brighter colors are the first to die, which is exactly what I wanted here.

In Photoshop I added some Curve adjustment layers and created the brighter and more contrasty spots on the building.  I masked this effect so that it was only in the areas I preferred, and didn't brighten the entire image.  I don't tend to add a lens vignette to images but that same method of focusing the viewers attention can be done by manipulating elements in the image, such as this.  I did this by creating some curve adjustment layers and made things a LOT more contrasty and pushed this effect into the sides and corners of the image.  Again, I prefer this to be a more organic feeling vignette than the typical oval which I find over used by most photographers.  I have a strong opinion here, but then again you could probably guess that by now.  To add a bit more drama to this image, I took a very small round brush and added some additional wisps of hair to her bangs.  There were some already blowing in the light breeze that day, but I really wanted this to add more to the image than was originally present.

After I was finished with things like retouching skin and any other little things I couldn't do in Lightroom, I headed back to application for some final touches.  I added a bit of a split tone, as I like a bit of blue in my shadows and I wanted to remove a bit more of that color in her skin.  I also added a bit of clarity to the building and foreground.  A word of caution here; don't apply clarity to female skin, it looks awful, and also don't use the negative clarity, that sucks even more and has a very obvious look one can spot from a mile away.  I have seen attempts at skin smoothing using this sorry method, and I would tell you to avoid it as there are much better methods that don't suck.  Again, my strong opinion showing here where I see a lot of new photographers getting sucked into the ease of use and not the awful things it does to their images.

I don't sharpen my images, as I leave that for Lightroom to do based on the target medium.

Want to see more articles?  Tell me that this was worth my time, and don't just be someone that reads and never comments. ;-)

-sed