Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Waiting For Morpheus

final image

This image was shot on location in Edgerton, Wisconsin, which I mentioned before is very close to the edge of the Earth (pun intended) or at least that is how it seems.  The fourth floor of this old building had an interesting attic as well as a few pieces of furniture that had been lovingly abused and left to die next to an old freight elevator. This image is a few years old, and like much of my older work I really don't care for it much these days.  I had also written about this image in the past, but took more time to explain myself this go-around.  Some great lighting and posing lessons can be learned from it, so here we go.

I found this old couch that had some amazingly ugly pattern adorning its aged form.  It squatted in the corner of the room and I decided it would really complete the image that was slowly taking shape in my head.
One of the places I dream I could someday shoot is in the hotel from The Matrix where Neo goes to meet Morpheus for the first time.  The grunge and textures of that place were simply amazing, and a wall in this room, combined with this decrepit Davenport really brought that place to the forefront of my mind.  Yes, I actually just used the word "Davenport" and I am not over 50.  Do I get points for that?

Posing The Model
I asked Victoria to relax and sit as if waiting for her visitor to arrive.  The cigarette was added to give the image a bit more interest than just making this a shot of a pretty woman in a grungy space.  I didn't have her look at the camera, as this image assumes she is alone and engaging the viewer would ruin the mood.  When you are posing your model, consider if you feel the image would be stronger with a direct connection to the viewer, or more of a voyeuristic feel if they are not looking at the camera.  I do have one major regret with this image, and that is the whites of her eyes are owning me here.  I should have had her look more to her right, but oh well.  This is an image long since past, and some lessons can still be learned from it.

Lighting The Scene
image straight out of the camera
I wanted to focus the light on the model of course so we need a key that can show off her lovely form, but not illuminate the entire ugly space.  The wall behind this couch is perfect, but the rest of the room is far from ideal, so we really want some aggressive falloff which mean the lights need to be close to the subject.  The further your light is from the subject the longer it will take for the light to fall off (inverse square law).

To achieve this I used a 22" beauty dish with a 30 degree grid.  It was just above the model and just out of the frame.  The grid restricted the beam of light perfectly so the entire sofa was lit, but not much beyond that.  This single light looked pretty good on its own, but I felt we could really pop the texture on the wall with another light.  Unfortunately all of the lights were to large to fit into the small space, so I grabbed one of my trusty Nikon SB-800 speedlights and placed it behind the couch pointing up at the wall.  I did have to grid this strobe as well, otherwise it would have illuminated the entire wall, and I was wanting more of a "halo" type of lighting just behind Victoria.  After fiddling with the speedlight I decided to add a blue gel to work in a bit of color and interest to the wall that could juxtapose her skin color.  In the end we ended up with these two lights for the scene, and I was very happy with the image right out of the camera.

Post Production In Photoshop
Photoshop didn't break much of a sweat with this image.  Her skin is already looking great, and aside from the removal of a few shiny spots on her cheek and nose, I didn't have much correction on her to do.  To remove the shine, I used the clone stamp tool set to "darken" and just sampled from another area that was not shiny.  I did this on another layer, and lowered the opacity until it was believable and didn't appear to be retouched, yet accomplished the intended goal of glare removal.  Note that you don't have to sample from the same area of the body.  I use her chest as the sample as there was a lot more skin available for sampling there and the blending mode with eventual fade won't make this detectable.  Don't get caught in the trap of thinking you must always sample from around the area needing help.  However, be aware that pores in different areas are unique, and forehead is not the same as cheek, so due check for texture issues if you do collection the sample from an alien location.

The cigarette in the shot was interesting for sure, but was not really making the scene happen as intended.  I spliced in a photo of a burnt cigarette to the business end of the carcinogen-stick and then added some smoke.  I set the layer of smoke to "screen" and lowered the opacity a bit.  I didn't really intend for the smoke to be super realistic as much as I wanted it to help set a mood.  I am quite happy with the end product even if some consider it very fake looking.  Sure, I could have had the cigarette lit when I took the shot, but I can't stand the smell, and it would also have been another variable to add to the complexity of lighting the scene.  If I didn't like the smoke shape, but loved everything else, I would have to do a lot more work.  This way I can do whatever I want with the image I selected.

After my small adjustments to the composition and a bit of dodging and burning the wall behind her to bring out the texture, I played with the black point and added a curve to help contrast.  I also desaturated the image quite a bit, as again color in this scene would look odd to me.

Total time in Photoshop was around 20 minutes.

Camera Settings
As requested by one of the readers the camera settings are as follows:
Shutter was 250th (Nikon Max sync speed), and ƒ5.6.  ISO was 200 which is the Nikon default. 
You will find these settings are fairly common with my work.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Keeping It Simple

Final Image - Keeping it simple
I forgot how long it had been since I had written new articles (aside from my recent spurt), wow, it has been a while, and WOW my old images suck!

Staring at the blog and trying to think of which images to cover next made me realize my style/taste has changed a TON in just a year.  Many of my older images (and those covered by earlier articles), are just awful to me now.  Sure, I learned some valuable lessons from those that hopefully I have passed along, but many of them I no longer have a fondness for.  Be that as it may, I will leave them up as the lessons are still worthy, even if I now hate the resulting composition.

In any event, as I look at my library, there are a few time-worn images that offer-up a worthy lesson (and also don't suck as much).  This one is a solid example from 2011 with less suck, and less... everything.

Today is a lesson in simplicity.  Keeping images simple yet interesting is a balance I often try and achieve when shooting certain styles, and in this case, a focus on fashion.  Now, I have shot fashion on location and some awesome places add a lot to the image, but when you want the focus on the dress, it often works out better in a more generic environment than in a busy one.  If you are constructing art, then the opposite may be true, but it all depends on your style as well as what the picky ass client might want (right or wrong). In this case we are striving for simple yet artistic, and I want to find that fine line between the two.  A blank wall is unacceptable as well as not a differentiator (more on that later), so we want to find the middle ground between interesting art and a blank wall.

Posing The Model

I prefer poses for fashion where the model isn't looking at the camera.  You also want to find the aspects of the outfit that are the "star of the show", and feature those.  In this case, I like the shoulder details as well as the bun-hugging abilities offered by this fabric.  It was then a simple matter of finding a pose featuring those aspects as well as her not looking at the camera.  Now, those are not rules, just my preference.  I have shot fashion where the model is engaged with the viewer, but it isn't often my preference.  Keep in mind when you do shoots to have the model look at the camera as well as away from it, so you have options later.  I used to regret not getting a specific shot, but learning the hard way sucked and now I get a variety.  Look at me, look down your body-line (especially when shooting lingerie), look at that light stand, look at the floor, etc.  Keep it in a rotation so you get some of each from the unique poses.  When you do this, also keep an eye on the catchlights (pun intended) so the eyes get some sparkle if they will be seen in the final image.

Lighting The Scene

Thrilling Lighting Diagram
In this thrilling lighting diagram we see we have three total lights with which to fiddle.  In reality, this is a simplistic way to light most scenes and is a great default when you are in doubt and in a panic state in front of a client.  In a spectacular fail in labeling my lights here, I would like to start with C, our Key Light.  It is the workhorse for the majority of the photons we are throwing at the model and is gridded for no particular reason.  I think I had it on there from a previous session, and there was no reason to remove it.  Normally we would have a grid on here to prevent the background from getting hit, but because of the angle here, the light would hit it regardless of the grid.

Both A and B play the same role, but from different sides of the scene.  Their goal is to "sculpt" the model with light and help all of the 2 dimensional mediums (print, screen, whatever) appear to be more 3D.  Without these lights, the scene is pretty flat and boring, boring, boring.  Adding rim lights is a great way to add some zing.  If you don't have rim lights consider using a reflector to bounce some light back in, or use the sun!  I rarely use the sun as a key light, as it makes some wickedly sharp shadow unless you diffuse it with something.  But as a rim light, it is ready to go, but you might need to increase your shutter speed to get it to a reasonable level of brightness.

Post Production In Photoshop

There is very little in the way of post production here, which I guess is the point of the article.  However, what we do add takes it to a different level of image.  

As a photographer, it is what makes your work unique that helps you get noticed and hopefully hired.  Had I left her on the gray background, I think I would be in the same ballpark with hundreds of other people who have a white wall.  But, by making a mask and adding in this hand-painted texture, as well as a minor tone adjustment, I have taken this image to another level.  The question is, how many other photographers would have even bothered?

When tackling some of these images in post production, think of what you can do to make your work stand-out from the crowd, and not take the lazy road.  However, also keep in mind you also have to make yourself equal before you make yourself unique.  If your lighting is awful, no amount of Photoshop will save you.