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.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Demonic Dagger

You know all those rules of posing you are supposed to follow?  Like, don't shoot women with their hips straight at the camera, keep all the weight on one leg, and don't talk to strangers with demon like eyes?  Well you can feel free to break those once you understand why they are in place, (have an abundance of holy water at hand for the last one).

Posing The Model

In this case, I wanted a strong and confrontational pose and with the hips to the side (normally done to reduce the width across the pelvis), the photo loses a lot of its might.  So I just skipped over that guideline and went for the punch rather than concerns about child bearing hip width.  Sure, some models might shed a tear or two, but Jane here can handle it.

A term you should get to know is "canoeing", where the bottom white of the eye is showing (makes a canoe shape connecting both sides of the sclera). Originally I didn't much care for this image, as the eyes bothered me for the aforementioned reason, and it only recently dawned on me that I could just paint over the eyes and rescue this photo from the unloved lifetime of my messed-up photo archive.

Lighting the Photo

thrilling lighting diagram
Lighting this image is simple enough with one large softbox, camera left.  It is almost directly to the side of the model, and you can tell this by looking at the lighting on the face.  The far side of her cheek is getting just a tiny kiss of light, where the rest is dark, so this is pretty much a split light.

The "glow" evident on her far shoulder is from the glare off of the white wall.  No reflector was used here as it would have bounced to much light back onto her side, and I wanted the drama.  Note that this softbox is gridded to prevent a ton of light from hitting the wall.  Controlling the spill from light modifiers is something I find myself doing on every image, as I don't want the background to distract from my subject.  If I want to light the background, I will typically do this with another strobe or two rather than use the spill from the key light.

Post Production In Photoshop

Much of the creepiness of this image is derived from the modified eyes.  To create this effect I simply used the pen tool and outlined her eyes, and then filled that selection with black.  I then took a white hard-ish brush and painted in where the catchlights ought to be.  I just used what was in her real eye as a point of departure here.  Also, if this effect is to sharp you will find that using a gaussian blur on that layer will help with the believability.  I kept the catchlights on a different layer from the black sclera until I had the eyes the way I wanted them.  I then merged them down to a single layer so I could work with the whole image.

I did end up using Liquify a bit to square her hips a slight amount, but otherwise she is pretty much untouched.  Once I had her shape finalized I used the quick selection tool to separate her from the background so I could add a texture and the glyph.  I played with the blending mode and transparency until I was happy with the result.  There are two textures applied here as well as the glyph, for a total of three additional layers.  Each has a different blending mode to augment what the previous layer brings to the table.

To help with the punch of the image, I created a 50% gray layer set to the Overlay blending mode.  On this I used a 2% white soft brush to add more highlights to parts of her body.  This increased the drama of the image, and I then used a black brush to do the opposite in the shadows.  Some of you may recognize this as the old method of doing a Dodge & Burn, as the original image layer is unmodified and I can just paint in 50% gray to fix any mistakes.  I do this step on all of my images to some degree.  This method was needed prior to Photoshop CS3, when the dodge and burn tools in Photoshop should have been named "make more brown", as they sucked at the only job they had.  I still prefer the Overlay method because it is non-destructive and quite simple to fix mistakes, not that I make any of course. :-)

One final touch to this image was a solid color "light blue-green" adjustment layer added over the entire photo.  I reduced this to around 2%, and it helps bring the blackest parts of the image into gamut and adds a "softness" to the feeling of the shot.  I find this effect pleasing and use it on a lot of my low-key images, and it amazes me what this subtle little step can do for the work.  This also helps a ton when you get work printed, as the blackest parts of the image are no longer pure black.  Another fun alternative to this is to use images of "light leaks" from older cameras.  These are all over the web and make some interesting effects vs the solid color I used here.

Any questions on things I might have missed?  Thanks a ton of the feedback on the last image gang, was nice to know people are listening!

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. ;-)


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Amazing Grace

Adding a bit of texture to an image is a simple process and I feel it can make a good picture great.  Today we will look at a simple example of texture application and how it can finish an image.

What we have here is a simple enough of an image that just needs to be "finished". As it was out-of-the-camera, it would probably have made everyone else happy, but to me it needed closure.

Posing The Model
In this situation we have Grace here with some large black wings.  Sure, I wish they were white to complete the "Angel" theme, but we work with what we are given, don't we? Sure, I could have changed them to white, but that is quite a bit of work that I don't feel really would add that much to the image overall.

I cropped in a bit (by moving my body) and shot this portrait oriented image to highlight her good looks and body.  She is a mother of three by-the-way, which just goes to show being a mom isn't the end of a modeling career.

Sure, I could have made this a full body shot, but I don't think anyone really cares about what shoes she is wearing.  I do have some full-body shots, but those are profile or using more interesting poses for Photoshop projects I have planned for rainy days.  In fact, I think you need a mix of shots when you are shooting.  I use a six shot method, where I take two shots at full body (different poses or angles), two a medium (like this image or a bit closer), and two nose-hair extreme counting close-ups or head-shots.  I then change my position, rotate the camera and wash, rinse, repeat.  I find that in using this method I never encounter a situation later where I missed shooting some amazing make-up or awesome leggy bits.

Lighting The Model

There are two lights in this shot: A large softbox camera left (gridded to prevent to much splash on the background), and a strip box camera right (slightly behind the model).  In retrospect I should have moved this rim light forward as the wing is blocking the intended lighting on her side.  I did fix it in later shots, but I really like this pose and look from the day of shooting, so we just deal with it and learn a lesson about big black wings wrecking your perfect shot.

This image was shot with my Nikon 70-200 ƒ2.8 (my favorite lens), on my Nikon D300.  It was exposed at ƒ5.6 at 250th ISO 200.  Aside from the aperture, these settings are typical for me as I shoot indoors most of the time using my Einstein strobes.  Oh, I did put up an equipment page for those interested in what I have in my bag(s).

Post Production In Photoshop
Basically we follow my standard workflow in this image.  The first thing I do is duplicate the entire image in case I screw up and trash some part of her.  It should be noted that I am working on this as a smart object until I begin the actual editing process.  I do this so I have the same controls one has a Lightroom without going all the way back to Lightroom to make some minor adjustment.

Once I am sure I like the coloration and exposure, I will rasterize the smart object and begin removing any  scratches, pimples, whip marks, hand-cuff lines and so on that *might* be present.  I will also take this time to liquify any areas of the model that they might feel sensitive about (tummy, arms, armpits, freakishly huge earlobes, etc).  No need in this case, but this is when I would typically perform that correction.

With all of the skin retouching done I begin adding adjustment layers for different elements of the image I want to highlight.  For example, there is a curve just for the wings.  I wanted to pop the contrast and show more of the details here, so I applied a curve adjustment (slight S shape) and masked the layer so it only affected the wings.  I did the same with the hair, as I really like the addition of contrast in the hair on most of my models.

Lastly I add in the texture for the background.  In this case it is a sky image combined with textures from the venerated and often referenced Fly Paper Texture collection.  Using blending modes I mess with the combination of the textures until I like what I see.  I am not going to give you the *exact* recipe here as I feel you should experiment with your own combinations rather than making something that looks the same as my example.

I will be posting another shot of Grace soon (full body//profile) once I get that work completed.  Total time to complete this image was around 15 minutes or so.  Most of that time was me messing with textures until I was happy.  In retrospect I feel I should have increased the exposure of the halo on her head, but perhaps someday I will re-open the image and take the needed 30 seconds to make it perfect.

Thanks for reading and if you want to feed the monster, please leave a comment to motivate me to write more often :-)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sheer Elegance

I love it when you can plan something and it works out better than you could have imagined.  That is the case with this specific shot.  I was pondering the pose and lighting and later the post production lead me down some interesting turns.

Posing The Model
I wanted a sexy, elegant and yet demure pose with a topless model wearing only fish-net stockings.  This was initially for a contest on, and I needed a subject.

So, putting a pose together that is provocative yet still keeping the naughty-bits hidden was a challenge.  We worked through several variations, and I will post some of those to the bottom of this article for those interested.

Some people have commented on the model and her form.  I think she has a perfect body, and her back is strong, yet the pose causes a bit of rounding.  I actually think this makes her human and if I were to have her sit up more, or fix it in post, the entire image loses so much.  Therefore, I decided on this final image and am pleased with the result.

Lighting the Scene
There are two lights in this scene, the key (gridded softbox over the head of the model) and a background light.  I have the key gridded so it does not splash against the wall that is only 3' away.  In this case the key is an Alien Bee Einstein exposed at ƒ5.6.  The background is a Nikon SB-900 set to round ƒ4 or so.  I did not have the room on the ground for another AlienBee, so the SB will work in this confined space just fine.

I will always light in layers like this when possible, as having the background and model at the same level of exposure really makes for a flat image.  Because I control the exposure of each, I can do anything I desire with the scene.

Post Production In Photoshop
First, this model has some complexion issues that she is working though, so we need to eliminate those for the time being.  Using the spot healing brush as well as the clone stamp, we are able to fix what flaws she might have pretty quickly.  Note that I don't have to do any liquification on her body at all.  Ah, the joys of youth.

Once I have any marks resolved I find I am not happy with the background.  I had put a blue gel on it, but after looking at it, I find the contrast a bit to much.  So, I create an adjustment layer and lighten the background (masking the model), and then add a hue-saturation adjustment layer clipped to that one and remove some of the blue.

There was one major issue in that one of the strings in her stockings was broken (you can see if just above the heal of her left foot on her butt).  I used the clone stamp to resolve this so the eye didn't tend to wander around looking for a break in the pattern.  Breaking patterns is a great way to control the eye of the viewer, and in this case that would have been a bad thing.

I tend to flip the image over and over as I work so my eyes are fresh.  As I work on this shot I decide the background is really quite boring.  I search for a pattern that might be interesting, and see one right on her legs that would work!  I create a pattern from a swatch on her thigh and then invert it and create a new layer using that as the background.  Of course I have to mask out the model, but since I already have that from the exposure and saturation adjustments, this is a quick trip.

To finalize the image I add another texture set at a low opacity to bring out some of the darker part of the shot and add a richness to the image.  As always, I am addicted to the Fly Paper Texture series for these types of finishing items as I feel strongly they add so much to an image.

Total time to complete the image is around 20 minutes.

Bonus Image

The image to the left here is another from the same shoot.  Again the same process was used in almost the same order.  I did have a bit of work to do in the "nether regions" to keep the image from being adult in nature, but a quick bit of additional shadows from an overlay layer fixed that up right away.  A texture was added as a finishing touch as in the image above.

Total time for the image on the left was closer to 10 minutes as I didn't have a lot of work to do on her back.

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" :-)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Floating Orbs

Today we will be looking at the last of the three images I shot with Playboy model Victoria.  As mentioned in my previous posts Waiting for Morpheus, and Precious Cargo, this image was shot in Edgerton, Wisconsin which is just outside of Madison.  As a side note and shameless plug; I do have a Photoshop workshop coming up in a few weeks in Waukesha.  You can sign-up for that here.

Based on the suggestions I have received I will be adding more model interaction details as well as lighting details.  Thanks to all that took a moment to stop ogling and leave me feedback as I much appreciate you taking the time to do so.

Interacting With Models
Normally I discuss ideas with the model before we shoot, but in this case I met Victoria the same day and we did these shots with no preparation.  In an ideal universe I would meet the model in a nice public place (like a coffee shop) and we can discuss her goals and the goals of the shoot (they might be different).  Topics of discussion might include things like wardrobe, poses, and considerations for hair & make-up.  This also gives the model an idea of who I am and can review my portfolio and increase trust.

There are super creepy photographers out there, and also a few models that wig me out as well so you have to make sure you concrete the fact you don't fall into this category before the shoot.  So, meeting like this before hand is huge for trust as well as comfort level for everyone involved.  The model will have confidence in you as you have already set a very professional foot forward with a meeting.  Even if you can't meet, but suggesting it, can add a lot of value and professionalism to your persona in the model's mind.

Timid or uncomfortable models take crappy pictures, and since they also want nice work from the shoot, you have to get them relaxed.  Here are a few things I think help with that:
  • Meet before you shoot and have a solid idea or two
  • Don't shoot nudes or even suggest it the first time you work together
  • Be confident and sure of your self, even if you are guessing.  Panic in your mind only.
  • Be fun and interactive with the model.  Getting them to laugh helps a ton
  • Don't be a "guy with a camera", learn to control your male drive
  • Have a plan and treat the shoot like any other business transaction
  • Don't try and seduce or hit on the model, that is not why you are there
  • Compliment the model and show them the shots you love as you take them
If you can't meet with the model before the shoot, you can still use a lot of those tips.  However, there are a few others skills you have to learn to shoot impromptu.  The biggest one I can think of is the "wardrobe sorting" skill.

When shooting at group events or with a model I have never met, you have to be prepared to comfortably  rifle through a suitcase of undies, bras and other unmentionables to build an outfit that works.  If you have a wardrobe person, this is a step you can gleefully skip, but if you don't then you will have to learn to think like a photographer and less like a man.  Female photographers can do this so much easier of course, as a male will often get shy at this point if you are thinking with your unit and not with your brain.

You need to relax and work with the model and discuss which outfits she likes and then take her ideas and work with colors you think look good as well as the outfit that will flatter or obscure the model properly.  You want her to look sexy, so you can probably figure out what looks nice, but you can't be shy about it.  You can compliment the model, but don't get weird about it.  Models don't like to be treated like strippers but they do like to be told specifically what is sexy and how you plan to use that to the best of your ability. You have a job to make the model look and feel sexy, so keep that in mind and compile an outfit that works as a professional and keep your mind on the job.

For example, if the model has great legs, you might skip stockings completely and tell her your reasoning.  If they have some "cottage cheese" going on, you might want to pick out the fish-nets with a small pattern and tell her how sexy these would be.  In both cases you are building confidence and you will take a stellar photo, but at the same time you are not getting weird about it and drooling on yourself.  Remember, your job is a fun one, but your interaction and resulting photos can have a profound impact on the model (see my previous article on model psychology).

Learning to keep your libido out of the equation will make your interaction with the model so much easier and enjoyable for everyone.  If you want to hit on the model, do it after the shoot at dinner or something.  Keep a clear line between business and pleasure.

Posing the Model
In this specific case we had a pool table to play with, and of course I think her on the table would be a fun shoot.  I often let the model dream up ideas as well, and if you can make your idea their idea, you can really hit one out of the park. That was what happened in this case, as she suggested climbing onto the table and from there we played with different angles and ideas.

As you can tell from the finished photo, she was not wearing much in the way of clothing.  As a Playboy model she is already confident with her body so wearing a revealing outfits was not a concern for her.  In fact, as a funny side note her breasts keeps popping out of her jacket (and even out of the dress in the elevator shot), so we starting laughing about it that they "needed to come up for air" and things like that.  It was a great source of laughter and confidence building between us as I didn't take photos when I noticed she had a wardrobe malfunction.  That was a huge plus in her mind to my professionalism and it made the shoots so much easier and enjoyable as she knew I was not taking the images for the wrong reasons and she didn't have to worry about showing what she didn't want to show.

Lighting The Scene
Because I was traveling to another floor in this four story building I didn't want to bring my big lights with me, so I brought three of my Nikon SB-900 speedlights.  I was using one of them on camera for a trigger but it was not going to show in the shot.  The other two were outfitted with a Lumiquest Softbox III and have Velcro permanently mounted around them for just such an occasion.

The speedlight positioned camera right also had a CTO gel on it to warm up the scene.  Normally I would have put this on the key, but I was looking for something out of the ordinary.  I had an idea in my mind for this shot once I saw her on the table, so the gel was going to help me with a bit of realism later (I will get to that in a bit).  In the room was also a large window letting in WAY to much sunlight, so I used a reflector to cover the window as much as possible.  The sun would have added a weird color temperature as well as a new level of harshness to the image.  On top of that, the speedlights can't complete with the sun and the room was already pretty dark so it had to go and I was shooting at ƒ5.6 @ 250th - ISO 200.  The speedlights were mounted on Manfrotto 5-Section stands and were just out of the shot.  If you look at the shadows, you can figure out the exact angle.  Looking at things like the shadows and even catch-lights in the eyes can help you immensely in reverse engineering the lighting on an image.

Photoshop Post Production
As discussed in my previous article her skin was really glossy and was causing some overly exposed areas on her face and body.  Using the clone stamp set to darken I sampled from other areas and created a "patch" on a new layer.  I could then drop the opacity back on the finished clone layer until things looked much better.

The biggest challenge with this image was the distracting background.  The room was not something I wanted in the shot, and at the time of the shooting I knew it would be problematic.

As a side note I think it is a valuable skill to learn to look at the background almost as much as the foreground.  You can avoid the "pole sticking out of the head" and other dumb mistakes if you take a moment to check it out before you press the shutter.

To remove the background I created a solid adjustment layer and started on masking her out.  Using the pen tool as well as the background eraser it was a bit time consuming but looks so much better with those distractions out of the image.

Now, to really play with this image I had another photographer at the event climb onto the table after the shoot and toss some of the balls into the air.  Because we have one of the lights gelled, the balls look very real because they are matching the exact lighting conditions!  The balls were masked out using the pen tool and then added to layers above the model.  I created a curve adjustment layer and added some shadows in places where I felt the balls needed to be anchored to the background or the model.  I use this method quite often when I need shadows.  to do this I create the adjustment layer (normally levels), and then darkened the entire image.  I then invert the mask and can use a white brush to "paint" back the darker areas where needed.

I hope you found this article interesting and my tips on model interaction were helpful.  As always a "Like" or a comment is much appreciated.  I also added a "share via email" ability to this blog, so can send an email to you when a new article is posted.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Precious Cargo

I recently had an opportunity to work with my first (and hopefully not last) Playboy Bunny.  We met in the attic of an old factory in Edgerton Wisconsin, which interestingly enough has a front seat view of the edge of the Earth.

I spied this old freight elevator almost as soon as I came in the door.  To my joy, as well as great concern, it was also the mechanism we needed to employ to get to the attic where I planned to shoot.  To many stairs and too much equipment makes for a longer day.

Posing the Model
I wanted to play with the corner of the elevator box and get a lot of vertical lines.  The texture inside was pretty sweet, so I wanted a pose that was tall, yet sexy.  Basically I let her do her thing as I snapped away.  I don't typically work this way, but she knows how to move what she has, so let's just let her do her thing and I shut-up for once. :-)

Lighting the Model

The elevator area is devoid of lighting as far as I was concerned.  The tiny light bulb that was at the top of the cage wasn't worthy or powerful enough for a make-n-bake oven, let alone to use for photography.  To complicate things this elevator isn't very large and the opening is even smaller.  The only way to light it is to "throw" light back into the box.  There are two ways one could do that that pop into my mind: 1) Use a very large 6' soft box nearly covering the entire door, or 2) use a gridded light and direct the beam to specially where I wanted it to go.  To me the choice was easy as I really love higher contrast images, and the large softbox would make the light flat and even.  Secondly I didn't have a huge soft box with me, so you can see how easy of a decision this really was to make.  I used a 22" beauty dish with a 10 degree grid on it.  It was nearly at full power to get the light to the back of the elevator and through that tight grid.

Post Production with Photoshop
I had a few goals with the post processing of the images I shot with her in the attic, and the big ones were enhancement of the textures of this grubby place, and the second was making sure she remained hot as could be.  The second one isn't very difficult, so we work mostly with the dirt.

First thing I did was to work on the color.  Often I will wait until later to do this if I don't really know what I want the final image to resemble, but in this case I saw it the moment it appeared on the back of the camera.  I desaturated the image quite a bit as I tend to prefer that by using a hue adjustment layer.  The elevator really is the gray color you see in the image.  This isn't some sort of selective color thing (which I am generally not a fan of), so I just wanted to point that out in case you were wondering.

Secondly as you can see in the original there are some dumb stickers and warnings on the wall of the elevator that do cause the eye to wonder where to go first in the image.  I decided these had to go and did a quick/sloppy removal using the clone stamp and a brush.

For the final touches I wanted to really pop the grittiness of this space and the best tool for that is.... (drum roll please)... the Burn Tool!  Yes folks, this tool (set to around 11%), will bring out the gritty in anything it hits.  Used in conjunction with the Dodge Tool you can really make things pop.  I created a duplicate of the final image using merge before I went nuts with this as I didn't want to screw up the nearly completed image.  Once I was done, I strategically placed my signature in the shot and called this one done.  I would like to point out that I am a fan of my signature NOT being something that attracts the eye, but is easy to locate if one is looking to find it.  I am often annoyed with photographers that put some awful watermark or super colorful signature in an image in such a way as to confuse the eye.

If you liked this post and want to see more, as always take a moment and add a comment, no matter how trivial it is, it is appreciated.

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.

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 (pu...