Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Often models use a pseudonym when they are working with people.  I suspect this is because some of the folks that come to these paparazzi photo events are kinda creepy.  We call them "guys with cameras", but indeed they might not all be males and perhaps are unidentifiable members of either group.  Anyway I digress... the model I shot on this occasion was Safawarda, and I assume this is her modeling nickname to avoid stalkers and zealous creepy photographers that just want to see random boobies.

Safa is always awesome to work with because she is a posing machine.  She will move from pose to pose in seconds and each is unique and often pretty bizarre (chalk her up some points for limberness).   As you know most of the time I have an image in mind, but on this occasion I was at a group event and she was next on the list for me to shoot.  So, she did what she does for everyone else and performs her posing magic while I light her and take pics.  I do this while scores of people watch and sneak underexposed shots of my work (cause they don't have my trigger frequency).  I hate group events for this reason and tend to camp out away from everyone else and then go kidnap a model for a while.

Because she does this posing thing for everyone, I wanted to be sure the image I created was unique compared to the others at the event.  I despise group shoots where everyone gets the same image, so I wanted to depart from that with the finished product that is really different and work this more into a poster type of image.

Lighting the Model
I was using one large softbox for this shot and it was placed camera left and it up pretty high, and you can see it in the original shot (I did that on purpose, just for you... no really).  This is one of my trusty Alien Bees with their large softbox on it.  I wuv muh beez!

Post Production
Ok, so here is where we depart from the reality others will produce and really artsy up the image.  First we do our retouching and fix anything the model will hate (not always what I will hate).  For example, she has a bruise on her leg I will remove, but I know she will think her leg looks fat because the thigh of the back leg is pressing on the front one in this pose.  So, we will use liquify to remedy that.  No one wants to show off a photo that they think makes them look fat.

We will also handle the armpit and other areas of the human body that just never photograph well.  I used the patch tools as well as dodge and burn here to make the tone even, not so much remove the texture.  Dodge and Burn are your primary go-to tools for skin work, get used to them as they don't remove texture and can give the skin the even tone you want.

Digital Photo Manipulation
Okay, now onto the fun part.  I want to make this photo appear to be much more painterly and "poster-like" and obviously not photo realistic.  Much like my previous image I am shooting for a drawn look to the image, nothing realistic as I stated before.  So, first thing we need to do is eliminate some of her texture.  Yes, that hurts, but if we leave it in there she will appear out-of-place with the other things we have planned.  So, I use some blurring to remove her skin texture.  Please note that I did save this as another file before I moved to this destructive phase.  I may want to use the retouched version with skin texture later in life, so don't destroy that which is usable.  After I get the texture toned down I apply a pretty strong curve and set that adjustment layer to soft light, which will increase the brightness of her skin as well as the contrast.  This is already looking pretty artistic, but we not need to add some background and foreground interest.

Adding Background Textures
The first thing I moved into place was a sky.  Of course this is applied with a blending mode and is going to be very subtle.  I also used a custom brush that makes little circles and stars and made some swirls around her.  This is one of those little touches I enjoy in images, so you will see it more often in the future as I post more of this type of work.

Working With Angles
Her arms and legs form a very dramatic pose as well as create some opportunity for playing with these angles.  I added some strips of white to the image that work parallel and perpendicular to the angles of her arms and leg.  I set the blending modes on these to various settings until I liked what they did to the cloud layer as well as to each other.

Final Touches
For the final touch we need to terminate this image on the bottom somehow, and a walk in the grass on such a bright day seems to be the ticket.  I create a custom brush of a large "grass blade" and then adjusted the scattering, color, and angle jitter until I was pleased with the swath of greenery that was created.  I choose to make the grass a color that worked better with the tonal palette I had in the rest of the image as green would have looked like ass.  Make sure to place growies some behind the model as well as in front to make the grass look convincing in depth.  Remember that objects in the distance are always desaturated and less contrasty then those in the front.  I added her name across this image so she could use it as an avatar, and I think it completed the "poster" look I was after.

That about wraps up this image.  Please let me know what you think.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Trapped In My Science Fiction

I like images that tell a story, or at least hint heavily toward the fact that a story exists.  Today I am exploring a bit of my science fiction obsession.  Not that I am much into the books (I like a few), but I like the look of the genre more than anything.  So, the image today is more of a celebration into the covers that adorn many of these geeky treasure troves than the actual void of space soap-opera spun between their pages.

The covers to a lot of these books are painted or drawn, and don't normally seem to include photography.  Now, I have not done a lot of painstaking research on this subject, I am just going from my casual glances around such masterpieces as Stranger In A Strange Land and Dune (my favorite book of all time).

Lighting and Posing
As you can see from the untouched image the original shot is much larger and I choose to crop in quite closely.  My reason here is based pretty much from the fact I like her expression, and from the 3/4 body shot, I don't think that message makes it to the viewer.  So, I decided on this huge crop to work the emotion of her face and make it the primary focus of the image (cause you know the chest is going to pull a few eyeballs away from the point of the shot).  I lit this with 4 lights:
  • 22" Beauty Dish over the models head with a diffusion sock on it.
  • Medium strip light to either side with a 40 degree cloth grid (you can see one in the shot)
  • Background light with a barn-door on it to make things interesting (visible in the shot)
I used a grid on the strip lights to stop them from hitting the background, as the model is probably only 8' or so from the background (I would prefer this be closer to 15' to be ideal).

The posing really involved me letting Cambriea know that she will be showing emotion, getting her hand out in front and making sure she can get her hair airborne.  All of these things are only possible because she knows what she is doing, and lesser models tend to do a lot of tripping on themselves.

Photoshop Retouching
To really give this more of a painterly look I decided to use a brush and destroy a lot of the detail in her hair.  I then basically blended together the strands into larger groups of color.  Eliminating that as well as a lot of the eyelash details tend to lead one to the sketch type of look.  I also have a plug-in I use for some of this stuff, but I tend to knock down the overall effect as I think it is a bit overdone and too strong.

I added a background texture from the FlyPaper Texture Series - Summer Painterly (great investments for $40), and set the blending mode until I like the effect (divide in this case, and only available in Photoshop CS5).  This helped set the "alien sky" feeling that fits our science fiction genera.  I then used a rough brush with scattering enabled and erase parts of the background over the model.  I did a quick job here as the blending mode didn't do much damage to her at all, so it was only a few places that bothered me.

To round out the image I needed to add a bit of a foreground element to help tell the story.  I used a few custom brushes of various geometric shapes and placed them on top of each other until I was happy with the geek factor.  Adding in a bit of an odd directional motion blur made the image complete.  I set the blending mode of these shapes to make them compliment the image, rather than just sit on top of it.

Please view the image at full resolution by clicking on it so you can see the level of detail available.  This image isn't anything special at the smaller size.

Total time: ~30 minutes.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Frankly Scarlet

When I take a portrait I want the subject to be the focus (duh), but I also want there to be interest to the image outside of the individual.  Often one can accomplish this with props, texture, or even light.

The star of our work today is Sabrina who has stellar features, wonderful complexion as well as a mighty high pain tolerance.  As a professional fetish and bondage model, she could easily kill me (but probably in a fun way).

Lighting The Model
I typically want to "sculpt" my subject with the light, and I tend to prefer a high contrast between the light and the shadow areas of an image.  This image has a very low contrast between the light and the shadow, mostly caused by the large softbox camera right working with the other 2 lights to her sides.  the only area that really isn't directly illuminated is her left cheek, so we get a but of dark sculpting before you then encounter the light area created by the left rim light (small strip box with cloth grid).  You will find this is a typical rim light setup with me, as I really like those highlights, and I think these strip lights are pretty much my favorite tool.

As you light things you should ponder what areas to which you want to draw attention as you can darken, add lighting to areas you want to emphasize, and so on.  With a more even lighting, you get a very flat image with nothing really popping (I call this "fat light"), so be careful not to "over-light" your subject.  This was a difficult thing for me to grasp initially, as I though the goal was to evenly illuminate the subject, but that is exactly opposite of what you really want.

to paraphrased quote I heard Joe McNally say is "it isn't what you light that makes something interesting, it's what you DON'T light".  So, consider this when you setup your lights.  One of the biggest mistakes I see are the people that put a softbox on either side of the camera in front of the model and set them to the same levels.  This will produce a very even light with no character or sculpting ability.  Consider it your goal to take a two dimensional medium like your monitor or print and make it as three dimensional of an image as possible, and you can't do that with flat lighting.

Post Production With Photoshop
I have one goal here and that is to "pop" her right off the page, and to do that we need to darken the background a bit and lighten her at the same time.  Adding contrast to the image will help pull her forwards right into your living room.

The most annoying things needs to be addressed first... she isn't looking directly at the camera, but it is so close it will be annoying to the viewer.  Her gaze should be obvious, and this "almost" is going to need fixin'.  Luckily, it is pretty simple to resolve here by making a copy of the inside of her eye (iris and sclera), shifting it over and then erasing the edges to blend back into the lashes and eye socket.  All of 2 minutes to fix if you toss in a few seconds to remove any overly large eye veins and contact lens edges.  Oh, little tip here NOT to remove ALL of the eye veins, it just looks weird if they don't have what one expects to see in the eyes of a human.  While we are on the eyes, we will  also use the burn tool at 6% and add a bit of eye-liner as well as brush over her eye brows a bit to darken them slightly.

I then took some time to remove some of her scars from adventures past (mostly on her arms), and a few minor red spots.  She has exceptional skin, so there was not a lot to do on her outside of the previous step.

The next thing we need to do to increase contrast and that silly slider in Lightroom isn't magically going to do it for you.  In this case I like the background gradient already in place (usually considered a lighting error), but I don't mind it here at all.  In fact, I think that adding a texture over this will help raise the interest level of the image as well as add that contrast we seek.

To add background interest I will use yet another texture from my Fly Paper Texture Collection (don't mean to keep pushing this, but I do use it a lot and consider it a very valuable tool).  To apply it I selected a blending mode that worked with the background (Hard-Light), and then masked out the model with an 85% hard round brush.  Note that I am not taking a lot of time to mask her out as the blending modes are usually pretty forgiving. And lets face it folks, we are not sending someone to the moon here, so close is good enough in this operation.

Next I want to pop the model a bit, and using a curve layer set to the Soft Light blending mode, we curve her until we like what we see (not that it sucked to start with by a long shot).  I will also add an additional curve for her hair to increase the contrast there a bit and a slight color boost.

Finally I will crop it in a bit tighter and add my signature in a non-obtrusive manner.  I normally like to select a color from the image and then set the signature on a layer with a blending mode.  I want it there if someone wants to read it, but I don't want the eye to go to it.  Enjoy the image, not my signature is my mantra :-)

Overall the goal for me here was to increase the contrast from the original as well as to add a somewhat surreal treatment of her complexion and hair to create an image that moves the viewer.  I am quite pleased with the result.  Total time to complete ~45 minutes.

If you have any questions, as always feel free to post them in comments.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Birds of a Feather

Sometimes we just don't have the props, or in this case some random wildlife hanging around the studio.  Upon seeing this hat that Valarie brought to the shoot, I immediately envisioned her standing in an area with some crows.  Don't ask me why, cause I don't know myself.  Often something little will set off an idea, and you just have to roll with it and not fight it.  It isn't really something you can be taught, you just have to learn to let you mind wander as you stare at the model or a prop and accept without question what might appear and start exploring it.  I have often warned models that I tend to sit there and stare into space for a while and they are all used to it by now.  I also like to write down ideas and then choose from those or combine them.  In this case, the idea hit me right in the face and there was no second thoughts on it.

Posing the Model
Because the hat has tipped me off, I know the bird(s) will need a landing place, so the tips of the fingers would work.  I thought that a single finger might be harder to work with depending on the bird (which we don't exactly have handy), so I decided on "tips-up" type of gesture which will probably be the most flexible.  The model here is an incredible professional and needed nothing more than to hear my plan and she completely understood.  Val has to be one of the best models I have worked with so far in my career.  She also carries a bevy of props with her, and this $1,400 hat was amongst her menagerie of garments.

Lighting The Portrait
There are 4 lights in this shot, or that was the plan anyway.  To add a little variety and to bend some rules I used a 22" beauty dish with a cloth "sock" over the front of the bowl.  It was camera right and pretty high up as well as far back (6' or so), from the model.  I ganked up the power, so it would reach her at ƒ5.6 or so.  Because the source is smallish and further away I expect the shadows to be a bit more sharp, and indeed they are.  There is a strip-light on either side and slightly behind her, but as you can see the strobe on the left didn't fire. Oh well, I think it worked out as it is anyway.  The other light is a large softbox that is on-axis with the camera  (you can see it in the original photo) and set 2 stops under the key.  This is to help fill some of the deeper shadows that I am creating with the smaller key as well as light the background a bit more.

Push The 'Add Some Birds Button'
In CS5 there is a new "Add Bird" command under the images menu.  From there I selected Crow from the checkboxes and then hit apply to position the bird on her hand!  Ok, well this was actually a bit of work, but not impossible by any stretch if you have a clear vision in mind.  The first thing I needed to do was to find the tone for the image.  I used a texture I like, desaturate it so it does not contaminate what colors I have, and added a color adjustment layer to move it a bit toward burgundy.  I also had to mask out the model from the background, which I tend to do on about every work.  If you can make "planes" of foreground and background elements you discover a lot of capability you will have over working on the image as a whole.

I then took a Dodge brush (large and soft), and added a bit of randomness to the background texture with a 9% opacity on the brush and proceeded to paint like an idiot randomly.  I wanted a mottled look here, so I needed to handle that to avoid it looking to flat for my taste.  While my right hand was painting, my left hand was looking for stock images of birds to use here.  I don't happen to have any cool crow photos laying about, so I bought one from iStock for an embarrassing amount.  I still think iStock hurts the photography industry, but then again times change and there is no going back to the days of $4,000 photos, but that is a topic for another day.

I also found some feathers and this nifty bird and placed them into the image.  The feathers were sliced up from a larger image and placed using the multiply blending mode into the photo.  Mind your depth of field here, as the front feather would not be in focus given the ƒ5.6 and focal distance.  So, I used lens blur on that puppy and then doubled the layer because closer objects have more contrast than those in the distance and these feathers are pretty light using this mode.  The other feathers are similar in process but might have less opacity for the previously mentioned reason.

The so-big-you-could-eat-it crow was next, and it was going to be fun (well, fun to me anyway).  First we create a curve adjustment layer and mess with each color until it seems to fit the scene.  In this case I was using her skin tone as a goal for the breast area of the bird.  I used the dodge and burn tools to "re-light" the bird so it matched the lighting configuration.  I also added some tonal changes to help it appear more realistic than it did in the stock photo which I bought for a wee pittance.  I moved the bird into position over her hand and painted in the claws as I felt they should be using a round damn-small brush (almost a pencil).  Remember to borrow tones from the rest of the bird to make it appear real.  I then revisited my dodge and burn layers with fresh eyes after flipping the canvas vertically.  Remember to do this every so often so you can see things you missed the first time.  As the feather of the bird pass in front of her bodice, I added the shadows there to help it become a more solid object in the reality we have created here.  Shadows are the key and you have to pay great attention to them.  I might cover the types of shadows at some point (yes, there is more than one type) so everyone knows where to start and how to build them up.

Final step was to add a photo filter adjustment layer (some seemingly random flavor of blue) to cool it down just a bit and rescue any value error I might have created with my meaty-fisted tone curve on the fowl in question.  After staring at it for a bit I also added an overlay layer and used a white brush to bring her "forward" from the background (thanks to my earlier creation of her mask).  Total time to complete is about an hour, sans potty breaks from the green tea binge I was on at the time.  Questions?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Beauty Isn't Skin Deep

I thought I would take some time to cover more about retouching skin and some of the techiques I use.  There are a ton of ways to do this the right way, and a bunch more common ways to totally screw it up.  So, lets eliminate the blurring of skin as a method of fixing skin and put it under another category like "ways to look like a total n00b" or "things you learned that you should forget tomorrow".

There are many solid ways to retouch skin, but the goal is always the same:  the skin should look natural and as if it has not been edited at all.  So, as you use whatever techniques you find to be your bailiwick, keep in mind that if it looks retouched you should start over and place whatever method you used into the hopper with blurring the skin.

I did create a video of me working this image and will put it up if people are interested.  I would like to charge for it as it helps pay for some new equipment but would love to know what would be a reasonable price.  If you have an opinion, or if you think this would be valuable, please let me know in a comment.

Lighting the Model
We shot this in a hotel room in Kewaunee, Wisconsin as it was colder outside than expected.  We had several trusty Nikon SB900 speedlights with us and some softboxes.  The key light here is a 28" softbox powered by a speedlight.  There is also a speedlight hitting the ceiling to bring up the ambient in the room so the shadows on her face will not be so dark.  We also have another speeedlight camera right to add some interest to the shoulder, as if the light is coming from the window.  Now this gets a bit tricky, as I know I want the light to look like the window is the source, but in reality we had the shades closed as the color outside was some weird green shade, like you get just before some huge twister drops a house on some witch somewhere.  I decided to pull the shades and add the brightness after the fact, but in the correct color.  I could have added gels to all the speedlights, but it isn't hard to just eliminate the odd-man-out and work it in post.  I know I would be retouching this image because the model was a little self-conscious about her complexion on this day, so hitting the shades would not be much additional effort.

Posing The Model
The pose here isn't anything amazing as it is quite natural.  The few things that bother me after-the-fact as the tilt of the glass and the fact the back of her hand is toward the camera.  Try and avoid that as veins are not pretty and with just a bit of additional lift, we would not have a problem.  The glass has a slight tilt to camera right which bothers me, but I will live with it as the effort to fix it isn't worth it as I am probably the only person that noticed it until I said something.

Post Production & Skin
Aside from adding brightness to the shades we will also need to fix her skin in a few places.  I used liquify on her arms to drop a bit of weight as she mentioned a few times how she hates her arms.  Listening to the model can help you know what areas should be your focus so in the end they love the image and feel good about themselves. 

You might have noticed that the final image is flipped.  I often flip the image several times as I work on it to give my eyes a chance to refresh and see things I might have missed before.  In the end, I don't decide on which flip I prefer until I am done.  Also, remember that people only see themselves in a mirror, so they tend to prefer the opposite view.

There are 4 main tools used in *properly* retouching skin.  You will use ALL of them, and depending on the image one will have more prominence then the others.  Here are your weapons:

  • Clone Stamp - Use at between 40 and 60% opacity
  • Patch Tool - Used for large areas and should be feathered
  • Healing Brush - Awesome tool.  I prefer proximity match
  • Dodge & Burn - Your main tools!  Learn to use them.
There are a few others, but those are a bit advanced and seldom used.

Also, a little hint...  the dodge and burn tools are related, so if you are using one and just hold down the ALT key, you will switch to the other.  Since you use them a ton, this is a great set of tools you can use with only a single keypress.

Describing how to use the tools is a bit difficult, so I made a video of my work on this.  You get to even see me screw up a bit :-)  Let me know if you want the video, as it will be a large download.  I am thinking I will ask for a $20 donation, but let me know if you think this would be valuable at that price.  I really don't want to start charging for info, but I also have to eat :-)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Pump Up The Volume

The image I want to discuss today is one of those *zingers* that captures people's attention.  The cleavage probably has something to do with it, but more than that I feel it is the sense of motion and action that brings the eyes over to see what is going on.

Our image today features Cambriea, probably my most photographed model and someone I have worked with since I got into photography.  I am completely obsessed with hair in my photos, especially the long type.  So much can be done with it and when it is in motion, you can really hear the choir of angels singing.  Often I use fans, or a good breeze, but sometimes you resort to the "hey, whip your head around real fast and don't fall over" technique.

Lighting The Model
Today we are using 4 lights, and this is my first run using my new Einstein strobes from AlienBees.com.  I am really happy with them and can't recommend them enough.

Our key light is a large reflector (22") made of stainless steel. The AlienBee people call this their Laser Reflector, but basically it works like a silver beauty dish.  I have this over the model and slightly in front of her.  Off to either side are small strip boxes with 40 degree grids to help keep the light off of the background.  Behind the model and camera right is another strobe with a barn-door modifier on it aimed at the white wall.  I did this just to create a bit of visual interest rather than just having a flat gray surface.

I even remembered to take a shot of the lighting setup.  It really takes the magic out of the illusion as you can see the meager environment in which it was shot.  Basically a plain white wall and about 10'x10' of floor space was all that was required.

Posing The Model
Posing consisted of "...do that again and again until you are almost ready to fall over" series of hair flipping.  The directive of "get your arms out" is the only other piece of advice I had for her.  Overall I think 10 of the 80 turned out well and will probably fiddle with those someday.

Post Production In Photoshop CS5
Well as you can tell we have more work here than one would probably expect.  First we have some physical *oddities* that have occurred due to the swinging of the arms and head to create the dynamic image.  So, using liquify we need to adjust her "ladies" so they are even as well as take that bump off the waistline of the shirt on the pants camera right.  The neck on camera left was pushed forward by her shoulder while turning, so that looks all wonky and needs to be addressed as well. The model is also self conscious of her arms because mom has apparently given her some DNA she would rather give to someone she hates.  So, to please her we will push those in a bit to keep her happy with the image.  No one wants to hear "gee, I look fat in your photo".

Next we need to do as the title insinuated and add some hair.  I borrowed most of her from another image and then masked off all the hair on the right side and added it to this image.  We can then easily mask out her hand and then work on blending the two rats-nests into one happy condo of hair.  Most of this was done with a typical mask and some additional painting of hairs using colors local to where the blending was problematic.

The finishing touch was the addition of the background texture.  I used one of the Flypaper Textures as I like the quality and usability of them. This is the "soft light" blending mode being applied to the image of the steel like texture.  I did go back and mask out her body and most of the hair as the texture was not something that looked good in this case, so it was removed.  I also created a curve layer and set it to "hard light" and masked in only her hair.  This will really push up the highlights so I ultimately lowered the opacity down to a believable level.  In the end your goal should be an image that does not appear to have been retouched.  You will notice she does not have skin made of plastic or weird glowing eyes (not like you can see them in this image).  To often I see skin smoothing gone horribly wrong or people that overwork the eyes.  Just keep the realism goal at the top of the list and you will always produce great work. 

Friday, June 4, 2010


Continuing the celebration of Gothic Chicks from the last shoot (Sorceress) and (Lady On A Blue Chair) , I present today's combination of mistress, leather, and a damn big whip.

The image today is interesting because aside from the signature, all of the changes to the image were done in Camera RAW with a *lot* of attention to composition and crop.

Posing The Scene
This is one of the more complex pieces I have done as far as scene composition goes.  The idea to add a new level of challenge to the images is starting to be a trend in my recent projects, and this is a great example of that.  The S curve in the pipe on the right is where it started.  I decided to work on a repeating S shape in the image and see just how far I can take it.  I arranged the whip in a loose S shape as well as the model, working a rather non-conventional pose for the shot.  The shadow was intentionally thrown hard against the wall behind her in an attempt to produce another S curve type of play (partial success here).  It took a few shots to get it all to come together, but I am very pleased with the outcome.

The Golden Ratio Crop
To add another level of complexity, I decided to work this image at an angle when I shot it to add tension to the photo, but I got an added benefit with a minor crop adjustment.

The "golden-ratio" is a pleasing image composition used by many traditional masters, and was made famous by Leonardo DaVinci in more modern times, but appears in nature constantly.  You can read about it on Wikipedia if you are interested, but you might be overwhelmed by the math (as I was, and I went to school for Physics).  Basically we want a growing number of rectangles that pass through key points of the image.  By adjusting the crop, I was able to get that to work, which made me a damn happy camper.  If you can get this to happen in your images, you will find they are quite pleasing to the viewer for a reason they cannot explain.  So, try working it into compositions if you have complete control over the situation so you can get these bonus points as well.  I know Lightroom has an overlay for this, you can get to it by pressing "O" while in the crop tool.  Shift-O will allow you to change the orientation of the tool, so always worth a look if you are close to this crop anyway.

Lighting The Model
As stated before we are going to try for a curvy shadow, and in order to do that we need a defined edge.  Because this model has perfect skin, we can really abuse her with a harsh light.  Also, given the subject matter of the image, a soft light seems counter intuitive.  So, we will use an unmodified (i.e. bare bulb) type of source.

We will not need a lot of power for this shot, as I am literally at the end of the whip, laying on the floor.  I put a Nikon SB900 speedlight on that cute little stand that comes with it just off to the right, sitting on the floor and angled up a bit at her mid-section.  I used Nikon CLS to trigger this (I love CLS!).  I was using a wide angle lens, so I know we will get distortion, but the whip is the first object to get hit, so this will work out to be very dynamic.

Post Processing
As stated before this is 99.99% Camera RAW.  I do use the RAW interface in Lightroom quite often, but I mostly access this tool from the smart object in photoshop.  Either case works, it just depends on your preferences and the tool in use at the time.  Now, to adjust this we will want to really push the gritty factor up as much as possible.  Settings I used were dramatic increases (sometimes at 100%) for recovery, fill light, black-point, clarity, and vibrance.  While decreasing things like saturation.  I don't want to give you the exact forumla, as I feel you should go and play with the tool, not replicate my exact recipe.  I don't mind giving it to you if you *really* want it, I just suggest you play with it and learn to fish, rather than me giving you the fish.

Total time to complete ~5 minutes.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lady On A Blue Chair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Babe In The Breeze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 10, 2010

I Dig Chicks With Swords

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dear In Headlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 16, 2010

Nothing Is Ever Under The Stairs

When it comes to scary places, the stairs to a basement is often near the top of the list for most people.  However, after recently watching "Paranormal Activity", I would put the  bedroom a bit higher on the list, especially around 3:00am.

To celebrate the previous winner for the scary place award, I decided to shoot a creepy scene with the model Alice, whom you might recognize from a previous post showing some Photoshop texture techniques.  The concept here was pretty simple; try and create a scene with the model coming down some creepy stairs and stick someone under there really get the neck-hairs on end.  Alice wore this "Alice in Wonderland" outfit for another photographer, but I decided this would be good for the stairs shot as well.  The guy under the stairs was all bloody from another concept someone else was shooting, but it would work well enough for me.

The staircase here is not very wide, and even shorter given the landing.  It is very old, and not very stable, so I don't want to be playing on it for long.  Because of the depth and fact my back is against a wall, there is no way to get a light in here on a stand.  So, I have my friend Michael holding a Norman studio strobe with a small soft strip modifier and a 40 degree cloth grid on it.  The light was camera left and as high up as he could hold it.  I was only able to get off about 4 shots before the light was just too heavy to keep up there.  So, I worked with what I had and was able to make something of them.

The post production of this has some major work involved.

The first thing we do it work on the model.  Fix anything that isn't quite right before we get onto the rest of the image.  I have worked with Alice plenty of times, and I know she has some awesome skin and isn't really much of a concern.  However, this step needs to be early in the process, so just get used to doing it first. Mike's make-up was fine, but the lack of light in his eyes bothered me.  In the end I really ramped up this area with a curve adjustment and a mask.  I took it WAY over the top here, but I don't think anyone is looking for realism from him, so we can bend a rule or two here.

Now that we have the models fixed up we have to darken the image, especially the under-stairs area that was lit by a slaved SB-800 speedlight just in front of the bloody dude under the stairs.  This speedlight was just too bright for the mood, and not angled as I would have liked, so we need to work on that.  In truth the light stand tipped to the side as Mike shifted during shooting and no one could put down the gear to fix it.    So, to resolve this I first made a curve adjustment layer and worked with that until I was happy (looking only at the under stair fellow at this time).  I then added a mask to that layer so as to not effect the rest of the image.  The goal here is to even out the light on Mike's face and chest, or to even swap them so the face is lighter than the shirt.  This isn't very hard because we don't need to brighten him up (try and avoid that), just dim the right spots.  The exposure on his face is adequate for our needs here.  Trying to add exposure to underexposed images will make a lot of noise.  Always try and shoot to the right side of the histogram to avoid this problem.

Next we need to widen the angle of the image, and this will suck.  Because this space is so tight, the image appears to suffer from a poor cropping job, but it isn't cropped at all, there just was no room in the stairs for a wider angle.  In order to fix this we need to increase the canvas size and then copy/stretch/clone in parts of the staircase as well as the wall to the right.  The ceiling rafters also need to be copied.  While I am working on making it larger I need to clone out that extension cord that runs to the light we are using for the shoot.  Just borrow bits of board from here and there and blend them together by overlapping them and erasing bits and pieces.  Once you are happy, make sure you flatten that work, as you don't need to keep 8000 layers of boards hanging around.  Also, this causes me to mentally "commit" to the change and makes it something I mentally know I can't change later.  I like this feeling and if I did make a mistake it is akin to making a smudge on a painting, you chalk it up to "art" and leave it alone :-)  Remember that we are going to darken this in a bit, so anything you find isn't perfect probably isn't going to be noticeable anyway.

Finally the overall image needs some darkening and the creepy factory needs to be improved.  This is mostly an exercise in blending modes based on copies of the entire image.  However, I find old wood and concrete really react quite well to the burn tool.  Make sure you use the "protect tones" option in CS4 and later, so you don't introduce weird colors into the image.  If you have CS3 or earlier, you can approximate this by using a 50% gray layer set to overlay and painting with a brush that is darker than 50% gray.

Note that I did not add a vignette to the image.  I am not really a fan of a fake vignette, so I don't tend to put them into my works (and I think they are way overused anyway).  You could probably save some time on parts of the image by using this popular technique, but I wanted a clear diagonal of light from the upper left to the wall on the right, and a vignette would have eliminated that.  Why did I want this light path?  Well, pay attention to how your eye is moving over the image.  You immediately find the model, the stairs and the wall help to frame her.  The dude under the stairs might be completely missed if you don't look for him because he isn't in this light "path".  I like the fact that one can get a creepy feeling from the image and not really know why.  Call it subliminal or whatever, but it works.

As always comments are appreciated but seldom left. :-(

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Succubus Isn't Just For Breakfast

Back during Halloween I had an idea for a female demon called a Succubus.  One of the models (Faith), asked to work on the concept with me after I showed some sketches and design ideas.  She acquired the outfit and my job was to pull off the rest of the trick.  Originally I was going to put some large leathery wings on her, but after working on it for quite a while, I decided it was a bit over-the-top for my liking.  This was shot in the basement of a studio where I am part owner and it used to be an old malted like factory, so it has a lot of wild textures to explore.

So, here are the before and after images.  I will walk you through the setup of the lighting and then onto the post processing.

The lights were setup in a way as to minize specularity, not my typical direction.  Normally I am a big fan of an obvious rim-light on the side of the model.  However, in this case I was looking for something a bit "darker", and really wanted to have a shadow on the wall behind her.

The primary (key) light is a Norman monoblock that was laying around in the studio.  It has a very large strip modifier on it with a cloth 40 degree grid.  I think this is a 40, it might be smaller, I am not really sure as the light is pretty old (or at least looks that way).

To really pop the texture of the wall there is a Nikon SB-800 skimming the wall from the left to the right.  I am not sure this turned out exactly as I wanted, but it did help the texture from the shots I have where the light didn't fire.  I put another SB-800 far to the right of the model with a Lumiquest Softbox III on it and a red gel as I wanted to really warm up the side a bit opposite the key.  This effect is also subtle like the other speedlight, but they help to round out the feeling of the image.  Again, I notice from the other test shots when this puppy didn't keep up with my shooting.  Guess I should change my batteries more often. 

Post processing is comprised of a lot of layers and blending modes.  So, lets start with some of the more obvious ones and work backwards. 

After correcting the complexion and any little distractions on the model I white balance and prepare for the battle.  The first thing I want to do it add some additional grit onto the walls.  Now, rather than add some alien texture, there is plenty to play with on them already.  So, I duplicated the layer and played with the blending modes while looking only at the walls.  I decided on "multiply" and added a mask to block out other areas of the image.  I also lowered the opacity as it was just a bit too dark.  Moreover I added some additional variation with the dodge and burn tools on this layer.  This really worked well on the wall behind the model, and I was careful to not go overboard on the floor, as we have plans for that space yet (insert evil laugh here).

The hair for the model was awesome.  I think she said it took her almost 3 hours to comb out the rats-next the stylist created.  I owed her a brownie for this effort, and I think I got the best part of the deal there for sure.  To really pop her hair in the image, I added another copy and it set to "screen" (I am not sure this was the final mode, but it is probably close).  Adding a mask and playing with the opacity I was able to give it some variation without it being obvious something had been altered.  I also played with other blending modes here, as I tend to do once the mask it solid.  Note that the mask here is NOT very detailed.  You really don't need to go to extremes, just use a soft brush and stay away from the edges and it will look quite natural.  You can also work on just part of the hair, like adding highlights and so on.

The last step was the summoning circle.  This was in the sketch of the concept I showed the model before the shoot and it was a major part of the demon theme.  In fact, without it the photo is a bit weird as far as poses and outfits are concerned.  I drew the circle on a new layer and made it as large as would fit on the screen.  Because we are going to use the perspective warp, we can be as detailed as we want and not worry about it looking natural.  Once I was pleased with the arcane design, I warped it until I felt it looked good with the environment.  For the final steps I masked out the model from the design and changed the blending mode to "hard light".  This really picked up some of the red on the floor, but it wasn't as strong as I wanted.  So, you do what everyone does when you want more, you just duplicate the layer again!  That doubled the effect of the blending mode, and there you have it!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Making The Kitty A Bit Gritty

A few months ago I shot some models that were part of a portfolio building event for local body painters and I want to discuss two images from that shoot.  We have events of this type about every month or so.  If you are able to travel to Milwaukee for a solid day of photography, keep an eye here for upcoming workshops and portfolio building events.

The model I want to talk about today was Alice, and she went with a Cheetah themed paint job adorned with a playful bow and some costume ears to help round-out the outfit.  Both of the images I am showing from this day have been altered with textures, and that is that type of  image treatment I want to discuss in this article.

I add textures to most of my images, often it is subtle and restricted to a specific part of the photo with a masked layer.  I highly recommend the Flypaper Textures series as a great collection of textures you can add to your image.  There is often at least one blending mode involved as a texture is rarely added directly to the image without at least an opacity change.  I also shoot textures whenever I see something that has potential.  So, keep your eyes open!

I took this photo from a very low angle with a wide angle lens, which will distort her hand and perspective.  I really wanted the hand to look large and as threatening as I could, so the use of a wide angle here was key.

Before we get into the Photoshop aspects, lets talk about lighting for a bit. Lighting this is fairly simple as I needed to light the front of the model, but also make sure the back does not fall into shadow.  I wanted to really add some specuality to her rump to help balance the shot with interest.  Obviously the face is a focus area, and the black wig will be a nice contrast for the image.

There are three lights involved here: 
  • SB-800 camera left (behind model) at 1/8 power with 20 degree grid
  • AB-800 with 2' softstrip camera left (in front of model)
  • AB-800 with huge octabank camera right at 1/8 power for fill. 
The octabank is a HUGE light modifier and allows us a nice even fill across the entire image. Also, because it is so large we can back it up a bit so we have some room to move.  Often I find there are so many lights in tight on the subject that it becomes a chore to step over cables and not accidentally catch one of the lights in a shot.

Before I added the texture, I needed to Photoshop out the thong from the model.  It just looked a bit odd with the outfit, and I wanted to remove it.  The patch tool and clone-stamp made this easy and quick work.  Remember you can always use the patch tool to "borrow" spots from other areas of the image.  This keeps the paint looking interesting and realistic over the patched areas.

When looking at an image for texture treatment you need to have a goal.  The goal may not be what you end up with, but you need to know what type of look you desire.  For this photo I wanted a desaturated look and a rough treatment to work with the dynamics of the shot.  I also dislike the brown background tone that was the paper that was handy, so the textures I am going to try must be lighter than this tone if the blending modes I have in mind are going to work.

Often when a texture is applied you will find yourself using a mask so you don't completely obscure important pieces of the image, like the face, eyes, and so on.  However I decided to forgo a mask for this image and just let it be a systemic image treatment.  After the first texture was in place and set to "screen" as the blending mode, I added an additional texture and masked it out of most of the photo except for parts of the background.  This was done to add a little variation to the photo.

The same model approched me later in the day with a slight modification to her costume.  I was in the process of packing up things and she was disappointed when I said I was leaving.  She said, "but I am adorable!".  So, I unpacked things and took this shot.

This outfit was a bit on the creepy side being that it was a "little girl" look but with the body paint.  So, I took her words to heart and added the word "adorable" in blood across the floor in front of her.  The texture treatment is the same as I did above, but this time I masked her out so the texture didn't cross her at all.

As you can see from the untreated photo I also had to extend the background and remove my damn shoe from the picture.  There are probably 50 ways to extend the background ranging from just a copy/paste to the "content aware scale" tool.  I choose the latter in this case because it is quick and was not really going to show up well after the texture application.  My ruddy shoe as removed with the exact same treatment I used to restore the background to the top of the image.

The blood is a simple font and some ink spatter brushes (I used a dark red color for both).  The color of the blood is made more realistic because there is a blending mode on them (multiply) and it is working nicely with the texture treatment.  Since blood is really dark red, this seemed a bit too dark to me initially but after failed attempts to lighten it, I seemed to revert to this color as my favorite.

I hope you enjoyed the article today and have a Happy Easter!  Please leave me a comment or any questions you might have.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Blond Flying Dreadlocks

Here is something you don't see every day, blond dreadlocks.  Well, maybe *I* don't see them everyday, so I thought she was a fun model to shoot.

The concept was to create motion, emotion, and expression.  The problem is making them look like the belong in the photo.  The sexy look on her face and emotion in the image is out-of-place if she is just standing there, so we need to add a bit of "something" to make the image believable.  We discussed a similar problem in a previous photoshop concept I shot, and I needed to come up with something nice for this one as well.

Let's start with the lighting.  Today we are using a DIY (do it yourself) beauty dish.  This one is made from a large wooden salad bowl that has been painted white.  A cheap auto-mirror was mounded on the front side by some long threaded screws and will reflect the light back into the bowl and out around the edges.  There plans on the internet for these all over the place.  I eventually bought a beauty dish from Paul C. Buff since I would rather spend the money than the time.  The difference with the one I used on this occasion was that it was powered by my Nikon SB-800 speedlight, not my AlienBees.  This is a single light shot with reflectors on either side and a gray wall behind the model.

Post production was an adventure.  I wanted to give this a lot of emotion, movement, and all that without distracting from the model in such a way as to obscure her beauty.  My final direction was a "light-painting" type of effect.  Creating something like this is pretty simple if you have a Wacom tablet. For those of you with only a mouse, you are going to have a much harder time.  I heavily suggest you bag one of these (even the cheap ones are awesome), so you can open your creativity in new ways.

In the end there are 3 layers here (not counting the original hidden smart object I imported).  Basically the model is sandwiched between two layers with the same bunch of abstract lines on it.  The bottom layer has some of the lines that intersect the model removed, as does the top layer (albeit a different mask asI do want some to pass in front of her).  I also changed the blending modes of the light as well as the final layer to get the best result.  In the end, I wanted lines to cross and surround the model, and I even liked the "rule breaking" centered composition I often abhor.

Let me know if you like the image.  Total time to complete ~30 minutes.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Modeling At High Speeds

This is another shot of same model I worked with at this event, but this time we have a different treatment and feeling to the end result.

To recap the lighting, I was only packing my speedlights on this day because the factory was a 2 hour drive, so decided on three SB-900 Nikon speedlights for the shot.  I put one on an overhead boom with a 28" softbox and two on either side of the car chassis inside of a Lumiquest The Softbox III (love these things!).  I decided to use Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System) for this as a lot of other photographers were using radio triggers, and none of them appeared to by using CLS (see my previous post on how Nikon CLS works).

The process is the same as the previous one for the most part:
  1. Duplicate the original smart object (you did import as a smart object, right?)
  2. Fix white balance, exposure, contrast, and all that jazz. 
  3. Flatten the new layer and put a solid black layer between the original and this one.
  4. Mask out the background and anything else you don't want on the final image (don't worry about the hair, as the blending modes will make this easier when we add the background).
  5. Make corrections to the complexion, engine, glasses, and other little stuff
  6. Find some image and motion blur/radial blur until you are pleased
  7. Find ANOTHER image and do the same thing and overlay them with a blending
  8. Wash, Rinse, Repeat steps 6 and 7 until you are beaming with joy.
  9. Adjust your mask with the model until the two seem well meshed
  10. Add a photo filter adjustment layer to help tie in the tones of the images to the original.
Let me know if you have any questions.  The process is pretty simple and the hard part is really the masking.
Total time to complete 30 minutes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Subtlety Is Often King

The image I am posting today is one where the post processing is very subtle.  The base image is wonderful and not much was needed to bring it to closure.

We are going to be shooting at a wider aperture for this shot to eliminate some depth of field we don't really need.  That means lower power for the strobes and a faster recycle time.

A wider aperture makes your focus plane very shallow.  If I can carry her eyes and lips, I won' be upset if the rest is slightly blurry as I think if this is all in focus, one might  find the eye has no where to start.

Pay close attention to how you look at your work, specifically eye movement.  It takes practice, but once you understand how your eye moves over an image, you will have a lot more command on how people perceive your work.  One nice trick to test this is to flip the image upside-down.  Where did your eye go first?  Because there is no "face" where your eye is normally drawn, you should pay attention to where the eye went first and see if you need to make adjustments if that landing place wasn't ideal.

Ok, lets talk about the lighting I used for this photo.  We have 6 light in total, which is a lot more than I typically use.

There are two lights illuminating the background, and I could have probably done this with one larger modifier and a single strobe.  However, I was shooing a lot of poses using this setup, and this is just how they happened to be at the time of the shot.  The background lights are my trusty AlienBees AB800s, with the default strobe reflector in place and a 30 degree grid to prevent the model from being illuminated.  They were metered at ƒ5.6 or so. 

There are also two AB800's on either side of Helena here with small softstrips and cloth 40 degree grids on those.  I could have been a lot more efficient with my lights in retrospect and let the background light spill onto her for rim lighting.  The issue would have then been one of contrast, so moving the lights closer to the background and further from the model would have been required to get the exposures "desirable" in both locations at the same time.  Remember your inverse square law here, as the distance of the light to the target makes all the difference in the world when it comes to exposure.  If things are just too bright, and you are at your lowest power setting, you can always back the light away from the subject.  Just remember the softness of your shadow will suffer as the size of the apparently light source gets smaller.

I used a large reflective umbrella for the ambient fill.  I often like the fill light just behind & above me, or very close to the plane of the camera.

The key light was my AB1600 (the big gun), which had a large softbox attached.  This was positioned camera right.  I use the light triangle under the eye on the shadow side of the face to determine the correct position.  You want light to fall into both eyes if at all possible.

The photoshop in this image is all about being subtle.  The original image is very nice, so there were only a few tasks to handle.  First, I always give my images a bit of a curve as I find digital cameras are a bit flat.  Secondly, I also added a bit more brightness to the entire image.  I took a moment to remove a scratch or two she had on her skin, but was otherwise as olive as one can hope for (mind blowing considering she is no longer in her 20's).  Probably one of the easiest retouching jobs I have yet encountered, make that two models in a row that make this part of the job easy.

I did NOT add any sort of light to her eyes!  The amazing "moon" illumination in her iris was caused by all the powerful lighting going on around her.  I love it when a plan comes together.

The only effect I added to polish off the image was to create a copy of the entire work and add a lens blur.  I then used a mask to remove the blur from around her face.  I did this because they eye was "swimming" around the image (despite my shallow depth of field) and trying to find a place to start, and by adding the blur the eye now goes directly to her face.  Another part of the problem is the brightness of her shirt causes you to look their first because of the saturation.  So, I desaturated that a bit as it was really over the top after I added that curve.

I might as well pimp my free upcoming workshop on manual mode and exposure in Racine, Wisconsin on May 15th.  (http://photo.meetup.com/102/calendar/12940050/).  There is also a paid event immediately afterward on the basics of lighting (http://www.meetup.com/StudioMLP/calendar/12939983/).  Everyone who is interested in those events can sign-up on those respective pages.

Hope you enjoy the image, and as always let me know what you like and didn't like (or if people are even reading this).

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...