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.  (  There is also a paid event immediately afterward on the basics of lighting (  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).

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