Monday, January 31, 2011

Need Not Be Present To Win

When I am inspired by something it often isn't in the ideal environment.  A great example is my complete lack of a full-sized starship and futuristic laser weaponry.  I just can't find a battle cruiser at a reasonable price, so one often has to improvise.

On this day I was inspired by this vinyl dress that Kristen brought to the shoot, as it seemed almost futuristic in many ways, but again I was fresh out of amazing places to shoot it.  However, we do have Photoshop, and often you can use common things to get an unexpected outcome.

Posing the Model
I was looking for something elegant and stern.  I think she hit it just fine.  That is all.

Lighting the Portrait
I was using three lights for this shot.  A typical large softbox (gridded) and a strip softbox (also gridded) and off to camera left.  I gridded them so they would not spill light onto the background as I had devious plans for said white roll of seamless paper.  I put up an additional light, but rather than trying to light the entire background evenly I used a barn-door modifier and was looking for a kind of beam "woosh!" type of light.  You might remember this type of background lighting idea from a science fiction post I wrote last year using a similar modifier (you can see it in the camera shot near the bottom of that article).  The idea here is that whatever we plan to do with the background, it will probably look pretty sweet with a little variation.  The original photo out of the camera is pretty decent, but not quite where I want it.

Post Production in Photoshop
The first thing I normally fix is anything wrong with the skin of the model.  Luckily there wasn't anything major, so this was a quick step. Next I wanted to put the model into a futuristic setting, but I also didn't want anything obvious.  So, a bit of "implied detail" is going to work well here.  Sometimes attempting to create a photo realistic setting just isn't going to look good, so we can go with something abstract and let the viewer decide where this shot was taken.

I created some burst patterns with the pen tool and added white fill to them as well as distorted, stretched, duplicated, and otherwise abused  them.  This transformation extravaganza combined with blending modes created a pretty abstract lens-flare type of effect while completely avoiding the use of the oft overused filter of the same name.

However, the background still wasn't what is could be because the background was still this gray paper with a bit of interesting light; it needed something else.  So, I searched around for some stock photography and found a shot of a bridge.  I cropped just the structure under it which was composed of beams and other metal thingies.  By placing this under the new light patterns I had created, we now had something interesting!  The bridge layer was desaturated and tinted a light blue to add some color hints.  I also rotated it to the point it was almost upside-down, but I liked the ways the lines were working and moved around the light layers I had drawn until they both worked together.  I sharpened the dress to help make it a bit more glossy and called it done.  Total time to complete is around 20 minutes.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sum of All Fears

Sometimes an idea just pops into your head that makes you think you should probably seek medical attention, and today we look at one of those images.

Seth here was asking to do some sort of shoot with me, and I wanted to work with him on something in this last hour Halloween bash.  His make-up was an inspiration for this idea, and all we needed was a cup of fake blood, which was not difficult to obtain.

Posing The Model
Sharon was my victim of choice here and we spotted a nice area of green grass directly next to a parking lot.  In fact the pavement is so close to his left knee, it was in a few of the other shots.  The premise here was simple, create an image that an raise those little hairs on the back of your neck by making something so surreal and yet *possible* as to concern the viewer.  I had Seth put some of the fake blood in his mouth and when he did his *hiss of death* it would come running out.

Lighting The Scene
Because it is pretty much dusk at this point in the day,  had complete control over the light and didn't have to argue with the sun with my tiny speedlights.  I probably could have used 2 flashes for more light volume, but I also think the mood required some nightfall to add to the creepy factor.

I used two Nikon SB-800 speedlights on this one triggered by my SB-900 using the magical Nikon CLS system.  The key light was placed camera right on a stand about standing height beside me.  The light it would throw on Sharon needed to be one that went into her eyes, so the "thousand mile gaze" would feign the look of death.  The gaze can be accomplished simply by looking through the photographer and not at them directly.  I think she was focusing on one of the drunk people watching us the parking lot behind me.  In this case I also felt we needed to pull the models out of the darkness with more than just a key light, so I put a bare SB-800 on a stand behind and to camera left of Seth.  I put a blue gel over it thinking that this was probably moon light if the scene was to be realistic.  There would not be light there for random reasons, so making it a moon in post would be simple enough.

Post Production In Photoshop
Post production on this image was not terribly complex but more is involved here than initially meets the eyes.  As you can see his face is underexposed, and I think this is mostly because the batteries were about done playing with me for the day and I didn't have any more spares.  I hate doing it, but in this case I needed to increase the exposure in post, so I added curve adjustment layer set to screen mode.  This is more efficient than making a copy of the image and then setting it to screen, plus you get the added bonus of a curve you can fiddle with if the mood strikes you.  Of course I did fiddle with it a tad, but not to much as I didn't want anything wacky here.

I also had to fix some of the missing white make-up so the skin tone with be less obvious.  Using the clone stamp tool, this was pretty easy to correct in a few minutes.

Next I decided to handle the moon issue.  This was super simple as I just tossed in a circle with a neutral gray (with a few splotches of darker values), added a Gaussian blur and then set it to screen as well.  That handled the color cast and it looks real enough for this image.  Photo realism is not required all of the time, and learning when you don't need it can save a lot of frustration and wasted time.  I could have used a stock image of the moon, but the blur would have made that a useless purchase, and the blur was really needed for the mood in my humble opinion.

For Seth I needed to add a little more creepy factor, so I lowered his jaw to an unreasonble span by using the Liquify command.  I also added another curve with a black mask and went in and painted in a few of the highlights (white on the mask) to be sure the blood streams were obvious.

In the end I am quite pleased with the shock factor of the image and the overall mood.

As always comments are appreciated.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Posession Is Nine Tenths

In trying to create images one must constantly consider the balance between lighting, post, and the pose.  You can light an image perfectly, create wonderful work in post production, but if the pose isn't interesting or does not move the viewer, the image will probably cure insomnia.  I see this a lot with images of children where the photographer won't take the time to get at or below the eye-line of the candy-covered kid.  Take a moment and think of what can be done with the pose and then consider how to tell a complete story.

Posing The Model
In the image we will discuss today I had the model (Allie) strike a very unique pose.  We were in the same haunted house as the previous article, but a room decorated with weird bloody artwork and Barbie heads pinned to the walls.  Obviously anyone who actually lived in such a room would be a tad "special", so to play with this idea we work on making the model look as if she is possessed, but in a pretty way.  Sure, we could get truckloads of fake vomit and tell a story, but the models would also like to have something to put in their portfolio too.  However, in this case her Alice In Wonderland costume really played the innocent-little-girl card, so we run with that idea.  The pose is full of energy from the movement in the hair to the outstretched limbs.  The angles of the arms help added tension and help direct the eye to the face for the initial glance.

Lighting the Model
Once we have a pose idea we need to figure out our lighting.  As discussed last article, I am only toting around three Nikon SB-800 speedlights and some modifiers.  My camera gear is in always in my priceless Pelican 1510 (I am so gushingly happy with this case), and because it has wheels I can pile stuff on it and move around from room to room with ease.  I highly recommend this product as I would make this purchase again without hesitation.

Lighting this scene will require a few things be accomplished.  Obviously we need to light the model, but we also need to light enough of this weird room to make it count.  I was trying to work with one strobe with a Softbox III on it and another with a barn-door pointing at the wall you see camera right.  However, in the end I just could not get enough control of the second light so I opted for just the softbox camera right pretty high up and just out of the shot camera left.

Post Production With Photoshop
To finalize the image we need to take and add some additional elements and pump up the contrast. I took some hair from a few other shots and added to her brunette locks to give the image more movement.  In photoshop I used a very large custom splatter brush set to a very dark red and added it liberally over the walls behind the model.  I also added some splatters to the floor, but those were to augment what was there already, just not very obvious.  I then desaturated the image and added a heavy contrast curve on an adjustment layer

Overall not much in the way of post production, but the image really didn't need much as it already had a great pose and light to sculpt the model illuminate the overly eerie space.  My only regret with this image now that I look at it months later is the thumb camera right.  Someday I will go back in blend it into the shadow as it really jumps out at me right now.  Of course I might not, but that is what makes us artists right; complete indecision :-).

Sometimes you need to walk away from an image for a day or so before you publish it so you can see things you might have missed in the past.  I also flip the image horizontally while working on it to give my eyes a chance to see things I might have missed.

A little note on my equipment references.  I have a lot of fun photo toys for sure, but you will see time and again there are a few I have really come to love and use.  I mention them in my articles and I link to them at Amazon in case you are so moved by reading that you need to own them.  I will only do this for the items I really love, not for the equipment I regret purchasing or things I seldom dust-off and drag to a shoot.

Total time in Photoshop ~ 15 minutes.

Again, if you like the article please leave a comment as that motivates me to write another one.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Light At The End of The Tunnel

Ok, after taking a long break from this blog because I figured no one was reading it, I am back to toss out a few new articles and see how it goes.  Thanks to those that did post, as it motivated me to give this another try.

Right now I need the kick in the confidence, where later you can get lazy about commenting :-)

The images I selected for this article are from October, and of course that means Halloween and all of the sweet locations that come about during that time of year.  The next few articles will come from a haunted house I worked in around the Green Bay, Wisconsin area.  Each is quite different but they all share one common element; they are all shot with speedlights.

Posing & Setting
In this particular venue for testing neck-hairs had a hallway covered with painted lath board.  I really liked all of the leading lines created in here and knew it would make for a fun shoot.  If you can create triangles or use angles to create leading lines you should always jump at the chance to do so.  Those elements really help guide the eye around the image and add a sense of tension or energy to images.  You can do this with arms, legs, or the elements in the environment.  Of course if you don't have any at the time of the shoot, you can always add some later :-) 

I asked the model (Jaci), to take up as much space in the hall as possible.  So, all of her poses are wide and full of energy.  Sure, she could have stood there and looked pretty, but in this case I really wanted to use all those leading lines and pump up the energy in the entire image.  The top shot is to be reminiscent of someone stopping in the middle of a hallway to suddenly check behind them, as if they were trapped.  The bottom was more of a spider like pose to really play with the fact this is a small tunnel (and I also needed her to block the light in the back with her body).

Lighting The Image
Because I am working in a remote location, I decided to travel as light as I could and use only speedlights. I had 3 Nikon SB-800s and one Nikon SB-900 speedlight and a few different modifiers with me.  I am using the SB-900 mounted on the camera to trigger the Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System), but it is set to not contribute to the exposure in any way.

In the shot above I am using a single SB-800 with a small Speedlight Grid mounted to the front of the light with Velcro. This of course was done to control the spill from the light but the model asked me about it so I removed the grid to demonstrate to her how this little tiny grid can do so much (see inset at the right for the shot with no grid).

In the shot at the bottom of this article I am using the same SB-800 on a stand with a grid in the front and in the back I am using another SB-800 bare with a blue gel over the top.

Photoshop & Post Production
All of these images are very close to what came out of the camera.  The image at the top has the most work done with an aggressive curve to increase the contrast.

I also used the clone stamp to remove any little bits of the ceiling that survived the grid and also pushed the saturation up on the slats to really make them almost surreal in appearance.  Her hair also has another curve to pop the highlights and help bring it out of the darkness a bit.

I also added a slight reflection onto the floor to help balance the image, as a bunch of black at the bottom was kinda silly and would normally have led me to crop the image.  However, I really felt the low angle would benefit from more floor and just needed an excuse to keep it there.

The image at the left has a tiny curve for contrast (as I think all digital images are a bit flat) and nothing else of note.

Hope you have enjoyed this article.  Please tell your friends, use the "Like" button on the side for facebook and comments are always good motivators for me, so please keep them coming.

Waiting For Morpheus

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