Sunday, October 10, 2010

glamour shoot (part 2) - sunglasses, mixed light sources and more

Be sure to read Part 1 before diving in here.

Hello fellow photographers, and welcome back to the second part of the "glamour shoot." Yesterday, as you know, I was a bit side tracked from getting down to the nitty gritty of how this shoot actually transpired. Have you noticed under the heading of LIGHT, that I also write, "... and a little light on life?" Along with all of the photography tips that I may share, I tend to share the crazy situations that arise along with the photographic journey. So sit back and enjoy whatever may pour out of my fingers, onto the keyboard and into your home. No thanks needed.

In the previous post I touched on how you can achieve different light effects with a subject that is wearing glasses. To recap, you just want to keep the light from firing directly back at the camera, or else, end up with totally blown out highlights. Unless, of course, that is what you may be going for.

Along with balancing the light with the glasses, I also ran into a few other challenges to complete the project.

Challenge #1

I had my sister, Morgan, pose in the house, standing in front of a plain, grayish, backdrop. I was going to bring the ambient down to very dark by closing the aperture down. From there I wanted to have total control over my light. After firing off a few test shots, I decided that I needed a bit of light on the background and on her hair. I had her pose in this specific spot since there was a window to her left. If needed I was able to let that light in by simply opening the dark, heavy shades. Now don't get me wrong, this ambient light that I allowed was still dialed down to minimal in my exposure settings of ISO 100, shutter speed of 1/200th, and aperture of f/5.6. The result her was a nice amount of hair lighting and a little on the background. The model's face was still very dark, almost nonexistent, on the LCD histogram reading. Now I could set my strobe settings and dial into a proper exposure. I ended up with my speedlight set at 1/4 power, more than I thought I was going to need. After a few shots, I noticed that her right cheek had slightly hard shadows. To remedy that, instead of adding more strobes, I simply placed a white reflector at camera left, opposite the strobe at camera right, even at 45 degrees toward her cheek. Light was now very soft, no hard shadowing.

Although the exposure and light were correct at this point, a skilled shooter must know that the two light sources, window and strobe, are different color temperatures. This can make for a terrible final photo. This can be fixed a number of ways. First would be to gel the flash to balance for the sunlight. Another would to do all in post. I'm very fast at correcting photos in post, but correcting mixed lighting can be a daunting task, while wasting time that could be spent working on new photos. My technique is to have the model hold a white card for the first shot. Set the camera to custom white balance. Camera will ask you to shoot what you want to be white in the photo (also can be done with 30% gray card). Since the light conditions will be consistent, this shot, of the white card, will tell my camera that every shot fired thereafter will also have the same white balance. This is not the perfect fix. There will still need to be adjustments done in post but this will make that job much quicker and easier to perform. More on post later.

Now that I have my angles correct for shooting her in her aviators and long haired beaver fur (sorry p.e.t.a., but it was too cool to pass up), mixed light is corrected, I get the model to relax and pose away. She was stiff at first, waiting for my every command. I finally explained to her to move around, not to wait for my shutter to close. This worked. She went into a fashion model, world of her own. It was as if she was not in the same room with me. She was now posing as if on a runway in front of hundreds of onlookers. This helped speed up my processes. It little time I fired off about 100 frames. Thanks to my Lumopro Universal Translators, and 25 foot miniphone connector, I had ZERO, that's right 0, zilch, nada, strobe misfires! At a quarter power, I was expecting a couple misfires as compared to 1/64th where I'm confident that the 430ex ii can handle pop after pop. I was pleasantly surprised of the same results at higher power.

Extra special thanks to "The Online Lighting Diagram Creator," for this awesome website. I was able to create the light diagram shown here in about 5 minutes. This was about 55 minutes faster than when I try to draw them freehand in Photoshop.

Forget to mention, for this shoot I decided to use a non-traditional lens for this type of portrait. It was my Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM. I wanted to use a zoom lens since I was shooting in a small space and may have had to tweak the focal length. I was comfortable with the results at 55mm.

Challenge #2

Now that I had more than enough frames to choose from, it was time to find the best of the bunch. I sat with the model and asked which she liked best as well. Together we narrowed it down to about ten awesome photos (tip: always involve the model in choosing the best shots, even though you may persuade them to pick your favorites).

Don't forget that while all of this is going on, I still have wife on the sofa, and mom in the kitchen. After the shoot I tried to wrap everything up as quickly and neatly as possible. Mom was getting restless. About halfway through the shoot, she was cleaning up around the house. After my cleanup, I was ordered by the two pleasant females, to take all of the trash out, not later, but at that exact moment. Why couldn't this wait until my project was complete? I may never know. Again, smile, agree, comply. Happy wife, happy life (my mantra to keep my sanity).

Trash is out, and now I'm at the computer, finally. After sifting through the frames in Adobe Bridge, finding the ten best, I then open them in Adobe Camera RAW. Now I can see how much work needs to be done. When you view your shots in camera, you may be fooled into thinking that a shot is perfect. When you see in full size on the monitor, you may find that the same shot is totally out of focus. Be warned, don't delete your RAW files until you see them full size.

Opened all ten in Adobe Camera RAW and was excited to see that there would not be much post processing needed, except (yep, there's always that word) for how I wanted her skin to appear. As you can see in the final photos, Morgan's skin is silky smooth, a result that had to be accomplished with Adobe skills and a steady hand. The later being my weakness, due to large amounts of Joe that I drink throughout the day. This is the retouching challenge.

In RAW, as always, I do my basics; exposure, the beginnings of white balance, and some sharpening (a dedicated RAW editing post soon to come). That mixed light that was previously discussed, will be corrected in Photoshop. Why? It's just a personal choice. It can very well be done in your RAW edits, that's up to you. I'm a creature of habit, I began doing it my way, and will continue to do so. So sue me.

Now that those edits are complete, I save them all and open up only two in Photoshop. I chose the two that I wanted to post here. The others filed away for later editing.

First things first. It was time nail down the white balance. Open up the Curves adjustments and grab your first dropper, the black one, find true black in the photo, click it. Do the same with the white, and finally the mid-tone dropper. with that dropper you want to find a mid-tone gray. The end result should be a perfect balance. If it seems off, start over. Easy as that. It takes time to get used to finding true highlights and shadows but eventually it becomes second nature.

Next edit I like to do is my final sharpening technique. I already did some in RAW, but this gives my photos a nice little pop. First step is to duplicate the layer that is existent. In that second layer, go up to Filter, Other, High Pass. When that dialogue opens, drag the slider to the right, somewhere between 70 and 90. Lower resolution cameras should be down between 50 and 70. I'd say use the lower settings for a camera with 10 megapixels or less. 10 megapixels or higher, go with the 70 to 90 range. For this shot I ended up at 82. Do not be frightened with what you are seeing. This is not a mistake. After choosing OK, you will then change your layer style. Choose Vivid Color. The result is now even freakier, I know. Unless you want that grunge look, you will then lower the opacity of that layer to somewhere between 10 and 20 percent. For these photos I was happy with 11. After that is done, flatten the image into one layer.

Here's where the challenge along with the contradictions lie. Now I had a tack sharp shot of this model. What's the contradiction you say? If you zoom in at 100%, you will find that it is so sharp that you can see every pore, peach fuzz, and blemish, although there were few. I want to smooth out that skin, again, to make it silky smooth.

This is how it's done. You will now know how the supermodels you see on magazine covers get their skin so perfect. No they are not genetic freaks that were born without pores, they are the result of some geek like myself, erasing nature and creating a false perception of reality. Yes, don't hate the model, hate me, the geek, who causes housewives everywhere to eat Prozac as if they were Tic-Tacs (love the orange ones). Hate me, the nerd, who causes teenage girls everywhere to purge after meals. It's all the geeks fault, not that woman posing for her paycheck. Representing nerds worldwide, we apologize to you women who are striving for that unobtainable skin that no moisturizer on this planet will create. Save your money! It's the thousands of dollars of software that, when applied correctly, yield that Easy, Breezy, Beautiful, Covergirl look. Hey, the truth hurts, and somebody has to be the bad guy. Why not me?

I'm back. Sorry to divert a bit. So how is it done? Well there are many different ways the silky smooth skin look can be achieved. Some use plug-ins, others have dedicated software applications for this. I have my own technique that I have honed over time. The first step is to duplicate the layer as before. Now, in that layer, go to Filter, Blur, Gaussian Blur. When that dialogue opens, drag the slider to a radius of about 20 pixels. Again, If the file is smaller and lower resolution you may want to keep this amount much lower, maybe 5-10 pixels. You will now see a totally blurred photograph. This is exactly what you want. In that same layer, you will then add layer mask, invert the mask (shortcut of Command + I). The layer mask should now be black and all of the Gaussian Blur invisible. Grab a soft brush and choose white for the color. Now, adjust the brush size so that you can paint over the face without hitting parts that you do not want included, such as, lips, eyes, nostrils, hair, etc. Very easy, think of a coloring book. Just stay in the lines. In the end your model's face will look oddly painted. Just like dialing in the High Pass filter to the desired amount of sharpness, you will do likewise with the Gaussian Blur. While it is still a separate layer, lower the layer's opacity. For this particular photo, I pulled it down to 40%. This amount will vary depending on how smooth you want the skin. For example, if you put my mug in her place and used the same softening technique at 40% opacity, I would look like a transsexual surgical nightmare. A more appropriate opacity for my melon may be 5%, if I wanted to pull off the metrosexual thing. Yes, I could pull it off. I am a nerd, but a nerd with style. Chicks dig me. I swear. Anyway, I found that 40% on the little sis, gave beautiful silkiness to her skin. Next, I flatten the layer and save the file(s).

Now, I have the close to complete photograph. Finally, I zoom in and scan over the entire image looking for anymore corrections that may be needed. Colors look OK. Histograms are fine. Contrast, Brightness, all looking amazing. To my surprise, I needed no more post processing. The job is finished. The gig was good. Saved as jpeg and ready for the blog world.


The minute that my little sis arrived, and helped me escape the clutches of the evil women, I knew the shoot would be great. The fur coat was here, which was a gift from my mother to my wife. It was too large for my sister and she wondered why she was wearing this for the shoot. I assured her that it was perfect. The sunglasses were also either wife's or mom's, I was not sure, they shop together and buy similar items. Once in costume, my vision was clear.

Aside from the few detours to scratch the wife's back or hand her the remote for the TV, everything was smooth from beginning to end.

Looking back, if they had not come to visit my broken wife, then I would have had to think of something around the house to shoot for the post, since I was stuck in the house for a few days. Turns out that the surgery was the best thing that could happen for this weekend. Boy, I am awful!!!

Have a great weekend! Happy Columbus Day!