The day started off like any other. I woke early (sort of) showered and headed right for the kitchen for the day's breakfast of champions, black coffee. The day's shoot was originally going to be shot on location, at the Jersey shore. There had been some plan changes so the client was to come to my home studio in Philadelphia. Yay! I like when things turn around to work out in my favor. Don't get me wrong, I have no problems driving to the Jersey shore but towards the end of March, I prefer to avoid the beach. Not much to do or look at for that matter when the temperatures are at or below freezing.
I received the phone call Saturday night when the client, Dave, said that it probably would be best if we did the shoot on my turf. I happily obliged and set up a meeting location downtown. Knowing that Dave is a jazz fan, we decided to have brunch at Warmdaddy's. This place is awesome. Definitely different from the restaurants I usually go to. They have a live jazz band playing all morning throughout the afternoon. I'm not a huge jazz fan but this place helped me gain a new appreciation. Before getting down to business Dave and I filled our bellies with some awesome food. I was eating beef brisket, jerk chicken, turkey bacon and sausage, all mixed with eggs and hot sauce. To top it off I had some cheesy grits. It was the first time in my life having grits or even seeing a grit for that matter. I have to say, the cheesy grits were spectacular.
After loosening my belt a notch or two, it was time to get down to business. A new a little about the client but wanted to dig deeper. Who was David Wess? I learned that during the day Dave is a project manager, overseeing large commercial construction jobs, across the entire state of New Jersey and sometimes finding himself crossing over to New York. From time to time he has to spend days living out of a suitcase in a hotel room near the job site. Not an easy task for anyone if you ask me. When Dave is not out building America he spends time with both of his families. The one being the obvious family, wife, children, et. al. The other being the church. Dave devotes lots of time with his local church working as a sound technician. It seems to be a stressful gig, especially since the time is volunteered. Imagine the preacher giving a sermon with hundreds of people in the pews trying to read his lips. That would be bad.
The shoot was to originally take place at the church, in the sound room. Lot's of buttons, dials and other cool things to light. It would have been awesome. Since the church was undergoing some inspections and minor renovations, we were advised to scrap those plans and shoot elsewhere. No problem, I'm used to these unavoidable situations. Having the home studio as a backup plan rarely fails.
The portrait was to be used for a number of media outlets. First, was for the church bulletins. Another, for the church website. There are some other social media sites, such as Facebook, that the portrait would be displayed. Dave saw the other portraits that the church was using, for other staff members and was quite disappointed with the work. I didn't ask any details about those shots, just wanted to know what he wanted. Dave explained that he wanted to be portrayed in a modern photographic style with a classy touch. No problemo!
We headed to our cars and Dave followed back to my place. He came prepared with some different wardrobes that he wanted to see himself in (very professional move, I like). He was more prepared than I was. I still had to move a few things around and adjust the lighting. It only took a few minutes. Dave was enjoying some of my fine French pressed coffee. He saved me about a half of a cup. Oh, well, I didn't have much more room in my belly anyway. The hot sauce and jerk chicken were having their way with me. I was dragging a bit. I had to get a second wind. A nap would have done me good but I don't think any client would think that a nap would be normal in any business situation. Maybe in Spain but not here.
Once I had my gear ready to fire, time just flew by. At first, I could tell that Dave was a little stiff. It is the same for every shoot that I do. I don't care how experienced the models are, by looking at the first few frames, I can always spot the stiffness. It's a natural reaction. The model/subject wants to feel comfy in the environment and trust the photographer. Dave was no different. After about ten minutes or so, I could see, frame by frame and with my own eyes, how is demeanor has changed immensely for the better. He started to enjoy what he was doing in front of the camera. That made my job much easier.
We wrapped in about an hour after the first frame was shot. Not bad considering three wardrobe changes and a coffee break. Note: always good to have coffee, soft drinks and some light snacks for any client. I didn't put out any hummus since we could barely stand from the enormous southern brunch.
We looked over the RAW files and Dave pointed out the ones that he liked best. Soon after he was on his way back to the garden state and I was headed over to get working in the digital darkroom. Aside from Dave's speedy need of the photographs, I was just super excited to get working on them.
I'll build from back to front, the how's and why's of my technical photographic decisions for this particular shoot.
The background of choice was a clay(ish) colored backdrop. The reason for this was that I think it would work well with his earthy toned shirt with hints of blue. Nice contrast.
On either side of Dave was a large window. I wanted him here so that I could bounce a tiny bit of light on the back sides of him, just a bit, to give him some background separation. To aid in this, I used two large white reflector boards on either side of Dave and the windows.
The key light was a Canon 430ex ii at 1/16 with a 45 inch Calumet shoot through umbrella. This was placed on a 45 degree angle at camera right. For shots taken without the subject wearing a hat I had the strobe about a foot over his head. For the hatted shots, I had to bring the strobe down lower to get even light on his eyes. Take a look at the first photograph and you'll see a distinct triangle of light under his right eye. This is the signature marking of Rembrandt lighting. You can see it on the second photo but it is not quite as distinct. This type of lighting was named after the Dutch painter, Rembrandt (duh), for the fact that this was the way he lit his subjects in his artwork.
The fill light came from yet another white reflector, just out of frame at camera left. This would help bring out details in the shadow side of his face. This is a delicate technique. If I place the reflector too far, the shadows would have been left in the dark. If in too close, the shadows side could potentially overpower the key light and the effect would be lost.
The light was hard wired via Lumopro Universal Translators and 25 feet of cable. It is the most economically sound way to light your off camera flash(es). Working with cable in studio is highly efficient if you are on a budget. Compared to radio triggers, the hard wired link will never, I repeat, never fail as long as your strobe has a full charge. Be sure to gaffer tape any wiring to the floor to prevent any clients from taking a spill and cracking their head on your floor.
The glass of choice was the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM. I shot anywhere between the wide open f/1.8 and down to about f/5.6. The shots you see here were shot at f/2.8 and f/4.5, respectively. I played with the shutter ever so slightly. That ranged from 1/200 to 1/250, just to tweak the light as the room became a bit brighter later in the shoot. ISO remained at 100 throughout the shoot to maintain minimal noise. I've mentioned before that my dinosaur of a DSLR, the 40d, doesn't perform so well at uber high ISO's. I try to keep it below 800, for the most part. It's never caused an issue as of yet but only time can tell. I should grab a 5d mark ii but I've kind of grown attached to my baby. Oh, and I don't have the extra three grand to drop, just yet. Give me a few months, I may change my mind.
Post Processing in the Digital Darkroom
Of about 100 keepers, I've worked on only the few that Mr. Wess needed and the ones I wanted to post here. I didn't run them as a batch for one reason. Although I was shooting in a controlled environment, I used some daylight, if ever so minimal, for bits fill, however noticeable it may be. With that in mind, I knew that the ambient level was constantly changing. I only run batch processing when the environment is controlled from beginning to end of shoot. The post processing, thus far, has been pretty similar so I will give the basics of what I've already accomplished.
In the Adobe RAW editor, I made some minor adjustments. First, in the exposure department, I bumped up the Fill Light slider to 10 or 12. This gave a little extra, in terms of detail in the shadows. Next, I upped the Vibrance to about 20. This increases the saturation without the drastic results of the actual Saturation slider. Adobe created an algorithm in Camera RAW that when you use the Vibrance slider, it will recognize skin tones and adjust accordingly. Adobe, you're so cool. The last RAW adjustments that I make are in the detail department. For these shots, I dragged the Sharpness slider up to 100 and the Detail slider up to 50. This gives me a nice amount of PRE-sharpening without any added noise. That's a wrap for RAW. It's now time for the special effects department over in Photoshop.
When I finish in RAW, I simply click the Open Image button at the bottom right of the page. This saves the RAW edits and opens the file in Photoshop.
As always, I do some color correcting first, to remove any color casting. Oh boy, was there a lot of color casting. I think it had to do with the color and texture of the background that threw a clay color right across that image. It doesn't matter if you have a $99 Wal-Mart special of a camera or a $30,000 Leica, color casting is inevitable. It must be corrected. Some shots need more work than others. My old route to fixing this problem was to do so with the Curves adjustment tool. It is very efficient but can be very difficult, depending on what data is in that file. I recently started using Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0. This software plug-in has and endless amount of effects that you can customize. One day I happened to notice the "Remove Color Cast" option. I guess I just never noticed it before but when I got to using it, the results blew me away. It was instantly my new technique for correcting color casting. The software is a couple hundred bucks and worth every penny.
My next workflow step in the Photoshop process, if no cropping is needed, is to add any needed sharpening. I do so by duplicating the main layer and desaturating that layer. In Filters, I choose Other and High Pass. Depending on the image and camera resolution I drag the slider to the right. I usually end up somewhere between 50 and 80. After hitting Ok, I switch the layer style to Vivid Light. This will give you a Dave Hill from hell, looking photograph. Fear not, drag the Opacity slider down to about 15 percent and the sharpening effect will give a nice pop to the photograph. Flatten the image and on to the next part of business.
At this time, I usually do all of my color adjustments, contrast adjustments and any other minor tweaking that I may feel the photo is in need of.
On these particular images, I wanted to try something out. I've noticed it in some other photographs and found that it is a really interesting effect. It is added blur to the entire image, barely noticeable, but giving a little added something. I'm no stranger to adding blur to photographs for enhanced beauty but this is something different. I don't know how to explain it. I've searched the web to find tips, tricks or techniques of how to pull it off. Found? Nada. I decided to try my own experiment. Historically, the blur added to photos for a glamorized feel is by using the Gaussian Blur tool. Not for these babies. I tried a new one, the Box Blur tool. It gives a slightly different blur than the Gaussian Blur tool and more towards what I was going for. I didn't want to go overboard, so I lowered the opacity of that layer down to about eight percent. Again, barely noticeable but it's there. As I gain more experience of how this new blur style is achieved, I will gladly be the guinea pig and share the findings with the readers here.
That was about it. I make sure all layers are one and save the image as a .jpg and call it a day.
So far, I am very pleased with what I've been getting from these photos. David Wess is also very pleased with his photographs. At least that's what he tells me.
TTFN (I'm such a dork!!!)