Sunday, October 16, 2011

philly outfest 2011 :: editoral/street photography

Today the approach to the post will be slightly different than usual. Rather than focus, in detail, on one specific photograph, I will share the dirt on multiple frames taken on one very interesting day.

So, without further ado, my experiences at the Philadelphia Outfest, 2011.

What is Outfest?

Outfest is an annual gay pride festival that takes place in what is known as the "gayborhood," located in center city Philadelphia. The gayborhood is a neighborhood that has a large number of gay and lesbian residents. Along with those residents are many businesses that cater to the gay and lesbian community. The heart of the gayborhood runs along 13th St., intersecting as far south as South St. and as far north as Chestnut St., with the heart of the gayborhood lying somewhere around 13th and Spruce streets.

The Outfest covered multiple blocks. If I had to guess it seemed to cover about nine blocks, in every direction. The point I'm making is that it was a huge event. There were concerts, vendors, protestors, street performers and much much more. The turn out was incredible. Difficult to maneuver from street to street at times.

The Big Question

Ok, now I know what many of you are thinking. How did I end up at the gay pride festival being a married heterosexual man? Lemme explain.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and the wife and I wanted to take a long walk around town. Being the OCD photographer that I am. I told her that I would also be taking a limited amount of gear with me (us). Annoyed, she was but eventually obliged with my decision. I had a subject in mind before even leaving the house. I've been wanting to shoot this guy for a while. He is a sax player who is usually posted around Broad and Walnut streets. I've seen him there many times and that day would have been awesome to get a portrait of him. Again, I mentioned that I packed little gear. Only my camera, a 50mm f/1.4 (not the best choice but was too late once I was shooting. Wider would have been better), a 430ex ii and a couple of Pocketwizards. My wife/business manager/assistant/VAL (voice activated lightstand), Stefanie, would be my, very mobile, VAL.

We headed over to a side street so that I could get some working exposures. We wouldn't have much time to prepare on location, due to the immense amount of foot traffic, typical of Broad St.  I wanted to dial into something close so that I would have only minor tweaking to do once I got shooting. I dialed the strobe to 1/2 power, which would give me ample power from many distances. I would only need to tweak my aperture to dial in the flash to distance power. I set the ambient to approximately two stops underexposed, allowing me to get a dramatic scene with rich colors. I threw on a 1/4 CTO for good measure. Once my exposure variables were dialed in, we continued on to Broad and Walnut.

Upon arrival to Broad and Walnut, I was quite upset. Apparently he doesn't perform on Sundays. Crap! I was so pumped to shoot this guy. I wanted to get City Hall in the background, light on his sax, it would have rocked! Oh well, can't win 'em all. It was only minutes after that the wife received a text message announcing the festival taking place only steps away from our location. She wanted to attend and I was game.

As we got closer I could just feel the potential for many great shots, although difficult shooting conditions (thousands of people packed in like sardines), I wanted to get some interesting stuff, with and without off camera flash.

The following photographs were just a few of my favorites from that day. Scan over them before reading. Can you tell which were lit with flash via Pocketwizards and which were pure available ambient?

I Dig Rugby  -  Now I Do Anyway

Editorial styled shots can be challenging. You are working in an ever changing environment. The only control you have is over your gear and creative decisions. Much different than working studio styled shots, whether they be in an actual studio or on location. Here we go.

I absolutely love this one. I'm not trying to pat myself on the back or anything but I just think it is the cat's pajamas (couldn't resist a corny one liner). There were a couple of beautiful women with very little clothing with amazing physiques promoting a rugby website that has lots of news, as well as, rugby apparel. The site, that you can see on the strategically placed stickers is

Can you figure it out? Ambient or strobe? This one was indeed lit with the help of my VAL. The strobe was fired hard at camera right. The VAL, Stefanie, was about five feet off to camera right. To get the half naked woman properly exposed, I had to close down the aperture a bit. Ultimately, an f/7.1 did the trick. Shutter was at 1/200. The 1/4 CTO really brought out the life in her skin. In hindsight it was good foresight to bring along the gel.

Cropping was done in post. I really wanted to draw attention to the writing on her perfectly shaped abdomen. Of course I wanted to draw attention to the stickers as well. I used some tonal contrast adjustments to bring out the detail in the jeans. On the contrary, I had to soften her skin up a bit, just to bring out her femininity.

Don't Stare, Get Me Down From Here!

This one just screamed for my lens. I just dig everything about it. The bokeh of lights, the crowd in awe of the woman's performance and, of course, the performer. This woman was nothing short of incredible. She worked that rope as if she had been in Cirque du Soleil since birth. For all I know, she had been. I'm not quite sure for whom or what business she does her rope acrobatics but I'm sure she wasn't out there for the hell of it. I didn't really care who she worked for, I just wanted the shot.

I already know what you are thinking. It has got to lit by strobe, right? Wrong. It has the feel of off camera flash but this one is pure ambient. How so? I shut down the pocketwizard hoping my flash wouldn't be distracting. I didn't want her to fall flat on her head due to my annoying lights. I had to dial in a proper ambient but before doing so, I took this one to get a reading of where I wanted to be. This one was underexposed by a couple stops. I thought that it had much more character than the others in the series so I decided to work this one in post. I left the background in the dark while bringing her up to par. I did this by applying a new exposure adjustment layer. I brought her into the light and simply masked out the rest. Backtracking a bit, the exposure for the RAW file was f/1.4 at 1/4000 and ISO 100.

The Rastafarian

This one is also tricky at first glance. It has a pure ambient feel to it. In actuality, It was lit with the help of my team of pros. The flash, PW's and VAL worked in harmony. By the way, my wife and Pocketwizards are starting to get along famously. Maybe there is room at home for all of us. Anyway, although this looks like pure ambient, there is a reason for that. You can see by the background shadows that the sun was somewhere overhead towards the right. Had I had more flexibility, I would have had my VAL, Stefanie, stand towards camera left. I've mentioned how it was like a can of sardines out there so I didn't have too many lighting options. I could have scrapped the strobe and shot him pure ambient but I wanted to make him pop from the background. That could have been achieved in post as well but I always try to get things right on location, first. These days I try to keep post processing to a minimum, leaving out the funky stuff.

Firing at 1/2 power, you can see that the strobe was in pretty tight, even at f/7.1. I like the contrast of the image. The colors popped nicely too. At first he had his arms held out wide but I had him place them down so that I would be able to capture him in his entirety, along with the stickers, with the 50 1.4. The specular highlights make viewers really believe that this was lit by a hot, cloudless, sunny day. Amazing what off camera flash can do for a photo. Could you image how many people took photos of this guy with a point and shoot? Crappy pop up flash along with auto exposures, the death of a photograph. I'm not knocking point and shoots by any means, hell, I use my iPhone for tons of photos, awesome ones at that. As for pop up, on camera, flash, yes, I am knocking that. That light is horrible, don't use it, ever.

I think those stickers cost me three bucks. I had to reciprocate since he allowed me to photograph him. I'm not sure if he was promoting anything but love. No websites or anything on the stickers, just love and happy faces.

Shock and Awe

I love the story that this photo is telling, or not telling for that matter. Take a closer look. It's hard to notice due to the awesomeness of the 50 1.4's depth of field abilities but in that blurred background are countless gay couples, dancing to some club music. The bass was so loud, I thought my camera and my head were going to explode, simultaneously. I must be getting old. Without seeing her expression, you may get the feeling that she is holding her hands on her head in disbelief of what was going on right before her eyes. Or, on the other hand, she may just be resting. It can be interpreted in many different ways. However you may interpret the photo is up to you.

This was shot purely ambient. I went wide open on the aperture to get the nice shallow DOF. Looking back at the metadata I see that I was at f1.4 with a shutter of 1/800 and an ISO of 100. I did do some extra processing to make this one pop. Viewing the RAW file, I noticed that the exposure between the background and the subject were a little too even (why I don't like shooting pure ambient). To remedy the situation, I simply did the opposite of what I did the the acrobat. I added an exposure adjustment layer, this time dropping the background a stop or so, while masking out the subject. This drop along with the DOF created some nice separation between the two.

Dancing in the Street

Initially, I had overlooked this particular file. I shot a few of the dancing scenes at slower shutter speeds so that the viewers would feel that there is lots of movement happening. I almost trashed this one due to the fact that the neons were blurred as well. Had I brought a tripod, this would have been avoided. There was no room for a tripod so all had to be handheld. I've mentioned before that you should never delete photos, especially those you think are mistakes. This was one of those that I found to be a diamond in the rough (ding! corny one liner number two).

While viewing the RAW file, I saw the potential that this one had. I was digging the subject matter, as well as, those lines in the background. All I had to do here was pull out a few tricks in Photoshop to make this a winner.

The first order of business was to straighten and crop. Yes, I've been on a square kick lately so I thought this one would work perfectly as a square. Maybe the square thing has something to do with one day owning a uber expensive medium format, in which some create square(ish) files. To draw in attention towards the female dancing in the center, I added a vignette. Typically, I have done this in Photoshop. I found that this can sometimes have a digitalized look to it, unnatural. My new trick is to add the vignette in the RAW editor. That gives an awesomely natural effect.

Mondo Bizzaro

I wouldn't leave these guys out.

This, along with naked chick, are my two favorites of the day. I'm having a hard time deciding which is better. From a photographic standpoint, this one would win, in my book that is. From a winner by default standpoint, the half naked woman takes the cake.

My business manager/assistant/VAL/wife noticed these two guys while we were scouting for new and interesting people to shoot. The guy on the left had some wild mohawk thing going on. I needed a portrait, bad.

It is pretty obvious that this one was lit via strobe work. The slightly underexposed background gives you the hint. If you take a look at the gentleman on the left, you can reverse engineer to see where the strobe placement was. See the shadow going down and across his neck? That is evidence that the light was coming from camera left, up high, almost on the 45's.

To get it just right, I had to reposition my shooting angle. Firing head on was just not too interesting. I decided to get my ass on the ground and fire up. Lesson learned here is that you need to shoot from various angles to add more interest. Had I not dropped my butt to the cement, I wouldn't have captured them in such a way.

Last But Not Least  -  Rapture

This guy caused myself and many others a large headache. Let me first discuss the headache he was causing the others. This character was literally up on a soap box, preaching to the masses about heaven and hell, the bible. He yelled through his microphone as his voice echoed through the streets of Philly. Upon thousands of homosexuals, bisexuals, transexuals, transgendered and any other term I forgot, he bravely told them all how they would burn in hell. Obviously he was not warmly welcomed. I do have to admit, he had some set of cajones. I'm not even sure if this guy made it home that evening. The response he was receiving was quite angry, borderline violent. I'm not taking sides here but I do give him credit for having the guts to be one small needle in a humongous haystack (ding! corny one liner number three). Personally, If I were him, I'd express my feelings in a journal or something. Much much safer. Good luck out there buddy, because who knows who you may piss off next. They may not be so kind.

As for my headache. Ok, if you guessed and I hope you guessed correctly, this photograph was lit via off camera flash. That is what caused me a slight feeling of discomfort in the space between my ears. You see that awful colored wall behind the preacher? That wall threw an absolutely awful color cast across the frame, including the brave preacher's shirt and skin. Not the end of the world, although in his eyes it may have been (Bam! number four and not so corny! I rock).

How to remedy an awful greenish or yellowish or just crappy color cast? Easy, same as I remedy every photos color cast. You see, regardless of what camera or environment you shoot in, there is an inevitable color casting that occurs. Some more noticeable than others, depending on the ambient and environment. This just happened to be one of those that needed lots of post processing surgical techniques. Precision is what I'm talking about. My normal route these days is using Nik Color Efex Pro plugin, to remove color casts. This one needed that and a bit more help. Rather than begin with the plugin, I did the old school Curves corrections. That dialed me in pretty close. Once that was done, I added the Nik filter. Easy cheesy (ding! corny one liner number four or five, a new record).

My Thoughts

My first thought is that this would be my first and last time posting so many different photos that require so many different explanations. I thought this post would have been much shorter but due to my need to be thorough, I couldn't hold back. Now, I feel that carpal tunnel has thoroughly set in and my brain thoroughly fried. And, I may have even caused some readers to fall fast asleep, drooling on their keyboards. Disclaimer: If I caused any hardware damage due to my super duper long post, I am not responsible. Ok, I just reviewed it, it is not that terribly long but it sure felt that way typing it. I should write another blog called, "my thoughts." Maybe it would help me focus a bit more here. Maybe I should just get professional help. Whatever the case may be, I'm done for the day, I need a beverage of the adult variety.

Until next time...