I have no idea why, but I always get some relief from any mental anguish from converting an image to black and white. There is something about eliminating the color from an image and creating drama through tonal contrast and separation that soothes my mind.
The secret to a compelling monochrome image is usually contrast. In monochrome, there are two ways to create contrast; there is contrast the same as in the image before you make the conversion and then there is separating tone based on color by using color filtration in the editing software. The second method, is always foremost on my mind when I shoot for b&W, which I rarely do. My method usually means that I sort through my existing images looking for one that will look dramatic after allowing for the color filtration etc.
For the process, I use Silver Efex Pro2, now available for free from Google. It is easy and powerful. I’ve tried to get similar results just as a test in Lightroom, and it takes a lot of work, but honestly can be done. Silver Efex Pro2 comes with such a great variety of presets that it is usually a matter of choosing a preset and then making tweaks. I rarely go with the preset alone; doesn’t provide the exact look I want, and deprives me of some of my therapy.
My most used preset these days is the High Structure (smooth). I usually apply a yellow or orange filter to it, red is usually too contrasty. In most pics, yellow, orange, red filters provide increasing contrast as you move through the list. This is dependent on the color makeup of the image however and sometimes blue or green are the appropriate choice. One thing to watch for is that due to some characteristic of digital images that I don’t understand, blue usually will make noise more visible.
If you want a closer look at these images look at this gallery.
On June 13, 2015, the B-17 Alliance hosted the second annual Warbirds Over the West at McNary Field in Salem. This was the first time it was held at the Alliance’s new home in Salem. Knowing that my friends at the Living History Group Northwest were supposed to be at the show, I knew there was a chance for some images that were very important to me. I also knew to make them happen I’d need to ask some these great folks who I don’t know that well to do this for me with little benefit to them. (Can afford to give them some free pics, but little else.) This is a situation that often makes me quite anxious, so I was afraid I would chicken out and come home without the images.
I have been endeavoring to build a portfolio of images of people with vehicles in a Hollywood inspired style to show potential clients. The “aviatrix” shoot I recently wrote about with Sami Van Der Westhuizen and Carrie Strahle – makeup, was also part of this effort. If all went well at Warbirds Over the West, I felt certain I could reach the number of images I needed to show this portfolio as separate from my “people” portfolio on my web site.
With these images being the most important thing I had planned for the day, and the fact that the light would be deteriorating all day; I made it my first task for the day. Thanks to training with Toastmasters International and some other issues, I have been doing pretty well with these sorts of things when it has to do with my photography career. Thus, asking the various folks in these photos to pose for me went off without a single hitch and resulted in images that met what I envisioned very well. I couldn’t be more grateful for their help.
These images were shot and processed with the method I discussed on here earlier, How Do I Light Heroic Portraits? The only difference was I used a low-saturation version of the Lightroom preset I created. I usually do this with old military things.
Of course, there was a lot of other stuff going on at Warbirds Over the West. The headline was Grumpy was there from the Historic Flight Museum was giving flights to paying folks and doing flybys. Some friends from WAAAM flew the museum’s Taylorcraft L-2 and there was also a Stinson L-5 on hand. The beautiful, shiny DC-3 flew in from Aurora.
There was also live music and a beer garden, which proved to be the perfect way to chill after the big day.
In the end, it was a great day, I look forward to it next year.
It may not be Darwinian, but a photographer’s style evolves over time. Sometimes it is intentional; the photographer will pay attention to what works in the marketplace, filtering that through what excites him, altering his style. Further, if he’s really working at this he will continue to learn new things. Finally, there is unintentional evolution; it may be subtle, but the way the photographer looks at a subject will change over time.
I have created two galleries here displaying some evolution in my shooting. Both are connected to my attempts to pay homage to George Hurrell, a Hollywood photographer from the past. The above gallery is my earlier attempt and the bottom is some very recent shooting. Of course, I must also credit the help of Sami Van Der Westhuizen (the model), Carrie Strahle (makeup artist) and WAAAM (the museum that owns the planes) for having an impact on the second set of images looking different than the first.
On April 24, 2015, Erickson Aircraft Collection performed engine tests on Madras Maiden, their B-17G Flying Fortress, for the first time since some maintenance work. There was some talk of flying that day also, but it didn’t happen for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons was the weather kind of sucked.
I went over to photograph the day’s events and was a bit frustrated by the weather, but came up with some stuff I like pretty well.
I used too basic methods for accomplishing this in these less than ideal weather conditions. The number one challenge was preventing getting a washed out sky combined with a too dark airplane. Method number one for dealing with this was to shoot carefully making sure that the sky retained detail. This was followed by processing in Lightroom to make the most out of the dynamic range. This included bringing the highlights down and the shadows up along with judicious use of the clarity slider. Graduated filters applied to the sky were also sometimes used.
The other thing I did, that gave me results I preferred, was to use alternative “retro” processing. On some of the images I applied presets in Nik’s Analog Efex Pro2. On my favorites however, I went in to Silver Efex Pro2. There I started with the High Structure: Harsh preset. I then let the sky go very light and optimized contrast. I was shooting for an almost etching look. I finished it off with a little sepia toning.
Recently, I completed a model shoot at WAAAM with some of the old biplanes there. The route to this shoot was nebulous and the original point of the shoot got lost a little bit, but we made something great out of it. I believe WAAAM will get a great photo to hang in the lobby out of this and I certainly got some nice new additions to my portfolio.
I’ll begin my narrative with the human side of the story, as the shoot was an incredible experience, and this part of the story isn’t necessarily evident in the story.
I have been working with Ken Olsson with various things at WAAAM for several years. Initially, we met when I was writing a story about aviation museums in Oregon. I’ve always enjoyed talking with Ken, he’s friendly, and we’ve always had plenty to talk about. I met Carrie Strahle, of Carrie Strahle Makeup Artistry, at an ASMP event, and exchanged business cards with her. She is the kind of person that instantly strikes you as a friend, despite the brief encounter. In discussions with Carrie later, she suggested Sami Van Der Westhuizen might be able to help me with a project that I was beginning to think about at that time. Thus I contacted Sami on FB.
So when I came up with the idea for this project. I started by having a meeting with Ken and Judy at WAAAM and discussed this as well as a few other ideas. I did not want to move ahead with other elements of the project without making sure it was ok with them; although, I had discussed the idea with Carrie in friendly conversation and got her ideas on whether the logistics of this could be worked out or not. After getting approval from WAAAM, for a slightly different idea than what you see before you, I put out a casting call on FB. When someone suggested Sami, I wasn’t aware she met the height requirements we had at that point, I thought perfect. I asked Sami if she would be interested. Next step was to ask Carrie if she would be willing to do the project.
Finally, the day came. The photographic crew met at Joe Wilson’s studio, Joe is the membership chair at the local chapter of the ASMP. Sami was the only person involved I had not met in person. She came in with her boyfriend and I must say, they are some of the nicest people you’ll meet. So, with one of the friendliest, fun crews around, we got to work.
In summation, the shoot was a blast, in addition to producing some great imagery. I was able to make contact with existing friends again and make some new ones. On the professional side of things, Sami was amazing, what I noticed immediately was her ability to help me aim the lights shaving minutes off setup when I changed the lighting. Carrie’s work was fantastic; I especially loved the curls she gave Sami for the shoot.
One thing I learned about myself that had to do with the human side of the shoot, is I do get in a bit of “a zone” when I photograph. During most of the shoot, I got in this zone where I was only aware of Sami, myself and the plane. I came out of it occasionally to share what images we were getting. I was not aware of what others were doing around me on set. It really struck home for me when I started retouching images and I would notice a frame or two when a strand of hair on Sami would fall out of place and then suddenly, the next frame, it’d be all perfect again. From this it was apparent that Carrie was stepping in to touch up. Looking at the bts images my assistant (dad) made, it was more apparent; Carrie doing touch ups, everyone very attentive to what was happening, confirming what I had earlier suspected about me falling into “the zone.”
If you are a photographer needing a model and makeup artist, I recommend putting Sami and Carrie at the top of your list of possibilities. They do excellent work and will certainly help keep your set a fun place to be.
Now to move on to a technical thing, I wanted to explain how I made the above image.
It was inspired by a promotional video on the Profoto web site. I started by setting my ambient exposure such that everything would fade to black. Setting ISO 100, 1/160th of a second and f/16 ensures that happens really quickly under the indoor setting. I setup one light in a strip bank, as close as possible to directly above the Jenny. It was slightly in front of the plane and then tilted at a slight angle to make sure the light shone far enough back on the plane. Then, I lit Sami with a very large octabox placed 45° to her front and 45° above, essentially Rembrandt light. The octa was also aimed across her, feathering the light onto her face. This was primarily done to prevent spill on the background, but also makes the light softer on her.
Post processing on this image was really simple. Basically, it comes down to I applied Tonal Contrast from Nik’s Color Efex Pro4 on the plane and Sami’s clothes.
Personal projects are very important. Photographers must always develop their skills, practice those skills, invent new techniques, and keep their portfolio updated, these are all things that personal projects can provide. They can be intimidating to setup, however. One idea I’ve heard from several sources lately is to approach the project as if you were shooting an assignment for someone. This helps provide direction to the project that helps one cope with the intimidation. I’m going to tell you a bit about how I setup my most recent project.
I came up with the idea that I would shoot as if I was creating an ad for a cultural/musical festival. I did have a specific festival in mind, although I don’t want to name it here. Belly dancing was a great fit and I had worked with a dancer before whom I felt would be willing to do a shoot like this again. However, for this project I felt it important to include her dancing partner. So I asked them both if they’d be interesting in doing a trade shoot.
We then set out trying to come up with an appropriate location. I was thinking something that would create a Mid-Eastern coffee house sort of feel. After trying to come up with something for a few weeks, we decided it would probably be best to use one of the dancers’ home. I set out to come up with an idea that would give a similar ambience in her home.
What I came up with was to use a piece of fabric I found that’s color was close to saffron. Then in Photoshop, I would add a texture to the solid color. In the end I decided not to add the texture to all the images. When lit appropriately, this created the look and feel I was after.
The shooting itself was fairly easy. I let what images were most successful from the earlier shoot guide me. The only real challenge was positioning two dancers so that behind them was the background we made and nothing else. Portable backgrounds are only moderate size out of necessity and this can cause difficulties at times.
As a high school senior I was taking physics. I have always been very interested in science and thus took pretty much every science course my high school offered. Physics went very well for me overall, with a minor hiccup when we were studying electronics. As the school year was coming to a close, a young lady who sat next to me in class asked if I’d tutor her in physics. I agreed.
What I discovered while helping her with the material is that doing so was absolutely the best way to study. By explaining the class material to her, I found that I was learning the subject material very thoroughly, without any additional study. I continued getting my A in the class, in fact my test scores were now perfect, and I was putting far less effort into the class. I always value this sort of efficiency.
Fast forward ____ years (exact number withheld for authors pride, or is it that I’m too old to remember :)) and I run into a photo student while shooting some stock at Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland. She asks me for some tips regarding her exposures for the exercise she is shooting. Her curriculum has her shooting manual all the time. I have mixed emotions about this, as I feel it is a good way to learn but not sure how much a photographer would do this in the real world. I do usually shoot manual while using flash, (find it easier to balance ambient and flash in the unusual ways I like) but pretty much always aperture priority when using available light.
Anyhow, I help her with the exposure advice. We exchange business cards. I head home.
Approximately, a week later she contacts me and asks if I can help her shoot some portraits for an extra credit assignment. I agree and we make arrangements to meet at the same location. She and her friend had come up with the idea of photographing the friend in her wedding gown, with some red rubber boots, with a very quirky “disgruntled bride” kind of flair to them. Sounded like fun.
We got there, I read over her assignment and we got to work. After she shot the first scenario, I asked if the two of them minded if I snuck in some shots. I need to update my portfolio, so I wanted to get some images, although I definitely wanted to keep her learning as the priority. So we proceeded taking turns with the shooting. We shot available light first, as her assignment was available light and then I gave her some tips on my flash techniques.
In the end, it was a very fun day, I met a couple of cool ladies and I was able to make some images I doubt I would have ever made had this situation not come up.
One of the main things anyone interested in photography as a business hears is to find your style. This is something very difficult to do, because creative people can be scared to have all their images look stylistically similar. So for a long time I struggled with how to do that.
The process started with going to an ASMP event called Portfolio Perfect. I paid close attention to the response of my reviewer. He certainly had a bigger response to my edgy, in your face, exaggerated detail, and exaggerated perspective photos. He even made mention that the other photos I showed him look like they were done by someone else.
Next, I looked at what I like. I certainly do tend to like photos with that edgy, larger than life Hollywood movie hero look.
Finally, I looked at what other photographers I know, shooting in the same areas and genres are doing. I looked at what I like about their images, what others like about their images, and finally what I don’t like about their images.
Finally, I decided on a style that would define most of what I do. Not every photo I shoot fits this mold, but the majority does. This style starts by shooting in tight to my subjects with a wide angle lens when possible. I am also drawn to dramatic skies and backlighting as part of this style.
In post processing I will tend towards a wide dynamic range as well as high local contrast, while still maintaining a photographic look.
To this end, in Lightroom I developed two presets for my work. Both have high contrast, the highlights are brought down to around -80 and shadows up to around +80. Clarity is high with a setting around +40 on one preset and +60 on the other. The big difference between the two presets is saturation levels, one is very desaturated and the other I increased Vibrance to +30, with the high contrast that makes the colors pop. I prefer to use the low saturation preset with things like military vehicles or silver vehicles where I want to minimize color contamination and use the vibrant preset for everything else.
When desired this style can be further augmented in Photoshop and Color Efex Pro4. One way I do this is apply a glow to most of the photo, but Tonal Contrast to my subject.
The Piper J3 Cub, like many aircraft is available with various power plants, the letter at the end of the model number denotes what engine is on the plane. The P indicates a Cub manufactured with the 50hp Lenape Papoose, a small 3 cylinder radial. There were only approximately 50 Cubs completed this way and from what I’ve heard, these numbers are now down to two.
This one, with the color scheme reversed from the typical Cub, resides atWestern Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum, in Hood River. WAAAM flies this aircraft fairly regularly and took it to the Piper Cub anniversary Airventure at Oshkosh. The plane was trucked across most of the country and then flown the last few miles to the fly-in.
I made this particular shot to highlight the unusual look of the Papoose engine. So I positioned the camera as close as I could directly in front of the propeller hub. After looking at the resulting photo, I thought it would look particularly good in B&W, so I took it into Silver Efex Pro2 and processed it with the High Structure Harsh preset and toned it Sepia. The resulting photograph is my favorite B&W aviation photo up to this point.
The August 2013 Second Saturday at WAAAM was an interesting one, centered around the items in their collection I know the least about, motorcycles. I have always liked the image of the young man coming back from a war a bit disenchanted and drops out of society and wanders around on his motorcycle. However, I’m just not personally comfortable on a two wheeled vehicle moving faster than bicycles. (You can ask the few folks who’ve given me a ride on a motorcycle.) Thus, I’ve never learned that much about them, nowhere near what I’ve learned from approximately 35 years of being fascinated with planes.
Thus, it was cool to get a chance to get a closer look at many of WAAAM’s old motorcycles and just days before they acquired a 1947 Indian, the sort of bike that fits my ideal of what a motorcycle should look like.
The Command Aire also flew for the first time since coming to WAAAM. It was a bit windy for flying planes of this size, but it all went great and it was really nice seeing this plane flying around. There was also a little Servi-Cycle that was setup as a parts delivery bike for Command Aire and it was really cool seeing these vehicles together.
There was also the surprise visit of an Austin Healey club. It was a total shock to see that many Austin Healeys lined up in the field.
I was able to make an image that day that met the vision in my mind’s eye about the veteran biker pretty well and had a great time along the way. This particular image was worked up using the layered B&W and color technique I described here, except the initial image was not an HDR file.