Ahh, the photo sometimes jokingly referred to as the Oil of Olay shot, because this sort of photo is often used to advertise cosmetic products. It is fairly simple and not stylized much and has many features that might make people think it’s a boring type of photo, but it still has one attribute keeping it a perennial favorite; it’s probably the best sort of photo for the simple purpose of saying “oohh, isn’t she pretty” in a visual way.
This type of shot is primarily determined by the sort of light used. The basics are to put one light near the subject, above and in front of them angled at 45°. Then place another light below the subject basically as a mirror to the above light. This arrangement can be described as being like an open “clamshell,” thus the name of the lighting setup. The photographer has to shoot through the small gap between the two lights. The bottom light, as fill, can either be an actual light or a fill card. Many photographers, myself included, like the top light as a beauty dish with a diffusion sock. I personally use a reflector as a bottom fill, but a small softbox would allow more control. The reason I use the card is currently the softboxes I have are too large to be convenient for this shot. This light setup shows the woman’s features in the best possible light; soft and shadows that aren’t too dark.
I have improved on this type of shot, primarily because I have learned to make the light on the subject more intense, which makes everything work better. White backgrounds aren’t necessary, but are the customary background for this type of shot. I use a Lastolite backlight for this sort of thing currently, but a large softbox or illuminated piece of white background paper could also be used. However you choose to do the background, the important thing to remember is to illuminate it just barely enough to make it white, unless you want the light from it to spill onto your subject.
Post processing is very simple, usually at least. I do some basic adjustments in Lightroom, primarily increasing the contrast a little. Then I go into Photoshop and retouch the images according to the methods laid out in Scott Kelby’s Proffesional Portrait Retouching Techniques for Photographers using Photoshop. The vast majority of the time, that’s it. You might notice that in one of the shots, I applied the High Key filter from Color Efex Pro4.
I have made this sort of photo with every female model I’ve worked with thus far.
I’m calling this last group of photos, for lack of a better name, “Party Photos.” These are the images I had Emily targeted for in our little shoot. Essentially, more natural looking portraits made in her home, she hosted the shoot by the way, very thankful to her for that. The home would be visible in the background, unlike the other images where the background was meant to either be not noticeable or replaced by another.
In the end, like the old Hollywood style photos, we photographed both women this way. In fact, the most popular images are proving to be the two women together.
Emily is a close friend of the woman who introduced me to the roller derby world, Alethea, who I had met through photography. This shoot was the first opportunity I had to really get to know her however and she is a wonderful lady, who kept her commitment to our shoot despite many issues arising for her that day.
Lighting for the shoot was of two basic types. The photos on the couch were a large octabank to one side and a strip bank in front of the ladies powered far down as fill. For the photos in the stairwell, we were definitely going for a less polished look to the light. What I did was put a beauty dish with diffusion sock at a 45° to the area where the ladies would be posing. I put the light much further away than usual, both to give the women a wide area to move around in and to give that less polished look to the light. The light bouncing around off all those white walls, kept it from getting too rough.
Post processing on these is kind of interesting. You can probably tell by looking at these, that I did not decide on one basic way to do this. First off I will say the retouching by Scott Kelby’s techniques, I decided to do less heavy handed than I usually do.
As far as the finishing effects, you’ll see there were basically three approached I took. First off, was the nothing special approach, where I finished the retouch and called it good. Secondly, was the approach where I used the Bleach Bypass recipe from Color Efex Pro4. This came with the software and is made of Bleach Bypass, Glamour Glow, and a vignette. Finally, there is my favorite of the approaches and is what I used on all the photos in the stairwell. After the retouch, I applied the Glamour Glow filter using the cool glow preset and the Darken/Lighten Center filter.
This is the post processing used on this, the most popular ever image on my web site.
First off, I’d like to start by stating that these images are inspired by George Hurrell, but are certainly not supposed to be a direct copy of his work.
I’d like to continue with the story where I left off when I decided to ask Jenny, the dancer in the previous composite, if she wanted to model for me. I already mentioned that I had been envisioning this kind of photo for a very long time with a model with a specific look. There were a few women at this event that had this look. I spoke to one or two that night letting them know to contact me if they were interested; having never heard from them, I hope it’s because they weren’t interested and not that they forgot or something. Anyhow, Natalie, the darker haired of the two women in the above slide show was one of the women that had the look I had envisioned. Emily the other young woman, I had in mind for another sort of shot; in the end, I had both women pose for both types of shots. I was a bit nervous about proposing this idea to these two ladies as I didn’t know Natalie at all and only barely knew Emily. However, they both seemed really cool, so I definitely thought it was worth the shot.
Turns out, I was right on both counts; the ladies looked as expected in the image and were very good company for the several hours the shoot took. The three women I photographed that evening are definitely some folks that I am very happy to know.
Anyhow, let’s move on to how the images were made.
I had several lighting ideas pieced together from many different things that I read. The two that I thought worked best.
Place a beauty dish almost overhead without a diffusion sock. Bring it down at an angle to the camera until the models eyes are illuminated. Directly overhead leaves her eyes in a shadow, not a good look. Then power this flash up so that it illuminates her skin extremely brightly, but not blown-out. Then have a strip bank in front of the model for fill. Power this flash down to where it just barely provides some detail in the shadow areas.
Use the fill precisely as in #1. Take the beauty dish off the key light. Replace it with a grid. Place it such that it is 45° above and to the side. Aim it by asking the model to look at it and watch for when she can see the flash tube. Please remember to power the flash down before doing this, I forgot, this being my first time to use the technique and for a brief time I made Natalie quite uncomfortable. Without any diffusing materials in front of the flash, the light will be much brighter so this much lower power setting will probably give you the exposure you need, again you want to be approaching blown-out, but not yet there. This was my preferred of these two methods.
Then it’s on to post processing. I initially start in Lightroom, choosing the images I want to use. Then I apply the Camera Portrait profile and remove chromatic aberrations. Finally, I move to the basic panel and increase the contrast to +20 and increase the black setting until only a few pixels are showing black. At this point I right click on the image and choose Edit In> Photoshop.
Once in Photoshop, I start by converting the image to black and white in Silver Efex Pro2. I do this first because the image being in black and white sometimes changes what needs to be retouched, and thus you can save time by doing this first. For example, my method includes using the red color filter and this lightens everything red, this often makes the veins in ones eyes blend with the white, thus making retouching this completely unnecessary. Speaking of my method for this, I have created a preset in Silver Efex Pro2 for this. It includes a red filter, approximately +20 in contrast and soft contrast, -50 in highlight structure, -20 in midtone structure, +30 in shadow structure and +20 in fine structure. I then check to see if any shadow areas need local adjustment to bring out detail and I apply the copper toner using the most subtle preset.
At this point, it’s time for the basic retouching. I use the techniques from Scott Kelby’s Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques for Photographers using Photoshop. I recommend you get this book. I got it in the spiral bound version, easier to use as a reference while you’re doing the retouching. A basic overview of what I do is lighten the eyes, retouch veins if they’re visible at all, lighten highlights in hair, retouch any blemishes, reduce the intensity of wrinkles (you could entirely eliminate, but I choose to maintain more reality than that), soften skin, and dodge and burn contours to accentuate dimensionality of face. For skin softening, I use the “High Pass Skin Softening” method discussed in the book; I mention it specifically because I vastly prefer it to other methods. It is very controllable and does an excellent job. I find the most important step for this look is the dodging and burning and I’ll explain why in the next paragraph.
After doing this retouch, I stamp all visible layers to the top; the [shift][ctrl][alt][e] shortcut. Then I open that in Color Efex Pro4. I run the Glamour Glow filter on the Warm Glow preset. I tweak this, primarily by lowering the warmth. This is where the dodging and burning really pays off, what the Glamour Glow filter does with that is truly magical and you’ll see it again in an upcoming blog post. It makes the image look almost three dimensional. Finally, to accentuate the look I use the Darken/Lighten Center filter. I place the center directly on whichever eye I think is more important to the composition, reduce the size of the center to the minimum size and then tweak the luminosities of center and border.
Hope you give this look a try; it’s a lot of fun. These sorts of images help your models/clients experience a bit of fantasy as well.
This image was very important to my recent updates to my portrait portfolio and I’ll begin this entry with an explanation of why.
I have been trying to find a model for the “George Hurrell inspired glam shots” that I have been envisioning for a very long time (I’ll tell you more about these images in the next blog post.) It has been quite the challenge since I’ve been working with friends on a TFP basis because of limited budget. I’ve had models cancel on me, potential models go from friends to certainly not friends before I asked them, etc. Thus, I have been constantly on the lookout for someone to ask to do this.
So along came this event that a friend of mine asked me to photograph for the Emerald City Rollergirls, the flat track rollerderby league of Eugene, Oregon. The event photography consisted of photographing the various people as they came through the room where I was setup to get an image of themselves in their cool costumes. When Jenny (the girl in the photo) came through, she made an effort to introduce herself and when I found out she was a belly dancer, this image popped into my mind and I got very excited about making the image. Furthermore, there were some women who had the look I felt was right for my aforementioned, George Hurrell inspired shot, so I went about setting up a shoot with several of the women from the group.
For this particular image, I was looking for a light and airy feel. I picked an old image I had of the Warner Wetlands at the base of Hart Mountain in Eastern Oregon. I was playing around with many different ways to prepare the background image and all of the came close, but none were exactly what I was looking for. That’s when my Google+ friend Monico Havier suggested I try the blending a black and white image with the color for the B-17 image that I have written about here recently. Now, this is a method I knew how to do already, but it wasn’t dawning on me to try it on the B-17, until Monico mentioned it. Well, I loved it and so did a lot of other folks. That got me to thinking that maybe this was the proper approach to this background image.
I opened the background image in Photoshop and opened the Silver Efex Pro2 plugin. I ran the Fine Art – High Key preset and turned off the border and brought the blacks down. This gave me a good black anchor, while still giving me that creamy look I wanted through the water, etc. Then I double clicked on the background to convert it to a regular layer and moved it above the Silver Efex Pro2 layer and changed the blend mode to soft light. At this point I saved the background for when I made the portrait. (I was overly excited about this composite and was messing with the background long before the portrait shoot was scheduled.)
For the actual shoot, I was looking for a little softer look than I usually do for my composites. So, I positioned a strip bank directly to one side and a speedlight in a softbox to the other. Above and in front of the blocked spot was a beauty dish with a diffusion sock. My Dad was there as an assistant, so I had him step in and we established our lighting ratios. The two lights to the side I intended to illuminate the model just slightly darker than pure white. The fill light in front would be just slightly less than that. This is where the setup differed significantly from my normal as I usually set the front light to considerably darker. When Jenny arrived we readjusted the lights a bit as she is considerably shorter than my Dad, but the power settings were already dialed in. After that, the shooting was pretty easy, at least from the photographer’s perspective; told Jenny I wanted eye contact in the shot and she did her dance poses.
Then came post processing. I started with some basic Lightroom stuff with a slight darkening of highlights, slight brightening of shadows. After this I opened both this image and the intended background as separate documents in Photoshop. Then I selected the dancer using quick select and then refine edge, exporting the result as new layer with layer mask. This selection actually worked unusually easily and only required use of the refine edge brush along some of the fuzzy costume accessories. Then, even if there was a mistake there, no one would probably be able to tell unless it was pretty major. Next I dropped in the background and moved it in the layer stack until it was beneath our dancer. After this, I duplicated the dancer layer and opened the bottom one in Silver Efex Pro2. This time I did not run the High Key preset, but instead made it a contrasty image. My aim was to make the skin tones look like they received the High Key treatment, while still keeping the darker tones nice and rich. Once this was done I changed the blend mode of the top layer to soft light. Then it was time to unify the two elements. The color saturation was now low enough that there was no apparent mismatch in the color. Thus, I went to the background layer and opened it in Color Efex Pro4. I ran the Fog filter here and made the fog pretty intense. I then brushed it in just behind her and along the horizon but fading away as I got further from her. Next I stamped all the visible layers on top, the old [shift] [ctrl] [alt] [E] shortcut and opened that in Color Efex Pro4. I ran Tonal Contrast on balanced mode and then ran Glamour Glow on it. This pretty much finished the post.
With all the cool stuff I’ve recently posted to my web page, I had a hard decision deciding what to blog about today. Eventually, I decided to describe how I made this aviation themed composite portrait. You may remember, I wrote about this idea here, when it first popped into my head.
I started with the portrait of my Dad, the RC pilot. This was actually the first serious project I undertook with my lighting kit. I went with a gridded strobe behind and to one side and a bare speedlight on the other side (I currently only have two studio heads.) I then placed a beauty dish without the diffusion sock above and in front. Ratios were set so that the lights behind and to the side were considerably stronger than the front light. Once I got this image into the computer I lightened the shadows considerably, darkened the highlights significantly as well and set the clarity quite high in Lightroom.
Next I decided on what to use as a backgound. I decided to go with this old sunset at Rocky Mountain National Park.
This is an image where an HDR image was merged with a standard image to arrive at this image. You can see a more detailed account of that process here. A general overview though, is that I tone-mapped the image in Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro. This yielded overall a great image, but I hated how the sunstar looked. So, I picked the original image where I liked how the sun looked the best, layered it on top and then masked everything else out.
Finally, came the plane. This took a while as initially we did not have a plane that looked cool enough, in my opinion. Furthermore, I was initially planning on taking the image of the plane in actual flight and we needed to get good enough to fly the plane at me safely. Well eventually we got the super cool Carbon Cub from E-flite and we figured out a more controllable way to get the image. We hung the plane upside down from monofilament and placed a strobe such that it would closely match the light that should fall on the plane if it were actually flying in the image. Then I placed a fill flash near the camera.
This shot was then brought into Lightroom and processed along the same lines as the portrait.
Then came the actual compositing. I opened all the images in Photoshop and selected my Dad and the plane in their respective images using the techniques of quick select and refine edge as described in Matt’s book. Let me tell you the plane was easier to select, even on the sort of messed up background. I think this is because planes have very defined edges where us Homo sapiens have fuzzy edges with all of our hair and what-not. I output these selections from refine edge as “new layer with layer mask.” I then drug the images into the background image and placed them where I wanted them.
Then came the step of trying to make the portrait and plane look more like they belong there. I started by selecting the mountain and sun part of the landscape and putting that on its own layer and using the Average Blur filter to create a swatch of color. I initially tried the whole landscape, but with all that blue sky, it resulted in gray. I then blended this with the portrait and plane on color mode and adjusted the opacity of the layer so that it only gave the two items a little color. Then I stamped all visible layers to a layer on top, the famous [shift][ctrl][alt][e] shortcut. I then opened Color Efex Pro4 and applied the Tonal Contrast filter on Balanced mode to unify the image and give it a little of the gritty look I wanted.
My final step was to make the prop look blurred. I tried to merge from a photo of the plane running, didn’t like that. So I used Radial Blur in Photoshop. This was quite difficult to get lined up correctly and even now, it sort of looks wonky. Thing is, I like it the way it is now.
Whenever you are starting out in a people centric sort of photography, you are going to need to build a portfolio. There are certainly advantages to doing this with professional models, but at this point prior to any paying assignments, you probably don’t have the budget for it. The most obvious way around this is to work with friends.
Since you don’t have much budget, offering your friends a fair fee for the shoot probably isn’t going to work. Essentially then you will go with the TFP (time for print) model. This has a little acronym, because it is an established part of the business and finding a professional model willing to do this to build their portfolio is also a very good option to build the portfolio.
Contact your friend and tell them a little about the photo you intend to shoot and ask if they would be interested in modeling for it for a free print (these days you’ll probably want to include a small electronic file for social media profiles, etc.) If they say yes plan a time and place. When the shoot happens try to arrange food for them as well. One shoot we sat down to a home cooked meal and the other I took my friend to lunch at Applebee’s – didn’t have time to prep the meal that time.
Since the entire idea of this is to get exposure, ask your friends if it would be ok if you tag the images with their name on social media. I suggest you ask because I’ve heard of a few ugly situations with tagged photos on FaceBook. A formal portrait really isn’t the sort of image likely to lead to that, but I make it a habit to ask first anyhow.
The biggest drawback to working with friends is that they probably won’t know as much about posing and will feel less comfortable with it. The two main ways around this are to be very good about coaching the posing (not where I excel) or to be patient and work with them with subtle tips until you get the needed pose. Another thing that might help is to show them images on a tethered computer, be aware this doesn’t always work. Some friends I’ve worked with were comforted to see a reasonably good image come across the screen and were more at ease after that, and I’ve had friends that seeing the images made them more apprehensive.
Well, now that I have my portfolio mostly to where I want it initially, I’m ready to learn how to more effectively use it to get paying assignments. I’m scheduled for a workshop this weekend that will hopefully help with that.
It’s interesting to see how moving into a new genre of photography impacts how you look at things.
With my recent move into the composite portraits it has caused a major shift in thinking. Locations are evaluated as potential backgrounds as well as standalone landscape images. The good background for a composite creates a powerful mood and doesn’t necessarily have a distinct center of interest. Thus a broken down building or wall of graffiti can transform from an ok subject to the perfect image.
There is also a difference between the picture made intentionally to be used as one of these backgrounds and those made as a standalone landscape, but can function in this role. The following image has a background that was purpose made for this composite. A wall covered in graffiti in an old abandoned building along the railroad.
The following image, however, started as a standalone landscape intended to show Christmas decorations in Salem, Oregon. When I decided to use it for this purpose, I colorized it to help with the intended mood and placed my portrait subject carefully over the Christmas tree. Christmas was totally not the sought after mood.
If you are interested in doing this sort of photography, always keep an eye out for potential backgrounds.
Maybe later I’ll write about how I can no longer look at an attractive woman without thinking what sort of portrait she’d look interesting in.
A short blog post today as I’m essentially just posing a question to you. That is have I improved with the Kelby Training materials I’ve utilized? Would these materials benefit you?
Here is a gallery of portraits I did after one Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It online class.
And here’s a gallery after I did all of the online Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It classes, the book, and the live seminar. I also read Photoshop Compositing Secrets and Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques for Photographer using Photoshop.
Well, in regards to my new portrait portfolio (in the above slide show, the outdoor image isn’t new), I’ve written a lot already how important the teaching of the folks over at Kelby Training was, and how important Nik Software was. So today, I wanted to write a bit about how important the Elinchrom lighting kit was.
I am loving this kit. Elinchrom products are excellent. The monolights are powerful and easy to use. Most notably the wireless system. This allows control of the power output of the various lights independently from the camera. This makes working with few or no assistants much simpler and efficient. The lighting accessories, the most important part of any lighting kit, are excellent. The quality of light they produce is amazing and other than initial assembly, are easy to use.
Any deficiencies in the kit would be there isn’t a boom, or any accessory to aid you in holding the light away from the stand. I quickly rectified this by buying an Avenger miniboom. It turned out to be a bit of overkill, but always better to have more performance out of your equipment than you need than less. The other deficiency would be that there are only two lights. Some of the setups discussed in Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It, require three. I rectified this by using a speed-light I had on hand. The only problem I had with this system was that the speed-light needed to be run by hard-wire. Thus, not allowing the wireless system with this setup, being less convenient. It worked fine though, and I will make do with that system until I can acquire a third BxRi 500.
Nik plugins played a part in every one of the images in this portfolio, to varying degrees. For example the image above had a great amount of Nik plugin work involved. To begin with the background image was shot as a three image HDR and merged in HDR Efex Pro and tone-mapped to create a grungy, exaggerated detail look. Then the portrait image was shot in the studio with gridded lights behind and to the side of the subject and a beauty dish above and slightly ahead. Then the image was imported into Lightroom 4 and the shadows were brought up a lot, the highlights got taken down almost as much and the clarity got around a positive 40. Then both images were imported into Photoshop CS5 and composited according to the techniques found in Matt Klaskowski’s Photoshop Compositing Secrets. At this point, I used Color Efex Pro 4, and applied Tonal Contrast to the portrait to give it a similar grungy look to the background and Bleach Bypass was applied to the entire thing to help them look like one image and desaturate the image as well.
Then there’s an image like this one, where Nik plugins received much less of a workout, but I still used Color Efex Pro 4 for the Lighten/Darken Center filter. I felt the image needed a vignette, and this produced what I felt was the best looking one of the various methods I had available to me.
Finally, there’s an image like this one. The initial use of Nik plugins was just the Lighten/Darken Center filter, but then I moved it into Silver Efex Pro 2 and processed it using the Low Key 1 preset and toned it with the copper toner.
In general, you can see that I think the Nik plugins are very valuable. I am eager to use them in this sort of imagery.