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.
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.
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.
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.
In my last blog post, I discussed WAAAM’s 2013 Traffic Jam and mentioned how difficult it is to create truly great imagery at a car show. There was one image that I made however that I truly loved and today I intend to tell you a little bit about how I did it.
Detail shots are the best hope for truly great images at a car show. The fact that you are isolating in on a small detail of the car eliminates that big problem of clutter in the image. Look for small interesting aspect of the car; logos, hood ornaments, etc.
Camaros of the late ‘60s are one of my favorite cars. Thus, when I found one at Traffic Jam I was pretty excited and had to look into a wide variety of shots. It didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that the Camaro by Chevrolet logo on the hood amongst the flames paint job was my most likely candidate. To frame up this photo I was looking at a couple things I wanted; the angle of the sun to the camera to get the chrome looking the way I wanted, angles of the car being in a pleasing orientation, and I wanted the headlight to be visible as a complimentary element. The lighting angle would’ve been easier to figure out if I was using flash in a softbox, but I was able to setup the shot without too much difficulty.
Then it was time to get it home and in the computer for post processing. I started with my realistic treatment. This was just a slight boost in contrast and saturation and then cleaning up some dust. (Both sensor dust and actual dust on the car.) This resulted in this image.
Then I created a black and white conversion using Silver Efex Pro2. I went for an overall low key image with strong structure and gave it a slight sepia tone. This resulted in an ok image, one that didn’t even thrill me enough to upload it to my web site and thus I don’t have the example for you here. Finally, I thought I’d try my blend. So I opened the two image as layers in Photoshop. Placed the realistic one on top and changed the blend mode to soft light. Instantly, I thought something magical happened to the paint job on the car. However, the grill had gone too dark. Thus, I stamped all visible layers to the top of the layer stack, changed the blend mode to screen. Then, I held the alt key while clicking on the create new mask button to give me a black mask, followed by painting the grill part of the mask white. Then I lowered the opacity to taste, not much in this case. After this, I stamped all visible layers to the top again, applied a 16px Gaussian blur and changed the blend mode to overlay. This layer’s opacity was then lowered to about 60%. You may recognize this as a workflow that I use a lot from previous blog entries. Well, this time I stopped short at this point, because I thought it looked so good. The only thing I did now was to clean up dust on the car a little bit better even. I wanted this image to have an “idealistic” look.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here and for my return I thought I’d post about how I’ve further refined an earlier technique I wrote about here. Inspired by Joel Grimes’ online training at Kelby, I played around with my earlier method until I arrived at something I truly love.
The method starts with a three shot HDR that I merge in Nik HDR EFex Pro 2. I process it to be a little flatter than I want the final product to be with slightly exaggerated detail. Of course, I prepped the RAW files by applying the chromatic aberration reduction and reducing the noise a little. When I finish with the HDR merge, I then open the file in Photoshop. I open the file in Nik Silver Efex Pro2 and process this image to be a little flatter than the desired finished product with good defined detail. I start with either the High Structure (Harsh), High Structure (Smooth) or Fine Art preset. In the final, I want the subject to have more structure than the foreground, so I use whichever preset will lead to that result the easiest.
After finishing with Silver Efex Pro2, I convert the background to a regular layer and move it above the Silver Efex layer and change the blend mode to soft light. Next I stamp the visible layers on top and apply a 16 pt Gaussian Blur. Change the blend mode of this layer to overlay and reduce the opacity between 60% and 40%.
Next Stamp all visible layers to the top and apply a Color Efex Pro4 recipe I discussed earlier here. This applies Tonal Contrast and Detail Extractor. Brush this effect on to only the vehicle and then reduce the opacity of this layer as desired, I find 70% is the average setting.
Finally, you may want to stamp all visible layers to the top again and apply Darken/Lighten Center in Color Efex Pro4.
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.