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.
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.
May 9, 2015 was military vehicle day at WAAAM and it was one fantastic Second Saturday. To begin with, it was the most fabulous weather yet for a Second Saturday this year. It got a bit warm for someone who is a real wimp about dealing with heat like me, but overall it was incredible.
There was also a ton going on, hard to decide what was the most impressive. As one could predict by the theme of the day, the museum got out their Jeeps and their M3A1 Scout Car as well as many of their L birds. Then, some other aircraft were flown in by other people. A Stinson L-5 Sentinel arrived. Drawing the biggest excitement from the crowd was the arrival of a Bell UH-1 Iroquois, more commonly known as a “Huey.” This helicopter was done up in AirCav markings of the Vietnam era and was very impressive.
There was also a pilot present selling biplane rides and I spent a great deal of time photographing his Travel Air 4000. It was in a very attractive blue with red wings paint scheme and was doing a lot of flying, so of course made a great subject.
Now to tell you a bit about my favorite part of the day; it was a bit off topic for the day. However, it involved one of my favorite artifacts at the museum.
I had only been around a little while and had only taken a few images. I was busy preparing my customary social media post, letting my fans know what I’m working on that day when one of the regular volunteers asked me to help move a car. I’m a member and a volunteer, at the museum, so this request wasn’t particularly unusual. However, this car was the 1936 Cord Model 810 Westchester Sedan, and it was being moved out to take part in the day’s events. I was thrilled that one of my favorite cars at the museum was coming out into the sun to play. It was a bit difficult to get out of there, being that it was placed in a tight spot between a structural beam and the 1928 Waco ATO, but we managed to get it out of there.
Unfortunately, I can’t volunteer as much as I’d like at WAAAM, due to being two hours away. Mostly, I’ve helped them recover artifacts that have been located closer to home here in Keizer. It’s always been a fun time though.
The October Second Saturday at WAAAM proved to be a day full of surprises. It all started with the weather. On the drive there, it seemed absolute that WAAAM’s perfect of no rain during Second Saturday hours would be broken. The sky looked truly ominous. Surprisingly enough, it did not rain during the activity hours, although it had shortly before.
The next surprise was hinted at while I was helping out by setting up the lunch room. We could hear a fairly large jet powered helicopter landing at the field, but assumed it was a just a quick stop and nothing particularly interesting was happening.
After setting up the lunch room I began to wander about taking photos as I always do. When I broke for lunch, the chief pilot, Ben Davidson, informed me that the TG-3, a WWII training glider would be going up for its first flight with WAAAM. This was also a surprise. I expected a Parker Pusher taxi test, but didn’t think anything else aviation related would be happening that day. Unfortunately, I jumped the gun a bit on getting over to the field for the glider flight, causing me to miss the pusher taxi test. When I got over to the field I came upon the other surprise. A Sikorsky Jayhawk was there from the Astoria Coast Guard station to give some search and rescue volunteers some training on helicopter extraction of folks in need of rescue. This provided for some great opportunities to photograph their training exercise and the weather was a nice bonus for this as the stormy skies were very evocative for that sort of image.
I finished up the day by photographing the first take-off and several landings of the TG-3. The best location for take-offs was not the same as the best for landings, thus after the first I had to make a decision which was the focus. I preferred the glider not being towed, thus I chose the landings. For these photos, nicer weather would have looked good. Yet I really like how I was able to get recognizable images of all of the various pilots in the craft. It is also interesting to watch a glider and learn that they are not nearly as quiet as one might expect.
On August 23 and 24, 2013 I attended the Airshow of the Cascades in Madras, Oregon. To give you some idea of how much fun this was, let me start by telling you the only negatives to the experience. We’re sitting out in the sun a lot, so obviously one needs to wear sunscreen. We figured that it wouldn’t last all day, so my dad started to reapply and the spray bottle broke. We were unable to get anymore sunscreen out of the bottle, so the part of my face the sun hit from about 2:30 until the end of the show got a bit burnt. The other negative was when I was sitting my camera down on its lens hood to rest, some tiny little wasp decided the hand grip to my camera was a good spot to rest. Thus, when I went to pick it up to take a shot I got stung on my ring finger. Fortunately, the poison of this type of wasp is either less effective or there was less compared to a honey bee and the pain subsided in about ten minutes.
We left our house in Keizer, OR around 10:00am on Friday and drove up I5 to 212 and then got 26 to go the rest of the way. This made for a pretty good start to our day, 26 is a picturesque drive going through Government Camp and offering fantastic views of Mt. Hood. This also coincided with the Hood to Coast relay race, so we were able to witness some of this big event on our way.
We arrived in Madras around 1:30, giving us some time to relax in front of the TV in our hotel room before grabbing a bit to eat and being at the airport at 4:00pm when the gates opened. I hadn’t been to an airshow in a long time and had never been to one held around the sunset hours. It was really cool to see the performances in the nice light of sunset. It did get a bit dark for aviation photography, but with a little of Lightroom’s noise reduction, it all turned out alright. The show concluded with some fireworks. I’m not a big fan of fireworks, but had always wanted to photograph them. This opportunity led me to discover that what I wanted to do with fireworks was surprisingly easy. I made a shot about ½ hour before the fireworks started to capture some color in the scene to serve as my background. Then when the fireworks started I used bulb mode to capture several bursts. In post, I processed both images separately for good color in Lightroom and then loaded them into Photoshop as layers in one image. I put the fireworks burst shot on top and changed the blend mode of the layer to lighten, this dropped everything out but the fireworks themselves. I had moved the camera a bit in between so I applied free transform to the fireworks layer to tweak it to where it lined up to where it should be. Then I merged the layers down and applied a Color Efex Pro4 Glamour Glow.
Saturday was an early morning to get there when the gates opened. This was fantastic for static and taxi shots in the morning light and limited people wondering in and out of the shots. I also met some of the photographers I knew from the Pacific Northwest Aviation Photographers group on Facebook and it’s always nice to meet these folks in person rather than just on Facebook (in the video you can see me shaking hands with one of these gentlemen.) Saturday was an intense day of shooting culminating in a wonderful photographic event the “Wall of Fire” pass of Tillamook Air Museum’s B17 “Chuckie.”
The result of all this has been a group of photographs that I stare at more than I’ve stared at my photos in quite awhile.
And of course the one I stare at the most, that “Wall of Fire” pass by “Chuckie.”
This image of the Collings Foundation B-17 has been one of the most popular in my catalog since I posted a link to it on Facebook and Google+ last week. My initial post contained a brief synopsis of how I did the post processing; some of my followers said this method sounded too difficult, so I thought I’d write this post here with some along the way images to illustrate. I used this image of Tillamook Air Museum’s P-51D Mustang. Admittedly, the effect doesn’t look as great with this Mustang image as it does with the B-17, but it still works great for educational purposes. (Small disclaimer, Copyright notices on in-process images should be on the image, not the interface portion. My portal service places the notice automatically and I can’t control its location on a per image basis.) This is the beginning image with just some basic tweaks in Lightroom 4.
To start I right click on the image go to the Edit In option and choose Adobe Photoshop. Once there, I open Silver Efex Pro2. I apply the High Structure, Harsh preset and then tweak the settings to taste. My primary goals in this tweaking are to create interesting structure in the aircraft and adjust for the fact that shadows tend to block up in the successive steps. One tweak that I almost always do and I did in this image is to apply the yellow color filter, this tends to separate the aircraft from the sky.
After creating the Black and White layer, the next step is to merge this with the original color image. To do this turn the Background layer into a real layer by double clicking on it. Then move it above the Black and White layer and change the blend mode to soft light. (An alternative is to leave the layers in their original order and change the blend mode on the b&w to luminosity. Try both, the luminosity method makes the effect a little less extreme.)
At this point, you will probably notice that some areas need lightening and perhaps some need to be darkened. To do this, stamp the visible layers into a single layer at top; this is the infinitely useful [shift] [ctrl] [alt] [E] shortcut. Personally, I use this so often that I have programmed one of my keys on my Wacom tablet to do it. Change the blend mode on this layer to screen, you’ll see the whole image get much lighter. Create a black mask by holding down the alt key while clicking on the create new mask button. Then paint in the areas with white on the mask that need lightening. Finally, adjust the opacity of the layer to blend in this effect. If anything needs darkening, repeat the process with a layer set to multiply blending mode. The image below shows me painting in the mask, for some reason the brush didn’t capture in the screen capture.
For the next step, stamp the visible layers to the top again. Then open Color Efex Pro4, here we are going to do the method that I detailed in an earlier blog post. Essentially, this is a recipe I created applying Tonal Contrast and Detail Extractor to the image.
After applying the recipe, I click on the Brush button. This opens Nik’s masking app. I paint this effect onto the plane, then adjust the opacity of the layer to taste, I set it to approximately 75% in this case.
Now it’s time for the finishing touches. First off I stamp the visible layers on top again. Then I open Color Efex Pro4 again and apply the Darken/Lighten Center filter. I put the center on top of the plane and adjust the shape and size of the center to taste.
Finally, I clean up dust spots and do any other tweaks that look desirable. In this case it was just the dust.
I would never claim to be able to come up with all of this on my own. Many techniques in this method I learned from NAPP, with some of my own innovations added in. My Google+ friend Monico Havier encouraged me to try this method with the B-17 and now that it worked so well there, I am really watching closely for other places that I might be able to apply it effectively; very anxious to apply it to some air to air images.
One thing in common between two of my great loves in life, birding and aviation, is that seeing the rare stuff is always exciting. Well, there is only one IL2 Sturmovik flying in the world, a newly restored IL2M3 at Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Washington. Thus, I planned to be there to see and photograph the debut from the initial announcement of its existence, almost a year prior to the actual event.
Since I have recently become involved in the International Society of Aviation Photographers and their group on Facebook as well as the Pacific Northwest Aviation Photographers group on Facebook, I intended to try and leverage the accumulated knowledge of these groups to make an attempt to improve my photography of the event. The question that I hoped they could answer was where was the best place to be to photograph the flying. The groups were not at a consensus on this point, but, by what I heard I determined that I would be at the windsock across the field from the museum. I did prefer this spot for the flying, the planes were closer. On the downside, taxiing photographs were essentially impossible due to the distance and heat shimmer off the runway. I also was able to meet other aviation photographers, most notably Jason Fortenbacher, the videographer and editor behind this awesome video about the various flying events at Paine Field.
After shooting at the windsock, I went over to the museum. I wanted to check out any changes since I’d been there last, make some static photographs, and finally I felt that my entrance fee would be sort of a gratuity expressing my appreciation for the event.
The worst part of the photography from the day was the haze from the wildfires in the region. This created white skies behind the aircraft without any detail. I chose to deal with this utilizing the help of some Nik Software plugins; converting images to B&W with Silver Efex Pro2 and Bleach Bypass with Color Efex Pro4. I utilized the controls as best I could to bring out what little detail I could in the sky, but most of all I thought the hazy sky just looked better in these looks.
Today, I thought I would use the three images that I added to my Aviation Portfolio to illustrate my three favorite methods to post process aviation photos. All three of these methods utilize plugins from Nik Software. The two color methods I have made custom recipes for in Color Efex Pro4. The B&W process is close enough to one of the presets, that I just go with it.
We’ll start with this image of a B-17G.
This photograph uses a recipe that includes Pro Contrast, Detail Extractor and Darken/Lighten Center. The first filter applied is the Pro Contrast and here I use the Dynamic Contrast preset included with the plugin. Next Detail Extractor is applied with the default preset, I use control points to make sure that it is only applied to the aircraft itself. Finally, I apply the Darken/Lighten Center filter with the default preset. I use the place center button to assure that it is precisely where it looks best.
This is the starting point for this image.
Next let’s discuss my B&W method.
Here I use Silver Efex Pro2. This is one of the greatest plugins anywhere in my opinion. I start with the High Structure – harsh preset and then do some tweaking, usually concentrating on using one of the color filters. The idea with a polished aluminum aircraft is to enhance that sheen on the plane. Then I applied the lowest level of Sepia toning and applied a vignette – very slight. This is just about the simplest of these three methods.
Here is the before image.
Finally, there’s my Bleach Bypass method.
This recipe starts with the Bleach Bypass filter, then applies the Detail Extractor, and finally the Darken/Lighten Center. I start with the Bleach Bypass filter with the default preset. I control the contrast carefully here to make sure shadow detail is retained, I want the shadows pretty dark, but not all the way to black. Next, I apply the Detail Extractor on the default preset and like before, use control points to make sure it is only applied to the aircraft. Detail Extractor and Bleach Bypass together really makes out of focus foliage take on an appearance I don’t like much, but obviously I love the look on the aircraft. Finally, I apply the Darken/Lighten Center and as before place the center precisely.
June 9 & 10 the Collings Foundation visited McNary Field in Salem, Oregon. They tour the country with a B-17G, TP-51C and the plane I was most excited to see, a B-24J. As usually happens with events like this at McNary Field, the Flight Deck Restaurant hosted a barbecue for the event and the planes were parked on the tarmac directly behind the restaurant.
Initially, they were supposed to show up on 6/8, but the weather was pretty bad, both here and in Eureka, California, the previous stop. So we went back on 6/9. We got there early and shortly after our arrival discovered that they would be there more around noon or so. Sometime between 11:00 and noon we got word from the restaurant owners that the Mustang was in the pattern. Much sooner than I expected the Mustang made a low and fast pass down the runway and then came around to land. Shortly after that the B-17 showed up. But where was the B-24?
Turns out that one of the pilots had to leave the tour, so the pilot in the Mustang quickly jumped in an Extra with another pilot to go pick up the B-24 in Eureka.
Well, the plane I really wanted to see wasn’t there and I was supposed to be at the Emerald City Roller Girls championship in Eugene, Oregon, that night. We decided to stick around as long as we could waiting for the B-24 before we headed out for Eugene.
It was a spectacular day with dramatic, brooding skies that made for great images. Plus there was a great crowd around and we chatted with many folks about photography and aviation. Unfortunately, the B-24 did not show up before we had to leave.
The next day, fairly late in the afternoon we returned to photograph the B-24. I was feeling a little rough from standing all day at the airport the previous day and then sitting in some pretty uncomfortable positions to photograph the derby. It was a fun day though. There was talking to more folks, this time largely volunteers with the foundation, a very friendly bunch. There was also sneaking around the porta-potties, etc., to get the images.
Hopefully, next time I can take a ride in the B-24 Witchcraft, or ideally I’d love to be in another plane photographing Witchcraft. (Not that I expect that to happen)