Portraits Without a Studio

By Roger (26 February 2017)

Humans have a long history of making portraits, with all sorts of tools. Photographers began adding to this history as soon as the camera was invented. Portrait photography began as a stiff pose (because of the long exposure times required), in front of a very controlled background.

As film became more responsive and artificial lighting was improved, portraits were easier to make, but the general environment didn't change much. You made an appointment with the photographer's front office; got all dressed up; and went into a separate building, with big (hot) lights. If you were a kid, you knew this was important to your parents, but you felt intimidated by the stranger behind a big chunk of metal and glass. Your parents would joke with you; cajole you; and/or threaten you to achieve the desired “natural smile.” (OK, I may be painting the scene with an over-dramatic brush....)

To be clear, the portraiture I'm describing is a deliberate event to make a person's photograph. We're not talking about great photos of people that happened because an alert photographer, saw a special pose, background, or lighting, and happened to use his camera to capture that moment in time.

Many years ago, I had full access to a nice studio, with tall ceilings, lots of seamless paper choices, big lights, and modifiers. We made mostly formal portraits because that's what clients expected back then. We had room to create unique sets for portraits when we wanted to stretch a little.

Lots of seamless paper and bright lights

Today, however, most people aren't making many trips to the photographer's studio. People don't want to take the time to travel to a studio; they think those sessions are too expensive; or they're more comfortable in relaxed environments. Everyone has a camera on their phones and too many think a snapshot is “good enough.” There are many and varied reasons the old idea of a portrait studio is fading, but studios are suffering from the lack of business.

Regardless, people still want portraits – formal and otherwise. If you want to make nice portraits, but don't want to pay for a studio, you need to move in a different direction. You need to be able to make photos wherever you find your subjects and ensure the quality is comparable to the studios of olden days. This is much easier and less expensive than you might think.

To be fair, there have always been photographers who needed to make portraits away from a formal studio. Wedding photographers might make pre-ceremony studio photos of the bride (as above), but had to make on-venue photos during the wedding. Model and family photographers traveled to various location shoots and brought their lighting with them. You can adopt their methods when you want to make a deliberate portrait.

The equipment list doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg. With the quality of today's cameras, you don't have to worry about its ability to create a portrait. You want good quality lenses, but that doesn't always mean the most expensive. I recommend some lights and modifiers, but, again, you don't have to spend a fortune. White sheets, in front of windows, can produce a very nice softbox. The only requirement would be practice, to learn how to best use your equipment and produce consistent effects.

Front yard, with flash and softbox

Useful locations can be found almost anywhere, especially if you're shooting tight. Think your photo through and pay attention to your viewfinder. You want to inspect it to see what to include or exclude. In the shot below, you can see I had my granddaughter stand in front of a narrow window panel, by our front door. You can see the dining room table (cluttered, of course) behind her. I moved closer for the final shot, for a cleaner background and easier post-processing.

Inside, with window light only

I made another portrait with her sister, on the other side of the door, taking advantage of the lines of the door panels. They provided more interest, without being a distraction. These photos were taken less than six feet apart but look totally different. The only lighting tool used was a reflector for the second shot.

Outside, with reflector

I like to keep the portraits simple, with few distractions that move the viewers eyes away from the subject. However, that doesn't always mean you need to shoot tight. Even simple backgrounds can help your composition. In the photo below, the horizontal and vertical lines echo the couple's pose and guide your eyes directly to the subjects.

Outside, with flash and reflector

You would be right to point out that I violated a couple of composition “rules” in the portrait of the Native American fighter, from the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial. He's centered and the wood line cuts across the middle of the photo. It works in this portrait because of the symetry and balance of the subject. The 4x5 crop increases this feeling. The background is blurred, but it's easily identifiable as foliage. You may disagree, but I think this is a case where violating the rules works to my portrait's advantage.

Outside, with reflector

We all like to mix things up a bit, now and then. When you begin to complicate the portrait, you will find more little problems that need to be fixed. For this last photo, the sun was on the opposite side of the B&B. The lamp certainly wasn't bright enough to sufficiently illuminate her face. I used a flash, on the inside and on low power, to fix that. There were obnoxious reflections on the window, over parts of her face, but a slight upturn of the camera took care of those. I needed to adjust her skin tone to reduce the color shift from the orange room. I experimented with cropping out the lamp, but, in the end, I think it adds more than it detracts.

Outside, shooting in, flash

We've talked post-processing in previous posts, so I won't dwell on that here. I put some effort into skin tones and removing obvious blemishes, but I'm not a fan of over-processing the skin. Any stray distractions in the background are removed. I usually just brush in sharpening around important features, like the eyes, rather than global sharpening. And, then it's done.

I still enjoy going to studios when I get the chance, but you don't have to have a dedicated building to make nice portraits. You control what the viewers see in your final photo, and, with practice, you can make a portrait almost anywhere . The results are all that matter to your subject.

You will be surprised how much you can do when you get into the portable studio mode. There are even books covering the subject. One of the best is Nick Fancher's Studio Anywhere (link), if you'd like to go more in-depth. Nick goes into great detail on his portraits, with light diagrams and equipment descriptions. Give him a read.

Starting with Lightroom Mobile

By Mark

Last week we started discussing the family of mobile device apps developed by Adobe.  For me, the one I use the most must be LR mobile.  It is not intended to be replacement for the desktop version.  That being said, you can do more and more editing on the app, and with the latest release, Adobe has even introduced their own interface to the device’s camera which shoots and processes native RAW format images.  The app works on iPads, iPhones and Android devices. 

LR Mobile allows you to edit, rate, present images while on the go.  The software doesn’t directly edit your images, aside from the ones taken on your device, instead it works on the “Smart Preview” thumbnail. These are much smaller files, but they are linked back to your main catalog on your computer.  Changes you make in LR mobile, will change those images, once your device is synchronized.  Like all adjustments in LR, any or all of them can be changed back. 

To begin taking advantage of LR mobile, you have to start back on your desktop installation.  Access to your images is based upon setting up and enabling Collections.  Collections, I hope you recall are one of the most powerful features of LR.  No one really wants to see all 5000 photographs of your vacation.  With collections, you can select only the best images of that trip, or set up collections for only your 5 Star portraits, or…, whatever you want to showcase.  Currently, you can’t synchronize Smart Collections, but they are working on that.

It is a simple three step process to begin displaying photos on your devices.  Once LR mobile is installed, just log in to your Adobe account.   Back at your desktop, at the top menu, you will see a “Synchronize with LR Mobile”. 

It will ask you to login again to your Adobe account.  Now, assuming you already have collections set up, you will see an additional check box to the far left of the menu.  Click on them and it will display a bi-directional arrow indicating that LR will synch the images in that collection.    If you want to see how many total images you are sharing, they have added this information to the Topmost Catalog panel.

I mentioned that you can set up your devices to auto upload from the phone/IPad into your LR collection.  Rather than recreating an already created tutorial, here is a link to one from Lightroom Killer Tips.  http://lightroomkillertips.com/how-to-automatically-add-your-camera-phone-photos-to-lightroom/

I have not even started on all the editing tools, but that will have to wait for next week’s blog.   

Starting Some Updates on Adobe Mobile Apps

By Mark

Adobe is aggressively and continually making improvements to their suite of phone and tablet apps.  They have recognized and are responding to several trends in how people use their cameras, in fact in what their cameras are.  For a lot of people, their only camera is what their phones can do, we “real photographers”, with our heavy DSLRs are becoming rarer and rarer.  In truth, cell phone cameras are approaching the quality of many cameras. People also want to have access to their photos or artistic creations wherever they happen to be.  For those individuals, lucky enough to be creative, they want the tools to create, capture and share across multiple platforms and channels.  What is powering all of this, is the part that I actually understand, the power, speed and availability of real-time cloud computing is increasing daily, while the costs are dropping faster than Roger’s camera from a table.

Adobe has been telling everyone that the future will reside in the cloud for quite a while now. In the last two weeks, they have finally announced the end of support for the Creative Suite stand-alone versions.  For the time being, you still can purchase a non-subscription version of Lightroom, but that writing is on the wall as well.  Truthfully, like many I was skeptical at first, but the pace at which they roll out new features and fix bugs along with the increasing level of integration between all the applications and the apps through the Creative Cloud have convinced me.  There are apps now for everything from Adobe Premiere for capturing video clips for production, drawing, sketching and painting applications, and of course mobile versions of Photoshop and Lightroom.

I’m going to spend a few blogs talking about what these apps do and why you should start using them.  I have an entire page of my iPad and iPhone filled with Adobe stuff and I use them all the time.

At the center of the app world is the Adobe Creative Cloud app itself.  It is the Central hub connecting the desktop applications, the mobile apps and your assets that you want to share across all of them. 

You can save color schemes, brushes, patterns and files.  They work from Illustrator to Photoshop and are linked through your Adobe login and password.  You can create separate libraries for multiple projects and can share them with specific people.

Next week we will start in-depth with LR mobile. 

Rolex 24 Racing

By Roger (6 February 2017)

Last weekend, I was invited to Daytona Beach, for the Rolex 24 sports car race. In case you're not familiar with this event, four different classes of cars race for 24 hours, continuously, rain or shine. It's one of the most prestigious sports car races in the United States. I had an all-access pass to take my cameras all around the racetrack.

Rolex 24 logo

I've been to the Daytona Speedway, a couple of times, so I had an idea of the layout of the track. However, I had never had this kind of access in the past, nor did I have any sports car experience. The Rolex course had an extra section of track opened that included many tight corners for the cars to weave their way through. I spent the first few hours roaming the track, looking for the best spots to be during the race. I was looking for locations where I could see the cars on the corners and along the steep banks of the speedway. With a 24-hour race, I knew I'd have the time to move around the track.

Next, I went down to the garages, but the cars had already been moved out to the pits for the crowd to see them. The pits are where the cars are refueled and worked on during the race. Each team had several drivers, and they switched out as the hours went on. Before the race, the pits were swarming with onlookers, drooling over the expensive race cars.

Dream Racing's Lamborghini Huracan GT3, GT Daytona Class

Dream Racing's Lamborghini Huracan GT3, GT Daytona Class

I went back to the Porsche Club of America tent, with my hosts, and began to plan out my shot list. The PCA has a special section to watch the race, and the members bring their Porsches out for display. The tent was less than 100 yards from the track; had several monitors to watch the race; and protected the PCA members from the elements. It was a cozy place to hang out. ;-)  My hosts had come in their two machines, so I made some photos of them and a couple of the other cars in the lot.

Jim and Karla, with Charlotte, a Porsche GT3

Jim and Karla, with Charlotte, a Porsche GT3

Martini Porsche, at the PCA tent

Martini Porsche, at the PCA tent

By the time the race started, at 2:30, I thought I had everything figured out. I made a mental list of the shots I hoped to get. One photo I wanted depended on the weather, but the weather forecast looked good for me.

While the cars were on their warm-up laps, I tested out one of my initial positions for some easy photos before the cars got up to speed. The faster Prototype class cars would hit 200mph on the backstretch. Luckily, I've shot race cars before, so I had my hearing protection in. The decibel level from racing engines is not only harmful to your hearing, it is downright painful. You should always pack some kind of protection.

If you're new to these events – and I was – pick up a program, so you have descriptions of each car and race team. You want to know the car manufacturer, the drivers, and, in this case, the class of the race cars. The Rolex 24 program had a description of the course, so I could look for more photo locations.

Cadillac DPi-V.R., Prototype class. This team won the race.

Cadillac DPi-V.R., Prototype class. This team won the race.

Oreca FLM09, Prototype Challenge class

Oreca FLM09, Prototype Challenge class

 On the first laps, I found out I had underestimated the shutter speed required to freeze the cars, especially on the main track. I also noticed that zooming in too far took away the context of the photo. I backed off a little and got a better shot.

This is not what you want to see in your viewfinder!

This is not what you want to see in your viewfinder!

On the banking, with some context. All four classes of racers, in one shot.

On the banking, with some context. All four classes of racers, in one shot.

I'm thinking that I should take out that light pole, dividing the photo into two pieces, but that will have to wait for a day when I have more time.

As the day progressed, my weather wish came true. It started to drizzle. This was not a good thing for the drivers – especially those in the open cockpits of the Prototype Challenge cars. But I wanted to get some photos with water mist on the track.

Unfortunately, it was already late in the evening, and we were all pretty much worn out. We retired to my hosts' boat for some sleep, but I was back at the track before the sun rose. The rain was just ending; there was enough light; I got my shots.

Porsche 911 RSR, GT LeMans class

Porsche 911 RSR, GT LeMans class

Prototype R5D4944

It was a long 24 hours for me, but what an opportunity! I carried both cameras, with my long lenses. With that much time, I figured out all the proper settings to make the photos I wanted and which camera was best for each type of photo. (I shot almost 4,000 photos.) I picked up some tips from the other photographers. (Always bring a stool for shots over the fencing.) I made lots of new contacts for future events. After watching that many hours at the track, I could tell which car was coming by the sound of its roaring engine. The Corvettes and Mercedes had the best sounding engines. Here's hoping I get to hear them, again.

Corvette C7-R, GT LeMans class

Corvette C7-R, GT LeMans class

Mercedes AMG GT3, GT Daytona class

Mercedes AMG GT3, GT Daytona class