Home for the Holidays-Making a CD Cover

By Mark

It has been a month since Roger and I have had a chance to write and post a blog.  We have been in the midst of corporate transition and have been pretty overwhelmed.  Despite that, we have managed to stay busy with some photography projects.  One that I got to work on was an opportunity to help out a very talented musician surprise her family and friends with a Christmas CD.  The good news is that you can get your own copy of the CD for yourself at https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/amygodeaux

She needed a photo for a CD cover with a nice Christmas background and asked if I could help.  We started with a basic photoshoot.  I asked her to bring a couple of outfits in order to give us more options later.  I didn’t actually have an appropriate background but I knew we could create one later to meet her requirements.  I figured that I could just use the background of my unfinished basement insulation—turned out to have not been my best decision.  The photography was pretty simple.  I set the camera on f/8 and ISO 100.  I was using my 70-200 zoom lens.  It stayed right around the 85mm focal length, which is why Nikon’s 85mm f/1.4 is one of the premier portrait lenses.   We used a two flash set up.  One main one in front with my 60” soft box and the second one behind her right shoulder in order to create a nice rim/hair lighting effect.   Both units were set up with Pocket Wizards for control.   We wound up with the main light at about 50% power and the back light at about 15%. 

I’ve known Amy and her husband for quite a while, but she somehow has not aged much at all, so we got a good selection of shots to choose from.

My processing plan was intended to be pretty straightforward, but it proved challenging in two areas. I needed to:

1.       Perform general image wide adjustments

2.       Apply a minimal level of skin retouching

3.       Extract her from the background

4.       Replace the background with a better one and then ensure that it looked realistic.

I’m going to break the process up into two blogs to provide some details.

For any photo job where color control is important, which should be all of them, I began by having Amy hold my X-rite color checker.  When I started processing I would use that to set up a custom white balance profile for all the images in the set. 

More of a mug shot than a good photo--Sorry Amy!   I told her she didn't need to smile for this one.

More of a mug shot than a good photo--Sorry Amy!   I told her she didn't need to smile for this one.

I did a preliminary select from each pose and outfit to weed out any bad ones—only one with eyes closed.  I then found the best ones and did normal adjustments—mostly opening up the shadows a little bit and applying sharpening to the RAW images. 

I have several applications which are specifically designed to help do portrait retouching.  Typically, ladies skin gets “softened” a little bit, the eyes brightened as well as the teeth.  I actually ran the images through all three of my tools separately in order to compare the results.   I have OnOne Perfect 10, Nik and my newest one, Perfectly Clear.   I was impressed by the results from the last one especially.  

The images just looked better, but it was very difficult to see what was actually different.  At this point, I had 4 very nice images which I sent to Amy for her selection.

All that selection and  preliminary processing hadn’t taken that long, but are an important step before you send anything to a “client” even if they are a good friend.  You never want to show a bad image.  When she made her selection, the real fun and work started.  You can read about that next time. 

Lighting on the Road

By Roger (14 Sep 2014)

When you’re photographing people outside, without any lighting equipment, you need to pay attention to what the light from the sun is doing to your subjects. OK, actually, you always need to do that, regardless of the subject, but, go with me on the sun and people thing.

This week, I’m goofing off in Canada for a few days, visiting family and friends and learning the proper time to add an “Eh?” at the end of my sentences. All of the sudden, this cute baby (I know, that’s redundant) comes into my viewfinder, and I don’t have any lighting equipment with me. There’s a nice, late afternoon sun outside, so we decide to put that to some good use to light this cherub. This may happen to you, some day, so how do you handle it? Let’s demonstrate some courses of action and figure out what I think works best. As always, there are exceptions to what my favorite “rules” are in this situation. You decide what will work best for your model.

For some reason, most beginning photographers put the sun behind themselves. This is rarely the right thing to do. It lights up the faces and gets rid of shadows, but that leads to a flat, frontal light and anguished, squinty faces. Ryann – she’s the short one in this family – gives me the appropriate face for this kind of lighting. Yeah, she can’t talk, yet, but her expression says, “This yokel is doing it all wrong.”

Don't put the sun in your models' faces

Don't put the sun in your models' faces

If we change their position so the sun is coming from the side, we get better light. The models’ eyes are no longer squinting into the sun. Go between this photo and the first, and you can see their body language is much more relaxed. Dad has a hot spot on his face that I don’t like, but the highlights are not blown out. I can correct that in post-processing, but the goal is always to get it right in camera.

Light from side is better

Light from side is better

For me, the best solution is to put the models between my camera and the sun. This keeps the sun out of their eyes and puts a nice rim light around their hair. If I was carrying one of my reflectors on this trip, I could use that to bounce some fill light back at them. Even without the reflector, you can see how much better this lighting solution turned out.

I like this lighting the most

I like this lighting the most

For your own safety, always include a photo with Nona

For your own safety, always include a photo with Nona

These are not the only solutions, of course. You have probably heard of people looking for some open shade to block out the bright sun.  This is another option that can work well, especially for these types of “capture-the-moment” shots. However, open shade usually gives you another version of flat (uninteresting?) light. Reflectors are useful here, as well, to put in some shadowing and give more interest to your photo.

In the next two shots, I got some fill light from below, from the patio, and from the side, bouncing off the house. Remember, you don’t need an official photographer’s reflector to put fill light into a scene. You can use towels, shirts, or anything handy to bounce some light into the scene.

Open shade, with light bouncing into the scene

Open shade, with light bouncing into the scene

Unless you are doing a planned photo session, you want to keep things quick, especially with little ones. We knocked out these photos in less than 10 minutes. Most people are happy to cooperate with you when you keep it short.

This is on the road editing (my travel workflow description is here, if you didn’t see it), so I’ll make some changes to the final images when I return home. For now, it’s time to have some tourist fun and head for Niagara Falls at sunset. There may be some photos there, too.

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Don't forget to sign up for the 11 October Worldwide Photowalk here. You can join Mark and I, in Harpers Ferry, WV, at 0930, beginning at the Amtrak station. You can sign up for our walk here. We hope to see you there.

Focus Area Selections

By Roger (24 July 2014)

Last month, I gave an overview of some of the new features in Photoshop 2014, including a new selection tool for focus areas. The new tool is located under the SELECT menu (Select>Focus Area). I really liked the idea, but I already knew several ways to make selections and didn't spend much time with it. Well, now that I've investigated it a little further, I think I'll be using it fairly often. On the correct type of photo, it works really well. It is fast, accurate, and easily learned.

The tool searches for areas in sharp focus and creates a selection. Like most tools, you can make adjustments to the strength of selections. You can create a mask of the areas you select, and then use the result for further post-processing as you wish.

You can use the other selection tools – the quick selection tool or color range or calculations – to accomplish this same effect, but. for my portraits with lots of bokeh, this tool is faster.

Let me show you two examples.

Young Gettysburg Soldier

Young Gettysburg Soldier

This photograph is from the Gettysburg re-enactments, last year. The young re-enactor is in focus, but the background is definitely blurred. Once in Photoshop, I bring up the Focus Area selection tool. Photoshop will bring up the tool and, automatically, do a first pass. You can see it has already masked the sky and woods from the photo. I have it on a white background, but there are several different ways to view the masked portion of the photo. You can see the pull-down menu in the thumbnail of the View Mode.

Photoshop's Focus Area Menu

Photoshop's Focus Area Menu

You can move the slider in the Parameters section to vary the amount of selection, but I like the Focus Area Add and Subtract brushes to the left on the menu. The slider just doesn't seem as effective. In the Output section, you can determine how you want the selection to be saved: Layer Mask; New Layer; New Document; etc.

You can see there is a little bit of sky left around his ear. I can take care of that with the Focus Area Subtract brush or the Refine Edge tool at the bottom of the menu. In the Refine Edge menu, you have further tools to improve your selection. I rarely needed to go to this menu in my Focus Area selections, but it's there for you if you need it. Now, I have the soldier with a transparent background.

An easy selection in less than one minute

An easy selection in less than one minute

If I put him in front of the Burnside Bridge from Antietam, I can make the bridge photo a little more interesting. (For me, adding a person or two almost always improves a scene.)

For times when you're happy with the content of your background but want to make some changes to just the background, you can, again, use the Focus Area selection tool.

One of my favorites, but the background is a little bright.

One of my favorites, but the background is a little bright.

In this picture of Drew, I felt the background was a little bright. When I use the Focus Area selection tool, it masks the out of focus area. There is no way to invert the mask. This is only slightly annoying because I can save the output as a new masked layer. When I am back in the layers of Photoshop, and I can activate the layer and invert it. You can see the mask below.

reverseselect.JPG

I added a new Curves Adjustment Layer and clipped it to the masked layer below. Now, whatever adjustments I make will only impact the out of focus background. I want Drew to be just a little brighter than the background, so the viewer's eye will zero in on him. It's just a natural reaction of the eye to go to a brighter part of the photo before looking into the darker area. It doesn't have to be a dramatic difference; sometimes, a little is all you need to make the photograph better.

Much better, with a small adjustment.

Much better, with a small adjustment.

This tool isn't right for every photo. Most landscape photographers want to get their photo in sharp focus from edge to edge, so the Focus Area Selection Tool wouldn't be my tool of choice. However, there isn't one tool that I can think of that is right for every situation. You should give this tool a close look the next time you want to select the bokeh in your photo. Have some fun with this great, new selection tool.

Shooting in The Mid-Day Sun—Be Prepared

By Mark

It's a scholarsheep student, of course!

It's a scholarsheep student, of course!

A quick blog covering something we don’t often spend a lot of time talking about; useful equipment that every photographer should have in their bag.  This last week we went to Oklahoma to attend my stepson’s college graduation.  Very smart young man, double major, summa cum laude, etc-Sarah and his dad have every reason to be very proud, but I digress. I knew that the window of opportunity for taking the cap and gown photographs would require us to be out in the middle of the day.  The noonday sun is notoriously challenging for good portraits.  It puts harsh light on people’s faces and angry shadows for their eyes and under the nose—it is just not flattering light.  Plus of course, you get the chance to have everyone squinting into the camera.  What we want is nice soft wrap around light, which we can control.  Shadows are important for providing depth and contrast; but not for making your subjects look as if they were on a chain gang.  As we walked around the University of Oklahoma campus, we saw numerous family groups holding out camera’s and pointing them at arm’s length in the general direction of their graduates.  It was very scary.

Faced with all this I was prepared. Folded neatly into a small circle inside my camera bag was the Lastolite  One Stop 30” TriGrip Diffuser.   http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/375570-REG/Lastolite_LL_LR3651_TriGrip_Diffuser_One_Stop.html

From B&H

From B&H

The diffuser is designed with a convenient handle, so that you can if needed hold it with one hand and shoot with the other.  It clips to most light stands as well.  It also folds up into a small circular package.

The most convenient method is to have a helpful assistant, who can both look at the subject and the light and help get the right coverage.  As you can see without the diffuser, the light is pretty harsh.   

Those shades were required.

Those shades were required.

You really want to get the TriGrip as close to your subjects as you can manage.   As you can see, despite the really bright sun directly in their eyes, the lighting on their faces is nice.   You can tell where the limit of the diffuser falls as you can see the sun on the bare arm. 

Kaitlyn, John, and Holly

Kaitlyn, John, and Holly

You just need to frame the image to hide the arm holding on to the screen either in camera or leave yourself room to crop it out afterwards.  

In some shots you will want to consider adding back in a little “pop” of light to open up the shadows and add sparkle to their eyes.  You certainly can use another off camera reflector for this or actually use the dreaded on camera flash.   I powered down the flash to -2/3 to -1 1/3 stops.  You don’t want it to look like a flash was even there, but without it, the difference is noticeable. 

All in all it was a great weekend and everyone had a good time.  Now I just have to find the chance to process all the rest of the photos.