April 30, 2012

Katherine vs Katherine

The second of my Tuesday Night Open Studio nights I was approached by my friend Priya about working together to get some shots of her friend Katherine, a local singer/songwriter. She had a concept that she wanted to work together on, and I wanted to play with using light to throw textures, so we started playing. Priya did a great job doing hair, makeup, and styling on this, and Katherine was fantastic to work with.

Aside from the Katherine vs. Katherine shot above (I did a full Photoshop tutorial write-up on it over here), where I was experimenting with background textures of light, I also wanted to they to project a texture onto someone’s face. Here I simply hung a piece of fabric just outside of the shot on the right and a Vivitar speed light set back about 7 feet at about 4 o’clock to get the light hard enough to get a nice projected pattern. To make sure that that side of the face had a nice shadow to it I set up my 60″ PLM umbrella with a white diffusion panel on it at about 8 o’clock.

Katherine Texture

Before I tore-down the Katherine vs. Katherine setup I also shot this fun and sassy photo of Katherine.

Sassy Kathy

After we were done and I was packing up Katherine treated us to one of her songs, and I had to get my camera out again and snap some photos of her singing. She’s amazing, and I can’t wait to see her on stage!

Katherine Singing

The Jazz Singer

April 25, 2012

Aviona Brown - The Jazz Singer

Oh, man… I’ve got a lot of catching up to do on the blog! There’s been a lot going on with my photography over the last few months that I think are really exciting and fun, but I’ve been really terrible about sharing those things here on the blog where I can elaborate on them more then just posting the images with a caption as I do on Facebook or Google+.

The biggest change I’ve taken on lately I started about 2 months or so ago. I had started to feel like my photography was in a rut. I felt like my lighting, while it was still improving and becoming more subtle, was beginning to become stagnant. I wasn’t trying new things as much. Whenever I did a shoot with someone I was just doing the shoot, and wasn’t really pressing myself to evolve, change, or try new things. So I decided to set aside a scheduled time to play with my gear. Try something new. Force myself out of the box I had put myself in. I call it my Tuesday Night Open Studio, and every Tuesday I settle on a concept or a theme that I want to explore. Maybe it’s a lighting setup I’ve not tried before. Maybe it’s playing with a pose or a new camera technique. The purpose is to get off my duff and schedule some time to experiment. Even if I fail, at least I’ve tried and that’s okay.

So I put out the word on my Facebook page that I was looking for someone to come out and take some photos with me and the wonderful Aviona here volunteered to be my first guinea pig. This first week’s experiment was on gelling flashes. I’ve only vaguely played with gels before (for trying to gel a flash to match the ambient), but I wanted to try something new. Aviona’s a singer and stage performer who’s home from school in New York, and I had recently got my hands on an old vintage microphone, so it seemed like a perfect fit. I had an image similar to this one banging around in my brain for a little while and it was time to let it out and asked her to bring an elegant dress that we could use for an old jazz singer performance. She had this fantastic red gown that fit the bill beautifully and gave her a really classy, elegant look.

The lighting setup was pretty basic. It’s the 3 Vivitar speedlight flashes in the background gelled as you see them combined with a beauty dish on my AlienBees AB800 right between me and Aviona un-gelled to give her a natural look. The beauty dish is just out of the shot, while the speedlights are set back about 8 feet or so behind her. The power is so low on the speed lights that it’s not having a ton of effect on the photo but since the lights are pointed straight at the camera there is a bit of flare that to me really adds authenticity to the shot.

Ultimately my takeawy for this shoot is this; schedule some time to be creative. Don’t wait for creativity to come to you. Work at it, and don’t be afraid to fail. I tried lots of things that night and every Tuesday night since this that failed. But I’ve also found a lot of things that were successful and I’m feeling more energized and creative then ever.

Wind Elemental

April 1, 2012

Becky Franklin - Wind Elemental

Last weekend I got together with model Becky Franklin who was home from college for Spring Break along with make-up artist Maddie Rose. The three of us have worked together several times, and each time it’s been magic. This time we decided to do something a bit darker. We decided to start a series of Elementals, starting with wind.

Several people have asked me how I shot this, so I’ve decided to do a tutorial on it for you all.

Another thing that I found highly successful with this image is the color tones I was able to achieve in post-processing. I’ve admired this kind of tobacco-stained tones for a while, but was never able to achieve it to a satisfactory level until now, and I figured I’d share that experiment with you too.

First up is the planning. Maddie wanted to do some body-painting. She applied both black and white make-up to Becky’s arms, legs, and face as well as over her hair, painting it on with a wide painter’s brush gave it that fantastic texture, and she did a wonderful job blending it all together. I told Becky to bring a white flowy dress to the shoot and we also bought a length of white chiffon fabric that would catch the breeze really well which we wrapped around her in such a way that it looked like it was part of the other dress. Maddie does a wonderful job of making wrapped clothing on the fly and I love her creative energy on shoots.

Next is the shooting process. I wanted to keep the lighting very simple, so it looked like some newly-abandoned room with hard-wood floors. I pulled out my 60″ silver PLM umbrella with the white diffusion fabric that I love for these kinds of shots. The light is nice and smooth and soft but still directional and easy to control. I set it up at about 8 o’clock to my subject and brought out a stool for Becky to sit on. Next, for the wind effect, I had Maddie wave a large 5-in-1 reflector at the draping part of the fabric. I wanted to try having Becky in several poses, but I really liked this sort of fetal position. It played really well with the creepy makeup and floating effect. That got me here:

Wind Elemental Tutorial - Step 1

Step 1: Clean-up
The walls of my racquetball-court-studio-space have these horribly distracting marks on the walls as well as years worth of scuff marks, so I went through and removed all of those as well as the stool and the corner of the reflector that Maddie is waving around. Having a nice clean background for this definitely made life easy. The challenging part was removing the stool from behind the translucent fabric, so that was a slow and arduous task, but it was manageable. This becomes my Base Layer.

Wind Elemental Tutorial - Step 2

Step 2: Black & White
To get that desaturated look I love so much I create a black and white version of the image. The easiest way to do this for me is with a Black & White Adjustment Layer. I prefer to do things with Adjustment Layers because they’re fully editable, maskable, and easy to tweak later as-needed. I try to play with the tool until I get the tones as good as I can so that I would be happy to present it as just a black and white image.

Wind Elemental Tutorial - Step 3

Then I changed the Blending Mode of my Black & White layer to Soft Light. This ups the contrast in the image while also creating a really cool desaturated tone. It does block up the shadows and blow out the highlights. You can also adjust the opacity of the Black & White layer adjustment to control the effect. I like to leave it at full blast though and control the shadows and highlights in the next step.

Wind Elemental Tutorial - Step 4

Step 3: Taming the Contrast
I duplicate my Base Layer and then go into Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights and bring up the Shadow detail and bring down the Highlight detail until I get the levels I’m looking for.

Wind Elemental Tutorial - Step 5

Step 4: More Clean-up
At this point the discrepancy in skin-tone between the arms and legs and the face was bugging me. I selected a nice medium skin-tone color from the face and created a new layer with a Blending Mode of Color, which I painted onto the shoulders, arms, and legs. There was also some more clean-up that needed to be done to the background, so I took care of that during this stage.

Wind Elemental Tutorial - Step 6

Step 5: A Bit More Contrast
I decided I wanted just a bit more contrast, so I created a new Curves adjustment layer and created a very slight S-curve. I didn’t want this contrast on the areas of black body-paint, so I simply grabbed a black brush and painted on the layer mask to hide those areas from the Curves adjustment layer. I also changed the Blending Mode of the Curves layer to Luminosity so that the colors would not be affected by the added contrast (which under normal conditions boosts saturation).

Wind Elemental Tutorial - Step 7

Step 6: Dodging & Burning
Next up was some finishing touches to my Elemental to bring out details and hide others. I do my dodging and burning on a separate layer. I create a new layer with a blending mode of Soft Light. I then grab a brush with a very low opacity. Painting white dodges (or lightens) the layers below it while painting black burns (or darkens) the layers below it. I like to use dodging and burning to bring out the cheekbones, to bring out details in the black body-painted areas, clean up the eyes, and to bring out details in the dress.

Wind Elemental Tutorial - Step 8

Step 7: The Tobacco Stain
I was so close, but I wasn’t fully happy with it. I wanted to try to get that tobacco stained look that I’ve admired for a long time, but I had no idea where to start. I decided to go with a Gradient Map effect. Gradient Maps are difficult to explain, but essentially you are mapping the tones in the image to colors in the Gradient Map from Black (on the left) to White (on the right). A simple Black-to-White gradient map will make the image black and white. If you reverse the Map you get a negative image. I tried a dark bronze-to-light-tan which created a sepia-tone effect.

Wind Elemental Tutorial - Step 9

This is, of course, not the look we’re going for, but simply changing the blending mode from Normal to Hue got me very close. Now, however, the skin-tones are a little TOO yellow, but I simply grabbed a brush with a low opacity and began slowly painted out the effect until I had the skin-tones I was looking for.

Becky Franklin - Wind Elemental

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