Sunday, November 29, 2009

Colorful Standouts

Continuing on with some Photoshop ideas.....I often see the below effect done in wedding photography. The photographer highlights the bridal bouquet by keeping it in color and making the rest of the photo black and white.

 I was at a car show and saw this sideview mirror that captured the reflection of an American flag. When I converted the picture to B&W and kept the flag in color, it really popped. It is very easy to do in Photoshop. This took me less than 5 minutes. I also darkened the window in the background in order to highlight the chrome mirror.
Below is another twist in which you can use a "color standout" for more drama.
The impressive handmade cake pops in color and the emotion expressed in the girl is amplified in B&W. The result is win-win. You can do this in your portrait photos by converting photos to B&W and keeping colors in eyes, toys, flowers, etc. In the fall you can keep apples red or pumpkins orange. During the winter, you can keep a sled red or a Christmas tree green. I suggest keeping it in mind when you are photographing and an object just jumps out at you. One of my plans, for example, is to get a photo of my daughter in her Radio Flyer Wagon and keeping only the wagon red.

Want a last idea? Practice a close-up on a favorite ornament (maybe baby's first x-mas?) and keep only the (colorful!) ornament in color and convert the background tree to B&W.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dodge and Burn your Way to Better Photos

I don't believe very strongly in Photoshop for two reasons. The first reason is that the full version is well over $500 and the second reason is that most "Photoshoped" pictures reek of, well, Photoshopedness. (It's a word; trust me.) The two part solution? Buy Photoshop Elements and use it at the right times.

The picture above was Photoshoped.  I slightly darked the exposure and dodged the shadows (made the shadows darker). I also burned the highlights (making them lighter). I believe this helped make a flat photograph look a little more exciting. I would rather frame the one on the left than the original on the right. This means you can improve a rather ordinary photograph in just a few minutes. You can click on the images above for a larger view.
About the price. Photoshop is expensive, but Photoshop Elements, is a stripped down version of the software that you can purchase for less than $100. I used Elements on the above - in fact I don't own the full version.  I will post a few more Photoshop articles in the next 2 months because some people may wish to add Elements to their Christmas list. And the other reason is well, I don't take as many photos in the winter, so a good time to talk about equipment and post work.

And if you don't want to spend the money on Photoshop, AT LEAST get the free Google photo editing software called Picasa. You can crop, clear blemishes, color correct etc. I use it often for a "quick fix" with very good results. You can hit up Youtube for some great tutorials on digital editing.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Directional Lighting

Off Camera Flash: Part One of Many

One thing that I tell people getting into photography is - get out there and shoot different things. In order to expand your skills you need to push yourself; that includes getting past your comfort zone. I recently followed my own advice and photographed a friend's band practice. I never did anything like it before and asked permission, just for my own growth. I hadn't seen them practice and knew nothing ahead of time other than it was in a studio a few towns away. With the band's blessing I packed up my gear and headed out one cold October night.

By now you at least know that I have limited lighting equipment so when I walked into this tiny, DARK room I almost panicked. Thank god, I thought to myself, this was not a paying client. The room was small and filled wall to wall with at least 5 guys, plus me, equipment, wires, speakers, stands, amps, et al. The walls were a dark blue hard carpet and there were 2 pathetic fluorescent light bulbs offering just enough light to see who you were talking to. I guess I should have been thankful they weren't blinking!

I knew ahead of time that I was shooting in black and white. It was the vision I had in my mind. Seeing the poor lighting first hand removed any doubt. There was no way these shots would have had half a chance in color. The tonal qualities and "noise" would have been, well, not good. Black and white can be a great healer in poor light (just another free tip from OP).

A true professional taking "real" shots (for a cd cover or promo materials) would have set up multiple light stands and assorted lighting gear. My target audience clearly doesn't own that - but I really don't either, so I went with Plan 'B'. In all the shots, I used a cable for my Speedlite flash. This took the flash away from the camera and gave that directional lighting

In the picture just above you can tell that the light is coming from the right of the camera (I was holding it in my hand). This allowed lighting other than dreadful head-on. It also casts a nice shadow on the left of his face and under-exposed the background helping it fade away. As a side note- if this had been a "pro" shot of mine, I would have removed the white board, but since I was just playing I left it. I also liked the fact that there were all the band members' names clearly visible.

To get the shadows and underexpose the background, I shot ALL the pictures on Manual. This way I could control all the exposures. It isn't difficult, I played around until I found the recipe I liked. It helps when you have a cheat screen right on the back of the camera! I was lucky; the carpeted walls I loathed when I walked in really helped suck in the light and gave great dark backgrounds.

Before I end this post I want to explain why I hate head-on (on the camera flash). Simple: it looks awful. Photos are all about lighting. It is the key element. No light, no photo. So following that logic a little further...
 > no light = no photo
 > bad light = bad photo
 > decent light = decent photo
 > amazing light = amazing photo (OK, I know it is not that simple, but you get the idea)

In the simplest terms, the further the flash is from the lens, the better the lighting will look. That is precisely why wedding photographers have those brackets that get the flashes up higher and thus further away from the lens. In the photo at right, I have the flashed stretched on the cable as far away from the camera as it would go. Look at the shadow behind his head, you can see that it lands at a 90 degree angle from the camera and the effect is pretty cool, right? If you compared it to an on the camera flash there would be stark differences. For one, it would be far less dramatic. Second, he would have appeared very flat. In the future I will take some comparative pictures that I know will speak for themselves and better illustrate my point. If you are serious about improving the quality of your photos, you need to invest in a flash and (at least) a cable. The holidays are coming up. You can buy, or receive, a decent pivoting-head flash for under $200.

So I hope these photos help demonstrate what a single, directional light source can do to improve your photos. For a band I thought the effect was perfect. Dramatic, contrasty, a little edgy. Leave some comments and let me know what you think.

In any post that I use pictures, I will end with details on what I have done with them, post process.

POST: None were posed, all were candid. Slight underexposure and enhanced contrast.
PS - Thanks Joe!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fine Arts

There are a few elements I use to get artsy shots.  I wanted to share a few of those tips so you can make some ordinary shots a little more....interesting.

The first thing you can do is choose to go black and white.  There is something about black and white shots that often strikes up more of an emotional response. I don't always use it but the beauty of digital is that you can always shoot it in color and see what it looks like in B&W when post processing. You couldn't do that with film.  Most film photographers would carry around 2 bodies, one with color film and one with B&W. They would just switch the lenses back and forth. Seems like so long ago now....

Click below to read about the other elements.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Child's Play

Or at least photograph your kid playing in it

If you are anything like me you occasionally stumble across a good idea, simple in its design, and think: why didn't I think of that?!  A few years ago this happened to me. I was getting into portraiture and kept over-thinking the set up to my shots. Where could I bring this person? Is there cool graffiti nearby? Is that park down the street still open??

I found a trick that anyone can use that renders candid portraits (my favorite), natural lighting, a fun time photographing, interesting elements and a relaxed subject/victim.