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Category Archives: Tutorial
Filter 1: Singh Ray Gold & Blue Polarizer, Filter 2: Hi Tech 10 stop ND, Filter 3: Singh Ray 2 stop Reverse ND
Today’s post features black and white photography of the Weisman Art Museum and the use of a Hi Tech 10 stop neutral density filter to create some motion effects at hours of the day that previously were unattainable. We had some great clouds and wind on Saint Patrick’s Day and I chose the head out and do a little shooting. More specifically, I wanted to practice technique with this new 10 stop filter; to understand its strengths and short comings, technical challenges, etc. I’ll cove the photo editing I used to complete this image.
The RAW file looked like this:
The quality of light was amazing, considering it was 1:30 in the afternoon. Over the 50 second exposure that sun would peak through, then disappear. The combination of filters resulted in a yellowish cast to the image, which I didn’t mind because I already knew I was going to black and white. You can also get a sense of where the Singh Ray 2 stop Reverse Split ND cuts through the image just above the museum. I had my doubts going into the shot about this, but as it turns out I like the way it broke and left the museum in very bright place.
1. First I did noise reduction on the RAW converted file;
2. Then I proceeded to do my black and white photography work which included a black and white adjustment layer;
3. Then I flattened the image, duplicated the background and changed the duplicate layer blending mode to “Multiply.” This process allows me to add a great deal of black point without adding too much noise (versus Levels or Curves);
4. Once my masking work was done I ran the image through PhotoKit Sharpener and masked off the sharpening to just the bridge, bluff , buildings and museum. None was applied to the sky;
Hi Tech 10 stop filter:
1. I’m pleased with the optical clarity and relatively modest color shift;
2. Getting a shutter speed that works is a bit of a guessing game. I went right to 30 seconds and started adjusting from there. Partly this was getting a good exposure, partly it was getting something that worked visually given the speed of the clouds;
3. Technical alignment of the filter with the filter holder is important. A few times it was off slighting in the holder, allow light to bleed through and creating some bright spots at the edges of the frame;
4. I wish my 24-70mm lens had a zoom or barrel lock. Adjust the filter on camera resulted in the zoom changing. I had to restart a few times for corrections to composition.
There it is. I hope you enjoy today’s image and thanks for stopping by.
In my last portrait post I featured some images of Martha McCarthy, co founder of the Social Lights Digital Marketing Agency. Today’s post features her business partner, Emily Pritchard. I’m presenting a start to finish description of my workflow in this post, but suffice it to say that this was one of the more technical shoots I’ve attempted – and boy did I learn a few things. I hope you find the description useful. Additionally, you can watch a fun little behind – the – scene video from the shoot.
Workflow – Start to Finish
1. Selecting concept – Many of my portrait shoots starts with a strong concept. In this case we’re working with the idea of Alter Ego, but that wasn’t enough information. What personalities are going to be portrayed? How will they relate to contemporary communication behavior? This is, after all, a Social Media marketing company. I received from Emily a loose description of what she wanted, but it needed work. I created a set of characters that aided in a better understanding of the shoot for everyone involved:
Snooky (Jersey Shore) – the quintessential party socialite, relying heavily on text and Facebook to communicate. Lord knows she can’t use the spoken word very well;
Suzy Orman – Power business woman multi-tasking machine. Speaking, phone, iPad simultaneously;
Bartender – Some of the best communicators in society, they still do it with spoken word and body language;
Angelina and Brad – Angelia just caught Brad getting naughty texts from Snooky across the bar. Hehehehehehe
2. Selecting Location – This shot was much more complicated for a variety of reasons, including shooting on location. In this case we wanted a bar setting to best capture “social,” but finding the right bar was very difficult. We wanted modern and stylish and we were restricted to working on a Saturday. Most bar/restaurants open for lunch and we just couldn’t squeeze it in around their schedules. Some just don’t want to mess around with it. You also should have insurance for this kind of activity (which I do). Furthermore, shooting this kind of project on location is very different than a studio. In the studio I’m lighting everything. On location this just isn’t feasible for me. The production of it is much too big and expensive. This can create a wide range of post production issues. Joel Grimes, and well known portrait guy, shoots his subjects on a white background in the studio and pastes them into a scene. This requires great insight and skill to pull off well and solves a bunch of lighting issues. It becomes a great exercise in Photoshop. So does my approach, only complicated by the differences in where light falls and when- and getting a clean paste.
3. The Shoot: Staging - once on location I needed to use all three assistants and Emily to seat at the bar, just so I could establish a camera position and anticipate possible issues. The biggest staging issues was to anticipate hand and body gestures and the physical space in which they occur. I didn’t want a hand gesture from one character interfering with the face of another and in some cases, creating insurmountable post production problems. Also, once the shoot starts things need to stay put. Not just the camera/tripod, but the chairs, props, etc.
4. The Shoot: Lights – I used two strobe lights. My key light was a beauty dish and my accent light was a medium rectangular soft box. You can get a sense of the setup from the video.
5. Post Production: Creating the Master File – The first thing I had to do was play with the process. I started layering images, anticipating issues, layer in a different order, etc. There is some intuitiveness to this, in so much as starting from Angelina forward to Snooky, because of how body parts might overlap. But I also shot several frames with no one in them to capture light everywhere in the scene and bring that in as needed. So, its a little complicated. And messy. And time consuming (hence only 2 finished versions so far). The hard work is in masking. I get right down to the pixel level and mask along necessary edges and merges to create as clean and realistic feel as my patience will allow. I save this file with layers as a master file. If there is a mistake or something is missed, I definitely want to come back to this point. This file, with layers, is over 730 mb. Yep, that’s right. A biggie. You better have a lot of RAM if you’re going to try this.
6. Post Production: The Secret Sauce – well, I can’t give everything away, now can I? Suffice it to say I like contrast and edginess, but I don’t use commercial filters to do this. I have my own very small set of easy to use tools, all of which I discovered just playing around. One hint though: “blending modes and opacity.”
I was shooting with a client in the studio last week, the owner of Max’s in Saint Louis Park, MN. Her store is known for incredible jewelry, but she also has a very fine collection of fine crafted chocolates. Ellen Hertz, owner of Max’s, was kind enough to bring some chocolate for the shoot. That was a week ago and I noticed the box, mostly finished, sitting on the kitchen counter this morning and thought about it as I was editing this image from Death Valley.
You start all excited, working through the first good chocolates you see and then realize you need to slow down. The sugar buzz, the overwhelming calories, hell they don’t even taste all that good after 6 or 7. Then the box sits. For days. And the craving begins again. You slowly start to revisit the box, eating fewer each visit, being more and more selective, until you get near the end and spot a few remaining gems. With just a few left you really want to stretch out the joy of them. Well, sorting through a huge set of files from a shoot like Death Valley feels like the proverbial box of chocolates and I’m pretty sure I just emptied the box this morning.
I found this last image and I wondered why I had skipped by it. It was passed over several times, perhaps needing a special attention and consideration it just couldn’t get with all those other undeniable chocolates surrounding it. This was one of many amazing light events and I did a poor job of shooting it. Perhaps a bit too much sea salt on the chocolate, but waiting inside the was delicious caramel filling.
Enough of the analogy. I found the image inside the image and have put together a post production workflow and critique of the image which lead to the final crop. I hope you enjoy the image and tutorial.
Step 1 RAW conversion: I used two graduated neutral density filters provided in ACR to drive the sky and foreground more into balance. At this point I was fully intending to go black and white, but had not yet fully detected the problems with the composition. In the color image the highlights are more visually heavy, allowing the foreground elements to be a central subject, but not so in black and white, as well see.
Step 2 Run Through Noise Ninja: I use this product to minimize noise in file, especially when the image is being processed for Black and White. My BW process pushes pixels around which can exacerbate noise if it hasn’t been cleaned out beforehand.
Step 3 Multiple BW Adjust Layers: In this step I’ll separate sky from foreground in BW adjustment layers to manage my BW process separately. This idea is essential in many of my black and white images. Typical of this step is an image that is very flat or weak in contrast. It is not interesting yet, but in getting to a point of visual interest some issues appear.
Step 4 Tonality Adjustment via Color Channels In this step I just work with the color channel sliders in the BW adjustment layer to begin approximating the tonal range I desire in various parts of the image. This process is psuedo - global. In the next step I move to local adjustments to finish off the image. Contrast good, subject management getting worse. Highlights in black and white are not as visually heavy, allowing many subjects to compete with each other.
Step 5 Local Adjustments: At this point I’ll choose from a variety of tools, most typically Curves adjustment layers with masking, Dodging and Burning, and Levels to finish off a clear Black point in the image.
Step 6 Sharpening the Image: This is my last step, using today PhotoKit sharpening software.
Step 7 Fix The Photography: In my opinion this image was shot wrong for black and white. The image is very busy, with the contrast of the foreground elements really competing with the central subject, the clearing light on the mountain range. Use of leading lines or just a change of lens to isolate the central subject of light on the mountains would benefit this image. So, I decided to crop the image from the bottom, the finished image presented at the top of the post. Perhaps you fill differently. Feel free to comment. Each of us will make choices in the field and in post production, affecting how the images reads to us.
I get a lot of questions about work flow. In today’s post I go through, step by step, my workflow on a landscape image. Its not the ONLY workflow I have; it really depends on the scene, but its one I used quite often with some recent images. Many of the images I shot on my recent trip to Death Valley, from Badwater to Furnace Creek to Zabriskie Point, particularly the images shot in Alabama Hills, required a very technical approach. The location is amazing, but I did not feel that HDR engines, like Photomatix, were working sufficiently. So, without further delay, I’ll walk through an image shot on the trip.
General Comments: I almost always bracket +- 2 stops. This guarantees that I’ll have a full range of information for every pixel, i.e. full detail in shadows and full detail in highlights. I may not use all that data, but I have it somewhere in a raw file, providing me the best possible data to start with in my post production workflow. Often, I can use two raw conversions of the same frame to get what I want, but in this example I’m actually using two different frames at different exposures and going old school post production.
Step by Step:
1. Once I’ve selected the frames I open both in ACR and make my global adjustments. Most important is to work out the chromatic aberration (CA). Doing it at this stage with save a lot of work later. ACR has a menu selection to handle CA and you can find it in ACR; I also make use of another useful tool, the Parametric Tone Curve tool in ACR. Play with it, you may like the level of control it provides you;
2. What ever global adjustments I choose to make, one issue I always keep my eye on is the historgram, specifically the Red channel in the histogram. It is easy to lose detail in the Reds (Red channel stacks up on the right end of the historgram). In the image below I’ve created a situation where I’ve lost detail in the Reds, which is in the sky.
3. I open images as 16 bit, 300ppi files. If you’re an image quality freak, you’ll get this. If your larger concern is computer RAM limitations and storage, then you’ll probably use 8 bit. A 16 bit file can take quite a bit more punishment, especially when working in black and white; nonetheless, its what I do. Its a better starting point;
4. My next step is to stack the images in Layers. My choice is to place my foreground image as the Background layer and stack my sky frame on top of that.
4. Now things start to get a little more technical and require some elbow grease. I want to select out the sky from the foregound. As always in Photoshop, there are a 1000 ways to skin a cat and I’m open to ideas of how to better do this. I use a Magic Wand tool set to the default tolerance of 32 and make a quick rough selection. Then I zoom in to at least 100% or more, shift the tolerance to 20 or lower, and make refinements to the selection.
Step 5: Once I’m happy with the rough selection of marching ants around the sky, I make Layer 1 active and click on the Add Layer Mask icon. With the Layer 1 mask selected and active, I invoke the Refine Mask tool, found in Select/Refine Mask menu. This tool requires a bit of experimentation, but with some practice you’ll find what works best on your selection. I also view the image at around 300% to get a good view of what Refine Mask is doing. With that being said, I’m finding a starting point on a clean horizon selection like the one in this image that I use the Smart Radius selection and set the radius to about 2.5 pixels, but in this image I can take a lot more and get a better refinement. As it turns out, I can push this quite far, in the range of 40 + pixels.
Step 6: With the mask the way I want it, I take a potentially important next step. I reactivate the marching ants selection of the mask. This is done, on a Mac, by holding down the Apple key and clicking on the mask. With the selection active I choose Select/Save Selection. This places your selection in a new Channel. Don’t worry about what that means. Just know that your selection is saved and you can recall it at anytime. You may want to do this to make local adjustments to the sky at a later point in the workflow. Why do I do this? Because I don’t like a lot of layers. At this point I tend to flatten my image and work from here, but I still have the selection for sky stored in Channels and recall it later, if necessary.
Step 7: At this point I have a complete exposure of raw data. I now clean noise from the file. There are some different schools of thought, but it seems the dominate school is to clean noise early in the editing process. There are many, many different opinions on how/what software. I use Noise Ninja because that’s what I’ve always used and it works well with my files. I’m now ready to begin some additional global and localized editing for color and contrast.
Step 8: I switch the color mode to Lab. I won’t get into the pro’s and con’s of Lab color mode (Image/Mode/Lab). I like what it does and I like the efficiency with which I can get it done. I use Lab for color seperation, that is, to push colors away from each other, increasing color contrast (vs. tonal contrast) in the image. Its a nice boost to the image. This is also a great place to do some tonal contrast. If you want, you can search the internet or read Photoshop Lab Color by Dan Margulis. Great book. Nice read during these winter months. Word of caution: Its easy to go to far to fast with a curves adjustment in Lab. Experiment.
WARNING: WATCH YOUR RED/YELLOW, ie. ORANGE colors and make sure you don’t start loosing detail in them. If these colors are stacking up on the right side of your historgram, you’ve gone to far.
Step 9: Switch back to RGB color mode, check the warm tones for detail. Here I’ll finish most of my color work using a Selective Color adjustment layer. Play with it. Its very powerful. As you can see in the image below, I’ve held detail in the Reds and used the ability to darken blues, which brought out detail in the warm tones of the clouds.
Step 10: Local contrast work with a variety of tools, including Curves, Brightness and Levels adjustment layers.
Step 11: Ok, now were getting down to brass tacks. I’m not a big fan of “master” files, as many folks will use these for different reasons. I’ll use them, but I’ll throw them out later to save disk space. So, I might have saved off a master along the way in this process, but I just don’t find myself going back to them very often. If I rework an image, I’ll go back to the starting point. I do this with my fine art work and with my commercial work. So, here I flatten the image and get ready for final finishing steps. Zooming back in on the image I see that the horizon where I masked in the sky is still a little, well, less than perfect. I’m going to sharpen for output here, today using PhotoKit Sharpener. My experiments with it show it to be fairly good, but harsh on noise and places like the sky – foreground interface. You know what I’m talking about here – HALOS. I don’t like them, don’t tolerate them and will work my tail off to keep them from anywhere in my image. So, now I’ll sharpen but then I’ll go back in the final step, step 12 and clean it up a bit. Hey, if you’ve made it this far then read on. Sharpening routines sharpen everything, including NOISE. PhotoKit is no different. So, I invoke the sky mask we saved earlier to mask off the effects of sharpening from the sky. The sky is critically sharp already and doesn’t need any noise enhanced in it.
Step 12. Well, here we are the final, and most annoying task. Not everyone will do this, but I do. Sharpening has left a small halo at the sky – foreground interface and I’ll use the clone tool to clean that up. It is not as bad as it sound, but I recommend a good strong beverage while you do this. It will be over with in no time.
Ok, no more steps. That’s it. More or less. I did a few more things to finish off the image you see at the top of the post, but you can figure that out. Hopefully this was helpful. If you have questions or suggestions for better/more efficient technique, please leave your comments in the comment section for all to see. THANK YOU.