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Hi Gang, I want to share an image I shot over the weekend and discuss some of the technique use in it and the images in my previous post. “Why Are They Surfing Lake Superior?” Let’s start with that one by mentioning the photographers currently inspiring/influencing my personal work. One is Joel Grimes (my cousin KC turned me on to him) – Joel’s work blows me away. Another is the work of Eric Curry, who I’ve mentioned previously. I’m beginning to play with their techniques as a fresh start to 2011 photography season.
Next I want to share a quote my friend Megan sent to me, read by her daughter from Jim Henson’s Doodle Dreams book. “An artist gives people back a part of themselves – the stories and sounds, the feeling of what it’s like to be alive. That’s a pretty powerful gift.” Its just a beautiful quote I wanted to share with others.
In the Lake Superior portraits I used one light, my speedlight with a softbox on a light stand, above and right behind me. My intention was to use a three strobe setup, but upon arriving I found out that my power converter wouldn’t handle it. No worries, I had my alien bees battery pack as a backup. Well, I thought it was charging the entire drive up, but it was dead. So, #3 backup was the single speedlight I was fortunate enough to have with me.
I first shot my portraits with the light, then had John the surfer step out of the scene and shot a series of 3 images for HDR processes. In post production I first produced the background using the Photomatix HDR engine, then I brought the frame with John back in and masked him into the image. In both images of John I used a series of Photoshop processes, including Selective Color layers pulling back the brightness on reds and yellows, as well as a mix of gradient maps and high pass filtering to get my own gritty look.
In today’s image it was much more complicated. Tommy, the subject, is an amazing talent. He’s a musician, but he’s also incredibly inventive and creative. The remote control car at his hands was built by stripping down parts from three other cars and building what he wanted. He knows more about a race car than a NASCAR crew chief. I wanted to photograph him in his boycave, where his work gets done. It doesn’t stop with cars, though. He builds extremely large, intricate Star Wars cruisers, in the background is a solar oven he built as a class project (it basically got much hotter much faster than any other), and like many young men, he digs riding his skateboard and snowboard. While building his creations he watches “Top Gear” on TV.
The space was staged and then I brought in my strobes. Two accent/rim lights and a key light immediately camera left. Then the lights were removed and I shot a series of 3 images with all the room lights on, for HDR production (Photomatix Exposure Fusion engine). After that, both Tommy and I started painting with light. We used a fluorescent work lamp from Home Depot wrapped in blue gel for the star wars ships. I used a spot light for the car at his hands, as well as across the floor, the stack of tires, the small helicopter lower left, etc. Then on the lower left space ship Tommy put a flashlight down inside to get the warm glow in the control deck. All in all, I layered together 25 frames to compose the single final image. I’ve included a few of the layer images for reference. The first is the HDR image, then a couple of frames painted with light.
I guess I’m not sure which chaser I most connect with in the series, Storm Chasers. Definitely not Reed, probably not Sean, but I think its Tim Samaras. Ok, if you haven’t watched Storm Chasers then this analogy won’t go anywhere. All you need to understand is that Storm Chasers do just what the name says, chase storms. The guys on TV chase tornadoes and this weekend I chased a snow storm. The kind that builds steam with strong easterly winds over Lake Superior, giving rise to an opportunity to shoot the lake in a nasty mood that has become a favorite of mine. Yet, getting the vision I see in my head captured in a photograph is not necessarily the easiest. And this weekend I didn’t. I loved every minute of the adventure, but sometimes there is a great deal of risk with mother nature that just can’t be managed. I share with you what I went through for two finished images this past weekend, during our epic early season snow storm.
The process starts days in advance. I’m always watching Weather.com’s 10 day forecast for signs of a storm that might produce strong easterly winds on Lake Superior. The easterlies drive a large surf into the north shore. So, by Tuesday of last week the forecast was calling for rain and not much else on the shore. By Wednesday it was calling for nothing but clouds and by Thursday it was calling for WIND and light rain, and I was now in full planning phase for a trip to photograph in the windy conditions. By Friday the weather service was issuing Winter Storm watches all across Minnesota and by late Friday these had become Winter Storm Warnings with forecasts of up to 8 inches of snow in Saint Paul and 4 inches around the north shore of Lake Superior.
I had a plan. Get some rest early Friday evening, get up at 1 a.m. Saturday morning. I was on the road by 2 a.m in a raging snow storm, driving out of it to reach my location 45 minutes before twilight. All went as planned. I’m hoping for winds, no precipitation and some texture to the cloud cover. Over 4 hours of driving one way to roll the dice on those 3 factors, just to get a killer shot. Well, I got two of the three conditions I wanted – the wind and no precipitation. Not too strong a wind, but driving some good wave action and no precipitation upon arrival. Just a deep gray, soggy sky that appeared to be on the verge of busting apart. I shot through the morning twilight and then started to feel the pitter patter of drops. DANG IT. The real part of the storm had arrived. With the rain/snow mix came more wind, bigger surf and an epic north shore storm, but the photography was all done. I could no longer keep my gear dry and drops of sleet off my lens and filters.
I had some breakfast at the Northwoods Cafe in Silver Bay, scouted some other shots, and looked at a house to buy in Canal Park. By this point, 11 a.m or so, the winds were pushing 40+ mph with driving sleet. Time to head back to Saint Paul in what turned out to be a treacherous run down I 35 in a very bad snow storm, with just a handful of images on board.
Moral of the story? I wasn’t going to share these images and the story, but my good friend Matt Gibson said, “I think people love to see struggle and even if you don’t get a good picture, the story of just “making” pictures (even bad ones) is important to tell.” Thanks Matt, I hope you’re right. Many of my favorite images from Lake Superior have been made just this way.
Yep, another grain elevator shot. Whew, how many of these can any of you take? Well, we’ll find out. I’m going to start including a short video on my thoughts regarding the WHY of the image post as well as the HOW of it. Today is the first of these. Please feel free to post any questions or comments about the image and/or video.
Yesterday I had the joy of photographing my neighbor’s 11 month old daughter. Everyone here understands what that means; constant motion, unpredictable, accidents! With all that happening its beneficial for the photographer to be prepared. Scout the space, decide what you want for natural light, decide what you want for key or fill light, and get it all set ahead of time. With this type of high energy subject its paramount for the photographer to trust the lighting setup, to remain behind the camera, not checking the LCD too often. To pull back and look at the LCD is going to eliminate a lot of great photo possibilities!
My setup was simple. I placed a Canon 580EX II on a light stand, attached an umbrella and Pocket Wizard II transceiver. I aimed the umbrella up into a corner of the room, essentially creating three sources of soft bounce light (ceiling, two opposing walls). I then established camera settings without flash that allowed me two things: first, shutter speed that was good for hand-held action. I shot at 1/200 of a second and second, enough light to open up or blow out windows. This turned out to be ISO 800, f/5 aperture, 1/200th second shutter. My lenses for this included the 85mm fixed and the 24-70mm zoom.
Today’s images are from another comp card studio shoot recently, with Ania Saletis. What I want to focus on in today’s post is the use of a hair/make up artist for a shoot. Its the first time I’ve hired out for one on this type of shoot. Usually, the model’s budget is tight and will choose to do her/his own work. Personally I have a hard time including those images in my portfolio because things don’t look very good.
For those new studio lighting, one of the many issues you’ll deal with is the softness of light and the specularity of the model’s skin. Good make up can help with both these issues. A reduction in specularity is an increased in perceived softness of the light. For this shoot I hired Shannon Darsow, one of the Twin Cities more recognized names in the business. Not only is she a talented hair/makeup artist, she really knows how to calm the model and help set a great tone for the shoot.
Shannon Darsow can be found on MNCREATIVE and her email is email@example.com
Now some of you might be asking, “Alec, can’t I just fix this all in photoshop?” Yes, you can and will retouch in photoshop, but the quality of the retouching is ENHANCED by the quality you start with. As always, photoshop can take you far, but only so far. So, there is a trade off in the look/feel you want for the images and the cost/complexity of getting that look.
This was a fun image to shoot and produce. On Monday I posted an image of the pier which is built on a single row of pilings. Because of its design, the pier’s full design from left to right could not be revealed in a single frame. I was a little frustrated that I couldn’t show both sides in one frame so, hand-holding the camera, I’d shoot a frame from the left-side composition and then step to the right to get a right-side composition. I did this several times to get the two frames as close as possible to symmetric and then brought them into photoshop side by side, blending the center column together. I’m not sure if its an interesting or appealing image, but it was certainly a success from the perspective of accomplishing what I set out to do. It may speak more to how the use of photoshop can positively influence how we shoot, how we see subjects and portray them. Should we let photoshop influence how we shoot?
Technical Info: Canon 5D, 24-70mm @ 50mm, ISO800, f/9, 1/25 second exposure, hand-held
This week I’ll finish with a couple more dunes images then move to some different images from Death Valley. Then we’ll take a break for the holidays and come back strong afterwards with some new images, new video content and a new….?????
Technical: Canon 1Ds MarkII, 24-70mm@43mm, ISO400, f/13, 1/200 sec hand held, singh ray warming polarizer.
Location: Mesquite Flats Dunes, Death Valley
Technical: Canon 1Ds MarkII, Singh Ray warming polarizer, hand held, 16-35mm lens @35mm, f/10, ISO100, 1/500th shutter speed. Black and white conversion in Adobe Photoshop CS4
If you’re interested in the HOW of black and white creation in these images, email me and I’ll consider producing a short video tutorial on what I look for in the scene and how I get the tones in Photoshop.