Planning for Photoshop™

FixitScreen02-13-2015

One of the most overused statements by photographers has to be, “I’ll fix it in Photoshop™.”

When photo editing software is used to compensate for sloppy camera settings, poor composition or incorrect lighting, the photographer must, by definition, degrade the image in order to “fix” it. Exposure adjustments, color temperature adjustments and cropping all remove pixels and, therefore, reduce detail in an image. The photographer does not deliver the best images and the client suffers with this lower quality.

To be clear, I use Photoshop and/or Lightroom on just about every image I deliver. Digital images are not in final form when captured in the camera. RAW images must be processed and some editing adjustments are also needed. But my strategy is to use any photo editing software as little as possible, and only as a last resort if needed to fix a mistake that cannot be recovered in another way (such as a re-shoot.)

Recently I took some photos of an artwork restoration project. Tom Jones owns Sierra Hills Framing in downtown Lincoln. He recently framed a large painting that had been meticulously restored and he wanted some photos of the finished product before it was delivered to the owner.

Here is the back story on this painting: The artist was Gustave Henry Mosler, who lived from 1875 – 1906. He painted this image in 1902. The painting is nearly 8′ tall and about 11′ wide. The owner discovered it stored in a barn on rural property that she had inherited. When she found it, the painting was rolled up, had several rips in the canvas and was covered in mud and dust. At first she considered discarding it without investigating, but soon realized what it was. A professional fine art restorer in Grass Valley brought the painting back to life by attaching it to a new canvas and attaching it to a stretching frame, and carefully cleaning it. Tom Jones completed the final framing work.

I first considered the best way to light the painting in order to photograph it. The surface of the canvas has several ripples and creases, and the glossy paint finish was very reflective. I determined that any lights within the family of angles would reflect on the surface. If I moved the lights more to the sides, the raking of light would bring out the rippled surface and likely reflect those as well. After looking at the painting, I decided the best solution was to photograph this item with the full intention of using Photoshop as part of the primary capture process.  I would light and shoot the painting as two separate images and blend them into one image in post production.

The most important key to blending images is to use a sturdy tripod – this provides images that register and align without any changes in perspective.  I positioned the tripod at the center of the painting, and raised it as high as it would go. I noticed that the painting was leaning at a different angle than the back of my camera, so I made a note to also adjust the perspective of the final image. I chose not to move the painting at all.

I positioned two monolights, each one high on a light stand on either side of the camera, about 10′ away from the camera. Each light had a 7″ reflector and cast a bright glare on its respective side of the image. In my test shots I could see that the placement was correct for the effect I wanted. I was getting a clean shot of each half of the image. With the lights set at equal power, I shot two frames, each with only one light firing.

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With one light firing from the left, its reflection appears in the upper quadrant of the painting, but the part I plan to use is the right half.
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The light on the right gives clear color, and very little reflection on the left half of the image. I knew had the pieces I needed to make a complete image.

Before moving anything, I also positioned Tom to one side of the painting, put a softbox on one of the lights, moved it closer to Tom and took an additional photo with him standing next to the painting. This would give me an additional frame for blending.

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The only part of this image I cared about was the section outside of the edge of the painting where Tom is standing. The softbox is visible in the upper left part of the image.

That was it for the camera – half of my capture was done. I brought the images into Photoshop and put each of them in a layer. With simple layer masking I was able to blend the two images of the painting with very little effort. An additional layer mask allowed me to include Tom in the photo, as seen below.

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The final image, the result of a planned composite of three images.

In this result, the colors of the painting are reproduced accurately and as vibrant as the original. Including Tom in the image gives the viewer immediate information about the size of this painting.

I spent about 5 minutes planning my approach. The setup time was about 10 minutes, shooting took about 5 minutes and the post production work was an additional 10 minutes.

This is a similar technique to the way I’ve made many real estate photographs, where the lighting gear is best located within the image and removed later in a blended image.

Here is another example of this technique. I wanted a tight grid light on Jen, but also wanted to include a large part of the empty room. The light needed to be fairly close to her, so I chose to shoot an image with the light stand in the image and remove it by blending two images. (These photos were taken at the old rail yard buildings in downtown Sacramento prior to reconstruction.)

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The light stand is visible in this frame.
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One ambient-light image with the light stand removed.
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The final image – no light stand visible.

When a photographer appropriately plans to use editing software as part of the image-making process, the resulting photo can be made quickly and easily, without loss of detail.

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Fast Food – Food Photography on the Run

 

Tempura that stands on its own.

11-19-2012

I recently wrapped up a couple of editorial assignments that required lip-smacking images of food.

When I approach food photography, I lean towards large simple lighting, clean backgrounds and authentic food appearances. This last point is important to me. I don’t change the food once the chef has handed it off for two reasons: I want to show the food exactly the way it was prepared, and more importantly, I will probably eat some of it when I’m done photographing it. I certainly don’t want to dress up the food with any products that aren’t part of the original recipe. So no motor oil on the meats for me, thank you.

Since I usually get to “shoot my cake and eat it too,”  this makes me very happy.

The challenges with food photography include working carefully to light the food so it looks its best and working quickly before the appeal of the food wears off. Freshly cooked food can lose its luster quickly.

The first assignment was a photo essay of a newly-opened Sushi/Karaoke Restaurant in downtown Sacramento. Oishii Sushi Bar and Grill is a visual treat. Located on the second level at 10th & K Streets, the large bar area is lit with remote-controlled LED lights that pulsate in different colors. In addition to the bar and restaurant seating areas, Oishii offers a number of private karaoke party rooms; some rooms are small and some are very large with several large TV screens.

 

Oishii Sushi Bar and Grill features LED-lit rooms

Since I was working on location, I brought a couple of small speedlights, adjustable radio triggers, a 24″ square softbox, Continue reading “Fast Food – Food Photography on the Run”

Teaching an old dog new tricks

"...played it til my fingers bled..."

01-26-2011

My fingers hurt like hell.

I signed up for Beginning Guitar at Sac City College this semester. I’ve never played a guitar before…never really tried my hand at any musical instrument in a serious way. None, that is, unless you count the time I plunked around on an old accordion when I was 7.

“I’m not musically inclined.” I’m not sure where that notion came from. I’m guessing I got embarrassed when I was a little kid when I tried to sing and someone laughed. Maybe it was the cute girl in class, maybe be it was my fourth grade teacher, “Sister Mary Eff Withyourmind”, hammering home the point with the edge of a ruler. So I grew up without an interest in making music, often a little envious of my peers who could play, and some played quite well. Garage bands in the neighborhood. Jazz bands in college. Me? I am just a music fan.

No interest, until now. Part of my interest in learning to play a guitar comes from the portability of the instrument. A guitar needs no accompaniment, no electricity. Just whip it out and play with it. It is also fun to learn something completely new to me. It’s good for this brain to make it do something unfamiliar. I do not know how to read music, I barely have rhythm. So it’s a challenge on many fronts. The instructor is very good. He’s obviously talented and doesn’t mind working with the students who, like me, have no clue what they’ve gotten themselves into.

First, I’m just learning to place my fingers on the strings in the right places and hoping for a clean strum – that’s all I want. The metal strings don’t have any give to them, so my fingertips are taking all the heat. It is almost like a mini-torture, the pain pushes against the determination, usually ending in a deadlock.

And until the callouses form, my fingers will hurt like hell.

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p.s. Today would have been my dad’s 87th birthday. If he were alive today, I wonder what new tricks he would be learning right now.

Note to self: Eat First

Hot out of the oven at Pizza Rock - 90 second cook time.

01-14-2011

In the last few days I’ve had the chance to take photos at a couple of restaurants in Sacramento. The basic rule of food photography? Eat first!

These photos were not the usual food-styled ad shots. These were taken of real food as it was moving from the kitchen to the tables of real customers. So there was not a lot of time to set up a bunch of lights, primp the food, use tweezers to rearrange the garnish, heat up one section with a small torch…etc.  It was run and gun food photography.

A trio of new nightlife establishments have opened in the downtown area in a section of town that has seen better days. These new venues are intended to bring the better days back to the area. One venue is a plush dance club, the other is a fancy bar with a massive overhead fish tank, and the third venue is Pizza Rock, open for lunch, dinner and late night. Pizza Rock has an imported wood burning oven that will bake a pizza in 90 seconds (photos above and below).

Master chef Tony Gemignani

Pizza Rock opened for business today and I was tasked with taking photos for a Sacramento Press article. When the doors opened at 11:30 for the lunch crowd, the restaurant filled quickly. As the food started rolling out, the aroma was intoxicating. I consider pizza one of my favorite foods – and this pizza looked amazing. That’s when I remembered I had not eaten a substantial meal before arriving to take photos. Bad idea. Well, as a professional I’m supposed to be able to work in spite of distractions, right? Um, yeah.  This was clearly going to be a battle. At one point the restaurant manager asked me if she could get me anything…something to eat, or a drink? I politely (and sadly) declined.

Pizza by the meter, on its way to some lucky customer's table.

So the challenge was to take some awesome food photos while everyone was scurrying around, serving customers, moving food out as fast as it was prepared, and stay out of the way of the serving staff at the same time. The pressure was on. And my stomach was grumbling quite loudly. With the exception of the portrait of Tony, all photos were taken with available light only, using a fairly wide aperture to let the shallow depth of field give me some focus control. I had to move in, shoot quickly and get out.  Since the photos were going to be used for editorial use, I wanted to keep some context in the food shots, so I included kitchen staff in the background. Story-telling, ya know.

I also took photos at the VIP party that happened a couple nights before. Same deal: get in, shoot, get out. The guests were not in any mood for someone fumbling around with a camera in their faces.

I snagged a quick shot of the man behind the new venues, standing in front of the new venues.

George Karpaty in front of his new venues.

One of my favorite images of the night was taken of the Pizza Rock kitchen staff, just before the party began.

Pizza Rock kitchen staff mug for a photo before the start of the VIP Party.

Speaking of favorites… I had a chance to take photos and write a restaurant review of Kupros Bistro. The food was great, the building is awesome, and the gelato is to die for. Pure and simple.

Vanilla and chocolate gelato at Kupros Bistro.

Since that assignment was a food review, the trick was to not eat before going. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.

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One one eleven

01-01-2011

Welcome to 2011!

So everyone is posting their summaries of 2010 and predictions of 2011.

A far as 2010 goes, it was a great year. I was busier than before and the photo industry seems to be rebounding. Some of my long-term clients have re-surfaced and are interested in doing new work. And I’ve also been in contact with some potential new clients. Whether we establish a new working relationship or not, it is encouraging to see the level of activity increasing. This is a good sign for everyone, I hope.

Naturally, I am thankful for so many of the things we take for granted, like good health, loving family and a warm home.

My prediction for 2011 is … most predictions won’t come true. It’s better to just be present and notice what is happening, adapt to it and enjoy it. It’s all good. I don’t make new year’s resolutions. It seems silly to think about making improvements on only one day each year – why not make every day a self-improvement day?

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Pour it on

cm-pour1

03-19-2009

img_5670Shooting glass is very tricky. And apparently shooting pouring liquor is even trickier.

 

This was taken using a technique called “bright field lighting”.

 

The basic setup is to place a white panel in the background and then place a black panel on each side of it. The black panels are out of view of the camera. I placed a strobe on the floor and pointed it at the white panel. The result, seen at right, is the glass is clear and the edges are darker from the reflection and refraction of the black panels.  (Check out the full lighting diagram below.)

 

 

pour-diagram

 

 

Once the glass was properly lit, then the next challenge was to light just the label of the bottle so it would be visible. Up to this point, the only light is pointing at the background, so any objects facing the camera will be dark.

 

I placed a strobe at camera left and put a grid spot on it to restrict the light to just the area around the label on the neck of the bottle. I then placed another strobe with a shoot through umbrella at camera right to place a soft highlight on the bottle itself. 

 

 

 

 

That was the easy part. Once it all looked good, the biggest challenge became the actual pour. I wanted to freeze the motion of the liquid in the glass and I knew the brief flash duration would take care of that.

In order to align the bottle with the glass, I attached the bottle to the top of a flash bracket that had an angle swivel on it. This was all attached to a light stand to keep it in the same place and hold the bottle steady. I needed one free hand to fire the camera with a wired remote release.

As you can see, hitting the shot glass was a hit-or-miss proposition. After each attempt, I had to wipe up everything, clean the glass, dry it all and replace it for the next “shot”.

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(In case you’re wondering, I used tea as a substitute for the rum. The real rum was in a glass on a nearby shelf – and it seems that glass had a small hole in it because when I repoured it into the bottle after the photoshoot, there was quite a bit less than when I started.)

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Light from an earlier time

10-06-2008

This still life depicts a soft moody setting, with the viewfinder lit much more brightly than the rest of the scene. Naturally, your eye will go the brightest part of an image, so make sure that the brightest part of the image is the most important part.

This image was taken in a very dark room with a 20 second exposure; the lens was set on f/22. Using a technique called Light Painting, the entire scene was “painted” with a small LED flashlight. I kept moving it around the center of the scene to give a brighter center and darkened, vignetted edges. I also held the light on the glass viewfinder for a couple of seconds to make sure it glowed brightly.

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