Tuesday, October 16, 2018

OUTDOOR PORTRAITS AND TOO MUCH LIGHT? TRY SUBTRACTIVE LIGHTING!


It’s easy doing portraits outside near the “magic hour." Here in Idaho we often start up to two hours before sunset and, with proper subject placement, create wonderful natural light portraits with NO reflectors or supplemental flash (Yuck!).

I learned, over 30 years ago, from Leon Kennamer—the Master Photographer that developed subtractive lighting for portraits—that there’s no need for reflectors or supplemental flash if you know how to control natural light with Gobos (Black Flats or flags as we called them in film making). The basic premise being: when you have the light it’s silly, and unnatural looking, to add light! Adding light tends to just create flat light that deletes shadows and without any shadows you lose the three dimensionality in your subject(s).

I’ll start with a worst case lighting scenario.  Here we have a nice little park with a couple of large weeping willow trees, but it’s 9AM and there’s intense light all around us. 
f6.3 @ 1/125 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 142mm
  • The first step is to get them in the shade of that tree! I trimmed some of the tree’s hanging vines on the right leaving the vines on the left to help in the subtractive process.
  • Then we bring in our Gobo (a 42” Black Flat) to block as much light as we can from the left.
Here’s the scene without the Gobo….
No Gobo
As you can see this single Gobo is most effective on the people closest to it. The single Gobo is very effective for individual portraits where you can bring it in very close to the subject…

f4.5 @ 1/250 sec., Iso 400; Lens @ 185mm
Done at 9:11AM in the same spot as the group portrait you can see the natural looking, three dimensional, effect subtractive lighting creates.

NATURAL GOBOS:

My preferred method of subtractive lighting is to use Large Natural Gobos on locations I use regularly for group portraits. These natural Gobos can be a tree line, rocks, or large bushes to one side of the group.

The Key here is Subject Placement….

f6.3 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 105mm
Leon Kennamer taught that, “The Light is at the Edge of the Forrest ”. That means that you place your subject literally at the edge of the tree canopy, but still in the shade. That way we can get good Directional Light from a large patch of sky.

In the above portrait I’ve placed this group so that the tree line on Camera Left is my Gobo creating the Shadows on their faces while a large patch of blue sky on Camera Right is the Key Light.

This portrait was done 2-hours before sunset so that my backlit background is under control. Subtractive lighting is actually a very simple concept; its execution only requires that you be able to see the directional light and the shadows it creates when you have an effective GOBO.  

The concept here is fundamental in the traditional art world; Leonardo da Vince wrote…
The Artist who can make his subject appear to be in relivo (made to appear to have elevation, with depth and dimension) is he who should receive the greatest praise!

Go our and try it!  If you have questions don’t hesitate to ask…’Til next week.

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

FALL PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM A PROFESSIONAL


First and foremost you’re NOT going to see any backed-off, wide-angle views, of a forrest of fall colors from me. I’ve always found those views pretty, but photographically boring. They’re what the amateurs do with their fixed lens point-n-shoot cameras—usually at the “scenic view” pull-out along side the road! 

I do what photography does best—narrow the view and reveal stunning detail. And, you do that with lenses leaning in the telephoto region of focal length.

That being said, lets move on to lighting.

Back-Lighting for intense detail…


f7.1 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 280mm
With this pair of small leaves 200mm was not enough so I installed my 1.4X extender on my 70-200mm f2.8 lens. The large lens hood with careful framing avoided flare (I HATE detail robbing flare!) in the intense backlight here.

Here I used backlighting for mood…

f7.1 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 400, Lens @ 98mm
With my lens at nearly 100mm I’m still only showing a part of this weeping willow tree; I rarely even photograph a whole single tree. In this image I wanted the juxtaposition of the hanging willow leaves over those interesting red bushes—that have lost their leaves.

Front Lighting can be Tricky….

f6.3 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 175mm

Direct Sun can easily ruin an image if you’re not very careful with your exposure. Those yellow leaves are prone to Clipping—blowing out your highlights—a loss of detail.

Two things made this image work:
  1. I did this at 5:04pm in November—the sun set at 5:20pm and I chose leaves that had Crossing Light from the left side. That directional light picked-up really nice detail.
  2. In Addition, I used my camera’s meter in Spot Mode—where I usually keep it—measuring the brightest surfaces of my subjects.
Or Front Lighting can be Easy…

f7.1 @ 1/160th sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Top lighting here from an overcast sky is super easy to expose. It also creates nice soft colors. If the sun came out in this situation those wet leaves would have clipped like crazy. I cheated with this image and spritzed these leaves with my spray bottle mister until they dripped water—hey What can I say—it wasn’t raining when I needed wet leaves! Besides I don’t like doing photography in the rain.

Fall Colors in Flat Light…

 f8.0 @ 1/160th sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 150mm
This was done in full shade under this tree’s canopy. Since flat light can rob a scene of it’s contrast it’s important to pick a scene with lots of contrast. Here I had some great colors against that black tree trunk, which made these leaves glow with color. I did have to go to 800 ISO to capture this hand-held, but my Canon 5D MKII has no problem at that ISO.

I guess this proves that you can create great fall images in most lighting situations. You just have to pick subjects appropriate for the lighting and be careful with your exposures.

Well, ‘till next week…I’m here if you have questions….

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training Site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client Site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

VARIATIONS ON A THEME; POST PROCESSING DIGITAL FILES


I’ve been revisiting my archives back to my early digital files, some as far back as 2000, when I got my first digital camera. What’s nice to see is that those old CD’s (Yes, CD’s!) can still be opened on our new computers and loaded into Photoshop!

I can open these old JPEGs in Camera Raw and do my favorite tweaks I do today with my new DSLR’s RAW files. After that I go to my favorite plug-ins for some artistic interpretations.

Here’s a finished artistic version of a file from 2003…




This image was form my second digital camera—the Fuji FinePix S-2 Pro, which produced jpegs at around 4.0 MB. Not much by todays standards, but we managed, with careful exposes, to produce some outstanding 30x40 images from our S2’s back then.

Black & White Processing Technique:

Step 1—NIK HDR Effects Pro 2 (Single Image Tone Mapping). Used Grannys Attic Preset with my modifications.

Step 2—NIK Silver Effects Pro 2—Used the Antique Plate 2 and modified it to my B&W taste.

Here’s the original file…


f13.0 @ 1/180 sec., ISO 400
This was an old hotel under renovation in Sacramento, California. I thought, with those ripped and tattered window shades, that it had the kind of creepy vibe that I could do something with.

Here’s the Color Interpretation….

I like this version mostly because of that red triangle in the second window (top left). It looks like a broken shard of glass.  I like the rust stains on the paint beneath the windows as well.

Color Processing Technique:

NIK HDR Effects Pro-2 (Single Image Tone Mapping).I used the Granny’s Attic Preset and tweaked it to my taste.

NOTE:  In addition to the obvious artistic changes to the original file a side benefit of processing an image in NIK’s HDR is that the size of the file is increased a lot.  With this image the original file was increased from 3.69MB to 6.06MBs.

However, I think that the Black and White rendition of this scene promotes the creepy vibe I imagined when I saw this building.  What do you guys think—the color or the Black and White?

’Til next week….

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training Site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client Site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

OBSERVING AND WAITING FOR THE MOMENT IN PHOTOGRAPHY


While visiting with our sons in California this last summer we stayed with friends in route and they took us to Morrow Bay, on the Coast, for a marvelous seafood lunch. I had not been to Morro Bay in decades so, photographically it felt fresh—like I was seeing it for the first time. After lunch I suggested we drive out to Morro Rock so we could do a walk. I wanted to get out of the town and into the natural environment there at the coast; my camera beckoned me!

Parked near Morro Rock I knew that the huge landmark was not going to be a subject for me—it’s too big! Even being a hundred yards away it’s like a towering skyscraper dominating the landscape.  So, I put my 70-200mm lens on my camera and prepared to do what I do best (as I teach my students) and look for interesting slices of nature within the huge costal landscape.

While walking around Morro Rock looking back to the town the three huge stacks of the old Morro Bay Power Plant certainly dominated that landscape. That was not what I had in mind for a natural composition at the coast!

However, in the foreground this was what I saw happening in the ocean….

f10.0 @ 1/800 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 102mm



This great scene was not just there waiting for me to show up—I hand to wait for it to develop. When I first walked up and put the viewfinder to my eye with my lens zoomed to its widest at 70mm this was the whole scene…


The Whole Ugly Scene; but look at that foreground!
Ten minutes later before the tour boat came into the bay the water was pretty smooth and the reflections of the smoke stacks were too literal a presentation for me. But, I loved that floating seaweed an the sea otter having his lunch was great as well.

So, I waited a bit and when I saw that boat approaching I thought that a boat that size should create a wake that would help me with this scene and the vision I had in my head.

That small wait really paid off.  Not only did I get some terrific ripples in the water, created by the boat’s wake, but the sea otter floated deeper into my frame and a bird landed in the water as well!

I just waited a few more seconds for that bird to paddle in-between the stacks before I started with the zoomed in image cropping out he top half of the whole scene.

I got what I wanted—a symbolic blending of nature and the abstract reflection of an abandoned man-made blight on the environment.

’Til next week…

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

PORTRAIT LENSES USED BY PROFESSIONALS


In professional portrait photography lens choice is the single most important factor in creating pleasing images that our clients will love and buy. It’s our job to make people look better than in real life not worse by using a lens that creates unattractive distortion. 

All lenses create distortion, so it’s our job to only use a focal length that distorts in a good way. That’s why I use the Most Telephoto I have at my disposal within a given environment. That will always give me the good distortion known as compression distortion.

The telephoto lens, especially at 200mm and beyond, will compress a scene, pushing your subject INTO the background and, coupled with a relatively wide aperture will, at the same time, SEPARATE them from the background with really nice out of focus bokeh as in this image…



f4.5 @ 1/200 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
As you can see the out of focus specular highlights have been turned into nice soft bokeh mostly due to the 200mm focal length NOT A WIDE OPEN APERTURE as many photographers believe. I could have used f2.8, but that would create the possibility of an unsharp subject due to lack of depth-of-field. Besides, even the most expensive lenses are not their sharpest wide open. That why I use an aperture of f4.5 for individual portraits; I get good depth-of-field AND nice bokeh!

Don’t use wide angle lenses for portraits!

I don’t use wide angle lenses for portraits because for adequate head sizes, using a wide angle lens, you must move in close to the subject(s), which causes very unattractive extension distortion. All lenses distort in some way—but this type of distortion where the closest part of your subject to the lens becomes unnaturally larger happens naturally with ALL lenses, however Short Lenses will Amplify this effect.

The telephoto lens forces the photographer to Back-Up changing the scenes perspective—compressing the scene and making the subject look great.

Here’s a side-by-side example I took during a student one-on-one class showing these effects…

Notice how the 70mm lens is making her forehead, nose and chin larger—those parts of her face are being PULLED towards the camera. I choose to use 70mm as my wide example to make my point about wide angle (extension) distortion because most photographers probably would consider 70mm to be telephoto! Besides it would be too easy to show extension distortion using a 50mm or 35mm lens.

Looking at the image done at 200mm all those features of her face are pushed AWAY from the camera using Compression Distortion creating a much more pleasant portrait.

In addition the backgrounds look very different even though I used exactly the same aperture (f4.5) on each image. Because I used my lens at 200mm that background is much more defocused and less distracting than the image using the “wide-angel” lens. 

I apply this technique in ALL of my portrait photography. I always use the most telephoto I can use even in group portraits.

My Go-To focal lengths for Portraits:

Groups:  135mm to 150mm

Individuals:  200mm to 300mm

Have questions?  Don’t hesitate to ask…’Til next week

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training Site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client Site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY; PERSPECTIVE CORRECTION


When doing travel photography particularly in old cities we tend to use our wide angle lenses a lot on architectural subjects. The most common problem then is the perspective distortion of a building’s vertical lines, which is made worse using a wide angle lens in close, making the building appear to be falling away from the camera position. Since most photographers don’t use or even own a tilt-shift lens, out side of architectural specialists, to correct this distortion when on location, we can still correct this effect, in post, with software.

Here’s an example of the falling away effect…
f13.0 @ 1/350 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 24mm
This is one of my favorite images I took on Palatine Hill in Rome, Italy. In order to capture the whole arch I had to use my short zoom at 24mm; I could not back-up enough to use my longer telephoto, which could have solved this type of distortion. In addition, if I had backed-up a lot that great tree would have been cut into by the arch. Obviously the placement of the tree was critical in this image!

There is a tool in Photoshop that fixes these issues with no problem. The Perspective Crop Tool…Take a look at how I corrected the distortion from that fantastic vacation in Italy….


With Correction

It worked like a charm and was easy to employ; look it up—there are several tutorials on YouTube. Note that you do lose some of the image because a crop is necessary. I was fine with it because I didn’t want any sky showing above the top of the arch anyway.

Not content to leave it alone…


Conversion
Because of the strong blacks in this image and the great texture of the stone work, I knew this would make an excellent Black & White fine art image. I converted my new color image using NIK’s Silver Efex Pro-2 using the Sepia Preset.

So, with the Perspective Crop Tool in good old Photoshop who needs a tilt-shift lens; those things are just really expensive!

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a message…’Til next week….

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training Site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com

Client Site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

QUICK ROADSIDE ART PHOTOGRAPHY


On our way to a funeral in Hailey, Idaho we passed by what looked like an old church in the little town of Corral, on the Camas Prairie, off of Highway 20. I noted it, but didn’t stop because the light in the late morning was not great relative to the building; in addition there were no clouds.  However, on our way back we hit that area at about 5pm. So, I stopped for a few minutes to see what I could get in that light. I discovered that this was an old school; the sign on the building indicating its operation from 1908 to 1953. What caught my eye was the old bell tower and the cross pattern with the diamond feature on that end of the building.

Here’s one of my wilder versions of that feature…
f14.0 @ 1/250sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 40mm
I wanted to really enhance that old wood and the clouds so, I used NIK’s, HDR Efex Pro 2, single image tone mapping using my version of their “late summer” preset.

Here’s the master shot of the school at 5pm.
f14.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 65mm
In the morning there was no light on the bell tower side of the school; it was all in shadow. Now we have nice hard light (for hard, textured, subjects I like a hard light) where earlier with it in shadow the light was too soft, which eliminates shadows and texture. In addition, now we have some clouds in the sky; I prefer clouds to an empty sky.

And rotating my view…
f14.0 @ 1/250 sec., ISO 200; Lens @ 73mm
You’ve gotta do this kind of subject in B&W as well!  I converted my RAW color image to B&W using NIK’s Silver Efex Pro2, using their Antique Plate 1 preset. A nice traditional B&W presentation for this subject.

And then clouds aligned over the bell tower…
f14.0 @ 1/250 sec., Iso 200; Lens @ 67mm
I really like this up angle with the “cloud piercer” look of that bell towers spike! The crossing, directional, light on the bell tower is picking up lots of detail in those old boards as well.

All told I spent 6 minutes taking the set of images and covered three angles, The wide view and the close-in crops before the wind blew away the clouds! Done.

Well almost—I spent a Lot more time in post doing these creative versions you see here!

Let me know if you have any questions…’Til next week…

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com