Sunday, November 16, 2008

Groups & Quick 'n Dirty Workflow

Last night, I shot the Humber College Motorcycle Instructors annual awards banquet. I told them I didn't want to be paid for the gig since I wanted to enjoy the evening, and I'd do photos for them (for us) as a favour. I also didn't want to treat it as a professional project, in other words, I didn't want to spend hours editing the images. That said, I do have some pride, so I wanted to deliver some quality images.

I was asked to capture the groups of people getting awards, and I also shot around the crowd to get some pictures of the audience. I used the Gary Fong diffuser on the flash all night -- some people asked me, "why do you have a tupperware bowl on your flash?" The answer is obvious when you look at the great lighting on the images. I shot a group of 8 people and had even lighting all the way across! Anyway, here are some tips about what I did to photograph the event.

FacZen Photography Tips

Shooting groups and quick-and-dirty workflow

  • I prepared the camera. Knowing I was going to use the diffuser and the flash all night, I set the ISO to 500, aperture to f/5.6, WB to 'flash'. I made sure I had an extra set of flash batteries and a spare camera battery too.

  • I took a couple of test shots and removed the top of the diffuser since the low white ceiling was great.

  • Almost every time I had a group to shoot, I shot at least two exposures. Invariably, someone closes their eyes or looked in an odd place and having more than one shot helped a lot a number of times (see below).

  • I made sure I focused on the eyes. With the D300 there are two ways to do that -- focus, then with the shutter release held halfway down, recompose the image; and move the focus spot to where the eye is in the composed image.

OK, I'm not really good at this stuff, but the results were pretty good, so I hope these tips made sense.

Now I got the pictures home, and uploaded them to the computer. I'm going to talk about workflow. Remember, I just wanted a quick-and-dirty method of producing the final images. In fact, I ended up with about 90 exposures and I posted 65 images to the site!

So here's the quick workflow that I used.

I opened the pictures in Bridge and ran a slideshow with my right hand over the Ctrl-Delete combo and my left over the 6. The former immediately discards an image, the latter marks it as an image I like.

  • When that was done, I created a new folder called "originals" and copied the remaining images in there.

  • Next I opened the images, flagged ones first. This time I shot in .jpg (usually I shoot RAW but I didn't feel like it yesterday). If an image looked like it needed overall colour correction, I opened it in Camera Raw.
  • Once in Photoshop, I adjusted levels, cropped, and cloned out obvious things.

  • I don't think anyone is going to print any of these images. So I started downsizing right from the beginning. After a while I decided not to bother, so I used a pre-set crop as much as possible. 4200x2800px is a 3:2 ratio, so I preset that. One click flips it from landscape to portrait orientation and back, so that's fast.

  • For most pictures of women, I softened the skin and reduced wrinkles. Here's how: first I duplicated the background layer (ctrl-J), then I used the healing tool to remove wrinkles, especially under the eyes. I reduced the opacity of the layer to leave a hint of the lines in the image -- you have to be a little subtle. Yes, you can turn a 40-year-old into a 25-year-old but who's going to believe it?. Then I flattened the image (Shift-Ctrl-E) and copied the layer again. This time I applied a strong gaussian blur to the layer, then used the eraser tool to erase everything except the facial skin. That means eyes, hair, lips, clothes, etc. Sometimes I would leave the background on the blurred layer too. Now reduce the opacity again until it looks right, then flatten it again.

    The other thing I did from time to time was to select the teeth (that new selection tool is quick!), copy them to a new layer, create a dedicated hue-and-saturation adjustment layer, reduce the saturation and turn up the brightness a touch, then flatten it down. It took me longer to type this than to do it. Voila! Instant teeth whitening!
  • Now I touched things up with the dodge and burn tools, looked at the background again, flattened it and sharpened the eyes. Always sharpen the eyes! I added a catchlight if necessary.

  • Save, and done. Next image. I know, I know. There are lots of reasons NOT to do it this way, but I told you it was quick-and-dirty!

  • Guys got much less treatment. I like heavily lined faces and lots of texture. Women are different (I heard that somewhere).

  • No texture in this one, but I loved Rob's expression. Ray, in the background was distracting, so I used the Blur technique above to fix it.

  • I did nothing at all to the "crowd" shots. They were there just for interest.

The entire process took 2 hours or less for 65 images (well I edited about 35 of them). Then the upload, and we're done.

There were a few interesting images, though. Remember I said to take more than one exposure when you have a group? Here's an example where one of the two shots was much better that the other, except for the one guy who closed his eyes. So I opened both, selected the better shot of that guy (CS3 has a great selection tool!) and pasted him into the other shot. Because they were shot from the same place and with the same exposure, I had very little fancy stuff to do to replace the person in the image. Here you go:

This was in the original image...
This was in another one...

...and this was the final product

There were 3 images where I had to paste in a face from another image. You guess which ones! Oh, and out of respect for the women whose faces I retouched, I won't post before-and-afters here. Some of them might be reading this! 2 hours including everything. It took me longer to write this Blog!

If you want to see the full set of images I shot (well the keepers, anyway), click here.