Tuesday, January 11, 2011

To Move or not to Move... that is the question

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.
What has this got to do with the topic at hand? Well, not much but then neither does the title of “Zen, and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, but a lot of motorcyclists bought that book and try to wade their way through the Philosophy of Quality.

I just always liked that quote and it brings me back to the days 50 years ago when I learned it in High School. Mr Hunter would have been proud of me – I never was able to memorize the weekly poems, but some Shakespeare stuck! (I just spent 30 minutes dredging up his name. Ain’t Google wonderful?).

An aside. Anyone from Mount Royal High reading this? Remember Mr. Hunter? He lost his voice, rumour had it playing football when someone stepped with cleats on his neck. I’ve lost much of my voice due to surgery. I feel a kinship...

So, To Move, or not to Move... I took 140–odd pictures and made them into a video which I posted last time. That was the “Moving” one. Then I thought to try it a different way, and I took all 140 images and combined them — a bit at a time: the resulting file would have been GI-NORMOUS — by loading them into layers in Photoshop, changing the blend mode to “lighten” then dragging them all into one document (Photoshop trivia for those who aren’t adept: click on the image, hold the Shift key down and then drag it: it will align exactly). So here’s the non-moving image:

Too many stars. I reduced the brightness and detail level. A lot. Wow. If I’m going to do this again, I’ll use a shorter exposure, because there are just too many stars. But, kiddies, this is how much the Earth moves in 93 minutes.

People Pictures
I’ve said it many times. I take pictures of rocks and trees. First of all, they don’t move, so I can take my time. I never had a problem getting a tree to sign a model release. If you ask a rock to just undo one more button, it never objects. But most of all, when you show a rock its picture, it NEVER tells you it hates it and not to show it to anyone ever.

I can’t say the same thing about people. Maybe I should shoot more people pictures because it’s more challenging. Anyway, last week, I FINALLY shot a picture of a woman who said she actually LIKED the picture! The ultimate compliment! And she said I could post it here and talk about it. Here it is. Thanks, Rosanne!

Shot with my 24-120mm lens set at 58mm, f/5.6 (that’s about 87mm equivalent in 35mm camera terms. Exactly where portraits are supposed to be best! Just luck...). Lighting courtesy of a Gary Fong diffuser on an SB-600 flash mounted on top of the camera.
OK, rule number one: ALWAYS soften the skin of a woman’s picture. Always. Well except if you’re doing a shot of the “hoe lady” (not what you think! Get your mind out of the gutter! The people on the Lake Erie field trip know what I’m talking about – it was the lady with the hoe who came out to chase us off her property. A really colourful farmer lady who cooperated in the end and let us take her picture! With her hoe!), or a gritty homeless person. Always.

Rule number two: NEVER soften the skin of a man’s picture. Men look best when they are rugged and craggy and weathered and look like they haven’t shaved in a couple of days. Like alligators.

Rule number three: rules are, of course, made to be broken. But for the sake of argument...

A woman who is 40 years old wants to look like she did when she was 25. Well unless she... never mind. So there are dozens and dozens of tools, and plug-ins, and programs, and techniques, and tutorials and... that you can buy, on how to soften skin. Read up on them and try them!

What I did in the above image was to open it in Photoshop and create a duplicate layer which I blurred slightly. I added a layer mask which I filled with black, then went back and painted white on the mask in the areas I wanted to adjust. So eyes and lips and hair and teeth, were all masked with black, which means you don’t see that layer in those areas. The only thing revealed was the skin. I used the wonderful healing brush tool in CS5 to remove some lines and creases and I further painted over some areas, especially under the eyes, that appeared darker than the surrounding skin. Just removing bags under the eyes (you didn’t have bags, Rosanne dear. It was the lighting), takes 10 years off. DAB the healing brush, don’t stroke it. It works better.

Now reduce the opacity of the new layer, the one with the adjustments. This is important. If you take the imperfections out completely, you’ll end up with an image that looks like a Playboy centerfold. OK, ok, I know what you’re thinking... but they have ZERO imperfections. They are goddesses. They aren’t REAL. I deliberately left a slightly darker area on Rosanne’s right cheek. It added character and dimension to her face. Look on either side of her mouth, on the right side of her neck. The shadow under her lower lip.

Create another duplicate layer. This time do the opposite – reveal the things that should be sharp and crisp: Eyes. Hair. Teeth. Lips. On this layer, use sharpening, saturation, levels to enhance these features. Most important is the eyes. If you can, go in and paint catchlights and on the opposite side of the iris from the catchlight, a soft light, low-opacity stroke which makes the eye 3-dimensional and a bit moist. Reduce the saturation and increase the brightness on the teeth. But not too much – nobody has fluorescent white teeth (I’m reminded of a Friends episode where Ross overdid the whitening). Go in with a fine brush on a large blowup of the image and get rid of that little piece of lettuce or that area of plaque. Again judiciously use the opacity slider.

Before leaving Photoshop, I created another layer and applied a motion blur to it. I had asked Rosanne to ‘flip’ her hair for me which she obligingly did a few times until I was in sync and could shoot at the right instant. I used a motion blur roughly at the same angle that her hair was flowing. Then I added a layer mask and blocked out her face so that only the areas I wanted were blurred. Use a really soft brush at low opacity on the mask to blend the areas so there’s no obvious transition. By the way, I also added a highlight in her hair, but I ended up cropping most of it out.

OK, back to Lightroom. I reduced the clarity slider a little on the whole image in Lightroom. I wanted even more softness, more luminous glow. Then I used the adjustment brush and redid much of the same softening and sharpening that I had done in Photoshop. The tools in Lightroom are much more subtle.

Now frame the image. The Rule of Thirds says not to put her right in the middle of the picture. I wanted the flowing hair going off to the left of the image, but if I put her way over on the right, she would appear to be moving out of the frame and so would your eyes. Now the cropping of this image was accidental. I happened to click to blow it up to look at something and eureka! This exact framing appeared on the monitor when I blew it up. I loved it, so I copied it. Cropping off the forehead moved her eyes away from dead centre, let me show more of her neck and just a hint of her diamond (!) necklace. I rotated it, too, to an interesting angle.

OK, now read this: Everything I said up to now was complete and utter bullshit (pardon the expression). I am NOT a portrait photographer. I am NOT an artist. Anyone reading this who knows ANYTHING about portrait photography was probably muttering to his or herself, “this guy is full of crap. He doesn’t know what he’s doing”. All true.

Do you like the picture? I don’t care. I like the picture. And more importantly, ROSANNE likes the picture. I just kept painting, kept going, until I liked it. All I did in the paragraphs above, was to describe some of the tools I used to do it. I made a beautiful woman even more beautiful, and that’s what matters.

Rosanne lives half a world away. Maybe I’ll have another chance to photograph her one day. I’ll ask her just to undo one more button, and see what she says!

PS: there’s another took I DID NOT use on this image: liquefy. You can slim someone, move a jawline, enhance a cleavage, make a gluteus not so maximus... try it – it’s fun!

Another NAPP advantage
I found another area on the NAPP site that I’m enjoying: the member forums. But you need to be a member. There are forums for Photoshop, for Lightroom, for Photography, for Graphic Design...there’s even a place where you can upload images and have people comment on them. People ask for advice and opinions and get wonderful answers from real experts (and sometimes from hackers like me). If you want to join NAPP, click on the link on the right side of the page so that I get my ‘brownie points’. Besides you get 10 issues of Photoshop User magazine with your membership. I get something significant out of each and every issue.

That’s it for today, kiddies! Watch for a new look in my Blog, I’m planning to try something out, to focus a bit more on learning topics. Coming soon to a computer near you!