Friday, March 16, 2012

Before & After

BEFORE we get into our subject topic, I want to talk about a couple of other things, then AFTER we'll get to it.

NAPP Membership
I must sound like a broken record but by now you must realize I'm a huge NAPP convert. You do not have to be a Photoshop Professional to be a NAPP member: most are not. You just have to want to learn more about digital photography, and the programs that you use after you've taken the pictures. There are so many features and tutorials and community help resources that I can't count them. Plus discounts galore, conventions and workshops, and to top it off, Photoshop User Magazine (PSU) that comes your way 10 times per year with incredible tips and techniques.

For the first time, you can get a discounted membership, through a partnership between Kelby Training and B&H Photo. One year of membership, with the digital edition of PSU is now only $89. Click this link to take advantage of the discount: I'm not sure how long it's going to be around!

Spring has Sprung
It's amazing. It's as if we didn't have any winter this year. As I write this, it's well up in the double digits (in the 50's, for my American friends!) and there's spotty fog where melting ice and warmer air meet. Everyone loves spring: except me, I guess. I like it later on, but right now it's ugly out there, with mud and bare trees and pools of water everywhere. That said, the birds started chirping yesterday and that promise is in the air. I shot a few pictures yesterday, but no real keepers.

Another sign of spring is the fact that the recertification weekend for motorcycle instructors at Humber College is only a week away! I look forward to seeing everyone, and to the challenge of trying to come up with a group photo of 100 people that's different from the shots of the past several years. A couple of years ago, Dr. Ron came out to help: anyone from the camera club interested it giving it a try this year? It's next Sunday, March 25th. Drop me an email, I'd love some creative input!

Lightroom 4 issues
When Adobe released the production version of Lightroom 4, and especially when they cut the price to $79 for an upgrade, I bought it. I did NOT participate in their Beta because I really didn`t have time to work through all the bugs. Guess what? They missed some. For me, and for many others, the big issue is something called "latency". When you click on a slider or try to do something in the program, there's a delay before the program reacts. Each and every change is accompanied with a couple of seconds delay, so the program was essentially unusable. Adobe didn't acknowledge the problem for a long time, but eventually did. As I write this, they still haven't figured it out (or told anyone about it).

If you're a Lightroom 3 user, I'd hang in there before upgrading, until this is solved. Ditto if you're a new user. Although it doesn't seem to affect everyone. Both Mac and PC people seem to be affected. The good news is, when you install it, it makes a copy of your catalog as it upgrades it, so your original LR3 work is still there, so maybe it's worth the risk. LR4 has some powerful new tools and once it works, it's worth buying.

You can buy it at B&H. The full version is $149, and both the upgrade and student/teacher editions are $79.

Reading Material and Learning Opportunities
I read 6 or 7 or 8 blogs on a regular basis. Scott Kelby, Matt Kloskowski, Patrick Lamontagne, TipSquirrel, Everyday HDR, John Nack (Adobe), Joe McNally... often these are ways to keep up on what's happening out there but in some cases, it's an opportunity to view others' images and learn from them. I've also read RC Concepcion's HDR book and others, to learn new techniques and brush up what I already know.

Today I came across a new one (to me). Scott Kelby mentioned Ben Willmore's blog, Digital Mastery and an article he posted about shooting waterfalls. I love shooting waterfalls, so I wandered over there. Well worth a look! Click the link and enjoy.

Another thing I've been enjoying over the past few days are time lapse videos from the spectacular aurora borealis displays that occurred because of the solar flare activity last week. Many of the best images have come from Alaska and Iceland and Norway. I'm not going to post a link here, just to tell you to Google "aurora borealis" and watch some of the videos. Prepare to be amazed.

Scott Kelby's come out with a new book in his Digital Photography Library series. I don't have it yet, but if it's anywhere near the other 3 books, it's definitely worth getting. Link. The only problem I have with Kelby is that he assumes that everyone has the resources to acquire tons of studio lighting equipment. He`ll say things like, `this softbox is a steal at only $289`, neglecting to mention that you need $1000 of strobes and stands and power supplies and... to use it. But you can get some great ideas out of his tutorials. One he did just recently was ``Lighting Recipes`, which is a FREE app for iPad. From it, I got an idea I wanted to try, without investing in new equipment.

Cheap and dirty...
A lot of his shots are on pure white backgrounds: high key. So here`s what I tried: I set up my SB-600 flash on a stand and precariously balanced my light tent on top of it. I pointed the strobe off to the side so it wouldn`t flash directly at the camera. I set the camera to `commander`mode so that the popup flash would trigger the SB-600. Then I put my subject (OK, me!) between the camera and the strobe so that I would get some backlighting and hopefully a rimlight (that didn`t work, I have to try that part again). Of course with no light on the front of the subject, all I would get would be a silhouette, so I put a reflector off to camera right and sat facing it. Here`s the basic setup

You have to imagine the reflector, off-camera to the right, sitting on a chair. That`s what`s providing the lighting on the face. The only light in the shot is from the single strobe in the background, although I experimented with allowing the camera to see a little bit of the popup flash`s light for a little bit of fill. None in this shot, though.

Here`s an un-processed image, just cropped. There are some problems: notably the contrast due to spill from the heavy backlight, and I don`t like the way the glasses look.
I did some work in the new Lightroom 4 (after getting around some of the teething problems with it). You could do the same in Photoshop, not so much in Lightroom 3 because of the new color adjustment sliders in the adjustment tool. What I did was to paint the glasses with the adjustment brush, then added contrast and saturation and as I said, a bit of colour shift. There are other ways to do that but I was experimenting.

Next I took it into Photoshop, just to do some sharpening and to remove the background stuff, and also to use content-aware fill to expand the lighted background to the corners of the frame. I wanted the gritty unshaven look to stand out. I brought it back to Lightroom and did some spot removal on the glasses and tweaked the exposure a bit more, and a little teeth whitening..
I`m really not unhappy with this image. All with ONE light, my light tent (you could use a white sheet!) and a reflector.

I decided to play a bit more. I wanted to create a new Avatar, and brought it back into Photoshop to add a line-art layer, and then took it into Topaz Adjust 5 for an extreme gritty HDR-like effect. Works great as an Avatar at thumbnail size, but it`s a bit extreme for anything else. Here it is:

Cropped more, rotated a bit, extreme toning and sharpening, and I also painted more keylights in the eyes.

Another Before-and-After
I was going to give up on this shot. Rosa and I were in Unionville last weekend. Great weather but still naked trees! Anyway, two girls stopped us and asked Rosa (not me!!) to take their picture with their camera. Of course I took the opportunity...

Do as I say, not as I do! A long time ago, I preached the you should always reset your camera to default settings when you put it away. I forgot. It was on manual, not aperture priority, and the shot I took was WAY overexposed.

Ouch! At least 2 stops overexposed.
That's the beauty of shooting in RAW: there's more information in the image than you think. So I took it down a couple of stops.

Now EVERYONE knows that shooting in bright sunlight in the middle of the day is a total no-no. Awful lighting, even had it been exposed correctly. Fortunately, there are lots of post-processing tools to use, and I thought I'd try a couple, because I was fascinated by the really soft skin, especially on the girl in the Hijab and wondered what I could do with it. Here:

I used a lot of tricks. Notably Nik Color Efex to add a "glamor glow" and the vignetting, and Viveza to work on some extraneous colors in the background. Then I actually mixed in a line art layer (see my tech blog) to bring some definition back in, some dodging and burning and some painting, notably in the eyes.
I really like the effect, especially on the girl on the right. And it was shot in bright sunlight in the middle of the day!

See y'all next time!

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