Sunday, May 30, 2010
I do very little black and white photography, even though I appreciate the medium. When I find a subject that I feel will look good as a b & w image, my first impulse is to add a tone to it. When photographers used the darkroom instead of Photoshop, we toned images using sepia, selenium, and other toners which produced a variety of brownish colors. Today, with Photoshop, we have the entire palette of color to choose from.
Toning is a process where the blacks are replaced with color. This is different from tinting, where the whites are replaced with a color and the blacks stay primarily black. These were terms we used when working with paper and chemistry. In Photoshop, there are many ways to tone (or tint) a photo, and the picture you see here taken at the Clonmanoise cemetery in Ireland was done by simply using the hue/saturation dialog box to reduce the image to black and white by moving the saturation slider to the left. I then chose Image > adjustments > color balance to add the color. Finally, additional contrast made the picture have more visual impact.
To get this kind of dynamic perspective, I used a low point of view and a 24mm wide angle on a full frame sensor camera. I darkened the sky to make it more dramatic using the burn tool, and at the same time I lightened the foreground grass with the dodge tool. These tools are considered by Photoshop pros to offer less control than other methods used for making these kinds of adjustments, but in some situations they work very well with very quick results.
Monday, May 24, 2010
I am leading a photo tour in Ireland and Northern Ireland right now, and today I photographed a stunning row of trees that form an eerie tunnel-like structure over a country road north of Belfast. It's locally called Dark Hedges, and I used a 200mm telephoto lens to compress the myriad branches lit by a setting sun. I used f/32 because it was important to show the entire image, from front to back, tack sharp. A tripod was required because it allowed me the ability to shoot with a small lens aperture, and I used the self-timer to trip the shutter. I also locked up the mirror to make sure the camera was as vibration-free as possible. This is certainly one of the most amazing roads I've ever seen, and I included it in the itinerary because I knew my group would love shooting it.
Monday, May 17, 2010
About a 1/2 hour ago I was driving home and saw this snapping turtle on the road near my home. I ran and got my camera and when I jogged back to the spot where I had seen it, the reptile had disappeared. I finally found it in the grass next to the road, and getting down at ground level I put on an extension tube on my 24-105mm lens and set the camera to aperture priority. I definitely did not want the eyes to be sharp but the nose soft, so I raised the ISO to 500 and set the f/stop to f/16. That gave me a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. This is not as fast as I'd like, but since the turtle wasn't moving and I was bracing my elbows on the ground, I thought I could still get a tack sharp picture.
I wanted to show the turtle with its mouth open, so I used my baseball cap to tap it's head enough until it opened that intimidating mouth. These things can do serious damage to fingers. My working distance was quite close -- about seven or eight inches. I could have used a longer lens with extension tubes, but I would have lost too much depth of field.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
The composite I created of the beautiful Gypsy Vanner horse in my last blog has become an all time favorite of mine, but I just couldn't leave it alone. I wanted to embellish the fantasy nature of the image, and the result is the unicorn version you see here. In 40 years of shooting, this is now in my top ten favorite images. All I did was change the background and put the horn on the horse.
What makes a sensational image? In my opinion there are three ingredients:
1. Beautiful lighting
2. A beautiful graphic form
3. A subject that people find intriguing/beautiful/compelling
If an image doesn't have all three, it may be a good shot but it will never be great. I am speaking of fine art photography. Photojournalism that depicts life's dramas and tragedies is an entirely different subject.
Beautiful lighting usually means sunrise, sunset, strong backlighting, powerful sidelighting, and lighting that is soft and diffused.
Beautiful graphic forms mean that your subject has to have a great shape. If the graphics of the subject and background are messy, boring, or just plain uninteresting, then no one will get excited over the image.
Regarding the subject, great subjects make great pictures. In my example of the unicorn, had I used a common farm horse, this picture wouldn't have the magic that it does. Because the horse is so incredible, the picture has something very special and, so far, everyone who has seen this has loved it -- largely because the horse is so beautiful.
Friday, May 7, 2010
One of the ways I get exciting pictures is to make arrangements with people to photograph them or their possessions at the optimal time of day and/or best location. The photos of the horse show I took in the indoor arena three weeks ago were really impossible to work with and produce professional quality imagery, so I set up a time to shoot the famous Gypsy Vanner horse, Romeo, and his lovely maiden, Jessica in beautiful lighting. The background, though, wasn't to my liking, and besides, I was looking for something truly special. I worked on this last night, and after a marathon session in Photoshop, I am happy with how it turned out.
I placed the horse and rider into the background, and it took me three hours to make this look good. I wanted very badly to make this as perfect as I possibly could. I worked in Photoshop at 600%, virtually pixel by pixel, to cut around the hair of the horse. Cutting around hair in Photoshop such that it looks perfect is virtually impossible – the operative word here is ‘virtually’. I went to bed at 1:30am when I was happy with it… well, 97% happy. All those blond, backlit hairs were a nightmare!
The technique I used was to make a rough selection of the horse and the model with the lasso tool, and then I used Edit > copy and then Edit > paste to place it into the background.
Note the lighting. The low angled sun above the foggy pond would have illuminated the horse with backlighting which is why I chose this background. It’s crucial to match the lighting in the various elements in your composites.
I sized the horse and rider with Edit > transform > scale, and then made a layer mask: Layer > layer mask > reveal all. Then, I used the brush tool to paint away the original background behind the subject. I worked at 300% until I came to the blond hair, and then I enlarged the image to 600%. Even when I made the brush tool small and removed more of the background, there were still dark pixels around the blond hairs that came from the original background. I couldn’t paint away those dark pixels because then most of the hair would be eliminated.
When I studied the composite without magnification, it looked good. However, when I looked at it with 100% magnification, those dark edges looked unnatural and unattractive. The composite would not pass the test – not yet.
I thought about this for a while, and finally decided to try using the dodge tool. Since the horse was on a separate layer from the background, I made the tool very small and tried lightening each individual blond hair. It worked. The hair, where was already very light from the backlighting, didn’t get much lighter, but the dark edges virtually disappeared. I was thrilled.
Finally, after working into the early hours of the morning until I could hardly focus my eyes any more, I was convinced that this couldn’t be improved.