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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

••◊ Quick examples of photos for the upcoming Komen foundation auction

Well...the silent auction benefiting the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation is next Wednesday. Two months in the making so far. I'm really proud of how the members of the San Diego meetup.com photography group have come together to support this cause.

I decided to add a special touch to each of the pictures' display name cards this week. In order to outwardly personalize the art and the event each artist was asked if they wanted to add a special message to their work. Most chose to either add "In support of..." or "In loving memory of..." to their name card. The good news is that most people put the support statement on their card. The bad news is that some had to use the memory statement. So if you come to the auction be sure to take a second to read the name cards to see how each artist was effected by breast cancer.

I'm super busy putting together the event and two other upcoming projects, so I decided to do some quick and dirty photos of a few pieces that artists have dropped off at my house already. This is just a small sampling. We have over 50 pieces to auction and all types of photography. I purposely helped each artist sort through potential donations so we would have as wide a variety as possible - something for everyone to fall in love with.

Please forgive my easel arrangement (back of my couch) and the doofus in the glass reflections (me). ...also, yes the lighting stinks. I know. Without further due...here we go kids.

Two artful classic San Diego abstracts from Stephanie Slaton...

A few abstracts and nature scenes from Heidi Siegele Dirga...

A couple church scenes from Micheal Yang...

Holidays, Coronado Style from Andrew Wiener. I know you can't tell in the picture, but this is a canvas print.

A couple abstracts from Ann Sturley... The one on the left started as a giraffe and the picture on the right is a composite photo of an eucalyptus tree and an african drummer. Both are very beautiful in person.

A historical photo from Fred Marinello...or at least it looks old. The photo was actually taken in 2004.

The Point Loma lighthouse by Nick Nareshni...This would be a nice addition to any beach community home.
A mostly italian set by me. The guitar is a "paint by light" abstract. The rest were photos taken in Riomaggiore Italy last fall.

A couple flowers by German artist Frederike Bach. She actually found us via Brooklyn's myspace announcement and asked if she could donate. Since shipping takes so long she sent the photos via email and I had them printed/matted/framed in the US.

A couple more shots from Italy from me. The picture on the left is from the UCI world cycling championships in Varese. The picture on the right is graffiti under a train crossing a few blocks from the leaning tower of Pisa. Both at 18x24 - plenty big for most walls.

That's just a tiny sampling. I'll try to do a blog video of the actual event if I'm not getting pulled 10 ways during the auction. More to come.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

••◊ The "guy" look

I was having lunch with my friend Sara a couple weeks ago and she mentioned that I should provide some easy tips to enhance photos. The easiest one I could think of is creating the masculine look. Of course this works for women too, for things like action sports. Just don't use this technique on glamour models or their agents will leave intimidating messages on your voice mail.

So we'll start with a simple male portrait. Nothing really interesting beyond a simple picture. The picture is kind of "blah."

This is a three step process, which will vary by feel from photo to photo. Step one is enhancing the contrast through an S-curve. In this case I'm just using my raw editing software. Photoshop, Gimp, Paint Shop Pro and every other package has a feature called "curves." The way I typically start playing with the curves is at the 1/4 point and drag downward to crush the dark regions. Then I move to the 3/4 point and drag upward to enhance the highlights. The effect is an "S" shape on the curve. The lighting created by this look should be very hard; thus this technique creates a masculine look. The problem with enhancing the S-curve so much is that skin tones tend to go oompa-loompa (i.e. orange) really quick. That's OK. The next step takes care of some of that.

It might be hard to read with these tiny pictures, but I chose to take the saturation down to 80%. The step here is mainly to put the skin tones back in the realm of possibility with a little enhancement. No one wants to look like they were in the bloopers reel of "Sunset Tan - The Spray Booth Incident." Besides masculine themed photos tend to have desaturated colors. It's a guy thing.

The last step is to over-sharpen. This brings out facial stubble, pits, wrinkes, hard edges...and all those other "guy look" characteristics. As you may be able to tell I cranked up the sharpness all the way because that's what this photo called for. I'm using a DSLR which requires me to sharpen every photo by default. Point and shoots typically oversharpen whether you like it or not. So if you're using a P-n-S camera you may have to back off on the oversharpening, especially if you start to see jaggies in your photos.

...and the final result. The photo went from blah to GQ in three easy steps. There Sara. Was that easy enough?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

••◊ San Diego Strobists Meet...

I recent joined the SD Strobist group on Flickr. Kevin Calumpit (TheOriginal_kevie) was kind enough to invite us out to his studio space at NAS Productions in San Marcos Saturday. He lined up four willing victims models that circulated from photog to photog. Considering this was a chance to try out some new lighting ideas that I had been inspired by I made a cheat sheet of six setups for fear that I would forget one or two. I also had to be realistic because I only had two strobes, two umbrellas, and one reflector to light the scene. However the cheat sheet was just a jumping off point because I didn't know what to expect from the models or backdrop or how much time I would have...and I didn't have 5-6 speedlights and softboxes available.

My first model was John Chang. For him I chose the 'fashion' setup because I knew that would give him dramatic lighting across his face which better suits male models...and he showed up wearing a dress shirt and tie. The problem we had was that his polyester tie was reflecting too much light. Losing the tie wouldn't have suited what he was going for, so I had to make a couple lighting adjustments to get more light on his face and less on the tie. John, next time Pierre Cardin tie. We went through the standard male poses, shoulder and foot placement, posture...etc.

After John and I went through a session I was temporarily out of models so I stole Megan, one of the staff at NAS. For her I wanted to test out the over-under close up setup. I see this used on classic celebrity B&W close ups often enough. Turns out that it worked quite well even though I was just using umbrellas. My stand-in model has a "diminutive stature," so we put her on a toolbox so she could stand above the lower umbrella. I think I successful dodged the celebrity mug shot look.

Next up I I met Satien. Satien has sort of a hipster, fast car driving, clubbing in the city sort of personality. After asking him about his ideas he suggested that I take some photos with him and cars. The first car was an old scrap out back of the studio and I didn't have my lights back there, so I stuck with just capturing him with a superior angle shot (i.e. from down below him) and watching the angle of his face. Next Satien wanted me to shoot him with his car, but again lacking lights out there (umbrellas and Santa Ana winds don't mix) I stuck with just getting head shots of him. In this case I wish I would have had a 17-40mm lens in my kit. A wider angle lens would have given his pictures more of a male model feel since it enlarges the subject relative to the background. In post I did a little more extreme S-curve, upped the sharpness, and desaturated a little to compensate. I like that effect for men because it gives an edgier look in a very simple and understated way.

Next up I wanted to try out the flare setup. Sometimes this gets used for over the top glamour shots for things like high end perfume and makeup. However if you set it up with a dark background then the look can have kind of a dance club groove. Kevin gave us a heads up that we would have a DJ as a model, so I brought along my headphones as a prop (relax, it's entertainment...it's all fake). I knew this would work for Satien and DJ Mike Strip. The speedlight stands and the star field in the background had to be removed in post. Satien and Mike's setups were a bit different. For Satien I placed both strobes behind him so I had to add a reflector in front of him and angled toward him. You can see it in his sunglasses (it's not a mistake, it's a feature! He, he.). This filled the front of his body. On DJ Mike I chose the setup shown on my cheat sheet with a shoot through umbrella at camera right and one strobe behind him. You can clearly see a fill difference between the two. I like Satien's shot more personally.

Next up I had the honor of finally getting a turn with Katy. Yes guys (big sigh), she has (another sigh) a boyfriend. When she came in there were a steady stream of photographers lined up to shoot her (go figure). It was nearly the end of the session by the time I was able to get a turn and I was a bit concerned that she would be suffering from shutter fatigue, but Katy is a trooper. From my brief conversations with Katy it seemed natural to use the "laying" setup from my cheat sheet since it's mostly for classically beautiful models "laying in repose." We didn't have a couch, so I had to approximate the positioning using a low-back chair and have her extend her legs to the side away from the chair. The chair also happened to fit well with her leopard dress (lucky find). I used two umbrellas perched high above at camera right and left and a reflector just in front of her to under-fill.

Equally popular among the disproportionately male photographer crowd was Kerri. Kerri is a tall woman with long shapely features and beautiful skin. No need to use a toolbox here. I'll skip a little ahead by saying that I learned something by having her as a model. Kerri has deep inset eyes and she really needs to be lit from below to fill in the eye sockets. For the life of me I couldn't figure out how to make it work at first because her eyes were coming out too dark. I should have recognized that at first because I share the same physical feature but at least I'll be more ready next time. ...so as thus, the session with Kerri lasted about twice as long as it should have, but Kerri is a nice person and accommodated my chimping.

When I talked with Kerri at first she said she was more into glamour, so I figured that was a best direction to go in. We chose the black strapless dress for her wardrobe since that fit the bill the best of what she brought. For her close up portraits I went with the fashion lighting setup; single light and reflector with Kerri sitting. For the first shot or two I put the light on the wrong side. It really needed to go on camera right in order to fill in under the sweep of her hair. The lighting was more dramatic than what I was going for at first; a little too movie star. With the light on the correct side, bingo...there's the glamour vixen! What mostly worked after that was to use shoot through umbrellas at camera left and right, with the one at camera left switching between in front and behind Kerri.

The complete set of pictures can be seen here, including the behind the scenes shots.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

••◊ Entrepreneurship...

Earlier this week CNN.com had an article about entrepreneurship that I found interesting. Some earlier articles had talked about developing your talent for some number of hours per day over 20 years, but this article mainly looked at the personality characteristics of successful people. For those who don't quite have one or more of the entrepreneurial characteristics here are the cliff notes.

  1. Stubborn
  2. Delusionally Optimistic
  3. Creative
  4. Fearless
  5. Flexible
  6. Focused
  7. Ignorant

The reason I found this information particularly pertinent is because of the current economic climate. In these times a lot of people who would just prefer to take the cushy "corporate cruise liner" job are out there looking for work when there isn't much. So they end up saying, "what the hey," and give startups or their own business a try. I did it after the dot-com crash seven years ago. Last night at a local filmmakers' meeting I noticed a few more people than normal were coming in and asking for work. Not to say that these people aren't talented individuals, but in the entrepreneurial industry of film and video those without the above characteristics are going to get weeded out fairly quickly. So does knowing how to use all fancy shortcuts in Final Cut Pro count? Maybe. Does having the right personality count? Definitely. Am I a complete embodiment of those characterists? Probably not, but I like to try and I appreciate the lessons of my shortcomings.

As an engineer by trade I have to add "sense of responsibility" to my personal list, otherwise the things I work on might set a house on fire or otherwise harm someone. In spirit I'm with the entrepreneurs and I would ponder a guess that many people, like me, with a day job and a outside passion for the arts are filling a void that is generated by a lack of use of one of the above characteristics. In my opinion, it's good to balance who you are with what you choose to do.

At least for me, this is a mental note taken.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

••◊ Photo Fundraiser Event

I'm going to take this opportunity to diverge from my usual dissertation on techniques of photography and talk about something more important. Two years back my mom walked the 3-day event for the Susan G. Komen foundation. For those who don't know, the Komen foundation was founded to fund breast cancer research, provide education on prevention, and to assist those who can't afford care. One in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime, so we all probably know someone who has been effected or is no longer with us because of this disease.

What I witnessed at the start and end of the walk was both hopeful and sad. The reason that thousands of women (and men) participate in this fundraiser isn't because they are celebrating a cure. Of course, at the beginning of the event the organizer had to give an obligatory over the top melodramatic speech, but it really wasn't needed. These women were pumped before they were coralled into the holding pen at the Del Mar fairgrounds. It was a sea of pink that would make both the owners of Victoria's Secret and Barbie combined jealous. This was also a chance for me to play with the brand new (at the time) Canon 40D...just to tie it into my blog.

So I decided to make this my cause and on February 4th in downtown San Diego I have organized a silent auction of photographic art benefiting the Komen foundation. I was able to gather over 40-pieces of art from my connections with the San Diego Photography Meetup Group. In fact, just yesterday I received an email from a professional photographer in Germany that wanted to donate and I'm helping her get the prints done here in the U.S. A few of my photos from Italy will be in the group. The Morrison Hotel Gallery in La Jolla is donating a Henry Diltz gallery print of Crosby, Stills, and Nash - and they did so out of the blue. Big thanks go to Gail Donnelly and Rich Horowitz at the gallery.

Overall, the event should be a lot of fun. Hennessey's in the gaslamp district provided the space for us for free and Brooklyn, Lisa Sanders, Brenda Xu, Austin Jennings, Jesse LaMonaca, and Sven-Erik Seaholm are providing the soundtrack. There's no cover charge, so even if you're not in the mood to buy it's always nice to have more supporters around. Look for me with the pink ribbon on my shirt.

Sometimes if you want to change your world you just have to do it yourself.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

••◊ Some lighting info worth mentioning

I caught myself being an uber-geek in Barnes and Noble last weekend. Yes, it's true - your's truly. I pick up magazines not for the articles, but for the pictures - and it's not just a guy thing. There was a rather nice looking cover of San Diego magazine with Danica McKellar (Winnie) from The Wonder Years fame and I was thinking "wow, they must have used a beauty dish on her. Not very dynamic lighting, but even and bright like most covers. Oh good they didn't photoshop her eyes...there's the soft boxes." Then I openned the cover and found an ad for some abhorently expensive watch - oh yeah, and a gorgeous model wearing it too. "Wow, they really went to town on the side to side f-stop difference and also airbrushed the heck out of her. There's the softbox at camera left." I had to stop myself for fear of lusting over Profoto gear. There's got to be help for me somewhere.

I began looking at lighting for cinematography, so The 5 C's of Cinematography was a natural starting point. This taught me about how to place shadows, highlights, and balance of light in a frame. Since the book was written a long time ago, it doesn't cover the subject of color and the pictures are all B&W. That's not a hinderance since the author wants you to concentrate on correct composition framing and camera movement. Most of the aspects of cinematography carry over to still photography, so I would recommend it for anyone interested in creating wonderful images. The 5 C's is really a book for people moving a camera around and doesn't necessarily teach you how to light, just how to adapt the camera to the lighting in the scene.

That's where guys like Roger Deakins really start to shine. He is the director of photography for the Cohen Brothers films (No Country for Old Men, The Man Who Wasn't There, O Brother Where Art Thou?) and many, many other successful films. I truly appreciate his work, especially after No Country... That movie was carried by dialog and cinematography. Beat that Jerry Bruckheimer! The wonderful thing Roger offers is lighting diagrams of some of his previous work if you register on his personal web site. Just about all of his personal photos are B&W and use natural light. I feel like I started in somewhat the same way. Not having lighting gear forced me to recognize good natural light. That seems to carry over to artificial lighting later if you're not into the high fashion looks.

Along that same vein, the Arri lighting handbook is a brief but useful idea reference. It really stresses the point that lighting is really about key, fill, separation, and background. When I review my own photos after a session these four aspects are often the first thing I look for after focus. They are just rough rules of thumb. I mean if you plan your lighting correctly and the stars align you can sometimes get away with one key light, use a white bounce card for fill control, and postion your subject such that natural light takes care of separation and background. The downside to learning these things is that you realize why you need more lights, i.e. $$$ (or friends with lighting kits).

The latest find I came across has more to do with still photography. It's a product brochure posted from Bogen called Simply Well Lit with Joe McNally. It's always good to have a reference of what a beauty dish, versus ring flash, versus softbox looks like (oh yeah, I forgot again...and a pretty model too). Light modifiers are just tools and it's always good to at least know what tools do what, even if you can't afford them.

Then there's Jill Greenberg. What can I say, the girl likes lights. Lots of them. She does have a preferred setup, but it's such a highly stylized setup that it would be nearly impossible to recreate in cinematography. Silver umbrellas at camera left and right, ring flash above the camera, and two strip softboxes to the side of the subject (I think). I guess this really shows how far you can take lighting (and photoshop) to the extreme. I thought it was interesting to at least mention her because you should know when to back off on the lighting.

Having only a photo enthusiast budget I appreciate one of the quotes from Joe McNally's early mentors in his book The Moment It Clicks. When asking if the photographer W. Eugene Smith shoots with available light his reply was "Yes, by that I mean any &*%$#@ light that's available." Sometimes you're just out of luck without the right gear, but most of us put our Robert Rodriguez hat on and try to do the best job possible with what we have. What's possibly worse is if you're supposedly "out of luck" with the right gear and everyone is looking at you for a solution.