Ashley [Fashion, Portrait]

This shoot was the second of the two I did in one day in my home studio.  Our goal was to create some portraits from the collar bone up, with some jewelry and wonderful expressions.  Ashley rocked it, and the make up by Bryana Doyscher was sublime. 

Though it took us a few photos to find our stride,  we eventually got rolling and having a lot of fun with the different jewelry, and added in wind and props.  Lighting was kept pretty simple: Clamshell in the front, and a single snooted strobe for the background.

I also asked Ashley to bring along a light coloured turtleneck sweater that she felt comfortable in,  as well as a few other clothing options. Here are the results of the shoot:

I put this photo up on 500px and it immediately started getting likes and favourites.  I hit the front page within 22 hours of posting it, my best showing yet on the site.  I'm sure there's something about a pretty girl, good light and a bit of camera gear that appeals to a community of photographers.

I did find a few things in the edit that I need to work on when shooting in the studio, including paying more attention to focus and sharpness.  I had a few photos that would have been my absolute favourites, but they weren't sharp where they needed to be.

Having my own space to help me refine my lighting techniques and create my own projects will be a great benefit, and I plan on doing more work like this.  Stay tuned!

Daily Photo: 15/10/13 - Hanging Around [Street]

Technical Information:
Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon 50mm f/1.8 II
ISO320, f/7.1 1/400s
Location: Downtown Halifax
Process: Apple Aperture for RAW processing and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 for B+W Conversion

This photo was taken on the Scott Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk, but I haven't had a chance to publish it yet.  I feel like my street photos have been improving, largely because I'm getting braver and more careful about framing.  The fact is that these two didn't even know I was there. Ever.  I just wish that the background was either a bit more out of focus or maybe less busy.  Each photo is a lesson!

Sarah Bee at Dingle Tower

Happy New Year!  I hope you had a fantastic holiday season.  In between family visits and celebrating holidays, I only got one shoot in, but it's one of my favorites from the year.  

Model Sarah Bee put out a message on Facebook which basically said "I'm ready to go shoot and my photographer cancelled."  I messaged her having never worked together and suggested we try to shoot at Dingle Tower, hoping it would be open.

It wasn't.

It was also COLD.

This was an ambient shot, and the lighting turned out to look pretty good!  I could probably have kept using this as my set up but I really wanted to use a beauty dish since Sarah had spent so much time doing her makeup (and it looked awesome!).

Beauty dish in the scene, darkening the ambient a bit for drama:

We then set about using the dish as a key.  I love the falloff of the light, and the way it adds punch to the shots. A second strobe was used to help add contrast to the backdrop.  These were all processed through Nik Color Efex Pro 4 for a really dramatic effect.

My personal favorite from the shoot.  There was something really cool about a wide angle shot with the light falling off to darkness.  

After we were almost completely frozen on top of the hill we packed up the flashes and headed down to the base of the tower.  I used a reflector and a 50mm lens for these shots.

Overall, we spent a little under an hour outdoors.  By the time we got back to the car, we were both frozen but very excited that we had made the best of a very non-ideal situation.  For me, it was a great way to finish off 2012!  I also got to open up 2013 with some photos of people jumping into the ocean, so stay tuned for that post later this week! 


Loaded: A look into my Editing

Getting together with people in the photographic industry such as models, photographers and makeup artists is  a really great thing to help bolster creativity and make connections.  The Big Shoot, a monthly gathering around the Halifax, Nova Scotia area is just such an opportunity.  

For the month of October, the big shoot was organized by the model showcased in my photos below, Tasha MacDonald.  She was able to contact the owner/operator of the Riverbreeze Corn Maze and Haunted farm house and got us into the facility during their downtime in the middle of the week.  We had free reign of the maze and Haunted house, and did our best to find some spooky shots!  

Final image, complete with vignetting and a deathly stare.

I'd like to take you through my editing process, from the time I got home to the time I published this photo on my 500px page.  I use a couple of programs to accomplish my goals including Apple Aperture 3 and Nik Software's Color Efex Pro 4.  

Let's get the techy stuff out of the way: the original photo was taken with my Canon 5D Mark II at F5.6, 1/125th at ISO400. To achieve the desired lighting, I used a wireless trigger to set off my flash, mounted to a Lumodi Beauty dish and positioned approximately 1m (3 feet for those south of the border) above Tasha's face, just out of frame.   

The beauty dish 'ring' effect at the top of the photo provides a natural vignette.  My goal for the final product is to look gritty, dark, and focused on Tasha. 
Original image, as shot in RAW

So, I got my light where I wanted it and I felt good about the photo's execution, but there's still a lot of work to do.

As mentioned previously, I use Aperture for my editing, and I primarily use it in full-screen mode.  This  allows me to really focus on the image, without any distractions from menus etc.    Once the photo is in aperture, it's time to start by eliminating some of the distracting elements from the photo, such as the screws that are marking up the wall behind Tasha.  I want this place looking more like someone's home, and less like a set.

I zoom in on my details and usually wind up using the "Retouch" setting of the retouch tool.  I will occasionally use the clone tool when I need very precise edits, but since I'm only removing some blemishes from the wall, I'll let the computer do my thinking.

I also want to make sure to remove any blemishes or pimples that might be distracting on the model.  In Tasha's case, she'd spent a load of time on her makeup so I didn't actually have a lot of work to do.  I only removed one spot on her face.

Now, typically in my portraits I like to apply skin-smoothing to reduce shadows and add a polished look to people's skin, but I try not to let it get overdone.  Since I know I'll be applying an effect from Color Efex Pro that enhances detail, I can get away with some skin smoothing here, but I don't want to create the porcelain effect that's so common on the cover of Vogue: this is supposed to be scary.

Applying some skin smoothing, starting with the forehead and working my way down the face

Final skin smoothing, shown with a colour overlay to allow me to see what I covered and what I didn't.  I left alone her eyebrows, hairline, mouth and nostril region to be sure to have detail.  

Now that the skin looks a bit nicer and smoother, I can focus on exposure fixes:  I want her left eye (camera right) to look bright and eerie.  Once again, because this is a halloween shoot, I get away with some extreme settings.  Normally, brightening someone's eyes too far would be a no-no, but in this case I can push it to look zombie-esque.

I applied a dodging tool on the eye to bring up the exposure level in that region.  I pushed the Amount slider up to 0.8 to get loads of eerie eyeball visibility.

Once again, the colour overlay lets you see where I've applied the brush-strokes for the Dodge tool.  

I now want to darken some areas.  Using the Burn tool, I lowered the exposure in the areas below Tasha, above her left shoulder and her left arm.  How do I know what to darken?  I want to be sure your eye goes to her face, which is ideally the brightest thing in the photograph.  By darkening the corners, I help the eye stay on the frame, and by lowering the light on her knee and arm, I make her face the bright point.

Here's the completed image, before it goes into Color Efex Pro 4.

The thing I like about Color Efex Pro 4 the most is the interface.  I started out with the Bleach Bypass filter, then increased the saturation until it was almost 0% and pushed up the Local Contrast to 65%.

Then, using an opacity control point, I removed the effect from Tasha's face.  Doing this helps to keep colour and smoothness in the face, but it's also helpful if you're getting haloes from the bleach bypass effect.  By reducing the opacity of the effect in certain regions you can reduce the haloes.

This is a halloween shot, so I'm actually okay with the weird haloes.
Size of the control point, limiting the effect

Opacity of the control point

Done in Color Efex Pro 4, I hit the "Save" button and let the program chomp away at my changes.  When it loads up in Aperture, It's time for some final tweaks.

I reduced the vibrancy, increased the white balance to about 5500K (typical for a flash) and used Auto Luminance on the Curves setting.  I then applied a vignette, and the final image is what you see at the top of the screen.

I hope this has been helpful to anyone using Aperture for photo editing.  I'll be doing another one of these posts at some point in the future to show what kind of editing I'd do on a typical model/fashion shoot and also a general portrait photo.  In the meantime, be sure to check out my portfolio at to see more of my work and stay tuned for more updates!

Bonus: Here's two more images (similarly processed)  from The Big Shoot!


New Software Day!

Some Great New tools!

I've wanted to use Nik Software's Color Efex Pro, but was always hesitant as it seems like you're applying things to the photograph that didn't originate from the camera.  Now that cameras have HDR, video, processing for JPEGs built right in, those feelings have gone out the window.  In fact, most photographers are processing their stuff to death in photoshop, because it gets them a certain effect. 

What I love the most about Color Efex Pro is that you can really change the feel of a photo.  Take for instance the portrait I did with Jonah, who had just acquired his volunteer firefighting training certification.  I originally wanted to make the photo look hard edged and gritty, but there was just too much going on in the background.

Sometimes the best intentions are just not enough.  There's way too much going on here, and its all distracting from Jonah.

So, bringing in Color Efex Pro tweaks allowed me to 'Bleach-Bypass' the image, generating a detailed, contrasty look that really accentuates Jonah in the image, and as an added bonus, makes him look more rugged, a good thing for this portrait.

Apply Color Efex Pro filters including Bleach Bypass, Glamour Glow and Vignette and Voila!  You have the image above!

This raises an interesting point then. At what point is there too much post-processing?  When have you removed too many freckles or pimples?  When is skin too soft?  

I've always gone for one of two directions:  Either I make someone look as good as I can while still looking realistic, or I make them look so fake that you wouldn't know if it was a painting or not.  Just because I can, doesn't mean I will but if I get the impression that some fake-y look will make my photo more interesting or more artistic, then I'll give it a try.  Below are some more works that I've processed with the new software. 

The image above was processed using a bi-colour filter, to cool off the bottom half of the photo and warm up the top half.  

Another portrait of Jonah, this one including the SUV he drives in the event of an emergency.  The color processing saves this image, turning the background wall from a drab 50s puke green to something less attention-grabbing.

I shot this one for the Location Scouting blog entry, then applied some film-grain and glow.  It's a subtle effect but well worth it!

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