Thursday, May 31, 2012

Achieving a sunset look when photographing at mid-day

This is a lighting technique I came up with years ago to obtain the look of a sunset or late afternoon light when I had to shoot at in mid-day.  It was easier when I originally did it because I was shooting on film, and in addition the lenses were not as coated and resistant to flare as they are today.  At the time I used large 4'x8' foam panels that were used as insulation in building construction.   They were covered with a shiny silver mylar and had a a large red design printed all over.  This gave a very warm color when it reflected the sun.

I positioned the panels behind the model and angled them to reflect the sun so the light hit the model out-lining her in a glow, and then the light entered the camera lens to cause a severe flare.  This technique works best when the lens aperture is very open.

For the examples below, instead of the construction panels, I used two large Wescott 72" Gold reflectors.  You can see them directly behind the model.  There is no fill at all from the front so the model is completely back lit. This is a difficult situation for a lens to auto-focus.  A lens with a wide open aperture helps.  In the samples below I used a zoom lens with an aperture of f/2.8 and a focal length of 125mm for the top image and 200mm for the bottom one. 

I placed two large and very shiny reflectors behind the model to serve as a partial background and positioned them to pick up the hot mid-day sun, and reflect it past the model's face and directly into the camera lens
For the top photo I wanted the warm-colored, playful light of a summer sunset, whereas for the bottom image I wanted more of a desaturated tone to emphasize the serious, no-nonsense intensity of the athlete's stare.  A warm Photoshop filter gave the upper image its color, while the Vibrance control dialed down the color in the bottom photo.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Give your photos an Instagram effect in Photoshop

This is a very simple Photoshop technique for transforming your images into an old-fashioned, faded print look similar to what is done in the Instagram app.

This is the original photo cropped into a square.  The square format looks best with this technique.

Add a layer above the image and fill this layer with a light color.  Pastel shades work best. You can use one od the colors from the chart below. Change the mode of this color layer to Multiply.  This gives the image a color cast and reduces its contrast.  Next add a levels layer to the original image layer and change the color.  Change the RGB layer to the right to brighten the photo.  Then select the red, green, and blue layers in succession and alter each of them by moving their sliders left or right to suit the look you want.  A soft vignette was added using the Gradient tool to make two separate layers, one vertical and the other horizontal.  Both layers were changed to Multiply mode and merged together.  Finally, the opacity was reduced to around 60%.

Here is a selection of some colors you can use to create the top color layer.  Once this layer is in place, change its mode to "Multiply".

This shows the levels set to modify the green channel by sliding the central slider to the left.  You simply play with this slider until you achieve an effect you like.

This is what the combined vertical and horizontal Gradient layers look like when they are both in multiply mode and merged together.  The next step is to change the merged layer to a luminosity mode and  reduce its opacity to suit your taste.

One more example to show a different effect using the same technique.  This time no vignette was created.

Here I changed the color a bit more dramatically in a different direction than in the first sample to show a bit more of the range of this technique.  As a final adjustment, I added a curves layer to each of the photos and adjusted the contrast with an "S" curve.
You can further reduce the faded look of the image by muting the colors using the Vibrance tool in Photoshop.
The variations of this simple technique are endless, making it very easy to customize it to suit your personal taste.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Adding interest with a point of view

Point of view can have both a literal and conceptual  meaning.  Literally speaking,  where the camera is when it takes a picture establishes its " point of view".  From a conceptual standpoint, "point of view" indicates the photographers interpretation of a scene.  In fact, the two should go hand-in-hand.  

Typically, we all see life from a standing up or sitting perspective, our eyes always at a fixed height above the ground.  When we take up photography it is only natural to continue to record life from this eye position.  We are so accustomed to it that we rarely think to move ourselves to a completely different position in order to gain a different perspective on a scene -- a different point of view. 

Where the camera is placed when taking a photograph can enhance the meaning of a scene by providing an angle of view that has a specific meaning.  Most professional film makers and photographers are aware of this and use it for dramatic effect.  For instance, we mostly engage other people at eye level.  Looking down  or up at someone shifts the perspective and provides a different relationship to the person or thing being viewed. 

Two different camera positions were used in the photos of the boy below.  On the left, a high camera angle directly above the boy has him looking up as if he was looking into his parent's face.  On the right, where the boy is playing on the floor with his truck the camera was moved to his level and provides a more unobtrusive look at the boy at play.

These two shots of an iguana illustrate the importance of camera angle.  On the left the camera was a eye-level while standing.  On the right the camera angle is just above the sand at the level of the iguana's eye and lets us see him and his environment from the perspective of his own living space.
Fly on the wall

When I taught photography, I asked my students to think of themselves as having the agility of a fly, and imagine themselves flying about a scene looking for a spot to land that would give them a unique point of view, one that provided a more meaningful interpretation of the scene. What would the scene look like if shot from the ceiling, or from the floor?  How would it look if they landed on a table and took the photo from there?  If someone were opening a present, what would the scene look like if the camera were inside the box?  These exercises were meant to stretch the creative imagination.  In addition, thinking this way forces photographers to really understand what the scene means to them, and carefully selecting a meaningful point of view  enhances this understanding. 

This is a "fly's eye" view of the Brooklyn Bridge taken at dusk with 21mm lens on a full-frame camera.  The camera position is low, just above girder height, and suspended out over the roadway.  This adds substantially more drama than if the photo had been taken from eye level on the walkway on the right.
Here our imaginary fly landed on the chessboard.  This angle adds a greater sense of power to the scene and makes  the story more immediate by showing it from the position of the chess pieces.

Angles add relationships

Employing a dramatic angle can add substantial drama to a scene, but it can also be used to relate foreground and background elements to tell a story. 

Getting in very close to the bottom of these tall redwoods and looking directly up with a very wide angle lens emphasizes their immense size from a personal perspective, while at the same time providing a story-telling detail with the closeup of bark on the bottom of the trees.
By placing the camera at a very low ground level and using a wide angle lens the detail in the foreground pediments is juxtaposed with the entire building of the Library of Ephesus in the background.  Camera angle relates the subjects to tell a fuller story and provide more information about the scene.
Positioning the camera directly above the scene, we see the sleeping baby cupped in its mother's hands from the perspective of the mother herself.  Here camera angle serves to put us directly in the scene.
Practical reasons for angle selection

The position of the camera can also be useful  in clarifying a subject by making it stand out more in the scene.  The examples below illustrate this point.

A very low camera angle allowed the canon to be clearly outlined against the sky.  An eye level  view from a standing position would have placed most of the shape of the canon against the ground where its detail would have blended into the dark foreground and been lost.
For this view of the Coliseum in Rome the camera was placed on the sidewalk.   This raised the position of blurred lights from passing cars.  This higher placement of the blurs in the image frame places them directly over the building in the background and gives them far more compositional impact.
Angles for design and impact

Severe viewing angles can not only add dramatic impact to a scene, they can also add provide an interesting compositional design.

The camera was situated on the ground directly below the jump.  This angle placed the athlete against the sky where his form created a strong visual graphic that illustrates the grace of his form.
A camera angle from above shows the complete symmetry of the rower and his wake.  Keeping the subject perfectly aligned in the center of the frame further emphasizes this symmetry.
Placing the camera on the ground and having  the children lean over it creates a strong graphic that adds interest to a simple portrait.

A photograph is a visual way of telling a story.  Understanding and controlling the point of view is a means of making that story clearer and more interesting.