Sunday, February 10, 2013

How To Do It: 101


This portrait I took the other day seemed to generate a little interest so I thought I would share a little bit more on how it was done.

First off, I have to say, the lighting on this was not my idea (wish it was).  There was a discussion going on in the Flickr Strobist group about how a certain portrait was lit.  This particular group is quite large and has a lot of talented photographers offering tips and info on various subjects related to lighting.  However, you can imagine, when someone posts in the group on how to light something, the number of responses you get can be staggering... and confusing.

Don't get me wrong, there is always more than one way to do something and sometimes, the methods used can produce finished images so strikingly similar that you would swear there was only one way to accomplish it.  That being said, lets get on to this portrait...

First let me say right off, that this portrait was a result of restricted lighting and, a slightly more heavy handed approach to editing than I normally do.  It wasn't by any means accomplished all in Photoshop, its just that I tend to not do heavy amounts of post work and prefer to get the finished image done in camera.  However, sometimes though its fun to take a slightly more artistic approach.

The portrait above was lit with two Nikon SB-800 speedlights in Westcott Apollo Strip boxes (which I dearly love) and another Nikon SB-800 with a full CTO gel on the background (although the power setting on the background light was so slow, that it hardly registers).  The original portrait in question was lit with a narrow column of light but another very telling sign on how that portrait was lit were the catch lights in the eyes.  Now I know the catch lights can be (and frequently are) done in post, but it seemed to me that these were left in intentionally and created by the light sources.  The catch lights were two vertical slits in each eye which created a really unusual look and I think, was part of the draw of the portrait.  Since the eyes are highly reflective, they will pretty much show any light source that they can see, which is a good method for figuring out how a portrait is lit.

So to get this look, the first thing I did was to dial in an exposure setting that would render the scene completely black.  The only light I wanted in this image was the light provided by my flashes so my exposure ended up being f/5.6 at 1/200 sec ISO 200.  This gave me a completely black frame in my small, home studio.

Then I set up my strip boxes in front of Lexi facing each other and took a test shot (you can see the setup image to the right... click on it for a larger view).  The amount of power I had dialed in was right, but the light seemed to be lighting the sides of her face as well as the front which is not the look I was after.  So, I moved the strip boxes closer to the camera, and then feathered them back towards the camera slightly and took another test shot.  This gave me more of the effect that I was looking for, so now I turned my background light on.  I only wanted a faint glimmer of light on the background to add just a slight bit of separation around her neck and shoulders, and thought I had achieved this, but after realizing that my monitor needed calibrating, it hardly registers on most monitors and learn.

I took a few more shots to make sure I had one that I was happy with and also tried moving the lights around a few more times just to see how many different looks I could create.  I tend to not give up on an image right away and sometimes will shoot it to death just to see what turns out... ahhhh, thank goodness for digital!!  By doing this, sometimes I come up with an image I like better than what I was originally going for, or learn a new trick in the process.  Also, another tip about these strip boxes, they have a very recessed edge to them, so by moving them around, even slightly, will cause the highlights and shadows to shift significantly.

In the end, I picked a photo that I was relatively pleased with and knew that with just a little bit of simple editing, I could get the look I was after.  You can see this image to the left, it is straight out of camera except for rotating and resizing for the web.

So the first thing I did in post was to remove any blemishes and to clean up the skin.  (I think I may have done a slight curves adjustment as well).  Lexi has pretty good skin to begin with, but like all kids, sometimes has a slight imperfection or two, hell... I still fight acne!  After the basic skin retouching, I worked on her eyes a bit to bring out the whites and darks, I simply used the dodge and burn tools to do this.  The last thing I did was to increase the shadow detail by simply making a few swipes with the burn tool.  I am by no means a Photoshop guru so I'm sure there may be more effective methods or programs to create the same looks, this is just how I chose to do it.  I hear there's a program out there called Lightroom that it is pretty nifty. ;)  For the shadows, I simply took the burn tool and anywhere there was an already existing shadow, I just added to it or 'accentuated' it, trying to make it a bit more dramatic.  Also, I decided to go in and do a very slight skin smoothing which I did with a layer mask and gaussian blur.  Again, there's probably a better way, but this just how I know to do it.

So that's pretty much it, minus the cropping to make the portrait a tad more dramatic.  Also, it should probably be noted that every single adjustment I did in post was done on its own layer, so that way, if I decided I needed to change something or omit it altogether, I could easily do so without effecting the rest of the work.

It may seem like a lengthy process but really, the shoot itself took me about 10 minutes and the editing took about 10 minutes or less.  This was a fun project and I'll definitely keep this technique in my back pocket for future reference.

If anyone has any questions about his, just sound off in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them!