Lightroom

A Stranger Thing Portrait – Eleven

I am a child of the 80's...

… which means I am direct product of that decade. I was never a big fan of 80’s Hair-Metal but I’ve always loved the imagery of that era. As we started to move away from analog and into digital’s earliest incarnations we all took a big step back in quality. People think of VHS as an analog medium, but unlike the homemade movies shot on film in the 60’s and 70’s – which were a true analog and very chemical-based affair – VHS was rendered to tape using electricity and other various pieces of digital wizardry. It’s part of this loss in quality that help define the 80’s within its time in history and also teaches us the concept of, ‘low-quality doesn’t always mean bad-quality’.

Also, the 80’s were a time of great exploration into the visual mediums. For me, there’s never been a time in my life where the movies were more over the top, more gory, more cheesy, more whatever.  Sure, we all praise and award movies who work their messages in more subtle manners, but I think a lot of people can also appreciate how wonderful ‘blatant-and-unrepentant’ can be as well!

Enter Stranger Things; a new visual and story-telling trip down a cracked 80’s memory lane. It’s amazing to watching Stranger Things and see my childhood, bikes, clothes, and adventures right there on screen for me to relive. Okay, so my real life adventures at that age weren’t quite as surreal, but they were certainly just as grand within my imagination.

It’s truly an amazing show and it has captured a lot of people’s interest. One such couple, some family friends of mine, have two daughters who they watch the show with. When their oldest daughter shaved and donated her hair to Saint Baldricks, they realized she was a complete doppelganger for one of the TV show’s main protagonists – Eleven. So much so that she was being stopped in the street and people would take pictures of her and follow her around, convinced she was Millie Bobby Brown. 

So, we decided to capitalize on this and do a fun Stranger Things photo shoot! They were in charge of the wardrobe, and I would find the right location. For that location I chose the Molly Stark Sanatorium; an old tuberculosis hospital about 30 minutes out of town. This place is defunct, abandoned, and just oozes a whole new level of creepy, so, as you can imagine, it turned out to be the perfect location. 

Above: Molly Stark Sanatorium

We showed up around 8pm in the evening. It’s mid-Spring at this point of the year so the sun sets around 8:30 pm. The forecast originally said it would be sunny, but rain had moved in earlier throughout the day and now it was overcast – which wasn’t a problem since we were taking a potentially moody photo. The only impact the cloud cover had on the location was that I instantly lost about 2 stops of light as the sun was setting behind a large blanket of clouds. 

Because I would have to expose a little longer to compensate for the darkness (I don’t like to bump up the ISO unless absolutely necessary) I set the camera up on my tripod after scouted the location for the right angle. Using the tripod means I can have a slower shutter speed and still retain a sharp photo. Next I hustled to put up one 32 inch octa on a large light stand. The light was about 12 feet up and about 12 feet away and 45 degrees off center from the subject because I wanted to give the lighting more of a moonlight glow by the time it reaches our model. I then took a second light and positioned that opposite of the main light. It was much lower, with a 7 inch reflector on a bare bulb. I pointed the light so it would light her dark side with a little fill as well as light the bottom of the tree branches to help them retain a little detail from the shadows.  Once we had the lights in place it was just a matter of getting the pose right and taking some pictures. To the right is one of the pictures we chose, straight out of the camera. 

If you remember what I said at the start of this article, the 80’s are all about the lo-fi elements. This picture is ok as-is, but it doesn’t match either the spirit of the show, or the aesthetic of the decade it’s supposed to take place in – so there’s some work to do!

First thing I did was mess around with the RGB curves in Adobe Lightroom to flatten the dynamic range. I also de-saturated the image and boosted the blues in the shadows. Next, I took the photo into After Effects (yes, the video compositing program) and added in the fog and the light streaks for the lantern.

After Effects is, at it’s heart, an amazing piece of compositing software that does a lot of stuff, dare I say, better than Photoshop. If it’s not a part of your workflow, you should investigate it’s potential! Once I am done there I exported the file into Adobe Photoshop where I made a few final adjustments to color as well as any last tweaks. 

Overall most of the color tweaks are done with curves adjustments and I use them throughout the process within all of the various programs I mentioned here. One thing that’s hard to explain is knowing where you should move from one program to the next. For this image, I worked in Lightroom until I had the base color correction in place. I then moved to After Effects to add in the fog and light flares because I know those processes are fairly easy for that program to produce. Photoshop is usually the last step because it’s great for the small details and final color correction. 

Here’s the final image

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Photographer in the Canton, Akron, Cleveland and Northeast Ohio Area. 

AuroraHDR 2018 by Skylum

Photography used to be inhabited by some stodgy old fuddy duds...

You know the kind, the photographer with a stogie hangin’ from their mouths, toiling over whatever it is they are toiling over. Old curmudgeons, believing themselves to be keepers of some crazy old mystical art form. I know you’ve seen a few of these types – I know of at least a few within my own town who still fit this stereotype.

The thing is, I don’t get why photographers, even of an older ilk, aren’t more flexible when it comes to new developments in technology. I am not even talking about the 20-something, “Film is wayyyyyy better than digital”, crowd – I’ll save my thoughts on that subject for later – but rather I am talking about the folks who truly believe that advancements in tech pose a great threat to the tried-and-true ways of their method.

For me, tech has always been something to revered. Sure, it’s dangerous to get into a game of keeping-up-with-the-Jones, and it’s also easy to fall into common pitfalls such as, “Oh, if I buy this brand new, more expensive, camera my photos will instantly look better!” But if you are careful, and pace yourself, you can find some truly amazing pieces of hardware and software that can really elevate your photo-game. 

One such piece of software is AuroraHDR 2018 by Skylum software. Not in the mood to read a long review? My one sentence synopsis for this software would be as follows; An HDR capable version of Lightroom without any of the catalog features. 

Actually, I could probably just end this review there – that’s just how accurate I feel that statement is. Of course there are some finer nuances between to two programs, but just boot up Aurora and you can see that it borrows heavily from Lightroom’s Develop module. 

Left: Lightroom – Right: AuroraHDR

Here you can see just how similar the two programs are. Well, it makes sense when you think about it. Lightroom didn’t invent the whole slider/adjust based interface, it just made it ubiquitous. Aurora is simply capitalizing on a design and layout we’re familiar with, and I am ok with that. So then, is Aurora a Lightroom clone under the hood as well? Definitely not. First off, it’s not replacing Lightroom for organizing your photos. AuroraHDR does none of that. In fact, the work flow for just opening and saving an image when using Aurora as a stand alone program is a little archaic. Luckily, Aurora integrates with Lightroom. So, instead, what you’ll be doing is opening the file in Lightroom, as always, and then exporting the file (or files – this is an HDR program after all) into Aurora. Once you are done merging and making adjustments you then can press the “apply” button, which actually saves this new file back into the Lightroom catalog – similar to how it works when you export a photo to edit in Photoshop and save it. 

HDR FOR ALL

So, then, again… the question is, why buy? Well, it’s cheap – like 99 bucks. And for that barely sub-100 price tag you actually get some amazing tools within Aurora. First off, I should mention that I am not a big HDR shooter, (which seems weird for this review, but it’s cool, trust me), so I don’t spend a lot of time with bracketed images. But the few occasions where I have taken the time to take HDR photos I have found it hard to get reliable results from the programs I’ve used previously. Photoshop and Lightroom’s built in HDR plug-ins are, well, laughable. And the other big programs, like Photomatix, feel like they were designed by the same engineers that programmed them. Aurora feels so much like Lightroom’s develop module, however, that it’s intuitive to get in there and make some easy, but very in-depth, changes with barely a nudge of the slider. And subtlety is important here – as a friend once pointed out, there’s a fine line in HDR between amazing and clown-vomit. Aurora’s sliders work wonders even when you’re only pushing it at 5 ticks out of 100. If you’re feeling brave and start pushing those sliders further you’ll be happy to know the potential is still there to make some cataract inducing contrast explosions. 

Before I get too long winded, my point here is this:

  • Step 1: Load in your brackets
  • Step 2: Use an interface full of tools and names you’re already familiar with
  • Step 3: Profit – Case in Point, see below image:

 

HDR – edited inside of a familiar interface

WORKING WITH SINGLE IMAGES

What if you’re like me and you’re focus isn’t HDR photography? Well, as it turns out, Aurora has some great uses there as well. The most obvious reason may not actually be the most obvious. HDR programs are built to pull details out of shadows and highlights. AuroraHDR isn’t a miracle worker, it can’t pull clouds out of a sky that’s been over exposed beyond redemption, but it can tease out details from shadows and highlights in a more reliable manner than Lightroom can. For whatever reason, Aurora’s shadow and highlight compression algorithms seem to work really well for me. Maybe it’s the way I shoot, or whatever, but I get great results from it. 

There has even been a few cases where I’ve gone back and re-developed older photos previously output with Lightroom. It’s hard for me to explain it, but I like to think of my photos in terms of stories and moods, and it’s almost like Lightroom and Aurora each have their own moods which they perform more optimally. Maybe it’s because of it’s nature as an HDR editing tool, but I find that Aurora is very good at helping me get the mood I am looking for in photos that were shot at sunset, or indoors in darker-than-normal conditions. 

When I edit my photos, I am very much an entire tool kinda guy. I use sliders (all of the sliders), curves, buttons, masks, gradients – everything, and Aurora let’s me explore my inner slider-pusher while yielding great results. It also renders these results fast, although there are times where you feel like the image looks awfully pixelated, only to find out that you aren’t just seeing things, and that the render has, in fact, decided to blockify your view. This is easy to fix, as scrolling in and out will refresh the image, but it’s still a weird occurrence which reminds you that you are using a 2nd tier piece of software. 

With that being said, I can promise you that I will be upgrading Aurora for the foreseeable future as I can’t imagine not having it in my arsenal of tools. Actually, I’ve rather fallen in love with this program and can’t wait to see what sort of new innovations may be in store for us!

Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Canton, Cleveland, Northeast Ohio area. 

Rocket Rooster Analog Film Looks for Lightroom Review

We just recently picked up the new Analog Film pack from Rocket Rooster…

…and I was really anxious to try it out. I’ve been using the VSCO film packs (mostly #4) for a long time now and I was very interested in seeing how Rocket’s film pack would stand up.

The first thing you’ll notice is that there is a huge difference in price between the RR and VSCO packs. At the time of writing this review VSCO has 7 packs available for purchase, each one costing $120. By contrast RR has only one pack costing $35. If that seems like a bargain, then consider that you can by RR’s pack even cheaper for $26, as long as you send out a tweet about it before check out.

I love VSCO, and I use their presets often, mainly as a starting point, to give my photos the looks I want, but I’ve always thought they were woefully over priced. There is no way a pack of presets are worth $120. RR’s solution at $35 is much more in line with my sensibilities. At such a low price, that leaves a very important question hanging in the air – can Rocket Rooster deliver the goods?

I spent a few hours in lightroom yesterday, clicking between presets from both companies. I tried to find a few common film emulations between the two, but found that it was actually hard to do. First off, VSCO’s library is so huge that you’ll often find that each film type has many different variations. And with names like, “C – Polaroid 690 Warm ++”, it can be kind of hard to tell exactly what condition of film you are actually emulating.

I did finally find two presets that were named exactly the same between the two packs. What we’ve settled for is Color Fuji Film Provia 400x. Let’s look at them side by side.

Fuji 400x - Rocket Rooster

Fuji 400x - VSCO

The good news is, you can tell they are trying to emulate the same brand of film, but which one looks better? Rockets? VSCO? I certainly have a feeling which way I am leaning. Argh, can’t it be true? Can my love affair with VSCO be over? Maybe so, because I certainly like the treatment on Rocket’s version over VCSO’s.

RR’s shadows are smoother, the low end shadow detail is preserved better, the color and contrast looks better, the skin’s coloration is more even throughout the photo. RR’s version pretty much wins in every category here.

There is a caveat, however — we’re talking film emulation here. Small variations in color, contrast, shadows and highlights can all be tweaked after the fact to achieve the exact effect you’re looking for. Like I said before, presets are starting points, not finish lines.

Having said that, I felt like all of RR’s film presets gave me a better starting point for editing across the board. VSCO’s system is way too bloated, both in price and content. More doesn’t mean better, it just means more. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be getting rid of my VSCO collection any time soon, but I’ll be using Rocket Rooster’s presets first.

You can buy Rocket Rooster’s Analog Film Pack here.

More RR Samples

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Advertising and Portrait Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio Region.

Three Point Lighting Tutorial featuring Paul C Buff’s Einstein Studio Light

Three point lighting can mean any lighting set up that uses, (you guessed it!), three lights. Somewhere in your camera or speedlite manual there is a hastily drawn diagram illustrating a simple 3 point lighting arrangement.

Word of caution though, those diagrams are terrible and will probably leave you in a lurch when photo-time arrives and you go to take your first picture only to realize that your lighting set-up isn’t gonna cut it.

The lighting scheme I am going to share with you today is an alternate set-up; and when done right it opens the doors to some pretty interesting possibilities. First, let’s discus what you’ll need:

  • Three lights
  • 2 strip light soft boxes
  • 1 umbrella/medium soft box/octobox

The biggest difference between this set up and the ones you’ll more commonly find online is that two of our lights will be effectively behind and to the sides of our subject, rather than two lights in front.

Our-Three-Light-Portrait-Setup

Diagram of our 3 Point Lighting Technique.

I forgot to get a good production photo during the shoot. Which by the way, is a no no. You should always get a good production photo during the photo session so, if you have to come back and revisit the set for pick-ups, you’ll have a good visual reference to which you can match the lighting accurately. Luckily, I’m familiar with this set up, so not having a production photo isn’t too bad in this case.

This diagram to the left illustrates the basics of the set up. Two strip lights behind the subject, and one light in front of the subject. The lights in the back are positioned so that they are pointed at the subject’s shoulders. The vertical height of the lights depends on the height of your subject.

With strip lights, it’s important to know that even though they may be very tall, the ‘hot-spot’ of light is still centered in the middle of the box. That means I usually end up adjusting my strip lights so that the middle of the box is lined up with the top of my subject’s shoulders. If that isn’t giving you enough vertical coverage, then tip your strip lights so the top of the box is leaning towards your subject. Why does this work? A light source appears brighter the closer you are to it. Tipping the top of the strip light towards your subject will project more light onto their head, while the brighter middle area of the light will be a bit more dim because it’s slightly further away. Using the inverse-kinematic laws of light to your advantage, how cool is that!?

The light in front of our subject was a 22″ beauty dish. This doesn’t have to be a beauty dish, however. It can be an umbrella, a soft box, even a huge octobox. For our purposes, however, we were going for a slightly zappier, edgier light so a beauty dish was the perfect choice.

We placed the beauty dish on a C-Stand with a boom arm and leavered it over our subject. The light should be just high enough to be out of the frame of our picture. You don’t want it too high, or else you’ll fill your subjects eyes and cheeks with shadows. Keeping it just above the camera’s line of sight will render some nice shadows while still dishing some light into the eyes.

_X5A5833

Strip Lights

For this photo, we really want the edges of our subject to be defined. For this reason, I suggest you adjust the power output of your strip lights before you start fiddling with your main light. I know this is a little backwards from conventional lighting logic, but these strip lights are tasked with making our subject pop out of the background so this is where most of our lighting power will be coming from.

You can tell that you’ve done it right when you do a test shot and your subject is completely outlined in light, but the center of the subject’s face is in near-total darkness.

_X5A5837

Main Light

Next step is to dial in your main light. In our case, it’s the 22″ beauty dish from Paul C. Buff. Also, making it’s debut in my studio, is the PCB Einstein. I’ll get to the specifics of this light a little later on this post, but for now let me just say this: WOW, this light is awesome.

Okay, back to the Beauty dish. Once you have your strip lights producing the right amount of edge lighting on your subject, you are ready to introduce your main light. Start low, as in, power that light all of the way down. We’re trying to add just enough light to bring out the eyes and the features of the face. More precisely, you’re aiming for something like 1 stop under what would be considered optimal exposure. If your studio light doesn’t go low enough in power, just walk the light away from your subject until it looks right.

In my case, the light was about 2 feet away from the subject, with Einstein running at 1 stop above it’s minimum power.  For my beauty dish, I am using a sock diffuser to help spread a little light into the shadows – but even with a diffuser on a beauty dish, your light will remain relatively sharp.

Compare the image to the left with the one earlier. You can see that the main light adds a subtle, but dramatic difference.

Using this lighting set-up gives you a very striking final frame. The edge lighting lifts the subject off the background and the main light adds a ton of mood to the portrait – but don’t stop there!

This lighting set-up can be used outside of the studio. It will work with nearly any suitably moody envorinment. It is, perhaps, a little too dramatic for corporate portraiture, but it works great on athletes, or theatrical personalities.

This technique also works particularly well if you are doing a composite image. So, how do we go about doing that? Well, let’s explore further!

The Background

I started this project knowing that it would ultimately end as a composite in Photoshop. I shot our subject on a gray seamless because the background doesn’t really matter. The gray just gives me a nice blank color to lift our subject off of in Photoshop later. So that leaves us with the question, “What is our background going to be?”

Well, it’s a sports themed shoot, so I went out scouting for sports themed locations. The locations don’t have to be specifically tied to sports either. Basketball, for instance, has a long history of being played in run-down inner-city courts. So go find a shabby court, or even an old alley way. You just need to tie the background to personality of the photo.

IMG_2221-Edit_2-Edit_3-Edit_tonemapped-Edit

I decided to be a little more specific with my photo and I drove around town looking for a suitable series of locations that would match my pictures. I finally found a high school football field that would work perfectly for what I had in mind.

I walked around the field until I decided on a composition and then I began to shoot bracketed shots. The reason for the bracketed shots was because I knew I would be merging these into an HDR image. Why HDR? Well, the light on our subject is dramatic, so the background should be dramatic too!

The picture to the left represents the HDR we’ll be using in our final photo.  I created this by merging 3 photos in Photomatix and then Tone Mapping the result in lightroom. You can use whatever process you are most comfortable with in terms of your own HDR images.

Once we’ve gotten our background prepped, and we’ve cut our subject free from his gray background it’s time to marry to the images into one composite.

How you put your photos together, and the visual treatments you apply are completely up to you. There’s no real step-by-step, and it all comes down to personal style. Since my vision was to have a gritty sports portrait, I spent a lot of time making sure the final image conveyed the attitude I wanted. I also spent a lot of time doing things we normally do with our portraits; retouching, dodging & burning, liquefying, etc…

Below is the final export.

Final Thoughts and little more about the Einstein Light.

I’ll be writing up a full review on the Einstein within the next day or so, but I just wanted to quickly add how impressed I am by it’s features and performance. It played a large part in allowing me to achieve the image I wanted.

In regards to the lighting scheme I’ve laid forth in this post, I just wanted to say it’s not something I came up with on my own. I’ve seen a lot of great work from great photographers, all of which have influenced the way I approached this particular project. I suggest you go out and get inspired too!

 

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.