Getting back into making some videos after saying I would and then kind of forgetting about it for months.. Here is a quickie of me retouching a simple portrait, sped up to about 10x real time. I don't give detailed descriptions of the process but there are little notes during various parts of the video that mention kind of what is going on. Hopefully I'll stay motivated and come up with some more cool tutorial videos soon.
Behind the scenes, reviews, and other commentary.
Recently I've had a few ideas for some shoots but they weren't getting done so I decided to ask a friend of mine, Jade, to come over and we would just come up with something. I have various supplies lying around and for this shoot we used some flowers and the fog machine to make some simple, atmospheric portraits.
For a bit of a story before I talk some more about the shoot: A few weeks ago I was at a shoot with a portrait client at a lighthouse down at the beach and needed to put my camera down for a moment to adjust the light. There was a spot near the rocks that appeared to have been fairly dry for a while so I set my camera there and just as I turned away a massive wave crashed over the area. I looked over to my camera and it was totally dowsed. I am normally someone who is very careful with his tech so I'm pretty surprised that I let that happen. Needless to say, the camera doesn't shoot anymore. It was my 5D Mark ii with a 24-105mm mounted. The lens is weather sealed but the camera isn't. I've since tested the lens and it (other than some sometimes ominous scraping noises from sand that got in) seems to be fine. The camera is giving me error codes and will need to be fixed.
Anyway, although I was pretty bummed about my 5D2, I still had my original 5D in my bag so I could at least use that for a while. Well that is what I was thinking until this shoot when I go to start taking pictures and look through the viewfinder and find it obstructed. There was no cap on the lens so I was pretty puzzled but taking off the lens revealed the mirror had fallen out.
I'd read before that this mirror issue is not uncommon with earlier production 5Ds but since it hasn't happened until now, I had mostly disregarded it. Its a near 10 year old model by now and I bought it used in 2009 so although I'm disappointed that its broken, I'm still happy with all the use I've gotten out of it. Just considering the problem, it doesn't seem like too hard a fix. I could attempt a superglue job myself but I don't know if that would be too imprecise. I don't know if it would worth spending whatever Canon would charge for factory service since its such an old camera.
So now I don't have any working cameras. (I have an old Rebel but the shutter button is jacked up) Until I can get together some funds to get them fixed, I suppose I can borrow cameras or something. Even if/when I get the 5D2 fixed, I'm still weary. I don't really trust a camera that has suffered a salt water intrusion. Hopefully I'll be able to get at least a 6D or possibly a 5D3 (or in my dreams, a 5DS..) some time this year. We'll see..
So with Jade and Alison over for a shoot and everything set up, I just shot with the camera I had that wasn't broken. My iPhone.
Using the Camera+ app, I could manually set the camera and was able to get some pretty cool shots. Keeping the ISO down at like 32 or 40 was necessary since these little sensors aren't so good with higher sensitivities. Luckily it was a nice cloudy day and I had the modeling light from my flash to augment it. Since it was just a personal shoot, I wasn't that freaked out about using a super high quality camera and it became a sort of fun challenge to try and work through the limitations of using an iPhone at a shoot.
I was originally planning to shoot with a wide aperture and a medium/wide (35-50mm) lens for some painterly rendering of the background but since that was off the table, the photos ended up having a different look. The depth of the field on these cameras is massive. In most cases, essentially everything is in focus unless the subject is very close to the lens. In a way its kind of cool to see that because I so rarely go for an entirely sharp look. Its different.
The biggest problem I thought I would have was using my flash. You can't (as far as I have seen) trigger a pocket wizard/sync cable with an iPhone so the only light I could use was the ambient light and the modeling light of my flash. (which is equivalent to something like a 100 watt standard bulb). Getting a balance between the week modeling lamp and the afternoon light was iffy at first but as the sun went down, it became easier to control.
I think the coolest thing about this shoot was the affirmation for me that I can still make some cool looking photos with much more limited equipment. These photos pretty much look like they are done in my style but were taken with an iPhone instead of a DSLR and a bare modeling light bulb in place of a more powerful flash and diffuser.
Overall I'm pretty impressed with the iPhone 6 camera. It can't compete at all with a decent dedicated camera but for a phone, its pretty good. Maybe I'll continue doing some low tech shoots for fun.
Here are a few more behind the scenes photos taken by Alison who was with us that day to hang out and assist:
I'm happy with the photos from this shoot and I'm curious to see what they might look like in print compared to my usual files so I ordered a few 12x16" reproductions to see if they hold up. I think they will. Recently Apple has been printing building size billboard ads that were shot on iPhone 6 so if they can do that, I think my little portraits will look good in print too.
I considered just using iPhone apps to retouch the photos but the comforts of using Photoshop on my Mac won out. There wasn't a whole lot done to them. Mostly refining the color and a bit of general retouching. Having the fog machine there in real life really makes that kind of atmospheric look really convenient to achieve. Its possible to create something similar in Photoshop but there is something about the look of real smoke/fog that I prefer. I guess if you are really proficient in a 3D modeling app you could reconstruct the scene in 3D and render the smoke you want around it with an alpha channel and then layer that in over the photo so it would look pretty real but that seems like a much larger effort than a $20 smoke machine and a gentle breeze.
Here are a few more of the final images:
So that is that. Fun shoot. I hope to do some more spontaneous creative shoots like this. I need to shoot more and I find that sometimes it can be good to just make something happen even if the ideas aren't fully formed.
As had become usual, last December, I shot some more photos for publication in the Feb/March issue of Santa Cruz Waves Magazine. Our crew was largely similar to past shoots with Christa Martin of The Penny Rose producing, beauty by Salon on the Square, Beau Gillette assisting, and myself, Nick Chao, photographing and retouching. For this shoot we worked with a new model, Heather Chase. She was awesome and we hope to work with her again. Since most of the team was familiar with each other, we know that we work well together and it was a pretty smooth shoot.
Before I go on, here is an awesome little behind the scenes video shot by Deva Anderson for The Penny Rose. Always fun to see what goes on around the lens:
Location for this shoot was the San Lorenzo Garden Center in Santa Cruz CA. Since the photos were going to be in the early Spring issue of the print Magazine, we wanted to have a location that reflected that. We had looked for a more natural, garden sort of location but weren't able to find/get access to one in time so we decided to use the Garden Center. I think it worked out pretty well since Spring is the time many people start getting back into their gardens. It gives a bit of a narrative to the woman in the photographs. (Funny though, since we shot this in December before Christmas, there were many Christmas flowers around the place. We just accepted that and shot with them anyway.)
Prior to the shoot, I hadn't been to that place in quite a few years but Christa had gone and taken some photos of what it looked like. After seeing those I could tell it would work for what we wanted so we went ahead with the shoot. Upon arrival, while the others were setting up and getting situated, I took a quick run around the place to see what little spots would work best. The place that stood out the most to me was a greenhouse area that held many shelves of colorful plants. The light within was pretty ideal to work with since it was super diffused by the semi-opaque window panes and the naturally low angle of the sun at the time. That made it pretty easy to dial in an exposure for the background and then turn up my key light until it looked good. The light inside was actually low enough for me to need a pretty slow shutter speed and since I just happened to have accidentally left the stabilization off on my lens, a fair number of the shots ended up having a little camera shake in the backgrounds. Enough of them turned out well that it was fine but its definitely something I'll try not to let happen again.
Here are a few behind the scenes shots of while we were shooting in the greenhouse:
Below you can see a couple pictures that show the difference between the photos with just natural light and when I add my flash to the mix. Every situation is different and if I was really shooting just natural light I would probably use a wide aperture and just blow out the background to make sure the model looked good. For this shoot at least, I wanted my usual mix of flash and ambient so thats what I worked towards.
And here are some final retouched images from that location:
Sometimes for my shoots for Santa Cruz Waves we would just shoot one look but for this shoot we had two different outfits for her so she got changed and we headed to some other locations. We continued to shoot outside amongst the rows of plants and then went underneath the sheltered area they have for the shade plants.
Here are some shots of the 2nd little location:
Getting a good mix of strobe and ambient was a little more challenging for me out here. The background also, while interesting, required some thought. The final image from here is decent but not one of my favorites:
Continuing in the same look, we walked a few feet to a little alleyway location and shot some more:
And some of the final images:
I didn't really get any behind the scenes picture of it but we went to one more little location and shot a bit more. Here is the last image:
All in all, a nice shoot. Other than my forgetting to switch on my lens stabilization which would've helped retain some sharpness in some of the scenes, most of the photos worked out pretty well. Its a nice little challenge to walk around a location and work on finding a good way to balance my light with the light that is already there.
And of course, here are a couple of before/after retouching comparisons: (original on top, final on bottom)
As always, thanks for reading! I actually have a few new creative shoots planned that I want to execute soon so hopefully I can share those before too long.
Made another little tutorial video, this time about easily brightening eyes in Photoshop.
Some months ago I shot some more photos for Santa Cruz Waves Magazine. They have a couple-page fashion section that features clothing sourced from local stores and designers. I do these shoots in collaboration with a great team of people including beauty by Salon on the Square and production by Christa Martin of thepennyrose.com. I was also thankful to have my friend Beau assisting. Another set of hands always alleviates some of the scrambling to make sure nothing gets left behind and the equipment stays in the right place.
Because of the lead times of shooting for the printed magazine, we shot these in October for the December/January issue. We weren't sure where to shoot this time because we originally wanted something kind of different from the previous SCW shoot we did at the cliffs/beach but we ended up shoot at Natural Bridges since after scouting, it seemed like it would be interesting enough. To me, these images ended up coming across more as "fall" than the winter season they were for but they still look good so I don't think it was an issue. When Christa and I scouted it out, it was a dark overcast day which gave the beach and the surrounding area a nice sense of damp wintriness that would have been perfect but alas, the sun came out on the day of the shoot. Thankfully though, the sun ended up being pretty low by the time we started shooting so I didn't have to fight with it too much to get the light to work.
The look of the photo above, with the mix of artificial and natural light, is a style that I use a lot and I think it has kind of become a trademark of some of my best work. Or at least, my most stylistically consistent. I usually approach something like this as two or three subjects (Background, Model, Clothing/Product) in one. The background itself is a landscape shot that needs to look good, needs to look interesting, without being too distracting from the subject. In a wide shot like this, a considerable amount of work goes into balancing all of the tones in the background to look rich and tonal without displaying too much uncontrolled/distracting contrast. Next of course, is the subject themself. I most always bring along my battery and light system and light them separately form the background. That is to say, the flash is what has the most influence on how they look as opposed to the natural light. It may not result in a completely natural look but I am generally fine with that as long as it ends up looking good in the end. A large, soft light from a high angle is used here as is usual for me. You can see the setup here:
I always enjoy being able to show a few photos of what the scene looks like from a few steps back. People who aren't familiar with this kind of portrait photography aren't always aware of what the light setup looks like (and how large a light umbrella can be).
We wanted to shoot in multiple little areas at the location to provide for some variety for the client so we moved on to the path that leads over and down to the beach. The sun was getting lower and provided for some great flare:
While the light looks fairly natural and motivated by the angle of the setting sun, I of course, used my flash to illuminate her. Motivating the angle of your light in accordance with the direction of a natural or ambient light source in the background can be a great way to make your light look kind of effortless. That light on her may not be all natural but you look at the photo and want to believe it was.
We then moved down to the sand as the sun began to set in earnest. I generally provide some shots that are framed a bit closer than full length so we tackled those next. There wasn't an outfit change during this shoot so most of the styling fixes were for things like hair or just the position of the coat/scarf.
As the sun had mostly set, we walked back up above the sand and got a few more shots with more of the beach in the background. At this point the light was pretty low and I felt that we had mostly gotten the photos we needed but there wasn't any harm in trying for one more good shot.
Even though it might not be my favorite photo from the shoot, I still have some cool behind the scenes shots of when we were shooting it:
Overall it was a fun and laid back shoot with a team of people I am comfortable with and had worked with many times previously so that was great. I'm pretty happy with some of the images and happy that I remembered to zoom out and grab a few behind the scenes shots for everyone to see here. You can check out Christa's post on The Penny Rose for more information about the clothing in the photos and find the print edition of Santa Cruz Waves in many places here locally in Santa Cruz.
I've already shot another series of images for their Feb/March issue so I'll share those once they have been published later this month!
Recently I've gotten into the habit of doing themed portrait shoots with my friends. Both as practice for myself and just because its a fun way for us to all hang out. Get together and take turns hamming it up right?
We did simple black and white portraits, the gold ones, and then since it was getting colder in December, I thought we'd do some more stylized ones. If you didn't know, I live in Santa Cruz, California. Right now as I type this in late January/Early February, it has been mostly clear skies in the upper 60s or low 70s for the last week. We don't really get a very cold traditional winter here. That said, I thought it would look cool if we all looked like we had been trekking out in the northern wilderness for a while so I set up some photos.
I originally wanted to go heavily viking inspired for these but the logistics of us all finding suitable costumes for it were a bit much so I settled on something easier: ambiguously draped furs. Finding the fur to use was easy thanks to my awesome friend Tracey who is a taxidermist and let me borrow some of the fur she has collected. You can find out more about her and her work at her blog: http://tmbtaxidermy.tumblr.com
As I mentioned above, I can't just walk out into the snow so everything but the people had to be comped into the photos. I have a resource folder of stock images of sky I have taken throughout the years and some snow resources I found which I used to make us look like we were actually outdoors:
To get an idea of what the processing progression looked like, here is a gallery of some of the different stages from beginning to final image:
I realize that these don't look completely realistic. I would have liked to have gotten some actual fake snow and used it during the shoots to dust on the people and maybe throw past the camera but I couldn't get some by the time I wanted to do the shoots. Even if there isn't total realism, they pretty much achieve the dark and wintery look that I was going of so I'm pretty happy with these.
Here are all of the final shots:
One more thing, I finally uploaded something new to my Youtube Channel. A time lapse retouching video. I posted about it recently. Just thought I would add another little note on this post about my channel and mention that you can see a few of my photography related video there: https://www.youtube.com/user/nickchaophoto
Hopefully I can keep myself in gear and produce some more videos soon.
Last November, while working on a different project, my friend Paige and I set up a quick little portrait. She had the costume for a video we were doing and we thought it would be cool to use it for a photo as well. It was fun to work with a dark room, candle, and the modeling light from one of my strobes turned down to a glow.
Here is a before/after of the image:
Looking at them side by side now, it seems like the biggest changes were really just the contrast and the color of her skirt. The color was changed to more closely resemble the original painting we were emulating and to provide some color contrast between her and the soft green tones I was going to add to the shadows.
Here is the Georges De La Tour painting, The Penitent Magdalene, that inspired us:
Obviously not an exact duplication due to some color and posing differences, we just wanted to do something that was very similar since we really like the original painting. I think I originally added some red to the shadows of the photo but the greens/yellows end up looking a little dirtier and provide for some more color contrast between the green shadows and the oranges.
I'd love to do some more photos inspired by old paintings. On my list of things to shoot..
Although these photos aren't particularly elaborate, I thought I would write up a little post about some portraits I did of a friend back in October.
I met and started hanging out with a few new people last year and as usually results from my acquaintance, we ended up taking some photos. Renee, in these photos, didn't have anything particular in mind and while her and some other friends were over to hang out one day, we took a few photos.
I suppose it is kind of contrived to rely on wind whipping up long hair to add interest but it has pretty much become one of my go-to crutches when I want to add some interest to a shot without doing anything too crazy. These kind of remind me of 70s/80s glamour shots. Kind of over the top but (I'd like to think) in a good way.
I can't remember what I was doing with the light setup but I'm 80% sure it was my usual 60" softbox-umbrella or possibly a smaller 36" white umbrella. Simple light and my plain dark grey background can help create portraits that are modern and keep the focus on the subject. I have read a fair deal about various portrait lighting techniques and setups but I usually go back to just using one well placed key light and evening out the tones in Photoshop.
Fill light can be useful of course, and I rely on that a great deal more when I am shooting in a studio for a fashion or product shoot. In those cases, clearly representing the product is necessary so I often use more even light.
I go back and fourth on using a rim or hair light. I feel like always using a hair light can make portraiture look rather pedestrian and formulaic. It dates it, not necessarily in time, but in a photographers style. At least to me, it can say "I'm learning how to take portraits and I read that a hair light is necessary for separation so I'm using it". Aesthetically, there isn't necessarily anything wrong with it, I just think that it isn't always a necessary element of a successful lighting setup.
I think some of the reasons that I tend to use light the way I do are my influences. I find that the techniques used in fashion photography translate well to most portrait situations. Usually a soft light, positioned high and often to one side of the subject provides a flattering and interesting look. I'm also a big fan of renaissance, baroque, and rococo portraiture. You don't often see many obvious light sources in a renaissance portrait so much as a perfectly placed soft light source. Light so soft it appears to create it's own fill. Some of my favorites of my own photos are the ones where the light has a beautiful, soft, painterly quality.
Some day I would love to set up interesting scenes, perhaps from mythological tales, and light them with massive scrims and soft boxes to get that perfectly soft renaissance light. Putting aside the times when I'm purposely going for a modern or different look, I generally like to try and recreate the look of natural light. Even if that means something ends up looking decidedly unnatural which is sometimes the case when I shoot in full sun but light the subject with a big softbox or umbrella. You can tell the light was hard/directional in a certain way but the subject is lit by what looks like the light from a perfectly cloudy day. Overcast light is beautiful.
Anyway, back to the portraits that I originally intended this to be about before my distraction into light. If you made it this far, thanks for reading and here are some before/after retouching examples of the photos of Renee: