Monday, July 29, 2013

When high-key is done right

I read that every photographer has his/her own style.  When I was starting out few years ago, I worried that I don't have a style because I tried everything - wide, macro, portraits, landscape, high-key, low-key, strobes etc.  However, my style was developed over time  before I realized it until people start to describe what my pictures are like. I like bright pictures with lots of white as a base, and feminine feminine feminine.

I've done some low-key photos before when I used to play around with strobes many years ago. They are definitely moody and dark. I don't do much lately because I think portraits are prettier in natural bright light.

A friend asked me the other day why my images look brighter on my camera than on his.  It's because I almost always over-expose my pictures by +1/3 stop because I like my photos bright and fun.  

Today as realization hit, I wanted to do high-key portraits to stretch my style.
Setup for high-key photo above with red lips. (Ignore the square on the backdrop. It's from the window)

Setup is simple. I put a white backdrop, indirectly back-lit by window light. There is a white cardboard reflector in front of the camera. Metered on the face and over-expose by +2 stops.  That's it.  The key is to over-expose by at least +2 stops. The higher I over-expose, the higher-key it will be.
Ta-Da, even the first frame looked pretty good that I was smitten. SOOC (Straight out of camera) and no need to retouch or boost.  One reason I like high-key photos is that skin is so blown out that there is no need to retouch the skin.

There were times in the past I couldn't get high-key right. Without knowing explicitly that I was going after high-key looks, I always wanted to take strongly back-lit portraits.  Here are my failures from the past.

Yuk. The back light coming in from the window was too strong and I didn't diffuse it and I didn't use a reflector to light the face.

Then, I learned to diffuse the back-light and use a reflector for softer portraits. So for the picture below with blue top, the setup is same as what I used today.

But I couldn't figure out what's wrong with that high-key photo that day.  The setup looked right, exposure looked right. The picture looked like high-key photo. But I knew something was not right. Turned out my blue top was the problem.  It became the center of attention, and rendered the whole picture bluish, including my skin. And it was totally distracting. 
Setup for picture above with blue top. Diffused window light by sheer curtains.
A blanket was put up as a reflecting wall. Some reflection from the white bed sheet as well. 

Today I realized I gotta wear light/white too to make up a good high-key photo. Details in white clothing are what's gonna be shown well in high-key photos.

High-key photos are so fun.  It's so easy and the effect is instantly eye-catchy that I just want to do all high-key portraits now for all my friends :-) 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Flip-flops away (aka removing objects in Photoshop)


I'm not good with photoshop at all.  Period. So I tried my best to get the details right during the shoot. But you don't get much choice when you clients want the bright green flip-flops removed from that otherwise perfect picture.

The first thing I thought about is color replacement to change that bring green to silvery color so it will be discreet. Turned out I tried different methods of color replacement I saved up before, and none of them work well.  Green became dull concrete color.  It's more discreet, but still doesn't look nice at all.

Finally, how could I forget my favorite tool in Photoshop!  It's "Warp tool" under Transform. So I decided to elongate her skirt to cover her left feet.  Ta-Da!  ~5min and done. (Youtube will have better videos than I can describe here by words on warp tool instructions).

Then for her left feet, I just did some color replacement since it's unnatural to cover that feet as well, and it's discreet enough already.

Just this simple task took me an hour!  Told ya I'm not good with photoshop. I'm pretty happy with final results though, as well as the couple.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Disable and Proud"

"We are here. We are loud. Disable and Proud" 

I volunteered as an event photographer for Disable Pride Prade in Mountain View past weekend.  It was such an emotional and inspirational event to witness. 

Seeing them all striving reminded me of why we are sometimes unhappy with what we have while we still have 2 arms and 2 legs all intact.  

Meanwhile I have a  deep respect for care-givers who have so much patience to care for the disables full-time.  You need a big heart to do that. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Story-telling in photobooks

I like creating photobooks, even though they are such a pain and a total time-sink.  But I get to tell a story when I'm creating photobooks.  Since I always arrange the photos and layout manually for every single page and every single picture, it's about how I want to portray that story in a way I think flows well and looks nice.

I just created a 20 page 8.5x11 photobook for free with using their online flash program.  I got a coupon from shutterfly facebook for that photobook. ~$10 shipping is the net cost. The book's full price is $39, but why would I pay $39?  I would rather wait for good sales from MyPublisher for 8.5x11 with 70 pages for ~$40.

The story of this photobook is Un's ordination ceremony in Thailand, and a few following days as a monk.

It took me about 2 hours till I placed the order, arranging, squeezing pics in 20 pages, and deciding which pics to put etc. My overall experience creating this photobook with shutterfly is positive. Their online tool is easy enough to use; 20 pages is small enough to do page allocation on the fly and not much page-swapping required. The only down side is you can't scale or crop the pictures easily. There is a "customize" link to do that, but not obvious.

The only thing I'm worried is picture quality.  After photobooks, I'm committed to mypublisher. I am a royal customer of theirs now (if not for free from shutterfly now), even though mypublisher is ~10 times more painful than shutterfly.

Can't wait to get this photobook in the mail.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Portraits 28/52 Santana Row

I almost cheated for this week's quota by picking one from my Thailand trip. I've been third-homesick and hibernating in bed the whole week that I didn't want to get out to take pictures.  But considering I cheated for week 25 already, I can't allow myself to cheat again.  I've been in Thailand for only two weekends, and I let myself use 3 weeks of it toward Project52.  4 weeks is too much cheating. :-)

Luckily, I saw many cute and dressy couples in Santana Row.

It's been so long that I asked stranger for their pictures.  I've been taking friends and family for this project lately. It took me some getting used to again.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Portraits 27/52: The joy of portrait photography

This aunty above is Un's aunt in Thailand. She's very quiet, shy and of few words. I didn't have any interaction with her for two or three times we met till I took her portrait. After that she's quite warm to me even though we can't talk to each other (since I don't speak Thai). I am not good at making friends or talking, so this making-friends via photography is really handy. 

Portrait photography is different from other photography genre that it impacts only selected individuals, but the impact on them is deeper than the impact you can have on wider public by some other genre, say nature or wildlife (I'm not talking about photojournalism or top-notch artists). 

I am not an artist. My photography skills are not creative or top of the line. I like portraiture just because I like to see people happy with their picture I took. It's an instant self-esteem boost for them as well as me. Seeing someone really happy with their photo is worth more to me than 100 likes on facebook. It's personal. 

I once did a portrait session for our housemaid in Yangon.  Being a maid in Myanmar means you don't get to do photoshoots or fancy studio sessions much. I just want to give her beautiful portraits that she can keep. She loved them and she was so thankful till these days that her relationship with me has became much warmer and more personal. 

These joys from my portrait people give me more energy than anything else to keep me going with portraits work. They are priceless.