Don’t Be Afraid of ‘Systems’

SUMMER-SCHOOL

As a commercial photographer I know a lot about how to make things happen. In fact, being a commercial photographer is a lot of ‘solutions… NOW’ sort of life.

The locations are too small or too large. Too many lights or not enough. Always need another stand or something that will go just 6″ higher. It is a constant battle of “making” it happen when so many things are against the photograph coming out at all.

Solutions – solving problems – that is the nature of what we commercial shooters do.

I have to admit that I have never liked ‘systems’. I hated them, actually. They took the serendipity off, they seemed to be too button down corporate to me.

But I came around out of necessity. I was always able to keep things in my head; appointments, billing, conversations, expectations. All in my head.

I was also pretty good at multi-tasking.

Then I realized that ‘multi-tasking’ wasn’t really what was going on, I was busting my ass doing things simultaneously that could easily have been done one at a time. The idea of ‘multi-tasking’ really is a farce for so many reasons.

We are humans and most of us humans have to have a focus. A way of putting all of our attention on one thing, and getting that thing done.

Spending 6 hours multi-tasking to get 4 hours worth of work done is inefficient at best. Destructive in many ways.

So I found myself forming systems… little ones at first, then larger and more complex ones as the gigs began to get more complex.

THE SIMPLEST SYSTEM: CHECKLISTS.

I use checklists for many of my common functions now, and I use them religiously.

I have a checklist for my shoots. And I check each thing off as I load it. Does it make loading go a little slower, yeah. A little. But I never worry about getting to a gig without something I NEED.

As I have mentioned before, I have cases with gear that is packed in accordance to the type of gig I am doing. All my speedlights (save one in the bag) are in one large tool kit with triggers, cords, modifiers and all kinds of clamps and holders. When I do a gig with speedlights, that box is there and it is everything I need. There is a checklist in the box to help me repack the items. Did I remember to get all the clamps, and are there any grids missing? Checklist… got it.

I have a larger kit checklist that combines the different containers, which are also checklisted.

A big shoot may require Lighting Kit A and Lighting Kit B. It will also necessitate stand case A and B as well. Since those cases are prepacked to the same standards (checklists) each time, I need only grab them and load them according to my needs.

Every item I use is on a check list. They are marked as loaded, and then remarked when reloaded at tear down.

I don’t ever want to get home without a camera body or flash head. Again.

THE DAILY WORK CHECKLIST

I have been asked how I get so much done (even though I sometimes go to bed thinking of all the things that didn’t get done). I have my daily checklist to help with that.

Here is how I do mine. Starting early morning.

5AM to 6AM: Check Email / Social Media for trending articles.

6AM – 7AM: Write for my blog/book. I try to write 1000 words a day across various platforms. These days I do a bit more than that since I am working on a novel and doing discovery for a non-fiction book.

7AM – 8AM: Breakfast, walk the dogs, take my daughter to school and such.

8AM – 8:30AM: Review plans for the day.

9AM – Noon: Email is off, focus on the main job at hand. Can be broken into two distinct gigs if necessary. (This includes any marketing initiatives.)

Noon – 1AM: Lunch, email, social media check in.

1AM to 4PM: Email is off, focus on the main job at hand. Can be broken into two distinct gigs if neccessary. (This includes any marketing initiatives.)

4PM: Check Email / Social Media. Have a bit of fun.

5PM /5:30 PM. Dinner and get ready for webinars usually at 6PM.

After Webinars, relax, read, chat with friends.

Before retiring in for the night, I take a look at today’s list and make tomorrow’s list of prioritized gigs.

I rarely watch TV or movies (weekends are for that) and I rarely have the same schedule every day… this is an estimate checklist above.

Shooting days are far different and by nature looser.

CONTENT CHECKLIST: WEEKLY

I maintain a lot of online presence; from this site to the three Project 52 Pros as well as my namesake site, it can be overwhelming to keep up with it all. I have a checklist for content, updates, posts and what gets attention on what day.

For instance, I post on the Project 52 Pros sites with regularity. New assignments are added each Friday, and the critiques are uploaded the day after they are given. (Unless I forget to check my list… which recently happened when I travelled. Lesson learned. Big time.)

Here is what a content checklist could look like:

Posts:

Lighting Essentials on Monday.
Project 52Pros on Tuesday
DonGiannatti.com on Wednesday
DonGiannattiPhotography on Thursday
New Assignments on Friday (All P52)
Newsletter on Sunday.

I use the Editorial Calendar Plugin to keep ahead of things on my websites.

For content I also have a small checklist. 
Citations linked.
Author Info added.
Links checked.
Spelling checked.
Any additional info that was promised or needs to be on the post.

I probably add a couple of checklists to specific projects once or twice a week, but these are the ones that keep me going… and turning out a lot of content.

Don’t be afraid of checklists and systems… find the ones that work for you and make them your ally in the war that is over our time – and those who want as much of it as they can get.

If you have any systems you would like to share, use the comments field below.

NOTE: If you are a wedding shooter, check out this article at Tiffinbox.

“Photographing Pills” with Alicia Bonterre

Assign15-Alicia-Bonterre-Tue

The assignment was to photograph some pills and bottle for a drop in to another shot.

  1. Parameters for the shot? White background…..that’s it. My thought process for this shot was how can I make this even a little bit interesting
  2. What type of shadows do I want and
  3. What kind of specular/highlight do I want.

To this end I chose a brightly colored bottle and pills…more interesting than solid white pills.

I then used a softbox close to subject to soften shadows and a small strip light on a speedlight to give long specular highlights and help show shape of the pills.

bts

 

westcott strip

(I actually started with a Gary Fong diffuser instead but the specular was round and small and didn’t help show the shape. Below you can see how the highlights from a small, round light do not help the presentation of the pills.)

gary fong diffuser

A BTS of the Fong Lighting:

gary fong BTS

See more of Alicia’s work at her website.SUMMER-SCHOOLALL THE TUTORIALS DURING “SUMMER SCHOOL” ARE BY PROJECT 52 PRO MEMBERS EITHER CURRENTLY ENROLLED OR ALUMNI.

Available Light / Available Tools; with David Price

2014-P52-Week-16-David-Price-1-Hands

I wanted to side-light this artisan’s hands to highlight the texture both in her hands, as well as the fabric. She was making a set of custom gloves to honor my wife for her many years of service to living history re-enactments.

I did not have a lot of equipment with me; just my camera and a little quick thinking. As you can see by the picture of the dark hands, the sunlit side goes quite bright, and the shadows quickly go to almost black. I did not have a set of reflectors with me, but there was a white dish-towel sitting on the table next to me. I asked a young lady sitting nearby if she would be kind enough to hold the towel near the shadow side of the hands, and that brought the contrast back to a level I could appreciate. I varied the distance to taste, and the resulting picture is what you see presented here.

2014-P52-Week-16-David-Price-2-Dark-Hands

2014-P52-Week-16-David-Price-3-SETUP

Available natural light and available tools.

See more of David’s work at his website.

SUMMER-SCHOOLALL THE TUTORIALS DURING “SUMMER SCHOOL” ARE BY PROJECT 52 PRO MEMBERS EITHER CURRENTLY ENROLLED OR ALUMNI.

Fitness Shoot with a Model by Hiram Chee

Rose349 3

For the key light I used an Einstein F8 through a Softlighter camera right and for fill and Einstein F4 through a 8in reflector and 30 degree grid, camera left. The reflector was angled up towards the model’s shoulder slightly towards the back wall. I also feathered the Softlighter slightly forward from the model to get the Rembrandt effect.

For post-processing I use Capture One to get my exposure, color balance, contrast, sharpness, clarity and structure dialed in. I then transferred the image to CS6 and de-noised with Nik Dfine, followed by skin smoothing with Imagenomic Portraiture, balanced contrast with Nik Pro Contrast/Color Efx and sharpened with Nik RAW pre-sharpener.

I finally did a BW conversion in Nik Silver FX. Here is a BTS that the model snapped while I was setting up.

BTS_Rose_fitness_shoot

 

You can see more of Hiram’s work at his website.

SUMMER-SCHOOLALL THE TUTORIALS DURING “SUMMER SCHOOL” ARE BY PROJECT 52 PRO MEMBERS EITHER CURRENTLY ENROLLED OR ALUMNI.

Cool Sneakers with Alicia Bonterre

Today’s class is from Alicia Bonterre, a photographer who makes her home in Trinidad.

This was the assignment:

Running Shoes are one of the staples of sports and fitness… and come in all colors and sizes.

Distance runners, joggers, sprinters, hobbyists and kids all have shoes designed for their specialties.

Our job is to shoot a pair of running shoes… And do it with some flair.

The brief:

We have to see the side of one of the shoes, and we must see the bottom of the shoe. Tread is important in running shoes, and it is darned hard to photograph.

This can be done as a studio shot indoors, or a ‘studio’ shot outdoors… in a controlled location environment.

Lighting:

Think soft ambient light with direction. Remember that it will take something a bit punchy to show us the tread of the shoe, as well. I would think sun/diffuser/mirror possibly?

You will have to be very aware of the shape of the shoe from the side… and how you decide to show the side and bottom are up to you, but you will most likely have to prop the shoes up with small cards or shims.

This picture was my inspiration and guide.  I wanted to see how close to replicating it I could get. 

inspiration pic

I used two strobes.

SUMMER-SCHOOLI crossed the light so one hits the left side of the shoe to show the texture of the bottom, I used barndoors and a honeycomb grid here to keep it hard and focused,  a softbox on the right was aimed in such a way as to skim across the side to show dimension and form.  Shot at f11 to be sure all is sharp and in focus. The weight and stick holding the shoe up were later removed in Photoshop and the green background light and swirls added.

sneaker bts tutitorial

Final Shot

sneaker 2 tutitorial

Visit Alicia Bonterre’s website.

Making a “Splashing” Apple with John McAllister

SUMMER SCHOOL, DAY ONE: JOHN MCALLISTER.

John shows how to create this stunning effect.

P52 Summer Assignment 26: “Wet” #3

You can download the raw files used to make this photograph here.

Image One
Image Two
Image Three
Image Four
Image Five
image Six




For more from John McAllister, visit his blog.

SUMMER-SCHOOLALL THE TUTORIALS DURING “SUMMER SCHOOL” ARE BY PROJECT 52 PRO MEMBERS EITHER CURRENTLY ENROLLED OR ALUMNI.

 

Viral Visual Strategies

Social Media – VISUAL social media – is really powerful.

“On Thursday April 10th I shared the tumblr page with a huge dog magazine I’ve worked with regularly called The Bark. By Friday morning, it had 4,700 likes and 1,080 shares. I also sent the link out to a magazine called Koream Magazine, and on Friday they started to publicize it. All all the other huge Asian American media channels started to pick it up – like Hyphen, Angry Asian Man, Audrey Magazine, and more.

 

The Korean American founder and curator of a My Modern Met saw it on Saturday and immediately reached out to me for an interview that afternoon. Within the hour she had it up on the site and she told me that all the major news sites follow the site like The Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, Yahoo, The Today Show, and Good Morning America, just to name a few.”

A Photo Editor

Talk About Your Awesome Opportunities… Holy Smokes THIS Rocks!

An “opportunity” for you to bust your ass, make some cool shots and then give them away to someone who will then get to use them for whatever the heck they want to for as long as they want to. Oh, and by the way you need to simply shut up about it.

sucks

 

And they are happy to tell you why the work you do sucks… they even have “Ten Reasons” that it does so.

LOL… togs… waddaya gonna do.

No, I won’t link them… they are already getting all the traffic they need.

Oh, and there is NO MENTION of money on this site either… so you get to work hard, submit, get told that your work sucks and if it doesn’t suck, they get to keep it and use it for anything they want without paying you for it.

Yeah, Photographers is smaurt peepuls.

My Newest Book Will Take Your Photography To The Next Level… or something

how-to

I have decided it was time for me to put it all out there… no holding back, no withholding of the secrets that I am privvy to. All of the stuff that other photographers wont tell you… I will. I am like a man on fire.

Without the burning pants and sickly smell of charred skin of course.

But otherwise… burning up, baby.

So here is a brain dump of EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO BE ABLE TO SHOOT GOOD.

Some of the topics I cover show you exactly WHY I am considered one of the foremost photography people south of Chandler Blvd and West of the Walmart.

Yeah… McNally ain’t gonna spill his guts like this.

Arias ain’t gonna spill his guts like this.

In fact, when bringing up guts and the spilling of them no one does it better than me. Once in college I drank an entire gallon of Boone’s Farm Strawberry something… GUTS SPILLED.

Epically.

I have no idea why I told you that, but then I have no idea why you are still reading this.

Chapters I will use to expose the ugly underbelly of photography and those secrets that only the ‘pros’ use to make gooder pictures than you do.

A sample of the kind of hard-hitting information that will spell success into the 6 figures and beyond.

1. Which ISO is best for Bokeh so creamy you can stand a fork in it.

2. Portfolio secrets I don’t even know, and I know a lot.

3. Things to say to Art Directors that make them feel all jelly and want to give you more money for the most stupid mundane shit you will ever shoot.

4. Sure, you gotta great camera… the joke is on you. Most pros shoot iPhones and Holgas.

5. You’ve heard of the “rule of thirds”? Bullshit… the “Rule of Pi Squared Rounded to the Closest Tenth” is what all the big guys use. Especially the Europeans who are all working here and doing killer work for big ad agencies without their green cards.

6. The 6 Secrets to finding a good Off Shore Bank for all the money you will be making after reading this book.

7. Ethical questions all photographers must face. (Gotcha… LOL, no photographers have ethics… that is just so stupid.)

There are like a lot more… and all of them are life changing, awesome and will give you that extra heads-up for getting the drop on your competition.

In fact if you have a lot of competition in your market, you will especially enjoy the section on “Staging an Accident” with ten tips even the biggest city Coroner will miss every time.

So send me money. Lots of money.

If you send me enough money I will send you the book.

If you don’t send me enough money, I wont send you the book – and don’t ask or whine about it, WUSS.

No returns / No refunds.

Get the heck outta here.

Photographers Dump Film so They Can Emulate It Digitally… or, something…

“The company, founded back in March 2011, received the fifth largest Series A round Accel Partners has ever done; the investors are well known for the funds they granted a company called Facebook back when it was just starting up.

Besides the app itself, VSCO’s known for the preset packs it sells for Adobe Lightroom and Premiere; the filters that come with it emulate film with near-perfect accuracy, and a gift from the gods for people that prefer the look of film but can’t afford the gear.”

See More Here.

PROJECT 52 ANNUAL FOR 2013

ANNUAL-COVER

Is available at Blurb if you love the feel of good paper and a quality book.

We are also giving it out as a free PDF for all. Please feel free to share it with anyone you think would be interested.

All images are copyright the photographer, and there is contact information for each photographer included.

Big SHOUT OUT to all who were involved with Project 52 and to the current members… Thanks to all for being involved.

Download the Screen Res version here: PROJECT 52 ANNUAL 2013

PURCHASE IT AT BLURB (at cost).

Hey Amazon… REALLY? Are You Kidding Me?

WHAT THE FUCK?.

“On March 18, 2014 Amazon Technologies, Inc. (an operating subsidiary of Amazon.com, Inc.) obtained a United States Patent (8,676,045) for a “Studio Arrangement” and a “method of capturing images and/or video.”

ibook-store-widgetMany photographers will recognize this lighting set-up and method as being a very old, very common and very widely used lighting technique to photograph a subject against a white cyclorama background, where the subject is on a white base/platform, and the set is lit with multiple light sources pointed towards the background to overexpose (blow-out) the background and the base/platform, and with flags on either side of the subject to prevent overexposure of the subject. The method that Amazon has patented claims to “achieve a desired effect of a substantially seamless background.” You can find the patent here:”

WHAT THE FUCK?.

My Favorite Film Cameras and Film Choices

cameras

We do so many cool things in P52 and this idea is one a lot of the photographers are picking up on.

We are going to have a fun little ‘assignment’ to shoot 24 frames of film in May. Just 24… but we want all of them to be ‘good shots’. What started as a one shot per day for 24 days morphed rather quickly into simply shooting 24 frames… not necessarily one per day. Quality is more important than the surreptitiously applied time frame of one per day.

And what is the point?

The point is to look at making an image as something important, something that can take some time to do. Without the ability to ‘check the screen’ we have to learn to trust our guts.

We also have to make very sure – very DAMN sure – we have the shot we want in the frame. Check the composition, then check the corners, then check it all again. Whether shooting 35MM or 6×7 all of the photographers will be treating the frame as though it was 8×10… taking their time to make sure the image in the lens is what they want to commit to.

One click.

Move on.

I have been asked about what cameras would be good for beginning film shooters.

I have some opinions on that (and I know you are all shocked… shocked to hear I have opinions on something), and here they are:

While I personally think that just about any old film camera will work for this project and almost anything else you want to do, I do have some favorites.

[EDITED TO ADD: If you have an old camera and need an instruction manual to figure it out, here is a resource for you. Yes, your eyes may bleed from the web design, but the content will make you smile.]

Nikon F2 Photomic.

D3S_8411-1200

Here is one for about $150, but they can run up to $600 depending on how nicely they are cared for. A very simple camera with a nice feel in the hands, the F2 was a staple of commercial and editorial shooters for a decade. Simply a beautiful machine. Manual focus.

Nikon F3

Nikon_F3_with_HP_viewfinder

This was their flagship camera and the nicest camera I have ever owned. I love my F3. Light and smaller than the F2, it also has one of the best meters ever put into an SLR. I have found exposures running to about 30 minutes with it. The camera also has a mean “Auto” feature for aperture value shooting. An Ebay favorite, they run from about $200 to upwards of $600 again depending on how meticulously they were cared for. Manual focus.

Nikon FM2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A staple in every Nikkon shooters bag back in the day. Why? Flash sync of 1/250 – twice as fast as the F3 sync due to vertical curtains. This is also one of Nikons best cameras. They were rugged and sure, and very easy to handle. You can pick up a Nikon FM for about $150 – $500. (Yeah, and a bit more – they are quite popular film cameras).

Nikon F4

Nikon_F4_06

Their first autofocus camera. Big and versatile. It is a coveted camera for a lot of film shooters who rely on autofocus. These are actually less than the F2/F3 cameras on Ebay. Auto focus.

Canon F1

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I never used it, but I knew a lot of guys who loved it. This is a ‘tank’ of a camera. The F1 is a Manual focus camera. Heavy and solid. They run about $300 – $500 on Ebay.

Canon AE1

Canon_AE-1_03

No list of film cameras would be complete without one of the classic film cameras of all time, the Canon AE1. Program mode, fast shutter speeds and a body that just goes and goes and goes. They run from about $100 – $250 on Ebay. The AE1 is a manual focus camera.

Canon EOS Cameras

91vy4ej3R3S._SL1500_

I purchased the EOS 1 the same month it was released… amazing camera and I still use it. The feel in my hand was simply amazing. I highly recommend these babies… and if you are a Canon shooter, you will feel right at home with the wheel on the back for adjusting the exposure. From about $200 to $500 depending. I have both the EOS 1 and the EOS 3N… lovely and wonderful cameras. These are both auto focus cameras.

MEDIUM FORMAT CAMERAS

I love shooting the big boys… and here are the ones I am most familiar with. All of these are manual focus cameras.

Mamiya RB67 (and the Mamiya RZ67 – not pictured)

Mamiya_RB_67_ProSD

These are beasts of a camera. Very heavy, and well suited for tripods (unless you have upper body strength to spare). They make a 6x7cm image on a roll of 120 or 220 film, and you must have the correct film holder for either one of those. This means 10 shots on a roll of 120 and 20 shots on a roll of 220. The other feature is that the lenses are mounted on bellows, so they are focused by moving the bellows in and out with the wheels on the side, not by twisting the lens.

One of the features of this camera is that the back rotates so the camera is always shot in the same position, while the photographer rotates the back for a vertical image. They are affordable and present a whole new way of making images for those who are used to shooting SLR’s of any kind.

Bronica GS1

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These very sleek medium format cameras also shoot 6×7, but the photographer must turn the camera from horizontal to vertical. The lenses are also focused with the traditional twist. There are a whole host of accessories for this camera, from lenses to prism finders. If you are looking for something with a lot of punch, but not as heavy as the RB67, look at these sweet cameras.

Running from about $350 – $700 on Ebay.

Hasselblad

Hasselblad_1600F

The big tuna… The Hassies are classic cameras that take a square 6×6 format image. That is 12 images per roll of 120. You must have the correct film holder for both the 120 and the 22o films. Extensive lens collections and amenities are found for this prestigious camera. They are running from about $500 to $900 depending on the condition.

THE 645 FORMATS

These are remarkable cameras as well as lighter and easier to carry than the ones above. Because of the way the film loads, the image is 6cm x 4.5cm – which results in 16 images per roll versus the 12 of the square format cameras.

All of these are great deals as well, with lots of lenses and additional tools available.

Bronica 645 – these run from about $250 to $600.

bronica_sqa_80mm_1

Mamiya 645 – these run from about $250 – $600 as well.

045

Pentax 6×7

PENTAX67_2

An esoteric favorite, the Pentax 6×7 handles like a giant SLR. There is an extensive lens line and many accessories. The lenses were considered second to none. This is still one of the cameras I coveted but never owned. It may be just the thing for you if you want to move into MF Film and like the handling of an SLR. This camera shoots a 6×7 image (10 per roll of 120). These cameras are in high demand, running between $500 to $1200 with a lens.

(Edited to Add)
Yashica Mat TLR (Twin Lens Reflex

YASHICA_Mat-124_G_7745

This is a 6×6 image camera (12 shots on a roll of 120) and is also a unique type of camera. You look through the top lens while the image is taken by the bottom lens. This camera focuses on bellows so there is no internal movement of glass within the lens. Inexpensive and quite fun to shoot. You are already used to shooting with one… the act is very similar to chimping, looking straight down into the camera to see the image on the ground glass. Image is reversed. From $100 – $400 on Ebay.

Shooting Film

Most of the film shooting I do these days is on C41 films (color negative). Most of the film I shot back in the day was chrome (E6), which is transparency film. I rarely shoot that these days as transparency and digital look so much alike. Color negative film has a different patina, a different color space than transparency.

I shoot Ektar 100 film in both the 35MM and the 120 roll sizes. Fine grain and very nice color range.

And I shoot Kodak Portra as well. Note, Portra comes in ISO 160, ISO 400 and ISO 800 flavors. I shoot the 160 ISO film at ISO 100… always have. I find that this film can take a bit of over exposure much better than any underexposure.

It is also fun to shoot traditional black and white ON black and white film. I recommend a set of filters if you do, but for many projects, filters are not needed. (I am referring to Red, Green, Yellow and Amber filters for darkening skies and lightening greens in landscape.)

My favorite Black and White films are the Kodak T-Max line, an Ilford film or two and a couple of Fuji’s.

NOTE: You can get all of these films in higher ISO’s, but I like the ISO 100 flavors for a lot of reasons. Choose the ISO range that works for you.

Shooting with film, things to remember;

  • You cannot see what you just did. Don’t try.
  • You must shoot the whole roll at the same ISO
  • When you get the film processed, it is somewhat fragile and can scratch. Be careful with it.
  • Film has more latitude, but prefers to be over exposed than underexposed
  • I prefer to get my scans at the time I process the film. Yes, it is more expensive, but I do not spray and pray with film.

Well – that is a very short list of cameras and film that I use for shooting film images. Use the comments below to share your favorite camera and or film… and let us know why.

See you next time.

 

“Air” by Meggan Joy Trobaugh

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At the Project 52 2014 group, the assignment was “Air”. There were many wonderful submissions. This one by Meggan Joy Trobaugh was exceptional I thought. She carefully planned out the work and made the elements for the final work with a previsualized image already in her mind.

Here are Meggan’s steps.


“I made this smokey ballerina to represent air. I wanted to make something that “felt like Monet” would like it. It might of ended up more along the lines of Degas but I will take it either way.

This image was made with only a tripod, smoke bombs, a patient husband and a well placed mask in Photoshop.

First, I sketched my idea. I would share my sketch but I actually lost it while shooting to some mud. Basically, imagine a very crude drawing of a stick figure with smoke all around it. THAT, was the starting point.

While I was sketching, I was trying to figure out what I needed to do to make it happen. I knew I could layer multiple images and mask out certain parts of them to make a negative human shape. So that was the rough plan.

But I was still not sure it would visually work. So before I spent my afternoon shooting and the rest of the evening buried in Photoshop for nothing – I did a test shoot. That way, I could figure out any bugs and if the idea needed to be abandoned I could toss it and have plenty of time to come up with a new idea.

So I went to the backyard and “volun-told” my husband to stand in as my human shape to mask out in post.

It went bad.

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I learned that my background needed to be out of focus and that my human shape needed to be almost “too perfectly human” for the eye to recognize it. I also learned that I did not need a “real” human to stand in which was good because my husband was not enjoying this. We also figured out that we needed a better way to hold and manipulate the smoke bombs, because they actually get hot and can burn you. Go figure.

So while the test was ugly as all get out, it served it’s purpose. I regrouped the plan and found a better natural backdrop (that may or may not of been on private property) and made a container to hold the smoke bombs. We spent about an hour shooting different frames with smoke coming in all different directions. Also making sure to get a “blank slate” starting point to build off of.

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The technique I used to layer in the smoke is hard to see with the type of images I was using if you are unfamiliar with masks, selections and the like. So I will demonstrate what I did with some solid color adjustment layers. Then come back to the actual files later.

First, I made and saved a selection so that I could apply it to my mask for each individual layer and keep it matching. I purchased and used a ballerina vector file so I could get a head start using the magic wand tool, it cost me a dollar and saved me a couple hours of work. Well worth it in my opinion. But you could easily make a selection in any shape you wanted and it would work just as well. As it were, I ended up changing the shape of my ballerina quite a bit to suit my own tastes.

At this point, I would suggest saving your selection. You can find out how to do that in a quick google search. For now we’ll just assume you know what I mean when I say that.

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I am going to add a yellow fill layer to represent one of my smoke layers.

* there are a lot of ways to add a selection to a mask, this is just the way I do it *

To make a mask with my selection shape – I first, need to make sure I have the layer I want to cut out selected WHILE the marching ants are on my project.

From there, I just add a mask and POOF.

image04

I am sure there are much prettier and sexier photoshop ways to go about this, but this is what I did.

By nature of my image – being full of smoke and all – I needed to refine this mask to feel more smokey. You can do a gaussian blur or you can feather the mask – I did different versions of all of these, but I also used a custom brush tool that was made to look like smoke.

This brush was from a tutorial from www.Phlearn.com which is a go-to check every day website for me. This is the tutorial I learned this trick from it even has the brush I used there to download for free. http://phlearn.com/atmosphere-and-effect – it really is handy.

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I was being really heavy handed with the brush for this yellow layer – normally, I would have it at 10% opacity at the most and just build up into masking out parts that I don’t need.

However, my aforementioned finished image was a mix between the ballerina being shaped by negative space AND being filled with smoke in select places. So, on my next layer I need to do exactly the same thing only before I start refining it with a smoke brush I need to invert it.

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Inverting a mask is rather simple. Highlight the mask and hit Command-I / Control-I or you can double click the mask and a properties panel will show up with a invert button. That is also how you can easily feather the mask as well.

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These two layers demonstrate the basic principle of what I did. Only I did it with layers of photos of smoke taken on the tripod. Here is what my actual working file looked like while it was coming together. I will highlight the mask so you can see how each layer was built up.

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and …

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Some of my masks only included a tiny bit. This is because the smoke was all over the place. I had to create a uniform shape out of many images. To keep myself organized I cropped them and toned them all the same in Lightroom. Then I pulled each image in one by one depending on what I felt I needed.

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I would like to think it helps Photoshop run smoother if I keep the files out of the program until I absolutely have to use them.

Once I got my shape the way I like it, it still had that “photoshop” feeling to it. So to help bring it together I added a few adjustment layers. Including: a few washes of color with a blending mode, a brightness/contrast layer masked to fill just my “subject smoke” with more “light” and then a vignette made with a curves adjustment layer. I also sharpened a few things and added a blur around the edges with the Iris filter run on a stamp visible layer. If any of these details interest you, or confuse you – I suggest either Phlearn (again) or reading Lesa Snider’s Photoshop CC: The Missing Manual. (http://www.amazon.com/Photoshop-CC-The-Missing-Manual/dp/1449342418) Both of these resources are invaluable to me and could not come any more highly praised.

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From there, I saved it back into Lightroom and did some final adjustments there. I like to add the split toning ext in Lightroom because I have custom presets made so that my full body of work feels more cohesive together. That is my personal preference because I certainly could of finished off the image completely in Photoshop with the same results.

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So there you have it. A ballerina-air-smoke thing. Made from a few smoke bombs and Photoshop.

P.S. It actually took much longer to type out what I did then actually completing the post processing, so don’t be intimidated. I also used a crappy old windows laptop and this was all done with just the trackpad. If I can do it, anyone can. So no excuses. And if you do make something similar – let me know! I really would love to see it.


Thank you so much Meggan. A wonderful tutorial for such a unique image.

Visit Meggan’s site.