Tag Archives: workflow

zebra girl copyright Aloha Lavina.

From Idea to Image Part I: Planning

Creating an image means a lot of decisions made before the shutter clicks.

Side by side, two photographers looking at a scene, unless they are trying to make the same image, will create two different images. The differences in their images depend on a host of reasons. These reasons include their intentions, their skill level, and the decisions they made according to these elements. Some people call it vision.

When you make an image, the result is a combination of your decisions.

To make the best possible image you can, it’s important to be aware of how your particular idea becomes the image you end up making. How do your decisions result in good work?

Start by thinking backwards.

Backward design is something that grew out of education. When teachers design lessons, they often start at the end. When they begin at the end, teachers know that they can break down the result into what they have to do to get there. They are in effect making a map of how to get to the end result they want.shadow play copyright Aloha Lavina

Analyzing the resulting image you want, breaking down what you have to do to get there, and then following a path to success is a process that affects your images. It can make the difference between an impactful image and one that may be technically perfect, but does not express much.

Note down the techniques you need to use to make the image.

Do you need to use particular camera settings to get to the end in mind? Which techniques will produce those results? Why should you use one technique over another? Are some questions you can ask yourself at the planning stage of your project.

Let’s say you want to show the theme of time. Organizing the theme of time into concrete images involves a bit of technique. Will you slow time down for us to see it in the blur using panning? Will you speed up time using a high shutter speed? Can you show passing of time without having to resort to a series of images, but use conceptual interpretation instead? How much will you show in the frame? What elements will impact your design?zebra girl copyright Aloha Lavina.

Starting with strong questions in your planning can help you get to the result with greater efficacy, and your resulting images will show this skill.

Gather the equipment you need to get to your result.

Once you know the techniques you need, you can gather the actual tools you can use to accomplish the technical part of your shoot. Choosing the lens is the most important because the lens dictates how much you include or what you exclude to compose your imagery.

A variety of accessories exist that help you to achieve a ‘look’ in your images. For instance, you might need a polarizing filter, or a set of ND filters. You might need lighting help from reflectors or flash units. Or, you might need a tripod to make those slow shutter images. Whatever you need to get the results you want, planning the stuff you need to make those shots ensures that you give yourself the best chances for success.water copyright Aloha Lavina.

Rehearse the skills you need to get the result you want.

There’s a reason why teachers give homework. Homework is not to make students suffer, but to rehearse skills needed for a big assessment or test. If we extend the metaphor to our craft, we recognize that the decisive moment of making a shot involves a test of some kind—the readiness to get the shot you wanted through preparation.

That preparation includes practice. If you’re scheduled for a portraiture session, for example, go out and shoot portraits. Change up the situation during the practice session to give you rehearsal in how to solve problems—lighting problems, composition problems, posing problems—these skills rehearsed give you the opportunity to make sure your actual test, the actual shoot you have to perform and get those amazing results, is something you will pass with flying colors.

Evaluate your results, and realize new things you learned that got you there.

Finally, take some time to evaluate how you did. A great way to improve your photography is to look at past images and ask yourself if there is anything you could have done to make them better.

Writing teachers always say, “Don’t fall in love with the first draft.” This is to tell students that there are always things we can do to improve our work. If you follow this advice in your shot making, you might just stumble upon an improvement cycle that will continue your learning and result in images that just keep getting better and better.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

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Up next: From Idea to Image Part II: Lighting
Join me as we walk through the process of conceptualization and lighting set up for a portrait!






Beginner’s Guide: Top 10 Tools for Retouching Portraits in Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop is a complex, sophisticated software that has become the industry standard for digital photographers. Although it takes a while to get used to Photoshop and to learn its entire repertoire of tools, there are some staple tools that a photographer can use, and use effectively, to enhance a portrait. Most of the time, I have some basic tools in Photoshop that I use to retouch a portrait. Here are the top ten tools I use every time.

1. Layers

Using layers is a must for me because it’s insurance against bad judgement. What I mean is, if I make a mistake on an adjustment on the original file, I’ve got to trash the entire file and start all over again. But if I make a mistake on a layer, I can always delete the layer and start fresh on another layer.

2. Lasso

The lasso tool is great for selective adjustments. These are adjustments that affect only a small portion of the image. Take the eyes of a portrait. If you want the eyes to have some more detail in them, you can lasso the irises of the eyes and make a small curves adjustment, lightening them up a bit. This is just one example of how the lasso tool makes retouching easier.

3. Shadow Highlight

The Shadow Highlight function in Photoshop is a way for you to add some punch to the detail in the dark areas (shadow) or the light areas (highlight) of the image. Using the Lasso Tool, you can for instance select a dark area, choose the shadow highlight tool, and adjust the amount of detail in that selected area by moving the sliders right or left.

4. Curves

The Curves adjustment is something I use for every single photo. Using Curves adjustments, you can add contrast to a photo by brightening some areas and darkening others.

Photoshop is a full of great tools, which once learned can really make portraits pop.

5. Levels

In my workflow, this is actually the first thing I do. “Levels” is the amount of black and white and every value in between, in the photo. It is the levels of light being reflected by every element of the photo. Adjusting levels makes your blacks black, your whites white, and your middle values just right. Photoshop actually has an automated Levels adjustment, which I always test out for every photo I process. Sometimes the program makes a really good adjustment based on whatever mysterious digital computation it makes, and my photo looks better. Other times, I use the dropper method of adjusting levels, which I go over here.

6. Healing Tools

What retouching is done nowadays without using the Healing Tools? I don’t use this for travel portraits or other documentary work, but I use it extensively for retouching beauty shots or fashion editorial work. There are two nifty tools in this subset I use—the spot healing brush and the healing brush. The spot healing brush is like magic—you hold it over the blemish and click—and the blemish disappears! The healing brush is a little more subtle. You sample an area you want to ‘copy’ and then you brush over the areas you want to clean up, and the software helps you to paint over those blemishes with the sampled color and texture you picked.

7. Clone Tool

I use the Clone Tool for a lot of different things. One is to remove distracting spots or highlights in a wide angle shot. Another is to smoothen skin, especially underarms or for eyebags.

8. Brush Tool

The brush is a great tool in Photoshop. You can use the brush to do a lot of things. One, if you use it with a layer mask, or a layer on top of a layer, you can mask out things you don’t want and brush back things you do want. Other times, you can paint over parts of the image with white to brighten up those spots, or paint black or gray over other parts of the image, to increase shadows. This is what is called ‘painting with light,’ which is a popular technique in postprocessing.

9. Hue Saturation

I love punchy color—so I use the Hue Saturation adjustments to add more punch to clothes, or enhance makeup or eye color. The great thing about the Photoshop hue saturation adjustments is, you can choose which colors to saturate using individual color sliders.

10. Dodge and Burn

This is a tool that even Ansel Adams used, only he did it manually. On Photoshop, we’ve got a burn tool which makes things you brush with it darker, and a dodge tool, which makes things you brush with it lighter. I use it sparingly because it does ruin the pixels of a photo, but I do use it especially for monochrome shots. Dodging and burning are techniques that can add drama to a photo.

So now that you have this introduction to the top ten tools of Photoshop I use for retouching portraits, give it a go! Here’s a free tutorial on how to retouch an environmental portrait using most of the tools in the list–it’s a preview to what you might learn at a 3inOne Workshop©. This ebook is only going to be available for a limited time, so hurry on over and check it out.

Have fun, and don’t forget to let me know how you did!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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The Girl in the Pink Dress: How to get this shot

Light It! Shoot It! Process It!

I enjoy fashion editorial photography, and when I’m not traveling, chances are I’ve got a photoshoot lined up. Sometimes, I post my photos up online (when the client gives the go ahead, after publication), and people ask me, How did you do that?

I’ve heard this question lots of times, and decided recently that I’m going to deconstruct the lighting, the shot, and the processing for you. So here is the first in a series I call 3inOne-Light it, Shoot it, Process it. Sometimes, I’ll talk about the lighting. Or I’ll talk about the thought process behind an image. Other times, I’ll talk about some Photoshop post-work on an image. Then, if I’m feeling really nice, I might just talk you through the whole thing—all 3 in one.

How to Light the Girl in a Pink Dress

This image was published in Masala Magazine, December 2010.

When we got to the location, I was very excited about this window. The client’s dress had this wonderful scarf that was delicate and diaphanous, and I wanted to love it in the image. So I had to use the window and the scarf to add drama —impact— to the image.

The other advantage of the window was the directional light through it. Plain good old sunshine—but the most beautiful light of all.

I placed the model in the gorgeous dress on one side of the window and angled her body so that the dress would be seen in its elegant cut: a brilliant upper bodice with intricate embroidery, and the skirt with its graceful folds. Then I asked the model to hold the scarf in front of her, and love it.

Notice that the window light does a couple of things. One, it gives the shot a sidelight which is perfect to create that 3D effect in a portrait (Thank you, Mr. Rembrandt, for this centuries old tip). Two, the window light gave the scarf a backlight, showing us how delicate and lovely the fabric is.

The last lighting bit was to fill in the dress with a portable strobe. I didn’t want to overpower the sun; all I needed was a suggestion that there was another window at camera right. So I just popped the flash at a medium intensity. Below is the lighting diagram.

Sometimes one light and a window is all it takes.

And there you have it. In my next posts, I will be going through some camera settings for an editorial shoot and a Photoshop workflow, Parts 2 and 3 of 3inOne. So stay tuned!

Let me know what you’d like to learn in the comments.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
The Man at the Window
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo
10 Online Resources for Photography Enthusiasts
How to Stay Creative