PHOTO: First portraits with studio lights

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carrollphoto
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Posted Mon Jun 23, 2008 11:56PM
Hi everyone!

I've put my iStock earings to use and bought some alienbees studio lights, reflectors, backdrops, etc.

I've been reading books on lighting and portraiture, as well as going through instructional DVDs and such. But so far, all of my photo experience (as evidenced by my portfolio) is using natural ambient light or my Nikkor SB800.

So here's my first attempt at studio portraits using the new lights. I convinced my girlfriend to model for me. I'd love some advice from the pros on how I can improve on these shots in terms of lighting, composition, post processing, or any other advice you may have.

Here are a few of the images that I've workflowed from the shoot so far.


Picture 1

Picture 2

Picture 3

Picture 4

Picture 5


Thanks!

Christian

(Edited on 2008-06-25 13:34:18 by carrollphoto)
jsnover
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Posted Tue Jun 24, 2008 12:54PM

The first thing I noticed was how you've processed the skin. I think you've tried to beautify it, but you've removed so much texture that I'm almost certain it'll get rejected here. The lighting and focus looks fine to me. Some of the saturation looks rather boosted too - playing with that increases the chances of rejection unless you really nail the effect.


The subject matter may not be a huge seller, and the odd composition of #5 with the hand partially covering the face doesn't really work IMO. If you pick some more typical scenes (busines, home, family, craft or hobby), you've got a great model to work with and could produce some really saleable shots.
hatman12
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Posted Tue Jun 24, 2008 1:59PM

Very good attempt, but they look over processed and over sharpened.  Real eyes are never pure white.


Sadly they are not stock but photographic art/portraiture.  Even if you get them accepted they are very unlikely to sell.
carrollphoto
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Posted Tue Jun 24, 2008 2:12PM
Thanks jsnover and hatman12! I shot these from more of a art/portraiture standpoint. I know that they would be unlikely to sell here. I'm more interested in comments on my lighting execution, composition and processing as this type of photography is entirely new to me.


Great comments so far! I'm glad I submitted here before doing too much more editing on the remaining shots.


And yes, I'm fortunate to have a beautiful girlfriend who doesn't mind being in front of a camera or having the living room torn apart for a photoshoot. hehe


I'll try to go lighter on the post processing and maybe resubmit the images here tonight to get additional feedback. Thanks again and keep the comments coming.


Christian

(Edited on 2008-06-24 14:39:24 by carrollphoto)
fotosmania
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Posted Tue Jun 24, 2008 2:38PM

Do you noitce how the skin looks sort of like plastic?  I know that is a no no.  I too am interested to hear how you could process this better, I have Neat Image, but am having the same problem, the skin is too platic looking, and I am not sure what to move inside the Neat Image software so that I don't over do it or mess it all up moving those little sliders.


Looking forward to seeing more and more comments too.
carrollphoto
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Posted Tue Jun 24, 2008 2:41PM
In my case I was going pretty heavy with the gaussian blur in Photoshop.  That's what's giving it the "plastic" look.  At least in my situation, that's an easy thing to fix.
jsnover
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Posted Tue Jun 24, 2008 2:51PM
Posted By fotosmania:

Do you noitce how the skin looks sort of like plastic? I know that is a no no. I too am interested to hear how you could process this better, I have Neat Image, but am having the same problem, the skin is too platic looking, and I am not sure what to move inside the Neat Image software so that I don't over do it or mess it all up moving those little sliders.


In general, there shouldn't be any need to use Noise Ninja, Neat Image or the like. When there is, it's best to do it on a separate layer and then mask it to vary the opacity and restrict it only to those sections that really need it AND are low in detail (like out of focus backgrounds).


The smoothed skin look can be very cool for certain stylized purposes, but iStock wants raw materials more than finished designs, so generally will reject that look as overfiltered. You need to see the skin details - cloning out blemishes is fine, but losing all of the pores looks mannequin-like.
carrollphoto
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Posted Tue Jun 24, 2008 3:09PM
Exactly.  And in my case, I shot at ISO 100, so there was very little noise.  I was just attempting to give the photo a bit more of a surrealistic look with the gaussian blur.  Again this is new stuff for me, so I love hearing from those of you who have experience with doing this effectively for both stock and art.
jtyler
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Posted Tue Jun 24, 2008 5:40PM
Posted By hatman12: 

Real eyes are never pure white.


Sadly they are not stock but photographic art/portraiture. Even if you get them accepted they are very unlikely to sell.


The eyes struck me also - I had never seen eyes that white.  I agree with the views here.  But they are lovely portraiture.  It all depends on what you want from IS.  If it is a place to show your talent in this area a web site would be better.  If it is to sell images, you obviously have talent and knowledge (and a beautiful model), so you have to decide if you want to commercialize more.  Sometimes a hard choice - but it really does not have to be a choice - you can do both.  Do what you please for your pleasure and put that same talent into making some money from it.  Good luck.  I wish my first attempts with strobes looked as well.
carrollphoto
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Posted Tue Jun 24, 2008 8:10PM

Thanks for the compliments and very good advice Jan.  I will be doing some more "stock" oriented shoots with this model very soon.  And yes, I'm planning on using the lights for both commercial stock and artistic portraiture.


I'm working on re-editing these photos tonight with less post processing on the skin and eyes.  I've also learned some fun new skills from sakaasa (Thanks sakaasa!) today which should help me get these types of images looking nice without looking so over-filtered.
mikenorton
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Posted Tue Jun 24, 2008 10:15PM
carrollphoto


I'll tell you about your lighting, it stinks. What kind of portrait lighting books were you reading?


#1 you did a better job of lighting the feather than you did lighting your girlfriend. Why are the lights below her chin? They need to be higher than her head. This picture has flat shadowless lighting. The details in light skinned people is in the shadows, the details in dark skinned people is in the highlights. You have a light skinned model with no shadows. Try using an umbrella or a soft box on the strobe heads next time. Place your Key, or main, light to either side of the camera at about a 45 degree angle. Have the light about 1 foot higher than the models head, point the center of the light at the models eyes. Place your fill light above your camera maybe 2 feet above the models head, point the light right into the models eyes. Have the Key light set about 1/2 a stop brighter than the fill light. This light set up should give you what is called Rembrandt Lighting. The side of the face opposite the key light should have a small triangle of light on the cheek under the eye. Move your key light around until you see it.


#2 You did a passable job here but your key light is still too low. This one looks like you used a bare bulb on the left side of the camera, a rim light to the left behind the model and a hair light to the right behind the model. You have the rim light and the hair light set brighter than the key light. This is good, it gives your model separation from the background. But this picture only works because of all the colors around the model's face, take the feathers away and this one is no better than the first one.


#3 I bet you girlfriend likes this one the least of all. What you have done here is photographed her with broad lighting, broad as in flat and big. Broad lighting makes people appear larger than they really are. Again your lights are too low. But this is your best posed picture. To fix this one, pose her just the same, put your Key light to the left of the camera and your fill light over the camera just like in #1. Make sure the triangle of light is on the cheek under the model's left eye, (the eye on the right side of the picture). If you do this correctly you will have a picture where the right side of the model's face is brighter than the left side except for the triangle of light on the cheek under the model's left eye, this triangle of light should be the same brightness as the right side of the model's face. MAKE SURE YOU PLACE THE CAMERA SO YOU PHOTOGRAPH INTO THE SHADOW SIDE OF THE FACE! You will find that the shadow on the left side of the model's face will make her appear slimmer. This shadow will hide the two curving lines on her neck below her left ear.


#4 What is the subject here? The eyelashes or the hands folded on the chest? Pick one, photograph it in one picture and then photograph the other in another picture.


#5 Again the lights are too low and look like the were bare bulbs. See how round the right side of the model's face looks? Broad lighting again. The shadow on the left is caused by her right hand. This type of pose is more suited for an environmental portrait. In an environmental portrait the subject is shown in her environment. To me she looks like she might be doing the hand movement from a dance. If this is the case then an environmental portrait would show her head to toe not only dancing but it would also show where she is dancing.


Overall not bad but not acceptable portraits either. What I mean is they are not technically good portraits. As to the question of weather Istock will accept them and weather they will sell, all I can say is that if I had the knowledge to know what pictures will be accepted and which of those pictures will sell I would use that knowledge to pick lottery numbers!


You will learn by doing so keep it up, the lights too!


Mike Norton

(Edited on 2008-06-24 22:18:27 by mikenorton)
carrollphoto
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Posted Tue Jun 24, 2008 11:03PM
Thanks for the comments Mike. Although I'm not sure what I did to warrant the sharp tone of your response, I'm happy to answer some of your questions and make comments of my own.


#1: My lighting setup here is almost exactly as you recommended. This shot was accomplished using two soft boxes and a reflector, not bare bulbs as you suggest. If you noticed the catch lights in her eyes and soft light on her face, this should have been immediately apparent. Yes, I did place one light below her face in order to get the catch light effect in the lower portion of her iris (which I was hoping to do). Further, she had very long eyelash extensions on which made it difficult to light only from above without casting a shadow over the eyes. The light from below did a good job of solving this problem. My key light is sitting very high up (touching my ceiling in fact) to camera left. I believe I understand what you're saying about the flat lighting here. And I do agree that the shot needs improvement in that regard.

#2: Yes, this was a bare bulb shot in more of a loop lighting pattern. One bare bulb placed to camera left with a back light about 1 stop brighter than the key.


#3: My girlfriend likes this shot just fine. And this is short lighting. Again, view this at 100% and look at the catch lights. The key light is to camera left and is a large softbox. It's about 1-2 stops brighter than the reflector to camera right. Perhaps I could have used a bit more contrast between the two? Yes, I'm very familiar with photographing the shadow side of the face, which is what I did here.


#4: The subject of this photograph are the lines and symmetry more than anything.


#5: Again, the catch lights and soft shadows should tell you that this was shot using large, soft light sources and not bare bulbs. And this in not broad lighting, as the model is looking directly at the camera straight on. My key light is a very large softbox placed to camera left and I'm using a reflector to camera right.


The lighting book that I am reading at present is Light Science & Magic by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver and Paul Fuqua. I'm going through the book and doing every single example and excercise that they recommend. I'm also watching and practicing along with a couple instructional DVDs that were recomended to me by a professional portrait photographer (as was the book). One of the first things covered in Chapter 2 of the book is the ability to understand, recoginize and produce hard vs. soft light.



Thanks again for your comments,
Christian

(Edited on 2008-06-25 03:44:55 by carrollphoto)
carrollphoto
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Posted Wed Jun 25, 2008 1:37AM

Okay, I've re-edited the 5 files this evening incorporating the post-processing feedback I recieved in this thread and some good CNX2 tips from sakaasa.  Thanks again to everyone for taking the time to review and comment!


Here are the files in their new form.


Picture 1


Picture 2


Picture 3


Picture 4


Picture 5


Christian
RASimon
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Posted Wed Jun 25, 2008 8:20AM
Congratulations on your taking the feedback to heart and working with it.  I'm not sure I see a great deal of difference - perhaps you can point out what you did differently with each photo?  These photos are great learning opportunities for you - I say that because I think it is fair to say that they are not likely to sell well on istock so keep that in mind when you put more time and effort into them.
carrollphoto
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Posted Wed Jun 25, 2008 10:32AM
RASimon,

The original pics contained fairly heavy gaussian blur on the skin so you couldn't really see her pores. I had also whitened her eyes to almost a pure white and cloned out all traces of veins, etc. And lastly I had overused unsharp mask on the original images.


The new ones have little to no gaussian blur on the skin. I still brightened her eyes a bit and accented the catch lights, but I think they look more natural now. Lastly, I didn't use unsharp mask at all, but rather the new High Pass feature in CNX2 to bring out detail in select areas (awesome recommendation by sakaasa).


Yea, I actaully wasn't really considering using these for stock at all. This was a project for me to learn to use the lights in a portrait setting for the first time. Although I did just do a "stock" shoot with the same model and another person isolated on white that I think will do well. (crossing fingers) In terms of lighting difficulty, I found the isolation on white to be much easier than the photos from this portrait shoot.

I noticed that you're in San Diego. That's my home town! I'll be down there to visit my family in August. Can't wait!

(Edited on 2008-06-25 13:35:25 by carrollphoto)
mikenorton
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Posted Wed Jun 25, 2008 5:24PM

carrollphoto,


Well then, It looks like I was wrong!  Sorry, I did not intend for the tone to be sharp, I had photography instructors who talked like that when critiquing pictures in class.  Like they say I guess you had to be there to hear the way they said it.  


The catch lights on the bottom of the eye and the other catch lights on the center of the eye led me to believe that the lights were lower than where you say they were placed. Maybe the long eyelashes blocked some of the catch lights that would have been on the upper part of the eye.  The bottom catch light, being made up of 4 reflections, made me think you had used one of those quad strobe heads and no diffusion.  


You like the lighting, I think there needs to be some shadows on the models face, so I think we will have to agree to disagree. Keep shooting and in a year or so look at these again to see what you think about them then.


Sorry again none of this was intended to be insulting or degrading.  


Mike Norton  
carrollphoto
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Posted Wed Jun 25, 2008 5:59PM
No worries Mike. And thanks again for taking the time to comment. I do think you're right about the light being flat on the face in lots of these. That's something I'm going to work on going forward to be certain.

heh I already know what I'll think about the photos in a year. I'll hate them with a passion! LOL In fact, that typically happens for me in less than a year when looking back at my work. Again, these were my very first attempt at a shoot using studio lights. I'm sure I screwed up all over the place. I've certainly learned a lot from the experience already.

Yea, that catch light in her lower iris is a softbox that I placed masking tape over in the shape of a cross, to simulate the look of a window. I wanted to see how it would look.

(Edited on 2008-06-25 18:03:58 by carrollphoto)
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