Real-World Review of the Olympus OMD-EM1X

The post Real-World Review of the Olympus OMD-EM1X appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

I recently picked up the Olympus OMD-EM1X (it was a few months ago). I’ve had a chance to use it a lot during this time. It’s an interesting beast of a camera, and have a bunch of observations that I thought would help provide some perspective on this new camera. I put the Olympus OMD-EM1X camera through its paces for this unscientific, but real-world, review.

The EM1X the new professional-grade camera from Olympus

Full disclosure, I am not sponsored by Olympus, but I have been shooting with Olympus gear for several years now and have had several Olympus bodies (OMD EM1 Mark 1, EM1 Mark II and an EM5 Mark II). I also have a bunch of other gear (I shot some older Panasonic cameras I used before switching to Olympus), and prior to that, I was in the Canon system.

While I still have all my lenses, the camera bodies are now getting long in the tooth. I really liked my Canon gear but found that it was just too heavy for me because I tend to like to travel. However, I have lens options, and full-frame cameras use significantly larger lenses for similar focal length when compared to Micro 4/3rds.

Also, I tend to be a bit of a run-and-gun photographer, preferring to get to a position, compose my images, and move on. I don’t usually spend a great deal of time in one position, opting for more positions to work an image. Moreover, I don’t like having to pull out filters, switch lenses (if I can avoid it) or carry tripods (although I often have one with me somewhere).

Great and quick focus for macro photography

Lots of critics

When the EM1X first came out,  some critics were pretty negative about this camera before even seeing it. That’s because it’s an expensive camera based around a slightly older micro 4/3s sensor (same as the EM1 Mark II). While the features are all professional-grade (i.e., insane weather sealing, exceptional in-body image stabilization, speed, and unique computational photographic features, all based upon a 20 MP sensor), some critics felt it is too small.

Micro 4/3s size

Just as a reminder for those unfamiliar with micro 4/3rd sensors, a micro 4/3rd sensor is a sensor with a crop factor of 2. This means the sensor only covers about a quarter of the area of a full-frame (same size as a 35mm negative) sensor. Years ago, full-frame sensors were incredibly difficult to produce, and most sensors were crop sensors of one form or another. Now with advancing technology, full-frame sensors are more readily available, although they generally found in camera bodies with substantial price tags.

You can get blurred backgrounds with Micro 4/3rd lenses when you use faster primes

Costs vs. features

As an Olympus user, buying my own gear, I was a bit unsure of the cost (it is about $3,000 USD), which is about double the cost of the OMD EM1 Mark II ($1500 USD).  Now I have both.

I really liked my OMD EM1 Mark II, and it has been a workhorse for all my work. With very few complaints about it, the biggest thing I would like would be a bump in the continuous autofocus hit rate (it is already pretty good, but…).

I think all photographers chase better focus, especially now with the incredible autofocus systems on most cameras. The continuous autofocus on the EM1 Mark II was a huge improvement over the EM1 Mark I. It made it much easier to shoot moving subjects, but still wasn’t great for tracking.

In the new Olympus OMD-EM1X, on the surface, the other upgrades to the new body seemed more evolutionary than revolutionary (although I have since discovered that impression was not entirely correct).

In addition, the sensor seemed to be the same in the EM1 Mark II, so what was worth so much more?

Compared to the EM1 Mark II, the EM1X is only slightly bigger (the lens on the right is also a little bigger)

After I purchased the Olympus OMD-EM1X, I immediately realized that some of the cost differences between the models (EM1 Mark II and EM1X) were a little misleading. That’s because the EM1X comes with an integrated battery grip (you can purchase a non-integrated battery grip separately for the EM1 Mark II for US$250), an extra battery charger at US$59 and an extra battery which goes for US$54.  I have used the external battery grip (HLD-9) for my EM1 Mark II, and I’ve barely removed it since. This makes the overall cost difference a little less, but still, at about US$1,100 more, the 2 years newer EM1X is still the most expensive camera that Olympus sells.

Beyond the cost, I was initially a little reluctant to jump on the EM1X because of the slightly unusual marketing messaging on this product.

I am a professional photographer and need a solid, reliable camera that is quick to autofocus. Although this was clearly a premium model for the Olympus line and the most expensive camera they sell, Olympus seemed unwilling to state that it was their top model. They instead stated it had shared top billing with the Olympus EM1 Mark II. The EM1X seemed to be marketed only for wildlife and sports photography but is it more capable than just in those two areas?

Another big feature of the camera is the weather sealing. According to the advertising, you can expose this camera to a rainstorm and it will continue to work.

Portability of the system means you can get to more remote areas without carrying too much gear

The real-world results

In addition to some travel photography to Nevada and Madeira, I also took the Olympus OMD-EM1X backcountry camping for a few days.  While backcountry camping, it rained a great deal and I carried my EM1X for the entire time using a Peak Design capture clip on the outside of my backpack. I have also used the camera to photograph animals and some wildlife. The considerable differences are the weatherproofing, autofocus, in-body stabilization, field sensors, and some of the computational features.

The weather sealing of the camera and lens allowed me to clip it on the capture clip and didn’t require a separate bag

Weather resistance

It is a bit of an understatement to say that it is a weatherproof camera.  Lots of cameras claim to be weatherproofed, but in reality, you don’t want to get them wet.

With the Olympus OMD-EM1X, I was genuinely unconcerned when shooting even in a torrential downpour (except for how it would affect my composition).  I start focusing only on what I need to do to get the shot, not whether or not my camera will survive.

When you try to access the memory cards or the battery, there is no doubt that this camera is built to withstand the weather. I live in Northern Canada, and I have used the EM1 Mark II and the EM1X in bitterly cold conditions with lots of snow, and I can attest that neither is a problem for this camera.

Combined with the EM1X, the 12-100mm F4 has 7.5 stops of image stabilization and weather sealed goodness

While backcountry camping at Mount Robson in British Columbia, Canada, it rained most of the entire trip. At no time was I concerned about the EM1X, nor did I ever put it away to get it out of the rain.

This was not a concern shared by others. There were lots of other photographers with other camera brands around, and all had some type of weather shielding for their cameras (camera bags and plastic bags) even while shooting.

The biggest problem I encountered was trying to keep water off the front of the lens so I could take my images without big water drops in the image.

The EM1X got very wet but never showed any adverse consequences of the water. I never quite felt that confident with my EM1 Mark II, because of the battery grip attachment.

Feel

The EM1X is very solid, kind of like a tank. It feels great in hand, and it has key buttons in great locations. Unlike the EM1 Mark II that felt like the battery grip was always a little loose, the integrated battery grip significantly improves the overall ergonomics. In addition, by having both batteries in the same compartment, changing them out is trivial. With the EM1 Mark II, if one or both batteries depleted, getting the battery out of the main body required removal of the battery grip to get at the second battery compartment.

The use of locks for the battery grip and memory card slots give the EM1X a solid feel too.

New button layout

The new button layout has a real sense of purpose. With some cameras, it almost seems the designers couldn’t figure out where to put particular buttons, so they just put them anywhere. In this case, button placement is deliberate. The majority of buttons sit in the same position, regardless of whether the camera is in portrait or landscape orientation. This means there are two buttons for most functions.

I used back-button focus for many years on different cameras, and its placement has much improved for Olympus. The addition of the two-track pointers (both landscape and portrait) allow you to fine-tune your autofocus position while shooting.

Autofocus improvements

Continuous tracking is significantly better than the EM1 Mark II (firmware 2.3) with an ability to lock into a subject and stay on them even in a crowd. I was shooting my son’s lacrosse game and was amazed at how well the tracking held.

I know there are other makes of cameras with good tracking, but this one definitely ranks up there with the elite. It uses both phase and contrast detection and is super fast.

Autofocus allows for tracking of individuals during sports events

In-body image stabilization

It is claimed that the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) is up to 7.5 stops when used in combination with a stabilized lens. Most Olympus lenses don’t have stabilization; instead, they rely on in-camera stabilization. This means you can shoot handheld at times up to about 4-6 seconds and still get sharp photos.

Coming from Canon DSLRs that use only optical stabilization (same as Nikon), you need to pay attention to your shutter speed because of camera shake. This becomes a significant issue with higher megapixel images as the greater detail in the images means that camera shake is highly visible. The Olympus OMD-EM1X mostly eliminates this, and you can really use it to your advantage.

It is difficult to convey to someone how big a deal this is in practical shooting, particularly if you don’t have a tripod. It means you can leave your tripod behind (more often than you probably already do).

You can obtain high-resolution 50MP images handheld without the use of a tripod.

Field sensors

The field sensors provide a built-in GPS with all kinds of information about where you took the image. This includes altitude, temperature, and elevation. The information is baked into the metadata for the images so that it is there.

Prior Olympus cameras, in general, required communication with an app on your mobile phone to get this kind of data. This allows you to track the location of your images in applications such as Adobe Lightroom.

One word of caution, there are two options with how the field sensors activate. You can drain your battery quite fast (even if you are not using the camera) if you don’t use the battery conservation option.

In practical terms, it means that if you use the battery saver mode, you need to turn on the camera for a little while for the GPS to get the location. If you are too quick, it will be missing the GPS location data.

In real-world terms, when I was backcountry camping, the field sensors also showed elevation change and temperature.

High-Resolution Mode

For some time, Olympus has had a sensor-shift/high-resolution mode, where the camera takes a series of images to create a high-resolution image. It does so by moving the sensor 1/2 a pixel in each direction a total of eight times. This feature is not new and has been available on Olympus cameras for a few years.

It is also not the only camera manufacturer (there are only a few) that do this (implemented differently), but all require the use of a tripod.

On the Olympus EM1 Mark II, the resulting image is an 80 MP raw image. The EM1X has this same ability to do high-resolution images with a tripod and introduces the ability to do a high-resolution mode while handheld. To do this, the EM1X takes 16 images and combines them for a slightly smaller, but still high-resolution image (50 MP versus 80 MP).

The handheld, high-resolution mode works remarkably well.  The biggest problem for all of these implementations are moving subjects in the field of view. However, the high-resolution images still turn out quite well, with a noticeable bump in resolution.

Combining remote destinations and high-resolution captures can lead to great images

Simulated ND Filter

The EM1X has an ND mode, where you can simulate long exposure photography without the use of an ND filter.  This allows you to take daytime images of waterfalls, handheld, and without an ND filter.

The results are pretty good.  However, there are limits as to how it works, but the results are worth the effort.

In the end, you can achieve this using an actual ND filter – the results are similar. The ND Filter works well if you are a run-and-gun photographer.

Capturing a flowing stream during the day with normal settings

Using the ND filter allows for the blending of images and the simulation of using an ND filter but without a physical filter

Compact and customizable

If you look at the history of Olympus, you will realize that this is a company that has built its reputation on photographic cameras based on concepts of compact but capable cameras, with a significant emphasis on “compact” (this is not new).

This has always been the case and has been part of the brand for the past 100 years. More recently, Olympus has focused on digital cameras that are very well built, with great optics, incredibly customizable and with a compact form factor.

I also think that Olympus regularly tries to push the leading edge of features that surround the sensor. Things like in-body image stabilization, pixel shift high-resolution mode, and other computational features.

Beyond the new tricks, how about the old tricks?

The Olympus OMD-EM1X is heavier, but not by a huge amount. The ergonomics are great, and the Micro 4/3rd lens selection is fantastic (Olympus and Panasonic). The image quality has never really been an issue for me and my work. Olympus and Panasonic both make very fast lenses, and if you are looking for shallow depth of field, they have lenses that provide great bokeh.

On the downside, the EM1X is not a discrete street photographer type of camera. It is big, pronounced, and screams serious image-taking. There are many smaller bodies for Micro 4/3rds, but this camera delivers big overall.

I am a fan and am convinced.

Without diving into the rabbit hole of full-frame versus crop-sensor debate (there are lots out there), when you consider image size and resolution, you can use most modern cameras micro 4/3rd’s and up for most genres of photography.

In reality, unless you are printing very large (10 feet wide), cropping like mad or need crazy shallow depth of field, sensor size is for pixel peepers to worry about, not the average photographer. You can even use micro 4/3rds for astrophotography, but you really have to work at it.

For those who want to argue the benefits of full-frame sensors over micro 4/3rds, you could argue that the current gold standard is no longer any full-frame camera. Instead, it’s something more like the Fujifilm GFX 100 – a mirrorless medium-format 100 MP camera. These have many of the features of full-frame cameras, including weather sealing, in-body image stabilization, and dual memory card slots.

The camera is quite versatile.

The verdict?

This camera does certain things particularly well. If you are serious about your images, want to travel light, go into locations with harsh weather conditions and want to limit the use of additional gear (tripods and filters), this is the camera for you.

Most modern cameras can take great images in the right hands. The differences become features and suitability to the task.

Based on my real-world experiences, for most photographic imaging, the Olympus OMD-EM1X is up for it. It can do things other cameras can’t including durable weather sealing, handheld, high-resolution mode, ND filter simulation, very fast shooting (60fps without autofocus and 18fps with continuous autofocus) and crazy in-body image stabilization.

review-olympus-omd-em1x-camera

The post Real-World Review of the Olympus OMD-EM1X appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part 2 – Application

The post Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part 2 – Application appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

makeup application for photographers 9

A little makeup will help your images pop

In part 1, we explored the tools you need to be able to help your subjects. Once you have all those essentials for applying makeup, the next step is the hard one – application. Again, this overview is intended for photographers and not makeup artists. The approach should be about helping your portrait subjects look a little better in your images of them. However, it should not replace using an actual makeup artist if you have one available.

Makeup artists can do amazing work that takes a lot of time, effort and skill to become good at. You can’t become a makeup artist by simply reading one article. We are going to help you tweak what is already there rather than give tips on how to be a junior makeup artist.

Many models come to sessions with their own makeup

Virtual Makeup

Beyond makeup, there are lots of techniques for improving someone’s appearance in post-processing including adding virtual makeup. Virtual makeup programs and plug-ins have come a long way, but, as always, it is much easier to get the images correct in-camera and not rely on post-processing to fix everything.

Also, while it can be done, post-processing images can take a fair bit of time, so getting it right in-camera means very little post-processing. Little post-processing can end up saving you a tremendous amount of time, particularly if you are handling lots of images and tight timelines.

Virtual makeup can be virtually indistinguishable from regular makeup and is way better than excessive smoothing or reverse clarity.

Before applying makeup

In general, when you are applying makeup to an individual, there are a few factors to consider before applying makeup to them. First, you need to be aware if they are comfortable with makeup and with you applying it to their faces. Most women and few men are comfortable with makeup, however, there are both men and women who are not. Before you do anything to anyone, you need to ask for their consent. Also, ask how comfortable they are with letting you do anything regarding the application of makeup.

When you apply makeup to someone, you end up getting up close and personal (much like a haircut) and there are lots of people and cultures that frown on you entering their personal space. Your subjects need to feel beautiful or handsome but more importantly, they must feel comfortable.

 

Rule of thumb

The rule of thumb for photographers who are applying makeup to subjects is that you are looking for a very light touch of makeup (i.e. very little).

With women, just improve a little of what is already there (they may already have most of it down and may be way more skilled at it than you are).

For men, you are looking to remove the sheen and give them a light tan to look healthier. For all your subjects, think smoothing and getting rid of shine.

makeup application for photographers 8

Making subjects relaxed is important

Approach for women

Lots of women wear makeup everyday. Many will show up for a portrait session with the makeup that they normally use and are comfortable with. That’s really great. For these women, you will need to carefully consider or assess what you want to achieve before applying or correcting your subject’s makeup. Ideally, your subject’s makeup is just fine with no need for any changes or only some minor touch-ups. Only add or repair what’s needed for these subjects. Do not make their makeup worse.

Alternatively, some women don’t wear any makeup. So for them, you will need to let them know you will only be doing a little to help them look better in front of the camera. You are really trying to make them look their best – you will not be trying to fix them or to try to make them look like a supermodel. Everyone has great features, and everybody wants to feel attractive. Great photography will bring out their inner beauty. You are just trying to enhance what they have, not to make them look like something they are not. Some women will joke and ask you to take 10 years off. The best thing to do is to reassure them that you will make them look good.

Makeup for men is just a really light touch.

Approach for men

Most men don’t wear makeup. This means that you need to make them relax having makeup on.  Depending upon how and who the person is, will affect your approach. The best approach you can take is to tell them you are just cleaning some stuff up and making them look great. It will be really important for most men to tell them that you will be putting very little makeup on them.

As with most subjects, you tend to be dealing with normal people. Here is a before makeup shot of a typical subject. Ensure your subject’s face is clean and moisturized before adding makeup.

Preparation

If your subject arrives with no makeup, you may need to apply some very basic makeup. Ideally, their faces are at least clean before you start. If your subject’s face is not clean, recommend a splash of soap and water as well as cleaning with a clean applicator using an alcohol-free toner.

Beyond making people feel comfortable, you also need to be wary of any allergies. Before you start applying any makeup to anyone, make sure you know if they are allergic to any products. This ensures you don’t start applying some makeup only to have them feeling really bad and break out in hives.

Fair complexion individuals will benefit from a little bit of makeup by providing some definition.

Your first step is to use blotting paper to blot up any obvious oil spots. Simply press the blotting paper to the oily area, lift, and repeat as necessary, using a clean section of blotting paper each time. Never rub, just blot.

Concealing

This is a critical stage of applying makeup. Done well, concealing transforms small skin irregularities and get things right straight out of the camera. This saves retouching later in post-processing.  Using your smallest brush (the lip or concealer brush), dab concealer onto blemishes, dark circles under the eyes, and in any other areas that need a bit of correction. Dab on a bit of concealer with your brush, wait a minute or so, then use a clean finger to lightly dab the concealer to begin blending.

makeup application for photographers 7

Concealing involves targeting small imperfections to help people look more like themselves

As a photographer, you will be familiar with color theory. Now you need to think about it for makeup. Applying concealer normally requires you to think about color theory and shading. For example, apply green to red blotches; yellow to purple-blue under-eye circles on olive or tan skin, and light purple or pink to under-eye circles on fair skin.

Try to always use a flesh-toned concealer that is the same as, or slightly lighter than, your subject’s skin to allow the ability to even out the corrections.

Correcting or balancing foundation on women

With excess oil removed and any blemishes concealed, now you will need to look closely at your female subject’s foundation. Some women use too much foundation or don’t blend foundation enough along the jawline. If either applies to your subject, moisten a wedge sponge and use it to even out the foundation using light and gentle strokes. Pay particular attention to jawlines and hairlines. Ensure any makeup lines are smoothly blended out to make them invisible.

Alternatively, some women don’t apply enough foundation. If you find this to be the case with your subject, use your largest brush (the face brush) and brush on lightly-tinted setting powder. Powder will not provide deep coverage, but it will supplement a thin application of foundation.

Blush and contour for women

If you’ve never applied makeup to another person, this is the stage where you will initially feel particularly awkward using a brush and makeup. Even people with lots of practice on themselves can feel awkward doing it on someone else.  You may want to practice in advance by brushing makeup onto white sheets of paper, particularly textured paper like those used for watercolors.

A good application of foundation, blush and contour will make the subject’s face even

When you are ready to apply blush and contour to your subject, ask her to smile. Use a medium-sized brush to apply blush from the apex of her cheeks in a very slight curve down and then back up again, almost to her ears. Apply the blush in light strokes, brushing additional makeup in thin layers until you’ve achieved a look that is only slightly more dramatic than natural.

If you are feeling adventurous and confident, use your blush or powder brush with your bronzer to lightly contour the sunken area of her cheeks from about mid-cheek back to the hair line. A little contouring can go a long way. When you begin feeling more confident applying contour, consider applying it down the middle of a woman’s nose, at her temples, and on the tip of her chin. This application will make your subject’s face look a bit thinner.

Blending for women

For good makeup application, continued blending is key. Begin with a large face brush and lightly sweep in circles to begin to blend in the edges of the blush and contour you’ve applied. Finish blending by using the face brush to lightly brush on some flesh-colored translucent powder.

Highlight and manage shine

Setting powder can be used now to add some highlights to your subject’s face and to tone down any shiny areas. To add highlights, use a clean blush or face brush (be sure you’ve cleaned it of blush and contour). Dip the tip of the brush in some rice powder and gently touch the rice powder onto the areas you wish to highlight. Then use your face brush to blend.

Adding highlights to either side of the bridge of your subject’s nose, near the inside corners of her eyes, will brighten her eyes.

If your subject has some shiny areas (this may be all you need to correct for some clients), apply some rice powder on the shine using your face brush. Go easy on the application as you can overcorrect and end up with pale looking skin.

makeup application for photographers - 6

Smooth lips are never noticed, but rough ones always are. This is an easy thing to fix before taking a photo.

Lips

The last main step is to ensure your subject’s lips are smooth and moist looking. If your subject brought lipstick, use that. If not, or if her lips need a bit of moisture or shine, use a bit of lip gloss or balm. Apply the gloss or balm with a clean concealer or lip brush. Don’t use fingers or let your subject use her fingers as more lip gloss will end up on fingers than on lips.

A little bit of makeup can really bring out the individuals inner beauty

makeup application for photographers - 5

Final results coupled with good lighting can make for images people are proud to show others

Final assessment

Once complete, and at each intermediate stage, step back and assess what you have applied or corrected. Make sure it works. You can always layer on a bit more makeup where needed, but it’s much more difficult to remove too much makeup.

Applying makeup to men

Many men won’t refuse a bit of corrective makeup even if they feel awkward about it. Remember to limit makeup application for men to concealing and managing shine. You want them to look healthy, not made up.

makeup application for photographers - 4

For men just smoothing and a light touch are all that is necessary

Blot and conceal

As before with women, use blotting paper before applying any concealer. Men often produce more and heavier oil on their faces than women. If this oil is not blotted, the concealer will come off as you attempt to apply it. The same principles for applying concealer to women applies to men. You may only need to be a bit more diligent in blending concealer over shaved facial hair.  It may be trickier too with men who want that scruffy 5 o’clock shadow look or have a day’s growth of beard.

Managing shine

Rice powder works wonderfully to matte shine on a man’s face, especially on high foreheads and bald spots. Even if you are not able to completely matte shine in those areas, rice powder will bring the shine down enough that you will have texture to work with in those areas of the photograph when retouching.

As with women, apply rice powder to men lightly with a large face brush, blend well, and check to be sure you have not created pasty-white areas. If your client’s skin tone is dark and you are trying to matte significant shine, blend a little tinted translucent powder with the rice powder before applying.

Lips

Some men have dry or flaky lips, often from spending a lot of time outside. Ask if you can apply a small amount of clear lip balm. Rub the balm in well because you don’t want shiny traces on a man’s lips.

Before finishing up, take a close look at your client. Remove smudges, makeup flakes, or lint with a cotton swab. Use your face brush or a damp disposable sponge to blend any makeup that needs just a tiny bit more blending. And use a damp disposable sponge to remove stains or lint from clothing.

makeup application for photographers - 3

The judicial use of makeup can help people feel more confident for other types of posing.

Cleaning up

Finally, always clean your brushes and cosmetics after every use. You want to have sanitary makeup and brushes. Use a conditioning brush spray or isopropyl alcohol on your brushes. Use cosmetic sanitizer or isopropyl alcohol on your cosmetics so that you can use them for others. Throw away any disposable items you used. And always wash your hands with soap and running water or with sanitizer as soon as you are finished.

In the end, the desired result is for images people are proud of. To do that a little bit of makeup knowledge helps a photographer simplify his or her processes to get the best results

Practice, Practice, Practice

Applying makeup to another person does not come naturally. There is a reason why makeup artists are paid handsomely for their work. But with a few tools, a small bag of cosmetics, and practice, you will be able to address the worst of makeup or skin flaws before you capture your client’s portrait.

makeup application for photographers - part 2

The post Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part 2 – Application appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part 2 – Application

The post Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part 2 – Application appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

makeup application for photographers 9

A little makeup will help your images pop

In part 1, we explored the tools you need to be able to help your subjects. Once you have all those essentials for applying makeup, the next step is the hard one – application. Again, this overview is intended for photographers and not makeup artists. The approach should be about helping your portrait subjects look a little better in your images of them. However, it should not replace using an actual makeup artist if you have one available.

Makeup artists can do amazing work that takes a lot of time, effort and skill to become good at. You can’t become a makeup artist by simply reading one article. We are going to help you tweak what is already there rather than give tips on how to be a junior makeup artist.

Many models come to sessions with their own makeup

Virtual Makeup

Beyond makeup, there are lots of techniques for improving someone’s appearance in post-processing including adding virtual makeup. Virtual makeup programs and plug-ins have come a long way, but, as always, it is much easier to get the images correct in-camera and not rely on post-processing to fix everything.

Also, while it can be done, post-processing images can take a fair bit of time, so getting it right in-camera means very little post-processing. Little post-processing can end up saving you a tremendous amount of time, particularly if you are handling lots of images and tight timelines.

Virtual makeup can be virtually indistinguishable from regular makeup and is way better than excessive smoothing or reverse clarity.

Before applying makeup

In general, when you are applying makeup to an individual, there are a few factors to consider before applying makeup to them. First, you need to be aware if they are comfortable with makeup and with you applying it to their faces. Most women and few men are comfortable with makeup, however, there are both men and women who are not. Before you do anything to anyone, you need to ask for their consent. Also, ask how comfortable they are with letting you do anything regarding the application of makeup.

When you apply makeup to someone, you end up getting up close and personal (much like a haircut) and there are lots of people and cultures that frown on you entering their personal space. Your subjects need to feel beautiful or handsome but more importantly, they must feel comfortable.

 

Rule of thumb

The rule of thumb for photographers who are applying makeup to subjects is that you are looking for a very light touch of makeup (i.e. very little).

With women, just improve a little of what is already there (they may already have most of it down and may be way more skilled at it than you are).

For men, you are looking to remove the sheen and give them a light tan to look healthier. For all your subjects, think smoothing and getting rid of shine.

makeup application for photographers 8

Making subjects relaxed is important

Approach for women

Lots of women wear makeup everyday. Many will show up for a portrait session with the makeup that they normally use and are comfortable with. That’s really great. For these women, you will need to carefully consider or assess what you want to achieve before applying or correcting your subject’s makeup. Ideally, your subject’s makeup is just fine with no need for any changes or only some minor touch-ups. Only add or repair what’s needed for these subjects. Do not make their makeup worse.

Alternatively, some women don’t wear any makeup. So for them, you will need to let them know you will only be doing a little to help them look better in front of the camera. You are really trying to make them look their best – you will not be trying to fix them or to try to make them look like a supermodel. Everyone has great features, and everybody wants to feel attractive. Great photography will bring out their inner beauty. You are just trying to enhance what they have, not to make them look like something they are not. Some women will joke and ask you to take 10 years off. The best thing to do is to reassure them that you will make them look good.

Makeup for men is just a really light touch.

Approach for men

Most men don’t wear makeup. This means that you need to make them relax having makeup on.  Depending upon how and who the person is, will affect your approach. The best approach you can take is to tell them you are just cleaning some stuff up and making them look great. It will be really important for most men to tell them that you will be putting very little makeup on them.

As with most subjects, you tend to be dealing with normal people. Here is a before makeup shot of a typical subject. Ensure your subject’s face is clean and moisturized before adding makeup.

Preparation

If your subject arrives with no makeup, you may need to apply some very basic makeup. Ideally, their faces are at least clean before you start. If your subject’s face is not clean, recommend a splash of soap and water as well as cleaning with a clean applicator using an alcohol-free toner.

Beyond making people feel comfortable, you also need to be wary of any allergies. Before you start applying any makeup to anyone, make sure you know if they are allergic to any products. This ensures you don’t start applying some makeup only to have them feeling really bad and break out in hives.

Fair complexion individuals will benefit from a little bit of makeup by providing some definition.

Your first step is to use blotting paper to blot up any obvious oil spots. Simply press the blotting paper to the oily area, lift, and repeat as necessary, using a clean section of blotting paper each time. Never rub, just blot.

Concealing

This is a critical stage of applying makeup. Done well, concealing transforms small skin irregularities and get things right straight out of the camera. This saves retouching later in post-processing.  Using your smallest brush (the lip or concealer brush), dab concealer onto blemishes, dark circles under the eyes, and in any other areas that need a bit of correction. Dab on a bit of concealer with your brush, wait a minute or so, then use a clean finger to lightly dab the concealer to begin blending.

makeup application for photographers 7

Concealing involves targeting small imperfections to help people look more like themselves

As a photographer, you will be familiar with color theory. Now you need to think about it for makeup. Applying concealer normally requires you to think about color theory and shading. For example, apply green to red blotches; yellow to purple-blue under-eye circles on olive or tan skin, and light purple or pink to under-eye circles on fair skin.

Try to always use a flesh-toned concealer that is the same as, or slightly lighter than, your subject’s skin to allow the ability to even out the corrections.

Correcting or balancing foundation on women

With excess oil removed and any blemishes concealed, now you will need to look closely at your female subject’s foundation. Some women use too much foundation or don’t blend foundation enough along the jawline. If either applies to your subject, moisten a wedge sponge and use it to even out the foundation using light and gentle strokes. Pay particular attention to jawlines and hairlines. Ensure any makeup lines are smoothly blended out to make them invisible.

Alternatively, some women don’t apply enough foundation. If you find this to be the case with your subject, use your largest brush (the face brush) and brush on lightly-tinted setting powder. Powder will not provide deep coverage, but it will supplement a thin application of foundation.

Blush and contour for women

If you’ve never applied makeup to another person, this is the stage where you will initially feel particularly awkward using a brush and makeup. Even people with lots of practice on themselves can feel awkward doing it on someone else.  You may want to practice in advance by brushing makeup onto white sheets of paper, particularly textured paper like those used for watercolors.

A good application of foundation, blush and contour will make the subject’s face even

When you are ready to apply blush and contour to your subject, ask her to smile. Use a medium-sized brush to apply blush from the apex of her cheeks in a very slight curve down and then back up again, almost to her ears. Apply the blush in light strokes, brushing additional makeup in thin layers until you’ve achieved a look that is only slightly more dramatic than natural.

If you are feeling adventurous and confident, use your blush or powder brush with your bronzer to lightly contour the sunken area of her cheeks from about mid-cheek back to the hair line. A little contouring can go a long way. When you begin feeling more confident applying contour, consider applying it down the middle of a woman’s nose, at her temples, and on the tip of her chin. This application will make your subject’s face look a bit thinner.

Blending for women

For good makeup application, continued blending is key. Begin with a large face brush and lightly sweep in circles to begin to blend in the edges of the blush and contour you’ve applied. Finish blending by using the face brush to lightly brush on some flesh-colored translucent powder.

Highlight and manage shine

Setting powder can be used now to add some highlights to your subject’s face and to tone down any shiny areas. To add highlights, use a clean blush or face brush (be sure you’ve cleaned it of blush and contour). Dip the tip of the brush in some rice powder and gently touch the rice powder onto the areas you wish to highlight. Then use your face brush to blend.

Adding highlights to either side of the bridge of your subject’s nose, near the inside corners of her eyes, will brighten her eyes.

If your subject has some shiny areas (this may be all you need to correct for some clients), apply some rice powder on the shine using your face brush. Go easy on the application as you can overcorrect and end up with pale looking skin.

makeup application for photographers - 6

Smooth lips are never noticed, but rough ones always are. This is an easy thing to fix before taking a photo.

Lips

The last main step is to ensure your subject’s lips are smooth and moist looking. If your subject brought lipstick, use that. If not, or if her lips need a bit of moisture or shine, use a bit of lip gloss or balm. Apply the gloss or balm with a clean concealer or lip brush. Don’t use fingers or let your subject use her fingers as more lip gloss will end up on fingers than on lips.

A little bit of makeup can really bring out the individuals inner beauty

makeup application for photographers - 5

Final results coupled with good lighting can make for images people are proud to show others

Final assessment

Once complete, and at each intermediate stage, step back and assess what you have applied or corrected. Make sure it works. You can always layer on a bit more makeup where needed, but it’s much more difficult to remove too much makeup.

Applying makeup to men

Many men won’t refuse a bit of corrective makeup even if they feel awkward about it. Remember to limit makeup application for men to concealing and managing shine. You want them to look healthy, not made up.

makeup application for photographers - 4

For men just smoothing and a light touch are all that is necessary

Blot and conceal

As before with women, use blotting paper before applying any concealer. Men often produce more and heavier oil on their faces than women. If this oil is not blotted, the concealer will come off as you attempt to apply it. The same principles for applying concealer to women applies to men. You may only need to be a bit more diligent in blending concealer over shaved facial hair.  It may be trickier too with men who want that scruffy 5 o’clock shadow look or have a day’s growth of beard.

Managing shine

Rice powder works wonderfully to matte shine on a man’s face, especially on high foreheads and bald spots. Even if you are not able to completely matte shine in those areas, rice powder will bring the shine down enough that you will have texture to work with in those areas of the photograph when retouching.

As with women, apply rice powder to men lightly with a large face brush, blend well, and check to be sure you have not created pasty-white areas. If your client’s skin tone is dark and you are trying to matte significant shine, blend a little tinted translucent powder with the rice powder before applying.

Lips

Some men have dry or flaky lips, often from spending a lot of time outside. Ask if you can apply a small amount of clear lip balm. Rub the balm in well because you don’t want shiny traces on a man’s lips.

Before finishing up, take a close look at your client. Remove smudges, makeup flakes, or lint with a cotton swab. Use your face brush or a damp disposable sponge to blend any makeup that needs just a tiny bit more blending. And use a damp disposable sponge to remove stains or lint from clothing.

makeup application for photographers - 3

The judicial use of makeup can help people feel more confident for other types of posing.

Cleaning up

Finally, always clean your brushes and cosmetics after every use. You want to have sanitary makeup and brushes. Use a conditioning brush spray or isopropyl alcohol on your brushes. Use cosmetic sanitizer or isopropyl alcohol on your cosmetics so that you can use them for others. Throw away any disposable items you used. And always wash your hands with soap and running water or with sanitizer as soon as you are finished.

In the end, the desired result is for images people are proud of. To do that a little bit of makeup knowledge helps a photographer simplify his or her processes to get the best results

Practice, Practice, Practice

Applying makeup to another person does not come naturally. There is a reason why makeup artists are paid handsomely for their work. But with a few tools, a small bag of cosmetics, and practice, you will be able to address the worst of makeup or skin flaws before you capture your client’s portrait.

makeup application for photographers - part 2

The post Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part 2 – Application appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

How to Achieve Cool Urban Cityscapes

The post How to Achieve Cool Urban Cityscapes appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Cool Urban Landscapes through post-processing

Creating an emotional response

How you present your images can really affect one’s emotional response to them. Certain styles of image lend themselves to stylistic changes because they can create a specific emotional response when the viewer sees them. For example, film-based black and white images, when done well, present a sense of timelessness and can make things seem more serious. Similarly, high dynamic range images (HDR), when done well, can add “pop” to landscape photography. One particular style of image that lends itself to stylized treatments through post-processing is urban landscapes. Particularly if you are trying to make an already interesting image look more appealing based upon the lighting already present.

Crushed black and blown highlights on a street scene

Gritting and moody

Similar to black and white images, a high-contrast, selectively saturated look works well to create urban landscapes with a gritty and moody feel.

Using filters for effect

Nowadays, smartphone and some consumer cameras, have a great deal of pre-packaged stylistic treatments available that you can apply to photographs to try to evoke an emotional response. Someone, somewhere, has spent a great deal of time creating those filters to make your images feel as though they are from a different time or place.

For example, the classic 1970s snapshot look is full of color shifts and light leaks. They were common at that time because of the use of unstable film stocks and cheap cameras. Digital cameras don’t suffer the same issues that were present at that time. So, to simulate these conditions, adding light leaks and color shifts can make images feel vintage. There are many filters out there – each with their own effects.

Lit up Las Vegas

Make your own filters

To put the idea of emotional response to images in context, think about a familiar treatment that you are probably already aware of: black and white images. These photographs are rarely just images with the color drained. Good black and white images are contrast-rich with deep blacks and bright whites. The grey middle ground of many images can lose their impact when drained of color. Many black and white films had specific response curves that created the contrast-rich images. So now, with digitally-captured images that are black and white, they can appear a little sterile and plain. Adding high-contrast effects and grain to simulate film black and white tends to create an emotional response and mood.

To improve as a photographer, most people start, at some point, to try to take a more artistic approach to their images. Many newer photographers may start with simple prepackaged filters and presets, and apply them to their images. Currently, there is no end to the filters available in pretty much any photo sharing application and many cameras. From terms like “cool,” “50s,” “vintage,” and “grunge,” all these filters are stylizing the image for an emotional effect. Instagram was built on filters. People are very used to stylized images.

Old Montreal

Creating your own style

Becoming a better photographer involves the deliberate use of styles to create your desired effect. You may find there are particular filters you gravitate towards; styles that evoke an emotional response you like.

This is the beginning of finding your own style of image making. As you advance, you might explore manipulating images with Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, Skylum Luminar or some similar program.

When you get to the point where you are working with and creating your own filters, you create your style. You can start by playing with filters or dissect other photographer’s images that you really like to see if you can recreate that style.

Surprisingly, creating set styles in many photo imaging software packages is quite easy. It allows you to recreate your style and apply it repeatedly to multiple images.

Notre Dame in Montreal

Create your filter

Let’s consider the urban, gritty look for urban landscapes.

Here are two treatments of the same image, split for comparison. On the right is the Straight Out Of the Camera (SOOC) jpeg and on the right is the treatment with the blacks crushed, highlights blown, oranges highlighted and an almost selective color approach.

It is easy to create for yourself with whatever tweaks you like to create a style for yourself.

Comparison of straight out of the camera to the final product

A word of warning is necessary at this point. When you start stylizing your images with intentionally weird effects, you may generate some negative comments from people who don’t like the look you create. This does not mean you have failed to create something interesting. However, it means you have generated an emotional response to your image by someone who doesn’t care for that look.

Remember that some people find that they can only validate their work by diminishing others. Whereas, most find growth in encouraging others to take risks with their art. A true artist picks their vision and follows it. Sometimes it can be a bumpy road if you are only expecting validation from others.

It is important at some time for you to consider yourself an artist and not just a recorder of images.

All art is about creating an emotional response. Beyond capturing a moment, it is how that moment makes you feel. Emotional responses can be positive or negative.

Atwater Market in Montreal

It turns out this crushed-blacks, blown highlights, contrasty, desaturated, and the almost selective color look isn’t that tough to create for yourself. However, for this particular effect, you may do some damage to your photos by intentionally making some parts too black and other parts too bright.

So let’s look at the images I think work for this type of treatment. Shots typically taken at dusk/night, with artificial illumination present, add interesting artistic character for the urban landscapes shot.

Use a Raw Image Processor or Lightroom

I use Adobe Camera Raw to do most of the edits to these images, but you can use Lightroom or any image processing software to create a similar style. My suggestion is you modify and tweak it to your liking to get the desired effect.  The tools are similar, but just in different places. Also, even though I process these images with a raw converter, you don’t have to use a RAW image (although that is always the best starting point) and can use a JPEG or DNG file.  The treatment will look very similar.

To start, open your image with the raw converter.

Opening up the Raw Processor

 

With your raw converter, you have access to many parameters that act globally on your image.

Change the sliders as shown on the panel below.

Specifically, you want to make sure you have the desired white balance (it may be fine from what your camera selected, or you may want to resample).  You want to up the Contrast hard, more than you probably have done previously to make those hard edges at the light and dark parts of your image. You then do two things that seem contrary – you are going to pull the details out of the shadows (increase the Shadow slider) and make the Blacks blacker (crushing the blacks).

Finally, boosting the Clarity increases the midtone contrasts, boosting the Vibrance boosts the midtone colors and toning down the Saturation prevents them from looking too candy-colored.

Here’s my panel for example:

 

Adjustments for the effect

Once you have made a look that you like the effect of, you can make this a repeatable look by creating a user preset.

Switch to the presets tab and then make a new preset.

You will be prompted to add a preset name. Pick something relevant to your style and save it. Next time you pull up an image (or multiple images) in your raw processor, you can simply highlight them all and apply the presets at once.

How to save the effect

A lot of these settings may cause parts of your image to clip. The crushed blacks mean that much of the detail in the blacks disappear. The boosted colors lead to clipped highlights. However, in the end, that’s okay because that is the desired effect.

Here’s a Pro-Tip: All those presets you can buy for Lightroom and Photoshop essentially do a version of this. You can create those presets if you have the time and the inclination to do it yourself. By doing it yourself, you create an image style that appeals to you.

Edmonton Skyline

Conclusion

Art is about evoking an emotion. Sometimes photographers try too hard to make an image that looks too lifelike and loses emotional impact. You can create urban landscape images that are moody and gritty by making them dark with blasted colors and blown highlights. It also opens doors to other types of manipulations used for images warranting other types of emotional reactions.

Old building in the Westmount area of Montreal

 

The post How to Achieve Cool Urban Cityscapes appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part I – The Tools

The post Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part I – The Tools appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Makeup! Before I took photographs (and as a guy), I rarely used or had to use makeup, so I had very limited personal experience with it. That being said, I have taken portrait photographs of beautiful women that have been professionally made up, and I can honestly say it really makes a difference through the lens of a camera.

The best makeup is always barely noticeable – you only focus on the subject. It is truly a skill to do makeup well. Getting a good makeup artist to help with your portraits will always make the images better. However, in many cases, a makeup artist is not available, so the next best thing is to do it yourself to help deal with specific issues and get better results.

Made up Model

Best results

For the best portrait shooting results, you want subjects that are well rested and healthy. You also want interesting locations, great lighting, and skill behind the camera.

Although the last three are things you have control over, you generally have limited control over your subjects.

Other than suggesting your subjects be well hydrated and rested, there is little you can do to change your given subjects. Makeup can help improve the overall appearance of your subject by balancing skin tones, correcting most skin imperfections and even change the perceived shape of a subject’s face.

Well-applied makeup will also boost the effects of good lighting and minimize retouching.

Same model different makeup

Nothing new

Fashion and glamour photographers have long known the benefits of makeup and often employ a makeup artist on their sets. Most portrait photographers don’t have the budget or benefit of a makeup artist on location particularly if you are only doing one or two portraits.

Usually, the portrait photographer is working with the makeup that the subject shows up with (or lack thereof).

Any corrections are often done in post-production to deal with shine, blotchy skin, and uneven skin tones.

However, with a few makeup items supplied and a bit of practice, any photographer can develop enough skill to apply basic makeup and improve a portrait straight out of the camera (SOOC).

All subjects benefit from a little makeup (female, male and other), as long as they are human.

Even males benefit from a little makeup

Basic requirements

Let’s consider the basics of a useful makeup kit, simple application techniques, and hygiene requirements.  Makeup artists will spend lots of money on equipping their kits, but you only need a few items to apply simple makeup before a portrait session.

There are, however, two important things you need to consider before putting together your own makeup kit.

Makeup will make many women feel special

First, poor quality products generate poor results. You don’t need to purchase the very best products but getting cosmetics from a reputable makeup store, a cosmetics counter at a department store or a pharmacy with a larger cosmetics section will produce better results. You can purchase online, but it is best if you know what you are getting.

As a male photographer purchasing cosmetics, be prepared for comments from some stores about getting stuff for your wife or girlfriend mostly because men buying makeup is less common.

Men will often be unaccustomed with makeup

Secondly, people are becoming more considerate of products that have fewer animal byproducts and are free of animal testing. Most people do not want weird stuff on their faces, and you will want to be respectful of people’s wishes.

Brushes and applicators

Ideally, you should have three brushes – a face brush, blush or powder brush, and a concealer brush. Brushes need to be soft durable and able to be easily cleaned. Generally, it is a good practice to purchase good quality synthetic brushes. Always ensure that the larger brushes are very soft and pliable.

Brushes and Applicators

The face brush is the largest and fluffiest of all the makeup brushes. They are often about 2 inches wide with bristles curves into a rounded shape.  The blush or powder brush is a medium-sized soft brush that is about 1 inch wide with curved edges. The third brush is a concealer or lip brush which is small, about 0.25 to 0.5 inches wide with tapered ends.

In addition to brushes, wedge-shaped disposable sponges are handy for all sorts of things. Cotton swabs are indispensable but buy a brand name because inexpensive bands tend to cause more of a mess than they clean up. Disposable hand towels (thicker than paper towels) are useful for cleaning up. Finally, blotting film or facial blotting paper is the last disposable item you need for a brush/applicator.

The cosmetics

Although there is a lot of makeup out there, this kit is not intended to replace a makeup artist, it is just to help you, so you can get away with a surprisingly small collection of cosmetics to pull it together. There may be additional things but start with the basics.

Cosmetics

Translucent loose-setting powder will have a very light skin tone color in the jar but applies neutrally on almost all skin tones. These powders are often mineral based.

Concealer is an inexpensive staple for any makeup kit. You can get smaller collections, but often you can get a wheel or concealer palette that has multiple colors to adjust for skin tones.

Blush or bronzer is used to give the cheeks a little color and make you look a little suntanned as well.

Rice powder is a very fine, light, loose white or very pale powder use for absorbing excess oils and highlighting features. It should almost be invisible and is not expensive.

Lip gloss can be super simple and does not need to be a bold color. Just a simple stick of clear lip gloss or slightly tinted balms will do the job.

Great results straight out of the camera

Cleaning and sanitizing products

For non-makeup people, the importance of cleaning up hands, brushes, and cosmetics cannot be understated. You really need to keep everything clean, particularly if you intend to use the makeup for more than one person (but even then you need to clean up your brushes).

Key staples are hand sanitizer, a brush cleaner (baby shampoo will do), and a cosmetic sanitizer. Use unscented hand sanitizer to keep your hands clean before and after every makeup application.

The brush cleaner is essential to keep the brushes functional. Finally, the cosmetic sanitizer gets applied to the cosmetics after use. Isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle works but tends to discolor the makeup with repeated use. It is best to get a proper sanitizing mister made especially for cosmetic products.

Makeup as an art

Applying makeup takes skill. To become skilled, you need to practice. Before you start applying makeup to a paying subject, you need to practice on someone who doesn’t mind you practicing on them. There is a reason why makeup artists are paid well for their work. It is hard, and they make it look easy.

Couples will enjoy it too

Conclusion of Part I

With all this equipment you are ready to help your clients look better for their portraits. In part 2, we cover the techniques and basic skills to apply makeup to your clients. The intent is not to make you a makeup artist, but to help smooth features and improve the look of your portraits straight out of the camera. That way, you don’t have to spend a lot of time post-processing your images.

It doesn’t replace a true makeup artist’s work

 

The post Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part I – The Tools appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

How to Photograph Frozen Bubbles in the Cold

The post How to Photograph Frozen Bubbles in the Cold appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Bubbles in the Air

I live somewhere that gets pretty cold in the winter, and occasionally it gets super-cold. Alright, discussing cold is always a relative measure depending upon where you live, but I may be understating a bit to say it gets pretty cold, when actually, it gets freezing by pretty much anyone’s measure. Fortunately for my family and me, it only gets challenging for about a week or two in the depths of winter.

In the hardest times, temperatures reach around -30C (-22F). At these temperatures, there is very little moisture in the air, and it is just plain cold. Extra layers only help a little bit. Frostbite is a very significant risk for any exposed skin, particularly if there is any wind (times to freeze exposed skin are less than a couple of minutes).  Many people here wear the temperatures they endure almost as a badge of honor.

So cold we can freeze bubbles before they pop

It gets really cold here

At these temperatures, everything freezes here – even things you probably didn’t think could freeze. The large river that goes through my city freezes for the entire winter. Starting sometime in November until breakup in April, eyelashes and beards freeze, camera lenses freeze (aperture blades and shutters won’t move) and cars require block heaters to keep the oil in the crankcase warm enough so that you can start the engines.

There are colder places on earth, but not that many.  During our recent cold snap from the polar vortex (very cool name but I’m not sure its a real thing), people compared it to temperatures in Antarctica (it was slightly colder here than there).

It gets pretty cold here

So what, who cares?

Realistically, apart from complaining about the weather (a common national pastime for Canadians… look it up) you don’t want to spend much time outside at these freezing temperatures. So why tell you about crazy frigid temperatures? Because there is something that you can do at these temperatures that you can’t really do if it isn’t cold enough. You can blow bubbles and take pictures of them freezing before your eyes. The effect is remarkable, and it happens very fast. Frozen bubbles! If you can blow bubbles, you can watch them freeze before your eyes.

The process is pretty quick. The ideal temperature to do this is when temperatures dip below about -20C or -4F. At temperatures higher than that, the bubbles don’t freeze the same way. Blowing bubbles at these subzero temperatures can be challenging, but if you take the time, you can get some amazing results.

Bubbles on a bubble wand

The science of bubbles

Bubbles are common phenomena that kids love playing with. They seem very simple, but the science behind them is quite complicated. Bubbles are made up of two soap films – inside layer and outside layer – holding and trapping a layer of water between them to form the bubble. When you blow the bubbles through a wand or a straw, the air you introduce expands the inner film layer to create the bubble. As the water evaporates, the bubble eventually bursts. The bubbles stay together based upon the surface tension (the tendency to stick together) of the soap film, but the film is, in general, very thin.

In warm weather, soap and water are all you require for making lots of bubbles, but at colder temperatures, the soap film needs to be stronger. By adding glycerine or corn syrup, you make the bubbles stronger. By adding a small number of sugar crystals, the bubbles will show crystal patterns in the bubble walls as they freeze. The main ingredients you need access to are water, dish soap, glycerine, and some sugar.

Ingredients to make frozen bubble images

The 3 W’s and 1 H

In preparation for shooting bubbles, the key questions before you start are WHERE, WHAT, HOW and WHEN. Because the temperatures are so cold, you need to plan everything in advance because you can’t spend that much time in these temperatures trying to guess what you are going to do next. You need to pick a spot to set your bubble down (this is not a floating bubble exercise). This is the WHERE. Preferably it is someplace convenient, at a reasonable height and near a source of warmth (like somewhere near a door or running car to get you inside).

You then need to decide on the WHAT, is there a particular look you are going for? Is there an effect you are trying to achieve? (Night shot? Candles?)

Next, you need to think about HOW. How are you going to compose the shot? How are you going to blow the bubbles? What is the background like (this is a key aspect)? How are you going to manage both focusing, bubble making and shot taking? Are you going to need a tripod?

Finally, the WHEN is the last part to consider. You need to pick a time of day on a day that is cold enough to create the effect, that has great light and when there is little to no wind (this disrupts the bubbles). Wind will quickly destroy any efforts to blow bubbles in the cold.

Bubble frozen solid with corn syrup

The WHERE

So let’s consider the WHERE.

It will be cold, so you will need to scout a location that is easy to get to, at a reasonable height to photograph preferably from a tripod (to free up your hands) and is relatively near warmth.

These are normally close-up images, so it presents some similar challenges as macro photography. You really can be just about anywhere as long as you don’t have distracting shapes, colors or patterns in the background. Ideally, if you choose a reasonable aperture, the bokeh will have the background blurred but significant shapes, colors or patterns will be apparent.

I used the snowy railing on my back deck as a place I would set up for my shots because it was close to my house, at waist height and I can control the background.

Frozen bubble with a dark background

The WHAT

Regular bubbles don’t really work in super cold temperatures. The bubble mixtures that work in the summer struggle in super-cold temperatures and tend to just burst before freezing. In cold temperatures, bubbles can be more difficult to generate. Even if you do, they often just fall to the ground.

If you search the internet, you will get lots of clear advice but little in the way of explanation. I found and tried multiple recipes for bubbles and discovered that some of the recipes don’t work all that great. All generate bubbles, but some work better than others.

The general objective is to get bubbles with thicker films that tend to stay together. Also, by adding some sugar, you can get cool crystalline patterns as the bubbles freeze.

The recipe I settled on (as it worked fairly reliably) was 1 cup of water, 4 tablespoons of dish soap (not dishwasher soap), 3 tablespoons of glycerine and 2 tablespoons of sugar. I saw many recipes that used corn syrup, but they didn’t seem to work as well as the glycerine and made for sticky bubbles. However, corn syrup does work – just not as well. The glycerine strengthens the bubble, and the sugar helps with the crystalline patterns in the freezing bubbles.

To blow the bubbles, you will need a straw and some patience. Preferably you use a reusable straw (which I have a bunch of).

Regular Bubble solutions don’t really work for freezing bubbles

The HOW

Once you have figured out your location, you need to compose your shot. Plan on a bubble being about 3 inches in diameter (could be bigger but probably won’t be smaller). Set your camera on a tripod, pick the spot where you are placing the bubble and set your focus manually.

You can set the bubble on snow, or if you use the bottom of a cup or glass, a small amount of solution on the base helps place the bubble easier and without it popping. It is also useful to have your camera set up to take multiple shots (slow burst) without recomposing or refocusing.

Bubble with focus on the back wall rather than front wall

Once set, use a straw in the solution and slowly blow the bubbles. You will need to keep the bubble on the straw, place the bubble and slowly extract the straw from the top of the bubble. This technique worked best for me. Remember it is cold, and blowing bubbles is not that easy when it very cold.

The WHEN

Okay, you are all set…but is it cold enough? You need -20C (-4F) or the bubbles don’t freeze properly. Ideally, you want it sunny as the light hitting the bubbles really makes them pop. The good news is that generally when it is really cold, there is so little moisture in the air that it is often sunny.

Finally, you want there to be as little wind as possible. The wind will cause the bubbles to move unpredictably and cause them to burst. Try to find a location sheltered from the wind.

Using a candle to illuminate a bubble at night

The Shoot

Once all the preparation is complete, and you are ready to go, you may realize that it is difficult to blow bubbles, wear gloves, stay warm and shoot at the same time. Once the bubbles start to freeze, they freeze fast. You will want to place the bubble and then watch for it to begin to freeze and then take multiple images in a short burst.

If you can have someone blow bubbles for you, this helps because getting the bubbles to form, place them and then hope they stay together long enough for the images to turn out can be a bit of a challenge. It is a little finicky to get the bubbles to stay where you want them but if all the stars align the results are great and fun.

Mostly frozen bubble

The Results

If you get everything working, you can get pretty amazing results.  Whether for still images or video, bubbles freezing are really interesting to see and photograph. If you plan out the images, you can get great results.

Not quite frozen bubble

 

The post How to Photograph Frozen Bubbles in the Cold appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Have Digital Filters Replaced the Need for Physical Lens Filters?

The post Have Digital Filters Replaced the Need for Physical Lens Filters? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Do you need filters for beautiful pictures?

If you are old enough to have used a film camera, you know why people needed lens filters in order to accomplish visual effects in their images.  Back in the film days, you had limited control over white balance or ISO. Once you selected your film from the available film stock, and put it in your camera, you were stuck with a roll (24 or 36 exposures) of single ISO negative or slide film that was probably daylight balanced. In order to not waste money, you did everything you could to carefully mete out your images and make the most of them.

Most film was daylight balanced so getting it right in-camera was critical

Back in the day

To help you make great images in the film days, you needed certain filters to help fix your white balance, and neutral density (ND) filters to allow you to slow your shutter speeds down. That was then, this is now. With the advent of digital cameras and the high-powered abilities of most image editing software, you can accomplish digitally much of the work that filters used to do.  Is there still a place in modern digital photography for optical lens filters?

The answer is yes, but only for a few specific types of filters. In fact, you may find it difficult to get many filters in your local camera store that would have been readily available in the film camera days.  Most bricks and mortar camera stores carry few filters. The more unusual filters might be found in the bargain bin section, next to the books on how to use your new Canon 5D mark 1 (hint: that is an old digital camera).

Some filters have to be really large to accommodate wide angle lenses

Types of Optical Lens Filters

I find that optical lens filters break down into six general types: UV/skylight filters, color modifiers, special effects, specialty filters, ND filters (including graduated), and circular polarizers. Most optical filters can be replaced by digital processes, either in the camera itself or in post-production. Some optical filters are really big and all take up space in your bag.

Ultraviolet (UV) or Skylight filters

Let’s consider UV or skylight filters. Film stock was often sensitive to UV light so it was important to protect your film by using a filter so that UV light wouldn’t make the images hazy.  Modern digital cameras are not susceptible to UV light interfering with their sensors as there are already UV and IR filters built into the cameras (we will discuss the importance of this later). Today, UV or skylight filters serve a completely different purpose: many photographers use them to protect the front element of their lenses.

A UV or Skylight Filter will protect your lens front element

UV/Skylight filters as lens protection

As an aside, there are two schools of thought regarding UV or skylight filters. Some argue that putting a cheap filter in front of a really expensive lens significantly degrades the optical properties of your lens and that most good quality lenses have great coatings and are quite robust.  Alternatively, others would prefer to replace a $100 filter than replace a $2000 lens. While I agree you should never use cheap filters, I do tend to think that if you use good filters they do protect your investment in much more expensive lenses. I have replaced lots of filters that were shattered from an impact. In all of those cases, the front lens elements were protected from contact by the filter. I am not sure that would have occurred without the sacrificial filters.

Regardless, since these UV/skylight filters don’t cause any significant changes to your image, they really are only useful for physical lens protection.

A warming filter to adjust white balance

Color filters

Color filters were another common filter used with film cameras for simple color correction. Back in the film days, the film stock was mostly daylight balanced so if your images were taken in non-daylight conditions, you would need to use a color filter to correct your white balance. Although film processors had some ability to adjust the white balance in the lab, back then – today too, for that matter – it was always easier when you got things right in camera. Color filters are still available but are more of a novelty item, used for a specific effect, often in concert with gelled flashes and strobes. They are also still used for film cameras, instant cameras, and for specific applications like underwater photography.

Special effects filters

Once upon a time, there were lots of special effects filters that would produce in-camera special effects like grids, streaks, and starbursts. These all still work on digital cameras, however, most of these effects can be digitally produced, reducing the need for the optical filter. Many film shooters will take their images and then scan them to edit them, so the extra effort and cost of using special effects filters seem unnecessary. They are also difficult to find.

Rectangular Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Neutral Density Filters – Graduated

The next filter type to consider is the neutral density filters, commonly used by landscape photographers (both film and digital). These divide into two groups: graduated neutral density filters and overall neutral density filters. Acting like sunglasses for your camera, graduated neutral density filters are all neutral colored – they should impart little color change – and darken only part of the image. Graduated filters help deal with the dynamic range of your sensors, particularly when shooting into scenes that are very bright and very dark in the same view. Most modern digital cameras have a dynamic range of about 10 – 14 stops whereas your eyes are more like 20 stops. Keep in mind that this is not really a fair comparison because our eyes work quite differently from camera sensors. Graduated neutral density filters can usually be applied in post-processing. Although, if the dynamic range is really huge, it often means you can take one image rather than multiple images that need to be composited (this is what HDR images really are).

The left shows the image normally processed with the right having a digital neutral density filter

Neutral Density Filters – Non-Graduated

A neutral density filter (non-graduated) is the first optical filter type that does things that cannot be easily duplicated, either in camera or in post-production. At least not all of its functions. While it is certainly possible to darken your images digitally in post, a non-graduated neutral density filter allows you to take images that your camera would not allow you to take in full sunlight. In full sun, it may be so bright that you may not be able to stop your lens down and slow your shutter down sufficiently to get motion to blur. Non-graduated neutral density filters allow you to slow your shutter speed down in the field when conditions are bright. You will be able to take images of moving subjects in bright locales and blur the motion to create interesting effects.  For example, waterfalls are often shot using a non-graduated neutral density filter. Neutral density filters are often measured in stops to indicate the number of stops you can slow things down. At the extreme end of the non-graduated neutral density filters are the specialty filters used for photographing solar eclipses. Without these strong filters, the sun can permanently damage camera sensors.

Neutral Density Filters on the front element of the lens

Smooth water motion with a non-graduated neutral density filter for longer exposures

Specialty filters

The second optical filter type that cannot be duplicated in post-processing or in-camera are specialty filters related to UV and IR light.  By default, cameras have filters on their sensors that cut UV and IR light out so that only visible light is recorded. However, it is possible to get these filters removed (you have to send your camera body away) to allow you to shoot UV-only, full spectrum (which includes UV, visible and IR), or IR-only images. Once this is done, your modified camera is generally limited to that particular use, but the images it produces can be quite interesting. By using specialty filters on a modified camera body that allows for full spectrum, you can control what portion of the spectrum is visible in your images. There are cut filters that allow full spectrum sensors to only see UV, visible light or IR spectrum. These filters cannot be duplicated in post-processing.

Slight neutral density cast for a circular polarizer

Circular Polarizers

The final optical filter type that cannot be duplicated in post-processing is a circular polarizerThere are actually two types of polarizers, linear and circular. They both cut the same light out but circular polarizers can rotate an allow you to find the optimal orientation whereas linear polarizers are fixed (you should only use circular polarizers unless you know what you are doing). Circular polarizers do two things: cut down reflections and increase contrast. Some also act as a weak neutral density filter. When light hits a metallic or watery surface, the reflected light tends to be polarized (all the light is vibrating in the same direction). The circular polarizer lets you filter out this polarized light. You do this by turning the filter.  The change can be quite dramatic, and it cannot be achieved in any practical sense through post-processing. In addition, because there is always some polarized light in the atmosphere, the filter will make the colors in your images punchier. This is a secondary feature of polarizers but adds to their use. Colors just pop more.  Different brands and types alter how much this occurs. In general, you can’t go wrong using a circular polarizer, particularly for landscape photography.

Circular Polarizers help control reflections

Conclusion

Many filters that were used with film cameras are not really required anymore because of the ability to control white balance and ISO. Other filters created effects that can easily be duplicated using image editing software like Photoshop. Despite this there are a few filter types that cannot be replaced by processes applied in post, thus they remain vital tools in your photographer’s toolbox.

Do you use filters? Share with us in the comments below.

 

 

The post Have Digital Filters Replaced the Need for Physical Lens Filters? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Photographing Small Things – A Personal Voyage

The post Photographing Small Things – A Personal Voyage appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

1 - Photographing Small Things - A Personal Voyage

Souvenir Mask

When you photograph an item for a marketing campaign, or to record its physical condition, it’s called product photography. This is a very specialized type of photography. While you may never be commissioned to photograph a commercial product, some of the techniques used in product photography may have relevance to your personal life.

Perhaps these techniques offer a solution to a problem many people don’t recognize – hanging on to reminders of people, places or events from the past.

2 - Photographing Small Things - A Personal Voyage

Ostrich Egg on a pedestal

A collection of small things

My wife’s uncle Larry recently passed away. Larry was an incredible guy and was a man of good taste. For a period of about 10 years during his late 60’s and 70’s, he traveled to many far-flung parts of this blue orb we call home. During his travels, he acquired an extensive collection of items that I reluctantly call souvenirs.

To Larry, these items represented mementos, memories and valued objects from his travels. Now that he has passed, any monetary value of these objects is unknown. The stories of their origin, that ultimately made them of personal value to Larry, have been lost. It is left to us to figure out what to do with his extensive collection. There are boxes and boxes of these things, most of which are unlabeled.

Going beyond Larry’s collection, when I look around my house, I see pieces of furniture that remind me of my long passed parents. Most of these are not functional, nor do they match my personal taste. I keep them around because they evoke memories. My wife came up with a novel idea that seemed to resonate with everyone: create a photographic series to preserve the memories that the collection of material objects represents. Perhaps more correctly, for me to create this collection. This digital photographic record would certainly occupy less space than the physical objects.

3 - Photographing Small Things - A Personal Voyage

Small figure on a black background

Combining approaches to product photography and archival photography

For this project, I am combining the approaches to product photography and archival photography. I am photographing the objects as though I am going to sell them, and recording the images from many perspectives so that the record of their existence is complete. We may also be able to use the resulting images to figure out if the objects have any value outside of our family. From there, we can decide what to sell, what to give away, and what to keep for ourselves and other family members.

4 - Photographing Small Things - A Personal Voyage

African Mask, a larger piece on a black background

To give you an idea of the project scale, I have 15 boxes containing between 10 and 20 objects each. So we are talking about 200 – 300 objects. Although I have made a dent in the collection, at the time of writing, I still have a long way to go. However, my workflow and objective are solidifying.

In doing product or archival photography, you need good, controlled light with limited shadows. Shadows are great for portraits and drama, but they detract from an image captured for archival purposes where you want to capture the object’s details. You also need to control reflections and ensure that the light appears to come from everywhere.

5 - Photographing Small Things - A Personal Voyage

This glass bowl with gold leaf gilding was highly reflective

Equipment

I considered using a studio strobe setup. It’s a great way to light things, but it can get complicated when dealing with smaller objects. It also takes up a great deal of space. It’s generally intended for bigger objects in larger spaces. I needed a more compact footprint that would allow me to do the photographs in my home when it was convenient for me.

6 - Photographing Small Things - A Personal Voyage

A small 24-inch lightbox for product photography

The collection I’m photographing contains objects ranging from 1 cubic inch to large, skinny objects that are almost 18-inches long. I decided it was worth investing in a small portable lighting cube designed for product photography. The 24-inch portable cube has reflective walls, LED lights, and a selection of backgrounds. It packs up into a skinny portfolio sized carrying case and provides flexibility to accommodate all of the objects in a relatively confined space.

I use the cube in conjunction with a small card table and my tripod. There are many brands of this type of set up, but for my purposes, I used the Promaster Still Life Studio 2.0.

7 - Photographing Small Things - A Personal Voyage

Lightbox interior with a black background and small box to elevate objects

Right from the start, a few challenges presented themselves. Some objects don’t stand well on their own, and some objects really benefit from sitting off the background to make them stand out more. Finding interesting supports or display blocks all of a sudden seemed important.

White balance

In addition, I discovered that I needed to get a baseline for white balance. When you use Auto white balance in this kind of environment, even if you are using a white background, color management becomes problematic. By establishing a baseline white balance, you can color correct all the images in post-production (provided you shoot RAW files) or in camera if you use and set a custom white balance.

Be careful when you use custom white balance settings on a camera that you use for other purposes. If you’re like me, you may forget that the white balance has changed which only creates problems with the other work.

8 - Photographing Small Things - A Personal Voyage

Some objects have their own stands

The portable studio has a set of LED lights at the top of the cube, a diffusion panel underneath the lights to make a bigger light, highly reflective side panels, and a set of backgrounds in white, black, grey, and light blue/grey. When you take a photograph there is a small hole (either in the front or the top) where you insert your lens, so the lighting is fairly even all around. It works pretty well. Most items are lit well right out of the gate.

9 - Photographing Small Things - A Personal Voyage

Choice of colors for backgrounds

Depth of field and exposure

Once you’ve set your white balance (either by using a grey card or a custom white balance), you need to consider the depth of field and exposure. The cubes are very well lit, so there’s plenty of light. This light dominates, and you don’t have to worry much about ambient light interfering with your white balance or exposure.

Because many of the objects I’m shooting in my project are small, I need to be close but not quite at a macro scale. Due to this factor, the depth of field becomes a big issue. If I shoot wide open, part of the object is out of focus. Shallow depth of field is necessary when you need to create separation from the background. In this project, the background is akin to seamless paper, which means I don’t need to create that separation. Instead, I can choose a wider depth of field to ensure that the entirety of the smaller object is in focus.

10 - Photographing Small Things - A Personal Voyage

To get a complete record of an object you need to see it from all sides

I come from a background in forensic engineering investigations. Here, I photographically documented objects to ensure the preservation of as much visual information as possible.

To capture your items, reasonable depth of field (maybe around f/8) should give the right amount of depth of field without diffraction effects. Of course, this depends on the size of the camera sensor.

Because I set the portable studio on a small card table, I can elevate all items I am photographing. When shooting stationary objects, use a tripod to set up the shots, and move the object relative to your camera. Due to the items being three dimensional and digital images are flat (2D), you need more than one image to capture each object adequately.

To be thorough, it is a good idea to capture around ten images. One from the front, back, two sides, four corners, top, and bottom. Depending upon the nature of the item or how complex it is, sometimes it’s fine to take fewer images. In this case, it works best to keep the camera in a great position, set for white balance, depth of field and exposure, and then to turn the item around.

11 - Photographing Small Things - A Personal Voyage

The depth of field helps show the incredible details of the objects

Labeling the items

In the next step, I labeled my items. You don’t want to photograph an item, only to never be able to find it again! My items were bubble wrapped, so I labeled the boxes with a letter and gave each bubble wrapped item a number. To keep track of all the items and their associated numbers, photograph the letter/number then photograph the item, labeling it with the number when finished with it. By putting an identifier at the beginning of the series of images for that item, you can easily see the name of the images plus the images together.  I have used this technique frequently for event photography as well.

Once I had all my images, I corrected the white balance and then ran the images through a batch process droplet to get the images the way I like them.

In the end, I have a great collection of images, and you can too. You can use either a website or a proofing gallery to look and share all the images. It makes it easier to manage all the images for all of the items.

12 - Photographing Small Things - A Personal Voyage

Lots of detail in this mask

Conclusion

Taking this approach to photographing meaningful objects from life seems like a way to preserve the memories of meaningful objects without retaining the physical objects. Sometimes I hang onto things because they mean something to me or remind me of people or happier times. However, I don’t have space or need the items, and I don’t want them in my life other than to remind me of others.

For instance, I have a small french provincial style buffet that I have had for as long as I can remember. It was important to my parents and reminds me of them. They passed away many years ago. Through objects like this, I connect to my past when they were here. As a consequence, while it is a meaningful object that connects me to my parents, it’s of a style that doesn’t fit into my house, and it’s large and impractical.

In the end, maybe just a photographic record of the furniture, without keeping it, is all I need. I just need to make sure that the images of all the items both large and small are reasonably accessible for those moments I want to remember my parents or uncle Larry.

Feel free to share your comments below.

The post Photographing Small Things – A Personal Voyage appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

The post How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

So, you’ve picked up some strobes to help light your subjects and are in the process of setting up your studio. This is a very exciting time: so much to photograph, total control of the lighting, what an opportunity…. but how to choose the right photography backdrop? How you shoot and what you shoot will affect your decision, as will your budget.

1 - How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

Model with a black seamless paper backdrop

Photography backdrops make your photographs pop

If you haven’t figured it out already – you soon will – most photographers realize that one of the essential features of a good photograph is the thing that nobody notices: the background. When it works, people “oohh” and “aahh”. However, if it doesn’t work, people can’t figure out why they don’t like your image. One of the secrets of any successful photographer is paying attention to what’s behind your subject. This applies to any photograph, not just those taken in the studio. You might want to consider purchasing commercial backdrops that can significantly improve the quality of your shots.

2 - How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

Model with a white seamless paper backdrop

Beyond lighting

Assuming you already know what’s involved in lighting a studio (if not check this out), the next question is what to use as a backdrop. There are multiple types and sizes with pros and cons for each. Backdrop mounting and portability are also necessary.

It is one thing to have a backdrop for use in your studio, but what if you are asked to set up somewhere else? How do you make your backdrop portable? What goes best with the subject? If you are shooting a white subject, you probably don’t want a white backdrop because the white may disappear into the background (same with black on black). The color doesn’t need to be complementary (although it helps if it is) but should provide contrast. Lighting tricks can alleviate some of this, but sometimes it’s just easier to use a contrasting backdrop.

3 - How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

Model with a white seamless paper backdrop

Types

There are multiple types of backdrops but they all function similarly. They all tend to be relatively thin and only intended as backgrounds (not designed for subjects to interact with). Then can be constructed of seamless paper, muslin, hand-painted canvas or vinyl. The most expensive, least flexible, and the fanciest backdrop is the cyclorama or cyc studio.

Seamless paper

Seamless paper is a versatile and inexpensive backdrop and is a staple for many studios. They are available in many colors, with the most common being black or white. You can produce gray from white backdrops by altering your lighting setup, so a dedicated gray backdrop isn’t necessary. You can also modify white backgrounds with gelled lighting to created colored backgrounds.

4 - How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

Product photo on a seamless white paper backdrop

There are pros of using seamless paper: the look is clean, you can modify the background colors with lighting, and the images can be cut out for background replacement. The cons of using seamless paper are: the rolls can be awkward to transport if a wide size (even just from the store to the studio), the paper can be easily damaged, and the backgrounds have no texture. In addition, if you have colored paper, the background colors can seep into the edges of your subject.

Seamless paper provides flooring as well as the backdrop without a visible interface between the floor and the background. This makes it ideal for product photography as well as studio shots. The lack of a seam makes the image appear to float with an infinite background.

Muslin

Muslin backdrops are constructed from a cotton fabric. They come in various weights and sizes and can be dyed in a single color, have color splotches, or be hand painted. Because muslin backdrops have been in use for a long time, some photographers don’t pay much attention to them. They are, however, very portable and generally look good. Another great feature is that you can easily wash them if soiled. However, you may need to clean larger sizes in a commercial machine. Muslin backdrops can look modern or retro, depending upon the style of lighting. They are a great addition to every photographer’s arsenal of backdrops.

5 - How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

Model in front of dyed muslin backdrop

Similar to paper, you can use longer muslin as flooring for the subject. Solid colors function much like seamless paper, but you need to be cautious about folds in the muslin as they can be distracting from the subject. Muslin backdrops produce many of the same effects as a seamless paper but are much easier to transport.

6 - How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

Dog in front of muslin backdrop showing flooring

There are a few downsides to muslin backdrops. Depending upon how you light them, you may see folds in the fabric behind your subject. As your subject moves, the backdrop may also move, disrupting your background. People may even trip over the material as they walk across the muslin. If you are not careful, solid colored muslins will wrinkle, detracting from the appearance of the background. Because muslins were popular for so many years, certain styles appear particularly old or dated. Photographers need to take care in choosing the style of the muslin backdrops.

7 - How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

Dog in front of muslin backdrop

Hand-painted canvas

If you have ever flipped through a copy of Vanity Fair or seen images from Annie Leibovitz, you know the look of a hand-painted canvas backdrop. They look amazing. These studio backdrops are hand painted onto large sheets of canvas. The paint is done in multiple layers to give the perception of depth and texture. The ones used in many of the fashion or movie-star photoshoots tend to be specialty canvases that are custom made. The effort to paint the backdrops, and the large space required to create them, tends to make these expensive.

8 - How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

Cat in front of hand-painted canvas backdrop

Hand-painted canvas backdrops provide a vibrant appearance. A lighting change does not generate this richness, but purely because of the reflective surfaces on the backdrop. The paint adds texture, and the various layers of the paint add depth and tonality you cannot achieve with seamless paper. Because they are hand-painted, each canvas tends to be unique.

9 - How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

Hand-painted canvas backdrop

The downsides of hand-painted canvas backdrops are cost and care in handling. You don’t want people stepping on your canvas backdrops because they are easily damaged and difficult to clean. That said, the visual effect of a hand-painted canvas backdrop can be stunning.

Vinyl

Vinyl backdrops consist of large images printed on pliable vinyl. Many images are suitable for a vinyl backdrop, but this form is limited to the vertical surface in the background. Flooring is separate. You can purchase separate vinyl sheets for flooring to simulate flooring (such as hardwood floors).

10 - How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

Unimpressed dog in front of a vinyl backdrop

Vinyl backdrops can feature unusual or creative backgrounds. They are great for children, parties or events and are washable, so they work for different types of cake smash, food fight or spray images (be careful about the rest of your studio). Also, they are quite pliable so they can be moved about without much difficulty. Finally, they can feature images that appear three dimensional (like a bookcase).

On the other hand, vinyl backdrops are a little reflective, so you need to be cautious about how your lights are set up. You also need to be aware that the backgrounds are two dimensional even though they can appear to be three dimensional.

Cycloramas or Cyc Studios

A cyclorama or cyc studio is a fixed (built in place) backdrop consisting of two intersecting wall sections that have been curved seamlessly into one another and the floor so that there are no visible corners. By curving the corners, the background flows from wall to wall to floor.  A cyclorama is a practical and durable backdrop. However, it is also the least flexible (it won’t move) and is only one color (usually white). It makes the subject appear to be floating with an infinite background and is a great way to create cut outs to modify your background.

This type of backdrop takes a lot of space, time and effort, but makes for great photographs.

Sizes and handling

Seamless paper doesn’t usually have any texture. It comes in large rolls of varying widths, with 53 inches and 107 inches being the two most common sizes. Seamless paper also provides the flooring in front of the background without a corner edge. Because it is paper, you need to be aware of dirty or wet footwear because they leave marks and can damage the paper. When the paper is too damaged, you roll out more paper and discard the dirty or damaged section. The rolls generally have lots of paper, somewhere in the range of 9-12 yards (27-36 feet). White seamless paper is often ideal for a studio set up when you want to cut out the background and replace it with something else.

11 - How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

Santa in front of black muslin backdrop

Muslin backdrops come in different styles: standard, washed, crumpled and hand-painted. Standard sizes are 10 feet wide by 12 or 24 feet long. They can be challenging to manage but cover a wide area. Ideally, they come sewn with a pocket at the top that allows you to run it on a rod. Folds in the backdrop can evoke an older photographic style, so most contemporary photographers try to flatten out the muslin. Wrinkle elimination sometimes requires a steamer.

12 - How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

Model with a large muslin backdrop

Because canvas is a much heavier material, these backdrops typically come on rolls. If you don’t manage them as rolls, they can be difficult to handle. Standard sizes are about 6 feet wide by 8 feet tall. Most suppliers have a range of sizes. Canvas tends to hang in stretched out to avoid any folds. If you are doing full-length photographs, you will need to consider what you are using for the floor.

Vinyl backdrops vary in size. Similar to canvas, you need to stretch them to eliminate folds. Some vinyl backdrops come with printed flooring (such as hardwood floors) and can be used together, provided you deal with the interface. Stretching the vinyl on the mounting allows for the image to present well. When shooting with vinyl, you need to ensure that the lighting does not reflect into the camera lens. If you’ve used a backdrop with a three-dimensional image, a reflection will make it clear that the background is not real.

Mounting

There are a few options for mounting backdrops. The determining factor tends to be the size and type of backdrop you are using, as well as the frequency with which you plan on changing them. In general, you want some ability to change and mix up the backgrounds.

The basic options for mounting are fixed bars or portable stands. If you have a permanent studio and never plan on taking any of your backgrounds on the road, fixed bars or rollers are ideal. You mount them on the ceiling or wall so that they are suitably high, and allow the paper or fabric to roll off. Mounting on the ceiling means the backdrop will be high enough for your tallest subjects. Framing can be done merely with conduit and small size piping. There are also large electrically controlled rollers available. The costs can range from very cheap to very expensive.

13 - How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

Stands, allow for flexibility of the configuration. Some stands are intended for backdrops and often come as a set with clamps included. With portable backdrops, clamps play an integral role in making the background smooth and even. It is particularly the case with muslin or canvas backdrops, but seamless paper also benefits from strategic use of clamps to ensure that it does not keep unspooling as you hang the rolls.

There are also pop-up stands that you can use for canvas or vinyl backgrounds. You simply clamp the background to the edges of a springy stand. There are multiple systems for this, and many come with their own backgrounds as a complete set.

Using

Regardless of your backdrop choice, keep the subject at least 3 feet away from it to avoid casting shadows onto the backdrop. This all ties to the strategic use of lighting setups. Your goal is to have the backdrop disappear behind the subject, making it the center of attention.

Some backdrops, particularly white seamless paper, may need to be lit separately. If you don’t light the backdrop you may have uneven colors behind the subject that detract from the image or prevent the easy masking of the backdrop.

14 - How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop

Dog in front of muslin backdrop

In general, keeping backdrops clean can be a challenge. Some are easier to clean than others. However, hand-painted canvas and paper backdrops can’t be cleaned without damaging the surfaces, while muslin and vinyl backdrops are easier to clean. You may need to wash large muslins commercially. It is also important that any washing gets done in such a way that the fabrics don’t become altered or damaged.

Conclusion

Choosing the right studio backdrop can affect the mood and overall feel of your images. My personal favorite is hand-painted canvas, but I have used them all (except a cyclorama) effectively. The use of backdrops work hand in glove with your chosen lighting setup, and you should consider both together. If used well, you can make your images pop by having the backdrops pull focus onto your subjects.

 

The post How to Choose the Right Photography Backdrop appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

How to Deliver Digital Images to Your Clients

The post How to Deliver Digital Images to Your Clients appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Whether you are an enthusiast, beginner photographer or an established professional, all photographers produce images. Regardless of whether you are sharing or selling images, or working on a commission, you need to get your image to the destination. Beautiful images need a delivery method in a format that people can use. That’s where things can get technical and a bit tricky.

Santa’s little helper

Considerations

There are many considerations to factor into how and what you provide to your client, including how to get them into your client’s hands as quickly as possible. Everyone has busy lives and getting together can be difficult.

For the image itself, you need to consider format, file size, resolution, and color space. Are you sending proofs? Are you using a watermark?

Once you have decided that, the next question is the delivery method. For people selling their images, consider what you want to happen after you send your client their images. Do you want to sell prints or albums after an initial proof set? What about images for social media?

Christmas is often a time crunch for delivery of images

So many details

In this age of digital media, it seems easier than ever to deliver digital media. But, is it? Nowadays, modern digital cameras create high-resolution images anywhere from 16-megapixels to 50-megapixels. Larger megapixel images correspond into larger file sizes. The problem with higher resolution image files is it taxes our ability to send and receive the images. So, where do you start? Let’s consider the file size and space followed by delivery options.

Modern digital cameras produce high-resolution images

File size and format

There are many file formats: jpeg, tiff, png and more. As you advance as a photographer shooting in RAW becomes commonplace. RAW shooters often dismiss shooting in jpeg. However, the reality is jpeg is probably the number one format people consume digitally. It is important to remember that most people consume images on digital platforms (few people print images anymore).

Size is the enemy of large-scale delivery

Although RAW is a preferred file format for shooting because of the flexibility it offers in post-processing, it is an impracticable format for digital delivery. Firstly, RAW images need a RAW processor to be able to view them. Secondly, RAW images record exactly what your camera sensor sees. They require some form of post-processing to make them look finished. Finally, the file sizes are enormous.

JPEG at quality level 10

JPEG at quality 2

Not all professional photographers avoid JPEG images. Some high-volume photographers often shoot only in JPEG and many photographers shoot in both RAW+JPEG. School photographers, for example, deal with the logistical nightmare of taking very few images of uncooperative children intended for parents with high expectations. In these cases, the logistics of image delivery is the ultimate priority. If image ordering and delivery are too complicated, there are no orders. Shooting in JPEG mode allows photographers to address this issue. Similarly, some sports photographers shoot in JPEG to allow for quick delivery.

Image consumption

The first step in addressing digital delivery is to consider the end use of the images. If the images are for social media distribution, small file sizes are your best option. If the images are too big when used on a website, the images load too slow, damaging the site speed, and ranking. These limits change with time and technology. However, for the time being, there are reasonable limits to image size you need to work within.

Similarly, many social media platforms (like Facebook or Instagram) automatically downsample your images to a manageable size. Meaning, larger images are unnecessary because that extra data gets discarded.

Instagram is where many images will end up being posted

The format

Printing

When you are printing images, you should consider your image size in both dots-per-inch (DPI) and width and height resolution (pixels). Printers generally use 300dpi (or ppi) as their resolution for printing to paper. This guide is the actual printer resolution which prints in dots, rather than pixels. A handy guide to figure out your photo resolution for printing is this: if you would like to print your photo at 8″ x 10″ at 300dpi; your photo needs to be 2400pixels x 3000pixels (8 x 300 = 2400, 10 x 300 = 3000). You take your size dimensions and times them by 300 (dpi), to come to your pixel size. That means, if your photo is 2400pixels x 3000pixels and only 72dpi, it is fine for printing at 8″ x 10″ at 300dpi. The file size of an image at this size can range from 3-7megabytes, depending on the amount of detailed information in the image. The more fine details it has, the larger the size.

Digital

For digital delivery for social media consumption use JPEG. While it is an old standard, it is the most reliable and compatible image format for all computers (Mac, Windows, and Chrome). It is a compressed format so you can make small file sizes. However, you should be aware that jpeg is a lossy format, which means that every time you edit and resave the image, you lose data in the image. As a final product, this isn’t a problem as long as you don’t edit the image.

There are other formats, that may be technically better; however, they are not as well used or practical. Most cameras offer JPEG as an image file format.

For most social media platforms, the maximum size you really need is 1500 pixels on the long edge. If someone decides to print your image, at the 300 dpi printing resolution, it is relatively small at only 5 inches (remember, 1500 divided by 300 is 5″). When saving your JPEG images, to reduce your overall image file size, reduce the quality number. The quality number is between 1 and 12. 1 is the lowest quality, and 12 is the highest.

Physical media

Gone are the days of recording CDs and DVDs for clients. Most computers aren’t equipped with readers anymore, and both mediums don’t offer much storage. What’s worse is that writable CDs and DVDs are not a permanent medium and degrade over time.

USB memory sticks are smaller, offer larger storage capacity and are more flexible. Memory sticks can be personalized to your brand and allow you to physically hand over the fruits of your labor to your client. Not the fastest delivery mechanism, but the one-on-one contact is excellent for further sales or connections with your client.

USB Media

Basic digital delivery

If you are only sending one or two images, attaching them to an email is an option. However, there are limitations to the size of an email you can send. Email can be unreliable because each email provider and ISP has different attachment limits and they change from time to time. Some platforms allow you to send large files (up to 10-megabyte files), but your recipient’s email provider may not accept the image and often has limits. Emails not received may take a while to bounce back, and your client won’t even know you tried to send them something.

Email as a delivery mechanism

Digital document delivery

Digital delivery of electronic files is not new and has been problematic for many businesses. These businesses need to send documents in digital format to their clients, but these documents are not necessarily image-specific. They are broadly divided into two methods – FTP links or document repositories.

Digital File Repository

FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol and is intended for transferring digital documents. There are many free services for transferring documents, however, you don’t see the images until after they are completely received.  Some examples of FTP services include Sharefile, WeTransfer, TransferNow, and Send Anywhere.

WeTransfer allows for digital file sharing

Some services allow a cloud-based location for your digital files. From the cloud, they can be used to create links for people to pick up documents. Some examples of these services include Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive. These services are great but sometimes require logging in or creating accounts on the platform to allow you access to the images. Often they have a limited amount of space for free, or you can upgrade to more space for a fee.

These services work well, but they aren’t just geared toward photographers solely for image delivery. They transfer documents, and images are simply a type of document.

Photography-specific image delivery

For image specific delivery methods, there are two different approaches.  Firstly, you can use a customized website that allows for a gallery to be set up with your website.  This feature is set-up in the back-end of your website. Secondly, you can use a photography-specific gallery system. These systems allow for the delivery of images with lots of bells and whistles.

A photographic website from Format

Using the back end of your website to create galleries can be a great way to deliver but can be complicated to set up and maintain. Custom-built websites are costly, and any changes usually result in extra charges. More recently, there are some excellent website builder services such as Squarespace, Format, Smugmug, WIX, and WordPress that all provide great pre-made templates for websites that allow you to create galleries for your clients.

I have personally used Squarespace, Smugmug, and Format, however, there are many great platforms. However, you may also be limited to the amount of space you have with your web hosting, and storing large printable files may fill this space quickly.

Pixieset Website Gallery

Another option is photography-specific image delivery systems. These delivery systems are designed with the needs of wedding photographers in mind. There is a need for digital delivery of images in a slick, easy to use and easy to navigate website. Additionally, wedding photographers want a proofing gallery that allows visitors to select favorites, download images for social media, purchase high-resolution images or get prints.

These image-proofing services include such brands as Pixieset, Shootproof, PicTime and Pass Plus. I personally really like this method because it allows for the simple uploading of images into pre-configured galleries that simplify the delivery of images to clients. They look slick, and they let your clients see the images, all while letting you control what they download and how they download. You can also set up galleries for clients to see photos but not necessarily download them. These are all paid services, but if you are frequently delivering images, this method is excellent. I use Pixieset, but Shootproof and PicTime are also good services.

Conclusion

Taking beautiful photographs is often what most photographers focus on; however, the final product is the image delivery. With digital images, there are lots of technical considerations regarding the delivery of images to your intended recipients.  Knowing the format, size, and delivery mechanism simplify your ability to deliver your photographs quickly and efficiently.

What systems have you tried out? What works for you? Let us know in the comments below.

 

 

 

The post How to Deliver Digital Images to Your Clients appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

1 2