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Digital Photographic Practice

I was thinking for a long time how to approach this last assignment, what I always wanted is to have my own distinctive style which instantly separates me from other photographers, but I felt I was never really consciously working towards it. So my personal project became to find how I want to feel when I look at my images, how the images make me feel. Of course it always will be a work in progress, I do like this set of images because of the harmony of the colours, I like natural and warm tones when almost everything matches with the skin, I cannot tell exactly my feelings just yet but these images made the selection for the same reason: soft, fine art facial expressions.

Final Images

The preparation

Initially I was only looking for matching coloured images, but I began to refine my selection when it came to expressions and how the images made me feel, also changed my philosophy on matching crops to different ones, because I was just bored seeing the same headshots over and over again. I wanted a wider selection of portraits, not just close ups, but including props and demonstrating different angles and different lighting patterns.

These images were shot on different backdrops with different lighting but I applied similar settings in the post production process with Adobe Photoshop:

  • First, I applied custom white balance to suit each image because no skin tone the same, I pushed the temperature slider to the right to warm up and added little tint again by pushing to the right
  • Softened bags under the eyes as well as skin blemishes, very subtly
  • Gentle “dodging” on the forehead, top of the nose, under the eyes, middle of the bottom lip and top of the chin, where the light is naturally hitting the face, I just highlighted a little bit more, subtle “burning” around the cheekbones, corners of the forehead where are shadows appear naturally.
  • I did little sharpening on the eyes with “High Pass” filter, also brightened them up a little bit using “Curves”
  • Finally warm tone colour grading using “Gradient Map”, opacity around 50%.

Feedback and reflection

Overall I am pleased with the selection, but in the future I would like to shoot more working on my “style” consciously, creating sets with interesting details, props, playing with poses and expressions more to create soft and feminine but interesting and edgy compositions, in studio and on location as well. I haven’t been able to spend much time with my studies unfortunately, I have been working every single day for over two years now which led to problems with my health, I have a plan to get out of this situation but it won’t happen overnight, hopefully will be able to spend the right amount of time on my studies and complete the course on time.

As my tutor suggested, I looked into Angelica Dass’s work, which I found incredible, I had similar thoughts how would it look if I would change the background colour of each photograph for the subject’s skin colour, but the key again is consistency, her subjects are in the same position, crop is the same with each image, so even it is a simple concept, it is very powerful because of the message it coveys, also the power of simple headshot, only the skin shows, there are no distracting elements like clothing.

I will experiment with this type of colour matching in the future but will try and come up with something unique in the same time, maybe even beauty photography, perhaps my subjects have something common painted on their face? Or maybe the same makeup but different ladies as subject? This beautiful series of images got me thinking.

 

 

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I have been enjoying experimenting with Photoshop, creating something different, more than just enhancing features on the photograph, creating digital art by adding extra textures and elements.

This part of the course is about reality and intervention, whether a photograph should be kept as close to the original – as seen at the time of releasing the shutter –  or could the image be elevated by changing colours, tones, textures in order to perfect the composition. Personally I think it will depend on the purpose of the photograph, where and what will it be used. Lately I have been doing many portrait shoots, where I would generally perfect the skin but keeping its natural texture, for example I remove blemishes, scars or hair if it’s in the eyes or somewhere it is distracting from the image, but I would only soften moles, bags/wrinkles under and around the eyes to keep it realistic and natural, I would never fully remove them which would quite likely alter the face. This is for the purpose of selling to the client in forms of prints to hang on the wall or digital images to share on social media or sending to model agencies. The key here is to perfect but keep it not too perfect to stay on the realistic ground.

For the purpose of this assignment, I had to go beyond this, manipulating in a way that would make the image successful as a cover.

I loved the idea shooting for something specific that later on in the editing process will look its best, adding a little magic will make all the difference! Speaking of magic, I decided to shoot with kids, little girls dressed up as fairies, and a boy who had a Harry Potter outfit as well as the perfect hair! I tried to pose and light them with the finished image in my head, what will I add to the image to create the desired effect.

Thinking about potential book cover, I was debating between a fairy tale book or a Harry Potter cover with a little twist. I settled with the latter.

Final Image

hpcover

The original image was with a plain grey-green background with Toby posing dressed up as Harry with a large soft box placed on his left quite high up, head point downwards.

Will post all original images and elements I used for this cover, unfortunately I edited on a different computer which I don’t have access to until Wednesday.

First thing I added was the sparkles which was on a black background, I pulled into Photoshop, changed the blending mode to screen which got rid of the black and only the sparkles left, I resized and twisted it to get the right direction and masked out the unwanted parts like between fingers as it was covering his thumb as well as the whole arm so I got rid of it creating a more “realistic” 3D effect.

Next step was sorting out the background as it was a plain wall and I knew I needed some sort of brick texture to make it more “Hogwarts like”. After importing the wall image as a layer, I only lowered the opacity and again, masked out the unwanted parts as it was covering the boy’s face and body.

Luckily I found all these textures for free, as well as the Harry Potter font which was surprising but I had lots of fun styling it to make it look like a real book cover, adding different textures to the text and placing them carefully.

I was thinking for a long time what would be the book about, I had everyday magic in mind but couldn’t work out how to work this into the title and then suddenly it’s just clicked… It would be truly magical having zero hour workweeks! Is it imaginary or not? Of course, everything is possible…

Feedback

As my tutor suggested, I came up with a different idea on this subject, as with my original work, there is no ambiguity between real life and constructed imagery and thanks to his support, I understood why as it’s being obviously edited in Photoshop. My idea was the relation between magic and real life, but I should have created something which equally could be done in camera or in Photoshop. He further suggested to look at the work of Kyle Thompson and explore the idea of surrealism within portraiture photography. I was absolutely stunned by his work, it moved me and genuinely got me thinking with the artist’s brain, figuring out the message he is conveying through his images.

He also suggested to look into image manipulation, in particular the moral and ethical considerations, when people are stealing other photographers’ work and presenting as their own. I was surprised how obvious plagiarism is in the following two cases what he recommended me to look at: Souvid Datta credibility as a photojournalist was questioned when his photo “In the Shadows of Kolkata” got accused of plagiarism and rightly so, he appears to “steal” a person from Mary Ellen Mark’s photograph of  “Transvestites getting dressed in a courtyard” from 1978. The person’s face, expression, clothing and body language appears to be exactly the same, there is no way he could recreate this in camera so many years after with a different person. The second case was about “stealing” an entire image by a Swiss photographer and entering a contest after she finds them on a public domain. She even wrote a passage about how she felt when she was taking these images, can’t believe people can just lie like this. We should only look at artists’ work to be inspired by, not to steal some part or the whole image for selfish reasons.

As I have been struggling with depression for a long time which effected me at work as well in private life, I thought I could do something to illustrate how I feel when I’m down, just feeling trapped in my own body and unable to reach for help. It is particularly difficult as I live alone and I have been working almost every day in the last two years now just to survive and being able to pay the bills, not seeing any friends or making attempt to make any friends at all because of work, also not being able to spend enough time on my coursework because of busy schedule, being creative on demand is just doesn’t work.

Assignment rework

People with depression and anxiety are making life even harder for themselves than it is already by just unable to focus on anything and get it done, also feeling down for no particular reason. Most times I find myself just sitting in my room, don’t want to get out or even chat anyone on social media or on the phone, completely detaching myself from anything. The idea was to describe this feeling through a photograph.

Original image – the idea was to create a window to the right of the girl with shutters on in Photoshop representing the feeling of being alone in a room in the dark and only a little light shines above giving a sense of little hope so it’s more positive rather than suicidal. I couldn’t find a way to shoot it in camera nor managed to find a realistic looking window so it was the time for plan B.

Resized and extended background – Plan B was to “put the girl in a jar” literally, while I’ve seen this done in camera in terms of two photographs blending together, I didn’t have the jar photographed the same time as the girl so it left me with one choice: Photoshop. Obviously I need to make sure it will look realistic.

 

Found a realistic jar image and dragged onto my photo in Photoshop. It looked perfect as it’s only been lit from the left, so the other side is dark enough to be realistic.

Positioning and masking – Re-positioned the jar align with the floor and starting masking out the girl by adding a layer mask and painting with a black brush on it.

 

Magic – Simply by changing the blending modes, “multiply” mode gave me the perfect effect I wanted. Although it was quite strong, I just lowered the opacity of the layer to find the ideal intensity.

 

Final image

Simple text – I didn’t want to make it look too busy, so I settled down with my book title “ALONE” which I felt was enough to convey the message of my imaginary book. The ratio of the image wasn’t quite right for a book in my previous work, so I made sure this time will be the right size too.

 

Reflection

Overall I’m much happier with the latter image, although I’m still frustrated about my coursework not spending enough time on it, which was simply impossible with my current lifestyle. I’m very grateful for the pointers given by my tutor, first time I was struggling to understand what needs to be done with this assignment, surrealistic portraits are now on my list for further exploration.

Recently I heard a professional photographer using this phrase, “blinded by styling”  as she referred to a portrait, where there was so much going on, but made it to be published in a magazine anyway even though it wasn’t necessarily well composed or lit. When I was planning this assignment, these words were replaying in my head but in sense of colour is being distracting sometimes, or even when that particular composition looks well in colour, it conveys a different story when it’s processed into a black and white image.

Taking the advantage of working in a studio access to all equipment, I decided to experiment with portraits again, as well as high and low key photography. I always shoot in RAW format in colour.

RAW file

_18A1843

Tonal contrast – The only image I shot on location, I am obsessed with shadow patterns, loved how the sunlight hits her face through the hat, definitely worked better in black and white, surroundings were too distracting in colour. Natural light only.

RAW file

Lewis_0006

Tonal contrast – Almost the complete opposite of the first image, the background and her jumper are almost the same colour, only different textures, but it really makes her stand out more especially in black and white, such beautiful freckles. Only one large soft box been used, fairly close to the model and the wall.

RAW file

Lewis_0036

Texture – While this works well in colour, I prefer the black and white again as colour isn’t distracting, love how the different textures work well together (chunky knit jumper, brick wall against a soft facial expression. Same 150 cm soft box but almost 90 degrees to the right of the model facing away from the background.

RAW file

Texture – I loved the fairy tale look created by soft curtains, curly hair and her expression, prefer black and white as the bright orange brick would have been too distracting, but as a texture it’s a nice contrasting element.

RAW file

High key – One of my first attempts to achieve this look, I admit I probably should have used more lights.

RAW file

High key – Second attempt, I think looks much better, I placed the light directly in front of the model raising to same height as the models face and there is me standing in the middle of it as you can see it in her eyes. Her skin was very tanned so it was pretty much dominating the image, but in black and white the attention draws straight to the eyes.

RAW file

Sienna_0077

Low key – I love how this turned out, although I love it in colour, I think being monochromatic just adds so much more drama to the image. I loved the fact that I was able to create it with the same light I used for the previous images, the only thing I did differently was placing only the edge of the soft box towards the face of the model, although it was facing directly towards her, only small amount was actually hitting her body as the rest was passing right in front of her.

RAW file

Sienna_0113

Low key – Similar set up again but this time I used a 70cm soft box placed higher above her head but facing it the same way as before, and I also added a grid for more control achieving no light spill. I love this look and again, definitely more dramatic than a colour version.

 

Feedback and reflection

I really enjoyed playing with light differently than I did before, also trying to see in black and white and it was interesting to see why certain images just wouldn’t work as well in colour as it does in black and white and how the story changes simply just by taking away colour. I love the dramatic feel of monochrome and how certain qualities appeal and how focus shifts.

As the tutor suggested, I readjusted couple images as they were almost overexposed, I didn’t notice my computer went to default setting rather than the calibrated one, so the images I produced were slightly too bright, I calibrated the monitor again and sorted the images out.

Seeing like the camera sees the scene, and the ability to create images exactly how I saw them is exciting. I noticed that the eye creates a less contrasty image, while the camera’s sensor tend to exaggerate the differences between light and dark, the human eye’s dynamic range is just incredible.

For this assignment I needed to choose four different high-contrast situations and see how the camera will render these scenes, the aim is to produce higher quality images which will need less post-processing, in fact for this particular task I had to shoot in JPEG format and post the images straight out of camera without any adjustments.

Street scenes

Street scene (1 of 3)  Street scene (1 of 3) histogram

Street scene (2 of 3) Street scene (2 of 3) histogram

Street scene (3 of 3) Street scene (3 of 3) histogram

I tried to shoot with different metering modes, f stops and shutter speeds and see what happens, I kept the ISO low as it was already bright with the sun out, and used small aperture with slower shutter speed to get more details in the shadows. I usually shoot with evaluative metering mode as I like to choose the focus point, I took a picture with each of the other metering modes; spot, partial, center-weighted average as well, and I didn’t notice much difference while I kept the focus point the same. All three images turned out only a little darker in the shadows than it appeared to my eye at the time, the bright areas were pretty much spot on.

I feel like I have to experiment more of this in the future, changing the focal point (if I can) to achieve the same result. I don’t usually shoot in these harsh conditions as it’s never a flattering light on anyone but I suppose there are scenes where it works, indoor spaces for example.

Indoor spaces

Indoor space (1 of 3) Indoor space (1 of 3) histogramIndoor space (2 of 3) Indoor space (2 of 3) histogramIndoor space (3 of 3) Indoor space (3 of 3) histogram

This is pretty much the opposite to the first situation where it was overall bright with dark areas, indoors will always be darker, and having a relatively small light source such a window will make the camera struggle to get a good exposure.

I actually liked these images being so contrasty, however I tried to get as much details in the shadows as possible. The first one I found to be a little dark compare to the actual scene, I should have done that less contrasty but I’m happy with the second, and the third is a bit bright, as the focal point was on the bride, non of the metering modes did a good job determine the exposure, they pretty much looked the same.

People in shade

People in shade (1 of 3) People in shade (1 of 3) histogram

People in shade (2 of 3) People in shade (2 of 3) histogram

People in shade (3 of 3) People in shade (3 of 3) histogram

Primary focus was to expose the image correctly to the faces but of course, needed to get the overall exposure right too. I usually turn on the highlight clipping function in camera so I see if there is a part of the image overexposed but of course, I forgot this time resulting the first and second image having a tiny patch overexposed, however overall they are pretty close to what I saw on the day. The second is maybe a little dark on the face, I could have added some fill flash to brighten it up but then, it wouldn’t look as natural as it was. The best of all three is probably the last one, probably because there is no sky in the background, but the midday sun still makes the trees and pebbles bright. The bride and bridesmaids are standing under arch which just beautifully softened the harsh light.

Landscapes in low-angle incident light

Low angle light landscapes (1 of 3) Low angle light landscapes (1 of 3) histogram

Low angle light landscapes (2 of 3) Low angle light landscapes (2 of 3) histogram

Low angle light landscapes (3 of 3) Low angle light landscapes (3 of 3) histogram

Incident light is the light that falls on a subject, whether it comes from a direct or indirect source. In this case it is coming from the sun directly. The first image was the most challenging of all as the sky was just too bright, a little hazy as the see was just right behind the mountains, I was struggling to bring back the shaded areas without blowing the sky out completely, this is the closest I could get to what I saw. I could probably done it better by changing the composition allowing less sky, less bright light. The second one was a lot easier to achieve as the sun was really close to the horizon, giving contrasty landscape but well exposed sky, the last, London landscape turned out the best I think, clouds are just making the job easier for the camera.

Feedback and reflection

I think for the best result, need to avoid harsh sunlight unless that’s the look to aim for.  I prefer interesting lighting situations over low contrast, dull lighting such as an overcast day can provide. I’m not sure if I used the metering options properly with the focusing areas as non of them made magical difference, I definitely need to do more research.

As by the tutor recommendation I will try to photograph indoors with “spot” or “centre weighted” mode to get more details in the highlights, I remembering trying all different types back then but for that situation it didn’t really change the image, perhaps I need to experiment with the composition as well accordingly. His other suggestion was to compose a high dynamic range “HDR” image by blending 3 different exposures of the same scene in post-production. I haven’t been successful with that so far in terms of assembling the images correctly, this is something I still need to practice.

Overall I know there is a lot of work to be done, still struggling having literally zero free time, which is very frustrating. I have been looking for a job so I don’t have to work two ways and I could have some days off too.