You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Well, the whole Christmas thing is over.  Yaaay!  I know it’s supposed to be a cheery time, but when you get sucked into volunteering to do pictures with Santa, you really do get sick of seeing the fat man in short order.  At least, during Valentine’s Day, no one expects freebies.

Things have been going on with me over this winter that have been keeping me out of the photo game, regretfully.  I won’t go into them, because they’re not of public importance, but they’re annoying the living daylights out of me.  That’s also why I haven’t been saying a whole lot here.  The Internet has allowed for everyone to have their say, and it seems that so many take advantage of that, even when they shouldn’t.  If you’ve read more than one post of mine, you’ve probably figured out that I don’t like to post things, unless I think they offer some value.  I call the others “Kardashian posts.”  They look good, and artificially boost numbers, but that’s it.

Plus, I tend to ramble; my mind shouldn’t be allowed to wander on its own.  My mind needs a kindergarten leash, preferably a Winnie the Pooh leash, but with Eeyore, because Eeyore rocked.  Okay, see what I mean about the mind wandering thing?  So back to the topic…

During one of my nighttime walks, I saw a scene that I thought would make a good shot, so during an overnight shift last week (30 hour shift, not a midnight to 8 (note: salary sucks in this case)), I took my break and got to the site (Nathan Phillips Square, in Toronto) just before midnight.  They have a little pool thingy that is set up as a rink in winter.  Some guys were out playing a game of midnight hockey on it, so, since I had time to kill, I snapped off a few of them, a few of the old City Hall, and a few of this funky little structure thingy (“fine art”?).  Once I got bored of that, I set up for the shot I wanted, got a few of it, and went back to work.

Two days later is where it got interesting (because I basically slept through the day after).  The original plan was to make a black and white out of the image.  I looked at the primary shot, and, both in color and in b&w, well, it sucks.

clockSee what I mean?  In my mind, that shot looked so much cooler.  Granted, that’s raw, but even with Photoshop, it still doesn’t help.

On the other hand, I couldn’t have cared less about the guys playing hockey.  After all, who in Canada doesn’t have pictures of people playing hockey?  Just for kicks, though, I tried it out in b&w, and here’s what I got.  Turned out, I liked it!  [Note: this particular upload has the b&w filter added over a jpeg, as evidenced by my watermark being b&w, as well.  I was just going to add the colour version to this post, but thought otherwise, so I only brought the colour jpeg with me today.]

bwHockeyGameIt’s just a quick b&w here, but the full one looks better.

I tried printing it, but sadly, the whole thing looks as flat as a 2×4 (might be better on a quality printer).  So, as a comparison, I took the b&w filter off and checked it out.  I should probably note here that I like to leave the filter on, sitting as the top layer, while I do other layer editing underneath, so that I can see how it affects the final results, and then create other b&w layers as needed.  Here’s what I got simply by reverting back to colour:

HockeyGameFirst, where’d #87 come from, and secondly, how’d the colours end up not so bad after all that wonky b&w editing?  A little work needs to be done on it still, but not much!

Same with this one:

Laid Back on a '66 MustangWhen I called her up and arranged this shoot, this particular picture was never one I had in mind, but it became the one I got the most compliments on, as well as being my favourite from the shoot.

So when you go out shooting, never get too focused, okay?  I know it’s hard for a photographer not to get tunnel vision on what it is we came for, but take your face out of the viewfinder…frequently.  Look around, take that “might be okay” shot – you never know how it’ll turn out.  After all, as Mick said, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”

And say hi to Mr. Jimmy for me.

Black & White

Yep, I’m still gettin’ my learn on.  I’ve been doing the Udemy thing lately.  I’m not going to go into the pros and cons of online learning, but if you work early and have to be in bed before the puck drops, let alone before evening classes start, or have a Squirrel! attention span, then online learning might be worth looking into.  Just sayin’.

The latest one I’m doing is on black and white conversions.  I should note that I bought the Nik Collection a while ago (yes, after it went on sale – I couldn’t afford the $500 something it originally cost), and I also have the Topaz Labs collection, so I do have some good B&W tools at my disposal already.  Here’s the problem, though – the filters always apply things uniformly, and uniform doesn’t always work.

This course shows a bunch of ways, using only what’s already in Photoshop (maybe more, I’m not finished it yet), to basically do anything that the 3rd party plug-ins can do, but with more finite control.

Angel Kiss

This is my first attempt at a fully manual conversion.  I actually shot this back in January, and had I taken this course two months later, this shot would be lost forever – I usually purge my unused raw images at the end of the year, to save some space.  As a colour image, it was…well, meh.  That’s why it sat on my hard drive as nothing more than a raw file for almost a year.  As a black and white, I like it, though!  Please, feel free to chime in with your opinion; it’s the only way I’ll know if I’m on the right track.

I won’t give away all of the secrets in the learning series, but I’ll go through what I did in this image:

  1. Camera Raw colour retouching, siding with keeping it pale (opened as Smart Object so I could go back and re-tune as desired).
  2. Skin/beauty retouching while in colour.  Lotsa layers here – from a great action I picked up for free from Kristina Sherk @ Shark Pixel from a webinar I attended.  The action alone was worth the time spent!
  3. B&W adjustment layer.
  4. Layer over her left finger/thumb to cover up the nail.  You can’t see the hand in B&W, but you could see a shiny nail at the middle-bottom of the picture, floating on its own.  It looked weird.
  5. Curves adjustment on her, focusing on lightening up yellow, as that was the predominant colour.
  6. Curves adjustment on her lips (masked), to basically brighten them up to what can only be described as d*cksucking red.  She had nice pink lipstick on that was completely lost in the conversion.
  7. Curves adjustment on her hair (masked) to bring it from a dirty blonde to a completely unnatural blonde/white.  Again, the hair was mostly lost in the conversion, as it naturally stood.  The light spot on her left side (viewer’s right) was from the strobe – that actually was lit up in the original.

This was just a simple, low-key nude portrait.  There wasn’t a whole lot to worry about, which is why she was my first (yes, it was good for me).  What I found interesting was that I was forced to look at each element of an image in a completely different manner.  Colour is still a major factor, but you have to look at it in a very counter-intuitive manner.  Overall, I loved every minute of it, and I certainly plan on doing more!

Now it’s your turn.  I’d love to hear your opinions on how I did with my first attempt at a full manual, I’d love to see some of your b&w conversions (and if you remember how you did it; manual/Nik/etc., please, let me know), and what you think about B&W’s in general!  (I’m thinking another curve layer to tone the forehead down a little…)

Take it easy, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do…and if you do, take pictures!

k.

Workshops

Workshops are a tender subject for photographers, and I’m not sure why.  Well, I am, but I don’t think they should be.  Some people just need to put on their big boy pants and get over themselves.  We don’t all have to walk uphill to school, both ways, through 40′ of snow…barefoot.  Hell, you didn’t, either, so don’t go giving me that garbage.  And for the record, I didn’t get rides to school.

The whole debate is about “cheating” by taking workshops, or coming up the hard way, by apprenticing.  Let’s assume that’s an old rule.  Well, like everything else in photography, once you know the rule, then you start breaking it, and that’s just what everyone’s doing.  If you have the money to spend on it, there’s no point in trying it out for yourself first and doing it the wrong way 5,000 times, when you could attend a few workshops and learn how to do it right, and then go out and try it out on friends, and then hone the skills you learned.  Of course, you’re going to mess up – that’s why it’s called practice – but at least you’re already practicing at a more advanced level than you would have been.

So, it’s just a slightly faster way to get your feet wet; that’s all it is.  Nobody (well, nobody in their right mind) thinks a workshop or two will make them into Yousuf Karsh or Annie Leibovitz.  But it does give them a little confidence to keep going!  As an example, I took this one about two months after I started getting serious about photography, in one of my earliest workshops:

Bikini model under Christmas Tree

Do you really think I would have been able to knock this picture out, if I had to set it up solo, having just started photography?  If you do, you had more faith in me than I did! [Note: the full size is sharper.]

So, with that, enough of the workshop/anti-workshop rant.  Can we all get along?

Onto the crux of this post – what I’ve gotten from workshops.

There are two main people that I’ve dealt with.  Phil Sutherland, who runs West Toronto Photography Group, out of his studio RevPrint Studio and Kin Hai, who runs Photographerforum Meetup Group out of his studio (site’s still under construction).  They’ve both provided me with some great opportunities and experiences, ones that I would not have gotten this early in the game, otherwise.  I have photographed Playboy models (like the one above) and Penthouse models.  I played with 4 strobe suspended light setups before I had even bought a 430 EXII on-camera flash.  Had I not had my own bike to play with, I would have had a chance to shoot with a bike and a model.

I also got to learn a lot of skills.  At Kin’s latest, I learned small, but interesting tricks.  Example: since almost everyone gets a few rolls/lines under their chin, don’t have them stick their chin out.  Have them stick their forehead out and their chin up a little.  …go ahead, try it in a mirror.  It keeps your face more level as well as stretching your neck out, tautening it to reduce the lines.  If you want to know more tricks like that, take his workshop.  I’m not here to steal his game, just making a point.

So not only do you get opportunities, but you also get skills.  However, there are also downsides…

Remember, it’s not just you here.  It’s you and half a dozen others.  You’ve got 2 to 5 minutes in a given setup.  The model is decided for you, the general location is decided for you.  All you get to decide is the poses within that range – make it happen, Merlin.  The problem with the time frame is that you just barely get into the rhythm of things, and then your time is up, and it breaks the flow.  Some can devise a flow in that short a time; most can’t.

Also, your idea isn’t yours.  I was at one shoot where the approach that the organizer took just wasn’t working for anyone; even the model wasn’t feeling it.  The organizer had her holding a goalie stick like it was a standard stick, when she openly admitted that she didn’t play or watch hockey and had no clue how to hold a stick.  She looked awkward.  During my last set, we had pretty much exhausted all of the garbage they had their, so, she asked me if I wanted her to put on this red cowboy hat that had built-in white pig-tails.  It would have made her look like Anne of Green Gables.  I looked back at my stuff, tossed in a corner, grabbed my own hat (a black, Harley cowboy hat) and said “no, put this on, instead.”  You could see her expression change.  A few shots later, I tossed her my leather jacket.  Suddenly, this “hockey, patriotic babe” shoot became “badass biker babe” and the look on her face said she was right into it.

Then it happened.  Even though I was last in line, the organizer spent ten minutes ripping off most of my shots, and everyone else suddenly took one extra turn.  Now the shots that were mine, my little personal touch, got completely trashed in the name of genericide.  She was still fun to work with!

Girl with leather jacket and Harley cowboy Had

So, here’s what I’ve learned from workshops:

  1. They are useful things.  They can teach you a lot.
  2. They will up your game, if you pay attention.
  3. If you work early hours, it sucks, because they’re usually late on weekdays.
  4. You only have a short time to assess the situation, so think fast.
  5. DON’T BRING OUT YOUR A-GAME TRICKS.  SAVE THOSE FOR YOUR OWN SHOOTS.

Those are the overall lessons, anyway.  If you can think of more, please, feel free to comment and add your own!!

Woo! Toys! :)

I told you I’m not normal.  If I was, I’d be posting every few days, like most other bloggers do.  But why would I post about minor things?  Do you really want to read about me doing another street shoot at zero-dark-thirty while dodging cabbies in a dark city street (the shot didn’t turn out – I need to return with my T2i & EF-S 250 lens for a closer cropping), spending half an hour setting up the lighting for a selfie for my Facebook cover photo when most people do selfies in 3 seconds (photography FB page to come back soon), or taking some product shots?  Serious question.  If you do want me to talk about that stuff please, let me know and I will.  I just figured that most of you probably have enough of that in your own lives, that you don’t need or want to read about it here.  Besides, a few weeks ago, I was helping a guy move and re-aggravated an injury to the point that I thought I had re-broken my wrist, so I wasn’t doing much with a camera for a bit.

Mostly to do with the last point, to be honest.  When signing your initials hurts like hell, holding a 5D MkIII is bloody impossible.

Anyway, the wrist is back to its regular soreness, so I’m picking the camera up again and trying to get some of the pent-up shooting angst worked out.  However, that’s not the point of this post.  The point is, on Black Friday, I got meself a toy!  This toy!

Wacom Intuos Pro Medium Professional Tablet

A Wacom Intuous Pro Medium Professional Tablet!  YAAAAAY!  So now, when I do my Photoshop retouching, I can do more finite touches by drawing around, rather than mousing it.  Though, in my purely immature manner, I still can’t say the brand name without thinking about Fozzy Bear saying “Wakka-wakka-wakka!”

I would say there’s a learning curve to it, but it’s more like a learning cliff – it’s kinda steep.  This thing not only reads pressure, but also reads motion above the tablet itself, so even if you’re just waving the pen above the tablet, it knows what you’re up to.  I guess it’s like anything else in photography – it takes a lot of practice.  I think I can swing that!

There’ll be more posts in the near future.  I just did a posing workshop, as I wanted to up my game, especially when it comes to less-experienced models, so I’m going to put one up about that later this week, and I got an email from the model that I did the Grease-style shoot with back in the summer.  Her sister is back from school and they still want to do a shoot with me, so we’ve nailed down a date for late this month.  Two more will either be late this month, or most likely, next month.  Christmas/New Year’s does tend to screw up schedules a little, but either way, I’ll keep you posted.

Plus, somewhere between the Wacom paragraph and the learning curve paragraph, I finally signed up for Twitter, so now I’ll have to get good at posting faster!  Feel free to hunt me down @KTEPhoto.

Take it easy, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do…and if you do, take pictures!

Leave It To The Professionals…

This classic opening by Jamie and Adam to the television show “Mythbusters” says it all.  We’re professionals.  We may not all make our full-time living at this, but we do take this seriously; this isn’t just We even shake our heads at people who claim they’re experienced and skilled photographers, but can’t do anything better than a second rate selfie in the bathroom (with duck lips, nonetheless) and refuse to learn any better.

Do we know makeup?  Well, maybe some of you women do, but probably not as good as the MUA who does it full-time.  What about hair?  I get my hair styled by Gillette, so I know I’m out of my element, there!  Wardrobe?  For fun shoots maybe, but for anything important, I’m bringing in a pro.  I’m like Johnny Cash – black goes well with most anything for me.

We have no problem bringing in anyone else, but as soon as someone mentions a retoucher, you can just watch photographers cringe.  It’s like you just threatened to force them to only shoot in low-res JPEG for the rest of their lives.

Here is one of a few images that I recently got back from a retoucher (and was very happy with her work).  Long story short, the problem I was having was that lens flare right where the door and the A-pillar meet.  Removing lens flare from chrome is a PITA, so I farmed it out.  The vintage effect, I could have done myself, but since it didn’t cost any extra, why not let the expert do it?

Before and after of my photograph with retouching

Before and after retouching.  Linked from the retoucher’s site for comparison, but © Kyle Edwards.

You know what our problem is as photographers?  We have our spending priorities ALL WRONG.  We’ll spend thousands on a camera, but we won’t spend a lousy $12 to take a picture from “aw, man! Why’d that [insert blemish name] have to be there” to “yeah!  That’s the shot!!”  Of course, we’re the same people who are determined that our images are worth hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, but balk at paying a model…well, anything.

I’m not saying that you have to call in an expert for every image you have.  Heck, people don’t call photographers in for every shot they want – just the ones they want to have that extra oomph.  So when you have shots that you need for a client, or you want for you and want to have that extra “pop”, accept that you aren’t the best at Photoshop (and if you’re a photographer, you aren’t,) stick the crowbar in your wallet, and hire a pro!

Hiring a retoucher doesn’t make you any less of a photographer, and may just make your photos stand out that little bit more!

Rembrance Day (Memorial Day to my neighbours in the USA)

This isn’t a photo post today, and this isn’t a political one, either.  If you see a member of the military, either active or inactive (because they never do go “retired”), thank them.  You may not agree with some of the wars that have been fought – heck, I don’t buy some of the reasons, either – but you know what?  They probably didn’t, either.  Apart from the Conscription Crisis of 1917 and the Conscription Crisis of 1944, both which were so short-lived and laughable that they barely count, Canada has always been a volunteer force; that means that, even when our people didn’t necessarily agree with the official reasons from Ottawa, they said (or are saying now) “hey, I signed up to serve my country, and I’ll do my duty.”

And it’s for THAT dedication and sacrifice that I’m asking you to thank them.

Support our Troops ribbon

Photographing Families and Alleys (follow-up to Photographing a Photographer)

Well, for starters, last weekend went very well.  Yaaay!  The photographer (and his lovely wife) who I was photographing were great to work with, and he gave me pretty free rein in the whole process, which made it a lot easier.  We shot in High Park, which is just fantastic to shoot in; if you’re ever in Toronto, get down there.  Rivers, waterfalls, big, bushy trees, golden willow trees, open fields, flatlands, rolling hills, you name it, they’ve got it!  It’s like Central Park, only without the pretzel vendors.

Since it was intended as a true family portrait shoot (rather than a “model family” portrait), there wasn’t much in the way of full-on posing required.  All they really had to do was wrap their arms around each other and play kissy-face for a few hours, and in all fairness, with a wife as beautiful as she is, he didn’t need any convincing for retakes.  Frankly, I think he was asking for some for just that reason…especially since he hadn’t even seen the shots!

Being as he’s a photographer himself, and he likes to work with JPEG, all I had to do after was get rid of any blurry ones, put the others on a protected spot, and send him the info.  As it wasn’t work for hire, I still have copyright, so I get to put them on my site!  Since he’s got access to the unretouched images (well, as of 30 seconds before I posted this), here’s a shot or two of the happy couple.  The rest that I retouched, are going on my site.

AmongTheTrees

A happy couple, among the autumn trees

A young couple under a willow tree

A young couple nuzzles under a willow tree

See what I mean?  They really do make a cute couple.

In addition to being my first time shooting another shooter, I also tried another new trick: doing a lot of my editing in Camera Raw.  I have this book, “Adobe Photoshop CS6 for Photographers” by Martin Evening.  This is one of those books that your mom threatened to hit you with if you got out of line…and you’d shut right up.  Anyway, it evangelizes doing a lot of the work in Camera Raw, rather than in PS itself.  Until recently, I’ll admit that I was the kind who would bring images into Camera Raw, let the system do the Auto settings, open it into PS, and then tinker with it.

WOW.  I would not have expected that playing for just a little bit in CR would cut my time down in PS that much, but it does.  I still may do localized Brightness, Curves, etc., but suddenly, I don’t need to worry about making a copy background layer to do all my main editing, because that’s all done in a tiny sidecar .xmp file!  I don’t know if it’s psychosomatic or what – I’m going to try it out for a while to see – but it seems to be cutting things down, time-wise, so I’m digging it.

Also, in another “let’s not sleep tonight” bout, I worked around the clock on Tuesday.  Since I had two concurrent jobs running that I knew would take a few hours to complete and wouldn’t require intervention, I grabbed my camera and flash (yes, I thought ahead and brought them), and wandered out to Graffiti Alley.  It probably wasn’t a particularly wise idea to be wandering around in dark, back alleys at 1:00 in the morning, firing off a flash and announcing to anyone who is in there “hi, I’m alone and have an expensive camera around my neck”, but between my size, appearance and personality, I figured I would be safe.  So, I wandered dark, dingy alleys for an hour on a Tuesday night (well, technically, very early Wednesday morning), looking for good graffiti to photograph.

I found some, don’t get me wrong.  There were only two problems I ran into.  The first was that, because of the darkness, focusing was a Hail Mary.  Most came out fine, but there were one or two that I just couldn’t get, no matter how hard I tried.  The second was the flash.  I don’t usually use flash, but at night it’s mandatory, obviously.  However, because of the angles, sometimes I had to shoot close and direct.  Even with the flash dialed down, I was still getting a lot of bounce-back.  I’m sure I could have stayed and kept trying until I got the combination of flash power and shutter speed perfect, but these shots weren’t going to land me the cover of TIME or Rolling Stone, so I wasn’t going to fight that hard for it.  Besides, it was after 1 in the morning, and I’d already been up for 21+ hours, with at least 12 or 13 more to go.

So here are a few of the more interesting ones I found in the Alley:

Graffiti of a young lady, shot behind a frost fence Graffiti of Queen of Hearts in a boarded up window

On that happy note, I’m outta here.  Time to head out with my buddies and see what insanity there is worth photographing in St. Catharines! 🙂