BTS Appa the Dog Photoshoot

A behind-the-scenes look at how I photographed and composed the following photograph of our daughters’ wonderful dog, Appa!

07 Photoshop Layers

The studio setup:

  1. Key light – 22″ beauty dish with grid, Einstein 640, mounted to a super boom on a C-stand.
  2. Kicker – Einstein 640, on a back light stand.
  3. The softbox seen on the left side was not used.

01 Appa - Studio Setup

Camer settings:

  1. Canon 5DIII
  2. 1/125 second @ f/18
  3. ISO 100
  4. 24-70 mm f/2.8 L @ 35mm

The Raw file was processed in Photoshop Lightroom CC, and edited in Photoshop CC for the silhouette.

02 Appa-Studio-Shoot

To silhouette, I used the quick selection tool and dragged across Appa to make a rough selection. Since the background was smooth and contrasty, the rough selection was a decent start.

The area that did not work well was her shadow on the floor due to similar tones. Since this area will be covered with a foreground image, I was not concerned about an accurate selection there, so I let it go.

Next, I used the “Refine Edge” mode in Photoshop to fine tune the selection edges, so Appa’s fur along the edges, would look realistic when cut out and placed in a new scene.

Here’s a look at the “Refine Edge” screen:

03 Refine-Edge

You’ll notice, it did a pretty good job with “smart radius” selected. I played with the amount and may have increased it slightly, to what you see above.

Next, I searched my collection of background photos, for something interesting and found this shot taken with my Fuji X100s mirrorless camera:

04 DSCF0270-Trees-sharp

The challenge with adding an image into a different background scene is making it look realistic enough to fool the eye into believing it was photographed that way.

The foreground would look odd with Appa floating in the scene, so to make it look realistic, I softened the background using a lens blur filter in OnOne software’s Perfect Effects 8.

See here:

05 DSCF0270-Edit-Trees-Blur

I don’t recall the specific settings for the lens blur effect, but you will need to experiment and adjust as each image is unique. I wanted enough of the trees be recognizable so there would be no mistake it was a forest, yet have them appear blurry, to help solve the difference in camera angles from Appa and the scene behind her.

To solve the difference in colors of lighting, I created a layer in photoshop on top. I sampled an average green color from the background trees, filled the layer. I created a mask and on the mask, I loaded the silhouette of Appa as a selection, then deleted it to reveal only the green color over Appa.

The color cast was too heavy, so I reduced the opacity of the layer to 25%.

06 Color-Overlay

The photo was taking shape but needed a foreground of grasses, to portray the forest ground. I found this shot in my archives taken at the NJ shore:09 Appa-Grassy Forground

All I needed was the grass, so I added the photo to the layer stack at the top, above the silo of Appa, but just below the green overlay layer. I added a layer mask and used a graduated fill to eliminate the sky and fade the grass into the scene. I used a soft paint brush using white to reveal some of the strands of grass, so they didn’t look cut off abruptly, and used black to paint away some of the grasses over Appa, to make it look more realistic.

I lowered the opacity of the foreground grass slightly, to 70%, to blend into the scene.

Here’s the finished image:

10 Appa-FINISH

 

I ordered an 11 x 14  print on metallic paper from Bay Photo, framed with walnut wood and a simple white mat with clear acrylic on top.

The image on metallic paper is stunning and adds a unique 3-dimensional quality to the composition.

It has been well received, and no one knew it was a composition until I spilled the beans!

It was great fun and I hope this inspires others.

Cheers, Ivan

Bike Details

It’s been a long while since I posted so I thought I’d start off with a quick behind the scenes photoshoot. Inspired by Scott Kelby and Tim Wallace’s photography of exotic and expensive sports cars, so I decided to give it a try myself. To begin with, I don’t own an exotic car, nor do I have access to one. And, I certainly can’t afford one myself. However, I knew I could use their lighting principles on any shiny object. So, I decided to shoot my daughters bike!

Click images to see larger.

I purchased the bike for my daughter as a gift many years ago. I don’t know how old she was, but I found the bike at a Toys Are Us  nearby.

As things go, my daughter never got into mountain biking, and the bike sat in the garage for years, hardly used.

After being inspired by Scott Kelby’s detailed photographs of an Acura sports car, and Tim Wallace’s amazing work and tutorials, I thought I’d try shooting the bike!

First, I had to clean the bike. It was filthy and it took several hours to scrub it clean.

I don’t own a studio, and my basement is tiny, but that’s where I setup the shoot because I wanted to control the ambient light and get it as dark as possible. My home is an old stone colonial, built in 1780, and is on the historic registry in New Jersey, so you can imagine how limited the space is in my basement.

The last photo above shows the strip bank in relationship to the bike. The modeling light helped me figure out the lighting, and  I moved the front wheel many times, to get the angle just right. I switched from a prime 24mm lens to a 24-70mm zoom and found it much better for getting in tight and composing.

Settings
Canon 5DIII
24-70mm f/2.8 L
24mm f/1.4 L
f/20 @ 1/100
Some shots were @ f/22
ISO 100, and auto white balance

Lighting
Einstein 640 @ approx. 1/3 power
10 x 26 Strip bank
Triggered with sync cord
Avenger A5043 Stand with extension boom

I hope to get the opportunity to do this again on an exotic car, or motorcycle. I love what some people have done to customize their Harley Davidson motorcycles, and I’d love to shoot one someday. It’s always fun using big studio strobes, and learning. I feel I can do better, but I’m pleased with these shots as start. I hope to do many more. 😉

Cheers,
Ivan

Virtual Machine

A new addition to our Smiles Are Free bag of tricks, courtesy of Mike Abshier, is a virtual background system. I was put in charge of the equipment, and asked to test it out. Being the skeptic I was doubtful this would work, and be a viable piece of equipment. Although I have to admit, I was intrigued with the concept.

How it works — you place a 2.25″ slide transparency in the machine and it projects the image onto a special screen. The lamp works like a strobe, so you never see the image until it’s exposed. There is a modeling lamp, but the only way to preview it through the lens. This allows you to alter a pose or reposition your model. The screen is about the same size as an 9′ backdrop. Your subjects stand a few feet in front of the screen. Miraculously, the background appears in your shot. There are some issues. Your strobes must be feathered away from the background. Any spill will wash out the background image.

Here’s the setup:

Virtual Background Machine
The setup is involved and requires a lot of calibration to align all of the components.

Test 2, I finally got the image to appear. And yes, this has got to be the ugliest room I’ve ever seen.:

Test 2
Test shot of a projected “virtual background” scene

Test 3, with me in the scene. One beauty dish with strobe, on low power. f/4 at 1/160, ISO 100.

Moi Boudoir
Ok, I know, I could have at least smiled for the picture! :-}

Here’s my quick review:
The system works. Do I love it? Uh, not so much. Does it have possiblities? It might. I don’t like locking my camera into a machine that can’t move easily. This can be solved with more expense, but you are still limited in movement. I’m not a tripod shooter when I do portraiture. I like to move around and be spontaneous. This system locks you in. The backgrounds they offer are cheesy-wiz schmaltzy. It comes with about 22 backgrounds. You can buy more and they sell hundreds, or you can shoot your own film. This opens up some possibilities. I’ll shoot some more and post soon. There may be one or two they provided that might have some merit, but most of them I don’t like very much.

It’s a very controlled system. Your lighting needs to be spot on and gelled to match the lighting in the projected image, otherwise, you look cut-and-pasted into the scene, as I do in the un-gelled example above. This takes some doing and a lot of experimentation.

Portability – the screen weighs a ton. It’s actually two screens, sandwiched together. A silvery backing and black mesh in front. It rolls up into it’s own holder and mounts to standard background stands. The projector mounts to heavy gear-head tripod. This thing also weighs a ton and has a fragile glass – beam-splitter mounted to it. It will need to be broken down and packed in an optional hard case, to be portable. It’s a big deal to move it, set it up and transport. Not very practical.

If you are looking for a way to minimize Photoshop collage work (I happen to love Photoshop colgaging!), and like the idea of instantly changing a background scene, and providing a customer a quick, on-the-spot instant photo, there is a business model here. It reminds me of a mall photo studio where moms bring their babies. Ugh. In reality, you could actually make a business out of this thing. Is it creative? it could be, if you shoot your own backgrounds, have a wardrobe of accessories, makeup artists, costumes… whatever. Will I use it? Hmmmmm. For Smiles Are Free…, I might, since we now own it. For my own work or anything else… no.

CAVEAT:
THESE ARE TEST SHOTS ONLY and NOT indicative of my photography, creativity or skill. The background scene of a velour couch in the ugliest room I’ve ever seen, came with the system. It is absolutely awful. The shot is tilted…because i’m still figuring out how to align… and the color is off… no correction gels were used yet.

Check back again for more test shots.

Cheers,
Ivan