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

Julia & Julia

Before and After
I recalled a scene from the movie “Julia & Julia”, a story about Julia Childs starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, where Julia, played by the incomparable Meryl Streep was sitting on a bench in a Paris train station.

In reality, the scene was shot in the historic Hoboken NJ train station, because it resembles the early stations in Paris around 1949 when Julia Childs lived there early in her career. I pass through the Hoboken train station twice each day for my commute to work.

So, I thought I’d bring a small point-and-shoot camera to be discreet, and take some shots of the station. I Processed this shot in Lightroom 4 and OnOne’s Perfect Effects, and here is the before-after of the very same bench Meryl Streep sat on in the movie.



If curious, you can read more about it here.

Old Tractor, Before After

After being inspired by the latest Perfect Inspiration video by Brian Matiash, I remembered a shot I took of an old rusting tractor in 1999. I thought I’d go back and re-visit post processing to enhance the shot further.

I loosely followed the steps on epsiode 16, getting lost, but changed a few things to better suit the tractor photo.

I think you’ll agree, it’s a decent improvement. As I do more, I’ll continue to post more before and after shots.

I used Lightroom 4 to make the initial minor adjustments, then OnOne’s Perfect Photo Suite 6.1 to add the gritty feel, vibrance and selective focus. I created several layers with various blending effects to bring out the rusty decay in the photo. By adding the focal-point, selective blur effect to the background, it brought out the tractor, adding dimension.

Below is the before-and-after. Drag the slider left or right to see the comparison.

Much thanks to OnOne software’s Brian Matiash, for his terrific series of videos that inspire and teach at the same time. It’s helped me learn to use their software.

Thanks for visiting!

Canon 7D firmware upgrade

Canon’s EOS 7D firmware v2 upgrade.

The release will be coming in August. Here’s the list of new features:

• Improved maximum burst for RAW images (up to 25)
• In-camera RAW image editing
• In-camera Image Rating
• In-camera JPEG resizing
• Maximum Auto ISO setting (ISO 400-6400)
• Manual audio level adjustment in movie recording
• GPS compatibility
• File name customization
• Time zone settings
• Faster scrolling of magnified images
• Quick control screen during playback

Here’ my take:
Great! Having new functionality added by way of firmware is always welcome.

However, they missed the mark. It would have been easy (i think) to add more Auto Exposure Bracketing stops, extending the current limitation. Nikon’s D4 can shoot up to 9, with 1/3, 1/2 or 1 stop increments.

I want this for HDR photography. Doing so manually is a pain, and can’t be done as quickly as an automated mode.

As for the other features, I find most of them will be useless to me.

• I don’t need in-camera RAW image editing. All my editing is done using Lightroom or Photoshop.
• I don’t need to re-name files in camera.
• Manual audio level adjustment – Nice, if you shoot video and need it, but most people I know that shoot video, use a separate recording device and sync it in post. So, this is nice, but not a necessity.
• Time Zone settings – should have been there in before, so nice to finally have it for travelling.
• GPS compatibity – nice, but not a necessity.
• Faster scrolling of magnified images – was never an issue for me before.
• Quick control screen during playback – I never found not having this to be an issue before.
• Still no voice memo! At 8 frames per second in continuous shooting mode and with it’s fast focus tracking, this is a sports shooters camera. The need to record a voice memo for an important sports play, would’ve been nice. Why they left this out is beyond me.

This is supposed to be a significant upgrade. Canon will certainly sell more GPS units, but for the average user like myself, this upgrade falls short of what I really wanted.

More details on the Canon Rumors website.

Before After

My first post in a series that show some of my photography, before and after processing. This shot was taken last year in October. It was a cold, dreary day, and we decided to drive to Brooklyn and take some shots of the bridges by DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). This is an iconic place with an amazing, panoramic view of the east side of New York City in between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.

The original (before) photo was shot in the camera RAW format. As you can see, there’s no detail in the sky, and the shadow areas are too dark. Although you can’t see the detail in the sky, it’s not lost, but is contained in the 16 bit file. By using Adobe Lightroom 4 to process the photo, I brought out the missing detail in the sky, and brightened the shadow areas of the bridge, this is a perfect example of how much information you can pull out of a RAW file.

Photographing a show

The King and I

I enjoy the privilege of photographing performances produced by Bergen County Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts, in Hackensack New Jersey. BCA is a magnet school where my eldest daughter, Alexandra attended and graduated in 2008. The most recent show the school produced was Rogers and Hammerstein’s The King and I.

It was magnificent. From the amazing, acting, singing, choreography, custom made costumes, set design, hair and makeup, to the stage craft, lighting and orchestral arrangements, this was a feast for the eyes and ears. Every bit as professional as any Broadway show I’ve seen. Congratulations to all the students, faculty, parents and volunteers that pulled off this show.

My job of photographing a show is very challenging, to say the least. The actors move quickly, lighting and sets change frequently, and stopping the action in such low light is difficult. Thank goodness for modern photography equipment, that enables me to capture imagery I never could have done so before.

My current gear can capture images at a rate of approx. 3.5 frames per second, which is not the speediest available today. However, I find for my needs, sufficient. I manage to push it to the limits at times when I need it, and I do well. Yes, I will upgrade to faster technology in the future, but for now this suits fine. It forces me to take my time and find the best moments. When they occur, I fire 2 or 3 bursts and I’m assured one of them will be sharp and clean.

Now the tougher part is lighting conditions, metering the scene and adjusting exposure compensation in real time. To know the camera’s controls without looking is imperative, and must be instinctual. Moving EV (exposure values) plus or minus as needed, as much as 3 or 4 stops, in an instant. This is in part, how I’ve been able to achieve success. There are plenty of missus still, which is normal for any photographer. The answer is to shoot a lot. I shoot as much as 3,000 images over the course of three shows! Coming back to shoot additional shows, from three performances, enables me to capture images I may have missed. And, coming back for the other shows, allows me to shoot from other vantage points. It’s amazing how a scene can change, just by moving your body to different shooting angle.

I limit my posts to only hundreds from the thousands I shoot, which is still a significant amount of photos, but I must do so. The reason for this is to cover the entire event. But more importantly, to provide at least one photo of someone’s son or daughter. Hopefully, a keepsake or image that can be used to help them advance to the next level of their education or career. I wish them all the very best.

All of this is volunteer work that I thoroughly enjoy, and hope helps the community!

See some of the photos here:  “The King and I”

PDN and Photowalk with RC Concepcion

October 27 -29, 2011 was the PDN PhotoPlus expo at the Javits center, in New York City.

On Thursday, Oct., 27th, I went on a photowalk with by RC Concepcion and the founders of 500px. RC is one of the “Photoshop” guys from Kelby training, a great photographer and all around good guy. Evgeny Cheboterev, Andrey Tochilin, Jen Tse, and several others from 500px were there from Toronto and it was great meeting them. Well known wedding photographer and blogger Lisa Bettany (Mostly Lisa), was also there.

RC took the lead for our walk. We met at the Intrepid air space museum, where I shot a decent and impromptu HDR of the Intrepid. For those who are unfamiliar, HDR is a High Dynamic Range photo that combines three or more bracketed exposure to expand the dyanmic range.

From there, we walked to Times Square, stopping for shots along the way. RC got excited when he saw an opportunity to break out his Speedlights, to shoot a ATM near a corrugated steel door. I assisted by holding one of them as his VAL (voice activated light stand). Here’s the scene, but I don’t have a link to RC’s shot.

Here’s my shots from the photowalk.

Canon’s new flagship! Canon EOS-1D X

Just announced this morning, October 18, 2011, Canon announced their new flagship DSLR, the EOS-1D X. Based on rumors, I new there would be a new hi-end DSLR announcement today, and this one did not disappoint.

I’ve been hoping that Canon would finally step up with a body that can compete with Nikon’s amazing D3 and D3x. If the image quality and performance lives up to the specifications, I think we’ll have a phenomenal camera. It comes at a steep price of $6,800, but for many, such as sports and photojournalists, it will be well worth the expense. For the rest of us, we’ll have to wait and see what happens in 2012 for the more affordable highly anticipated camera as the 5D Mark III or whatever they plan on naming it. My guess… it’ll have a lot of megapixels (39?) to compete with Nikon’s soon-to-be announced D800. So for those hoping for medium format-amount of megapixels, Nikon will have a solution, and I think Canon will to! It’s a great time to enjoy being a photographer. The technological advances are amazing..

Specs:
Magnesium body, with integrated vertical grip and battery compartment
18 megapixels, Full Frame 35mm Sensor
(2) Digic 5+ processors (17x faster then Digic 4s)
(1) Digic 4 processor dedicated for metering sensor and AF
100 – 51,200 ISO Range
ISO expansion 50 – 204,800 (wow!)
Carbon Fiber Shutter (rated 400,000 lifespan)
12 FPS continuous shooting
14 FPS continuous, with mirror lockup and JPEG only
X-Sync speed of 1/250
Twin CF Card Slots
Ethernet 1,000 Base-T port
100% Viewfinder – electronic overlay of AF points, level
Optional GPS Receiver and Wirless File Transmitter
Improvements to ergonomics – buttons and dials repeated for vertical grip and placed in easy reach of thumb and forefinger.
Multiple Exposure – you can combine up to (9) exposures to a single frame.
61 high-density AF points. Most advanced yet for superior AF precision and low light sensitivity.
New AF, intelligent tracking and recognition enhancements.
New metering and exposure control using dedicated Digic 4 processor
1080p video with new HD video formats and new compression.
Selectable frame rates of 24p, 25p, 30p, and 720p HD or SD at 50p or 60p, NTSC or PAL. Can exceed (4) GB file capacity, and continuous recording up to 1/2 hour. Audio has manual level control, and wind filter, through internal mic or optional external stereo mic input.

Release date is said to be March, 2012, with an expected manufacturing rate of 7,000 per month.

My take
This is an awesome speed demon. An upgrade that combines the previous top two Canon DSLR’s, the 1Ds Mark III and the 1D Mark IV into a single, impressive, pro body. Realizing that pixel quality is more important than pixel amount, at 18 high-quality, extremely low-noise megapixels, this camera looks to be amazing!

An able competitor that may actually exceed Nikon’s D3 and D3x flagship. It’s too early to tell, since no image samples have been posted yet, and no camera bodies released for reviewers to test.

 

Nikon on Facebook

Catherine Hall, a pro photographer, blogger, and host of the TWIT Photo podcast, commented on Google+ about a post by Nikon on Facebook recently. The post said “The photographer is only as good as his equipment”.  Nikon, Seriously? What’s weirder, there are over 1,600 people that “liked” this on the Facebook post!

There’s some speculation that this was the work of a hacker. Who would do such a thing? And if so, why? To discredit Nikon? That’s not going to happen. If true and a Nikon rep wrote it, Nikon will surely handle it appropriately.

Catherine has over 120 comments on this post so far, and there are over 2,750 comments on the errant post as well.

Feel free to add yours!

Click here to see Catherine Hall’s post on Google+

Click here to see Nikon’s Facebook post

 

 

 

"Nikon, are you serious?"
Nikon, are you serious?

Professional Portrait Retouching

I’ve been retouching photos for many years, and always found retouching portraits to be tedious and difficult.

I found that my old habits die hard. I easily fall back on methods that work, but take forever to accomplish.

Photoshop has evolved and keeping up with all the new tools can be daunting, unless you take the time to learn.

I finally decided it was time to improve my skills, and Joined NAPP and Kelby Training.

As a creative director, it’s important to be up-to-date with computer skills, and as a part-time weekend-warrior photographer, I began to feel the pressure to improve quickly.

I purchased Scott Kelby’s Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques book, and was thrilled with how much material there is jam-packed into his book.

I put many of the exercises through their paces, and began practicing.

I was thrilled with how much time I saved, and how great the results are.

The results are subtle, but you’ll see Samantha’s skin is smoother, her eyes are brighter and sharper, I added color to her lips, and highlights to her hair. Removed blemishes and stray hairs, and cleaned-up a rough edge of clothing on her shoulder.

Here’s the results:

Before

After

Let me know what you think!

Cheers, Ivan