Sun Rays – Before/After

When I’m photographing into the sun, I often do so with the intent on silhouetting or purposefully adding lens flare.

When it doesn’t happen, I can add the effects in post processing. By adding sun rays and lens flare, it can add mood to the scene. Here’s the before and after on a shot I took a few years ago while hiking in the Ramapo Reservation Park, in New Jersey.


Here are the abbreviated steps in Photoshop (Substitute CTRL for CMD if you are using a PC):

1) CMD -> Click on the RGB channel to load the luminosity. Create a new alpha channel and fill the loaded selection with white.

2) Boost contrast of the new alpha channel with levels. Use the black eyedropper and click on a dark area. Use the white dropper and click on a bright area.

3) Load the new alpha channel as a selection in a new layer and fill the selection with white.

5) Go to filter menu -> Blur -> Radial Blur -> set amount to 100%. In the preview window, move the center of the radial blur to the relative brightest spot in your photo.

6) Hit CMD-F to Re-apply the filter to soften the blur.

7) In filter effects, add an outer glow with a yellow-to-whte gradient, if you want to enhance it further.

8) To add more contrast and drama, add a new layer above the bottom-most layer. Load the alpha channel, invert the selection, and fill with black. Use the opacity slider to lessen the effect if it’s too dark. Use the Output Sliders (Know as the “Blend-If” sliders) and drag the black and the white sliders in towards the center to add more contrast.

9) Add lens flare – Create a new layer on top and fill it with black. Go to Filter -> Render -> Lens Flare. I chose the 50-300mm zoom and left it at 100 %. Choose Screen from the blending mode.

Your done!

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!

Giving Back

Several years ago, some friends and I decided to give back by using our photography. We reached out to several community centers in the New York City vicinity and made arrangements to come in, setup our photo gear and provide a day of free family portraits to the underprivileged families there. People who have never had a family portrait before. A keepsake of loved ones, that they’ll have forever. Something to do where we can use our skills, share knowledge, and give back to those less fortunate.

We thought it would be a great way to bring some happiness to those families, and a way for us to practice the craft of photography. Most of us are passionate amateur photographers, looking for interesting subjects and places to photograph. None of us were ever interested in profiting, just a method to do something fun and give back to the community.

Several of our volunteers are professionals, thrilled to donate their time and expertise in giving back. The expertise ranges from professional photographers, retouchers, makeup artists, IT pros, graphic designers, to passionate amateur photographers like myself.

With some planning, we pooled our talent and organized the events. Since we began, our accomplishments have been incredibly rewarding. We’ve provided portraits for hundreds of families, from Chinatown, to Harlem. I’m incredibly proud of our volunteers, and most important the wonderful families we’ve given back to.

The families are incredibly thankful. Many shed tears of joy, and can’t beleive we are giving them a gift of a family portrait. We make everyone of our subjects feel like kings and queens for the day. It is a joy to be involved and I look forward to every event.

We’ve gained some recognition! Time Inc., honored us for our community service work and we won the Andrew Heiskel Community Service award. Along with the award came a grant which was used for some printing supplies and needed lighting equipment.

We continue to do our charity work in 2012, with plans to photograph families from the Heritage Health and Housing center, in NY.

Smiles Are Free is a 501C3 non-profit organization.

www.smilesarefree.org

Some background
I’m a relative newbie to photography. For the most part, I’m self taught. Although I’ve been photographing for many years, I became serious just a few short years ago. I have much to learn. I shoot as often as I can and I keep up with my education with online courses and getting out to shoot as often as I can. It has brought me great joy. I love it as a creative outlet, and I enjoy the technicial aspects. Learning about cameras, lenses and all the associated gear is fun. But more important, enjoy giving back.

Volunteer for a cause, mentor someone, share your know how with others.

You’ll be a better person for doing so.

Cheers,
IB

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”

11 minutes with number 10!

Last Sunday (Jan 15), I watched the NY Giants eliminate the Green Bay Packers by a whopping 37 – 20. An enjoyable game, no doubt.

Eli Manning
11 minutes and number 10

I grew up a Giants fan, and I have fond memories of my family following the Giants, one frustrating year after another, until they finally won their first super bowl in 1987, than again in 1991, and lastly in 2008.

The last 10 years or so, I’ve become complacent about watching football. Not that I don’t enjoy the game, I just can’t stand the amount of commercial interruptions and the amount of penalties in a game. And listening to the inane commentary after each play gets annoying.

This got me wondering as to how much action do we ACTUALLY see in 3-hour broadcast?  I really don’t need a break to get a snack or go to the bathroom, 20 – 30 times during the course of ball game.

Then, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal where a writer thought of setting a stop watch to time the actual amount of action during a typical NFL game. To be fair, he took the average time from several games and came up with a whopping 11 minutes!

I will repeat that. ONLY 11 MINUTES OF ACTION! The rest of the time is commercials, breaks between each play, quarter, and commercial interruptions, and the multitude of replays!

It’s an eye opener, and worth a read. Will it stop me from watching games? Sort of. I don’t watch as many anymore, but when the playoffs come around, for reasons I can’t explain, I can’t resist watching!

Click this to read the WSJ article!

Looking forward to sitting for 3 more long hours next weekend, to watch the Giants play 11 more minutes!

:-}

Ivan