Archive for the ‘Tools and Techniques’ category

Convergence of Video and Still, Part 2

June 24, 2010

Canon 5D MK II being used on the set of "House". Photo Courtesy Greg Yaitaines and Philip Bloom.

OK, last time I talked about my experience using a Canon 5D MK II DSLR on location to shoot both stills and video.  The 5D is an amazing tool, shooting both high-definition video at a number of different resolution and frame rates and huge, beautiful 21 megapixel still images, switching between the modes almost seamlessly.

Since the introduction a few years ago of professional video/still DSLRs, a community of filmmakers and bloggers  has sprung up, using these cameras to create amazing work.

One of my favorites is Philip Bloom, a UK-based filmmaker who makes films using DSLRs, primarily Canons.

Another is Shane Hurlburt, ASC, cinematographer on this fabulous short, “The Last Three Minutes,” shot entirely on a Canon 5D MK II.   Almost as entertaining is his story of the making of this film.

Equipment manufacturers such as Zacuto are also turning out all kinds of specialized equipment for DSLRs, and adapters to use the cameras with more traditional film and video equipment.

And, recently the Canon 5D was used to shoot an episode of the Fox medical drama, “House“. Pretty impressive for a camera that sells for about $2,500.  The picture above was taken on the set of this episode, and is used courtesy of  Greg Yaitainis and Philip Bloom.


The Convergence of Video and Photography

June 17, 2010

Marines conducting field medical drills at Camp LeJeune, NC.

I’m very excited about how motion media and still images – video and photography – are converging in the latest generation of hybrid cameras that shoot video footage as well as do traditional still photography.  Cameras such as the Canon 5D Mk II, the Canon 7D and the Nikon D300S break down the boundary between video and stills and provide truly amazing capabilities at a reasonable price.

Last week, I shot my first video/still assignment using a Canon 5D MK II DSLR, and it was wild. Non-stop, run-and-gun video at Camp LeJeune of Marine medical drills staged in an open field under blazing sun, running in and out of medical tents following  stretchers that were carrying make-believe patients. The 5D performed like a champ, delivering beautiful, well-exposed hi-def video in conditions ranging from bright sun to near darkness. A great feature of the 5D is that you can take a still photograph while it is recording video, and return automatically to recording video. Very cool!

The new equipment does, however, upset the established division of labor for both video shoots and still shoots. Before hybrid cameras, you needed a still camera to capture stills and a video camera to capture video. On location, this usually meant a video crew of at least two or three people: camera operator, sound recordist, and producer/director; and a still photographer. Now, agencies are trying to squeeze this down to one person with a hybrid DSLR tasked with both jobs.

Shooting both stills and video with a DSLR can be challenging for one person to do, especially in a fluid, fast moving  environment where that person has no control over events.  When to shoot video? When to shoot stills?  Shooting stills with a Canon 5D while it is shooting video is easy, but it interrupts video recording for about one second.  Will that second contain important action?

As well, the on-board microphone is really only good for recording a background sound track;  it also picks up all of the camera handling noise.  A remote microphone is needed for a good sound track, either a wireless or a directional mic that mounts in the camera’s hot shoe. Now, that one lone photographer/videographer has a lot of balls to keep in the air!

Nevertheless, I’m convinced that this is the future of video/photography, and photographers and videographers will need to learn each other’s  job and become good at using the this new equipment.

Do You Color Outside The Lines?

November 7, 2009
New York skyline, approaching storm.

Profiles.  They can be good or bad, your left side or right side, or what you write about yourself on Facebook.  But in digital printing,   profiles are part of the the glue that connects the colors your digital camera captures to the colors in your digital print.

A printer profile is a bit of software, called an ICC file,  that describes  how a particular combination of printer, inkset, and printing paper reproduce colors at a specific printing  resolution. For example,  the ICC profile SP7898 PLPP260 PK 2880.icc describes how an Epson 7800 printer using the K3 inkset with Photo Black ink printing on Epson Premium Lustre 260 paper at a printing resolution of 2880 dpi reproduces color.

Profiles are useful because they let Adobe Photoshop  accurately  preview what your image will look like when it’s printed, and  to control your digital printer’s output so it matches that preview. (or, at least, as close as ink on paper can look to pixels on a monitor).

Once the appropriate profiles are installed, Photoshop  uses them in the View>Proof Setup command on the top menu to preview images,  and in the Print dialogue to control your printer. Voila, an accurate print.

Or maybe not.

Along with ICC profiles, colorspace helps to determine what colors your camera records, that Photoshop displays and  your print or digital file reproduce. A device colorspace defines the range of colors, or gamut, that a device, such as a camera or printer, can reproduce. An editing colorspace is device-independent, but determines the color range you can work in with, for, example, Adobe Photoshop software.

The main colorspaces photographers work in are Adobe RGB (1998), the traditional editing space for, naturally, Adobe Photoshop;  sRGB,  which is primarily used for  images posted on the web; and, more recently ProPhoto.

sRGB  has a smaller gamut than Adobe 1998, which has a smaller gamut than ProPhoto. Why is this important?  Because to know how the beautiful colors in your digital image will look in a print, your devices need to be using the same colorspace, your monitor needs to be calibrated accurately to the same colorspace, and your editing software needs to display the same color space.

See what I meant by insanity?  BTW, for you people working with Adobe Lightroom, it uses the ProPhoto color space.


My, What A Beautiful Profile You Have!

October 16, 2009

Surfside Dawn

One of the great things about digital photography is convenience. You can see your pictures right away, and delete those you hate and take more.

You can take a bazillion pictures and they’re saved on a teeny tiny memory card that’s barely bigger than your thumbnail.

You can load them into a computer and store them,  erase the memory card, and go out and take more pictures.

And you can make prints yourself, hooking your computer up to a digital printer, and – sometimes they look great.

But too often, digital  prints are a disappointment because the colors are wrong, or the pictures are too dark, or they just look gooky –  not at all like the glorious images you saw through the viewfinder.

I teach digital printing workshops, and the question I hear most often is,  “Why don’t my prints look the same as my pictures looked on the monitor?”

That’s a good question with a complex answer.

It’s because  digital cameras see (and record) color differently than a computer monitor, which sees color differently than a digital printer. Metaphorically, while they’re all talking the same basic language, it’s like each one is speaking a different dialect and missing a few words of what the others are saying.

In my digital printing workshops, I teach how to get all these devices talking to each other properly to get consistent results, to have your prints match what you see on your monitor, and how to control the digital printing process so that you can make artistic choices in how to render an image.

Or, in other words, the art and science of  using a color managed digital workflow.

And, just as the future rested on single word, “plastics,” whispered to Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate,” digital color management also rests on a single word: “profiles”

Next Time:  Profiles, Color Space and  Insanity.


Fun with Photoshop Actions

August 27, 2009

JP_090517_20313 copyJP_090517_20313-Edit_flat copy

I now use Adobe Lightroom for about 90% of my work, but I still use Adobe Photoshop for pictures that require layers,  compositing, and creative tools that Lightroom doesn’t have,  such as Actions.

Actions are awesome. An action is a programmed series of operations in Photoshop that is set in motion with a single mouse click, and can be designed to do just about anything, from simple to extremely complex. They’re one-step solutions that can really add to productivity and creativity.

Photoshop comes with a few actions, and you can write your own, although the process is not very intuitive. There are gobs of free actions on-line for a huge range of tasks, and I regularly surf for them,  looking for new ones to add something special to my pictures or automate  really boring and repetitive tasks, such as resizing pictures and saving them as jpgs.

One of my favorite actions converts an image into a high-contrast black and white duotone.  I often combine this action with layer masking and painting to create duotones that also have areas of color.  Above  is a before and after example of this technique.

To add an action to Photoshop, click on the menu box in the upper right corner of the Actions Palette, and select “Load Options”. Then, navigate to the folder on your computer where you have saved the action and select it.

actions paletteactions menu

To apply an action to an image, first open the image in Photoshop and click on the button for the action in the Actions Palette. In the picture on the left,  above, each of the horizontal bars with text is an action “button”.

Below are some of my favorite Actions websites;   Google “Photoshop Actions” to find many, many more.

Have fun!

Action Central

Deviant Art

Smashing Magazine


Kids, Capes and Cameras

May 15, 2009

It’s been said that photographers should avoid children and animals, but I really like working with kids. They are great fun to photograph, because once you gain their trust they open up to you and are entirely at ease in front of the camera.  I recently started a new series with children, sparked by a shoot I did with my significant other’s grandkids, boys age 3 and 5. It started as a conventional portrait session, but suddenly veered into something else when the 5 year old wanted to wear his new red cape, that has a big white star on it.  Now, I’ve photographed a lots of kids modeling clothing, for advertising and clothing catalogs,  but this time was very different.  What I saw through the viewfinder wasn’t a shy, quiet 5 year old boy, but a SUPERHERO ready to save the world, and that came across powerfully in the pictures.  I started photographing other kids dressed in costumes and acting out their fantasies, and their transformation to superhero, ballerina, sports star, or cartoon character has yielded strikingly different and powerful images. As a result, I’ve added Kids’ Fantasy Photo Adventures to my portrait business.  I hope you’ll visit my site and check out the Fantasy Photo Adventures gallery and let me know what you think.

Photography and recharging the creative batteries

November 3, 2008

First, my apologies for not posting for so long; about a three weeks ago I had cervical spinal surgery and I have been  moving a bit slowly. Also, apologies for the typos, my right hand is not back to normal yet and, unfortunately, I have not yet learned to type left handed, though that might be  a useful skill to work on.

The past few days I’ve had a chance to get back in the field and make pictures while teaching a photography workshop in the North Carolina Outer Banks. We had an enthusiastic group of participants from across the country and from Canada, and they managed to get up before dawn every day and work until way past dark. It’s amazing, and sometimes scary,  what people can create when they have been deprived of sleep for three or four days. I’m thinking of doing a study of how creativity is enhanced by depriving creative people of sleep for long periods of time. Let me know if you would like to volunteer, and I’ll refer you to a competent psychiatrist for an evaluation before you are committed to an asylum!

The workshop is part of a series I teach with two other talented photographers as part of the Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures. We teach workshops across the country, helping photographers hone their skills, especially their ability to see beyond the ordinary and create extraordinary images. Then, we teach the basics of color-managed workflow so our participants can control color reproduction from the camera through the computer to the printer and create prints that match the images they see on their computer monitors.  Everyone goes home with a big digital print made on site of an image they created and worked on during the workshop.

Sometimes there is no better reward than seeing a student have that “Aha!” moment when they have made a breakthrough and learned something new. Well, I have to amend that; NOTHING is better than good Champagne, fois gras and Cote D’or dark chocolate, and what often follows when two consenting adults indulge in these wonderful things.

The weather was perfect and we were able to take our people to some of our favorite spots to experience the glory of the sun rising from the Atlantic Ocean and painting the dunes, and to work with the exquisite afterglow that remains when the sun has set but its light is still reflected from the immense dome of the sky. Having a few picturesque lighthouses as subjects didn’t hurt, either.

We had a great time working with our participants and we hope they had just as good a time working with us. If not, please send complaints to the Dead Letter Office of the US Post Office.

Since I try to talk about photographic issues with each entry, I will return to the subject of creative black and white digital printing. In an earlier post, I covered an alternative way to create quality B&W conversions in Adobe Lightroom; today we talk about creating Duotones and Quadtones in Adobe Photoshop CS3. One of the best ways I know to create lush, rich B&W prints is by changing them into Duotones or Quadtones. A Duotone combines a second color with black to subtly enhance the image and, particularly, the feeling of depth of tone. A Quadtone combines four inks to do achieve a similar effect, but usually with added subtlety and impact. I use this technique often on my web site.

How can you do this in Photoshop? First, convert your image to Grayscale if it is color with the Image>Mode menu setting (I would create a copy first so you can always preserve the original). Then, again under the Image>Mode setting,  select Duotone. A Duotone Options dialogue box will open, showing the inks and contrast curves Photoshop has pre-set for duotones. While you can go in and change all of these parameters, Adobe has done a pretty good job of choosing ink colors and setting up curves, so you might want to use their choices to learn the process before experimenting.

There is also a drop down box in the Dialogue box that also lets you choose Tritones and Quadtones, and a “Load” radio button on the right side of the box that lets you select and load in other combinatons.

You may have to hunt for the folder where Adobe has hidden the Duotone and Quadtone curves; in my PC copy of CS3 the path is: Program files>Adobe Photoshop CS3>Presets>Duotones, where you should find separate folders for Duotones, Tritones and Quadtones.  Experiment with them to see if you like the results. Remember, if you change parameters and come up with something good you can save your changes as a Preset in the Dialogue box. Convert your image files back to RGB to preview them in Photoshop’s Softproof feature or the print them with an RGB printer. Most inkjet printers are set up to print RGB images.

Well, I feel the need for more heavy drugs and a short nap, so I will stop, but have fun with Quadtones and let me know what you think.