Articles Tagged: assignments

The Mirror Tip from a Corporate Photographer

Steve Foxall is a well-known commercial and corporate photographer in Dallas. He shares studio space at DCP and we often see him packing and unpacking from location jobs. Recently he was loading up one of his bags and I noticed an interesting piece of gear and asked him about it:

Once I get my subjects on the set, I found that the most important thing is to be able to show them how they look and this is where the mirror comes into play. I actually have 3 different mirrors and they all cost 99 cents from the Dollar Store. One of them has a very fancy surround on it and it’s a good ice-breaker because it reminds me of the mirror that Amy Farah Fowler would use in The Big Bang Theory.  Another one has a red surround on it and the third one has a black surround with cracked glass.

I’ve kept the cracked one for the really stiff corporate clients who are going to say “Oh, the black one is actually cracked” and wonder why I’ve kept it!  It can also break the ice. The person will tell me that they are going to break the mirror and I’ve given them a broken mirror already.  It’s basically the most important thing because they can see the position of their hair and make little corrections to it. 

It was thirty years ago today. . .

It’s been 30 years since Peter Poulides was named one of the great travel photographers in the December 1983 issue of Travel and Leisure.  He came to my office, dropped the issue on my desk and laughed that we should do a “throw back Thursday” post on the blog.  I was amused.  30 years ago, if someone said write a blog post on #tbt they would not know what you meant.  Yet, here we are.

I pick up the magazine and look at the cover.  It is endearing.  His mother wrote what page he was featured on in the middle of the forehead of the girl on the front.  As I thumb through the 126 pages to get there, I skip over a multitude of early 80s ads for cars and alcohol.

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I get to the article and the list of photographers is impressive.   I immediately recognize some of the greats – Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Mary Ellen Mark and Arnold Newman.  Each photographer has a featured photograph and I see Peter’s image of the Greek church in Mykonos.

There is a common quality between all of the photographs in this spread and I see it clearly in Peter’s shot – stillness.  This does not mean that there is not movement and energy in these photographs.  What it means is that there is an arrested motion – a suspension that is so delicate that one more moment later, it will be destroyed.

“I was there with my partner, a writer, photographing for about 45 minutes,” Peter says in the article.  “Finally, she became cold, began shivering and wanted to leave.  I started to pack things up, turned my shoulders and was about to leave, but looked back and said, ‘just one more shot.’ This is it.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson coined this concept as “the decisive moment.”  It is the moment when all of the elements come together and for a split second are in complete alignment.  They are at peace with one another.

A good photographer is aware of these moments.  A great photographer is an essential element of the moment.

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Heavy Metal Department

Just a little retouching

I had a chance to do another large banner project for the YMCA. This time it’s for a 13x17ft rear-lit sign to hang on the corner of their newly remodeled building in downtown Dallas. The last banner job was going to be viewed from close enough that I decided to shoot with the 24.5 megapixel Nikon D3X. This new banner would be viewed from the street so I shot it with my 12 megapixel D300.

We shot several setups, knowing that one of the shots would be used on the building and the others would be part of a billboard and bus campaign. This photo of a group of Y members was the one chosen for the big sign. There were several changes and repairs to be made.

Quite often on discussion groups you’ll hear people get snarky and say something like “I would have just shot it right in the first place instead of spending so much time in Photoshop”. The people who take that attitude may not have shot in a live, slightly chaotic location with a dozen people waiting to have their picture taken. With paid models you can sometimes take a little longer getting things “right”, but you don’t often have that luxury. Also, what’s “right” may not have even been decided yet!

We shot this group of people near a railing, in front of a glass wall with the basketball courts in the background.

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Once the shot was selected it was time to clean it up a bit: (from L to R)
– Stretch the top part of the frame to match the aspect ratio of the sign.
– Repair the woman’s eye which was hidden under her bangs. I found another eye from a different shot.
– We didn’t have a good shot of the second man looking at the camera so decided to replace him with a woman from another setup.
– Replace the logo on the man’s shirt with a Y logo and change the shirt color.
– Remove logo from the red jacket.
– Remove logo from shorts.

The idea was to have some good background action happening on the basketball court. I had the actors step out of the frame and I shot a couple dozen frames of court action at 1/8 sec to get some blur. Keeping the camera locked off made it a little easier to composite the background elements:

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– The woman with the blue shorts was used in place of the man from the original image. I had to first clear out a space for her by cloning over the edges of the man to give her some extra background. Then the adjacent actors were masked and she was placed behind them. Shadows were painted in to match the lighting from the left. The client also asked to add some color to her shirt.
– The basketball court was placed into the main shot, along with background action from three shots.
– The last inset shows a photographer friend of mine with the Lastolite Easy Balance card for white balance. (Wiley is his name and you can see his work here.)
– My client sent over the background graphic as a Illustrator file and I dropped it in as a Smart Object and needed to do some masking around the actor’s head
– Then there was skin retouching, some clothing repairs, local and overall color balance, hair trimming, sharpening. . . the usual ;-)
– The file was sized up to final print size at 50dpi, which is the native resolution of the XL Jet printer.

Here is the final composited shot after about 3 1/2 hours of work:

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one big light

My son plays tuba in a rock band that’s been practicing at the studio for the last few weeks. I thought it might be fun to shoot some pictures at one of their rehearsals. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time setting up lights and wondered what I could do to get something interesting. They were playing in front of the cyc, but the white floor is in need of a coat of paint and I didn’t want to spend time cleaning that up in Photoshop.

A raw shot from the balcony with just the overhead fluorescents on:

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I turned on a 2K (2,000 watt) tungsten light, widened the beam and just blew out the cyc wall behind them. That gave me some interesting contrast and solved the dirty floor problem since now the light is skipping off the surface of the floor instead of showing all the dirt. I did a little toning, tinting and negative clarity in Lightroom and go something we all liked.

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Really big prints

I’ve had an Epson 7600 for a few years and always thought of it as a big machine with an appetite for ink and a producer of impressive big prints. Up to 24″ wide by any length. Boy, have I had to recalibrate that thinking! I just got through shooting a job for some interior banners that will hang at the newly remodeled downtown Dallas YMCA. They are being printed on an HP Scitex XL Jet which prints up to 5 meters wide (196″). The images will be full bleed and the size is 9ft x 18ft. I shot using a rented Nikon D3x. I’ve written about that experience here. The resolution of the D3x is roughly 4000×6000 pixels. The long dimension of the banners of 18ft, or 216 inches. Dividing the resolution (6000 pixels) by the printed dimension (216 inches) will give us the maximum pixels per inch that I would get on the print: 6000/216=28. If I crop the image I would have fewer pixels. Is 28 ppi (pixels per inch) enough? Absolutely, because of viewing distance.

When I do my own exhibition prints, I have found that anything over about 150ppi is seldom seen in the print itself. If the image is a technical or highly detailed shot involving product with sharp edges, a super high-res multi image panorama or overlayed vector art or text, then going to 200 or 250 ppi can make a difference. Those images are hung on a wall and viewed from a few feet away – unless you’re like me and always lean in, tip your head, and look to see what kind of detail there is in the print. Its sometimes an unkind thing to do, but I’m always interested in printing technique and it doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the image as art.

These large banners will hang overhead and the minimum viewing distance from a 6′ person’s eyeballs to the bottom of the banner will be 7ft, assuming they are looking straight up. To the center of the banner would be about 11ft. More realistically, the viewing distance as people move around the room will be well over 15ft. If 150ppi is great quality at a viewing distance of 3 feet, then what happens at about 15ft? Subjectively, I can tell you that they look great. I’ve seen the prints at Color Place, who is doing the printing, and was pleased with how crisp they look from a few feet away. The numbers support this. There is a simple, linear relationship here. A viewing distance of 3ft is 1/5th of a viewing distance of 15ft. Take our target high quality image of 150ppi and divide by 5 and you get, yup, 30ppi. There is a good article on this topic here.

The ink droplets from the HP Scitex XL Jet printer that Color Place uses are pretty big. Well, big in the ink jet world. They are specified at 80 picoliters. By comparison, my Epson 7600 has a minimum drop size of 4 picoliters. That’s billionths of a liter, which is small! What that means is that the image from the XL Jet, when viewed closely, has quite a bit of dithering, a kind of noise pattern that results from the low printing resolution. That is actually a very good thing in terms of percieved sharpness. At a distance, that noise actually sharpens the image. Try it yourself. Print a photo, then add noise to it in your image editor. Put them side by side and step back. Often the noisier image will appear sharper.

I visited Color Place when they were printing and finishing the banners. The printer is really big, and so is the head assembly. I complain about buying 220ml cartridges for my printer. These guys buy ink by the gallon. When the print technician saw me photographing the bottles on the floor he said “Oh, that’s just junk ink. We can’t use that. Here’s the new stuff” and then showed me the cabinet with the new gallon jugs.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is how inexpensive this kind of banner printing has gotten. It costs me about $2/square foot in ink and paper to print on my Epson printer. You can get banners made for around $3 to $4 per sq. ft. You aren’t going to hang them in a gallery, but it is a blast seeing images this size.

Laptop tripod tray

I wanted to be able to use my laptop tethered while shooting. I looked into a couple of commercial laptop trays, but they were kind of overkill. I used an extra Bogen Magic Arm and some plywood to make a usable platform. I cut a piece of 1/2″ plywood slightly smaller than the footprint of the Vaio laptop and inserted a 1/4″-20 threaded insert into the center, dressed it with some black gaffer’s tape, and made a strap out of velcro. It gave me a stable, adjustable platform for the laptop.

Warning, don’t try clamping something like this to a carbon fiber tripod. This is a stout, aluminum Gitzo which can take the compression from the SuperClamp at the end of the Magic Arm.