Monday, 28 May 2012

A look at Cecil Beaton

I picked up a book about the photographer Cecil Beaton CBE (January 1904 – January 1980) in a second hand bookshop a little while back. The book tells the story Beaton's life in the first section and then a has great many plates that span his whole career. I was surprised at how experimental and modern some of the photographic concepts appear. His early images of sisters Baba (Barbara) and Nancy show an interest in costume and elaborately designed set-ups. In later years Beaton is to win awards for his costume designs for the films 'My Fair Lady' and 'Gigi'.

Beaton has been a photographer for British vogue and Vanity Fair. He is also well known for his society and Hollywood Star portraits. Beaton also photographed the Royal Family on numerous occasions.

During the early war years Beaton was employed by the Ministry of Information to document the war on the home front. One of his images, a young girl clutching her teddy bear and recovering in hospital after a German bombing raid, was used in the world wide press. Images like this would eventually cause the American Government to join the war.

I thought this look at Beaton might be quite relevant to this module for a number of reasons. There is naturally a great deal of black and white photography which provides for a good study of tones. Equally interesting is his composition and use of props. It is also often  mentioned that Beaton was not the most technically adept of photographers and examining the reason for these comments could be useful.

Beaton has been an influence on photographers such as David Bailey and Angus McBean.

A Google image search revealed a good cross section of Cecil Beaton's work.

Baba, Wanda Baillie-Hamilton and Lady Bridget Poullett, 1928, showing creative use of props.

Eileen Dunne in the hospital for sick children 1940. 
Marlene Dietrich, 1935
Fashion, c1950's
Ref: Beaton, James Danziger Octopus Books, 1980, ISBN 0 7064 2663 0

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Interpretative processing

Following on from our realistic processing in the previous exercise, we now have the freedom to process an image to our creative desire. From one image we are to create three different interpretations.

I have have started by creating a list of styles and looks that have come to mind whilst thinking about this exercise. They are as follows:
  • Bold and crash colouring in the style of Martin Parr. Highly saturated and contrasty images. Push the primary colours.
  • Gritty Reality used by various artists. Highly sharpened images that take on a look as if they have been drawn.
  • Black & white, a classic style.
  • Desaturated and softened like a watercolour painting.
From these styles it appears to me that one of my coastal pictures might fit the bill with references to Martin Parr's 'Last Resort', black and white representing the British history in sea-side entertainment and perhaps the watercolour referring back to the posters of the 20' and 30's.

I looked through my images and chose the one below. I have processed this one before but thought it would be good to start again from scratch. Therefore the image below is the original Raw converted to Jpeg with all its previous processing removed. This serves as our base reference picture.

The original image. 1/8000 @ F1.8, ISO 100, EF85mm.
The first edit is in Martin Parr style. For this I am going to increase the saturation and contrast as a starting point. In Lightroom I have made a virtual copy so that I can keep all the different edits separate. The processing carried out to achieve this effect was as follows: warm up with manual white balance, increase the contrast,increase blacks,increase saturation in HSL and finally re-adjust the white balance again.

Martin Parr style.
After finishing this edit I looked through a series of Martin parr images again. I am pleased with how this came out and think it achieved what I set out to do. I am not happy with the sky though. This really needs cropping out as it looks grubby. I did attempt to give it a graduated blue filter but this didn't help. For completeness I have included the cropped version at the end of this exercise.

For my next interpretation I have chosen classic black & white processing. I would like this image to represent a traditional black and white photograph as opposed to a black & white version of a colour image. To aid with this I have cropped the image to a square format, resembling a medium format 2 1/4 inch square camera.

I spent some time in my RAW processor with various settings and achieved the following. Briefly, I started out setting the white balance and exposure and then worked on various colour channels. I found I had to re-set the exposure several more times during the process. Finally I added some grain.

Old school black & white.
I am very happy with the result and think it does look like an old photograph. I do have one issue with the finished photograph though. The grain is very unrealistic and I may have overdone the quantity a bit.

For my final edit I am processing the image as softly as possible to make it look like a water colour picture. In Photoshop, this is fairly easy to achieve with post processing. My interpretation of the brief is that I need to try and achieve this during the RAW conversion so will not have the luxury of post processing. Therefore I will try and get this effect using solely Lightroom.

The characteristics of the type of image I am trying to create are soft, pastel colours with'blocked out' details.

I kept the same crop as above and after a lot of playing around, this is what I came up with.

A painterly effect.
As mentioned, I know I would have been able to get it closer to a painting in Photoshop but this has all been done in the RAW processor. It took a lot of adjustments but generally speaking the effect is based on softening and blurring. Even though the image is not quite as painterly as I had hoped for, I am still pleased I managed to get this end result.

Finally, below is the cropped Martin Parr style image.

Martin Parr style cropped.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Managing Colour

The main purpose of this exercise is to correct colour casts.I have looked through my images to find a couple of pictures with what I consider to be a colour cast that needs correcting.

I shoot RAW normally so my corrections will be made in my RAW converter. This will be Lightroom 4. When I am out shooting I quite often used to leave my camera set to auto white balance. Since starting this course I now more often set the white balance at shooting time or include a grey card in the picture.

Picture 1. Below is a picture I took on a recent shoot with Catharine, cropped but without any adjustment.. The colours are noticeably cool which is particularly evident in Catharine's fore-arms and the shadow side of her face. It is also quite a dark exposure. There is a small patch of grey on the trees in the back ground which we may be able to use to help us balance this shot..

P1. 1/500 @ F1.8, ISO 100, 85mm Auto White Balance.
To work on this image I first used the white balance eye dropper to select the Gray patch on the tree towards the back. This improved things but still left the image looking 'wrong'. I then used the temperature slider by hand to adjust the white balance until I was happy with it (Picture 2). Then I upped the exposure to brighten the picture a little. The results can be seen below.

P2. The adjusted image.

Picture 3. I had trouble finding another picture with a noticeable colour cast until I came across this in my collection. The is quite an old RAW image I took when I was messing around with depth of field and close-up photography and has a massive colour cast! I can't quite remember what the circumstances were under which the image was shot although I do have the camera settings. I believe the cardamom pods were laid out on a piece of white card in front of a large window but there is obviously some colour 'pollution' coming from somewhere!

P3. 1/10 @ F5.6, ISO 100, Auto White Balance.
The area sampled for white balance.
As we can see above there is a definite pink tinge to the whole image. To work on this picture I first imported it into Light-room and took it straight into the develop module. I used the colour picker on a small area of shadow on the white card as is shown in the cutaway to the left. Balancing to this are of shadow gave a tonally correct image which was however still a little flat and dull.
To liven the photo up a bit I upped the exposure. I followed this with a touch of contrast and brought the blacks up, keeping an eye on the clipping warnings. I am sure everybody does this the same way but I bring the black (or white) up until it just starts to clip and then back it off a little.

Finally I added some mid range boost and ended up with picture 4 below.

P4. The final image.
These edits are of a technical nature that align the photographs with what we expect to see, rather than how I may wish to portray an image. It is never-the-less important to be able to control this. If you are unable to get an image to look technically correct you probably wouldn't be able to get an image to look how you wanted it to!

This exercise has been of particular interest as I have just acquired this RAW editing software. These experiments have provided me with plenty of reasons to explore it.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Managing tone

This exercise is about processing images. The photograph I have chosen is one I took on a recent trip to London using my Canon film SLR and a 35mm lens. I was using normal ISO200 Kodak colour film - in fact rolls that are available from pound land at £1 a roll! What really fascinates me about the film camera is that it has the option of taking multiple exposures. As it is on film, you really take your chances as to whether you end up with an interesting picture or not. On this particular visit I ended up with half a dozen usable pics.

The film was sent of for developing and I received the negatives back through the post without prints. I then scanned the negatives into the computer with no adjustment on the scanner other than selecting a film type that was close to the film I used. The resulting images were large tif files. Below is the image I started with.

Before. Scan from 35mm colour film to Tif.
Above we can see the image as it came from the scanner. Its not too bad but there were certain colours and tones I wanted to adjust. The tones that caught my eye when I took the picture were the red of the bus against the blue of the sky and brown pavement. The white building in the top left hand corner bothered me but this could not be cropped as it would cut into the bus and ruin the composition.

LR4 Settings. 
I set to work in Lightroom. First I switched on the highlight and shadow clipping warnings and adjusted the exposure down a bit. I did not adjust the white balance - I had used a daylight film and I liked the colours in the image.

Light-room advises that you start at the top of the settings and work your way down, so this is what I did. I adjusted the contrast to give a punchier picture (for a detailed view of the settings click on the LR4 settings image). I then adjusted the highlights, shadows, whites and blacks to eliminate any clipping warnings but also make sure there were some decent blacks.

A tiny bit of clarity and vibrance just added a little sharpening and mid tone punch.

What cannot be seen in the settings panel is the next step. Some localised processing was required, so I added a graduated filter running from the left hand edge to roughly a third of the way in. This was set to exposure and at a negative value to bring the white building down a bit. The same was done from the bottom of the image to approximately a quarter  of the way up to lead the eye into the lighter centre of the frame.

Finally, I straightened the image a tiny amount and then cropped a little of the bottom and the right hand side. The resulting image can be seen below.

After processing in Adobe Light-room 4.

Admittedly this wasn't a RAW conversion but the steps I would have took, would have been exactly the same. Likewise with a Jpeg. Some might also say that the colours have been pushed too far but I think this really makes the image stand out. Maybe it has a touch of the Martin Parr about it!

Part three - Processing the image

I have to admit to being quite pleased to having finished part two. I found myself getting a bit bogged down with the subject matter and getting the right kind of shots. As I look back over the work I can see that once again my creativity has started to give way to shots that fulfil the brief but are increasingly more unimaginative.

Having flicked through the exercises for this chapter I it feels like a I have the chance to redress the balance, with the opportunity to work with photographs of all subjects and styles. I am really looking forward to working on the exercises and experimenting with colour and Black and White.

I am also spending time now thinking about what my subject and it's treatment will be for my personal project at the end of the module. At the moment I am struggling to come up with an idea but I am sure I will get there in the end!

Shoot & Edit Inspired by Emily Soto, fashion photographer.

Catharine edit. by SimonLawrence

Catharine edit., a photo by SimonLawrence on Flickr.
This image is from a recent shoot inspired by fashion photographer Emily Soto. I am a big fan and have been following Emily for some time now after finding her work on the internet. The toning of her images is handled wonderfully, with the location and editing working together perfectly. Emily kindly gave me permission to link to her web site.

Here is one of my first edits carried out with Lightroom 4 and a little touch of Photoshop. I used LR4 for the initial RAW conversion and the colour adjustments and then popped into PS to add a little more blur around the edges.

Emily Soto,
Web site

Strobist info: YN560 CL with shoot through brolly.
5D MKII with 85mm F1.8, 1/250 @ F1.8. RF602 RX.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Lightroom 4

I have just upgraded to Adobe Lightroom 4 with the student discount available through OCA. This has meant a change to my workflow and the ability to use better organisation and key wording for my images. I will be playing around to see what Lightroom can do for my images and getting up to speed as quickly as possible!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Assignment 2. Seeing like your camera.

Using what I have learnt in the previous exercises I have been photographing some high contrast scenes. The objective is to get the images right in camera and for this reason none of the images have been edited bar some resizing. The camera was set to Jpeg.

I have photographed four different scenes with three images per set-up.

Strong incident dappled light
Picture 1. For this I went to some local woodland to photograph in dappled light as suggested by the work book. I used a tripod with the camera set on self timer. White balance was set to auto  for all three of these shots. This was unintentional. I usually set the white balance to auto when I shoot RAW and use a grey card or something white to set the white balance in post processing, so completely forgot to set it to something more appropriate!

So, the challenges I faced were to get a good overall exposure from these darks and lights. This was made more difficult by the changing lighting conditions. The sun was just a little to the right of the shot and I see from the EXIF data that the time was 10.30 in the morning.

P1. 1/30 @ F11, 50 ISO, spot metering, AWB, 35mm.
 To reproduce what I saw I decided to use spot metering and took readings from the bright part of the path (1/60 @ F11) and the shadows on the path (1/15 @ F11). This gave me a two stop difference so I opted for the middle ground and set the camera to 1/30 @ F11 and took the shot. I was expecting the camera to give me some detail in the darks and not burn out any highlights. The resulting picture was pleasingly close to what I was expecting albeit a little flat.

I think the picture could perhaps be improved it it were 2/3 stop darker which would give a bit more saturation to the greens. Maybe it would also have been better with the white balance set to 'shade'. As we have seen in 'colour cast and white balance' exercise, the shade white balance would have warmed the shot up some more.

Picture 2. The second picture was taken in a different part of the woodland. The orientation is also a little more into the sun. The challenge this time was the higher contrast and in particular the very bleached log against the shadow area of the nearby tree.

For this image I again used spot metering. This time I didn't average the exposure but instead tried to pick an area that I though was the 'exposure' middle ground, as it were. The area I picked was the darker patch of leaves between the two crossed pale logs.

P2. 1/60 @ F11, 50 ISO, spot metering, AWB, 35mm.
 This shot has come out a lot more contrasty than I remember. I was careful to avoid burning out the very pale logs in the foreground but still thought there was going to be more light in the scene. I do see though that the exposure is correct for the area that I chose to expose for.

Picture 3. The final shot for this set. The exposure was again measured using spot metering. The area I decided to expose for was the bark of the tree near the carved names. I chose this as it appeared to be close to a mid grey and believed the camera would expose this correctly. Also, it was neither in deep shade or in bright light.

P3. 1/100 @ F8, 50 ISO, spot metering, AWB, 35mm.
The camera has coped well with this shot. There are some dark shadows but on the whole it is well exposed. Note that the light is coming from the left and behind the camera. Overall this shot is very close to how I saw the scene and how I expected the camera to render it. The only thing lacking is the 'warmth' I may have got with the white balance set to shade.

A backlit scene
I initially set out to a local parish church to capture scenes for the 'indoor space with natural light' section of this assignment. While I was there I spotted opportunities for the 'backlit scene' part as well.

The conditions were bright but diffused. It had been raining earlier in the day. I was carrying three prime lenses, a 35mm F2, a 50mm F1.4 and a 85mm F1.8. I was also careful to remember to set the white balance this time! I did not use a tripod for the following images.

Picture 1. I spotted this statue grave marker as I wandered down the path towards the little church. Aha, backlit! Naturally this picture could only be taken from the one direction and to get a good shot of the angel's face I needed to be at a low angle shooting up. This would bring in the sky behind the angel's head. Another challenge was the chimney behind the angel's left wing.

I set the camera up in daylight light balance as it was not cloudy or in the shade. I then took a spot meter reading from the angels face. I deemed this to be close to a mid grey and wanted to expose for this. I  had a hunch that the dynamic range of the shot was going to fall outside the camera's capabilities. Of course I could have measured this with the camera's spot meter like in the previous exercise. Ultimately though, this exercise was about knowing your camera and adapting your shot ideas to fit, and I wanted to expose for the angel's detail at the cost of the background. I was pretty sure the camera was going to overexpose this.
P1. 1/800 @ F1.8, ISO 100, Spot Metering, Daylight WB, 85mm.
The camera's spot meter was perfect in this situation where I have a clear area to measure - with a good average tone and low reflectivity. The camera does seem pretty good at exposing under these circumstances.

This is how the camera interpreted the shot. It is very close to how I saw it. I used and aperture of F1.8 to reduce the depth of field to a minimum. This has helped with the overexposed background by blurring everything behind the angel into one.

Picture 2. The next shot is of a sarcophagus in another part of the cemetery. Again this is backlit (but at ninety degrees to the previous image). I again used spot metering and metered of off the grey area in the centre of the sarcophagus.

P2. 1/1000 @F4, ISO 400,  Spot Metering, Daylight WB, 35mm.
The camera again delivered what I was hoping for. The spot metering seems to be pretty good providing you take your meter reading from the correct area. I have been reading Michael Freeman's 'Perfect Exposure' which has made me stop and consider exposure situations more carefully when taking a shot.

Picture 3. The last photograph in this set of three was taken with the same orientation as the one above. For this shot I decided to use evaluative metering as I felt the overall tonal range was not as great as some of the other shots. Although this shot is backlit, the frame is now dominated by the foreground subject.

P3. 1/100 @ F8, ISO 400, Evaluative metering, Daylight WB, 35mm.
I am really happy with how the camera handled this shot as I imagined that bright background patches would get rendered between the leaves of the dominant tree and in the area in the centre of the frame.

I think it is worth mentioning that all three shots were taken with the camera set to manual exposure and the exposure was set to the camera's recommendation.

Indoor space with only strong natural window light
The next three photographs were all taken inside the chapel. In many ways these shots face similar difficulties as the first three. My biggest problem here was always going to be the windows. As the dominant light inside seemed to be the light coming from the windows, I kept the white balance on daylight. I did take a shot after the initial three with the white balance set to shade and think that the daylight pictures resemble the actual scene more accurately.

Picture 1. The font image was actually the last of the three images from inside the chapel. This was slightly different to the other two as I deliberately tried to include the windows in the other pictures but not in this one. I took a spot metering from an area of grey near the bottom of the legs of the font. Of note is the fact that there is another window to the left of the font lighting this area.

My biggest challenge here was keeping the camera still as I did not have a tripod with me. This was overcome by upping the ISO to 400. I thought the white balance was going to be an issue but this turned out not to be a problem with the daylight setting rendering the colours quite accurately.

P1. 1/100 @ F2, ISO 400, Spot Metering, Daylight WB, 35mm.
Picture 2 & picture 3. The following two images are similar in the challenges they present. It is obvious that the range is going to be too much for the camera, with the light streaming in through the windows on one hand and the darker interior. A choice had to be made what to expose for and I decided on making the interior the main subject.

P2. 1/15 @ F5.6, ISO 400, Spot Metering, Daylight WB, 35mm.
For both of the shots the challenge was also going to be picking the right area to measure exposure to get the desired effect. I have found that generally I have more success using spot metering, so this is what I have used again. By success I mean getting the camera to expose the scene how I see it.

For picture 2, I took a spot reading from the pillar nearest the altar on the right hand side (near the flowers). I was hoping for a well exposed interior but without too much burn-out in the window area. The pillar I metered from appeared to sit nicely in the middle of the exposure range. The camera did give me pretty much what I was hoping for with one exception. The floor is brighter than I saw it. I think the camera has picked up some of the reflection of the light coming through the window. I didn't see that as quite as bright as the camera.

P3. 1/8 @ F8, ISO 400, Spot Metering, Daylight WB, 35mm.
In shooting picture 3 I used the same pillar to set my exposure. Here things were a little easier as the bright window is partially obscured by the pillar. Due to this and the angle of the shot the contrast is less than in picture 2.

I am very happy with how the camera has rendered this image. There is minimal burn-out in the window and all the surrounding objects are well lit with nice detail in the shadows.

Indoor scenes illuminated by a single source of artificial light of high luminance
For the light source in this series of images I used my desk lamp. I wasn't completely sure what was meant by an 'indoor scene' so I interpreted  it as objects lit by the lamp.The lamp is fitted with a daylight bulb so I have used daylight for the white balance setting.

Picture 1.  With the camera tripod mounted I set the figure up on the table. Things to consider were the brightness of the lamp forming a localised hot-spot. This figure is not at all reflective so I chose something more reflective for the next image. Another important point known from the outset is that it would not be possible to capture the entire range of brightness but in this situation we may have to be aware of noise in the darker area's.

P1. 1/40 @ F2.8, ISO 100, Evaluative Metering,  Daylight WB, 35mm.
 I chose evaluative metering for this set of images, relying on the camera to set a good average exposure. I was also careful to exclude any of the bright parts of the lamp from the shot.

I did see this scene lighter than the camera recorded it and the colour temperature was slightly cooler - my daylight bulb must be a different temperature to the camera's daylight setting. It looks like the evaluative metering has metered for the light area that makes up about two thirds of the picture.

Picture 2 & 3. Pictures two and three are of the same subject for reasons to be explained below. As I noted earlier, the subject for picture one was very matt and I wanted to try something reflective under the desk lamp. I found these decorative silver coloured objects and set them up on the table. Again I used evaluative metering. There were some clear bright spots on the edges of some of the ornaments as they were very reflective and the lamp was not very far away.

For the first shot, I felt that the camera dealt reasonably well with the scene. There was some clipping showing on the camera display though. As suspected the bright edges had fooled the camera.

P2. 1/4 @ F4, ISO 100, Evaluative Metering, Daylight WB, 35mm.
 I adjusted the shutter speed and took pictures of the same scene until the highlights stopped clipping. This resulted in 2 1/3 stops less light. Picture 3 below is the scene without clipping.

P3. 1/20 @ F2.8, ISO 100, Evaluative Metering, Daylight WB, 35mm.
It is interesting to note that you can see almost just as much of the ornaments, just that they are now darker. By this I mean that the shadow areas have not grown in size.

Part Two.
To work on the reducing the contrast I have selected my second set 'A Backlit Scene'. I found this an interesting situation due to the number of different ways of bringing the contrast down.

The first and most obvious choice is to select a day with less bright weather. A good cloud layer would help to diffuse the light and a miserable day would also help reduce the contrast. In a similar vain we could also alter the time of day so that the sun is in a different position or lower in the sky.

Other methods include using fill in flash or a reflector, although the reflector may work on the angel statue but may not be so effective on the two larger scenes.

Changing the composition is a further option, although this may not always be possible. Finally, one could do something in software by using an HDR package or taking various exposures of the same subject and marrying them up in a photo editing package, picking the best exposure for each range of exposure.

Picture 1. I returned to the church yard with some tools to try and lower the contrast. Fortunately it was a fairly bright day again, so the conditions were similar to the first visit. The tools I took were a reflector and a camera speed-light. I had intended to use the reflector for the statue, the other area's being too big to light with the size of reflector I had.

I set up the camera on aperture priority so that I could shoot with the camera in one hand and the reflector in the other. Due to the angles and the brightness of the background, I wasn't able to get enough light on the statue to make a big enough difference to the contrast, so I changed my plan.

I set up my flash unit on a light stand and reset the camera to manual. The shutter speed was set to 1/200th, my camera sync speed. My flash unit was set to full power and the radio triggers connected. I took a small number of pictures just to get the aperture value that looked best.

P1. 1/200 @ F11, ISO 100, Spot Metering, Daylight WB, 85mm.
Picture 2. This shot was intended to be taken with the flash gun at the planning stage as I did not believe my reflector would be big enough to light the whole tomb. The flash was set up on a stand to the right of the camera. I took a spot reading from the sky and tried to get as close as possible to this with the flash settings.

The white stone tomb is very reflective which helped and I ended up using F11 to get the shot below.

P2. F11 @ 1/200, ISO 100, Spot Metering, Daylight WB, 35mm.
 Picture 3. The final shot was a revisit to the gate. Again, I had planned this as a flash shot for the reasons mentioned above. Again with the flash set to full power, F11 gave me the lighting below. It is slightly more difficult to see but the sky is now blue and not burnt out like in the first picture of this scene.

P3. F11 @ 1/200, ISO 100, Spot Metering, Daylight WB, 35mm.
This was an interesting exercise to perform. It did slow my picture taking right down and force me to consider the conditions much more carefully. Coincidentally I am reading Michael Freeman's 'Perfect Exposure' at the moment which has some useful chapters on viewing the scene as a collection of exposure zones. This helps you to think like your camera to a certain degree. I must confess to still liking the spot metering mode for accurate exposure but have now found some merit in using the evaluative mode in scenes where the overall dynamic range appears to be low.

Ref: Freeman, M, "Perfect Exposure", ILEX.