Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Family of Paul McSherry and Sarah Tartakover

Family portraits of Paul McSherry, Sarah Tartakover, and their three children: Emilia,  Lucinda and Tessa. The McSherry's are a talented family of musicians and artists who live in Seddon in Melbourne's west. Over the years I have taken photos for Paul's musical projects and events that Sarah's has been involved with. These portraits were taken at Creative Behaviours Studio at the old Cotton Mill building in Footscray in December 2017.

Emilia at Creative Behaviours

A final image is like the tip of an iceberg of the creative process that lies beneath. There is the time in post processing and the time in the studio capturing the moment. But there is also the lifetime of experiences and the mood on the day that the photographer and the subject bring to the image.

It is the process that leads up to creating the final image that I truly love. The time spent in galleries, looking at books, being inspired by movies, problems solved, obstacles overcome, experimenting, the failures, as well as the successes.

For this portrait of Emilia I drew my inspiration from Annie Leibovitz and the painter Francisco Goya.

The Setup
The images were taken at Creative Behaviours Studio, a natural light studio in Footscray. I used a dove grey seamless roll of paper as a background for two reasons. Savage Dove Grey is close to 18% grey so colour correcting the image in post is straightforward. Secondly it is easy to make it look like an Oliphant Canvas using a drop-in texture in post. The grey seamless paper was hung so that it just touched the floor. I used a wooden trunk as a prop for posing. I like to work free of any tethering or tripod as I find they both become a distraction. I did have an iPad Mini for referencing various setups with Emilia.

I like to work with formal setups and then change them up in response to the subject and the day. By starting with formal poses, I was then able to capture the moment that was the final image. I knew I had the shot as soon as I pressed the shutter. We used setups of Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Lawrence to get us started from a swipe-file I’d put together before the shoot. It was at the end of the session that Emilia settled naturally into the pose for the final image.

Original pose inspired by Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Lawrence

Annie Leibovitz – Jennifer Lawrence, Nicole Kidman

An Elinchrom Limeitov 190cm Octa was positioned at camera left almost front on and angled down. This positioning gave a classic beauty loop lighting with a faint shadow to the right of Emilia’s nose. Loop lighting was favoured by Hollywood Studios in the 1940’s. As Emilia was looking to build up her portfolio for acting, the lighting choice seemed appropriate.

Camera Settings
For the shoot I used my Nikon D810 with the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 lens. Because I wanted a sharp image from front to back I used an aperture of f8.0 at an ISO of 64 for a clean noise free file. For me the initial RAW image is equivalent to a film negative, I want the best possible starting point in camera. I also wanted a small amount of ambient light from the south facing windows to blend in with the studio lighting to give the image a soft natural look.

  • Camera: Niokn D810
  • Mode: Manual
  • ISO: 64
  • Aperture: f8.0
  • Shutter Speed: 1/200
  • Lens: Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 @70mm
Gear Guide
The only modifier I own is the versatile 60” shoot though umbrella which I use on location with small battery strobes. The umbrella can be used shoot through, bounced, or closed down to provide a more directional source. Adding a scrim across the opening provides a quick and dirty indirect octa like a Photek Softlighter as used by Annie Leibovitz.

When I’m in a renting studio for portfolio work I prefer to hire the best lighting I can get my hands on. This means that my money isn’t tied up in expensive studio fear with limited use or compromised by budget. I can also write the expense of hiring off as an expense come tax time or pass on the cost to paying clients.

I hired the Elinchrom Indirect Litemotiv Octa 190cm and an Elinchrom ELC Pro HD Flash 1000ws from Kayell. I chose the Elinchrom Octa Leitmotiv Octa 190cm as it is the largest modifier I could find. I wanted to work with the large south facing window lighting at the studio, not against them. I used a C-Stand for the light which was OK, but next time I would look at using a roller stand for the added portability.

Post Processing
To get the look I wanted I used a combination of tools in post processing. I used Lightroom as a starting point to get the cleanest image to work with. I then used Color Efex Pro for softening the skin and later for adding warmth to the image. The heavy lifting was done in Photoshop to add the texture to the background and the colour grading for the overall mood of the picture. One more trip back to Lightroom allowed me to sharpen the eyes, add my signature lighting to the background, a vignette and finally tweak the highlights and contrast.

  • Workflow - Lightroom
  • Filters - Nik Color Effex
  • Editor - Photoshop 
  • Pen and Graphics Tablet – Wacom Intuos Photo Small
Original RAW image

1. To give the image the best starting point in Lightroom I did the following:
  • Cropped the image to a square format to emulate a medium format camera. The square format worked with Emilia’s pose as well as giving the final image a mid century medium format look.
  • Selected Camera Neutral as the Camera Calibration and Zeroed all the presets to give me the cleanest starting point. Like a blank canvas, I wanted to add in colour, texture and contrast without adding in any digital artefacts from existing presets. I also wanted a flat painterly look for the final image as well.
  • Enabled Profile Corrections and Remove Chromatic Aberrations.
  • Selected the White Balance Tool and clicked the gray background to set a neutral White Balance.
  • Adjusted Shadows and highlights as required.
  • Added overall sharpening by accepting the default settings with masking of around 80 to restrict where sharpening is applied – on Emilia’s face and hair and not on the background
2. I sent the image to Color Efex Pro and selected the default Dynamic Skin Softener settings. I could have done this in Photoshop bit it would have taken more time for little or no added benefit.
3. Back in Lightroom I sent the image to Photoshop where I created a Clean-up layer to tidy up skin blemishes and stray hairs.
4. Added a dodge and burn layer for added depth.
5. Added texture to the background to give it the Oliphant painted textured canvas look. I used a Layer mask to paint out the texture from Emilia. I did this using an Intuos Tablet pen. This was the first time I used the pen for editing. What a revelation it was.
Goya’s The Family of the Duke and Duchess of Osuna

6. To set the tone of the photo I chose to colour grade the photo using Colour lookup adjustments. For this image I chose to mimic the rich warm, almost murky palette of Goya’s The Family of the Duke and Duchess of Osuna.

Image colour graded in Photoshop with added background texture

7. Back in Lightroom I added the finishing touches.
  • Using Color Efex Pro I selected Wedding Dress from the White Neutraliser filter for added warmth.
  • Using an adjustment brush I added contrast and sharpness to Emilia’s eyes
  • With an exposure setting of -1, I added background lighting inspired by Goya’s family portrait.
  • Selected Vignette 2 to darken the edges and highlight Emilia further.
  • Finessed the Shadows, Highlights, Contrast and Saturation sliders for the final image.
The finished image in look and feel was pretty much how I imagined it to be. But it was what Emilia bought to the day with the final pose that bought the image to life. It’s worth noting that the post processing evolved over a number of days as I returned to the image with fresh eyes each time working on other images from the session in between. I’m reminded of the old Wabi Sabi saying: “nothing is ever finished, nothing lasts for ever, nothing is perfect.” Sometimes you just have to know when to stop.

Original RAW image
Final retouched image

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Milky Way - Cathkin Victoria

It's been a while since I've been out of the city at night under a clear sky. Last weekend we spent the night in cottage  in country Victoria. It was a perfect dark sky night for taking photos of the Milky Way. With the aid of the PhotoPills app I was able to locate the galatic centre directly overhead. I used a Nikon D810, Nikon 16-35mm @f4, 25 sec, ISO 6400.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Neil Johnson at Creative Behaviours

Here are the latest photos from the Creative Behaviours series. I've known Neil since the turn of the millenium. Neil lives with his French wife Berenice and 5 year old son Oscar in Melbourne. He is one of my oldest and most enduring friends.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Shree Norway at Creative Behviours

I recently had the pleasure to conduct a phoot shoot with photographer and adventurer Shree Norway at Creative Behaviours. Shree is a modern day Renaissance man who straddles multiple cultures embracing photography, information technology and outdoor adventure. Equally at home on the sea in a yacht, cross country skiing and programming enterprise wide integration systems. I took my inspiration for the shoot from a range of sources including the old masters as well as Annie Leibovitz.

Although the photos were taken at Creative Behaviours which is a natural light studio, all images were taken using off camera flash. I did however use the light from the studio windows as a cue for placement of my strobes. I modified a 150cm Umbrella with a piece of scrim to mimic Leibovitz's lighting using the Photek Softlighter.

For the old school portraits, I colour graded using the limited palette of Goya. I chose Goya as I wanted the photos to have an air of gravitas. Shree can trace his ancestry to the Maharajahs in Karanakata, India.

For the action portraits, I color graded the action portraits orange and teal based on contemporary Hollywood action movies. I also experimented with dropping in alternative flooring for the full length action portrait. Shree is an active participant in wide range of sports including skiing, mountaineering, cycling, yachting and horse back riding. In this version, the black and white tiles are a nod toward the weapon selection screen of a computer game.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Real Estate Photography: Kitchens

This week I'm reviewing Scott Hargis's second new Real Estate video Kitchens on In this video Scott shows you how to handle challenging conditions, including shiny, reflective surfaces and tight confines. He demonstrates how to light a kitchen, style the room, test different compositions, and edit the final photos.

A kitchen can be the most challenging room to photograph. In contemporary houses they are often open plan with shiny, reflective surfaces and tight confines. Despite these issues, kitchens are often considered the money shot of the internal real estate shot. For the freelance photographer kitchens there is a lucrative niche in the kitchen remodeling industry. For these reasons, Scott recommends going the extra mile to make that portfolio shot for future business.

One of Scott's great strength's is his use of visualisation of the image in the manner of Ansel Adams. This helps him divide the image into zones like an abstract painting making critical compositional decisions on location. In the competitive world of real estate, an informative image that is also aesthetically pleasing will have stickability in a virtual world of image overload.

In the video Scott demonstrates 3 setups starting with a classic 1 point setup as seen in Basics video. Getting the 1 point shot nailed is critical for real estate photography. If the shot is even a tiny bit off the viewer is going to either notice the flaw or quickly move on. To nail the shot Scott demonstrates zooming into the composition in live view to align the horizontals.

Scott also uses a fake tilt shift technique to solve a compositional conundrum with the foreground. Instead of breaking out a tilt shift lens, or resorting to a two point image, Scott goes wide knowing that he can crop out the ceiling acreage in later in post. Although Scott's mantra is always to get it right in the camera, he is also a pragmatist.

As well as good technique, Scott advocates working out the aesthetic mind by purchasing house and landscape magazines. Just like in classic portraiture lighting, it is possible to work out how the photographer has lit an architectural or real estate image. Such exercises help the photographer to see a scene aesthetically as well as technically.

In the second part of the video Scott takes us through a series of kitchen photo editing tips. He starts with the crop for the wide shot. Although he personally favours a 5:4 ratio, it is important to know the target Multiple Listing Site (MLS) ratio which is often 4:3.

As an aid to analysing the composition, Scott converts takes a look at the photo in Black and White. This eliminates any distracting colour information. If the composition works in B&W it will work in colour too. 

After warming the photo to provide a warm and cozy feel, Scott cranks the clarity slider to give the image a crisp contemporary Real Estate look. Scott finishes the photo off with a vignette. The effect of the vignette is to pull the eye toward the middle of the picture. 

Scott also talks about the difference between editing for a client image and a portfolio image. The client image must always be a true reflection of the space including all utilitarian aspects of the image. For the portfolio, Scott recommends removing extraneous information and cropping tighter to render the most aesthetically pleasing photo possible.

Scott concludes the video by emphasising once again the importance of getting the kitchen right both for the client and for the portfolio. Just as kitchen remodeling is a big deal, every home buyer is looking for that great kitchen too. With this video, Scott has once again delivered an entertaining and informative video that I can highly recommend. 

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Real Estate Photography: Exterior at Twilight

Scott Hargis released two new Real Estate Photography videos on this week. This is a review of the Exterior at Twilight video, as that is the main focus of my freelance work. Next week I will review the Kitchens video.

Twilight is the magic hour for real estate photography when the exterior of the house looks it best. With most prospective buyers now looking online, a stand out twilight exterior photo is the money shot that grabs potential buyers attention. In the video, architectural photographer Scott Hargis shows how to shoot an exterior view at twilight, mixing natural and interior lighting to make a house look its best. The video is just over one hour long. In part one, Scott takes two front and back exterior twilight shots. In part two we see him in post editing the photos. 
Topics include:
  • Why twilight?
  • Setting up front and back shots
  • Waiting for the moment
  • Turning on interior lights
  • Editing images

Twilight shots are tricky, there is a lot of waiting about followed by a rush of activity. The best light occurs within a window of fifteen minutes just after sunset. In a typical brief from a real estate agency in Melbourne,  I need to take five to seven shots in and around that fifteen minute window. I don't have the luxury of spending a lot of time on taking only one or two shots as Scott does here. Even with two setups, we see Scott struggling to get the perfect shots.

Despite this limitation, I did pick up some useful tips from the master at work. For the front exterior Scott wanted to get up high to include a mountain ridge line behind the house. Even a fully extended tripod was not going to cut it, as you can see in Scott's Real Estate Photography: The Basics video. In the twilight video, Scott uses a double cab ute tray as a platform to gain the required elevation. Around the back of the house, Scott sets up his back up camera on intervalometer while he concentrates on the hero shot out the front. 

Another nifty trick was the use of newspaper to to mimic a fire in a brazier in the back yard. He also adds strobes in the bedrooms to balance out the brighter lighting of the kitchen and porch lights. Other tips included the use of an ND filter when shooting into the west to darken the bright sky above the setting sun, or to darken the foreground in reverse.

For the front hero shot, Scott uses a 24mm tilt shift lens shifted up to minimise the amount of road in the foreground. This is something I've tried on site for verticals but never nailed, as focusing in dim light with a tilt shift is time consuming. In the video, Scott zooms in with live view and then uses a loupe on the LCD to achieve tack sharp focus.

The use of the ND filter and the Tilt Shift are all part of  Scott's philosophy of getting it right in camera to minimise work in post. However when shooting multiple setups in a short time frame, using tilt shift lenses and ND filters is probably out of the question. Typically, blown out western sky's are replaced with drop in skys and foregrounds darkened in post by professional editing teams.

The second part of the video on editing was of less direct interest to me, as I hand over my images to an editing team at the agency. However I'm always conscious of providing the best frames I can in camera to reduce the editing teams workflow. So it is important to understand the editing teams worksflow. Scott walks through a blending an image for the rear exterior which is a common professional editing technique.

Overall I found this video on exterior twilight shooting a good investment of my time. Scott is a seasoned presenter and the production values of the video are high. I picked up many useful tips and reinforced much of what I know - twilight shooting can be stressful even for a master like Scott.  I look forward to reviewing Scott's the Kitchens video next week.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Event Photography: Happy Medium Photography

For the last three months I've had a regular gig shooting events on behalf of Happy Medium Photography. We offer same night service to venues across Melbourne for weddings, fund raisers, diner dances and school formals. We bring the images back the same night on a no obligation basis to guests.

Traditionally this type of event photography has been limited to snapshot type captures of guests at the table. As clients have grown more sophisticated in their expectations of images, the medium has had to grow. This includes arrivals, portraits and photo-booths. It's no longer enough to simply snap a couple at a table and move on.

Equipment wise we keep things pretty simple. A DX format camera such as the Nikon 5300 or 7100 with a Nikon SB800 or SB900. Flash is either TTL with compensation, or on manual. A range of ISOs from 400between 800 ensures the flash is able to recycle quickly. However it is not uncommon for the flash to cutout as the batteries over heat.

In general ceiling bounce is the preferred lighting source either with or without a Stofen for catch lights. I prefer to use a Stofen as it ensures a catchlight when the camera is in portrait format. Without the Stofen the bounce card provides a good catchlight in landscape format but none in portrait. The trade of for using a Stofen is that the the flash has to work a stop harder to get the same illumination.

I shoot manual at the largest available aperture, usually about f5 when using a Nikon 18-105mm 3.5-5.6 zoom lens. I like to shoot long to blur the background. It also forces me back so tha the light bounces evenly. If you stand to close to the subject you can end up with an under illuminated subject or raccoon eyes.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

McSherry O'Brien CD Launch - Kindred Studio

Last weekend I photographed McSherry O'Brien and the Director's Choice for the launch their new album album titled and the whole world breaks. Joining them at Kindred Studios with their special solo guests Annaliese Branecki, Timothy J Fry, Eris O'Brien, Marcus Sturrock. A great afternoon of good vibes was had by all.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

McSherry O'Brien - Kindred Studio

Photos from the McSherry O'Brien Kindred Studio sessions.

Monday, 11 April 2016

McSherry O'Brien -Tottenham Sessions

Photographed McSherry O'Brien last Wednesday night while putting the finishing touches on their latest album. Inspiration for low key lighting and styling taken from Miguel Angel Sanchez's Cairo based homage to Caravaggio.