Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Lucy Billings Album Photos

I had the privilege of working with Lucy Billings to do the photography for her album “No Other Road”. Over three different sessions we worked on various locations, lighting schemes and ideas to create a group of photos that could serve the purposes of the album and be used for publicity. Here are a few with a brief discussion of how they were created.

Before we began shooting, I scouted the area for roads we could shoot on. We were looking for something scenic and somewhat remote, in keeping with the title. The cover shot (at the top of this blog post) and the inside back cover shot were done on Stage Road near Pescadero, CA. This is about a mile from the coast. This photo was taken in the section of road with large eucalyptus trees on both sides. The eventual cover used an illustrated scene with Lucy lifted from the photo. Touraine Bellah at Bellah Design was the creator of this colorful cover. The lighting was natural sunlight. We filled in the shadows with a reflector held by my assistant Sara Kline.

Our second session yielded one of my favorite portraits I have taken. (Above) On a cloudy and windy day, we headed out to the San Francisco Bay under the Dumbarton Bridge between Menlo Park and Newark. There are various dirt roads through this section of the bay that were used by Morton Salt when most of this part of the bay was salt evaporation ponds. There is also an abandoned railway bridge that we used in the background. Lucy braved the cold wind and stood for several photos. I used a coco ring flash and an on camera Canon 580 EX II speedlight. This brightened Lucy up against the background and made the red dress shine. This photo is on the inside flap behind the front cover.

The next shot is on the back of the album. This was taken at the end of the same day we did the bay shot. This shot was done inside at Lucy’s house. I used a Pepper hot light positioned high above and stood on a chair to get the above angle. I like the way the tungsten light warms up the photo and chose not to balance out all the effect of the warm light.

For the publicity shots, we started off at Vida restaurant in Menlo Park, CA. Ali El Safy, the proprietor who had previously posed for my shot The Restaurateur is a big supporter and let us use the restaurant for a backdrop. This shot was taken inside in the front of the restaurant. I used a narrow depth of field to keep the background out of focus. There is one LumiPro LP160 speedlight with an umbrella mounted camera left.

The outdoor shot with the columns was taken at Stanford. We got a strong background with the columns and added a light camera left. Once again we used an LP160 speedlight with an umbrella mounted on a stand.

This shot with the guitar and the embroidered blouse turned out to be another favorite. Back at Lucy’s house, we used an Alien Bees AB800 with a softbox to light Lucy’s beautiful red hair and get the great reflection on the guitar.

The fun for me on this project was getting to do so many different types of shots with the same subject. Lucy is very patient and willing to try lots of different ideas to get a good photo. Give her album a listen. You can access it on her website or on iTunes.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Black and White

I recently converted a bunch of Burning Man portraits from color to Black and White for printing. Originally, I thought these portraits would work best as color, since so many of the folks at Burning Man are literally colorful people. But the power of the Black and White really brought home the impact of the portraits. My professor in Digital Printing, Ryan Farnau, really impressed upon me the fact that a black and white image gives more freedom of interpretation by the artist. Since, by definition, a Back and White is not realistic, then the print can stress the parts of the photo with the greatest impact. In this example, I will go through the steps of one of the more complicated conversions I did. Starting with the color image and going step by step until the final B&W image. Here is the original image. I shot this in natural light. I had a silver canopy tent set up with a white seamless background.
The first thing I did was increase the contrast. the image is a little flat, so i used a high pass filter and dialed the opacity down until I liked it. Then I selected out the subject and filled the enture background with white. This brings out the features of his face and gets rid of that uneven background. The tattoos pop a little more as well. This version is still a little dark so I boost the exposure and brightness.That completes the global adjustments. I would like this to pop more, so I darken the leather in the vest and increase the contrast in the metal "S" shapes. I also boost the contrast in the glasses to make the reflections whiter. Now the conversion to Black and White using the B&W adjustment layer. Now for the final image I darken the tattoos, the wrist bands and the contrast in the hat. Now it pops!Of course, the whole thing took several hours. Selections and adjustments take a long time. Each adjustment gets its own layer in Photoshop, so it is easy to turn them off and on and go back to the original. You can see set of Burning Man portraits on my Flickr page by clicking here. I left some color photos in the set. They still looked better in color.