Tuesday 31 December 2013

2013 - The Year That Was

2013 was an interesting year in many ways. There was plenty of opportunities to take interesting pictures: I shot Batman and Spiderman, models, dancers, rock bands, a monster clown, sports, dinosaurs, performers…

Better yet, I met interesting people, and learned a lot.

Looking forward to 2014. I will spend the last day of the year with my son, and friends.

I wish you a Happy New Year!

Thursday 5 December 2013

New photography Pinterest boards

I have set up a collection of Pinterest boards that you may find useful:

These are links to things I myself find interesting and useful. I hope you do to.

You might want to follow the boards you are interested in, because I will update them with new material whenever I find something noteworthy. I will also add links to my own tutorials.

Monday 2 December 2013

Going Medieval

A blacksmith at work. The scene was created by the production company Kompani Bastard.

I was at the Liseberg amusement par yesterday. While my son enjoyed the rides, I was more interested in the medieval market. I liked the way it was done, with a lot of attention to detail.

When you are in the audience, you can't control the light as you would on a real shoot. I had to stick to a single flash. I could not position it the way I wanted, so I left it on my camera.

Even with these limitations, there is a lot you can do:

  • Bounce the flash! The tent had a white ceiling, so I used it to bounce the light from the flash.
  • If you want to shoot a scene from the dark ages, particularly, a night scene, don't make it too bright! I used 1/8-1/4 power. This was enough for me to light the scene at 1/60s, f/6.3, and ISO 320, but it still left some ambient light. The ambient light was important, because it created the mood for the scene.
  • Color the light! Since this was a forge, I used a 1/2 CTO gel on the flash to warm the light.
  • Post process! In post, I reduced the glare from the bare flash. I simply cropped away some reflections, and burned (darkened) the brightest surfaces. I also cloned out some objects at the edge of the frame.
  • Take lots of different pictures! Even though I just walked by this scene, I shot more than a dozen pictures. If it had been a real shoot, I would have shot a couple of hundred, or more.

Now, go out, shoot, and have fun!

Thursday 21 November 2013

Photo meeting at Caratira's

Emma and Ida Stranne were the models for the evening.
I visited a photography group in Sjövik yesterday evening. The group, led by Mia Johansson of Caratira's Kennel, has been active, very active, for quite awhile. They have made zombie and fantasy photography a specialty. The group is run as a study circle, and the members range from experienced photographers to beginners.

If you have followed this blog, you may have noticed fantasy and trick photography are recurring theme here. I recently started a photography group in Gothenburg that does similar things. Thanks to the Internet, it did not take us long to discover we had similar interests.

Mia and her group were doing a Clown and Mannequin shoot, and Mia asked me if I would join them. Of course, I could not miss such an opportunity. Sinikka Eriksson, who is a member of both groups, and I went to Sjövik for the shoot.

We were greeted by Mia, the models Emma and Ida Stranne, Mia's daughter Casandra, who handled most of the makeup, and several photographers.
Sad clown.
There were strobes in the studio of course, but I opted to go with my hotshoe flashes instead. I usually have 1/4 CTO gels on when I shoot people, but because both Emma and Ida were painted white, I went without them this time.

I used two flashes. I zoomed the back light to 24mm to spread the light a bit, and put a speed grid on the key light to get a very narrow beam. 

Then, I recruited Mia and Sinikka as assistants. I asked Sinikka to hold the key light at about 4:30 o'clock, and Mia to hold the back light at about 01:30. (I use the clock system to position lights. Michael Zelbel has a made a video about it. There is some nudity in the video, but the clock system works when everyone keeps their clothes on too.)

By positioning both light's on Ida's right side, I would get the hat well lit. A third flash at 10:30 would have given more separation from the background, but there were many people who were waiting to shoot, and I did not want to hold things up.

Clown Noire.
 My main objective was to experiment with the shadow from Ida's hat. I have somewhat lose plans for a noir style shoot of my own, and getting the shadows right are very important.

When shooting Emma, I moved the backlight to 10:30. That made the angle between key and back light 180°. That way, a little light fell on her bowknot.

Since I had the opportunity, I went for one more thing: Enraged clown! Next time, I will post a tutorial on how I did it.

Sunday 17 November 2013

How to tell a simple story with a photo

Here is a small challenge: Look at your living room table, and see if you can tell a story by taking a single photo, using only what is on the table.

Here are a few tips:

  • Suggests action! In the picure above, the cup of coffee suggests someone drinking it. The business cards and the folder suggests that someone working, while having coffee. The impression is enhanced by the stack of papers in the upper right corner.
  • Keep it simple! I use four objects, which is the maximum a human brain can process at the same time. Two of those objects are stacks of other objects, but that is okay, because the brain treats them as stacks. I blurred them and overexposed them on purpose, to make them blend in with the white table.
  • Pay attention to details! I swept crumbs off the table. Removed a tablet, and made a new cup of coffee without milk. I normally use milk in my coffee, and I was having a cup when inspiration struck. However, milk and coffee does not look as good as it tastes, and the inside of the mug was stained by the coffee. So, after the first test shot, I made new coffee, and cleaned the cup. You can see the first shot in the pile of photos below. It is quite different from the rest.
  • Focus on one thing! Lead the eyes to one thing in the photo. In this case, the cup of coffee. There are several ways you can do that. I used the rule of thirds, a very shallow depth of field, and I deliberately overexposed the photo quite a bit. 

  • Take a lot of photos, and vary the set-up! As you can see, I shot several photos, with different exposures, and different arrangements of the cup, business cards, and folder. I actually did two shoots, because I took a break after a few pictures, and had a look at them in my computer before shooting a second series. I did not vary the shooting angle much, but that is because I wanted to hide the edges of the table. I also wanted to stick with my Samyang 85mm lens, because I want to practice with it as much as possible.
  • Post process! Even for a quickie shoot like this, I did some quick clean-up, cropped the photos, and removed some color aberration. The resulting photos were a lot better than the unprocessed originals.

Shooting a cup of coffee is not as exciting as shooting partying superheroes, ghosts,  or a stunningly beautiful model, but it is fun, and good practice for those other occasions.

Try shooting a little bit every day. Snapshots don't count. Shoot something you have to think about, before, during, and after the shoot.

Saturday 16 November 2013

The team-up

I love shooting superheroes. Normally, I'd shoot Spiderman and Batman quite differently: Batman is a creature of the night, Spiderman is a daytime hero. However, for this team-up, the shadows won out.

This is a composite. I shot Spidey and Batman on the same occasion, but we had to cut the session short, so I didn't get to shoot them together, this time around.
We had this nice, long corridor, flashes and a speed grid, but no umbrellas, so it was a hard light kind of event.

Batman and Spiderman are from Superheroes against cancer. I have photographed them on several occasions now, and look forward to doing it again.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Photo sit: Shooting ghosts and talking about photo books

Teamwork: Sinikka Eriksson has a large mug of coffee while a ghostly Ulf Bodmar sneaks up. Stefan Kroll pressed the camera trigger, while  Akram Ahmet and I handled flashes with snoot and speed grid. Shutter time: 4.0s, f/22.
It's a simple idea: Use Facebook and Google+ to bring a group of photography buffs together, and use whatever we bring, or can find on the premises, to experiment and learn.

The idea was born during a very rainy Drink-and-Click meeting some months ago. We hid from the rain in a restaurant, and everyone sat and did nothing, except looking out at the pouring rain. 

If you live in Gothenburg, you live with a lot of rain, so I knew this would be sure to happen again. I love photo walks and Drink-and-Click, but those are mostly about street photo. I wanted something that would let me develop my other interests, ranging from portraiture, to trick photography, to macro, and other things. And, I wanted to be warm and cozy, even if it did rain.

From the first photo meet up: The magical diamond.
For the first meeting I brought a "diamond". The task was to take a photo of the diamond emitting a magical field of force.

At the second photography meet up, the themes were ghosts, and photography books. the meet up was at Condeco, a café in Gothenburg to talk, have coffee, and experiment with photography.

Like the first time, the experimenting with photography part soon took over. Who has time for coffee, when there are things to shoot?

Just a couple of hours before the shoot I went to a party store and bought a cheap skull mask. A quick inventory among us yielded a few interesting objects: a knife and a book shaped phone shell.

Getting in close often makes a photo more interesting by hiding parts of objects. It also reduces the depth of field. The skull mask is a lot more interesting because it is out of focus and only partially visible. The flash was set to -3 EV. I wanted the flash to help the ambient light along a bit, not overpower it. I used a speed grid on the flash to avoid light spilling where I did not want it.
These get togethers are a bit like Open Space sessions at conferences: Anyone can come up with an idea. If people like it, we'll do it, if they don't, we won't. The group can work together, or split off in smaller teams that do entirely different things.

We are there to learn and have fun. As long as we do that, what we do, and who takes the lead, does not matter.

This photo was shot with my iPhone 4 and the Lenslight app from Brainfever Media. I took it to show that you do not need a DSLR to be in on the fun.
It's like a photo walk, except without the walking. Of course a DSLR and a ton of gear can be useful, but you do not need it. A camera phone is good enough. It is not about the gear you buy, it's about the gear between your ears: Imagination, a sense of humor, and a learning mindset is all you need.

Actually, you do not even need a camera. We want to get in touch with models, MUAs, cosplayers, lighting experts, stylists, and other people who would enjoy creating stuff together.

After the second meeting, I created a Facebook group to make it easier for interested people to keep in touch. Until now, we have posted our photos in the events created for the meet ups. By posting to the group instead, we can make a more permanent record of the things we do.

I am working on a photo book, and some of the photos from these events will almost certainly work their way in.

If you live in the Gothenburg area, you are welcome to join up. If you do not, why not create a local group? If you do, get in touch with me on Facebook or Google+, so we can link up the groups and exchange ideas and photo themes.

Monday 11 November 2013

Flash comic: Three comic panels about using flash with colored gels to set moods

Superheroes and monsters

A moment of solitude and focus before the party. This is my favorite shot from the evening.
I shot at the Superhero Halloween party organized by Superheroes against cancer last weekend. It was a fun shoot. When you shoot at an event you have little control, but you can still plan and prepare.

I showed up early, about half an hour before the event, to check out lighting and talk a with the lighting people. I took some test shots, and experimented a bit with the ambient lighting. I had a couple of ideas I wanted to try out:
  • I knew I would need flash, but I did not want to knock out the ambient lighting. My idea was to  use relatively long shutter times and large apertures (small aperture numbers) to let in as much light as possible in the camera. By putting the flash on 2nd curtain, I figured I'd be able to freeze foreground subjects with a relatively weak (underexposed by 0.7 to 2.3 stops, depening on the distance to the subject) flash.
  • Halloween and superpowers, so I wanted to shoot ghosts and supers moving at super speed. I knew I could do that by dragging the shutter. That means I used extremely long shutter times, often between 0.5s and a full second. I made sure to take a number of shots at shorter shutter times too, to get a number of more normal pictures.

It turned out pretty well. Everyone had a blast at the event, and I got some pretty good event photos.

Superman moving in on Lois Lane using super speed.

Bloody Mary, anyone?

This guy stayed in costume all night. That is, I do hope he was in costume...

Cat woman attacked by ghost. Will she make it?

Hockey, anyone?
Join me for a drink?
These people kick ass!

It was a target rich environment!

Medic! Wait, no, another medic...please!

Fortunately, Cat woman survived the ghost attack.

Dead girl dancing.

Are you afraid? You will be...
I was photographing this beautiful woman, when suddenly, a vampire materialized and attacked.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

We are armed and have no sense of humor!

When I saw these two mannequins I was reminded of a quote from The Core:

FBI Agent: Dr. Keyes, your presence is required in the Pentagon.
Dr. Josh Keyes: Aaah, it's my best buddies! Hey! Why don't you join us for a drink?
FBI Agent: We'd be grateful if you could join us - for a ride, sir.
Dr. Josh Keyes: And if I were to say no? I'm just asking.
FBI Agent: Well, we have no sense of humor.
Dr. Josh Keyes: That's true.
FBI Agent: And we're armed.

I tweaked the image a bit in post, of course: Turned it black and white, increased contrast and detail, sharpened it a bit. I also removed a reflection in the glass between me and the mannequins.

You can have quite a bit of fun shooting mannequins in shop windows. It is good practice, and mannequins do not complain if you experiment a bit, and botch something.

The act of walking around camera in hand forces you to be in the now. You can't walk around thinking of the past, or the future, you have to be there, or you won't get the shot.

The purpose of shop windows is to draw attention, so it should not be a surprise that you can find interesting things to shoot in them.

So, get out there and shoot!

Monday 21 October 2013

Drink and Click in Gothenburg

Photo walks are a great way to meet other photographers and have some fun. Here are some pictures from a Drink and Click event in Gothenburg.

Set the shutter time to 0.3 seconds, steady the camera by holding it against a street light, wait until something fast moving comes along, and CLICK!

Two walkers.

Booh! Halloween is coming up.

Saturday 19 October 2013

Maid and Tall Butler

Maid and a very tall butler

I visited the maid café Project Dandy with four friends, who also happen to be photographers. Maid cafés are a type of cosplay cafés where guests are greeted by maids and butlers, and treated like masters and mistresses of Victorian homes. The goal of Project Dandy is to create the first maid café in Gothenburg.

Stay tuned! You just might hear a bit more about Project Dandy, maid cafés and cosplay if you do.

Sunday 6 October 2013

How to turn a photo into a drawing with Pixelmator

My Hesser
Pixelmator has a filter for turning photos into drawings, but the results are not always what you want. There is a simple technique you can use to achieve more pleasing results, with only a little more effort.

Here is a step-by-step description of how I created the picture above.

  1. Start by opening a good photo in Pixelmator. Your subject should be well lit, and the background as simple as possible. I used a photo of My Hesser, from a studio photo session awhile ago.
  2. Duplicate the photo layer. This way, you can easily go back to the original if you need to.
  3. Turn off the original layer, so it won't show.
  4. Select the layer you just duplicated. It would not do to work on the wrong layer. :-)
  5. Select the parts of the photo you want to turn into a drawing. It is usually a good idea to use Edit->Refine Selection... to fine tune the selection.
  6. Invert the selection, so that the parts you want to use are protected from editing.
  7. Use the Eraser tool to erase everything that is not protected. This will leave you with a transparent background.
  8. Desaturate the photo. Pixelmator has a filter for this.
  9. Duplicate the layer with the desaturated photo.
  10. Invert the layer you just created. Yep, there is a filter for this too.
  11. Change the blend mode of the inverted layer to Color Dodge. The photo should go white. Don't worry, we'll bring the picture back in a moment.
  12. Use the Gaussian Blur filter on the inverted layer. The radius should be about 45 pixels. Now you should see the picture, looking like a drawing.
  13. Group the two top layers.
  14. Duplicate the group. This is just so you can go back to an earlier stage if necessary.
  15. Merge the group.
  16. Apply a Level filter to get look you want.

Saturday 28 September 2013

The OODA loop: Shooting like a fighter pilot

The final version of the image, after several iterations through the OODA decision loop

I created the image above using the OODA loop, a decision model originally created to help fighter pilots make better decisions in combat. The OODA loop can help you become a better photographer, the same way it has helped me.

The OODA loop was originally created by U.S. Air force Colonel John Boyd. Boyd, known as 40 Second Boyd, had a standing bet to down any opponent in 40 seconds or less. He never lost.

Later in life, Boyd became known as a master strategist. The OODA loop was incorporated in his strategic framework, Maneuver Conflict. From there, the OODA loop, often in a hopelessly distorted form, spread to business strategy. Bill Dettmer wrote a business strategy book about it, and that is where I found it, several years ago.

I won't go into the details of the OODA loop here. I have written a book about it (Tempo!, available in Swedish only), blogged about it, and made videos about it.

What I will do here is show how I applied it to identify an opportunity, and turn it into a good photo.

I was just about to cross a bridge when I saw two or three people climbing up the banks of a frozen canal. Nearby them, something glinted on the ice.

This was my first iteration through the OODA loop: I observed movement in a location where my orientation process told me there normally is none. I decided to have a closer look, and acted by simply raising my camera and looking through the lens. I could see there was a chair on the ice.

My original chair photo. Butt ugly, but with potential. At this point, there were far to many distracting elements for this to be an interesting picture. Still, with a bit of cropping and dean-up...
There was enough potential there for me to walk to the other side of the canal, and get as close as I could. When I was in the best position I could find, I took several shots. The one you see above was the best. Not too inspiring, but it had potential.

One more round of observing, orienting myself using basic rules of composition, deciding to crop, and acting on my decision. I had the picture you see above.

I observed that the photo still wasn't good enough. I wanted a cleaner photo with more contrast. I wasn't happy with the angle of the line in the upper part of the picture, but I had decided not to risk my life by going out on the ice. I am glad I did.

Here is the image after cleaning up in Aperture. I have used Clone and Repair to remove a lot of garbage from the ice. I have also:

Increased Brightness
Increased Contrast to max
Increased Vibrancy slightly
Used Curves to increase contrast even further
Turned the picture black and white
Added a Vignette

This is what the picture looked like when I first published it. I knew it would be better if I straightened the line at the top of the picture, but frankly, I was too lazy to do it.

Recently, I needed the photo for a presentation, and decided I could not stand the sloping line, so I straightened it in Pixelmator. I could have used Morph Age Pro for more control, but decided Pixelmator did a good job of it.

Through out the process, the OODA loop was a valuable aid, not only to improve the picture, but to improve my orientation process, the way I think about the picture.

And that is how photographers can shoot like fighter pilots.