Monthly Archives: June 2015

Troubleshooting Color Cast

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Hi guys,

Lisa here from Bliss Photography. Last weekend I shot an entire dance company’s rehearsal photos. We started early in the morning and shot until evening. I.ve recently moved into a new studio and haven’t quite gotten used to the lighting ( I usually prefer the natural light but here there isn’t any). Here I am using 2 studio lights, 1 being a large softbox and the other a fill. I am asking for a critique to this photo because I am noticing a purple-colored cast across my white backdrop. I have my lights set with my trigger and shot at 1/100 f18 ISO 200 and my white balance is on auto. I was thinking this was a white balance issue so on a few other photos I adjusted it but most made it worse so my best was auto. My thought was maybe the light blue color on the walls in the studio is what’s causing this. Please let me know your thoughts and opinions and more info on studio lighting!

 

Aaron

Thank you for submitting this image for a photo critique Lisa, it’s always nice to be able to see a working photographer’s work and help with suggestions to make your, and other photographer’s, jobs easier.

I have done jobs like these and I don’t envy you. They are all-day, grueling jobs with parents gawking and fussing and children losing interest fast. Usually the attention span of a 5-year-old is about 30 seconds. That being said, I think the fact that all of the children are looking toward the camera is admirable. But let’s address some things that could have improved the image.

Three of the girls are looking at the camera and the little girl in the back right is looking somewhere off camera. This is incredibly nit picky, I know, but this is something that I would have noticed in my own work, so I feel compelled to bring it up in yours. In order to achieve a higher level of commercial polish, I would ensure that the background doesn’t compete with the subjects – this means taking all of the wrinkles out either before the shoot, or in post. They pose could be improved by moving away from a square and more toward a triangle. This will improve the balance and fill some of the open space in the center of the photograph.

There is one thing in the image that suggests you are working in a crowded space. This is the fact that you are shooting wide angle and the girls are really close to the background. Ideally, the subjects should be as far off the background as you can get them. In my studio days, I would routinely have a subject placed 10-20 ft. off the background. This is even more important when you’re shooting high key (light on light background) and everything will be seen. Pulling the subjects off the background will help lessen the sharpness of the background and it will also help provide a sense of separation, and therefore depth.

Now let’s talk color cast. There is a distinct color cast to the image. If your walls are blue, and the color of your strobes are slightly warm (yellow) then it’s understandable to get a purplish cast on your background. When I owned my studio I painted all of my walls Dove gray. It’s a paint I purchased from Home Depot and it was almost a perfect match to a gray card. When the walls were white, light bounced all around in my studio and it was impossible to control. When it was black (stupid decision) it was a pit from hell. After going to extremes I realized that gray was the perfect color for me. I also ended up shooting on the gray walls, as they looked a lot like Annie Liebovit’z gray canvas.

Just because you didn’t do a white balance (on a gray card or a white wall) before your shoot doesn’t mean you can’t fix it in post. Photoshop and Lightroom both offer white balance features that you can run in batches. If you shot in RAW (which I encourage everyone to do) then you can bring them into the RAW dialog box in Photoshop, use the white balance picker, select your background and achieve white. You can then synchronize all of your shots with this. Lightroom is far more efficient for batch adjustments and I’m sure David will cover this in his comments.

Megan

Just assessing the lighting I can see that you are running into a problem with your whites. You mentioned that your studio walls are blue, that is most likely the cause for this discoloration. Through Lightroom and Photoshop there are several approaches to correcting white balance. It is also easy to batch process your images in either of these programs if you don’t want to consider repainting your space.

On a separate note, the wrinkles in the back drop caught my attention. If you are trying to get rid of some of the wrinkles in the back drop, you can spray some water on the sheet ahead of time to avoid ironing. When the water dries, the sheet will be wrinkle free. That will save a lot of time in post if you’re trying to go for a smoother look in the backdrop.

David

Jason

First let’s talk about the image. I like the symmetry in the photo and I’m sure the client was pleased as well. Each of the subjects have a great smile on their face and the posing is very fitting to the scene. I know how difficult it can be to get children to do the right thing during photos, but they look like they cooperated very well. Their placement forms a visual square structure with each subject’s face being a corner of the square. While this form works well in the symmetrical space of the frame, it may have a tendency to leave a whole in the center of the image. There may have been opportunity to close the whole by having the two girls who are standing to turn their shoulders to one another and close the whole a bit. This could be a challenge with their dresses limiting how close they can get, but it’s important to think of the spatial relationship of the subjects in the frame.

Now in regards to the color, there is a blue tone that is coming in on the highlights. There are many factors that can affect color in a photograph. The color temperature, white balance setting, and reflective colors are just some of these factors. Computer calibration, post process, and display settings can all have an effect on what is seen. The recent viral “Blue or Black dress” conversation is a testament to that idea. With that said, it’s hard to pinpoint down specifically what may be the direct factor on a color cast issue. Based on the stated situation, it may be the light blue color of the walls of the studio that can have the subtle effect. When the studio strobes flash, that light can bounce off the walls of the studio and spill into the white of the background. Another factor can be the color temperature of the studio strobes. Not knowing the brand or settings of the strobes — they can give inconstancies in color. Obviously cheaper strobes will have the potential for more inconstancies than more expensive – calibrated systems. But I’d guess that the color of the studio walls plays more of a factor.

The reality is that it can be difficult to identify the specific factor that is causing the issue. What’s more important is what can be done to correct it. In regards to your studio walls, it’s best to think of a neutral paint color. This is why you’ll see many studio walls being painted black or dark grey. This helps to absorb any light spill and keep the neutral color of light from being reflected from influencing the scene. White, while neutral, will have some light bounce off the walls and can cause issues for your lighting control. However, something to consider is how you want your studio to feel. Your light blue may help the feeling that your clients have when entering the studio space. You may not want to get rid of that.

The other option is to understand what needs to be fixed in post production. Setting a white point is really all that’s needing. You know that in this photo the white point is the background. There are many tools to set that. You can also use Photoshop color adjustment to shift the highlights to more yellow to offset the blue cast in the image. The last consideration is to think about a color checker card. This card can help when determining accurate colors during a shoot. The first shot captures this card to determine accurate colors across each image of the photo shoot. This setting can be applied to the whole series of photos.

While it can be frustrating to deal with all the technicalities to a image, what’s most important is the image itself. The photograph’s emotional reaction is more important that the technical reaction. How a photo moves you will outweigh its more technical features.

 

 

 

 

Landscape Photography Critique

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“Mountain Landscape”

by Melanie Jones

Aaron

I enjoy landscape pictures and constantly trying to figure out how to improve my own. If I had captured this image, there are a couple of things that I would have noticed once I sat down for an evaluation. Landscape photography critiques are not my forte, but I do have some small suggestions.

The first thing I see is that the horizon line appears to dip to the left in the background near the mountains. This can be adjusted in post with the “transform” tool. Under this heading, “warp” is a tool that can be used to selectively adjust portions of a photograph while leaving other elements untouched.

Ansel Adams was a landscape photographer who changed the way the world saw landscape photography. He pioneered a system for achieving dynamic range, called the “zone system”. This system advocated a wide tonal range of grays ranging from pure black to pure white. Besides this tonal range that he encouraged, he had a personal artistic vision of how Yosemite looked to him. This wasn’t always how Yosemite actually looked in reality. Here is an image that shows the original capture of “Moonrise” next to the final image after it was manipulated in the darkroom. Notice that the original capture looks quite normal and nothing we would recognize as a work by Adams. The final image has more contrast with punchier blacks and brighter whites. It also appears to have more depth. The final image is what Adams saw in his head and he used the darkroom to realize his vision.

ansel-adams-with-straight-and-fine-print-of-moonrise

Ansel Adams with his image “Moonrise.”

I would encourage you to push the boundaries of the file a little more. Try and see if you can get more tonal range in the shadows on the right side. Your edit looks far superior to the more dull, original capture but I think you can go further in your interpretation of the scene. Because landscape images are considered fine art, there is no limit to your artistic limits and vision.

The way you accentuated the different hues in the mountains on the left was an excellent choice. You did this as well in the green foliage on the right and it really worked to bring out texture. In fact, it worked on the stones as well. This is an excellent choice and looks like it’s heading toward an artistic vision that you can surely call your own.

Some of the things I tell my students about landscape photography are: watch your horizon line (don’t be boring with your placement of it by placing it dead center). I tell them sometimes it’s nice to direct the viewer to the most important element of the scene – either the foreground or the sky by including more of one or the other. I think you did a great job with that! Another tip I tell my students has to do with time of day. You chose to photograph during a time of day that allowed you to capture detail in the sky and in the land. This is essential when trying to replicate what the eye saw.

Your composition is extremely strong. This is another hallmark of great landscape photography. You have a great diagonal line coming out of the bottom left of the image. I also enjoy how the image is divided into an area of blue hues on the left and an area of green hues on the right. This division of color also adds a sense of depth, which I think is extremely important in landscape photography. You have a beautiful image here and I think with just a few tweaks it could be something spectacular.

Megan

We live in a beautiful world, and there are many photographs documenting its majesty. As a photographer of these landscapes it is your job to show the viewer which aspects to focus their attention on. In this image I get lost as to what is most important. By visual weight I see the land, the trees and brush as the focus. The heavy side of the image is duller in color and busy. On the other side of the image I see the water and sky, with a very monochromatic palate and it seems more intriguing and interesting yet it feels cut off and hidden by the other half. It is so crucial to have a decision of what you want to capture before you even add the camera into the equation. Once you know, then play and adjust your framing.

The other tension in this image for me is the horizon line. It appears to be unintentionally leaning downward to the left, which is problematic for me, as this looks to be a straightforward landscape. Very rarely are landscapes going to have a tilt in the horizon line. Make sure if you are going to have it tilting in a specific direction it is intentional and serves a purpose to evoking an emotion or telling a story.

The edit of the image is an improvement, but not significant enough. The post work should be bringing this landscape back to what time human eye saw (which I imagine was more vivid than what is pictured here) on the moment of capture, or an edit that sets a mood or tone. It still has a snap shot feeling for me. Making several selections across areas of this image will elevate the look and feel of this landscape.

David

 

Jason

The first thing that catches my eye is the titled horizon. You generally want a straight horizon when it is visible in the frame, unless it’s your intention to create a sense of uneasiness about the scene. The titled horizon makes it feel as if the water is shifting off the frame. Your mind is wanting to correct it and I cannot see a good reason as for the horizon to be awry.

But it was that shift that kept pulling my eye back to the distant mountains and I really liked the layering effect that they had. Each mountain edge was fainter than the next showing it’s distance from each other. There was something interesting in just that section and I would have really liked that given more focus. The repetition is appealing and the subtle color changes are calming. Even if there wasn’t a zoom lens available, a tighter crop on that area would have strengthened the composition (see example). Leaving the right tree structure would still provide some scalable elements, foreground features, and contextual vegetation of the environment.

It would have also been nice to have a subject in the landscape. An animal or person could provide that subject, even a closer view of an interesting rock or tree trunk. Something that was intending the viewer to see could add new concepts to the location. Otherwise it’s a conventional landscape.

I do like the feeling of isolation in the scene. Not only to the location, but the trees in the from being stripped of their foliage. There is something unique about the way they look. I’m just not sure they were photographed in the best way to explore that concept.

There are a lot of interesting elements in the photograph and as I stared longer I began to like it even more. It’s quite a beautiful location and such an banal, yet curious perspective of the scene. I would have loved to have seen this location photographed with film on a large format camera. The detail in the scene would have been one to get lost in.

Wedding Photography Critique

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“Happiness”

by Bogdan Condor

 

Aaron

This is a great capture of a couple on the beach during their engagement session. There is so much going right in this image but first, let me address some of the areas that could strengthen the image. I usually handle a photo critique in the exact same way that I would if I were looking at my own image. This doesn’t mean I’m always successful at generating error-free work. I happen to find mistakes or things I could have done better in every image I’ve ever taken. Unfortunately, my level of execution doesn’t equal my ability to spot areas for improvement. It’s one of the things that keeps me creating images – always looking for perfection.

One of the first things I think can be improved is the couple’s pose. I appreciate the genuine expression and the way that the couple is wrapped up in an intimate and non-awkward way. Where you could improve the pose is the position of the woman’s feet. Her knees and legs look nice, but having one foot point vertically downward and connect with the other creates a tangent. When most people talk of tangents in design or photography, they usually refer to the most obvious tangent – horns, antlers or growths. An example of this would be trees that seem to appear out of the back of someone’s head in a portrait. A tangent is basically the connecting of two objects in an awkward or ambiguous way that causes tension.

foot tangent

Fused edge/Hidden edge tangent

I cropped in tight to the feet so we could better see the ambiguity of the two foot shapes. Having her move her foot slight away from the other foot would have eased the tension by giving each foot their own distinct shape. In this image they look like the two feet are connected and it’s difficult to see where one foot ends and the other begins. Because of this, the two feet can actually appear as one, interesting-looking appendage.

Below is a small chart that displays the many different kinds of tangents that can be found in visual communication such as drawing, painting and photography. According to the chart, your feet would represent a fused edge or hidden edge tangent. Here is a link that provides more information on tangents and design. Tangents.

tangent-chart

 

Another element I’d like to address in the image is the use of lights and darks and their relationship with each other to create depth. In lighting, we commonly refer to this as chiaroscuro. In the image above, the stacking of lights and darks can create a great sense of depth. Photographing a white shirt against a dark background is a perfect example of how to achieve this separation and render a two dimensional photography more three dimensional. But in the instance of the woman, she’s wearing a black shirt and she’s photographed against a black reef. This causes her to get lost in the background. As soon as her black shirt meets the sky, we see that separation.

The lighting is the last area I’ll mention in the critique of this image. Off-camera-flash (OFC) has been used for many years by photographers and as lights and modifiers became lighter and more mobile, they’ve been incorporated into wedding and portrait photography as well. I see a lot of mixed light photographs (mixing strobes with ambient) and if you aren’t careful, they can end up looking like you just pointed the light directly at the subject. I don’t usually ever light just for the sake of adding light. There always has to be a direction to my light. Just as when I’m using available light, my light source is generally the open blue sky and my hair light is usually the sun. Even when I’m not having the sun hit the couple and they are in open shade, I still use the big open sky as my main light to illuminate their faces. So even when we’re using available light, it has direction. And this is what brings me to the lighting on this couple – it doesn’t look to have direction. The couples faces look as if they had a light put on their faces solely to balance them with their ambient light. It almost looks as if they are being lit by the sun, but I know the sun is at their back, sinking into the ocean. I would try to diffuse this light a little more, to give it the impression of a big sky lighting their face, or I would put the light off to a 45 degree angle and let the light cross their faces and create some drama. These are just other methods of illumination that might create a more subtle balance and more importantly give the light some direction.

Your composition is very strong. I admire your vision and the fact that you followed it by putting the couple out on the rocks. The strong sense of the ocean gives a nice metaphor to the couple’s connection. How the couple are embracing is also a great strength in the image. Many couples look awkward when showing affection and it’s up to photographers to “teach” them how to hold each other in a way that doesn’t look like they’re playing vertical twister. The way you lowered your camera angle was a great call. You placed the heads of the couple above the horizon line and avoided created a tangent with the horizon going through their heads. To the left of the woman, there is a pair of rocks that resemble the couple. Wether intentional or not, I think this repetition of shape is really nice. I also appreciate how you cleaned up the rocks in the water and warmed up the entire image. I think that was a great choice.

I happened to go to your website and you have a bunch of really great work on there. Many of the images displayed there show expertise in many of the areas that could have been stronger in this image. Thank you for your submission and I hope you enjoy the commentary!

Megan

In this image you have a beautiful location and looks as though there is decent texture and light in the sky. The couple is lit, which really separates them from the background in an slightly unpleasing way for me. I will probably sound contradictory since I understand they are the focus of the image and you want them to stand out but there are ways to light them that makes them more cohesive without being lost in the scene. Perhaps it is because the lighting seems a bit harsh making more contrast between the subject and its environment. I really appreciate adding artificial light into portraits, but I think it is a delicate line on how to pull it off when including it into the landscape. All of the elements of a strong image are here with the location, natural light, composition and subject. Your edits from your original cleaned up distractions and made the scene warmer showing your attention to detail. Overall nicely done image.

David

Jason

While the location may be stunning, it appears quite muted and dull compared to the power of the couple. I’d like to see a tighter crop of the couple to bring them more into the emphasis of their passion. Bringing them closer provides a closer look at the details they have in their gaze. I’m sure there are other options that were taken on the photo shoot, but the landscape in this photo isn’t powerful enough to warrant the distance away from the couple.

I really enjoy the connection I make with the couple in the photo. The embrace of this couple is really relaxed and authentic. There relationship is seen as a loving couple. They are well lit and the focal point of the image. Placing them in the rule of thirds helps strengthen their significance. A key eye pays attention to the detail having the ring finger wrap around to be see in the shot.

 

 

“Farm With Clouds” | Landscape Photography

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by Marc Thomas

 

Aaron

Thank you for sharing your work with us Marc, it’s always nice to get a variety on the Professional Photo Critique and you are our first landscape submission. There are several things I think could improve your image. The first suggestion I have is to photograph at a different time of day. I know that 4:30 p.m. in August will give you the great contrast in the blue sky and puffy clouds (especially effective in the black and white conversion) but it doesn’t do anything for the landscape. The landscape looks flat although this is helped out a little by the tonal variations between the light hills and the slightly darker ones.

Instead of using a wide angle, which pushes the background down away from you, I would suggest using a 50mm lens and then stitching the landscape together in post. This is a technique that many of my friends have tried with landscapes and it works to achieve beautiful results. Your use of composition is interesting. The land is such a sliver that it makes the viewer’s attention focus on the dynamic sky. This makes me wonder why the landscape is included at all. As I referenced below, Alfred Stieglitz did a study on cloud formations. He believed that the line, shape and forms of clouds reflected the individual’s emotional state. I think this is a fascinating idea and one that is never overdone.

Your black and white conversion is spectacular. It definitely enriches the original capture. I also looked pretty closely and didn’t find any sensors spots in your sky. Either you skillfully removed them, never use your camera, or are meticulous about never changing lenses in the elements. Whatever the case may be, your sky looked great. In your email, you mentioned you read Ansel Adams. Your familiarity with him is reflected in your ability to capture and represent the various tonal ranges. The zone system is on display here with many variations of grey between your white and black extremes. It’s a fine piece and I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.

Megan

The most captivating part of this image is the sky, the contrast in the cloud shapes and the sky make for a beautiful and calming image. Your choice of composition and the way you edited the image helps keep the focus on the sky making it the subject. Having the sliver of land at the bottom gives a sense of scale and context. The choice of black & white I find strengthens this image because of the contrast and textures in both the land and sky, drawing attention to shape, form and space. With landscapes the quality of light is a an aspect that can elevate a image dramatically, so shooting at sunrise or sunset is the optimal time. I would recommend in approaching a shoot to aim to capture at those times of day to bring another dimension to your work.

David

Jason

I really want to read more into this photo, but there’s just not that much after you realize it’s just clouds. Even the title “Farm with Clouds” doesn’t offer much more narrative than that. While the literal representation of clouds is achieved quickly, once you’ve achieved it, there’s nothing more memorable after that.

Don’t get me wrong, the clouds look great, but it leaves me as just a stock photo… ordinary. Adding a person or animal can add to the scale of the photo as well as bring a new narrative to the image. It could assist with the grandeur of the sky. The landscape is quite bland to me and doesn’t offer anything to support the sky. I’d almost crop to focus on just the clouds themselves. That could allow the photo to be supported by a bigger project on cloud study. The formation and flow of the clouds would be the visual and the titles of each image could become a stronger narrative of the photographer’s feelings.

Note: Alfred Stieglitz was a photographer from the early 1900’s. Stieglitz did a photographic study of clouds. The photographs were supposed to represent the photographer’s feelings, emotions and thoughts. His, as well as other photographers of his era, were influenced by Kadinsky and believed that colors, lines and shapes reflect the inner “vibrations of the soul.” Here are some photographs from the series titled “Equivalents.”

Stieglitz-Equivalent1839+

Alfred Stieglitz 1926

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Alfred Stieglitz 1927

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Alfred Stieglitz 1929

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Alfred Stieglitz 1929

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Alfred Stieglitz 1929

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Alfred Stieglitz 1930