Lori Carey Photography

Friday, September 19, 2008

Altered Realities

Disclaimer: This is a very unflattering portrait of my subject. Done purposely. Read why below.

I think it's really important to continually try out new things and constantly push myself on a creative level. We analytical types can all too easily get hung up on being technically correct, but lately I've been bothered by the fact that technically correct can frequently equal boring. That's why I like participating in Nikolai's weekly assignments over at dgrin. Once a week (roughly) Nikolai throws an assignment out that challenges us with a new technique or process, or sometimes just an idea that we have to interpret. And he doesn't let us slack off, either. He really pushes us to bring our A game. Even if it's a technique I'm familiar with, I find it challenging to reverse my thought process; rather than thinking "here's my subject, how am I going to shoot it?", the weekly challenge gives us "here is the technique, what am I going to shoot to best utilize it?" and that frequently has me shooting subjects I wouldn't ordinarily shoot. So not only have I learned some new techniques that have a permanent place in my arsenal (it was the assignment to photograph reflections in dew drops that finally convinced me to buy a macro lens - now learning focus stacking is added to my to-do list), but I've really spent a lot of time thinking about some basic techniques I had already been using. Even if I don't complete the assignment in the time frame, the time spent thinking about it is invaluable and the ideas are filed away for future use when appropriate.

Last week's assignment was to create a full face portrait and faux "Tyme" cover. The whole Greenberg/McCain/Atlantic Monthly fiasco was fresh in my mind and I was speechless over the level to which the "discussion" had fallen over at PDN. All of that was in banging around in my head as I thought about creating my Tyme cover. I used the September Obama and McCain covers shot by Platon for inspiration because I really love the raw, in-your-face, nothing beautiful look of Platon's style.

I have been lurking at David Hobby's Strobist blog for about a year and half now and I still do a little dance for joy every time I have an image in my head and am able to quickly determine how to use my lights to get the look I want. I highly recommend it if you want to learn how to use lights more creatively. Incredibly knowledgeable and inspiring people (including several well known photographers) hang out in the Strobist discussion threads over on flickr (I know, it's flickr, but you have to go where the knowledge is, and these guys know lighting). It's like a cult. Or a highly addicting drug. I just lurk and learn and file the knowledge away in my head (As a matter of fact David's original slogan was "More brain, less gear, better light"). I set up my lights, grabbed a wide angle lens and popped a few self-portrait test shots until I had the right exposure (OMG, a sharp wide angle lens and hard light is just brutal on a mature woman's face. Don't ever do that unless you are feeling very, very mean!). I was pretty happy when I thought "here's what I want to do" and my test shots said "yup, that's what you want to do". I went with one light at full power bounced into a silver umbrella from slight camera left. My camera and light were set up about 2.5 feet away from my subject in the middle of a dark empty room. Wide angles at close range can really distort a person's features (that was the whole point), but I didn't want it to be really obvious distortion. I then called my unwitting subject into the room and made him shine a flashlight in his eyes until I had focus (now you see why I have a hard time finding guinea pigs for my experimentation) and popped off a couple of shots while he made faces at me (he's not a very cooperative subject, but I can't complain because the alternative is to use my own face when I want to experiment).

I took some cues from the Obama cover in post but really just went with my gut. First, I bumped up the clarity in ACR. That brings out some details but it also brings out every imperfection in skin, so you have to use it judiciously. Then I did a curves adjustment and some selective dodging and burning. Next I added a black and white layer in hard light blend mode and did some masking. After another curves adjustment I consulted the Obama cover and noticed it had a definite green tint to it so I added an overlay at 125, 137, 98. I ended up lowering the opacity to 35% on that layer, so I didn't retain much of the green tint but I liked the effect it had on the image. Lastly I decreased the saturation to taste. I'm certainly no Platon but I was really happy with the final image because it was exactly how I envisioned it.

I showed my subject the final product and his response was that he thought he looked scary. Fantastic! That's just what I was hoping to hear.

Trying to think of a catchy news magazine headline that somehow alluded to the aforementioned Greenberg/McCain fiasco was tough for me. Suffice to say that I will never attempt to seek employment in writing catchy headlines. I have no skillz. But here's my final product:

I see that on these small compressed images it appears that there is no separation between my subject's black hair and the background, but if you load a larger size in the lightbox on my website you can see that there is definite separation. If I were going to reshoot I would mostly likely increase the separation just a touch more. I would also do a better job addressing the uneven light on the shirt. I like how the white plays into the entire color scheme for the cover, but the left side is just a bit hot and I'm not entirely happy with the shadow on the right side. Maybe that's just my over analytical side coming through.

I can't wait to find more guinea pigs so I can play around with this a little more. Any volunteers?

Nothing after the jump.

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