Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tasteful Post Production: Editing Senior Portraits

Post production can be very time consuming, depending on your editing preferences and other factors. One of the biggest factors affecting post production is the quality of the image coming out of the camera.

In example 1 below, I have photographed a senior near the shore of Lake Erie. It is an overcast evening about 30 minutes before sunset, and the water is somewhat calm.

I exposed this image with a custom white balance, ISO400, f/2.8 for 1/60 handheld. I was pleased with the composition, pose and exposure. There's a stick on the right that I will need to deal with, but the bird adds a bit of maritime essence and the trees behind give a bit of color to offset the orange top.

My first steps in post production after copying the folder from the chip to my session folders is to do a quick contrast and vibrance enhancement. I use Corel's AfterShot Pro, which is a post production image management tool very similar to Lightroom. Generally I will slide the Exposure control if needed, then push the Black control to increase contrast in the shadow side. You can see a subtle increase in the dark of the water on the right, and the shadow area of the denim in the subject. 

I also often push the Vibrance a bit. It gets the colors to pop without the excessive effect you get from the Saturation tool. However, I don't overdo it, because it is still my "proof" image. 

This particular edit on this image, including a quick crop, took maybe 45 seconds. For the entire session of  40-60 selected images, it took me perhaps 30 minutes to do all of the edits to get to "proof" stage. These images are nearly ready to print, requiring only cosmetic touch ups on close-up facial features such as skin and teeth and stray hair. I set a goal of having the senior's proof set ready before I go to bed, usually 90 minutes after I get home from the session.

I proofed and published the image as edited above. But I was looking for something a bit more colorful for this image, so I loaded Topaz Adjust and did a bit of work on it. You can see in the image blow that the main effect was to pop the greens in the background, and provide a much sharper level of detail than the original image. Topaz and other effects can certainly enhance an image, but if the image is not properly composed, exposed and proof-edited, you are going to have disappointing results from any plug-in.

I use plug-ins very sparingly. Maybe 3-5 images from each session will get a treatment. Your tastes may differ, but I don't want to be known as the photographer whose images all look "fake". I like to get the right in the camera, provide just a bit of "pop", and keep them realistic and generally in color. Then if the family wants images in black and white or sepia, I'll edit those to print.

I'm pleased with the result of this edit. Her expression and pose is confident and feminine, and the leading lines of the trees and the water create a "funnel" to draw your attention to the subject. The touch of reflection in the water adds to the color splash from the senior's orange top. And this edit creates a bit of a Renaissance look to the image, with a watercolor/green/yellow emphasis on the trees. 

Here are some tips for senior pictures editing workflow:

  1. Learn to get the exposure correct in camera, especially white balance and exposure. Getting comfortable with a white balance tool and an incident light meter will reduce your post production times immensely!
  2. Don't shoot more than two of any pose. If you captured a good image, then move on.
  3. Quickly reduce your session down to 40-60 images where there are no duplicate poses. AfterShot Pro has a set of filters (stars and colors) that let you "hide" the rejected images.
  4. Learn to do the quick exposure edits in AfterShot Pro or Lightroom, at a pace of 30 seconds or less per image. You can also copy/paste exposure edit settings from one image to another if they are in the same setting, using Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V shortcuts.
  5. Save the edits in a separate folder so you can work with them in your image editor if needed.
  6. Use plug-ins sparingly. But when you do, make sure the result represents your style and vision.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The best Canvas deal for professional photographers

If you have not yet tried out Circle Graphics for canvas products, here's a great offer. Sign up with this URL and get $10 off any canvas over $27.99. It's a good way to try them out. I have found that they are the lowest cost and highest quality canvas lab. I use them exclusively for canvas products. I like that you can choose solid color edges if you want.

One tip - combine multiple orders or include a couple of studio samples with customer orders, because they will bulk ship the canvassi under one UPS tracker and you save lots on shipping. Also consider ordering 2x of a good customer print for samples, because the cost is low. They also offer framed canvas which is a neat combination of canvas prints and a framed product. 

Full disclosure: I get credit if you click through. Also, if you are not an established professional photographer (to CG's standards), you will not be permitted to sign up, as this is exclusively for established professionals.

Circle Graphics - Great Canvas Prints and Framed Canvas for Professional Photographers and Artists

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Leading into Web SEO for Photographers

Recently I have been focusing on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for photographers. In April 2013, I completed a four-city speaking tour for the Tennessee Professional Photographers guilds. I spoke in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville, and met some great people.

If you are new to the world of SEO, here's a great simple video to introduce the idea:

During the sessions, I presented some simple tips for photographers to use to raise their pages rankings, or placements in web searches.

I offered the presentation as a freebie to the attendees. I'll offer it to you as well.
Here's John Huegel's presentation on increasing your SEO results for your small business.

I had one great success already. One of my attendees in Tennessee was not even ranking at all (on any pages) for her key search words. Within one week of implementing the changes I recommended, she was in the first position on page 1 - the sweet spot of organic search results!

In the near future, I will be breaking down the process of SEO and developing short YouTube videos on the subject. Stay tuned for more information!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Close Up Filters

I keep a wish list on Amazon. Some of it is big stuff, including my next L lens. Others are small items. I had a gift card burning a hole in my virtual pocket, so I bit the bullet this week and picked up a set of close-up lens filters for my 77mm lens collection.

Quoting Wikipedia (I Love That Place):
Close-up lenses typically mount on the filter thread of the primary lens, and are manufactured and sold by suppliers of photographic filters. Some manufacturers refer to their close-up lenses as diopters, after the unit of measurement of their optical power.
While some single-element close-up lenses produce images with severe aberrations, there are also high-quality close-up lenses composed as achromatic doublets which are capable of producing excellent images, with fairly low loss of sharpness.
Close-up lenses are usually specified by their optical power, the reciprocal of the focal length in meters. Several close-up lenses may be used in combination; the optical power of the combination is the sum of the optical powers of the component lenses; a set of lenses of +1, +2, and +4 diopters can be combined to provide a range from +1 to +7 in steps of 1. A split diopter has just a semicircular half of a close-up lens in a normal filter holder. It can be used to photograph a close object and a much more distant background, with everything in sharp focus; with any non-split lens the depth of field would be far too shallow.

This "Polaroid Optics 77mm 4 Piece Close Up Filter Set (+1, +2, +4, +10)" collection in a nice black storage pouch. Basically, they let you get closer to your subject than the lens' normal minimum focus distance. For my 70-200mm Canon f/2.8L lens, that's about 1 meter. Here's the original shot at max zoom (200mm) and minimum focus distance, taken indoors, handheld with IS enabled:
Incidentally, these are at ISO800, f/2.8, 1/50th on a Canon 5D Mark 3. Next, I show the +1 adapter:
So you can see the subject fills the frame more completely, but since I am closer, the DOF is considerably shallower. I could have adjusted that by reducing the f-stop to say f/8, and using a tripod to stabilize the camera, but I was lazy and wanted to hand-hold the camera.

Here's the +2, where you can see the DOF getting even shallower:
You can see some sharpness along certain parts of the focus plane - the word "Since" on the left, and the letters "'S ORI" on the right of the lid. It's nice having an IS telephoto that lets you shoot at 1/50 at 200mm!

Here's the +4. It was getting a bit sketchy at this point hand-held, trying to get a reasonable focus point:
It's still pretty amazing that I can get that close - literally inches away, with a 70-200mm lens. I see a log of white, foggy diffusion on the image, which was really bad with the +10. I won't bother showing you those shots. Handheld they were unusable.

Next I switched to my Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens. Here's the original shot:
That's inside the range of the 70-200mm. I tipped the subject to get a good plane of focus. Next, +1:

Nice clarity, a little color shift owing to 60Hz flourescent lighting. I did no correction at all on these images. Here's +2:
Nice and sharp. This was ISO800, f/1.4, 1/400 sec. The can almost looks like it's floating in a DOF soup. And the +4 at 1/8 sec f/5 (to reduce DOF a bit):
This is an 85mm portrait lens on a full frame camera. Pretty impressive!

This was a $50 close-up filter set. I'll do a more detailed macro study in my studio with a tripod and some tasty small items, so we can revisit them. Until then, it's another great tool for my camera bag. They will come in handy for photos of wedding rings.

Oh, the subject, Bag Balm? It's a great ointment, originally developed for cow udders. I grew up on a farm and we used this on many animals. It's great for dry skin, and chafing from sitting on an indoor rower for hours!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Finally: John Huegel, CPP

Yesterday I received in the mail my certification notification. I'm officially recognized as a Certified Professional Photographer. It took me years to reach this level, and I'm very proud to be in the company of great photographers like my friends Dana Nordlund and Stephanie Cunningham.

The certification of specialized skill-sets affirms a knowledge and experience base for practitioners in a particular field, their employers, and the public at large.  Certification represents a declaration of a particular individual’s professional competence.  In some professions certification is a requirement for employment or practice.  Doctors, mechanics, accountants, professional secretaries, surveyors and many others are all required to go through a certification process of some kind.
Why should a photographer become certified? Again, to quote the organization: 
Studies show that certification is the most widely recognized consumer credential. Consumers may not know a lot about professional photography, but they know that certification should ensure professional-quality goods and services. Clients in every industry seek out credentialed professionals, as the public recognizes certification as a sign that one is an authority in the field. A Certified Photographer designation offers potential clients an assurance, not just of quality, but of technical skill and artistic expertise.
As the leading certifying agency for imaging professionals, the Professional Photographic Certification program is recognized throughout the industry.Those who have earned the Professional Photographic Certification have passed a comprehensive written exam measuring their technical expertise, and have successfully submitted their work to a panel of judges for review and approval.
 Why did I want CPP certification? For several reasons:
- I wanted to prove to myself that I had the skills and knowledge to complete with other true professionals
- I wanted to show my clients (past and future) that I can work for and achieve peer recognition
- I wanted to separate myself from the many "faux-tographers" that appear on Facebook and "shoot" clients for minimum wage
- I wanted to demonstrate that a part-time photographer can become certified and be as legitimate as full time photographers
- I wanted to keep dignity and legitimacy in our industry, and stay connected to the principles of PPA

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not elitist. I very actively encourage new photographers to enter the business. I hold classes, publish books, mentor individuals and support new and established photographers of all kinds. But I tell each of them that they need to know their limitations - their lack of knowledge and skills, and build them so that they become true photographers, not day-workers with a camera.

The certification program consists of an exam, which I took last summer, and the submission of an image portfolio to be evaluated by many certified judges. 

My study process for the exam consisted of me reading my ancient "Photography" text and taking notes on the subjects I didn't know well. Then on the 48days.net Photography forum, Jaime Rowe announced she was writing a book on CPP exam practice. I helped her proofread it, and that really helped my learning. By the way, her CPP practice book is available at certifiedphotographer.net. It was mentioned in a previous post.

The other element of my learning that helped my test readiness was my teaching. I offer several classes each year, and in the process of being asked questions by the students, I have to really think about light, exposure and other aspects of photography, and provide a useful and correct answer to the student. When you teach, you learn.

The test was proctored up in nearby Frewsburg, New York by Dana Nordlund, who was nice enough to sponsor a test site so that I and a few others could sit for the test. Otherwise, I would have had to drive 5 or 6 hours. I did very well on the test, missing less than 10 of the 100 questions. Believe me, they are harder than you can imagine.

On the image review, my first folio was rejected, and I had a couple of moments of anger and frustration. Why didn't they like my images? But I sat through a very humbling and valuable review by a great fellow who described specifically what my images needed to be considered acceptable. I listened. I took notes. And I incorporated each and every comment in my photography over the next year. 

And do you know what? My eyes changed. I learned to see images differently - to spot highlights before I blew them out with an overexposure. To manage white balance. To look at hands and feet and clothing and posing and most importantly, the shape and quality of light falling on my subjects. 

Picking out my second portfolio was not as hard as the first. For in every session file, and there were dozens that year, I had at least one or two really nice images that I knew would rate well. The challenge was getting down to the required number, and making certain that the mandatory shots were well executed.

So I waited patiently for the results of my second image review. I was prepared to continue working on the third review this summer if needed, but in my case, the images were accepted. The letter indicating my certification was addressed to "John Huegel, CPP". That kind of gave away the surprise, but I'm not complaining. I'm one of only two CPP certified photographers in Erie County, and one of only 5 in a 50-mile radius of Erie.

I encourage all of you to set goals in your photography journey. Whether it's CPP certification, Master Craftsman, officer of your camera club, or specific achievements, you will go further in your journey if you identify milestones, determine your gaps and weaknesses, and overcome them!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lytro: New Light Field Camera

A new kind of camera is now commercially available. Lytro, a light field camera, can capture images in which you can change the point of focus after the image is taken. It's less than $400, has limited resolution, and doesn't yet work with Windows devices (Mac only), but you know that will change.

Here's an article on it. Once they have Windows support I'll probably pick one up and take a few images with it for seniors and maybe weddings for the gadget/unique appeal.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Certified Professional Photographer

Certification is important in professional photography. It separates the bottom feeders from the real photographers. You know the type - they only have a Facebook page, only photograph in natural light and their work is sloppy and uninspiring. They know very little about the process of capturing and producing great images.

The process to become certified is not difficult. You declare your candidacy at Certified Photographer. You pass a two-hour photography knowledge exam consisting of 100 questions. Then you submit a portfolio of 15 images to a panel of judges. Some of the images must demonstrate a specific skill, such as short lighting or high-key, and others are of your choice. They must all be from paying clients, with no person duplicated.

Once you pass the exam and your portfolio is accepted, you are Certified, and can list the initials CPP after your name. You will have to periodically re-certify to prove that your skills have not become stale.

I will tell you that the exam is not easy, nor is the passage of the folio review. It's designed to be a real barrier to entry. You need to demonstrate that you have both the knowledge and skills to be called a "Professional" by your peers in the industry.

I encourage every photographer to work towards Certification. The process of studying the material makes you think and learn about your craft, and the attention to detail in your composition and editing will improve your image quality regardless of your intention to submit the image for certification.

One great tool for CPP exam preparation is Jaime Rowe's study guide.. I used it in preparation for my exam and I did extremely well on my first attempt, passing with flying colors.

She has given me a coupon code, STUDY20, which if used, will give you 20% off of the price of the study guide.Click here to visit Certified Photographer Academy and order the book.

And even better, she's allowing me to give away one FREE BOOK to the winner of a contest. It's a $47 value.

To participate in the contest, you have to correctly answer this question:

I have a camera set at ISO100, f/8 and 1/100 second shutter. I want to reduce the depth of field from the current camera setting. Which setting would give me the same exposure value with reduced depth of field?

A. ISO400, f/8, 1/400 sec
B. ISO100, f/4, 1/200 sec
C. ISO100, f/16, 1/25 sec
D. ISO100, f/4, 1/400 sec
E. ISO200, f/8, 1/50  sec

Email me at johnhuegel AT jhphotomusic.com with your answer and if you are the first correct response, you will win her book!