Archive for January, 2010

Saving a Dull Club Photo

// January 31st, 2010 // No Comments » // Photography

Often when taking a club photo you’ll just miss that cool background strobe, and end up with an underwhelming dark portrait that isn’t really usable. That’s fine if you have plenty of good ones in the bag, but sometimes you need a little help. That’s where Lightroom comes to the rescue!

Here’s an example of a picture straight out of the camera, that had potential but came out dull (click to enlarge):

A dull club photo, straight from the camera. (click to enlarge)

Basic Brightness

If you are following the recommendations from my earlier post on club photography, you’ll be shooting in RAW. That’s essential to the recovery process!
Rule #1 of club photos is that you want colour and vibrancy, and no black space. To achieve this we can start with four basic tricks:

  1. Bump up the ‘Exposure’ by a stop or so – keep an eye on the histogram, moving it as far right as you can without clipping the hilights (as this is a RAW photo, you should easily have an extra stop to spare without losing quality);
  2. Reduce the ‘Blacks’ setting, which brings out more detail in the dark areas;
  3. Increase the ‘Fill Light’ – this adds brightness to the dark areas, without compromising the well lit faces;
  4. Crop the image to remove as much of the black border as possible – you might even consider turning a landscape orientation photograph into portrait, or vice versa.

You should now have something a little more like this (click to enlarge):

Same photo, after brightening, showing crop marks (click to enlarge)

Bringing out the Background

That’s better, but there’s still a lot of dead black space. We can use one last trick to pull out more colour – use a Graduated Filter to increase the exposure on the black background another stop:

Using a graduation filter to improve the background (click to enlarge)

Note that whilst there is noise in the background, it’s relatively unimportant as the faces are the focus of the photo, and are still well balanced. The background is simply providing blurred colour to lift the picture.

The Salvaged Image

After only a minute or two of processing, we now have our salvaged photo – a significant improvement, without any visible loss in quality thanks to the wonders of the RAW format:

Portfolio: Corzano e

// January 26th, 2010 // No Comments » // Web

A trilingual WordPress site built for the Corzano e Paterno farm in Tuscany, producing prize winning wines, olive oil and cheeses. It’s an old farm in the hills that used to be owned by the Machievellis, which now has a lovely set of guest houses you can rent through the site.

Corzano e Paterno site - wine page

Picasa photo album integration:

Corzano e Paterno site - example photo album

The site features a blog, press clippings, downloads of publications which have featured the farm’s wines, and other news:

Corzano e Paterno site - news page

This is integrated into a database of each year’s wines and cheeses:

Corzano e Paterno site - cheese page

Hard and Soft Light

// January 23rd, 2010 // 1 Comment » // Photography

Ages back I had a plan to create a new site which explained photography using primarily diagrams with illustrative photos, and minimal text – built up as I learnt new techniques. One day I’m sure I’ll get round to creating it, but until then I thought I’d post up some of the diagrams and notes here!

Light Hardness

The hardness of lighting has a huge impact on a photo – soft light means subtle wide edges to shadows on the subject, wheras hard light would give a very defined sharp border between lit and shaded areas.
As a basic rule of thumb, soft light is flattering in a portrait, hard light is dramatic:

Portrait with softer lighting
Portrait with softer, flattering lighting

Portrait with harder lighting
Portrait with harder, dramatic lighting

The Strobist 101 course explains the basic concept of hard vs. soft light in some detail, with some nice setup photos. I tried to boil the lessons down to their essence:

Hard vs. Soft light - subject vs. light size (click to see full size)

In a nutshell – the bigger the light relative to the subject, the softer the light.

Hard vs. Soft light - impact of distance (click to see full size)

In a nutshell – the further away a light gets from the subject, the smaller it becomes relative to the subject and the harder the light is.

Certainly not rocket science, but I like to reduce things to simple rules and present them visually!

DIY Soft Box

While we’re on the subject, I may as well present my quick instructions for making a very portable soft box from a shoe box – a flash modifier for producing softer light.  It’s small, so only suitable for a limited range of uses, but it slips nicely into a camera/laptop bag next to the laptop and weighs next to nothing so there’s no real harm in carrying it around!

Materials: one shoe box, some sticky backed velcro strips, a few sheets of shiny white printer paper and about an A4 sheet of tracing paper – plus duct tape, if you want to make it look nicer and be more durable.
Tools: glue (something like Pritt Stick), and either good scissors or a Stanley knife.

DIY softbox step 1 - open up the shoe box

Step 1 – Open up the shoe box flat.

DIY softbox step 2 - mark where to cut

Step 2 – Mark out where to cut, which is driven by the size of your flash head – on the side flaps, put the head side on in the centre of the flap, and mark out diagonals to the top and bottom (it may be helpful to look at photo 5 to visualise how it will assemble in the end).

DIY softbox step 3 - cut with a Stanley knife

Step 3 – Cut out these diagonals, and most of the bottom of the box, with a Stanley knife. Fold the side flaps together, put the flash between them, and then fold the top and bottom flaps together; mark out diagonals on these top and bottom flaps so that you will be able to make a pyramid. Remember to leave tabs for the velcro (see next picture).

DIY softbox step 4 - stick white reflective paper inside, and tracing paper over the main hole

Step 4 – Cut the top and bottom flaps into shape, and then stick on the paper – white paper on all of the solid surfaces, and tracing paper across the big hole in the middle. If you have some duct tape, stick duct tape all across the back/outside of the box for strength. Add velcro to the tabs so that you can fold the box into a pyramid.

DIY softbox step 5 - use sticky velcro on the 'tab' cutouts and the back so it can assemble into a pyramid

This photo shows the softbox assembled, with the flash firing and at rest. Note that the flash head also has velcro around it, for quickly attaching modifiers – see Strobist for thoughts on that.

DIY softbox step 6 - undo velcro to pack it flat

Softbox flattened down for transport – it folds to about 1cm thick when it’s not under compression.