Friday, December 12, 2014

In the studio again

I still really like the studio. It also freaks me out. All the lights and the lights and don't forget the lights. And a background or five.

The Studio is still a strange place but I'm getting more comfortable around it. It very much helps to just sit down and follow Heidi. She knows what to to, explains it all to me and also gives practical examples. Such as ergonomically favorable photographing positions:

NOTE! Picture NOT photoshopped!

Heidi went into the studio last week and I took the opportunity to go with her, as an assistant and BTS-photographer (Behind The Scenes, good way to get started on documentary photography) but also shooting myself. Milla acted as model and Minna did the make-up and hair for Heidi's shot. So, of course I used the occasion to my favor. As my grandmother used to say: "Man får vara glömsk men inte dum" (~ you are allowed to be forgetful, but not stupid), a very fine motto in my opinion. So, taking advantage of the make-up and the lighting that Heidi had used for her shot, I did this:


I think I got that one about right.

I'm still nervous in the studio and instructing an unfamiliar model is challenging for me. Being 40+ I do have some sort of reputation to uphold, I can't just ask any stupid question in front of young girls like that, can I? So, I'm continuously developing my faking skills. (Just wondering how to get that somewhat discretely into my CV...) It's pretty easy, I just listen to Heidi and talk like her. "Lean forward", "Lift your cheek" and "Turn your head to your right" and stuff like that. And every now and then I ask for more light or less light or a light to be moved. It works! People actually think I know what I'm doing. Good one.

I also found a new toy (after three weeks of trying and failing and finally swallowing my pride and asking Heidi to show me again...), the High Pass filter. (Btw got this one right, never thought of this as a Japanese art form. I'm getting there.) I like the effects you can get with this filter. I also discovered that colored film can be used just as well in front of the camera instead of in front of the lights for effects. Had to try:


This time with Iida as model.

I like photographing and photoshopping. It does me good, my mind is in balance. Photographing makes me pretty normal, like too many other people I nowadays have no time for exercise, have irregular eating habits and gain weight from chocolate. Pretty good after having spent about 40 years being so abnormal that there are diagnoses (plural) for that. Excellent therapy!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Studio time

Flexibility is the key. That and a whole lot of back-up plans. Or, more accurately, a whole lot of ideas ready to be carried out. The plan for today was to shoot an outdoor series with a fake sun, but since the weather did not agree with our plans, we ended up in the studio. The fastest route following quick trips to the grocery shop and the pharmacy. Accessories, you know? Yes, that would be chocolate.

I've had this idea for a while and now the time had come to carry it out. My wonderful tutor Heidi kindly agree to model for me, even though she knew I would have to make her look bad. And of course, it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get her to shut up. But boy, was I wrong... She knows how to speak without moving her lips! Bugger...

For once I had an idea about the lights and how to position them. How about that? I almost got it right, too. Who would have guessed? I was actually quite shocked by the fact that Heidi didn't need to correct much of anything, but I (again) managed to keep a straight face and pretend that I got it right on purpose. I'm getting pretty good at that. Please don't tell Heidi.

I was surprised when I realized just how much I like it in the studio. I haven't been there that many times, but somehow it feels cozy. I like it. The challenge you face every time, the challenge of getting the photo you want, to get the lights right, to get the right angle, to get the right expression on the model's face; that's something special.

It is easy to work with Heidi. Being a photographer herself, she know exactly how to pose to get the best of her. For a rookie like me, that's of invaluable help. There are still too many factors I need to keep in mind regarding the camera, my brain cells can't handle any more. I'm still focusing on ISO, aperture and shutter speed. And most of the time I do like Heidi says anyway, but to my defense I like to state that I do try. Results vary, though.

We got pretty good photos. Good drafts for the Photoshop session. That's the trick, what I get from the camera is only a draft. The photo will get it's final look in Photoshop. No, I don't do the kind of photoshopping that all the media fuzz is about, I don't change people's shapes to make someone skinnier, that's no good. I don't like that kind of photoshopping, I don't like what it does to young girls and their self esteem.

Anyway, I like photoshopping. I like the challenge and the chocolate that comes with it. Chocolate is part of photoshopping, no arguing there. Candy will do if you don't have chocolate, but you need something to get you going. And yes, it is a damn good excuse, of course I use it! I'm blonde, but not that blonde. Y'all get it?

So, I fought the photoshop for a while. After that I realized how to do the picture so I started over. This time was good, I only needed two tries. I'm getting there. Or, what do you guys say?


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Night lights

I like lights. Night lights. I've heard that a lot of people do. I think it has to do with the feeling of not being alone. I like flying at night, the sight when you look down and see the lights from a city...

So, of course I had to get some pictures. I already knew where to take the photos, in the middle of the highway. Of course. But no, safety first, always! So, equipped with reflector vests and a whole lot of common sense (can I get a 'Halleluja'?), I dragged my partner-in-crime Heidi along to get some night light photos. There was a surprisingly high number of cars driving by, then again, delivery trucks are out all around the clock. Didn't see the police, though... Maybe for the best.

I was surprised when I didn't need as long a shutter speed as I had thought. But, true, there is a lot of light at the highway, especially when the surface of the road is a little wet, it reflects light pretty nicely. I got a whole bunch of nice pictures, so many it was hard to choose which ones to photoshop and, the reason I set out on this venture, which one to pick for my Facebook cover photo. The reasons are many....

I photoshopped a couple of photos. I tried also to change the settings for the photo initially when I open the photo in Photoshop, but it didn't turn out as well, there were color nuance differences. Better to work with layers in Photoshop.

First picture, taken from the bridge over the highway:

I kind of like that picture. I cropped it and added some black to get a nice overall feeling. I really like the way the lights shine and reflect off the road and the lights in the background, giving the impression that the road just continues. Makes me wonder where I'll end up if I follow it. But it was the second picture I was out to get:

I saw this sight when I was driving home one night and immediately knew I had to get a photo of this. I really like feeling this sight gave me, I felt very calm and relaxed when I saw this. I just hope I have been able to capture that feeling.

This was a really nice experiment and I will do it again. Just need to find something to shoot. Hail Christmas.....

Thursday, November 20, 2014

And then there was light

I'd never considered lights before. I mean, either there is light enough for you to see or it's not. If it's not, then you switch the artificial lights on, that's what the light-bulbs and the beautifully decorated lamps are for. It's as simple as that. Or, let's say, it was. Nowadays it is quite complicated.

I've had to reconsider most of what I thought I knew about lighting over the past few weeks. I've learned that you can't take good pictures in direct sunlight. So, if it is sunny, you either find shadows or you go into the studio. The Studio is a sacred room, a dark room with curtains covering the windows (if there are any) where no  natural (sun)light is allowed to enter. (Why do the word 'vampire' come into mind?) In the Studio you fake sunlight in order to take nice photos. (I wonder what Sigmund Freud would have to say about such substitute behavior...)

Lights can do magic to a photo. You can play around with lights in order to make someone look more (or less) dashing. There is a number of combinations depending on what you want to say with the photo. There are also different types of lights, mostly depending on the model, for example the lighting of a male model differs from that of a female model. This is also the way of creating dramatic effects in your photographs. Try thinking old, black-and-white horror movies, you'll know exactly what I mean.

First, you have your key light. That can be a smaller spot light with a little disc to direct the light beam or a bigger light with an umbrella. You can smooth the light with cloth or some type of filter (that's usually what you want to do when photographing a woman). This is to highlight what you want to be the main thing in your photograph. When taking profile pictures, you usually want this light directed at your models face. Otherwise it would look pretty damn silly.

You also need some lights behind/on the sides of the model to outline his/her shape on the photo. These accent lights, soft-boxes are often rectangular. And then there's the fill light, usually behind the photographer. Then, depending on what you want the photograph to look like, you can add additional accent lights on the sides or above the model's head. Just don't forget that &/)%#¤% background! It needs lighting too, believe it or not. It can also help outlining the model by bouncing lights of it. When you're really good at this, then you put up fake walls to bounce the light off to add to the effect...

The second challenge is where to position your lights. It depends on what you want to highlight. There are also considerable differences regarding the distance between the light and the model. No, of course it is not at easy at it seem! That would probably be cheating and I'm pretty sure there is one (or more) EU regulation(s) concerning this lying around somewhere...

So, once you have determined what you want to do and how to position your lights, you also need to consider the intensity. The easy way to do that is by trying and adjusting the lights accordingly. There are also different types of lights, normal spotlights, normal light-bulbs, neon lights, flashlight, different colors, there is a whole industry around this. And a whole lot of cable, mind your feet.

And don't forget that little gadget you attach to your camera for the flash to go off....

You start of with an idea of what you want to do. Said idea will change. By the time you get to the Studio and lighting-part you already have your model, make-up, hair, clothing, accessories and faithful assistant(s) figured out. So, after careful consideration and a great deal of planning including sleepless nights, blood, sweat and tears, you come up with a plan for your Studio-time and lighting. Said plan would look something like this:

© Heidi Järvi

So, following your plan (above), you'll end up with something like this:

DRAFT © Heidi Järvi

Which you then photoshop to look something like this:

© Heidi Järvi

If your lucky. Or Heidi Järvi.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Life's necessities

Saturday saw the arrival of  my new longtime pal: Photoshop. I have absolutely no idea whether it was love or hate at first sight, but we've spent some serious time together. Luckily for me I have had the opportunity to watch Heidi use Photoshop, so I already knew it. Or of it. I had also been told that you can do anything in Photoshop so naturally I 1. believe that anything can be done in Photoshop, 2. search desperately for the right way to do it in Photoshop and/or 3. look for another way to get it done. Usually I end up at number 3. Old habit, been doing that most of my life.

Of course I had to try and do something that made sense. I failed.


Sunday gave me the opportunity to learn a thing or five about portraits and lights. Heidi again helped me and Minna was kind enough to do the modelling. I had kind of an idea of what I wanted to try and do, but not a very good idea about how to get there. So, I used a lifeline and asked a friend. Yes, you guessed it: Heidi. Pretty obvious, huh?

Heidi helped me set up the lights, explained what we were doing and thus helped me get the effect I was looking for, but the finishing had to be done in Photoshop. I've had some trouble with that whole concept, it feels like cheating. I'm old school, I grew up with cameras you had to change film in, where you had to choose what to capture since you only had 12 or 24 photos on one film. 36 if you where lucky enough to find one of those and even luckier enough, you had the money for it, but then you were concerned about the quality, was the camera powerful enough to wind and rewind the film without damaging it? Those days. Today I have a 16GB memory card with room for 500+ raw images, in the thousands if I choose jpegs. Wow! I feel like I'm five years old!

I got a really nice picture of Minna. Do you like it? (Yes, she is that pretty for real. You can do a lot in Photoshop, but only if you're experienced, and I'm not good enough for that yet.)


And, of course, I had had a stupid idea on my mind since I bought that camera. I tried it out in GIMP (a free-ware GNU Image Manipulation Program), but couldn't quite get it together. Guess who ended up guinea pigs for that one? Correct again, Heidi, this time together with Poni. No, I wont show you that one. Later, when I get it looking like I want to. I know what you're thinking, I don't have any reputation to talk about anyway so I might just as well. No. I wont. Somebody bribe me!

But I did something else instead. Sort of same idea, but a little different. I think it turned out alright.

"Ghost House"

Conclusion: I really, really, really, REALLY like Photoshop. And yes, you CAN do anything you want in Photoshop. I soooo feel like a five-year-old. Please don't tell my bank.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Off we go

I had a very lovely weekend, together with my camera and my good friend/tutor Heidi. And Heidi's horse, Poni. Poni is not only a kick-ass horse (pun intended), he's also an experienced model. He did give me the look of 'noooo, not you too!!' when I took out my camera, but he did a good job posing. Or what do you say? (He's the one on the left.)

"Still loving you."

I've spent quite some time cursing over both DPP (Digital Photo Professional) and GIMP, a free-ware application I use instead of Photoshop. GIMP and Photoshop are supposed to be quite the same, although GIMP lacks the tutorials and the support that comes with Photoshop. But GIMP is free-ware, and at this point quite sufficient for my needs. And yes, it comes with the little lasso tool. Chocolate to be purchased separately.

My camera also comes with a next to fool-proof feature, the Creative Auto-feature. You'll find settings for taking warm/cold, soft/intense or darker/brighter pictures. There's also a little feature called 'Monochrome filters', with blue, black-white or sepia toning. Me like!!

You did notice I said 'NEXT to fool-proof', didn't you? No guarantees just because the camera can, it's also about the person holding said camera. And the amount of chocolate available for use in photo processing. And if I may remind you, this person is blonde, irrevocably and hopelessly blonde. You have been warned.

I like the DPP application, it's so easy to curse at and also gives you many reasons to. You might want to consider another application if you're married. Or a more powerful computer. It also uses some crazy CR2-file that other programs have trouble reading. That's what you get for taking RAW-pictures with your camera. However, the quality is better, so I use it. Sometimes. (Read, whenever I remember to.) DPP have really nice and easy ways to enhance the basic features in the picture, like brightness, saturation and contrast. It can save a picture even though settings on the camera were off. Well, it can't do wonders, but it can do some nice shit. Like this:

And then there was light.

I found that DPP is not that hard to learn and it is pretty nice to use too. You can do a lot in DPP, and there is a really nice tutorial on YouTube: Canon Digital Photo Professional - What is DPP.

And now for some more chocolate and GIMP.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Trying out my new Canon EOS 1200D

Yesterday it happened. Canon EOS 1200D joined my family, together with a EF 50/1,8 II lens. I felt like a 5-year old yesterday when I got to try it out. Maybe the chocolate the supplier sent had something to do with that feeling...? Yesterday was for learning to operate the camera. I did actually read the instruction leaflet, but that does not guarantee understanding. I managed to find the on/off switch on my own actually. Damn proud of myself for that one. I also installed the software on my computer, Canon has its own Digital Photo Professional application, which lets you do some basic editing. And if you register your product, you also get access to Canon iMAGE GATEWAY that lets you store, share, play and print. I registered myself but haven't used it yet, it looked very useful, though.

Today it was time for some real time testing. My good friend and tutor Heidi helped me out. We took it outdoors today. We had found a nice looking pond earlier and we headed for that just to see what it would look like today. The weather was nice, cloudy, a few degrees minus (Celcius) and a bit of snow. I got a nice picture too:

Heidi of course encouraged me to test everything and also had some very nice suggestions:

Both photos only had minor adjustments in DPP (Digital Photo Professional), the manual settings on the camera did the job. It's quite interesting fooling around with ISO and AFs and stuff. Some of the automated settings are very good looking too. This camera is a really nice toy! I'm enjoying myself, it's been a long time since I have had this much fun. Can you believe it? I had never thought that it would make me this happy to run around in the park, wearing a cap and a nice thermo overall, looking for something that might or might not look good, try and get the camera settings right in order to actually make said something look good and then try and make said something look even better with the help of the computer. No wonder they sent chocolate...

As the good and dedicated tutor Heidi is, she of course set the standards for proper photographer behavior:

To be continued...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Getting acquainted with Photoshop

Now for that second picture, "What Lies Beneath", again with the help of Heidi. I told her what I wanted to do and she said 'No problem'. Well, on the positive side, I have to conclude that it is good that one of us is optimistic. I'm just enthusiastic, that doesn't guarantee success. But, on the other hand: "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." - Winston Churchill.

This picture required two pictures merged in Photoshop. I had followed Heidi work with Photoshop earlier, so I knew that it was probably doable, but of course I checked with Heidi first. As I understand it, you can do almost anything in Photoshop, even create new stuff if you want to. You can correct mistakes you make when taking photographs, adjust lights and so on, but it is sometimes very time consuming. So, the better the picture you have to work with, the faster you get it done. Same thing as everywhere else, good preparations will get you a better result.

Again that &/)%#¤% background! And the lights! And the ISO and everything else! And now also something called 'overexposure' to worry about. It's when the picture gets too much light, it has blown-out highlights, so that's when you need to change the settings on your camera. I find that a little bit hard to comprehend, the previous education I received on the subject involved the use of a dark room and a bunch of chemical liquids that we (students) were not allowed to touch. No, I'm not old, the educational system was out-of-date. Or old-fashioned/devoted/genuine/[insert desired description here].

Lena took a seat and we got some really nice pictures. After dealing with the supposed overexposure, that is. (Yes, I did see it in the camera view. It flashes horribly black!) For the second picture, we took a scull and positioned it in about the same place as Lena's head in the previous picture. This to get the lights to work in the same way on both pictures. According to Heidi that is a good thing. I believe her.

Now for the photo-shopping. I use the Heidi.1 version of Photoshop myself, it's easy to use, really works well and above all, it's voice activated. Usually it comes with chocolate too. And at least one cat.

As I told you before, I like watching Heidi work with Photoshop. She makes it look so easy. She took both pictures, used a lasso tool on the scull, cutting of everything she didn't need, moved it to the Lena picture, adjusted the size and then made it transparent. Then she inverted the whole thing and started erasing the transparency to get the effect of a scull glowing through. Piece of cake. Or, at least so I'm told, I'm still looking for said cake.

Well, pretty nice result, I have to say. And the satisfaction of seeing your idea come to life? Priceless. I can live on this for at least a couple of weeks. (No, I won't throw the refrigerator out.)

"What Lies Beneath"

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Getting started. I think.

So, I finally got going. After years of following others photographing, today I took the first step and ordered my own camera. A beautiful Canon EOS 1200D will join my family hopefully later this week. I'm so proud!

My good friend Heidi has helped me get started. Today she also gave me a tutorial in the basics, helping me transform two ideas into pictures. It was great fun. And utterly scary. It was the point where I started to wonder what the h*ll I'm getting myself into, is it too late to cancel the camera already.

A couple of days ago when I mentioned this one idea of mine, Cheshire Puck, Heidi told me that she thought a high key picture would be the right solution for that one. I nodded, secretly wondering what japanese artform that was, I had never heard of haikii. I managed to keep a straight face though when Heidi googled "high key"... That much I know. Knew. Know. Understand my fear?

(But just think of the endless opportunities to learn! I wouldn't trade that...)

Heidi let me borrow her own camera so she could help me get started. She also brought me to a studio she shares with some other photographers. I have been there before, but today it all had a different meaning. Today I really tried to understand the different lights that are there. No, of course I did not succeed, I'm only human. And blonde. Ask me again next decade, maybe by then I have learned a few.

Background. Wouldn't think it had so much impact on a picture, no-one is looking at that anyway. It has a lot to do with the lights. I really can't say I fully understand it, but I guess I will learn. Walls for the light to reflect out of onto the subject. It's not just the main light and other lights, it's the reflections as well. Yup, would have fooled me. Easily.

ISO, aperture, exposure and other words doesn't mean much to me either. Yet. Heidi of course went through them anyway, she is a very determined tutor. I almost feel sorry for her, she's going to have to repeat all of that maaaaany times yet to come. 'Almost' since she was the one to build up this interest in me, most of it has developed from watching her. Her bad.

I have always liked to watch when Heidi photoshops. I mostly like it because I get the company of Heidi's cat then. No, but seriously, it is wonderful to watch someone who so clearly know what they're doing. You know that saying: "I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours."? (I think Jerome K. Jerome is the one to be credited for that, although I have seen others allegedly saying it.) Well, that's how I feel when I sit and watch and that's how I felt today too. And of course the obligatory butterflies in my belly when I realized that I'm going to have to do that myself soon. But not to worry, I have a bullet-proof plan: I know where Heidi lives. Heh...

So, the first of the pictures: Cheshire Puck. I'm about as mad.

"Cheshire Puck"