Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

What’s the deal with Digital Retouching?

March 31, 2011

Just as creating a video production includes the shooting phase and the editing phase, the process of creating photography worthy of use in your company’s branding, marketing and advertising efforts should usually include at least some amount of post production in the form of digital retouching. Unless a photographer is capturing the simplest of shots, it’s doubtful that the image will look its best until a talented post production artist has applied their craft. Digital Media Services presents a brief overview of what happens during the photo editing phase and why you should almost always include time and budget for digital retouching.

Overview of the RAW format

Most professional digital photographers capture imagery using their camera’s RAW file format, which is a digital image recording format that saves the unmanipulated image data directly from the camera’s photo sensor. A RAW image can be thought of as a digital negative that’s yet to be processed for viewing, printing or further enhancement. The benefit of shooting in the RAW format is that it allows the photographer to preserve the highest range of image information from the camera sensor and therefore provides the greatest flexibility when processing the image for final use.

Viewing a RAW image, like viewing an old film negative, can be somewhat underwhelming. Because a RAW image has yet to be processed by any light grading, color balancing or sharpness settings, the image can look flat, dull or even unusable. However, unlike a JPEG or TIFF image, the RAW format has no “baked-in” processing and is capable of being enhanced in a number of ways to provide a wide range of visual styles.

RAW image file as captured by the digital camera

Initial processing of RAW files

Clients unfamiliar with the RAW image format will likely be less than impressed with a photographer’s work based solely on the look of the RAW files, so one of the first steps a photographer will perform after completing a photo shoot is to process the RAW image files into a more familiar file type such as JPEG using standard or custom presets from their preferred image processing software such as Capture One Pro. This step is similar to the developing of traditional film rolls. It provides an introductory processing step for the images that prepare them for viewing. It’s important to note that this initial processing is still only an intermediate state of post production as additional manipulation and enhancement will usually occur.

Processed image ready for client viewing

Digital enhancement of selected images

Once the client has reviewed all of the processed images and selected their preferred shots, the real digital retouching can begin. A digital imaging artist who specializes in photo enhancement, manipulation and clean-up can begin to work on the selects by performing fine tuning of contrast, color balance, saturation and other image settings. The retoucher can also correct imperfections in the images from lens distortion and dust and dirt marks. In addition, any stylized look that needs to be achieved can be created by the digital artist by further manipulating the image settings and by the creative application of filters and advanced layering and compositing techniques. Sometimes the goal is to achieve a look as lifelike as possible. Other times a very surreal look is preferred. In either case, a talented digital retoucher is the key to creating the desired output.

Retouched image with proper color and lighting balance and model enhancements

Removal of unwanted elements, enhancements and special effects

There are a multitude of additional enhancements that can be performed such as changing the color of a specific object or the removal of unwanted elements like power lines and displeasing facial wrinkles and blemishes. Sometimes a retoucher will need to perform advanced compositing techniques where portions of completely separate images are combined into one. For a look at how a truly talented digital retoucher can transform a nice photograph into something that grabs the attention of the viewer and presents the representative product or brand in the most favorable light postible, check out some of the work our preferred digital retoucher Ryan Jacobson presents on his website www.RyanDigital.com.

It takes much more than just a nice camera to create a top-quality image. Lighting, image composition, talent direction and digital retouching all need to come together to produce the most eye-catching and impactful imagery.

(Photography by Robert Kildoo for Digital Media Services)

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Tips from the Pros – Inexpensive video and photo field accessories

February 17, 2011

If you fancy yourself any type of professional or amateur videographer or photographer, you likely do a lot of shooting out in the field, meaning at a location outside the comfort of a studio or home. As you’re usually limited in the amount of equipment you can bring with you on location, you’ll need to plan your shoots carefully. Most shooters like to assemble a field kit that includes some basic supplies and accessories that they always bring with them on location. In this article, we present a collection of inexpensive items we like to make sure we have with us at all times.

One item we can’t do without is our Lenspen. A Lenspen is a lens cleaning device that features a retractable brush on one end and a soft cleaning pad on the other. We first use the soft brush to remove any dust particles, sand or other light debris from our lens and then use the soft cleaning pad to wipe away any fingerprints or other contaminates. The cleaning pad works better than lens tissues or wipes because it has a carbon-infused cleaning surface that absorbs oils and other sticky residues. It’s kind of like using newspaper to clean windows.

Original Lenspen

The original Lenspen product retails for $15 and there are a variety of sizes and models available for different cameras and surfaces. The manufacturer also makes useful items such as air blowers, screen cleaners and sensor cleaners. We’re confident that once you use a Lenspen, you’ll no doubt want to make it a permanent item in your field kit.

Lenspen in use

Another inexpensive accessory we always like to have with us is a collapsable reflector. Reflectors are useful for bouncing available light to help fill in shadows, highlight faces and generally brighten up areas that are a little too dark. When we aren’t somewhere where we can plug in and set up a studio light, a reflector or two may be just what is needed to provide enough light to get our shot. And reflected light is usually a softer and more diffuse quality of light which is often desirable for portraits or beauty shots.

Various colors of collapsable reflectors

Any flat, reflective surface such as a large white card can be used as a light reflector; the benefit of collapsable reflectors is that they are specially-designed for directing light and fold up into zippered pouches about one-third the size of their fully-expanded size. Collapsable reflectors come in various colors, shapes and sizes depending on your needs. White reflectors simply bounce existing light unchanged while silver, gold and other colored reflectors alter the light to provide stronger highlights or warmer tones. Many different manufactures such as PhotoflexWescott and California SunBounce offer collapsable reflectors at a wide range of prices. Small reflectors can be had for as little as $10 and high-quality multi-piece kits can cost up to $200 or so. Small, lightweight and inexpensive, a collapsable reflector is another item we want to have with us at all times.

Silver reflector in use

We’re not always able to bring our heavy-duty tripods with us when we’re on a shoot, when we’re vacationing or when on an outing with friends and family. But not every shot can be taken properly using handheld methods. If we need to shoot with a long exposure time or slower shutter speed or need to get our camera somewhere we can’t reach, we’re out of luck, right? Well, not if we’ve brought along our portable, flexible mini-tripod!

Various styles of GorillaPods

One of the most popular brands of travel-sized tripods is the GorillaPod. Not only is the GorillaPod easy to carry in a camera bag or even a pocket, but its legs are made of flexible modules that allow one to bend, wrap, twist and contort the tripod into an almost unlimited number of configurations, allowing the user to balance a camera on uneven surfaces and even secure the camera to a tree branch, light pole, bicyle or anywhere else the photographer or videographer can think of. I’ve used my GorillaPod to capture time lapse video of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, to discretely record lectures and presentations, to capture “survalence” video shots and to shoot nature videos. The uses are limited only by one’s needs and imagination. GorillaPods and similar devices range in price from around $20 to around $100 depending on the size of the device it needs to support.

GorillaPod in use

They say necessity is the mother of invention; that’s especially true in the video and photo world as evidenced by some of the strange, creative and useful devices I’ve seen in use. I’d love for our readers to share with us what they like to keep in their field kits; items either available for purchase or put together on their own. And for bonus points, share will us the creative ways you use your C-47s!

Tips from the pros – Using your available light

December 14, 2010

One of the biggest ruiners of an otherwise perfectly-shot photograph or video clip is improper exposure. Even when using a modern, capable camera, a user still needs to be conscious of lighting. I’m not talking about the use of a cumbersome lighting kit or even an on-camera flash or video light. I’m talking about accounting for and utilizing the available light in the scene for creating a better-exposed photograph. Don’t be alarmed – this problem is easy to understand and resolve and overcoming it will instantly result in your ability to capture much better-looking images.

First a little background. Modern photo and video cameras use an auto-exposure meter built into the lens system that helps the user set proper exposure levels. Without getting too technical, an auto-exposure meter analyzes the amount of light coming into the lens and sets the camera’s aperture (lens opening) and shutter speed (light exposure time) to what it determines will provide a properly-exposed image. And this feature usually works quite well. Many users probably don’t even realize that this process is occurring every time they take a snapshot or record some video. Shooting images outside on a sunny day? The auto-exposure meter will close the aperture and shorten the shutter speed since an abundance of light is available. Taking photos or shooting video in a darkened room? The auto-exposure meter will open up the aperture and lengthen the shutter speed to allow in as much light as possible. If you’re using a still camera with an auto-flash, the auto-exposure meter can even instruct the camera to activate the flash and move the shutter speed back to a normal setting to keep images from getting blurry. Pretty cool!

Auto settings producing properly-exposed sky, but leaving face underexposed

The problem comes in when you have a lighting situation that confuses the auto-exposure meter. For instance, consider shooting someone with a beautiful sunset behind them. Most of the scene is likely going to be full of light since you’re pointing the camera directly into the sun. This causes the auto-exposure meter to close down the iris and shorten the shutter speed, leaving the small portion of the scene that’s not brightly lit – faces of the people in the shot – totally underexposed. Most of us, in scanning through our photo collection, can quickly come across such images where what we thought would be nicely lit is way too dark. Shooting people in front of a window with bright light pouring in often creates the same problem. And sometimes we see the opposite effect, too, where a portion of the scene we’re shooting ends up looking totally white (what we pros refer to as “blown out”) because the auto-exposre meter determined that more of the scene was dark and shadowy and opened up the aperture and lengthened the shutter speed to properly expose those dark areas.

Bright window light causing underexposure of subject

So, how to we compensate for these situations? Well, there are actually several things you can do. The first is to simply be aware of your current lighting conditions. If you’re shooting photos or video outside, the first thing you should always do is check where the sunlight is coming from. Then, position yourself with the sun behind you so the direct sunlight is lighting up the scene you want to shoot. Often, this is your best solution because it doesn’t require any extra equipment or force you to learn any new camera settings. And, contrary to what you might think, it usually doesn’t restrict your shot selection to the point where you can’t get the shot you want. If you’re shooting indoors, position the subject matter (or yourself) so that what you’re shooting is lit from an overhead light, a nearby lamp or a window. Just don’t place the subject in front of the window because then you’re back to the same problem of most of the scene being full of bright light like the sunset shot.

OK, so say you’re not able to reposition your subject matter or yourself to take advantage of the available light; say you really want to take a photo that couple standing directly in front of the sunset or that group of people in front of that window. What can you do? Well, there’s a few tricks for that, too. Most modern digital still cameras utilize a two-stage shutter button (the button you press to take the picture). If you press the button half way down, the camera locks in the proper exposure and focus settings for the scene in view. Pushing the button the rest of the way down takes the photo. Use this feature to your advantage by pointing the camera away from the bright scene a bit to cause the auto-exposure meter to adjust to a more desirable exposure setting and push the shutter button half way down to lock in those settings before moving your camera back to the desired framing and taking the picture. It takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it but quickly becomes second nature once you do it a few times. Just be aware of your focus as moving the camera away from your subject may cause the camera to set the focus too close or too far. Alternatively, reframe your shot by moving closer to or farther from your subject matter so that more or less of the underexposed or overexposed areas compose the image. This will usually force the auto-exposure meter to re-adjust the exposure of the image and might just be the little adjustment you needed.

Some cameras offer LCD screens that actively update the exposure view so you can easily see at what position to lock in your settings. Some camera screens don’t show an adjustment until you push the shutter button half way down so you might need to reposition and perform the “halfway push” a few times until you get the look you want. And remember, with digital, you have the freedom to shoot as many photos as necessary in order to get that great shot since you can just go back and delete the ones you don’t need without wasting precious film!

Camera angled to properly expose sky since foreground was not important

Finally, what about iPhones (and similar devices) or video cameras that don’t have a true shutter button that can lock in settings? Well, all hope is not lost. Altering the camera framing just a bit so that the auto-exposure meter makes an adjustment is a good technique to practice. A good example to demonstrate this might be when shooting a horizon shot. Placing the horizon line directly in the vertical middle of the frame will likely result in a very bright sky and a very dark earth. Maybe you want the sky to be properly exposed and don’t care much about the rocks and dirt in the foreground. In that case, tilt your camera up just a bit to create more bright sky area in the frame. The auto-exposure meter will adjust to bring down the overall light level which will better balance out the sky exposure and cause the earthen foreground to go dark. Alternatively, tilt your camera slightly down to fill the shot with more dark area so the auto-exposure meter will brighten the image if the ground is what’s important in the shot. With your video camera, learn to use the manual shutter speed and aperture (also called iris) settings to that you can have total control over the exposure of a scene.

Camera tilted down to limit the amount of sky so foreground is properly exposed

In the end, it’s all about positioning your subject matter, your shooting location and your camera angle to maximize the available light present in your shot so that your auto-exposure meter will set the proper exposure level for your subject to get you the image you’re looking for. With this knowledge, you’ll immediately begin to capture better images and be justified in calling those under- and over-exposers amateurs!

Stylized New York City

November 30, 2010

There’s an app for that, right?

As much as it irks me that some people confuse access to technology with professional craft, I admit that the plethora of smart phone apps and ever-improving video and photo hardware has an overall positive impact on the consumer and professional image creation process. Apple’s iMovie ’11 is incredible, palm cameras can now shoot 1080p video and the recent crop of inexpensive image enhancement applications for smart phones can create instant art out of almost any camera phone shot. And with just a smidgen of talent at play, some pretty interesting results can be obtained.

I was recently on assignment in New York City and, being inspired by my architectural photographer Sean Deren’s cross-country imagery collection The South of America, I took some time to capture some iconic New York City scenery with my iPhone. I processed those images with Red Giant Software’s Plastic Bullet iPhone app and posted the results on the Digital Media Services Website.

The overwhelmingly positive feedback I’ve received on those images prompted me to create a new gallery using imagery from Tim Garbutt (of Dreamworks) and Sally Loesch, who accompanied me on the trip.

The results are presented below…

Paths through Central Park

Of an architectural wonderworld

Familiar orange seats

A few of the 9 million faces

Macy's motto...

Stairway to the depths below

City of contrasts

We were there...somewhere

A better view?

Parade namesake

Vintage style

Ferry waiter

Corner coolness

Looks like New York

Escalator of old

Tips from the pros – Camera filters

November 12, 2010

Today we present a new DMS blog feature – Tips from the Pros. This feature will present simple, free (or inexpensive) easy-to-implement actions that can instantly turn the casual photographer, videographer or musician into one performing on a professional level. These tips are based on some of the regular activities and behaviors we pros use when on a shoot, edit or recording.

Today we discuss the simple camera lens filter. Whenever a member of the Digital Media Services crew purchases a new camera or lens, one of the first accessories we purchase is a set of basic lens filters. In fact, we generally include at least a protective lens filter as part of the purchase of any new camera. A protective lens filter is an inexpensive clear lens cover that is usually attached to a camera lens by screwing it on to the threaded end of the barrel. Small, inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras that feature lenses that retract into the camera generally don’t offer the option of a threaded lens. Digital SLRs and point-and-shoots with larger lenses almost always offer threaded lenses.

Tiffen Filter Set

The protective lens filter, first and foremost, protects your actual glass lens from getting scratched, dirty, wet, blurred by fingerprints or otherwise damaged or rendered incapable of capturing a clean, clear image. A protective lens filter can be had for as little as $5, yet they can save you hundreds when (not if) something damaging ever comes into contact with your camera lens.

Shooting in the woods and a tree branch swipes across your lens? Your protective lens filter saves the day. Taking photos at the beach and someone slings wet sand at your camera? Yup – the protective filter is there for you. Capturing video footage of your kid’s soccer game and some overly-excited parent knocks the camera out of your hands? At least your lens is safe. And after your protective lens filter absorbs the damage, throw it away and replace it without a second thought.

Cracked Lens Filter

Cracked lens filter saved the day

For those who want to think a little more creatively, additional lens filters are available for a myriad of purposes. A ultraviolet filter can help reflect UV rays and provide more clarity and color to your photos. Many photographers and videographers use a UV filter as their full-time protective lens filter because they like the enhancement it offers for all of their photos and videos. A polarizing filter is one that reflects variable angles of light which can eliminate reflections and glares. A polarizer is great for shooting through water and glass and for shooting reflective surfaces. There are litterally hundreds of different types, brands, sizes and qualities of camera lens filters. We’ll talk more about other types of creative filters in a future post.

Tiffen Filter Kit

Tiffen Filter Kit

As far as purchasing a lens filter, you simply need to know the diameter of your lens (usually given in millimeters), which can be found in your camera’s documentation or often inscribed right on your lens, and whether or not your lens accepts screw-on type lens filters. For instance, the Nikon D3000 is a popular DSLR camera that accepts any 52mm lens filter accessory. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 is a popular point-and-shoot camera that offers an optional lens filter accessory for adding 55mm lens filters. And it works the same for video cameras. The Canon VIXIA HF21 HD camcorder accepts 37mm screw-on lens filters. You can buy a filter set for the Canon that includes a UV protective filter, a polarizing filter and a warming filter for $50. I frequently purchase Tiffen filters and frequently purchase from B&H Photo-Video-Pro Audio but there are many photo and video retailers offering lens filters.

So start acting like a pro! Go get yourself an inexpensive protective filter or a filter set and start calling those non-filter users amateurs!

Where in the world are you?

August 25, 2010

Our jobs as photographers and videographers allow us to travel quite a bit. Our interest in architecture and cityscapes provides us with a familiarity of numerous famous buildings and landmarks. I have a collection of abnormally large coffee table books with titles such as “Man-made Structures,” “The World’s Greatest Buildings” and “Architectural Wonders,” among others. Collectively, the Digital Media Services crew feel like we know the cities of the U.S. and parts of the outer U.S. pretty well. So, when I come across these online geography quizes, such as the one linked below, I’m never hesitant to take the challenge to validify my brilliance…

http://www.guessthespot.com/

For the record, I got 12 out of 16. I should have gotten a couple more.

I grew up around the construction business. My father owned and worked for various residential and commercial construction companies. Some of my first paying jobs were on construction sites. I had the pleasure of helping to construct a THX-approved AMC movie theater in St. Petersburg, Florida. It’s now gone in favor of a Long John Silvers. One time I had a near-death experience falling down a multi-story open stair well. But that didn’t quell my fascination with skyscrapers and other large buildings. Add to that the fact that I work with one of the most talented architectural photographers around (Sean Deren) and I guess it’s easy to see why my appreciation for architecture flourishes.

Following are select architectural shots we’ve compiled over the years. Some we like because the shot is well-composed and visually appealing. Some we like just because of the interesting location.

Leave a comment telling us which ones you recognize…

Architectural Example #1

Architectural Example #1

Architectural Example #2

Architectural Example #2

Architectural Example #3

Architectural Example #3

Architectural Example #4

Architectural Example #4

Architectural Example #5

Architectural Example #5

Architectural Example #6

Architectural Example #6

Architectural Example #7

Architectural Example #7

Architectural Example #8

Architectural Example #8