Archive for July, 2011

July 24, 2011

What Is ‘Natural’ in Photography?

Some time ago I saw an amateur picture of a woman with her baby posted online with a defiant comment that she was proud of her natural unretouched look. The picture looked pretty bad. You could tell there wasn’t enough light in the room when it was taken, so her skin and he baby looked earthy and bluish. The low angle from which the photo was taken was rather unflattering. She had no makeup on and her hair was messy.

I couldn’t understand her logic. If you are shooting a picture for keeps and posting online you would normally pretty yourself up to have a photo that celebrates you and brings you in a good mood.You would ask someone to take the photo of you so that person would give you directions for better posing.

Then there was another comment that made me join the discussion. She compared the “honesty” of her photo to the “naturalness” of Annie Leibovitz photography. Without stating the obvious points of difference between the lady’s self-portrait and the creations of a genius, I’ll get to the educational part: the ‘naturalness’ of great portraits is achieved through hours of collaborative work.

For starters, the photographer will help you with posing and your facial expression to make sure you do relax and do look natural in front of the camera. A real professional will make sure the background doesn’t have any distracting elements to spoil the view: water bottles, bags, exit signs, or any other clutter.

S/he will watch out for stray strands of hair, wardrobe malfunctions, and other obvious issues.

A top-level photographer comes with a crew that includes, depending on the budget, the following type of helpers:

– Lighting Assistant who directs a reflector to bounce light onto the subjects, sets up flash stands and adjusts the settings on external flash units, and holds and aims video lights.

– Photographic Stylist who collects the necessary materials and props before the shoot from various suppliers, arranging objects in the desired fashion and setting up lights and special effects, if any, e.g. fog, wind or rain.

– Hair and Makeup Stylist – Even a natural beauty that doesn’t need much help but a little enhancement can go a long way with some makeup. As a minimum, you need a flash-resistant foundation so that your skin doesn’t appear oily. During the shoot, this professional corrects the smudges and watches out for stray strands of hair.

– Wardrobe Stylist – knows how to accentuate the positive attributes of the people they dress. Choosing the right outfit to flatter someone—in a way that is appropriate for each event—is an art. Fashion styling requires extensive knowledge of the fashion industry and a knack for matching your clients with the clothing that will support the image they want to project.

Depending on the chosen style these professionals can present different facets of YOU.

In 2008, Vogue Paris demonstrated how, without any retouching, and only with the application of makeup, wardrobe lighting the same woman could appear as a 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60-year old:

Vogue Paris November 2008 with Eniko Mihalik by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin styled by Carine Roitfeld, make-up by Lisa Butler

Technically, these are natural (unretouched) photos, unless you consider makeup that women wear routinely to be a grand illusion. But somehow I think that discretely retouched portraits where photography flaws have been eliminated, skin has been cleaned, undereye shadows lightened, static hair removed, and the background clutter eliminated to be more ‘natural’:
Amateur photo edited to look like a studio portrait

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July 9, 2011

Papercraft Celebrates Retro Photo Cameras

These 100% recyclable retro cameras are for keeps. Each device is cut by hand utilizing sustainable paper, and even the smallest “waste” scraps are re-used to form some of the smallest detailed components.

The photo camera and the Polroid were crafted by design studio Zim and Zou based in Nancy, France, and there is more colorful retro electronic devices made of paper to admire.

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July 8, 2011

Point-and-Click Tips: Taking the Red Eye Glow Out Of the Picture

Red eyes (red glow in pupils) in photos is a common phenomenon when taking pictures of people or animals using a flash.


Some cameras support a “red eye reduction” mode.  In that mode the camera fires the flash a few times before taking the photo. Although this helps reducing the red-eye effect, it can also result in photos of people with their eyes closed (as they blink when blinded by the pre-flash).

There are a few things that you can do to prevent red-eyes.

1. Take the pictures with sufficient light in the environment so that your subjects’ pupils decrease in size.
2. Tell them to look to the side of your camera – not straight at the camera.
3. Have someone divert babies or pets’ attention so that they look away from the camera.

Some cameras include built-in image processing software that automatically removes red-eye from the photos, or you can use Picasa or other online photo editing software. Make sure that the software only effects the eye area and doesn’t change the color of other elements in the picture that happen to have the tint typical of the red eye effect. Software trips in such cases as it works on formulas and doesn’t exercise common sense.

Another option is having it done by professional photo retouchers for as low as $3.50, especially in case you have captured a close portrait in a dark environment and now the whole eye retina is glowing red.

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July 6, 2011

Point-and-Click Tips: Avoiding Overexposure and Underexposure When Taking Pictures Outdoors

Although digital point and shoot cameras are generally automated to measure the amount of light in an environment and apply the proper settings to take a good picture, the camera often makes an exposure decision that is incorrect due to complicated scene conditions. Most of the time, when a shot is underexposed, the details in the shadows can be recovered in Photoshop, while you can’t fix a photo if the details are not there as the result of overexposure.

Overexposure: photos that are washed out, too bright, or have blown-out areas.

Direct bright light will create overexposure. To avoid it, as the first measure, make sure the sun is not shining into the lens while you are taking a picture. Sounds like the most obvious thing but you’ll be surprised how many people don’t think of it. It is recommended to put your subject in a shady area when shooting a sunny day.

Besides washing out the image, the harsh light creates a strong contrast where the highlights are too white and the shadows too black.

Uneven contract can be an eye sore. For example if the object’s face is lit from the side the object’s nose can create a strong shadow. When lt from above, the face will feature black spots in the undereye area, under the nose and on the chin. The camera can not automatically correct such effects. Use flash on the shade side to even out the exposure to light on both sides!

Underexposure: Photos that are underexposed look dark and lack details. When printed in large sizes they show pixelation instead of solid colors.

The obvious reason for underexposure is poor lighting. But it can also occur if there is a very bright light source in the photo. It can confuse the camera to believe that there is enough light in the scene for a low exposure setting. The result will be a photo that captures the bright area but darkens all the others.

To prevent underexposure you have to move closure to your subject and make sure your subject is the most well-lit element within the frame.

General: Outdoor photos can benefit greatly by overcast skies or by taking photos early in the morning or in the evening. Taking photos when the sun is at a 45 degree angle will result in richer colors.


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