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2015 New Year's photography progress/practice/goal discussion

edited April 2015 in portraits & people
At the beginning of 2015, Neil posted about new year's goals and many forum members also chimed in. My goals were to improve overall but to focus on OCF and to put to use all the stuff I bought because of the tangents blog. (You know, various softboxes, more flashes, gels, etc)

I still don't work with "models" so I have used myself a lot lately but, to be honest, it sucks. So it is back to using my wife and kids. My kids don't hold still and my wife always laughs and makes funny faces. It stresses me out and I throw in the towel frequently but sometimes it does work out and I get something I like. I would love to have this discussion be the place where you post photos of you working towards your goals. 

Just posting is pointless so please add what you like and what you would change. Reflection leads to improvement! And if we say we like something but it turns out that this area needs improvement, it is a double win. Trust me, it is.

When you post, include as much info as you can. Keep the format clean and easy to follow. Follow K.I.S.S.


3 lights: Main was medium softbox to my left, hair/rim was small softbox and to light the black background, a Honl gel was used.

I like it and don't think it needs much change.


I would tweak some things here and there but this is my wife and it is not easy to direct her so I'll just say it's fine. Left eye could be more open but....we all have flaws

Camera settings:

I was shooting wide open on the 135mm initially but then we fell into this pose/look and I stopped down a little (increased my ISO to compensate. Counted clicks!) but did not want to lose the moment so her lips are a little soft. I am still not sure why since her hand is fine....???


I tried some frequency separation for the first time and love how it maintained the skin texture. No more blurring for me! Also some minor dodging and burning. 
For a first try, it's OK but I can see me revisiting this photo later as my skills improve. Edit was about 10-15 minutes.


This was not what we had in mind but went with what worked. Staying flexible is important...I think.
Feedback is appreciated



  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Looks good to me, especially since you didn't photograph a model who knows how to present or pose. Her hands especially are very successfully posed for a first try. Hands are tough! 

    This might be the best way to learn though ... since the final photograph is entirely up to you. 

    Overall, very solid. 

    Minor corrections for a next time .. the image there could be brighter. It needs to pop another 1/2 stop or so. 

    As for the lighting - very solid. 
    But I can see how you're going to enjoy more dramatic lighting as you become more confident.
  • What I have been doing in regards to models is there are these groups on meetup.com which sources the models from Model Mayhem.  We will divide the models day rate among whoever shows up and take turns being in charge of the model.  In any event, no matter who is in charge, everyone can take pictures.  A lot of the models are very experienced and seem to know how to position themselves.  The group leader makes money off of this and the model does make more money than if she was hired by a single photographer.

    The group of photographers come from many different backgrounds and skill levels and varying levels of equipment.  Its usually a lot of photographers and a bit hectic at times.  Ive never been to one where it was just a handful of photographers.  Sometimes there are so many photographers they have divided it up into morning and afternoon sessions.  In any event, I usually pay anywhere from 35-100 dollars.  Ive paid as little as 35 dollars at one point, but I think it went as high as 100 dollars and that was for a nude.

    This is a good economical way to hire models although can be a bit hectic...
  • edited February 2015
    Thanks for the feedback...

    I do have some experience with hands...have had mine all my life :)
    It only took a little bit of coaching to get her hands right. I have seen plenty failed attempts to guide me in the "right" direction.

    Interesting that you say to increase exposure because I actually pulled it down before posting by about a 1/3 or so. I edit on a calibrated screen and they are always too bright for other monitors so I have just started pulling the exposures down and judge this via my second monitor (not calibrated for brightness)

    Looks like I should have cleaned up the lipstick a little....hmmm

    Hopefully some others will jump in and post some recent work that is geared towards those goals made...

  • Looks great Rudy. I was also going to say that it looks a bit too dark to me. So maybe your monitor is off if you felt you had to knock it down. Her face, at least to my eye, has a slight green or green/blue cast. I think her face needs a better skin tone. It's almost as though the color of the walls is reflecting on her face. Nice job lighting the black background. 

    Overall the lighting is great. 

    I think actually both eyes need to be open more. Was this look a lack of enthusiasm or were you going for the sultry look?

    For skin polishing and smoothing you might try Portraiture by Imagenomic. It's great, I use it. There is no loss of focus and no blurring. My faces are no less sharp than they were. 
  • The base image is very good and the lighting very even.  There are a countless number of creative ways to creatively produce this picture like utilizing rembrandt lighting, utilizing a fan to get the hair up/in motion, utilizing more hair light, going black&white, using a lighter background etc.  It all depends upon personal preference, style, clients preference, etc.  That said, I would choose a lighter colored background along with lighter color clothing and that would be my personal preference.  Also the dark greenish background along with the blue pin striped shirt...I would go with something different.  That, however, is background and clothing preference.  The overall photographic quality is very good. 

    Lighter colors are usually associated with positive human experiences whereas the darker spectrum is more associated with negative experiences.  I think its best to use lighter backgrounds when doing a portrait of any kind.  
  • Hi Skipperlange, 

    Skin tones will vary depending on the browser you use, even on the same monitor. In the end, I can only go by my monitor and hope for the best and the calibration is only a few weeks old  Same with exposure. I did a test print (4x6) and even as displayed here, the brightness was fine except in some shadow areas. As far as green spill light, that is 100% not an issue...see the added shot below. WB was flash and there was zero ambient light added so the differences must be due to monitors and browsers. 

    As far as the software: I used a trial years ago and did not like the results that much. Working on it in PS will just make me a better retoucher since I can't blame software. Retouching is as important as the lighting and the rest....even if I hate to admit it.

    And thanks for the comment about the background. I think this will be my go-to set up for headshots. It just feels warm and inviting without being overbearing.   
  • IMHO, there is no commercially produced background available that would be meaningful to me or would really make my eyes pop.  Most commercially produced backdrops seem like "elevator music" to me.  They just exist to fill space and time, but are not inspirational.  I think the best backgrounds are the ones you come up with yourself.  Backgrounds which are natural.  For example, like wedding portraits.  Instead of bringing in commercially produced backgrounds you use the church or something else part of the ceremony as the background.  Its more meaningful.

    I just googled "photographic backgrounds" and looked through a number of different websites.  Nothing commercially produced really caught my eye.  
  • edited February 2015
    I did some editing to the one "sleepy eye" and like the results. Also returned the brightness to SOOC. 
    This past weekend, I wanted to shoot a selfie and decided to go with the cliche camera-in-hand pose. In the end, its all about practice. I would have preferred to have had the light behind me centered but when you are subject and photographer, willingness to compromise comes easier.   
    For this one, I preferred a darker exposure since the skin tones look better but increased shadows and exposure a little.
  • Love the selfie Rudy. Really well done. What remote trigger system did you use? Or did you use the timer? I think your composition, lighting, photo quality, expression and pose are all excellent. I don't think the light not being exactly centered matters. May be even better not centered. 

    Nice work on your wife's eye. Well done. Very natural looking.
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited February 2015

    Rudy my man, great re-edit and it's really good.

    I actually could not resist so I made a nice fairly high keyish BW 50's glamour shot out of it, her hair/make-up was just great for that period so I thought, along with the sultry eyes (good job on that also, not too much, like Goldilock's porridge, just right).

  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Dude!  That selfie is great. The lighting is perfect! Totally nailed it.
  • Thanks for the compliments about the re-edit and selfie. It took me a while to get there but what I learned made up for the tracks left in the carpet :)

    Skipperlange: I used a 2 second delay with hand trigger. Just the cheap Amazon knock off since my Canon remote was lost during some sunset shootings in upstate NY long ago. 

    For the eye, I used a photo shot just minutes before and made a quick selection, layered via copy, copied and pasted that layer onto the image and then ,via Free Transform, adjusted the eye to match the other eye in size. Then made a mask and painted through. Took about 10 minutes.

    Trev: I did some D&B and part of that process is making a desaturated layer and when I saw it, there was definitely something to it. The skin brightness looks REALLY good in your edit but the eyes are a little much for me. I am playing with a Silver Efex edit right now :)

    Thanks Neil. It's all bits and pieces picked up via Tangents and the internet with trial and error thrown in.
  • Rudy, how did you know your eyes would be in focus? In other words, how did you focus for your selfie?
  • I use ALL AF points until I am standing in the spot that I want.

    I then turn on Live View and, via the grid that is displayed, I move the Live View focus box around until it is where my head was in the last photo. 
    I marked the spot where I am/was standing with what ever was laying around. Sometimes a cat toy, my dogs bone, my son's sock or the extra $100 bills that we use as carpeting in our sprawling 100,000 sq. ft. mansion. 
    OK, so they are quarters and the place is a little smaller...but whatever.

    Live View focus is the best way since you are not restricted by where the AF points are.

  • edited March 2015
    Well....it was time for more practice and asked a new friend (she 2nd shoots with me) to help out. We first worked on some photos for my headshot portfolio and during the last 10 minutes, we worked on this photo. 
    3 lights: main to my left was the apollo medium softbox, and 2 gelled flashes to my right but behind her.

    This was the only shot were my trusty 135mm f/2.0 missed focus (damn) but the Rembrandt lighting and facial expressions worked too well to dismiss this photos....critically sharp is overrated anyway:)  

    Would still like to see others post their current projects...and not just my attempts...feedback is welcomed. 
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited March 2015

    I think it's a really great shot, I like the WB, the lighting, the great backdrop of purple, and her placement of head between the 2 purple 'vertical columns', excellent.

    Regarding sharpness, what's wrong? Her eyes are damn sharp, no complaints from me on that, others may want to see her body more in focus, but with the lighting you have where the face is more 'open' I like it. Perfect to me.

    The only thing (very small in the scheme of things) is that little oval 'flare' just above her head, 'content aware' delete it and I think it would then be super.

    Question: where you put your watermark, is that like a reflection of someone's arm/shirt sleeve I see. Am I seeing things (anything is possible)  :)

    Anyhow, my project last weekend was some belly dancers, so went to beach, but blowing a gale, sand everywhere, so went back to the grassy dunes for some shots.

    2 lights, no softbox, bare bulb (Cheetah 360's), it was so windy, 1 shot I under-exposed by a full stop, to darken background, other pretty normal.

    Lit from front from my left and a little light from back to my right.

    I do have one criticism of my own work, the girl with the gold wings, I was a tad too tight when shot, but the main thing was her back hand (her left) I should have had it straight in line with her arm.


    PS: If you want to see the images in context on a nice dark background, just click on the little thumbnails and it opens with a dark background, gives the images pop. This goes for anytime you see images on any post.

    I should also have given some settings.

    ISO 100, f14 on dark image, shutter 250th; ISO 200, f11 on 'floating' image, shutter 250th: Nikon D3s, 70-200 f2.8 vII Lens (LOVE that lens).


  • Hey Trev, 

    The arm in the watermark is part of the watermark but I did not even know it was included in the export. The oval "flare" is an out of focus light and is easily removed....

    And you are right, it is sharp enough.

    Thanks for throwing in some current work!

    The second one is my favorite. The two exposures are nicely balanced and the skin tones are a bit warmer. Looks like the golden wings in the first acted like a reflector and caused some hot spots on her face?

    So yeah....summer on your side of the world....not sure how I feel about that ;)
  • I'm finally taking up Rudy on his invitation to share goals for the new year. Many thanks in advance for feedback. You guys are the best!

    I want to become better at capturing images that show motion, particularly images of athletes. For example, I'd like to emulate this image by Dave Delnea and this image by Dustin Snipes. My first take is the image below of my gymnast daughter doing a one-handed cartwheel:


    The image is a composite of six photos blended via layers in Photoshop. My speedlites don't recycle fast enough to capture all six images in one take, so I photographed different parts of the cartwheel across multiple takes. The end images were lit with a speedlite in a 2'x2' soft box facing my daughter and a bare speedlite behind my daughter. The other four images were lit with a speedlite in a soft box on camera-right and a bare speedlite on camera-left. Photos were taken with a Canon 7D, 24-70mm f/2.8, at 70mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/250 sec. For all six images, the camera was stationary on a tripod and focus was preset for the center image.

    I generally like the image, but it's a far cry from the Delnea and Snipes photos linked above. Some questions/issues I have:

    1- I've had trouble finding a good white balance. I've since read that a speedlite in a soft box has a different color temperature than a bare speedlite. So mixing the two might not have been a good idea (although I currently only have one soft box).

    2- In my opinion, the images aren't very sharp. I attribute this to at least one of three things: (a) because focus was set for the center image, images to the left or right may be out of focus -- not sure what to do about this, (b) maybe the flash didn't freeze the motion -- I've since read that lower flash powers have shorter durations and are better for freezing action, (c) there's a lot of dark/shadow tones in the image and even at ISO 100 I find noise -- perhaps my Lightroom noise reduction was too much.

    3- I'm not satisfied with prints of this image. They seem too dark. I wonder if a similar setup against a white background would be more appealing.

    4- I've recently learned about stroboscopic, or multi-flash. Would that work here? I'm leaning toward no because the images overlap and I assume the overlapped areas would receive more light than non-overlapped areas, potentially over/under-exposing parts of the image.

    5- How would you do this? How do you think Dave Delnea and Dustin Snipes produced their images?

    Thanks in advance for helpful comments.


  • Justin, 

    Great to see you jump in as well...I will offer my input this weekend.but know that the photo of your daughter is pretty sweet!  
  • Thanks Rudy.  I look forward to your feedback!

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