hand coloring in lightroom

I’ve always loved hand-colored photos.   They have such a great look, very unique, very interesting.  For those who don’t know, “hand coloring” refers to any process where a photographer uses pigment, dye or paint of some sort to manually add color to a black and white photo.   Historically this was done in the 1800s by photographers using pigment and gum arabic on daguerreotypes!  The technique persisted in one  form or another throughout the years until it was supplanted by actual color photography.  Of course, just because it is no longer necessary to get color in such a way doesn’t mean it can’t be used for asthetic effect.

I shoot a lot of black and white film, which I generally scan and process in lightroom rather than wet printing.  Now if you’ve used lightroom, you are probably familiar with the brush tools for things like exposure, clarity or even skin smoothing.  However, the oft overlooked “tint” option can be used to easily paint in color to a black and white image for a “hand colored” effect.

let’s take this image.

This was shot on film (with a holga!) during a vintage pin-up shoot.  In other words, there is no actual color information in the file etc…

Now I’m going to hand color it to approximate the actual colors of the scene.  First we start by going into the lightroom brush tools.  Make sure all the adjustment sliders are set to zero (we are just painting on color here, not adjusting the photo itself)   Click on the tint box at the bottom right to bring up the color picker.

A little trick with the color picker is that if you hold the mouse button down you can drag the eyedropper out of the little selection window and  sample color from *anything* on screen.  One useful trick with this is to have a “reference photo” open separately and sample your colors for hand coloring from that.

Since the couch in this shot was a green color, I grab a nice rich green and begin painting my mask.  I find it more accurate to paint with the red overlay on (click “O” to toggle the overlay on or off).  You’ll want to use a separate mask for each area of color.  Here’s the green mask for the couch all done.

yeah, it’s not perfect, but close enough 🙂

I then do separate masks for her shirt (pink) and her skin.   With hand coloring, I like to leave a portion of the image uncolored which gives it it’s signature b/w+color look, different from “selective coloring”

and the final result:

Now this may be kind of a “niche” technique, and certainly not suited for all photos but it’s quick and easy and yields a very unique effect.  Overall it’s a nice trick to have in one’s toolbox.

new site

New look for edzstudios… cleaner and more minimalistic… also galleries changed to a jquery based setup rather than flash (hey gotta be iPad compatible right?)  If you are reading this through rss, click on through and check out the new site design.   Will be going through a few tweaks in the next few days, but pretty happy with things overall.

baselining your strobe for quick exposures

Digital cameras have been a great boon to photographers working with off-camera lights.  The ability to review an image instantly on an LCD (with histogram!) has obviated the need for tedious polaroiding and exhaustive metering of every inch of a scene to ensure correct light ratios and eliminate unwanted shadows.    So much so, in fact, that many photographers have begun to eschew the use of a flash meter entirely – relying on the LCD and histogram via trial and error to set their lights correctly.   Now while quick and easy, this method has it’s drawbacks, particularly for young photographers.   The question that frequently arises is:

“well, I’m essentially just guessing what power to set my flash on then chimping the exposure and adjusting accordingly but how do I know *where* to start with my flash”

Essentially this comes down to a combination of making an educated guess about the exposure and *knowing how much light your flash will put out*.

The beauty of light is that it is predictable.  Whether from the sun, a lightbulb, or a flash, given the same source and conditions, you will always get the same light.    We can use this to our advantage!

When working with flash, we have fundamentally 2 variable that we control to determine how much light falls on our subject – power and distance.   Power meaning how much actual light our flash is outputting and distance meaning how far away it is from the subject (remember that light falls off predictably according the inverse square law).    Since we know that light always behaves the same, we can be certain that at a given power and a given distance from our subject our flash will give the same result every time.

Now also remember that light from a flash behaves linearly – going from 1/4 power to 1/2 power is doubling the amount of light that it puts out and vica versa.  Thus if our flash exposes properly at f/8 at 1/8 power, it will give us f/11 at 1/4 power, f/5.6 at 1/16 and so forth (given the same distance to the subject).

Armed with this knowledge, we can quickly and easily estimate a “starting point” for exposure in almost any situation.  We do this by establishing a “reference point” at which we *know* the exposure of our flash, and can calculate from there.  I like to call this “baselining” the flash.  To do this:

  1. start with the flash on a medium power, which gives room to adjust up or down.  1/8 power is a good starting place
  2. now we need to ensure that we can replicate a consistent flash->subject distance.  You could carry around a tape measure but a fantastic trick I learned from the inimitable Don Giannatti is to measure using your outstretched arms.  Given that the average (male) photographer is probably between 5’5″ and 6’something, your outstretched armspan or “wingspan” is somewhere around 6′, which is a comfortable working distance for lights.   This also has the advantage of being quickly and easily reproducable “on set” – you simply stretch our your arms from subject and place the light at the end.
  3. Meter your light at your set power, at “wingspan”  – if you don’t have a flash meter, you can approximate by photographing an 18% greycard till the histogram spikes dead center and recording the appropriate aperture.
  4. adjust your light till you get a “comfortable” baseline.   Let’s assume that at “wingspan” we find our flash gives us f/8 at 1/8 power.   This is our baseline – we write it down (or just remember it).

Now lets put this info to use!

Let’s say we’re in the studio.   We want to do a shot with a key and fill light in a 2:1 ratio.   We want to shoot at f/11 to give  good depth of field for our subject.  What do we do?  We place our lights in the desired position, both at “wingspan”.   We know that each of them gives f/8 at 1/8 power at that distance.  f/11 is one stop up from f/8, so we set our main light to 1/4 power (one stop more power).  Our main light is now already double the light of our second, so we have our ratio right there – the second light stays at 1/8.   We shoot at f/11,  and our main light should be spot on with the second 1 stop under.   now if we want to “blow out the background” we simply add another light on the background at 1/2 power, giving us an exposure of f/16 – one stop over main. Of course this is not as “exact” as using a meter, but this gives us our starting place and we can adjust the lights from there based on the histogram.

It’s that easy!

This technique becomes particularly powerful when balancing ambient and flash outside.   Combined with the sunny/16 rule, we can use our baseline to roughly estimate the combined exposure of flash and ambient without chimping a single frame!

consider the common situation:  We are shooting outside and want to drop the ambient by 1 stop.  We see that it is mildly overcast – the sunny/16 rule says that our exposure should be approximately f/11@1/100 sec.   Again, we know our flash give f/8 at 1/8 power, so we set it at arms length from our subject.  In order to drop our ambient by a stop we increase our shutter speed to 1/200 (still at f/11) and adjust our flash up one stop to 1/4 power to give us f/11.    Done and Done.  Chimp, and adjust as needed.  If we are in situation where we can’t drop the ambient by shutter speed (already at sync limit), we can simply adjust the flash power to compensate.   Assume the same situation (ambient is f/11).   to keep the shutter speed the same and still drop the ambient by 1 stop, we need to shoot at f/16.   Again, knowing our flash gives f/8 at 1/8 we simply bump it up 2 stops to 1/2 power (f/8->f/11->f/16 = 1/8->1/4->1/2)

This may sound complicated, but once you  are comfortable estimating these exposure, it becomes almost second nature.  by using your baseline you will find yourself able to get exposure dead on within 1 or 2 “chimping” shots.

the solution to the elinchrom quadra umbrella mount

When I was looking at reviews of the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra, one of the most common complaints people seemed to have was the fact that they couldn’t mount standard umbrellas on it (Elinchrom uses a 7mm umbrella shaft, while most others in the US use an 8mm shaft).

Now this seemed kind of silly to me – first off, the Quadra head is extremely small and lightweight – hanging anything larger than a *tiny* umbrella off it just seems like a recipe for disaster.   Secondly I thought to myself “I mount umbrellas on speedlights all the time and they have no umbrella holder whatsoever – why is the quadra any different?”  The solution:

The plain ol’ vanilla Umbrella Swivel.  Beloved of “Strobists” everywhere, it provides a secure slot/mount for the umbrella, placing the weight & torque on itself rather than the strobe head.  Screw in a post on top, plop the Quadra head on that and good to go.  You can even still use the angle of the quadra head itself to hit the sweet spot of the umbrella.

Personally this is just fine for me.  works great for my umbrellas, Apollo softboxes and Softliters…but let’s say you need the light more “on axis” with the umbrella shaft (maybe to fit the hole in one of the new PLM diffusion screens for instance…)  I found the easiest thing is to simply take a second swivel, and use it to “hang” the head off the umbrella shaft itself.  The head is light enough that it doesn’t put undue strain on the shaft (or the swivel).

Kinda kludgy but it works.  Personally I don’t bother – mounting it on the swivel itself is quick, easy and gets the job done with hardware that I’m already carrying anyway for my speedlights.

So there you have it:  Mounting umbrellas on the Quadra made easy!

darkly inspiring…

If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise don’t even start.

This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives, jobs, and maybe your mind.

It could mean not eating for three or four days.
It could mean freezing on a park bench.
It could mean jail. It could mean derision.
It could mean mockery, isolation.

Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance.
Of how much you really want to do it.

And you’ll do it, despite rejection in the worst odds.
And it will be better than anything else you can imagine.

If you’re going to try, go all the way.

There is no other feeling like that.
You will be alone with the gods. And the nights will flame with fire.

You will ride life straight to perfect laughter.

It’s the only good fight there is.

Henry Charles Bukowski
1920 – 1994

Negotiating for photographers

One of the issues that always comes up for emerging photographers is dealing with contracts and negotiation.  Let’s face it – most of us are more “artist” than “businessman”.  we just want to make pictures and leave the legalese to someone else. 

Of course the reality is that to be a successful *artist* you must be a successful *businessman* as well. 

Go to any photography forum on the web and you will invariably find questions such as “how do I make a contract/terms for such and such a job?” or “the client sent me this crazy contract to sign, what do I do?”

In this piece, Bill Cramer of Wonderful Machine, Inc shows an actual contract negotiation he had with an editorial client, including exchanges, contracts and revisions.   This is a fantastic read for any photographer and a perfect example of how to do it right.  In particular, notice how he responds to the disagreement in contract terms – guiding the exchange to a mutually satisfactory agreement, rather than stonewalling and confronting. 

This is great stuff folks!


Shooting in the Snow

For years now, I’ve had this concept of a shoot at night, under the streetlamps with snow coming down… dramatic light and environment… the whole nine yards

Unfortunately I live in Philly, and the only “snow” we get here is usually slush, rain, and more slush…

Course this week was different… practically couldn’t have asked for better conditions.   It was coming down pretty hard, and I think I put the weather sealing on my gear to the test (watching piles of snow accumulate on your lights is a little disconcerting…)  By the time we finished my camera bag on the ground was merely a small white lump.  Luckily no gear casualties though, and some great shots came out…

snowshoot (1 of 7) snowshoot (2 of 7) snowshoot (3 of 7) snowshoot (4 of 7) snowshoot (5 of 7) snowshoot (6 of 7) snowshoot (7 of 7)

nothing is original

From Jim Jarmusch’s Golden Rules:

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.”

San Francisco and Sonoma

This year for the birthday, did a fantastic 2 week trip to San Francisco and Sonoma.  Lots of touristy stuff, lots of wine drinking, and lots of photos… Cameras were the GF1 and a Holga – this was my my first “real” outing with the GF1 and it absolutely lived up to my expectations.  Was able to carry the body with kit lens and 20/1.7 in the corner of my daybag with room for the rest of my assorted junk.  Never missed carrying the big SLR one bit!