Overuse of Color Grading (…look I clicked on a filter now I’m an artist.)

1/40 sec at f/4.0 ISO 800 80 mm color graded using split tones in Lightroom. Location Eastern States Penitentiary.

Everybody wants to be an artist, but sadly enough not everybody can be an artist. Actually pretty much anybody can be an artist if they were to actually take the time and put forth the effort to create something. Today we have a lot of “one click” artist wanna-bees. I love Instagram so much for several reasons; one reason for sure is it has helped me so much with my photography business. People find me, they contact me and I have a client to do business with. I like Instagram because I can build a network and I can reach a lot of people all around the world.

So many times I have heard it said “Instagram is for photographers” and that statement could be truer. Myself I rarely partake in using any of Instagram’s filters although I don’t begrudge anybody for using them. I edit most of my images in Adobe Photoshop and put finishing touches on in Adobe Lightroom so I really have no need for IG’s filters. However I do realize the vast amount of people using IG there is only a small percentage that would edit and do what I do. So for sure they want to use a filter to take their images to that “next level” and give it a “look and a feel” and again I have no gripes. Now with all that said we all no trends rise up and most often recede and some trends are so horrible we can’t wait for them to recede and fade away… hopefully!

I remember when I first got into learning how to edit skin in Photoshop, it was a time when the trend was to make the female skin look like plastic or porcelain, with no texture at all. It was horrible and I too was guilty of this horrible atrocity. For one it was a very easy effect to create and for two, all the magazine covers were doing it, so it seemed like it was ok to do it..

Then came along the overdone “HDR” with all the halos and graininess. I have to admit I still like to use the over-done HDR effect as an illustrative tool to this day, but not for photographic edits. Same goes for the smoothed out skin, as an illustrative edit it can be used, as a portrait… no way. But… I still see people using it.

So this brings us up to our current state of “what is being over used today?” I’ll tell you what it is… LUTs and color grading, these are being so over used it is pitiful. 2 years ago I barely knew what a LUT was, I did know what color grading was and for still images I performed most of my color grading by using “split tone” controls. Or I had other methods, some I learned from other photographers and some I just created through trial and error. Some of my color grading was and still is as simple as making a solid color layer and lowering the opacity. Does it work? You may ask… works good enough the clients love it and complements on social media are plenty.

But in both video and photos the color grading at present day can be atrocious if not done correctly. And when I say “correctly” I know editing is very subjective. It goes straight back to the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” quote. Photography, videography are all very subjective because they are creative and artistic, but with all that said I am so sick of the teal to orange color grading that is done incorrectly. And to be flat out honest I am no expert at color grading, but I am an expert at knowing what is distracting when you look at a photo or video that has poor color grading. It seems some of the worst videos are vloggers on Youtube. Some vlogs I can clearly see have had some high end color grading done and I envy it because I have not yet reached that level. While other vlogs are just… I want to say “horrible” but again it is subjective, so I will say “not to my liking.”

I wrote a post a while back about color grading and where it came from, it has been around a very long time. I what to point the finger at IG for the current dilemma, after all Instagram’s filters are just like color grading, but it is done with “one click” and using a given filter with the right image produces a great result. However this takes no real talent or effort and while one could make the claim it is creative, it is merely clicking presets till you find one that looks good. Either way it is kind of a moot point at this time… the fire has started all we need to do is wait for it to burn itself out and hopefully go the way of selective color and bad HDR. I remember the grossly overdone colored cinematic lighting that popped up in some of the 80’s movies and carried over into the 90’s. Using blue lighting to illustrate night time is ok by me, but making alleyways appear deep purple was just flat-out bizarre.

While I am learning more & more about creating and using LUT’s I still love my split toning, gradient mapping and other little tricks for my photo color grading.

Photo Notes: So this particular image I get a lot of compliments on. Many times the comments come from people who do not know about color grading, but they do know about Instagram filters. They ask what filter I used. Or have heard many times “this photo looks so cool I love the color, how did you do that.” The color grading was actually done in Adboe lightroom 4 using the split tone sliders and the saturation & luminance sliders in the HSL panel.

1/40 sec at f/4.0 ISO 800 80 mm

The Sinister Clown At ESP (I want him to scare the bejesus out of you, but do it without holding a half-eaten arm in his mouth.)

Sinister Clown 1/125 sec at f/14 ISO 50 123mm Model Nicole Gallagher, SFX Makeup by Jade Alexandra Brown

Sinister Clown 1/125 sec at f/14 ISO 50 123mm
Model Nicole Gallagher, SFX Makeup by Jade Alexandra Brown

It’s autumn, the smell of fallen leaves fill the cool morning air, pumpkins & corn stalks decorate doorways and porches… apple pie and ginger snap cookies all add up to Halloween is coming soon.

So as Halloween draws near, so does my self-imposed deadline for having completed the edits for the “Sinister Clown” project shoot. Here we see a third edit that I have just completed and I’m very happy with it. This particular image also has a sub-edit where I have cropped in extremely close. If you have followed my blog over the years you know I have a passion for close up “in your face” edits. However usually they are images of a beautiful female face and sometimes a male too, even dogs. But today’s image is that of “Sinister Clown.” And speaking of “Sinister Clown” I wish I had a name for him… yes the clown is a male character although there is a beautiful female playing the role behind all that amazing makeup. If anyone has an idea for a name please contact me.

So for this edit; the cropped version came about because I wanted to showcase Jade’s talent up close and “in your face” and the second reason (as previously mentioned) I love tight cropped face shots. However the full size version of this edit I wanted to put my clown in a decrepit, disgusting, smelly setting. Now of course you can’t “smell” an image on a screen, but I wanted that feel to come through in the edit. So I literally spent hours and days sifting through stock images that could be used for a background. All the while I am going from photo to photo I keep telling myself “you have the image you’re looking for” but I just did not know what. Let me clarify; while I am looking through stock images with my eyes and mind focused on a computer screen, another part of my mind is working diligently sifting through places I have been over the last few years, then of course there is that third part of my mind that thinks of over-throwing the world, sexy women, money and so-on. Funny how much can get done with only two brain cells, but the inside of my mind can be almost as scary as this clown lol.

After days of this… it hits me. Cell block 5 (1829 Creator: John Haviland, Eastern State Penitentiary.) Yes Cell Block 5 is a disgusting mess. Visitors to Eastern States Penitentiary are not allowed to enter into cell block 5. When you stand at the locked gate and look down the cell block, you get a true feeling of the horror that once was ESP in its hay-day. The place looks frozen in time, like an old closet that hasn’t been opened in 200 years, it smells like a grave. The smell is because (no joke) the place has been untouched for decades and has a smell of dirt, cob webs, mold and rotting wood.

While doing a photo shoot there in June of 2015 with Nicole I had stuck my camera inside the gate and captured some really decent images. I have edited one as a cover photo for the Reckless Pixel Facebook page (but is no longer in use). So this was the background that would work perfect for this edit. Not to mention the irony that Nicole is the clown and the background image comes from another shoot she did with me over a year ago.

Now I feel I need to explain that in the beginning I had envisioned this clown being scary, but in an organic sort of way and not in a generic “blood & gore” kind of way. In the first making of the movie “IT” which was actually a TV mini-series the clown Pennywise was never really seen devouring the little children of Derry. It was implied that the clown ate the arms of children… after all it was a movie made for TV. So I wanted my clown to have that same vibe. I want him to scare the bejesus out of you, but do it without holding a half-eaten arm in his mouth. So instead of putting gore props in the images with the clown I would rather put the clown in an evil setting. Now with all that said the average viewer of the image is never gonna know the significance of the background and I’m ok with that. Most of all I’m happy that the background is one of my own images and not a stock image.

I will have more edits of the Sinister Clown up in a day or so and there will be a video blog post too. Thanks for reading and have a great day.

Sinister Clown 1/125 sec at f/14 ISO 50 123mm Model Nicole Gallagher, SFX Makeup by Jade Alexandra Brown

Sinister Clown 1/125 sec at f/14 ISO 50 123mm
Model Nicole Gallagher, SFX Makeup by Jade Alexandra Brown

Only a Year Late (So being a guitar player in another lifetime I pulled out my trusty Fender Strat…)

1/125 sec at f/2.8 ISO 100 70mm Nicole Gallagher, makeup by Jasmine Benton

1/125 sec at f/2.8 ISO 100 70mm
Nicole Gallagher, makeup by Jasmine Benton

It has taken me well over a year to complete this “behind the scenes” video of a shoot I did with model Nicole Gallagher. Why? Because I am stubborn and when I want something to be a certain way… well I want it that way. Childish? Maybe. So the problem was… ok so here is where you can laugh, smack my head and call me crazy. I couldn’t get the music right. I wanted a certain piece of music, I wanted Santana/Everlast “Put Your Lights On” and while I have that version done, it was done two days after the shoot, I could not get it uploaded. And rightfully (pardon the pun) so because Youtube, Vimeo and Facebook all threatened to ban my accounts if I tried to upload it again. What a bitch and I really can’t complain because I know the copyright laws very well when it comes to intellectual property, after all I’m the guy that makes everybody sign a model release to protect my images.

But then I had an idea… ahhh… what if I record the song myself. All I wanted was the music and not the vocals. So being a guitar player in another life time I pulled out my trusty Fender Strat and fires up my GK amp and laid down a fairly decent instrumental version of  “Put Your Lights On” and edited it using Adobe Audition CC (which by the way I love Audition CC). But still no luck, YouTube slammed me with even nastier emails. …oh well I tried.

So then I got discussed and I set the project aside. I revisited the project no less than 8 times since June of 2014 and to no avail. So my last attempt was the other day and like all the other attempts I crashed & burned after an 2 hours of sifting through clip after clip of “royalty free” music. However tonight I hit on a song that I liked and the video has been uploaded. Did I win?.. hell no, but I do like the song “Hey Girl” and it seems to work. Check it out and hit “Like” if you would please, you can also subscribe to the Channel too.

 

Be Spontaneous (“Plans are invitation to disappointment.” )

Chloe (Model) at Eastern States Penitentiary

Chloe (Model) at Eastern States Penitentiary

I love this image so much because was very spontaneous. The prison cell had been rused up with a chair, a desk, a newspaper and a paper weight. We are not even allowed to be there photographing her as a model (against policy), but hey sometimes life is too short to follow all the rules. I asked her to go into the cell and “do something interesting” in 10 seconds and she did. It worked for me, the image of her in the cell with the decay in the background, the beauty, the tattoo… it was a lot of fun and “in the moment.” One of my favorite images of 2014 and I wish this girl never drifted away from me. She was the most spontaneous model I ever met.

Photo of The Day (breaking records all the time)

Nixlot Dameus Weightlifter/Bodybuilder

Nixlot Dameus Weightlifter/Bodybuilder

I’ve been so busy I haven’t had much time to post to my blog. So here is a B&W of Nixlot Dameus record-breaking powerlifter and body builder.

Social Media Run Amuck (It is so easy to get lost in the “Likes” the “Hearts” the “Stars” they are all so meaningless.)

Chloe (Model)

Model Chloe at in a cell at Eastern States Penitentiary. 

There has to be an official name for them, but I don’t what it is. My name for them is not really all that nice. Simply put they are like little assholes of the social media world. With all of the worldly knowledge of a 14-year-old girl they want someone to notice them… “Please notice me or I will just vomit and die.” Ok… so what I am talking about are the little “dicks” that plague any form of social media that photographers use. Here is how it works; you the photographer has an image that you think is worth sharing with the rest of the world… or at least the people who are connected via the various forms of social media. I’m not referring to Facebook, if you are not a photographer you may not be familiar with the other social media formats such as 500px.com, Behance, and of course there is Flickr and several others. In fact some platforms come and go so quick you don’t hear about them until they’re gone. So you posted a photo, but instead of someone coming to view it and actually “like” it or critique your work they leave comments like “love your image, now check out my page” or “wow great work, now view mine” again it reminds me of young silly girls who are so vain and want everybody to look at them. Please, please look at me… even though I look just like a thousand other girls.

Let’s face it beauty is in the eye of the beholder and therefore so is the appreciation you have for someone’s image. You may like it and I may not or vice versa. Hitting a “Like” button for me is just equating that someone seen the image but as far as actually “liking” the image… When I like something, I mean truly like a photo I will comment on it, but I have never and will never ask the person to “go look at my work.” If they feel inclined to go look at my work then so-be-it, but to leave a comment like “oh this is great… now go look at me” is utterly childish.

For the most part I like to follow people who I feel are better than me as a photographer or Photoshop artist… after all I want to learn how to be better myself. So why would I not want to follow somebody like Lindsay Adler, Emily Soto, Joe McNally, Cliff Mautner… and so many more. And how dare I leave a comment on their work and ask that they go look at mine.

It is so easy to get lost in the “Likes” the “Hearts” the “Stars” they are all so meaningless. They only mean something when they reach to the hundreds of thousands and then it is a calculated game. When you’re a blogger like Charlie Barker with 610,000 Instagram followers not to mention Twitter, Tumblr and anywhere else she is, all these numbers mean she has a solid core of fans worldwide and that equates to $$$. Any company would be crazy to not want Charlie Barker to wear their shoes, dresses, makeup ect… But until you reach the stratosphere of social media fame you are just another blip on the radar and all the “please look at me” bullshit gets you nowhere. There are very few people or entities on any social media format that got there by accident. Despite what they (themselves) say or anybody else such as news media and the like, reaching a super status in any form of social media is a calculated road. These icons are not just posting selfies or an image of their morning cup of coffee. At a glance their images can look harmless, but most times they are meant to cut to the core of their audience… and they do.

So where do I stand? In this entire abyss that is social media it is easy to get lost or to lose focus. I use Facebook personally to connect with family and friends and I have a business page for my photography and catering businesses. I use Instagram as an outlet for my photography with very little personal posting. Strangely enough with a mere few hundred followers I get more “real” interaction from other photographers, models, and people in the entertainment business then I do on any other social media format. I will get direct messages from musicians, art directors, photographers, lower level movie directors and other bloggers. Most just honest comments on my work, so I have learned to do the same. If I really like someone’s work I will DM them and let them know or comment in a genuine way. I feel this is true networking and in some way builds a relationship. I also use WordPress for my blog platform as I am doing right now. I use Adobe’s Behance and it works great because I can link the Behance projects to my website. When a person goes to my website they can view content that is hosted on Behance and they never really knew they left my website.

I also use Pinterest as a means for research mostly. I will make mood boards and store ideas there. 500px is another great place for research if I want to shoot at a location that I have never been to before. I will search it on Google Earth and then 500px, more than likely someone has already been there and I can see their images and hopefully make mine better lol. 500px was horrible with the little assholes a few years ago. In fact it was so childish with the “please look at me” people that I had actually deleted all my images and had a blank profile. I decided to return a year or so later and the wave of assholes had subsided.

LinkedIn to me is utterly useless. We all know people fluff up their résumé to make themselves appear… well, something more than they really are. So LinkedIn is full crap, utterly full of crap. I have a LinkedIn account and I hardly ever go there. Although I do get the “Peter Green” wants to connect with you in my email all the time. I think everybody gets the Peter Green emails, just pure bullshit. But the best part about LinkedIn is to actually go and read profiles of people you know. They all say the same thing, “specializing in operations management, focusing on team work and project management, with a background in advanced understanding. Background in senior business management and accounts… blah blah blah. All the while you worked with this joker at one time and he/she was a frickin disheveled mess on a daily basis. LinkedIn is the opposite of all the other social media in the fact that you get to make yourself feel good. What a joke! Runner up to LinkedIn is About.Me, another “how good can I make myself look format.

Social media… here to stay but always changing.

Deception Sells (If I buy their “what nots” me and my T6i or D5500 are going to kill.)

1/100 sec at f/4.0 ISO 100 95mm Model Melina Martin

1/100 sec at f/4.0 ISO 100 95mm Model Melina Martin

I was about 1 minute into a video tutorial when I just looked at the finished image that the photographer created and I had a moment of clarity and I thought to myself “I really do not like that image” and I turned off the video. She hadn’t even started the tutorial. She (the photographer) was comparing the beginning photo to the end result of her technique and I have to say (in my opinion) it was horrible. I might add that this photographer has a portrait studio and claims that she provides these images to her clients. I’m thinking “really?” somebody paid you money to make them look like that. Wow!

I really do believe there is a lot of photography crap out there in cyber space at this time. It reminds me of when I was a young boy and I remember a science teacher talking about “space junk” left by all the different space missions. If you’re a photographer or Photoshop artist you most likely get similar emails and advertisements that chase you around on social media. You know the advertisements for the latest photo editing software, plugins or actions. While yes, some of it is good and I will admit some may actually be a necessity if you are editing to put money on the table. But there really is a lot of just plain old crap out there.

Like any line of business there is a lot of deception and photography is no different. Cameras and lenses are what they are, there really isn’t too much of a way around it. You either have a good camera, a great camera or a crappy camera and that’s that. But all the other stuff falls into that “do I really need this” category. I think we’ve all heard the term G.A.S. used for “Gear Acquisition Syndrome.” I first heard this years ago when I was an active guitar player. Many a musician has fallen victim to GAS and photographers are no different. But now there seems to be a sense that if you purchase the latest software or plugin your photos are going to be so much more than they used to be. Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of good editing tools out there and some are actually needed if you are trying to achieve a specific look or end result but many of them are just a waste of time… and money.

Video tutorials are no different. This is kind of how I see it; so like about 5 to 7 years ago all these people went out and bought DSLRs and the next day they had business cards made claiming they were a “photographer” and now those same people are claiming to be a “renowned” photographer and they’re telling you “you need to know what I know” so give me your money… and only to find out this guy doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. Jay Maisel (who by the way is a photographer for real) said “take a look at what you’re looking at” and I have to say that is one powerful piece of advice. But the same holds true for making a purchase. Look at what you are buying; look at who is selling it. I get so turned off and pissed off at photographers who are out there teaching people techniques and claiming if you do this you will get great images… so you head off to look at their portfolio and you are astounded. Look at these images OMG I must have whatever he/she is selling… I wonder if I could buy some of their DNA OMG!!! But what you do not know is that their portfolio shots are all created on a “Medium Format” system and they may have had professional retouchers, lighting teams and so on. You are looking at a shot of a stunning model standing in the Dubai desert and thinking “wow” this is awesome. If I buy their “what nots” me and my T6i or D5500 are going to kill.  Now hold on there scooter I wouldn’t say “kill” maybe maim or severely bruise, but that’s about it. Very deceptive to say the least. Webinars; I have partially sat through webinars hosted by software companies and the instructor is doing the same thing, he is editing a photo shot on a Hasselblad.

Who is the instructor? Now of course I am not going to name names here but some so called renowned photographers may have great portfolios and they’ll tell you about how they struggled to get a great shot of great landmark. When in reality we all know to get a great shot of a particular place you may have to go back several times and yes that could be a very big struggle for any “normal” working guy or gal. But you dig deeper to find out the photographer is really a wealthy person who can make those 25 trips to get a shot of Mabry Mill with no problem at all. Now don’t get me wrong I am not complaining about a wealthy person with a fancy camera; however I am complaining about anyone who claims to be something they clearly are not. You are not a struggling photographer if you can go trolloping off around the world anytime you like to capture a photo.

So yes there is a lot of deception and there is a lot of plain ole crap out there. I remember being a young naïve guy walking into my local health food store when I was about 21 years old. I was astounded to think “wow, look at all this healthy stuff” and I would think everybody should be here buying this “healthy” stuff. I soon made friends with the girl behind the counter. And as time went by I asked here out on a date. Then it hit me; oh no where do I take her for dinner? I know she will want eat healthy and I… well I eat pizza lol. I remember her uncle owned the health food store and he was a homeopathic doctor or something like that. But I just asked her what she would like to eat and she, like most 20 year old girls I knew said “Taco Bell” Taco Bell… OMG I thought… “What you thought I wanted to eat tofu” she replied. I just assumed you worked at a Health Food store so… She said “Rich 90% of that stuff is crap, even my uncle will tell you, it is all deceptive and it is only there because people ask for it.” What about my vitamins and organic pretzels? “They’re all good” she replied. But most everything there is crap. If it was all good nobody would be sick, dying, over weight or have cancer… so come on lets go have a beer” and yes she really did say that. And yes deception sells.