Old Coffee Shop (Here we see a sepia toned image that takes on the feel of another day and time. )

Coffee Shop 1/100 sec at f/3.2 ISO 400 B&W conversion via Silver Efex Pro 2

Coffee Shop 1/100 sec at f/3.2 ISO 400 B&W conversion via Silver Efex Pro 2

It was a beautiful morning I was up early and out at 5:00am. I’m lucky enough to live close to the small city of Lambertville and when the light and weather is good I’ll get out early and capture a few shots of interesting buildings or people.

Here we see a sepia toned image that takes on the feel of another day and time. This is one of the things that attract people to this town. I say “one of the things” because the little city has changed with the times; it was once a working town with industry and music attractions. But as the times have changes so did the city. Long gone is the music circus and the luggage factory along with the hobby store and little eateries, bike shop ect… In their place are now antique shops and art galleries. Long gone are the little old cozy neighborhoods and the working class people and in their place is artsy shops and hipsters. Not that it is a bad thing it is just different. Plus it all makes for great photography.

Independence Day (The bravery of our men & women in our armed services will always be our power. )

Ryan Flag Over Shoulder

Independence

It’s the 4th of July, it’s Independence Day and today those words really weigh heavy in the air and in the hearts of many Americans. As we go about our celebrations of parties with food and beer, as we go about our travels to entertaining events, we do it all in the name of “Independence” and while many Facebook and other social media memes will try to make us out to be bad people for having a party or drinking a beer (or two or 10) while we have troops who are away from their families, I feel differently. I feel we should celebrate as we see fit.

It is because of our forefathers and our troops that we have independence. So we must pay a deep respect to our troops as well as our forefathers. The bravery of our men & women in our armed services will always be our power. Sure we live in a time of drones and robots, but it is still (at least for now) the bravery of an American to stand up and fight for what he/she believes in, to put their selves in harm’s way so that we can have that party on the 4th of July. Our freedom was not given to us and many times we have heard it said “freedom is not free” and nothing could be truer. The price for freedom is not paid in gold or silver, diamonds or gems; it is not bought with checks or currency. Freedom is acquired when we fight for it and in that fight, simply put… humans die. Both men & women give their life because they believe in freedom. It really is kind of strange to think of it that way, but there really is no other way to look at it. The bravery of the American who stands up and answers the call to go and serve is paramount and deserves the utmost respect. Say a prayer, shake a hand, buy a coffee, give a hug and help their families. All of the aforementioned are miniscule to the price that a brave soldier is putting forth for his country… and for you. Also take care of him/her when they return with visible and hidden wounds that will stay with them for the rest of their life. The battle for many soldiers does not end on the battlefield and many have hidden wounds that we’ll never understand. There wounds hidden or visible is “the price” that they have incurred. Don’t try to understand it, but rather comfort it and most of all give respect.

So it with that feeling I created this image montage to celebrate this year’s Independence Day. The model Ryan McNally is a former soldier himself and it was his idea to bring this American flag to the photo shoot. The very first thing I said to Ryan when we first connected on social media (Instagram) was “Thank you for serving our country.” His reply was “Oh no problem, I was happy to do it.” Ryan is an awesome young man and a pleasure to shoot with. I was also amazed at his knowledge and respect of the flag. While yes we did use the American flag as a photo prop at no time did it touch the floor or was disrespected in any way.

So here we have a six element montage. A young American patriot draped in a flag with our fore fathers, our eagle, our constitution, troops on patrol, a returning soldier holding his daughter up high and lastly the long dreary road behind the soldiers. All of this put together as Ryan gazes over his shoulder while looking out over the heartland of America. My thinking that goes into this kind of montage is a kind of “make it as I go.” When starting I did not really have an idea other that it had to say something about independence. While it may not be the most striking image I’ve ever created I do like it because it conveys what I wanted to say.

Happy 4th of July weekend everybody. Please be healthy, be safe, have lots of fun and shake a soldier’s hand and say “thanks” they’ll know what you mean.

Creating With Analog Efex Pro (It’s like this is where Instagram created their filters.)

Double exposure made in Analog Efex Pro. Self portrait at my house in Thailand. I love the wooden window shutters.

Double exposure made in Analog Efex Pro. Self portrait at my house in Thailand. I love the wooden window shutters.

Let’s talk a little about Google’s Nik Analog Efex Pro plugin for Lightroom or Photoshop. I myself had over looked this at first. In my last post I talked about how I had bought just two products from Nik, but soon after Google acquired the Nik collection they sent download links to previous Nik customers for the whole Nik collection. This was long before Google made the collection available to the public.

So when I downloaded the whole collection I seen Analog Efex Pro but I thought I had no use for it. Actually the truth be told I never even opened it. Not until one day I was trying to open Color Efex Pro in Photoshop and I accidentally opened Analog Efex Pro in the fly out menu. It was at that time I started to explore this fun little gem. It basically gives you all these old camera kits from the film era and lets you create some really awesome stuff. Now I know if you are a Photoshop user your first thought might be that “it can all be done in Photoshop” and I would answer “yes & no.” Well actually “yes” but Nik’s algorithms are a lot different from Adobe’s and seem to produce the end results in a unique way with a different feel. So yes you could do it in Photoshop, but the feel of the end visual seems different to me.

The double exposure effect is a lot of fun and again one might think the “masking” in PS would produce the same effect, but AEP is so much more fun. It could be a “one click” and your done edit if you use the presets, but I really like to play with the controls and see what I can create on my own.

If you like Instagram and all the filter choices, you will love Analog Efex Pro. It’s like this is where Instagram created their filters. I really would like to see more people use it and play around and get real creative. You have so many options available; from light leaks, to dust & scratches, bokeh and many more.

So if you are a Photoshop or Lightroom user download the collection and dive in.

Ghostly Forest

Ghostly Forest created using Analog Efex Pro.

Google Makes Nik a Free Download (…for those who don’t know the original Nik plugins were the “cat’s meow”)

B&W conversion using Silver Efex Pro 2

B&W conversion using Silver Efex Pro 2

Final edit includes adjustments performed using Color Efex Pro 4, Tonal Contrast, Pro Contrast and more.

Final edit includes adjustments performed using Color Efex Pro 4, Tonal Contrast, Pro Contrast and more.

As many photographers may have heard Google has just made the Nik Collection a “free” download. Many photographers already know about the Nik plugins, however I personally have met many photographers who never heard of Nik plugins, even after Google acquired the Nik collection from Nik. I guess I was naïve to have thought everybody knew what they were. I have been using Nik for many years now. I had purchased Color Efex Pro 3 and Silver Efex Pro 2 from Nik and then after Google acquired them one day out of the clear blue I received an email from Google giving me a link to download the whole collection and this in turn moved me up to Color Efex Pro 4. Google stated because I was a current Nik Customer they were dishing out the love and it really was a beautiful day for sure.

Now real quick for those who don’t know the original Nik plugins were the “cat’s meow” especially Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro.

I fell in love with Silver Efex Pro 2 (SEP2) for making black & white conversions. Although I have several methods for making B&W images SEP2 is by far the best and most creative. I love my color images, but at the same time I can get lost in playing with SEP2. Most important to me when working with images that have a face, is being able to see the zone mapping so I can apply my personal recipe for zone mapping human skin. I’m not going to go into all the details about the zone system, but for those who know about Ansel Adam’s zone system… well you know what I’m talking about.

Most important (in my opinion) is that if you want to create amazing black & whites you need to first create a great color image and then move into SEP2. So for those of you who have Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, you need to get these plugins and get started learning how to use them. For me… if you asked me to choose one tool or plugin for Photoshop and nothing else. Hands down the Nik collection would be my choice, mainly Color Efex Pro.

Another source that increased my wanting for using SEP2 was famed photographer Vincent Versace’s book “From Oz to Kansas” but you must first read “Welcome to Oz” because it is all about making cinematic edits that can stop at being beautiful color images or… move to the next book “From Oz to Kansas” and that is taking those awesome color edits and moving to black& white. The books truly are worth reading, however so many people I meet who want to call themselves a “photographer” want instant gratification and reading a book is just too much trouble, or so it seems. Sometimes I will mention that I learned “this or that” technique from a book I read and I get looked at like I have two heads.  I want to be the best photographer I can be and when I look at anybody who has ever succeeded at anything I many times see people who know their craft inside and out and many will tell you that part of knowing your craft is studying the people who have traveled the road before you. When you think about it it’s a “no brainer,” but seems many have no brains. Every photographer out there in this big ole world wants better images and the Nik collection will get you closer to that holy grail, but do yourself a favor and read a book or take a class that is written or taught by a true master of the trade/art. Fuck those stupid Facebook advertisements and find somebody who is a master. I live in NYC/Philly area and when I know Joe McNally or Cliff Mautner or Lindsay Adler are in town speaking or teaching… well you bet your last dollar I’m gonna be there. And those are just a few of the masters photography has to offer.

So down load the Nik collection from Google and let your creativity move of to the next level. I did!

They Have All Become Cartoons (Yes ladies you can take offense to what I am saying and that is ok)

Un-filtered and unedited image of Bree Arkham

Un-filtered and unedited image of Bree Arkham. Asked to submit a test shot, she did so while driving to work. Now this is a good selfie.

Sadly enough they have all become akin to a cartoon character. If you’re a male you may have noticed over the past year or so and even more so of recent months that many female faces on social media have become very cartoon like. It doesn’t matter young or old, but the need to make themselves look… prettier? I guess? Either way it has led them to look like something out of an animated cartoon.

Yes ladies you can take offense to what I am saying and that is ok, but seriously you really need to stand back and take a look at what you’re doing. I equate it to the botchery that people like Joan Rivers and Michael Jackson bestowed upon themselves. The only difference here is that it is not permanent and it is only being done to images. However we all still have to look at them. From my following many people both male and female on social media I have found the biggest culprits are the ladies who are not bad-looking at all. But still they take it to an extreme and blur their face almost beyond recognition.

Blurring the skin is nothing new with images. Photoshop blurring has been done for many years now. In fact when I starting learning how to retouch and edit human skin in Photoshop the first technique was to use a blur layer on skin. But I soon found it was way too easy to overdo it and it looked very fake. Today’s retouching uses a technique called “frequency separation” and it too (in my opinion) looks very fake when overused as it often is.

The problem with the blur techniques that all the girls are using today is that the filter is applied “globally” to the image. This means it is applied to the whole images like a smear. When a retoucher uses the technique in Photoshop we do not apply it to eyes, nostril openings, lips, teeth, jewelry, hair ect… It is only used on the skin. Many of the images I see every day are actually laughable. It is like when a 14-year-old girl first uses makeup and she goes totally overboard until somebody (hopefully) steps in and shows her otherwise. But until then the female population will continue to look like smeared clowns. Seriously Miss, when did you ever see a real live person with skin that looked like “porcelain”? It does not exist, period, end of story. So you’re making yourself look “unreal” many times the breast implants become the topic. Girls get boob implants and I get it, they want to gain self-confidence or maybe they are in the entertainment industry and that is par for the course. But creating a false image and publicizing it is downright strange if you ask me? (I know you didn’t ask me lol)  When the girl with fake boobs walks in the room she looks the same as she did in a photo. But blurring a photo to make yourself not visible is weird. …I just don’t get it.

GUYS BEWARE: If you are hooking up with babes online and you have never met her in person. Is she luring you in with a selfie that has been blurred? The first meeting could be a doozy when you first see each other and she really “looks worse than a rough strip of Texas highway in the hot summer sun.”

I have posted many times in the past on the topic of retouching and editing skin and blemishes. I have a rule I go by and it takes two different paths. First I decide “is it a real photo I am looking for in the end result”, or am I going for an illustration. If it is a “real” image that I want to be my end point, the rule is as follows; I will remove what should have never been there. Examples are zits, pimples, and other skin flaws. If you weren’t born with it and it wasn’t always there then why have it in the photo. Skin can be softened as can crow’s feet and lines. But once you start removing lines you have crossed over to “fake” and that is not good (in my opinion). Moles and birthmarks are optional and I’ll ask the client or model if he/she is bothered by them and if so I remove them. After all moles & birthmarks can be covered by makeup, so therefore I say they qualify to be removed. Lines can be softened by makeup and I can do the same in PS. The big rule for skin is; Skin has texture, even with makeup applied skin still has a texture or the makeup has some sort of texture. If you slightly blur you will soften the texture. If you use the new professional techniques of “frequency separation” you are simply putting in “fake” texture. If done correctly Frequency Separation looks amazing, done wrong it looks just as fake as blurring.

If the end image is going to be an illustration I will take a different route. There are no limits because it is art, so “yes” I may make her skin like porcelain and that is ok because the image is not expected to be real.

I do understand that everybody wants to look their best… I get that. But how are you looking your best if your face is blurred or smeared?

Let’s look at some example.

Too much blur on skin.

Too much blur on skin.

Model 1 Model 3

In these two examples of frequency separation you have to use you own opinion. Some people like and some don’t.

Model 2

 

Poor Santa Claus the day after Christmas. (the backstory to the composite)

Poor Santa Claus the day after Christmas.

Poor Santa Claus the day after Christmas.

Sometimes I have a well thought out plan about a composite image. Maybe I have to make a portrait of an athlete, let’s say a football player. So I know the background is going to be a sports field or a locker room and this will be very much cut & dry as to what the end image is going to look like.

Then there are those times when I have no idea what is going to happen or for that matter, no idea what is going on. I start to get kind of lost in what I’m doing and actually “lost” is not the right word but I just see something in a background that resonates with an image I already have in my library and then I will run down a rabbit hole in Photoshop. The whole process could take hours or it could take minutes, but if it starts to come together and it “gels” then I can’t leave it alone until I get it finished or almost finished. I say almost because I have learned that as I’m approaching the so-called “finish line” on an unplanned image, I really need to sleep on it and revisit the image the next day. Maybe the dodge & burn was a little over the edge or the sharpening was too much. The finishing touches have to be done with “fresh eyes” as I always say.

So while shooting Santa Claus photos at the local children’s play gym I captured images of the Santa that were kind of different. I was getting the lights set up and taking test shots while Santa was sitting and thinking about his upcoming Hawaiian vacation. When I viewed the images in post I saved a few thinking they could possibly be used in a composite. Santa looked kind of “washed out” and “far away” and that just stuck in my head.

Then the background image really resonated with me. It looks old yet it has these rays of light coming in, the room is so basic and screams of negativity to me. I think because it is mostly an empty room with nothing happening other than sunlight. I loved the leading lines on the floor and somehow I got the same feeling of despair looking at this room as I did seeing the washed out Santa. Soon I’m opening Photoshop and the creativity starts to happen. Santa is in the wrong kind of chair so I used an image of the posing chair I use for model shoots. My chair, although you only see the legs seemed more “time period” appropriate for the room. As for Santa, he is timeless so he works, but he did require a little “Puppet Warping” in PS to make his hands fit the scene. You have to know unlike most composites, in this example Santa was not photographed to be used in a composite. The camera was at f/8 and ISO 50 and there is studio lighting, however the masking out of the Santa from the original scene was not a walk through the park by any means.

So to put the whole scene together Santa needed some serious dodge & burn to put him and the chair into the window light of the room. And it is around this time that I start conversion process to black & white. It does not mean I will use the black & white image, but for all intent purposes I like to make both a color images and a b&w. I have posted in the past about my processes for b&w conversions (I have several) but this one was accomplished using Nik (Google) Silver Efex. All my b&w images first start with a fully edited color images and then go to b&w. Most of the way I edit came to me several years back by way of the two books “Welcome to Oz” and “From Oz to Kansas” by Nikon Ambassador Vincent Versace. These two books are great reading for the intermediate to advanced Photoshop user and have to be read in the order as I have mentioned.

In the end I decided to go with the b&w image although I then have to decide will it be tinted towards the bluer side or the yellower side. Realistically there are only two tints to use other than straight & pure b&w. Blue implies coolness, cold or it could imply night, dark and moonlight. While yellow implies daylight, warmth and heat. Although not a realistic image by any means, I mean we have a mythical Santa, the images is not in color and Santa was never in that room or even in that chair, but we still have to give the viewer a sense of the time of day or some sort of ambiance and I chose an ever so slight “coffee” tint. I do this final tinting in Silver Efex and I myself am more partial to a “brownish” monochrome image rather than a true and pure black & white.

So there is the backstory on the “Poor Santa” image. In the end I see Santa all wiped out the day after Christmas. For weeks he has been putting up with the entire Christmas calamity and now he’s done! Ready to catch a flight to the islands.

End of The Year Organization (I am always miss-placing small things and waste time looking for them)

“Nobody's perfect. We're all just one step up from the beasts and one step down from the angels.”  ― Jeannette Walls,

“Nobody’s perfect. We’re all just one step up from the beasts and one step down from the angels.”
― Jeannette Walls 

So as we head out of 2015 and into 2016 as a photographer this is the time when you should be doing your “end of the year cleanup” as I call it. For me it means things like designing a new watermark for my photos. I like to make a new watermark with the year’s date so as time passes I can look back and know exactly the year the photo was processed and posted.

Another thing I do at this time of year is to go through my drives and throw away any images I know I will never need. My “download” folder is usually the biggest culprit, housing lots of images I may have downloaded for mood boards and other referencing. Most of these images are no longer needed and taking up space.

Then there are my external hard drives and cloud storages. Some hard drives I use on a daily basis and work with the files right from the drive and save back to the drive. Other hard drives are just for backup and I will look at all the hard drives both “working” & “backup” and make a determination as to if and when I need to purchase more drives or can I consolidate drives? So yes I actually have a time of year that I do this or at least visit this situation because the last thing I want to do is have photo work lined up and coming in and have no room on the drives to store RAW images.

I really am not anal about “organization” in my life as a person. Like most people I am always miss-placing small things and waste time looking for them all the while they are right in front of me. But with that said; I learned long ago that saving email can be a life saver in more than one way, such as proof of a purchase and the date of a purchase or even more important proof of conversation with someone. However in order for the whole thing to work you need to be able to find the email quickly and somewhat easily. The same is true with photos and I have blogged about this before; even if you are not a professional photographer, in today’s world we all have images coming into our life every day and the number can be staggering so having an organized plan really is something to think about. I will be blogging in a day or so again on the topic of keeping track of and how to save images so they can be found.

Sometimes I just want to go back and find that image that posted on Facebook earlier this year; Well for me that can be real easy because I generate the images right out of Adobe Lightroom and when the JPEG is made from the master file it is sent to a folder appropriately named “15 Facebook” and next year’s folder was just made yesterday and named “16 Facebook.” So when I need to find an image it is really easy and I also have sub folders for special events like a party or a day at the beach and so-on. This really is the only part of my life that is organized correctly; I actually have a goal in the coming weeks to move this organization to my tablet. How many times I want to show images from my tablet to someone and I spend 10 minutes looking for one image. I’m not a fan of New Year resolutions but it is a perfect time to say “Out with the old and in with the new.”

Happy New Year to all.

 

Create You Own Universe ( equated Photoshop fun to my childhood days when we would sit on the living room floor with crayons and coloring books.)

It wasn’t here yesterday; it was born today because you created it. Your mind and your skills and your ambition all allowed it to become part of our world.

It wasn’t here yesterday; it was born today because you created it. Your mind and your skills and your ambition all allowed it to become part of our world.

It really is a lot of fun to sit down and create something. After receiving the December issue of Photoshop User magazine a few days ago, I was flipping through picking and choosing what articles I would like to read that night, when I came across Corey Barker’s “Down & Dirty” article on “make eye-catching composite with iPhone shots.” It made me stop and think back to my beginning days in Photoshop, a time when I never really knew what I was doing, I didn’t know how to retouch or edit images that well at all. So I would spend a lot of time editing meaningless photos and turning them into something… well a little less meaningless… or so I thought. But this really was a great time of learning for me and I really had a lot of fun. I equated Photoshop fun to my childhood days when we would sit on the living room floor with crayons and coloring books. Even as a kid I remember that activity to be very relaxing.

So seeing Corey’s article reminded me that I haven’t sat down in a while and just created something fun. While I am always working in Photoshop editing portraits and creating composites it has been a while since I have sought out a seemingly meaningless photo and “juked it up.”

So this is a composite, less somebody think I really did capture this beautiful scene. The main image is a rather meaningless image from August 13, 2015 when I spent the whole night out trying to capture shooting stars during a meteor shower. This image was shot just be for sunrise at the end of my all night fun. Of course I had many of these “meaningless” images with no meteor… or nothing really. But I saved a few of them because as a composite creator I always have that thought that “well maybe someday I can use that image” and today was that day.

Corey Barker being the supreme master that he is created his image from iPhone shots to make wallpaper for his phone. My creation however was fabricated from the above mentioned image and then using the effects that Mr. Barker lays out in his article. Lots of fun and a nice new desktop background.

I love Photoshop User magazine, content is relevant and in this day of “everything is online” I still like carrying the magazine around and reading it in my free time… plus it looks so cool to actually read a magazine, I feel so “worldly” lol.

Photo of The Day (model & makeup artist Ambré Baxter)

Ambré Baxter

Ambré Baxter

A throwback to October 2014 with the extremely gorgeous Ambré Baxter. Ambré is so peaceful and a joy to work with. She is also a talented makeup artist and we have worked together on many shoots. Always a joy to work with this lady.