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kyle cassidy

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FAQ [Aug. 18th, 2010|07:34 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |ego likeness: breedless]

Deconstructing a photo, behind the scenes

A reader writes:

I am a very confused digital photographer.

I know how things were done with regard to film photography...but I feel very confused as I look at the photographs of today because I am just not sure if the photographers are using "old school" techniques -- or if the shots that I see are being edited post-production.

Your photograph "Heartless" for example, Did you shoot that with gel filters...? Or did you adjust lighting and color post-production? It is an amazing creation -- I just don't know how you did it! As such, I am a bit lost with moving forward. I've asked (MANY) photographers their technique -- but, trying to get anything out of photographers is like trying to pry state secrets from the lips of government officials. Many members of my own family are photographers -- and they will not divulge their techniques, at all.

I tend to use "old school techniques" because it's what I grew up using and I figure they're less likely to make your photos look dated in 20 years. As for divulging them, I've learned that an artist isn't made up of technique nor a single idea, but rather the evolution and growth of a fountain of ideas, that they flow out of you:--when Picasso gets tired of blue, he'll move on, people trying to duplicate Picasso won't because they're looking backwards and not forwards. So I'm not worried about divulging techniques so much because I realize that it's not the "how" so much as the "what". That said, pretty much anything a photographer does is stolen bits of things other photographers have done before them. You go to school (and hang out in bars with other photographers) to learn techniques, the ideas -- well, those are yours.

Behind the scenes
In any event, the Heartless Revival shot is ... pretty much straight out of the camera with very little manipulation, as you can see here:

I didn't (and typically don't) use any techniques in post-processing digital that you can't do in a "traditional" or "wet" darkroom. There's just some burning in around the edges which serves to isolate the subject and cover up some of the ... er ... crap ... on the floor and ceiling that don't add to the image. There are a couple versions of this image that have a bit of a blur added to them which is a technique I saw some photos from the vietnam war printed with years back, the idea being that when you print the image you do a short exposure that's slightly out of focus, and then a tack sharp one right on top of it so there's a bit of a diffuse glow coming out of it -- sharp and soft at the same time. It seems really popular in Japanese glamour photography. Anyway....

Taking the photo was the easy part. Making it happen started with a lot of work before hand -- beginning with Heartless Revival making the dress, and then Alex doing an hour and a half of makeup on Daphne. This is the hard stuff, really.

The actual picture takin'
I thought I wanted the image to look a bit metallic, a bit blue, on what photographers call the "cold" side of the spectrum (red being "warm") so I intentionally set my white balance incorrectly to give it a blue hue (set to "tungsten" instead of "flash" -- but I was also shooting RAW so I could change it later if I wanted). I wanted the light to be a bit sharp and I wanted it to work sort of like a spot light, with a good deal of fall-off (going from light to dark relatively quickly).

About five years ago I bought a beauty dish because I saw that Lithium Picnic had one and then when I figured out what a pain in the rear it was to use, it's sat in my closet mostly ever since, but here was an opportunity to use it. The beauty dish is a giant, unweildy piece of metal that sits with a big heavy flash head on one end of a boom stand, on the other end of the boom you have a bag filled with bricks acting as a counterweight. I like the way that the beauty dish looks when it's almost directly overhead -- it's sort of like the light you get from a UFO when it's about to beam someone up. (I deny any actual knowledge of UFO lighting. Move along, nothing to see here.) I used it in this promo shot for No Exit and it looked great. The downside is, well, your assistant has to haul around a giant bag of bricks as well as the beauty dish and the light and the giant boom stand and while they're doing that, it's difficult for them to make you a martini.

I thought you might be curious about it so I took a photo of the beauty dish as it was setup.

There were actually two people working off camera here, one holding the bag of bricks and one fluffing and primping after every few shots. But that's pretty much it -- you set up the light, you do a couple of test shots and make sure it's exposing properly, you plop your model underneath the light and your model does the thing that s/he gets paid for, which is know how to move around in ways that flatter and show off the clothes and look interesting, and you do the thing you get paid to do, which is notice when the model looks best and move your finger down about 1/16th of an inch and occasionally say things like "Oh baby, now shake it."*

Darkroom techniques
The things I use most in Photoshop are: the selection tool with feathering, levels (brightness and darkness), & saturation. And that's pretty much it. 90% of everything I do is with those things.

"Getting it right in the camera" is important, but often overrated. I was watching a photographer berate his assistant on a mini-golf course a year or so ago -- "Hey," he said "go pick up that gum wrapper, do you want me to have to clone it out of the freaking shot?" and I thought to myself "I'd just clone it out of the freaking shot."

Hope this helps. Thoughts or questions on processing? I'd love to hear them.

* (Not really. You actually say stuff like "move six inches to your left, the light stand's in the shot" and "do that again" and "once more, but look over my left shoulder this time." )

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[User Picture]From: sauch
2010-08-19 12:51 am (UTC)
Crazy random question, but do you mind telling me the full name of the model, Daphne? It's just that BEFORE make-up, she looks an awful lot like my friend called Daphne, although it's hard to tell because the after photos look radically different.
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[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2010-08-19 01:07 am (UTC)
you could ask your friend Daphne if its her in these photos :-)
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[User Picture]From: dd_b
2010-08-19 01:11 am (UTC)
If somebody has to hold up the bag of bricks while it's counterweighting the beauty dish, you have put too many bricks in the bag :-) .
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[User Picture]From: pteppic
2010-08-19 08:51 am (UTC)
If your assistant has to choose between holding the bag of bricks, and making you a martini, fire the assistant.
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[User Picture]From: humglum
2010-08-19 01:12 am (UTC)

the idea being that when you print the image you do a short exposure that's slightly out of focus, and then a tack sharp one right on top of it so there's a bit of a diffuse glow coming out of it -- sharp and soft at the same time.

How one piece of a sentence can make me miss the fun of darkroom techniques like nothing has done in 15 years... Mostly because, damn it, I want to go try that now! The chems would probably kill me, though. I realized way too late that even with a respirator and great ventilation I soaked in enough fumes through my eyes that I pretty-much had a permanent migraine all through college. But... my mom has stuff... and I could set up in the basement... and just... deal with it. Argh.

I do wish, however, that there was a good way in Photoshop to replicate what I did with painting Vaseline onto glass and exposing through it. I'd project the image the size I wanted it with the enlarger, and then basically paint along the contours like I was painting the image. Can't remember how I made sure the glass would line up right... Luck, I suppose.
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[User Picture]From: katemckinnon
2010-08-19 04:22 am (UTC)
I remember the vaseline!
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[User Picture]From: silveringridd
2010-08-19 01:28 am (UTC)
this is such a great post. and the photos are amazing. i mean, the one straight out of the camera is amazing. wow. i love the blue hue.
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[User Picture]From: ed_dirt
2010-08-19 01:44 am (UTC)
Jesus, Kyle...not to make you feel bad or anything (and well you shouldn't, because it came out of your camera, after all), but i really like the ooc better than the post-produced version.

but that's subjective, and i tip my hat to an awesome photo, both versions.
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[User Picture]From: paulcory
2010-08-19 02:53 am (UTC)
Great behind-the-scenes article. Thanks!
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[User Picture]From: ladycelia
2010-08-19 03:01 am (UTC)
Love seeing the before and after--would not have expected that much burning.
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[User Picture]From: katemckinnon
2010-08-19 04:21 am (UTC)
What a fabulous post, Kyle.

(My Pen micro 4/3 comes tomorrow, in time to take it to France. I'm so EXCITED. Thanks for the encouragement. Wish I had a fisheye to strap to it!)

(Oh and our class in November only has ONE SPACE LEFT and I have the Truckstop Waitresses, our local Derby team, lined up in case we or Kambriel need models.))
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[User Picture]From: maxrael
2010-08-19 07:21 am (UTC)
Brilliant post. Interesting and informative. Many thanks! :)
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[User Picture]From: niamh_sage
2010-08-19 07:28 am (UTC)
Great post, Kyle! Have you ever thought of doing online/distance ed classes? *yearn, yearn*
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[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2010-08-19 03:43 pm (UTC)
no, but i have thought of europe....
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[User Picture]From: karohemd
2010-08-19 12:05 pm (UTC)
Excellent info, thank you.
I've used the tinting technique by setting the white ballance "incorrectly" as well but it only works in certain directions, depending on the lightsource. It would be a lot more difficult to achieve a warm effect from a flourescent lightsource, for example.

occasionally say things like "Oh baby, now shake it."
That cracked me up. :o)
I love working both with amateurs and pro models. While directing the former is rather time consuming, they tend to be more natural.
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[User Picture]From: rmjwell
2010-08-19 01:51 pm (UTC)
I don't want to sound too much like a drooling fanboy, but I want to thank you not only for these sorts of posts but the way you've been very open about sharing your experiences and techniques on LJ for the past several years. Your work --along with several of my friends-- was part of the kick-start I needed to go back to photography.
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[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2010-08-19 03:44 pm (UTC)
excellent news. (though drooling fanbois are always welcome.)
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[User Picture]From: lindsocerous
2010-08-19 06:25 pm (UTC)
That martini comment made me crack up way too loud for 4am in a thin-walled house. Came out of nowhere. You slay me.

And agreed, many thanks for the post - I got really overwhelmed by Photoshop at first, and then I started taking pictures I actually liked (and that looked decent) and realized that I probably shouldn't need to airbrush the crap out of bees and geese and flowers; some little tweaks should do. It's good to know that digital photo doesn't need to be overly complicated. This makes much sense.
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[User Picture]From: rocket_jockey
2010-08-19 06:51 pm (UTC)
I "grew up" in the wet-darkroom era; shooting tungsten-balance film in daylight(or vice-versa)was one of the things a lot of us did for deliberate color casts (the rest did it in the enlarger). Digital makes exploring the technique so much easier - two button presses or a dropdown menu click instead of changing out rolls of film!

There are photographers who really do a lot of post work, and they can get some really eye-popping images, but for me, keeping things simple and using tools that extend or add to the basic wet techniques I know works best.

I think it's great when people are willing, even eager, to share what they know. An environment where that happens helps everyone learn new things and try new stuff, inspires new ideas, and brings everyone up to new levels.
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