Forward, March

MAN did I process a ton of photos last month! So many that I doubt I have enough to say about them to fill the post if I upload them all here, but that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna try.

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This is a wig I bought from wigisfashion.com. Not bad for the price but the shipping took forever.

The first discovery I made in March involves using my laptop as a live view screen when shooting photos. I had some distant knowledge of the fact that I could connect my laptop to my camera and view the photos on my monitor after they had been taken, but for some reason I never investigated this far enough to learn that I could actually use my latop as a live view LCD screen and see what a photo was going to look like before taking it. Discovering this was a pretty big deal, since getting my focus and framing right has always been a major problem when shooting self-portraits.

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This is mostly my own hair, but I do have a little clip around the bun that has spiky hair attached. it’s a really easy way to add a little more oomph to an updo. It’s by HairDo and is pretty easy to find – Ulta has them here

After one particular shoot where so many good shots were ruined by either being out of focus or out of the frame, I became obsessed with getting a new camera that had an articulating screen, like my little Sony vidcam has, so that I could see the shots I was about to take when using my remote. In all my researching (which was frustrating, because higher-quality DSLRs don’t use them) I finally stumbled across some instructional videos showing how to use a laptop as an LCD screen and see what you’re going to shoot in a live-view mode. In short, this was a huge leap forward for me as a photographer, because it meant I could finally take shots of myself without purely guessing whether or not I was framed and focused properly.

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Figuring out where to aim the camera and then managing to lie down in the proper spot is a real bitch when using a remote. Normally by the time I get it right, I am no longer smiling like I am here.

The shot above is a great example of this, as taking a picture of myself lying down, when working blind from a remote trigger, had been impossible before, but with the use of the laptop screen to get into the frame properly, I was not only able to pull it off, but to get myself focused beautifully. And this was using my 85mm lens, by the way, which is already a tough one to focus properly for self-portraits.

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It’s not a perfect method, and I don’t think it’s useful in all situations. If what I want to do is fling a wig around and take photos that capture the movement of the hair, taking the time to get the shot framed properly on the live-view screen isn’t worth the trouble since I don’t have a set idea of what I’m going for anyway and tend to pull the focus back far enough to get all of me in the frame no matter what; full-length and jumping shots probably also don’t need the extra bother to get framed right either. But definitely any portrait where I want to pose in a manner other than standing and looking straight at the camera are much easier to pull off this way.

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Just another test shot using the laptop – one issue is that what I see on the laptop isn’t flipped, so when I move left it appears on the screen like I am moving right, which is a MAJOR bitch to manage. 

I can not only see the shot I’m about to take before I take it, but I can also color-balance the shot right there on my monitor, which is pretty awesome. And I can set the focus where I want it, although this is tricky when shooting self-portraits and I still miss the mark at times.

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Fake ponytail from HairDo that I hated – it’s hard to apply and so heavy it falls right off. So I wrapped it on my head like a dead animal and took some photos, then threw it away. It’s useless. 

I will say using this method is a completely different way to shoot than I am accustomed to, which is why I’ve realized it’s not necessary in every situation.  First of all, there’s the issue of my eyesight again – yes, I can see exactly where I am going to be in the shot, set the focus, and adjust the white balance. But at some point, I have to take off my glasses and hit the trigger, and many times that still messes me up. Moving even the slightest bit from when I set up the shot via live view can screw up the shot by shifting me out of focus or off the mark I was going for; this happens more than you would imagine just by taking off my glasses and setting them down (which is why in all these awesomely-focused shots I am wearing my glasses) .

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Fake bun, also from HairDo. This one is OK as it’s a banana clip, which is what I prefer for ease of use – but matching the color of hairpieces to the color of my hair is always a problem, which is why I don’t normally use them.

And, I am very used to my shoots being free-wheeling affairs, where I move about a lot and take a ton of shots in the hope that at least a few of them will end up being usable; this laptop live view process is completely different in that each shot is carefully constructed and posed before I click the shutter. So it feels much more planned and methodical than what I’m used to doing. And the truth is, sometimes I don’t have much of a plan for what I’m going to shoot, which can make working this way frustrating. So, this is a good technique for me to keep in mind for self-portraits, but not necessarily something I need to use every time. I will say that while it slows down the actual shooting part of the process, and makes me think and plan more about what I’m doing than I’m sometimes comfortable with, it makes the processing part quicker because another benefit to hooking the laptop up to the camera while I shoot is that the program immediately downloads the shots to my hard drive as soon as I take them.

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Random old shot I processed at some point this month. I don’t really care for it.

This means I can stop during the middle of the shoot and pull a photo into my RAW processing software to mess around with it and be sure the shoot is headed in the right direction – is the makeup right, is the lighting working, is the color balance correct, etc. Again, while this is great on one hand, it slows me down on the other, and makes a shoot more about precision than spontaneity. Working this way is slow on a shot-by-shot basis, and I end up taking a LOT less shots as a result, because every step of the way is slowed down and analyzed rather than being evaluated after the fact. It’s not a bad thing at all, but it’s not always what a shoot requires, so it’s made me think more ahead of time about what I’m trying to do and how best to do it – which mostly serves to remind me how little technical knowledge I really have about what I’m doing at all. My lack of real skill isn’t so evident when I’m just screwing around and worrying about the end results later. Oh well.

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On the processing end, I got the idea one night to play around with taking two photos of myself and merging them into one shot, as you can see here. This is a bit tricky, since I need to find two shots of myself where my head is positioned almost exactly the same, and in order to really work the mouth needs to be similar, too (in fact, in this one I just used the full mouth from one of the shots, since in the two separate portraits they didn’t match up). In the end, I wasn’t super-thrilled with this first effort, since the two sides I put together don’t really make much sense in one photo – I don’t think the two looks play off each other in any meaningful or interesting way, but hey, it was nice practice. Getting two shots where my face was positioned close enough to match each other was harder than I thought it would be, so in the end I just went with what I could find. Moving on.

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What this experiment really led to was me taking one portrait shot, then cropping it in half and mirroring that side by flipping and pasting it onto the original. In this way, I could create some really cool symmetry and interesting shapes, particularly out of flowy wig shots.

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Harder to do when the eyes are looking to the side like this than in the one above where I am looking dead ahead

As with the live view screen on my laptop issue, I’m not sure why  I never thought of this before, but for whatever reason I never had, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to do. Especially when I have SO MANY wig-flow shots where there’s some cool shape created on one side of the wig that was originally ruined by something boring happening on the other side.

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I’ve already edited this photo as an original but I loved how the hair moved on that right side so much edited it again as a mirrored shot. Also, from a different picture I added those waves around the hairline because in the original the hairline was really wiggy.

It also makes my face just a little bit freaky, which I am always down for. Going back and looking at old photos where I can apply this technique has been a real eye-opener; a LOT of lost shots that I never processed because that one interesting detail wasn’t enough to save the whole thing can now be seen in a new light.

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For example, the shot above, before it was mirrored, was pretty boring. It was a test shot for some fabric I thought about using (the fabric is actually a shawl from Anthropologie); I just draped it over my head and hit the shutter, and on one side it was hanging down awkwardly and my face was really plain. But once I mirrored and flipped it, holy cow – it looked REALLY cool. So, for the past week, I’ve been seeking out old photos to flip and mirror – but then I got distracted by another discovery!

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A few years ago, I did a big shoot with my friend Candace where I rented out a studio and took a ton of shots. I processed quite a few at the time, but then I lost track of the folder on my hard drive and at some point assumed I’d deleted it or lost it somehow and that all those additional photos were dead to me forever. I keep all my originals on external hard drives, and although I’d combed through them looking for this set I’d never found it – I have thousands upon thousands of old photos, though, so the fact that this one eluded me when I was looking for it specifically isn’t much of surprise.

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I was thrilled to find it though; not only is my friend is ridiculously photogenic, obviously, but she is also game for anything and comes up with really creative ideas for posing so that all I have to do is shoot. She also doesn’t mind at all if I edit her photos to near-unrecognizable proportions (although she does tell me that those pics freak out her kids a bit, LOL).

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Candace has what I think of as an ‘anime’ face – big, round, wide-set eyes, a round face shape, and narrow, really full lips. After working with my own face for so long, it’s really interesting to work with someone else’s, especially someone who shares exactly ZERO similarities with my own face. I actually had to stop myself from over-editing her eyes and mouth because those are two areas that I work the most on my own face –  my eyes are small and close-set, and my lips are really thin, but I am amazed at how rather perfect this woman’s lips are naturally. I did no enhancement to them in these photos AT ALL; neither did they require any lipstick as they are naturally a rosy red.

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Other things I tend to notice when working on portraits: Candace has a really interesting nose. It’s long and narrow, but the tip of it is an almost perfect upside-down triangle, again, almost the opposite of my rather short and pudgy one. In fact, in looking at and working with the different parts of her face, I’m miffed as to how anyone could accuse of being sisters, or mother (me) and daughter (her) as sometimes happens. There just seriously isn’t one facial characteristic we have in common!

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Although I felt the need to do a lot less ‘work’ on her natural state than I do myself, I of course couldn’t help myself from doing some retouching and mucking around. And since I was finally working with a different face, I made a few before and after collages for the hell of it:

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Candace’s skin is significantly younger than mine – she is 33 and I am 47 – so skin retouching was MUCH easier, and where my complexion tends to be sallow, her skin tone is very peachy in tone. In a lot of shots, she had one eye that tended to squint more than the other – something I’ve noticed in my own photos, too – so I had to work a bit to even that out, and I lifted her eyebrows in a few shots like I do to a lot of my own; it makes the subject look younger and also makes the eyes look more expressive. It can give the photo a odd or phony quality, though, so on someone less open to my manipulations I wouldn’t have done it, but I knew she wouldn’t mind.

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We shot these photos in March of 2014, and it was already quite warm outside, but I’d brought along that funky faux-fur vest anyway, and after the shoot was done Candace threw it on and we took some quick pics in the alley behind the photo studio. It was the middle of the day, so the light was horrid in  the original, but I managed to play around with it until I got a goth-y, winter-y look I liked. In the portrait, I really wanted to make her look like a china doll, so I widened her face to make it more round and lifted the brows again. I wanted to transform her into a total blonde, but when I went too light it looked fake, so I settled for a lighter brown and then added tons of light and texture to give the photo an antique quality.

So, that’s it for the photos I’ve been working on lately, and I have a lot more face-flipping and Candace-editing that I want to do. Also, in spite of my damn self I am REALLY DYING to try this new Jon Renau Sarah wig that retails for a ridiculous price; I didn’t notice originally that it was a fully hand-tied cap, so that explains the crazy $450 price tag a little bit (but not much). Name Brand Wigs has a 30% off sale going on right now, and I am super-tempted to buy one even though at 30% off it’s still a stupid amount of money for a synthetic wig. In fact, I haven’t been tempted to try either a Renau or a Raquel Welch in a long time due to their price increases, but man, that Sarah is really calling to me. I’m about 99% convinced at this point that I need to try her, so a new wig video may be on it’s way in the next week or two. I think I can justify it if I buy it in a really photogenic color and tell myself I can use all that long wavy length in photos (which is true). Stay tuned!

3 thoughts on “Forward, March

  1. Pingback: Tutoring My Own Horn | mareymercy.

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