Odds and Dead-Ends

I have a few more photos from the air show to share, then some stuff I tried to pull off this weekend and failed at, for various reasons. First up, the air show:

txraiders_final

Here’s another shot of the B-17; this is about as far away as I prefer to get when shooting planes, and I realize if I’m going to be happier with my shots next year I’ve got to get my hands on a longer zoom  lens. Since even used on eBay a longer zoom sells for a thousand bucks at the least, I may say to hell with it next year and just take all my pics of the planes when they’re on the ground.

And now, more Blue Angels:

BEformation2_final

BEbigplane2_Snapseed BEbigplane_final

Those last two are shots of the C-130T Hercules the Angels use as a transport plane; it’s dubbed “Fat Albert.” Again, I couldn’t slow my shutter speed enough to blur the motion of the propellers here, but I tried.

And now, for my weekend fail: Saturday afternoon I decided to try some levitation, but I needed to do it quickly, so I set up, slapped on some makeup, threw on a new costume, and got to work. The results, however, were less than impressive. It took me awhile to figure out what went wrong, but in the end I realized that I need to work on my lighting for such shots. It was too bright, and it flattened me out and made me look like a cartoon. On the plus side, I’m getting better at adding shadows, and I played around with some of the new filters I now have with my Pixlr app since I signed up and became a member. But in the end, Pixlr wasn’t enough to save the shots. An example (and yes, I made it small ,because UGH):

red2_final

This next one was the best of the bunch, I think:

red3a_final

Not bad, but nothing to write home about either (although I will blog about it, apparently). My bottom foot looks huge, but I liked the movement of the hair (I also thought that having my  face covered up would help conceal the flatness my bad lighting created on my facial features). And, I used a different layering technique here than I usually do; although it took twice as long to do, I think the end results look better.

I wish these had turned out better, but not every shoot produces good results. Switching my backdrop to black probably worked against me too, since I haven’t used it in awhile and it creates harsher light than the gray one does. I probably could have just used my Speedlight and abandoned my umbrella stands entirely for this, but I couldn’t tell the light was a problem until the shoot was already over. I actually thought I’d gotten some really good stuff, too, so processing the shots was disappointing. But at least I tried.

Another busy week ahead, so not sure when I’ll have more to share. Hope you’re all wrapping up a nice weekend and getting ready for the week ahead. I know for me, Thanksgiving break can’t get here soon enough. Two weeks to go!

Levitation Break

Overall it hasn’t been a great week, but I’m not going to talk about that right now. I’d rather randomly share this ad I saw in my Facebook feed a few days ago, because it cracked me up:

pop
Why yes, the first thing one thinks when looking at this photo is WOW, NICE EYES

I actually see this sort of thing quite often around the internet when looking for tips on taking portrait photography or getting the right lighting for studio shots. Many of the tips are written by male photographers, and their example photographs are often scantily clad women. My favorite, and dammit I wish I could find it again, was a video on YouTube that featured a sloppily-dressed, fairly dumpy looking middle-aged guy firing away with his camera at a very young woman in a bikini to show how he set up his portrait lighting. It was kinda gross, but amusing as hell at the same time, in a dude, we all know you’re paying her to wear that bikini in front of you sort of way. Half the time while trying to get tips on studio shoots I end up feeling like a big old creeper because of the half-naked women I have to view over and over just to learn. But moving on.

Here’s a shot I managed to pull off Saturday wherein I, of course, am not scantily clad, but I am in a studio. I ran errands all morning, then felt like trying out this clear plastic stool I bought recently because I thought it might help with levitation shots by being easy to edit out. It was, but the shot was still hard to edit and I spent several hours on it for various reasons. For one, I always forget what process works best for these shots because currently I am doing them so infrequently, so I never remember what I did last time that worked. For another, I forgot about the rule of wearing contrasting colors to the backdrop so I can easier edit myself out of the shot and into the background one, so  the process of selecting the subject was tricky and took a good deal of time. But this picture is proof that even if I have very little time to shoot photos right now, it still can be done. I am in my regular clothes, and have on no stage makeup or fake hair – just me and a backdrop and a plastic chair. I also went along with my new strategy of going in with a plan – I knew exactly the shot I wanted, set up and posed for it, and once I had it, I quit shooting. This set? Was 32 shots – that’s it. As opposed to my usual 350. So it’s good to know I can work this way and pull it off.

Now let’s see the whole thing in action:

GHD1

That duster is fabulous and from Free People, of course. I own two because I snagged a huge hole in the first one and went and bought another. The one I’m wearing in this shot is actually the one with the hole, because I figured I’d be tossing it around a bit so might as well wear the damaged one.

GHD1a_Snapseed

Here I am, layered over a second shot of a blank background and highly filtered and edited in Photoshop. My hair in particular was a bitch here, because I realized halfway through the editing process that I’d clipped out all the little flyaway hairs the first time and it left it looking flat and fake, so I had to go back to the original, select all these little flyaways, and layer them into the composite shot. Took some time and might not have seemed like a big deal to other people, but it made huge difference to me because it gave my hair back the movement it lacked with all the flyaways cropped out. And, I am getting better at adding shadows, I think – the ones you see here were added in Photoshop by me. Final shot:

GHD1_final

I used my Pixlr desktop app for the final finessing, since I can edit TIFF files with it now. I used a “smoke” overlay to add some depth to the background, a barely visible little star overlay, and a couple of very faint borders for added pop. Unfortunately, something I did somewhere along the way with all my editing made my teeth turn kinda gray, but what can you do. It’s always something. In this case, the something is gray teeth. Still a cool shot and not a bad levitation, so I’ll take it.

Sidenote: Because I shoot in vertical or portrait orientation so often, my studio self-portraits are almost always crooked. And by almost always I mean always. I start out with the camera pretty straight, but the more I shoot and chimp my shots the more off-kilter it gets. Then I often forget to straighten it when I edit, so when you look at the floor line in my shots it’s often crooked. Hopefully most people don’t notice it, but if you go back and look at my levitation and jump shots over on Flickr, I guarantee you almost all of them involve a slightly slanted floor. Moving on.

Not much else to report at this time; I wanted to take a few more levitation photos with these cool new Minnetonka moccasin boots I bought, but I got sidetracked by it taking me 45 minutes to lace the stupid things (not even kidding) and then couldn’t get my feet into them, so that ruined my mood. Time to go return the  shoes and get ready for another week. Happy weekend everyone!

 

Photo-Fitting

My husband went out of town on Sunday night, so of course the first thing that had to happen was the clothes dryer had to break. Usually Doug is here to deal with getting things like this taken care of during the day, but since he’s gone all week I had to make a bunch of calls while at work, then leave early to get back to the house and sit around waiting for a repairman to arrive. However, in the end it worked out well, because it forced me to find a handyman in our area and get him out to the house – we live in an older home, and are notoriously bad at getting things fixed when they break (seriously, it’s been a joke at work for two years that our stove has slowly been narrowing down its number of working burners – we were literally down to one when this guy took a look at it). If we can find a way to force an appliance to keep working, we will do so, dammit, but when they do break, they are ancient and require an act of God to get them repaired. Well, this repairman is our new appliance god, because not only did he fix the dryer and promise to help us fix our 30-year-old stove, but he told me we were wise to keep all these old appliances as long as we could, since they were so much better-made than newer models. Ha! Now I realize this could be because he looked around and saw our house as a huge money-making opportunity with all its ancient stuff, but I don’t care, because I’d much rather mess with getting appliances repaired than buying new ones, which both bores and depresses the crap out of me. Moving on.

While I was waiting for him to show up, I decided to look through my movement photos from Saturday and see if I wanted to edit any more of them. The general consensus here on my last post, as well as on Facebook, was that the first shot was so good any others I processed really wouldn’t compare, and I rather felt the same way, but out of boredom and curiosity more than anything else I decided to play around anyway.

I’ve always felt that I process too many shots from my sets, and that really I should limit myself to one or two good ones and let the rest go rather than share five or six from each set with at least four of them being mediocre. It’s one of the reasons I ultimately ended up appreciating having to switch my Flickr page, because it gave me the opportunity to go through my photos and thin the herd, so to speak – to only add to my page those photos from each set that I feel are truly good ones. I’d been meaning to do that with the old page for a long time, but as I mentioned before, with thousands of photos uploaded the thought of going back through them all was overwhelming, and I never did it.

I’m not sure how I feel about only sharing a few shots, though. Ultimately I would like to keep Flickr as a place to share everything initially, but perhaps once or twice a year go through and delete those shots I’ve deemed truly mediocre, while keeping this blog as a place to talk about and share everything in detail, and then have some third space where I share only my best work and don’t socialize. I just haven’t gotten to that third step yet. And Luanne asked me yesterday about submitting my work, which is a step I’ve not even seriously considered because that is the part of the creative process that bores the hell out of me. I still have a complete poetry manuscript I’ve never submitted for publication anywhere – and it’s pretty damn good. I keep thinking I need to send that sucker off soon, before the style of poetry I wrote in 15 years ago (lyrical poetry) becomes obsolete and no one wants it anymore (I think that may, in fact, already be happening).

As far as my photography goes, I’m not sure what my “style” is anyway. When the idea of submitting my photographs came up in yesterday’s comments, I began reflecting on how my movement photos in particular aren’t easy to categorize according to what other people do that is similar. For example, I tried to post one of these recent shots to groups on Flickr yesterday, but I struggled to find the right home for them; they aren’t levitation or jump shots in the true sense of the word, as everyone else who takes these sort of photos seems to include setting as a key element of the piece – the subject is in a forest, or a darkened room with a window, or a field – but the point is, they are somewhere levitating. In my shots, I’m nowhere; it’s just me floating in front of a backdrop. Same for the jumping shots; the key for others seems to be jumping outdoors, mostly, and the focus is on the jump itself – for me, again, it’s in front of a blank space that may be black or white or blue, but I’m not anywhere at all. I’m just jumping, and I’m not in normal clothes like other subjects are.

I don’t think this is a bad thing at all; in fact, I like that my movement shots, be they levitation or jumping, have something unique about them. In no way am I saying I’m the only one doing this, but I can honestly say I haven’t come across many people who are – except for fashion photography, actually, which often uses backdrops and may have people moving about. But my shots don’t really fit there either, although with the focus on makeup and clothes that may actually be the closest fit for me moving forward. Anyway.

This is all one big ramble, so let’s get to the new photos (I’ve only had time for two today):

MilaJump4a_Snapseed_pxr

For this one, I was kneeling on the ottoman, and right when the shutter clicked I lifted the one hand that was on the floor holding me there. Somehow I managed to do this and still catch my fall before I broke my face on the floor. I had a hard time editing out a small part of the ottoman, though, so I used the same Pixlr smoke border I used in yesterday’s favorite shot to conceal that a little. Ultimately I don’t think it’s going to be noticeable to anyone else, and I wish I’d thought of that border sooner, because I spent almost an hour trying to get the ottoman edited out of the shot perfectly. In the end the border covered it up completely anyway. Live and learn. And another thing about this shot: I am not centered at all, which was unintentional. Because I was using a vertical orientation with the camera, it was a crapshoot as to whether or not I’d get my entire body in the frame, and in fact, in several shots I didn’t. I use the vertical when jumping or trying to get my entire body into a shot as routine, and often when I compose myself more horizontally I forget to adjust the camera accordingly. Happens a lot, and I have to just deal with the less-than-stellar results. It’s always somethin’.

This second one is a re-work of a shot I posted yesterday – I decided to use Pixlr on it to see if I could make it more interesting. As a reminder, here’s the original:

MilaJump2_Snapseed

By the way, I love that in the shot above, you can kind of see the ‘farmer tan’ I am sporting from my outing with my father to the aviation museum. I had on a v-neck t-shirt and no sunscreen that day, and my neck and chest where my skin was exposed got sunburned, and is still a different color from the rest of me. LOL. This became even more evident after I messed with the color and shadows in Pixlr:

MilaJump2_Snapseed_pxr

So there you go, an updated and Pixlr’ed version of a photo that was only so-so before, now complete with farmer tan! We’ll keep that part to ourselves, and hopefully it won’t be that noticeable to anyone else. Since it was already a jpeg when I pulled it into Pixlr, I didn’t want to risk reducing the quality even more to open it back up in PSP and edit out the sunburn, so I figure it’ll just be a nice little inside joke. Aside from that, I do like this edited version much better; it conceals the obviousness of the ottoman I was at one time standing on, and kind of makes it not matter even if it obvious; the whole appearance of being a little phony now seems intentional. A little texture also never hurts to add interest, and the dark green light gave it a nice dreamy quality (I like this one better now, in case you can’t tell).

I’m going to work with a few more shots, so we’ll see if anything else interesting happens with them. Until next time, friends!

 

 

 

Stripe Jumps

As I mentioned in my last post, my foul mood over losing out on plane spotting this weekend was partly alleviated by getting dressed up a bit and taking some photos in my little studio. Always good for getting me out of a funk.

I didn’t bother with too much studio makeup, just put on enough to make my features stand out in the photographs as I was in a hurry and also wanted to snap a few pics of a new wig for a blog review over on RLW. Here’s one quick wig snap, since I took them at the same time:

Mila1

Can you believe that thing was $230? What a mess! Not that I paid that much for it, but still. It’s pretty awful. However, my Photoshop skin-smoothing skills are getting pretty awesome – check out a little B & L:

Mila2_Snapseed
Before
Mila2a_Snapseed
After

Still me, just a little better. And it didn’t take me all day to do this, and I didn’t have to go view the video tutorials a thousand times to pull it off, so yay for that. And now on to the jumping, which also involved a little photo editing magic:

MilaJump3a_pxr

This one, I think, is the best I’ve edited so far – mostly because I got the technique down by the third photo and didn’t feel like going back and re-editing the first two. I was actually standing on a wicker ottoman here that I covered with a black blanket, but I also took a background shot of the black backdrop and then pasted this photo over that background as a layer, and then erased the stool. I think this photo is the most crisp and clear, and in spite of the fact that I pretty much hate that wig (it’s the new one from the portrait posted above) it moved well and looked good for the photos. Doesn’t make it worth $230, but still.

I edited this one using the same basic technique, but here I used the photo of me on the stool as the background, and made the photo of just the black backdrop the layer I pasted over it – I don’t think this worked quite as well:

MilaJump2_Snapseed

It’s not bad, and it could be that the movement of the first photo is what makes it more effective, as it really looks like I’m doing some sort of weird squat-jump in that one while here it’s more obvious I was standing on something that got edited out. But working this way, rather than trying to cut myself out of one photo and paste myself onto the backdrop shot, eliminated at least some of the issues I was having before with shadows, and I didn’t have to totally re-create them this time. Also, this black backdrop creates one hell of a vignetting problem when editing and I’m not sure why that is; I feel fairly certain no one else cares about the little color rings that form around the edges but me, but it bugs me to no end and always has. Not sure what to do about it, although for jumping pic #1 I did figure out to go into Pixlr and use one of their “smoke” borders to conceal it a bit.

Also, that dress, which I’ve had for a couple of years now, is amazing for jumping and movement photography! It’s been hanging in my costume closet all this time, and although I’ve used it twice already, it’s been a long time since I’ve put it on, and I hadn’t thought of using it again until recently – my parents have rented a beach house for this coming weekend, and I am going down there Saturday, so I’ve been thinking about bringing this dress to use for some shots on the beach (either myself wearing it or someone else). When I decided at the last minute to take some movement photos, I guess that’s why it sprung to mind, and I’m glad it did, because it reminded me how great this thing moves. And to think I bought it at some fairly cheap clothing store while wandering around aimlessly, waiting for my nail appointment to begin – I bet it was $40 max if it was a dime. The only thing I don’t like about it is that it has one of those awful skirt linings that only comes to mid-thigh, making the rest of the full-length skirt transparent (God how I LOATHE this whole maxi-skirt-lined-only-to-the-thigh trend and want it to DIE already) which is really distracting in photos. So, I had to put on full-length black tights to conceal the lining a little, otherwise my legs would have shown through the skirt. Last one for now:

MilaJump1_Snapseed

My issue with this one is that the lighting and focus were off, and the subject doesn’t look as well-lit and defined as the other two. But that dress! It created such an amazing shape, I just had to process it. I actually went ahead and created a Pixler version too, and I’m not sure which one I like better. Perhaps you could view them both and then let me know:

MilaJump1_Snapseed_pxr

 

I was trying to detract from the fact that my face isn’t in good focus and came out kind of flat; but I’ve lost the attention-getting color aspect of the material, so I don’t know if this one is better or not. I’m now leaning towards the color one. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

More to come from this set, did some for-real jumping and may process one or two more levitation ones. And no, I haven’t forgotten about the aviation history museum photos, although at this point when I finally do upload them they’ll be anti-climactic.

Happy Monday everyone!

Onward and Upward

When reading Natalie Dybisz‘s book recently, I skipped over the part where she talked about making composite shots for her levitation photos. What I mean is, I read about it, then rather forgot about it when trying out some of the techniques she mentioned on my own. Then, when I was reading people’s responses to my first levitation post, it suddenly came back to me that she often takes a shot of the set without being in the shot at all, then can use that shot to layer her image over it and avoid some of the complications that come up when trying to just edit out chair legs or something. I know I’m doing a lovely job discussing all this in a technical manner, so you’re welcome for that. I am nothing if not completely incapable of discussing photoediting using proper terminology. Moving on.

On Saturday I decided to quickly give this process a shot. And I do mean quickly (although once again I managed to spend the rest of the day editing). The process for these shots couldn’t be more different from how I usually work. My usual method involves very little in the way of set dressing – I just hang a backdrop, pull my lighting umbrellas out and into place, put the camera on the tripod, and jump around for an hour or two. My vision usually involves fabric, hair, makeup, color, and movement, but all the shapes that get created are a surprise to me, which is why I take loads of jumps, then pick my favorites based mostly on the shapes those jumps create.

For these shots, the workflow was totally different. I had a very set idea of how I wanted to pose and how I wanted the final shot to look. That’s pretty new for me. Because of this, the setup was more particular. A lot more thought went to being in exactly the right spot when the flash went off, too, so I posed very deliberately and carefully instead of just leaping around. Then, once I had what I wanted, which happened pretty quickly, I was done. Instead of my usual two or three hours shooting, I only shot for about 15 minutes, which was weird as hell.

And, since I had no idea how this process was going to work out, or even if it would work out at all, I decided to forgo my usual prep time on makeup and just went barefaced, with only a touch of lipstick. If I’d had any daytime makeup on before getting started I would have looked better, but it was Saturday afternoon and I’d run errands that morning barefaced, and decided I didn’t want to waste time putting any on for shoot that might produce nothing edit-worthy anyway. Even if I did get some decent shots out of it, though, I figured my face would hardly be the focus, so I just decided to rough it this time as I wanted to get to it. I did put a wig on though, since my own hair is so fine it doesn’t provide much movement.

My first step was to take a background shot of the wall I’d be posing against, so I could layer myself over it later. So here it is, in its unexciting glory:

backdrop 1

It was important to be sure the lighting was exactly in this shot as it would be when I was posing, which means I of course didn’t do that at all. Hey, this is a learning process people. Anyway, for the first shot I’m going to share, here’s the pose I chose to edit:

float1

I was annoyed at first that my hand is covering my face, but in the end it didn’t matter; as I got to working with the shot I completely overlooked it. I used a wicker ottoman that usually sits in front of a chair in my office, and covered it with a white blanket so it would provide a matching backdrop against my body to the wall – this makes it easier to layer myself over the background shot and make the edges blend.

float composite 1

So there I am, layered over the background shot. It was still a bitch to get all my edges smooth and blended, but with each attempt at this sort of thing I discovered more techniques to make this easier. I’ve got a long way to go, for sure – but one thing at a time. So far so good on this one, except that it looks terribly flat. I should have shadows in the shot somewhere – but where? Honestly I had no clue, still have no clue in fact, but I gave it a try:

float composite 1_final

Those shadows aren’t all great at all, but for a first attempt at this it’s not too bad. Moving on to attempt #2.

When taking the background shot, I’d also had the idea it might be fun to take one with Simon in it, so I could be floating above him. A little kitty snack strategically placed on the floor took care of that (as a side note, Simon is the first cat I’ve ever had who liked treats, and as he’s been taking steroids to heal up some ulcers on his lip for the past three weeks – they’re called rodent ulcers, although they have nothing to do with rodents, and they are rather common – man is this helpful. I can finally  just shove a pill into a treat and the cat will eat it. Yay!):

backdrop cat
Yep, he’s still eating

Unfortunately, when I was attempting to pose on the ottoman, I forgot that a cat would be down below me in at least one of the photos, so I didn’t take any shots where I was looking down. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot more planning that goes into shots like these, and I’m not used to thinking ahead about stuff like this. I tried flipping my body around so I’d be looking down, but another thing I forgot to do in these first shots was fling my wig about – again, just too much I was already thinking of and I forgot some details. Flipping me upside down so I’d be looking at the cat didn’t really work when none of my hair was moving in a downward motion (it looks weird enough when I’m right side up and the hair isn’t moving) so in the end, I had to just float above the cat without acknowledging him.

Also, I tried something else here that Dybisz mentions when discussing her levitation shots; I used my upper body from one pose and my lower body from another and merged them together. I’m not sure this is something I’ll do all that much in the future, but I intentionally wanted to try it here just to see how it would work out. I can see how it could be useful to twist the body into some really crazy shapes, so it’s good to know moving forward if I can pull it off. I used my lower body from the first pose already shared above, then the upper body from a different shot:

bodycollage

Doing this actually wasn’t as big of a challenge as I expected, although I’m sure a skilled photo editor could pick out my body reconstruction easily:

float composite cat 1

What was a challenge, though, was shadows again. Adding shadows is definitely the most difficult part of this process, for many reasons. Where to put them, how dark they should be (answer: NOT DARK unless you are a master at creating them), how to create them effectively (without looking like the cheesy evil spirits whisking souls away to hell in that Patrick Swayze Ghost movie), this is all pretty tricky stuff in my opinion, and I made the whole thing trickier by tossing a cat into the picture. Poor Simon kept getting overshadowed, literally:

float composite cat 1_final

As I kept trying to get the shadows right (well, right wasn’t even what I was going for here, just, not ridiculous-looking) he kept getting more and more…gray. When I finally had some shadows I was OK settling on, I went back and brightened him up as much as possible, and he bounced back all right. But working around him here was a bit of a pain.

One last shot from this first set I’ll share (yes, I did two sets this day, so I have more to share later) is one that didn’t work out, mostly due to the pose. I wanted to try one more edit using two different bodies, and used the same lower body as in the previous two shots. The upper body I pulled from this original:

float1b

I just ended up looking goony when it was all pulled together; as I mentioned earlier, the lack of hair movement meant I couldn’t flip this upside down so the cat would be getting any attention, and this upper body didn’t work too well with the legs. But what the hell, I’ll share it anyway – I’m not going to show it anywhere else, but I don’t mind sharing it with you all.

float composite cat 2_final

I don’t know, it just looks like I’m imitating a jumbo jet banking into a death spiral or something. Just a weird pose, and I really didn’t need another shot of me levitating over, and ignoring, my little cat. But once again it wasn’t particularly hard to merge the two bodies together, just the damn shadows giving me hell, so good to know.

Tomorrow I’ll share part two, where I got wild and threw a sofa into the mix. And a dog. It all sounds like too much craziness to handle, doesn’t it? But I managed.