Drag Days of Summer, Part Two

OK, here we go with the actual photos! The ones I’ve had a chance to edit, at least, from Wednesday’s shoot. But first:

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I actually have some shots to share from June that I never posted. First up is a few more with this fab striped skirt I got from The Gap – it really photographs well!

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That was actually what I call an “unjump,” meaning an attempted jump shot that I timed wrong and did not capture properly. Both the unjump above and the next one are also composites – the top half of me is from one shot while the bottom half is from another:

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In both cases, I just didn’t like something that was going on in the top half (I think in one my hair was completely covering my face and in the other I just didn’t look too graceful) so I did my best to layer two different shots together. Took a long time, but I think I pulled it off OK.

Also, not gonna lie – in the shot directly above, the shadows were hitting my face in an unflattering manner, causing my nose to look unnaturally big. So, I used Photoshop to make it thinner. Then, I realized my eyes looked wonky with the thinner nose, so I worked some more magic to move them a leeeeetle father apart from each other, and thus  balancing them with the nose. Have you ever heard how if you try to get plastic surgery on one part of your face, you often have to alter another to make it look right? Well, that’s kinda what happened here, only, not permanent. Still, in the end I look a bit less like myself than normal, but whatevs. I already had a torso from one shot and the legs of a different one, so why stop there, right? Moving on.

Here’s another shot I took of Robin when I was messing around with her after making my video review:

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As in the last shot I shared, this one is also two different pics of the wig combined to give it more interesting movement. And lately I’ve been experimenting with some softer light filters than I’ve ever used before; I’m in a phase of feeling less insistent on absolute clarity and trying out softer looks. Who knows why. Always something to change up.

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This is a shot I took of Brandi during the same shoot where I took the Robin pics (obviously, since the clothing is the same). Brandi is much more full, so I didn’t need to layer two photos together to get that much movement. One more from this set, this time ridiculously Pixlr‘ed:

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The original pic was out of focus, but I really liked how it looked in spite of that; there was a really nice shape to the flowing hair, so I chose to work with it anyway. I think I may have over-done the Pixlr overlays, but they have added so many cool ones lately I kind of can’t stop tinkering (I love the ‘mermaid’ and ‘candyminimal’ ones in particular). Speaking of overdoing it with Pixlr:

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I’d really started to get bored with June’s shots by this time, and dug back into the ol’ archives to find something else to edit. In the end it felt a bit boring, so I ran it through the Pixlr grinder also. Another old one I worked with that I did NOT Pixlr-fy was this one:

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That’s one of my favorite photo wigs, even though I tried to trim the bangs myself and really jacked them up. Not too noticeable when I’m throwing the wig around, fortunately.

Okay, so now on to the most recent stuff:

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I already mentioned the makeup process I went through for this shoot, so can we talk about this sweater now? I got this from my favorite online store for vintage costume-like goodies, The Kissing Tree. Whenever I’m feeling a little bored with my current stash of costumes I go check them out (usually at their eBay store), and when I came across this thing I knew I’d found my next purchase. It is perfect for portraits because there’s so much going on, it can be used in many different ways even within the same shoot without it really looking like it’s the same sweater every time. It has a great feathery collar, and I love love LOVE clothing with texture; the sleeves are not only striped BUT they have little fabric balls AND beads AND rhinestones – fabulous! Just moving my arms around in interesting ways make very unique pictures – like this:

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Then, for added fun, it also has that huge heart right in the middle. I didn’t actually use this sweater in nearly as many ways as I could have in this set, but I love any article of clothing that lends itself to a lot of different looks just by positioning the body in different ways. And at $34 it was a steal. The only downside is that it’s a sweater, and a heavy one at that, so for taking photos under bright lights in July in a small studio with tons of windows, it can get pretty hot, but I just stuck on some shorts and did the best I could – most of the shots I took were portraits; I spent two hours on that makeup and I was determined to get the most out of it! So for most of the shots wearing shorts that in no way matched the top was fine.

To maximize the shoot, I also made as many wig changes as possible:

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See what I mean about that sweater? This photo doesn’t even look like it’s from the same shoot! And there’s that softer lighting again. One thing I did differently this time was really neutralize a lot of the color in the RAW files so that I didn’t get some of the blown-out brightness and discoloration I tend to get when processing, but I think that resulted in my face looking too white later. That, and the fact that I used too much highlighting on my face when applying the makeup. Anyway, that led to me having to add some detail into the shots using shadows and filters, and I think I leaned towards softer light effects to help soften the face overall. If any of that makes sense. Also, my blending wasn’t great so I spent a lot of time smoothing out that eyeshadow, and I messed around with my nose a lot in most of the shots. I found that enlarging my nostrils just a bit really changed how I looked, so I did a lot of little tweaking like that here and there just to accentuate the drag-effect I was going for. Kind of the same technique I used for this one:

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My face came out REALLY white in this one so again, the softer light helped to add some dimension and detail back to my face. And who knew that Rene of Paris Caitlyn would make such a great photography wig? I almost sold it, but in the end I decided against it because t was inexpensive and I thought it MIGHT be good for photos – that sure was a good call, because I LOVE how it looked in this set. I’ve been gravitating towards short wigs lately for photoshoots anyway, especially when I’ve just spent two hours on my makeup; they are so much easier to work with when posing, and they stay out of the face. I can’t get all that good flowy motion I love, so there’s always a tradeoff, but especially with the summer heat the shorties are definitely a good option to have.

They don’t look as good for jumping, though,but it was pretty hot in the sweater already so I stuck with Caitlyn for my leaps – which really weren’t leaps but levitations:

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For this one I was leaning over a stool, then I layered that over a blank shot I took of the background so I could erase the stool out of the shot. This was mainly tricky because of the hand I was leaning on in the original:

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That hand was a real giveaway; it did not look at all natural when I was “floating” and made it obvious I’d been leaning on something, so I went back to my other shots from this point in the set, and found a hand I thought I could layer over the original one. However, THAT hand had all my fingers spread apart, and it was an absolute bitch to essentially cut and paste properly without the edges of the fingers looking really unnatural and obvious. I am not sure why it took me so long to give up on that hand and just go find another one; I think I spent something like four hours working on this photo and a good two of those hours were dealing with that stupid hand! In fact I gave up for the night eventually and returned to it the next day – at which point the solution became obvious, which was, duh, go find another hand.

Funnily enough, the hand I used ended up being the original hand from the next shot I processed; I didn’t notice that until I was editing this shot and working to erase the stool and had to maneuver around the hand again and thought, hey, this is as easy as it was working with that hand in my other shot – oh hey! It’s the same hand! Hi, Hand!

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So now you can scroll up to the first levitation shot and see the same exact hand in that one as is here. Isn’t that completely uninteresting? And aren’t you glad I spent an entire paragraph and half talking about it? Of course you are. And in this shot, I was once again posing on a stool in the original, and used the same blank backdrop shot to layer over. My lips were also wonky in the shot, and in trying to fix the wonkiness I made them huge, then decided I kinda liked how they looked and kept them. Oh, and shadows. They’ve been a bitch for me ever since I started trying to edit them into levitation shots to make them look real, and I finally figured out a strategy that works for me. Instead of using the burn tool with a fairly small brush and drawing an outline around myself, I just make the thing HUGE and slap it over the entire subject several times, then erase the shadows from my body and reduce the opacity, and BAM. A nice shadow every time!

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I was playing around with lighting throughout this set, too (remember, I spent two hours on that makeup and was determined to get as many different looks as I could out of this shoot!). In most of the shots I had my Speedlight attached to the camera and bounced off the ceiling for some nice soft light, but occasionally I’d attach a light bender to it and aim bright light directly at my face for a different look:

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Much harsher shadows behind me, and a lot less shadows on my face with a much brighter light. It’s a harsher look, and overall I don’t care for this effect as much as I do the softer ones, but for something different it’ll do.

And to sum up for now (who knows how many more of these I’ll edit – I have a few wigs and looks I haven’t even processed yet) here’s one last wig change:

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That wig is called “Sava” and I think it was made by Vanessa Wigs. I’ve gotten more photographic use out of that $20 wig than many of my costlier ones; it’s interesting, it’s easy to wear, and it works with so many different looks, believe it or not. Great wig. And those are some older Zenni Optical glasses I got and kept even though they are no  longer the right prescription, because they’re awesome.

Whoo I am all out of words! Which is great, because I’m also all out of photos for now. More to come though, as well as some new wig reviews: Camille by TressAllure (which is really Shilo by Noriko, but with a lace front); Miranda by Amore; Stevie by Amore; Kenzie by Noriko; an updated Code Mono by Ellen Wille; a Seville in Macadamia-LR by Noriko; a May by Noriko; and another Noriko Angelica (also in Macadamia-LR). Sheesh, did I really just admit to buying all of those?! As I may have said before, it’s my birthday this month, so I partied it up a little early with my purchasing. School starts in two weeks anyway, and I know my wig reviewing will either calm WAY down or possibly grind to a complete halt, so I’m getting it all in while I still can! Never fear though – I still have oodles of old vids to upload, so that should continue to either annoy or entertain you through the first semester, at least.

Oh and also – my July Stitch Fix will be here Wednesday, so that’s happening too. What can I say, folks – stay tuned!

Loose Change

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I’m posting this photo again because, of all the plane shots I’ve processed and shared so far from my shoot last month, this one has gotten the most positive response anywhere I’ve shared it – Twitter mostly, where a simple hashtag (#unitedairlines, #airbusintheUS) can connect a photo to the proper audience almost immediately. United Airlines, IAH, Hobby Airport, Airbus, and Airbus US have all re-tweeted it and sent me compliments, as well as several aviation and photography lovers who have since become followers. I find that interesting because I really felt I’d over-processed this one; most of the planespotters I follow stick to accurate representations of the planes and don’t appear interested in adding effects or filters. But I really haven’t done much more than skim the surface of the entire culture, so perhaps I’m wrong about that. At any rate, I’ve been pleased with the response to this one and it encourages me to experiment more, especially since it’s the part of the photography process I enjoy most.

Most of the new experimentation comes courtesy of the Topaz photo processing software I purchased over Christmas break thanks to a review by my blogger friend Beth Byrnes; as I get to know the software better I branch out more and try new things, and it’s amazing how a simple purchase of the right product can so enhance and even alter a creative process. It’s true that even without cool tools one can create art, be it painting or photography or poetry, but man are all the cool tools helpful.

And so, as I edit the 300 or so costume portraits I took Saturday, I’ve begun to experiment with them as well. I have a pretty set style at this point when it comes to portraiture – I like clarity and realism but I also want to look as good as possible, and there are lots of tricks I’ve learned to make that happen. Controversial or no, I do use Photoshop to edit out my under-eye wrinkles and even up/smooth my skin tone; I’ve learned to use stage makeup to great effect and eliminate the need for some of that sort of processing, but at 45 years of age it’s still necessary for me to get the effect I want – I’m not pretending that this is how I really look anyway since I’m always in costume, so whatever. Moving on.

After wrinkle removing and skin smoothing, I pull up RadLab to brighten, add contrast, pop color, and add light to the subject, as well as occasionally mess with filters to change tone. I don’t like too much contrast in a portrait, but I do like clarity, and I always, always put as much light on the face as possible without blasting out the skin and losing color or facial features. All that light is great to conceal any makeup errors I might make; even though it doesn’t show in the final shots, my makeup skills are still mediocre. I can follow a YouTube tutorial and put all the colors in the right space, but my blending skills are sub-par, especially when it comes to contouring the nose and adding lip liner. I am also a disaster at applying false lashes, so whenever I do apply them they are usually done poorly and practically falling off the entire shoot. All of these things can be concealed with enough light on the face; I already aim a lot at me during the shoot because I’ve learned it’s best to get as much right in the original shot as possible, but I always end up adding more, more, more.

Some examples from my latest shoot:

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Brightening the whites of the eyes is always helpful, as well, and can be done using the dodge tool set to about 15% midtones. Really makes the eyes pop, or, if you’re into that sort of thing, it can make you look completely insane by making them too bright. Your call. My point in all of this (and I do have one) is that after processing these first two shots, I started playing around with the Topaz software more and experimenting with different approaches to editing them. This was not done intentionally, but came about as I clicked around in different filter programs just to see how each one changed the look of the photos. The first one to get a slightly different approach was this one:

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First of all, that fabric is a vintage dress I was wearing; I got the idea to yank the skirt up over my head and use it as a prop (it’s ideas like this that confirm my need to shoot only indoors and alone). And I was only using the Speedlite on my camera and no extra lighting for these shots; I’ve gotten to the point where I know how to manipulate that flash effectively enough so that the umbrella lights I used to always use are not needed as often. But, in some shots I got a bit too close to the flash and had just a bit too much light on my face; this photo was one of those. So, as I was processing I came across a filter that actually darkened my skin quite a bit and decided to go with it. I still think I came out a little orange, but it looks much better than it did when there was this bright white face staring out amidst all that vibrant fabric. It may not seem like such a big deal to anyone else, but believe me I agonized over that darkened skin tone; I knew it was the better choice but MAN it bugged the hell outta me. Moving on.

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I think the experiment here is obvious: to someone who is obsessive about clarity, working with an unfocused shot is a nightmare. But I loved the movement of the sleeves and the composition was pretty great with my face dead-on into the camera, so I decided to make a go of it and see what I could do. There are some fantastic Flickr photographers who work beautifully with blur (kokorage, who I learned of from the Pixlr blog, is probably one of the best) so I knew it could be done; I just wasn’t sure I could do it. With no real roadmap to follow, this literally took over four hours, and more filters and overlays than you could possibly imagine (I ended up using Pixlr for a lot of it, a program that hasn’t gotten a lot of love from me lately; mostly because of my fascination with Topaz, but also because my desktop  version crashes on occasion AND I still find the masking feature awkward to use). In the end I do like the result, but it was so hard to know when this one was finished, as opposed to my usual portraits where the stopping point is clear.

Now for this one, I really went to town:

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I went for something highly stylized, much like my plane photo at the top of this post. I envisioned a low-key look although I didn’t actually use any low-key filters to get that effect; I just wanted something cartoon-like to match the silliness of the expression. As I worked with it I kept thinking of print ads from the 1950’s – that overly-painted/colorized/watercolor effect they seemed to have. But it was HARD, y’all. First of all, none of my little tricks were available to me to help conceal my makeup flaws, so I had to use Photoshop to correct blending errors, something I’ve never had to do before and hope not to have to do again because it took forever. The blush on my left cheek? Totally edited; that side of my face showed very little color in comparison to the ride side which was nice and rosy, so I used a brush to add it – something that is much harder to do effectively than it sounds! And the wig had random flyaway hairs everywhere that I had to edit out; doing that was not too hard, but it left discolorations all over my skin that were enhanced once I began to add color rather than lightening it like I normally do – that took me ages to figure out how to do properly too. And then there was my nose. Remember how I said I am not the best at contouring noses? Well my contouring for this shoot was particularly bad; I had to lighten it in all my shots but it wasn’t a big deal; when making my skin darker and more colorful for this one, oh man was it hard to correct. But I eventually figured it all out, and I am pleased with the result, even though once again it was hard to know when it was finished and all the editing was done.

Since I love those comparison shots, let me show you the before of this one, so you can see how much work I had to do to get rid of all that wig hair and fix that terrible nose job (click to see it larger):

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I think you can tell in the before shot how much more blush was showing up on the right side than on the left, and in case I haven’t made the point clear enough let me repeat that getting rid of all that stray wig hair was really tricky. The editing left dark smudges on my forehead and neck, and it took some time to get the skin tone even as a result. And getting the shot to those exact colors took so many different filters I couldn’t recall them all if I tried, but I am obsessive about such details and will spend 20 minutes to choose an effect I end up reducing to 5% opacity, so that didn’t help. This is another one I spent about 4 hours getting right, so needless to say I only edited two that day.

I’ll close with the last one I’ve edited so far. I threw on a short wig and took some quick shots against a different backdrop towards the end of the shoot. I’ve taken to using up two walls in my office for backdrops instead of just one – the big blank wall holds a large, full-body backdrop, while against an adjacent wall I’ve stuck a shower curtain I bought years ago for just this purpose but that can only be used for portraits as it’s not very big. So for variety I wanted some shots against the other backdrop, but as often happens towards the end of a shoot my energy and creativity were low and I was anxious to upload the photos to my computer and start editing, so these shots weren’t all that thrilling. Still, there’s a few from this bit that I like, and this was one of them – nice close-up of the makeup I worked so hard on if nothing else (and yes, I did go through the torture of applying false lashes this time, even though they almost always make me cry and I end up with my real lashes all glued together):

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Continuing with the theme of editing photos differently, I obviously used a much softer effect here than I would normally do. The photo on its own and straight-up edited just wasn’t very interesting to me, so I played around with light leaks to give it some added appeal, even though it washed out the previously vibrant color quite a bit and the haze reduced the clarity. I still think it’s a decent shot, and the softness seemed to work OK, so I left it alone after adding the light leaks and called it a day (and in looking at this shot in particular, holy cow can I see the weight loss in my face. Losing ten pounds is no joke; even my head looks different and of course I’ve had to buy a bunch of new clothes. But I digress). Oh, and I love that wig – I believe it cost me a whopping $20 and it is awesome. Short wigs really are a great way to get short hair for a day, and overall they are much easier to deal with than long ones. But I digress again.

I’m finishing up Day 3 of my 5-day minibreak, with absolutely nothing to do on Monday, so I may take some Stitch Fix pics for my blog and some purse pics to share with friends on the Purse Forum where I am now a member (there’s no interest or hobby in which I indulge that I cannot find a message board somewhere to join. Trust me on this one). So who knows, a shopping post might be to follow, as well as loads more airplanes I have yet to edit! Suddenly I’ve gone from no photos to way too many.

Speaking of which, one of the things I’ve realized during this little break is that it’s not so much that I’ve grown tired of my portraits as it is that I’ve just not had time to do them properly. Every time I’ve had more than one day free on weekends since the start of the school year, though, I’ve gotten right back into the swing of things, so I think it’s mostly a time issue, and we can all rest easy that the selfies aren’t going anywhere anytime soon – they just get put on hold until I have some breathing room. One of the nice perks about being a teacher though (especially at a private school) is that time off is always worked into the schedule somewhere (except for the start of the school year, where there’s a pretty long stretch from August to November without any decent break). When I only get one day off on a regular weekend though (if I even get that), I don’t feel free enough to do a full shoot it seems. So this may be the last one I do until Spring Break next month, but with over 300 shots in the can that shouldn’t translate into a lack of portraits.

Enjoy your President’s Day!

Hairy Birthday

Welp, today is my birthday, which means I will start telling people I’m 46 even though I’m really turning 45, because I started telling people I was 45 last July when I turned 44. I just completely confused myself by typing that sentence.

But if you thought the occurrence of something like a birthday could stop me from posting about my hair YET AGAIN, you’re wrong! Because once again I got up Monday morning and decided my hair wasn’t quite right and started snipping. The thing is, there was this same swatch of hair hanging down into my face that was annoying the hell out of me, and since stylist #2 didn’t cut as much off around my face as I’d hoped he would, it was still hanging around bugging me. Allow me to give you an example:

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Not only did this bit of hair keep hanging into my face, it also wouldn’t curl; I don’t know if it didn’t get wrapped properly during the perm process or if it got fried or what, but it looked really wonky to me. So Monday morning I started snipping at it, again (this is the same bit of hair I snipped at the first time I messed it up and had to go get a trim). And it ended up really short. Of course this looked terrible since I was cutting with nail scissors, of all things (don’t ask). And since it was Monday, I was pretty limited in my choice of salons to get it fixed. I ended up hopping in my car and zooming over to the local mall, where a very nice young woman at Visible Changes evened out my latest wonky hack job, blended everything together, and did the same to the other side for balance. The funny thing is, I think this is what the haircut was lacking all along, and it only cost me 30 minutes of panic and five dollars for a bang trim. And on another positive note, the people at the salon raved about my perm and said they never would have guessed it wasn’t natural.

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This is the sort of face-framing I was hoping for with my first post-perm cut and didn’t get. I think it finally took the weight off my face and got rid of the part of my hair that was refusing to curl nicely. It also makes my hair look bouncier, as I think stylist #3 blended some of stylist #2’s layers better. So yay for accidental butchery. But seriously I have to keep the scissors out of my hands now…I won’t get lucky enough to have one of my disasters easily fixed a third time.

That photo, by the way, was edited using the Nik Collection for Photoshop plugins I finally broke down and purchased last week. I had a heck of time using them, though, because they kept crashing Photoshop, and I spent about four hours figuring out how to correct the problem (ended up being an out of date driver). I spent $150 for the software, though, so I was determined to get the issue resolved. And when I finally got it fixed, I decided to use it to mess around with my new hair photo – so there you go.

Also, I finally unpacked and hung up that brick wall backdrop I ordered from China. It’s OK, but not long enough to cover the floor, and the furry floor rug I bought to cover the carpet because I thought it would look cool ended up being a disaster – it shed like crazy, and all three of my pets were immediately chewing up pieces of fake fur like cows chewing cud. I had to get rid of it before it killed one of them. So in the end, for my test pictures I had to just crop all the floor out of the shots. The backdrop itself looks OK, but I’ve got to find some other option for the floor for full-length shots (the backdrop just sort of piles onto the floor, and isn’t long enough to pull out onto it like my solid black and white ones are. So it needs some sort of transition between it and the actual floor. Hard to explain, but trust me):

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That right there is the first photo I’ve ever edited totally in Photoshop, which is a big deal to me even if no one else cares. Unfortunately although I took some more cool jumps, I don’t have more to share because I spent so much time last night trying to correct my device driver problem that I ran out of time to edit photos.

Here’s one more nice little lucky shot I got Monday, then I’ll share more later.

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I say lucky because Penny never poses for shots, and in truth she isn’t really posing here either, but this still came out kind of sweet. And I guess it looks a little awkward having a wrinkled brick wall, but maybe no one will notice.

 

Texture Points

I got up Sunday morning and decided to play around with skin smoothing some more – of course – but was once again disappointment with my first attempt.

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The “after” shot there is OK, but still too mushy for my liking, with too much detail lost. And as much as I appreciate comments saying I don’t need retouching (and I really do appreciate them), it’s not something I do to improve my personal appearance; I do it to create the look I want for that particular photo – I really don’t even look at the person in the photo as me, I just happen to be the subject I’m working with.  It would probably be better to show edits on portraits that are not my own, so people wouldn’t get distracted by the fact that the person in the shot is the person who writes this blog, but I’m not sure my friends would be happy with me sharing all the steps I take to the edit their portraits here. Not to mention that most of the other people I’ve photographed up to this point are much younger than I am and as such, don’t create very dramatic “after” effects. Most tutorials on YouTube also use young models as their editing subjects, and I like being able to show how to work on a middle-aged face. But my point is, whether or not I need edits to my original photos, I definitely want them, from a purely artistic standpoint. Moving on.

After working on that first shot and feeling dissatisfied with it, i decided to go dig up more skin softening tutorials on YouTube to follow. I then spent two hours following a fairly advanced tutorial that, eventually, lost me entirely, which was really frustrating. Determined to figure something out, though, I located yet another video that focused on softening the skin without losing texture:

This is a more detailed tutorial than the one I followed the day before, but I was pleased with the results as they left a lot of texture to the skin while still smoothing out some of the wrinkles and imperfections. Here’s a bigger version of my before shot:

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This actually isn’t a pure before shot, by the way, as I’d already edited out my larger undereye wrinkles and a bunch of stray wig hairs that were straggling in my face, as well as removed a blemish I had on the side of my nose. But other than those edits, it’s “before” enough. The tutorial uses several steps to eventually brush over a lot of the little lines and discolorations here, but again, it managed to retain some texture at the same time – so the end result of the process was this:

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The color is smoother, for sure, and the skin is definitely softer, but notice that you can still see the skin’s texture and pores. More realistic, and definitely more blended. We’ll overlook the fact that my lipstick was terribly uneven, since this is just a sample photograph anyway, but in the future I need to be more careful when applying the longwearing stuff – I suck at lipstick application as it is, but with a semi-permanent lipstick like this I really need precise application for photos, something I didn’t bother with here as I shot the photos in a hurry. Speaking of lipstick, the one I’m wearing here is from Lime Crime – one of my favorite makeup resources for photography makeup – and it is a semi-permanent one from their Velvetines line; the color I wore here is called Salem.

I liked the first go using the new technique, but I thought perhaps I could make it a little better by applying the technique I used yesterday after going through this process, just to make it look a touch smoother. I also ran it through Snapseed to brighten and lighten the skin a bit and whiten my teeth and eyes (I also tried to even out my lipstick lines a little, but was not too successful):

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If I compare the first softened portrait to this one, I think the second one actually gives a smoother look overall by evening out the skin tones nicely, and while at first glance the level of detail appears to be about the same, there are subtle differences if you look closely. The pores in particular have not completely disappeared, just reduced and smoothed. And the color distribution is more even, while the first process came out splotchy. I think using both techniques blended details together better for a more natural appearance – but again, I get that no one else may be able to see a difference:

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A few other things I considered as I spent WAY too much time working on all this today: I wasn’t using the greatest lens for portraits (my telephoto), my makeup was pretty slopped on, my lighting was thrown together quickly, and these photos are MUCH more zoomed in than most portraits I do, not to mention most portraits in general, which will usually show the head and shoulders. So, I felt those things were probably part of what led me to be less than completely thrilled with my results. Since apparently I hadn’t spent enough of my Sunday at the computer editing photos, I decided to go back into the archives a bit and find a portrait to work my new magic on where I had a good, full face of photography makeup on and decent lighting, and that was taken at a better distance with a better lens, but I think I’ll save those edits for another post. This one’s gone on long enough already!

 

(Not So) Smooth Operator

I tried out some more skin smoothing today, but I don’t think I did as good a job as yesterday. There’s still a lot to work out using this process; I’d love to get as good at retouching and perfecting as someone like Olivia Lazer, who has a website of her photography here. I follow her on Flickr, and I’d love to have even half of her fashion photography skills (she does a lot of other stuff, but I love her fashion photography in particular). But for now, I’m just mucking about and learning from mistakes, mostly. Won’t stop me from posting the mistakes here though.

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This one was not a mistake

That was about as close as I could get with the 70-200mm lens, but it’s certainly not bad. Which reminds me – I broke down and bought the macro lens I was considering, but I swore to myself it’d be my last photography purchase for awhile. There were four fairly “cheap” ones I was following on eBay, and when they all got snatched up but the last one, I figured I’d better go ahead and grab it. Just think how far up in my own eye I can get with that thing when it comes in.

This next one is OK, but it was one of several I took using my softbox, and overall the light was too bright and flat for it to be a favorite. That said, I went ahead and worked at smoothing the skin anyway, but for some reason the two portraits I worked with today just didn’t quite work as well as Friday’s. It happens when trying out a new technique; the first day goes OK because you’re just screwing around and going along, then next time you try you’re overthinking everything and mistakes get made. All part of the learning process.

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It’s OK, just nothing thrilling

For this last one, I decided to go all-out and really blur the hell out of my skin to see if that satisfied me more than the work I’d done up to that point. It didn’t.

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Well, this looks natural

All was not lost though – I pulled the photo into Pixlr and worked some magic on it to save the shot.

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I quite like it now!

In other news, my arm is still in pretty good shape, thanks to my new gun-totin’, squirrel-shootin’ massage therapist, even after editing pics the past two days. My father-in-law appears to be on the mend, I have a new lens on the way, and for some reason I’ve gone on a TV-show watching marathon, which is so unusual for me I don’t even know how to describe why it happened, except to say that my husband insisted I watch one episode of Mad Men and that turned into a three-week long binge through all six seasons. Once I was caught up I decided to try another show all my friends have been raving about for years (Downton Abbey) and I think I’m set to finish up the first four seasons of that one this weekend. The other one I intend to try is Breaking Bad, which I’ve put off for last because it appears to be the most depressing of the three – but it can’t be called one of the best dramas ever written for television for nothing. In fact, I bet I have a whole slew of new Air Crash Investigation episodes on my iPad I’ve forgotten to watch, so I’ll have to get back on track with that too.

Speaking of airplanes, my father and I are attending a fundraiser next Saturday for a historic aviation museum in the city – it’s located on the grounds of one of our big airports, and has observation decks that take you practically right onto the runway of it. So, I should have some awesome airplane pics coming soon – along with some proper macro shots. I’ve also sent out loads of resumes but haven’t heard anything yet. Oh, and I’m pretty sure another root canal is coming soon – I’ve got a tooth that’s become quite sensitive to cold, but maybe I’m wrong and it’s just a cavity or something. Gotta get myself to the dentist to get checked out soon. Unlike most people I know, I’ve no fear of dentists, or root canals. It’s getting the damn crown that sucks, but even that is tolerable to me.

So, skin smoothing, binge-watching television, airplanes, and root canals. All in a day. Have a good one!

Smoothsayer

That’s a terrible title, but I’m sticking with it.

I got home from work Friday after a particularly frustrating week and realized one of the errands I had on my plate for the weekend had already been taken care of by my husband, so that was nice. He went out for the evening to jam with some friends and I decided at the last minute to throw on some stage makeup and a wig and take a few photos, since I haven’t done that in quite a while – well over a month, I think. I didn’t get too fancy as it was already five o’clock in the evening when I got started, and I mainly wanted to see what results I could get taking portraits using my new telephoto lens in my tiny little office/studio. None of the photos were anything groundbreaking, but it was interesting to see how close up I could get with the 70-200. I planned to process some of the closer-up close-ups (if you think about it, that does make sense), but when I started working on the first photo I got distracted by attempting some new Photoshop skin smoothing techniques I found on YouTube.

It’s not often that I feel inclined to try out new editing processes, although I try out new lighting and shooting techniques all the time – once I get down to editing I want to go with what I already know and get to the end result quickly. But Friday night, for whatever reason, I felt ready to tackle skin smoothing on a new level. Perhaps it was because these photos on their own were nothing I hadn’t done before, except for use a new lens, so I felt open to trying new things out on them to see a different result when I was done. Whatever. If anyone’s interested, I followed this eight-minute YouTube tutorial as I worked:



I don’t want to get too into the steps involved here, because as usual I cannot speak about it in a technical manner, but suffice it to say this process involves creating a mask layer consisting of a serious amount of blur (on my 45-year-old face, anyway) then using a brush to essentially ‘paint’ the blurred effect onto the skin wherever it is needed, while avoiding edges and lines like eyelashes, lips, eyebrows, etc. In this manner, the end result is skin that looks soft, while everything else remains sharp and detailed. That is one seriously crappy explanation, but it’s all I’ve got, so if you want a better explanation watch the video above. However, I can still show you a few examples, because you all know how into before-and-after photos I am, so let’s start with this original. I’m warning you, keep in mind that I was using a telephoto lens and therefore am REALLY CLOSE in this shot. I must be crazy sharing such close-up images of myself without any editing at all on the internet, but whatever. I don’t think my source material is all that bad to start with, so if the internet sees my wrinkles so be it. It’s still fun to compare. And yes, I was being silly in this photo, but I liked it anyway:

portraitzoom2a

Now, for anyone who’s tried to use simple skin smoothing software when editing a photo, you know it makes the entire photo, not just the skin, way too soft and unrealistic; I always think, when I see such edits, that the person looks like they’re carved out of butter, with all their lines and angles mushy and melted. As an example of this, below is the same photo, run through a pretty basic skin smoothing filter from Paint Shop Pro:

portraitzoom2ab
Kinda mushy, and not very smooth to boot. 

I’ve come up with a few solutions to skin imperfections in portraits over the years that have served me well, but I always knew there were even better ways to pull it off – as I said, I’d just not been willing to take the time to learn them. I think I did OK with the two shots I’ve processed so far, but in the future I probably need to zoom WAAAY in when editing to target problem areas more closely and get the edges precise (of course, the fact that the model in the tutorial is about 17 years old while my “model” is 45 probably had something to do with the amount of editing/smoothing my shots took versus the video version). But anyway, here’s my end result using the layering/masking/painting technique:

portraitzoom2_Snapseed
I also added some extra lighting on the face as well as reducing contrast on the skin when I pulled the photo over into Snapseed, by the way. And if you really want your mind blown, scroll back up to the original. Yep. 

This process takes a long time to execute, so as I mentioned previously, I’ve only edited two shots so far. Without any more gabbing, here’s the original of the second one:

portraitzoom1a

And here’s the final version:

portraitzoom1_Snapseed
Another bonus is how much better my hands look – I’ve always had wrinkly hands and fingers

I also used a pretty cool lighting technique on this shot, but I’ve got more to process  and share, so I’ll talk about that later. I’m excited to see how much better I can get at this with some other photos, but I start to get sloppy with this sort of detailed work if I do too much at once, so I stopped with these two for now. And I can also talk about that lipstick later, which is another of my fab-for-photos-but-awful-on-me-in-real-life purchases. I’ll save those discussions, and more photos, for later. Happy weekend everyone!

Photostopped

OK, it has to be apparent by now that I’m working harder on my titles. You’re welcome.

I am going to keep this brief (yeah right), mostly because I got lazy and didn’t get my nails done last weekend, and they have now grown to a length that makes it almost impossible to type. Bring on Saturday so I can get these claws trimmed (I’ve always had really strong nails that grow quickly). But what I’d like to tap out here right now is this: I think I’ve finally hit that creative wall where my ambitions are greater than my technical skill, and the time is coming up for me to take classes and really learn how to use Photoshop. I feel I’ve mastered the photography end as far as taking pictures that capture movement and motion – to a degree where I am satisfied at least – but I can envision all I could be doing with those photos if I had the skills to edit them correctly, and I just cannot grasp how to do it on my own.

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Before

I knew this time would come, and I have mentioned it several times here too. What brought me to this realization was talking to my husband tonight about how to rig some sort of structure in my studio that would allow me to easily switch out backdrops, and the truth is for the type of photography I do it just isn’t possible. Sure, if I were hanging a fairly small backdrop for portraits or still shots I could buy a stand that will hold, say, a 5 x 9 swatch of material, but what I need is floor to ceiling cloth so when I jump and move the entirety of the wall is covered, and they don’t make structures of the height and width I would require (well, unless I bought some sort of projector screen-type attachment to hang on the wall and scroll backdrops out of it, but that is crazy expensive). Plus, the material needed to cover my wall from floor to ceiling is pretty  heavy, so there’s not a rod or pole that could hold it without requiring a beam of some sort in the middle to steady the rod so it doesn’t bend under the weight. Basically, I am either looking at some sort of custom built contraption or continuing to pin shit to the walls for how I use backdrops. Of course, if we lived in an area or a house that provided lots of lovely natural backdrops that would be cool too, but we live in a typical suburban neighborhood so not a lot of stunning locations nearby for me to utilize (besides which I feel insecure setting up my tripod and shooting myself in public, like, REALLY uncomfortable) and our house is old so all our rooms are small, not to mention that neither one of us are savvy home decorators so the environment is just rather blah. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice house, just not chock full of unique spaces within it to take photos (and yes, I do know people with showhome-type houses that would provide me loads of opportunities for shooting, were I to live in them. I don’t). Besides which, I prefer shooting in a studio environment anyway, especially when shooting myself.

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After. I almost didn’t process this one because of the goofy face I was making, but I did like that it made me look pretty high up off the floor

All this to say that if I knew how to properly use Photoshop it would open up a whole new world of opportunity to me at this point, and it’s a good move for me right now. I don’t think it would be the end of the learning process, because I definitely do want to get comfortable taking photos outdoors and in interesting locations as well, but one thing at a time after all, and right now learning how to utilize PS to its full potential feels like the best next step. I am definitely getting bored with my shots, my poses are a little stale, and my ideas just aren’t something I can manifest with my current level of skill.

levitate4
Original

There are a few studios in my general area that rent out their spaces for surprisingly decent prices, and I may try that out sometime soon also; but it isn’t a permanent solution as I prefer to work at home. I’ve seen some of the spaces online, though, and they are pretty cool –  big rooms with  a different texture on each wall where you can wander about and take all sorts of shots. I was actually envisioning with Doug my ideal house at this point – it would be on several acres of land with lots of little interesting nooks and crannies for photos (but since the land would be owned by me I wouldn’t have to worry about strangers wandering by and looking at me like I’m crazy). I love fashion shots taken out in the country; in the middle of fields or even deserted roads, but again, nowhere out here to pull that off without getting arrested or humiliated. Then, the house itself would have a lot of big-ass walls that are all a different texture – brick, wood, stucco, hell maybe even stained glass – and painted different colors. It would look crazy as hell to outsiders, but I could just pick a wall each day and get to shooting and create the appearance of being in a different location each time. Perfect photography house! Hell I guess we could rent it out to other photographers too and make a little extra scratch.

levitate4_Snapseed
Edited – I actually messed with this one a lot more past this point, but I’ll share those pics tomorrow

But for now – no wild photographer’s dream house, no acres of land. Just a wall with a shit-ton  of pin holes in it, some decent lighting, a pretty good camera, and an expensive Photoshop program I’ve never learned how to use. And the fact remains that better backdrops wouldn’t allow me to create some of the things I’d like to anyway.Time to get to the learning, I think, although it may not be until summer that I can take a class or two.

Muddy photos!

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I’d had trouble editing the background of some of my flipped photos. I worked on correcting the problem this evening, so I figured I’d go ahead and show you what I was talking about that had been bugging me as well as share the final results – so here goes.

Since I was rotating these shots, I had to crop them in an odd way to get the composition right, and as a result there was a lot of space added to them that wasn’t in the original. I know I am not articulating that very well, but basically, I took photos that were horizontal rectangles and cropped them into squares, which added a lot of tacked-on gray space that wasn’t in the original shot:

tutubefore1

I then had to use a clone tool to cover all this gray with the white background. While this sounds easy enough, a solid white background actually has an astounding amount of variation in shade, and it’s hard to clone all that gray space so it blends properly. I am sure it’s possible, but I don’t have the skill to pull it off every time. And as it turns out, white is way more difficult than the purple I used last time I flipped photos. Anyway, after cloning white space onto the gray and pulling the shot into Photoshop to try and blend the cloned areas using the patch tool, the end result was, well, patchy and smudged, as if the backdrop itself were dirty. It’s not terribly noticeable in the first shot, so I circled the bits that were bothering me:

tutusmudge1

I also had a harder time using textures than usual with these shots because tulle is very transparent, and it wasn’t easy to select the subject and erase the texture from it (I wanted to be lazy with these two shots and leave a white background with no texture, but it was not to be). In the end, I did add texture to conceal the smudges:

tutu10The final shot. Still smudged, but now it looks more like part of the texture.

I think the whole process is more clear in this next shot, where you can definitely see the muddiness of the background that was bothering me. But the first thing you can see is that I tilted the hell out of this shot. I wanted my upper body to be parallel to the imaginary horizon line, so I did quite a bit of horizontal rotation after flipping:

tutubefore2

Cloning and patching out all that gray, plus the differences in shading between the blanket on the floor, the sheet on the wall, and the plaster, made for a seriously dirty looking background. If you REALLY want to see how bad it was, tilt your laptop screen back a bit for this one, and – YUK! – you can see more detail of the poor blending job (and yes, this is after editing and fixing it to the best of my ability):

tutusmudge2

No WAY that was tolerable, so I added the same texture as the first picture to disguise it. Took more time, but it did solve the problem:

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As I mentioned before, this flipping photos stuff involves processes I don’t have to use for straight-on jumps, and I started to get tired of all the cloning and patching and blending and texturing; in the future when I do this, perhaps I can at least avoid a white background as it’s trickier to edit. Either that or forgo the tulle so I can add texture behind the subject without so much hassle.