Peer One Portraits

Stupid title, but it’s a play on Pier 1, which is where I got all these props. Moving on.


My initial plan was to wear one of my silvery gray wigs in this getup, but it ended up getting tangled in the garland so I put a thick silver headband on my head, on top of my wig cap, and pinned the poinsettias to that instead. Ended up working out great; I forget how much more difficult long wigs make taking self-portraits. They’re a bit hot under the lights, they get in the way constantly (snagged up in the costume or in my eyes while I’m trying to see what I’m doing or set up a shot), plus they tangle a lot when I’m flinging them around. Believe it or not, having 4 poinsettias clipped to my head was actually easier than putting on one wig! And yes, the poinsettias came with clips attached – I’m sure they are meant to clip to Christmas tree limbs or something, but that’s why i snatched them up, because I knew they’d be super-easy to pin to my head. And they were, except on one of them the clip broke off after about 20 minutes – kinda chintzy for a $5 decoration if you asked me, but then again, I’ve always found Pier 1 to be overpriced. Moving on.


I was on my way to the register with some other stuff when I spied this white, sparkly garland shoved into a basket and snagged it instead. It was really fun to work with and created some very cool looks – the downside was that it was terribly itchy (then again, it wasn’t created to be worn by a human, so there you go). I loved the shots I got with these props, so much so that I’ve already edited – including the pics I shared yesterday – ten shots! That’s way more than I usually process from a shoot where I didn’t change costumes all that much. But the garland really added interest to the photos, and I found myself struggling to decide which shots to process.

Remember when I said yesterday how I changed the colors up in every shot? Here I went for an icy blue that’s probably more green than I inteded.

When deciding what shots to edit, I try to find pictures where either my pose or facial expression isn’t so typical, but I do just have one face, after all, and I do tend to make the same faces over and over (which I discussed in a previous post). I think this is where the props can help a lot; to add some visual interest to the photo besides my face. I had very similar expressions going on in all the shots I took with the garland (about 200, in case you wanted to know), but the garland created a lot of interesting shapes and was fairly easy to manipulate. In fact, I totally want to work with it again – it’s very sturdy, and the wires are thick and strong so I can move it into a shape and it will hold it for several poses before it starts to collapse. I could have done a lot more, but as I said, it was terribly itchy and my skin was starting to get irritated, so I had to stop playing around. Plus, there’s only so many shots I need of me in this particular look with the same garland no matter how much I can manipulate it, so I figured I’d stop while I was ahead and leave more to the imagination for a future shoot where I can look completely different.

Another favorite

As far as the technical stuff, to change things up a bit I used my 70-200 telephoto lens that I normally reserve for plane shots in this shoot. There was no real reason for this other than wanting to try something different and see how the photos turned out; it was nice to have more room to work with while I posed since I could keep the tripod pulled quite far back instead of needing to keep it closer with my 50mm or 85mm prime lenses, but I didn’t get the lovely focus and camera blur those lenses would have provided. Still, it did a good job and for the most part  the auto-focus was dead-on – easier than either one of the prime lenses, in fact, but I guess that finicky focus is why they create such nice portraits in the first place. Another benefit I’d never considered was that I could stand much farther away from the black backdrop, so there was very little light from the flash reflected in it to alter the solid black effect – another thing I probably should have known by now but never did.


Because I used my Flash Bender on my Speedlite for this shoot, I got a lot of sharp, strong shadows that created some nice black and white shots as well, so there’s quite a few I converted to B&W when processing. I also kept my cheap ring light handy (and managed to knock it over and break it as well, so it’s time to buy another one of those) and for the most part had it set up behind me on a tripod to give my head and shoulders a bit of an outline against the black backdrop; occasionally I also placed it right in front of me to get some catchlights in my eyes. Unfortunately, in some of the tighter close-up shots the ring light tends to create a lot of chromatic aberration that I forgot to edit out (you can see it in the close-up shot from yesterday and the one above), and my eyes came out looking a little pink. I may go back and edit that before uploading to Flickr, but for the blog, pink eyes it is. And by the way, super-easy Photoshop technique for fixing chromatic aberration is located here – a two-minute YouTube tutorial that is simple as pie to do. Has saved my butt on many occasions when working with bright lights and getting all those purple rings around high-contrast areas.

These next few are pretty experimental and I don’t care for them quite as much as the more straightforward shots, but there was so much I wanted to work with here and I started feeling the need to change things up a bit.


When this shot was taken, the Speedlite failed to go off, so the resulting photo was really dark. This happens several times throughout any shoot, and sometimes I try to process one of the pics to see if anything interesting can come of it. Usually nothing does, and I don’t think this one is very successful either. I pulled it into Pixlr to try and generate some added interest, and honestly I can’t remember what all I did to it there, but in the end, I still don’t think I like it very much. But hey, I tried.


Mostly I just liked the way the garland was framing my face here; this is another shot I Pixlr’ed like crazy, but I think it worked better here. I used some of their graduated color filters as well as a space filter to make the costume sparkle; I just discovered that Pixlr’s desktop app can utilize masks so I was able to apply the stars without having to add them to my face, which is cool. I love textures and filtered effects, but for the most part I don’t like them to muck up faces, and it’s nice to be able to erase that out now.

Well, that’s probably all I have from this shoot, although I have one or two more I’m still eyeing. But I pretty much marathon-edited this weekend, partly because I had the time, and partly because it’s been a long time since I just worked with portraits and had forgotten how much fun it is. Busy week coming up at work – the week before any vacation is always stressful, and this one is shaping up to be the same, so I may be MIA until the holiday starts next weekend. Happy Monday everyone!


Fact or Wig-Tion?

I’ve tried to post this a couple of times now, but something keeps going wrong. I hope it actually works this time. When working on this post Monday afternoon I accidentally hit ‘publish’ instead of ‘save draft’ so it went live for about fifteen seconds, and some of you got an email about it only to find nothing new when you came to the blog. But now when I publish it, it’s not showing up at all. Weird.

Sunday afternoon I wanted to play around in some new wigs I’ve bought recently and haven’t had time to try on, so I decided to set up my camera and combine wig-time with photography (taking photos of yourself in new wigs is also a great way to get perspective on how they really look on you). I took about 150 shots overall, and once again did this quickly to make it work with the time I had available; I didn’t put on any drag makeup or anything, just freshened up my normal day-to-day face, and wore a simple tee-shirt as my costume. I took some straight-up pics to show the wigs for a review I may do later, but then with each wig I also did some arty-farty hair-flinging to try and come up with some interesting shots for my portfolio, such as it is. I just had my Speedlite on top of my camera and opened up the blinds for some natural light (rather than taking the time to set up my umbrellas), but I got a handful of cool shots to play around with for the week, so I am happy.

Here’s the process for the one I made my 365 for the day. Original:


It was a cool shot right out of the camera, but of course I had to mess with it a bit. I used my RadLab editor in Photoshop to brighten things up as well as add color, change the tone a bit, and create more contrast:

Oh and I also changed my shirt color, too

Then I used Snapseed’s sharpening and structure tools for better clarity. This is tricky with all those hairs flying about – over-sharpen the picture and it will look a hot mess, but I think I did OK.


Lastly, I used my desktop Pixlr app to cool down the color a bit more and add some slight texture to the background. Overall, not a bad Day 67:


Here’s one more I managed to edit the next day – this is one of those wigs that looks great in photos, but not so much in real life. I’d never wear this one out of the house because the lace is way too dark (it’s made by an ethnic line, and those lines in general use much darker lace for their customers) and it’s just way too big for me – way too much hair. Exhibit A:

I look like The Lost Judd in this

But the color is fabulous for photos as are the pretty waves, and, at $45, it’s a bargain anyway, so why not:


Side note: As I mentioned in my previous post, I tend to shoot in vertical or portrait mode as opposed to landscape, and another drawback to that aside from the fact that the camera is usually off-kilter is that when posing for self-portraits, I often don’t know exactly where to stand to get my entire body into the middle of the frame. So, I usually end up taking several shots of a pose, each time moving over a millimeter or two in the hopes that in at least one of them I’m fully in the shot. This is actually why so many of my portraits aren’t centered: I often like the facial expression or focus best on a shot that is off-center and use it anyway. In the case of this shot, I did not intend to be cut in half, but with the fall of the waves here I really thought it worked nicely. So yay for happy accidents.

I of course removed some of my facial lines and smoothed my skin slightly in PS, then used what has rapidly become my new favorite tool, my RadLab photo editing plug-in. I love to brighten and add contrast and color using this tool, and on occasion I’ll even go into the color filters to change things up a bit, like I did here:


I was a little nervous about giving my skin such a yellowish-green hue, but I really liked the effect overall and especially how it made the red hair pop, so I went for it. And yes, I did shave a few years off the old mug, so deal with it. After getting to this step, there wasn’t much more to do, but I did use Snapseed to sharpen as well selectively make the red hair a little brighter and more vibrant. Then I used my RadLab Dirty Pictures plug-in to add a slight texture to the background, and voila! The finished product:

Honestly, this is a ‘favorite shot’ for me – I really love how this turned out.

Sometimes my changes are so slight, like adding that background, that I wonder if they really matter. But that was a lot of blank wall just sitting there, and although I tried to add more interesting and noticeable light leaks and bokeh effects, everything else seemed overdone, and I still wanted to add something. So subtle texture it was. I like how it makes the photo feel a little 3-D, like you could almost reach out and touch that red hair. I really can, of course, but that’s because it’s sitting in a bag in my bathroom cabinet.

That’s all for now, but hoping to have time to edit some more from this set later this week as well as review some wigs. We’ll see what all I manage to accomplish.

Portrait Portions

A few more photos from my recent portrait session here, but first, I have to mention the spike in traffic I saw on my blog yesterday. Keep in mind that for me, a spike in traffic means I went from about 30 views a day to almost 200, so overall I still don’t need to quit my day job or anything, but what the hell, it was still a big jump over my usual numbers. What did it was the Stitch Fix people finding my blog post from yesterday, and creating a pin on Pinterest of one of my photos (the one with the aztec cardigan). The Pin sent people to my blog to check it out, and here’s what happened to my stats:


I think you can tell where the spike is (and no laughing at those sad numbers, BTW). Always interesting when something like that happens, so I thought I’d mention it. Moving on to the shots – I have three more self-portraits to share, all taken after I’d starting destroying my costumery and makeup:


I edited the hell out of this one to reduce my skin tones and up the contrast; not sure I like the way it came out but at least it was something different.


I like this one better, and as I mentioned in my previous post about these shots, I really liked how cutting a hole in the top of the wig and pulling my own hair through it worked. It almost does look like a dye job on my actual hair instead of a wig (or half-wig as the case may be – and yes, half-wigs do exist. They just don’t work at all like this one). The last one utilizes these great costume glasses I got off Amazon a while back – in my current Sopranos-obsessed state they reminded me of Junior Soprano:


I Rad-Labbed and Dirty-Picture’d the hell out of this one to bring the light down and add some interest. I think it worked out well.

Speaking of glasses, I ordered new ones for my day-to-day life this afternoon and will of course take pictures of them when they come in. Oh and I’ve also discovered the joys of toeless socks, so I’ll have to write about that sometime too, won’t i? There is nothing I won’t write about here, after all, so please try not to go giddy with anticipation waiting for my yoga sock review. Happy Friday everyone!


Monday afternoon I decided to shoot some portraits and did a fairly quick makeup job to get some done. But I was terribly bored by the whole process, and less than thrilled with what was coming out of the shoot. So I decided to take my frustration out on my costume and photograph the destruction.


That’s a wig I I cut a big hole in just to play around. Why wear them like normal when you’ve taken 8,000 + photos of yourself in them that way already? I’d also already seriously messed up my makeup by the time I took that shot, which was one of the last ones I took. Here’s a shot of the makeup before I destroyed it:


The eyeshadow was all glitter, but it was a rush job so it wasn’t all that thrilling anyway. And that’s the wig with the hole already cut in, and my real hair sticking out of the top. I actually kinda liked the way it looked when worn like this. One thing I’ve decided I don’t  like, though, is shooting portraits against a white backdrop. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it really does a number on my lighting and makes the colors weak. If nothing else, I need to learn some better lighting techniques when working against white. Working with gray or black backgrounds is easier for the type of portraits I like to shoot; much more dramatic results with better color and contrast. I am not skilled enough to know why, that’s just my observation.

Here’s one more, taken when I decided to rip into the black top I was using and just basically mess with it as much as I could beyond wearing it like, you know, a shirt.


That would be me sticking my head through a sleeve, or attempting to anyway. My husband walked into the office at this point in the shoot and I told him I was attempting to give birth to myself through it, which made sense at the time. I still like the description, as it does rather sum up what I was trying to do. Without getting whiny about it, I’m bored again.

Even though I found the shoot frustrating and didn’t enjoy taking them at the time, I found some nice ones to process, and in looking at them now I’m reminded a lot of the old portraits I used to do, back when my camera was incredibly old and I had no lighting or backdrops or costumes or makeup skills, and my lenses were so crappy I couldn’t take anything but portraits (full-length shots were out of the question). Back then, I’d throw on a t-shirt and a wig and grab whatever was nearby and just make it work. And I’d keep shooting until I hit on something interesting, like ripping up a wig or a shirt, and I’d just go town with that idea. Part of the problem is I’ve done it all by this time (including wearing tops the wrong way and ripping up costumes, although ripping up a wig was new) and so I get less excited about doing it again. But some of the photos actually were interesting, so it wasn’t a loss even if I felt unenthusiastic at the time.

I did sign up for an online class to learn how to create composite shots the proper way; as educational an exercise as it may be for me to take a little photoshoot trip back in time, I also need to keep moving forward, and I just can’t get there on my own. I really want to create more whimsical and fantastical stuff, which takes me beyond what I can do here in my studio. I’ve reached a point where, without knowing more, I don’t even want to try, because I don’t want to deal with the frustration of trying to figure it out on my own. So I hope these classes can help with that. In the meantime, I may do more playing around with the simple stuff like I did here. The end results weren’t that bad after all.



Picture Pincher

Partly to help my right arm heal, and partly to avoid burnout, I am learning to work differently with my photos – especially my self-portraits. Not that I won’t still occasionally go all-out, but I need to avoid the belief that I must go through so much rigmarole each time to shoot them, and that if I don’t have an entire day to devote to makeup and set-up and costume construction then I shouldn’t bother, which is where my head gets stuck if I let it. I also need to calm down thinking I need to a) take 500 shots when in reality, I’m maybe going to process 5 to 10 of them; and b) edit shots obsessively at the end of a shoot until my arm is screaming at me and my eyes are swelling shut and I’m producing nothing but crap because I’m so tired. I can choose to work quickly, take fewer photos, and edit just a few throughout the day while taking breaks to do other things in between, and still be perfectly respectful as an artist – at least I hope so. Because I was starting to feel burned out on taking self-portraits when faced with the prospect of a 2-hour set up and makeup time just to get things going.

Still, I worry about getting lazy or that the photos which result from  a more spontaneous and easy approach will suffer from a lack of heart, or will appear sloppy and shoddy. I rely on you, blog readers, to let me know if that starts happening.  Because I put this shoot together today pretty quickly and didn’t sweat my costume much at all, and I’m not sure if it hindered the results or not. So let me know. I decided to set up and take some portraits in the antique room and I decided to go with a rather harsh, makeup-less look on my face and some austere black to be 1800’s-inspired, but wouldn’t require full makeup or costume. And since I made myself take a break between editing each shot, I only have 4 so far that I can share, but here goes:


That’s the original shot, edited and tweaked without filters, but since I’m still using up my trial for the RadLab filtering software I downloaded (I still have 8 days left, then I’m totally gonna buy it) I decided to use a few for the final version. What I used here was subtle and basically changed the tone a bit to give it a more vintage feel:


The outfit was a little lazy, I suppose (can you tell the top is some sort of rayon and the skirt is knit, cause I can), and perhaps the whole photo is, but I like it and I think it works. I used my 50mm lens and the Speedlite as well as two umbrella stands for that shot, as well as the outside light from two windows opposite me in the room. For these next shots, I did a bit more with RadLab than I did with the first one, so I can show some of their progress as I saved some of the steps to share.


I had this idea I’d do some levitation floating above the piano, but the room is so small and oddly shaped that I’m not sure it’s ever going to work (unless we move the piano – not likely). But I did climb up and sit on it for awhile. The above version is simply tweaked and skin-softened; but here’s how it looked once I RadLabbed it:


One thing about this shoot that really caused problems in this shot: to save time, I decided to try using the StudioFix powder foundation that I mentioned in a recent post works so well on the sun damage on my neck. Remember how I expressed some concern it would be too dry on my skin? Well I was right. Holy cow you could see every pore of my skin in these shots! So I had to do a lot more softening than usual – especially in this shot where the light was so bright on my face. Anyway, as far as RadLab goes, I added color in the shot above to made it more vibrant, as well as adding light, vignetting, and contrast. I decided to utilize Dirty Pictures, too, to add a little texture – so here’s the final version:


I really love the textures in Dirty Pictures even though I still try to keep them subtle. I also liked how the color worked in this room, especially all the pops of gold. This next one might be my favorite – original shot up first (already run through PS for skin softening and tweaking):


I wasn’t using anything but a Speedlite mounted on top of the camera here, and I think it created some nice shadows – the umbrella stands kept showing up in the mirror hanging overhead, so shut them off and moved them. And one thing about framing here you may have noticed – that mirror is actually NOT centered directly over the piano, so it’s off-kilter a little in the shot (it’s centered on the wall, but the piano isn’t directly in the center…it’s weird and probably stupid  but actually not all that noticeable until you’re taking a photo in front of it). I did use RadLab to brighten it up and give the color more oomph:

victorian3_RadLabAnd then I textured it using Dirty Pictures:

victorian3_RadLab_DP You know though, now that I look at this one, I think maybe it’s way too golden…? I was going for a vintage-feel portrait, but this might be too yellow. May have to re-work this one. One more:


RadLab has a ton of black and white filters, and a few of them are very antique in feel, so I knew I wanted to take at least one shot and monochrome it – I went with this shot, even though the pose is definitely not vintage:


Bet then of course I decided to mess with it some more via texture and tone:


And then I messed with it even more:


But in the end, I think this last step was too much, and I like the photo directly above it better.

So, I like these shots, but I admit it feels weird knowing I threw this costume and shoot together (at least when compared to my usual standards) and I’m wondering what you all think. Do they come across as lazy, or sloppy, or without “heart”? Because that is certainly not my intention. On the other hand, if they work, that’s good to know, because it means I can continue to save myself time now and again without the end result suffering. No pressure for you to answer of course, it’s just my photographic future hanging in the balance…

Portrait of a Shady Lady

I only titled this post as I did because while working with a few portraits I snapped during Saturday’s jumping shoot, I played around with light and shadows using the burn tool some more in Photoshop. I’m not really shady – except for the shadows previous sun damage is adding to my skin, but I’ll discuss that later. This post is also a random rambling of ideas that have rolled around in my head while editing these photos, so it kinda goes all over. Let’s get to it.


I didn’t actually play around with the burn tool until the last photo I’m going to share though – as I mentioned last time, it’s a new tool to me so I often forget to try it out on my photos. Part of the reason for taking these shots was initially just to test out my lighting and custom white balance, as well as doing a quick makeup check to be sure my eyebrows were dark enough (they tend to disappear) and my contouring didn’t need better blending (it didn’t). I always take test shots of these things and usually end up with at least one I want to process. This time I thought I could use the opportunity to show my hair length, since I’ve talked before on the blog about how long I’ve been growing it out.

RAMBLE #1: I don’t know if you can really tell here, but I haven’t had a hair dye touch-up in 3 months, and my roots are really starting to show in natural light. However, I’ve decided to stop coloring my hair, so there’s gonna be a bit of an awkward look to it for quite some time. I don’t think it’ll be too bad, because I’ve kept the haircolor as close to natural as possible, but my natural hair is both a bit darker than the dye job (which starts out a match but tends to lighten as the weeks go by) and a bit grayer. I have some silver in my hair but at this point cannot tell how much. We’ll see how gray I go as the months go by. I’m totally OK with this, and I do really like gray hair. Plus if I end up hating it it’s not like I can’t just dye it later. Mostly I am tired of the upkeep and just don’t want to stay on the hair-dye treadmill anymore, so I’d rather grow the gray out now when it’s sparse and isn’t such a stark contrast to the dyed hair. We’ll see how that goes, but I’m enjoying the little silvery bits I see so far.

By the way – a little side-note to these portraits is that I was actually still in my pajamas when I took them. I prepped for my shoot in the morning so I just left the jammies on until my makeup was done. If you scroll up to the first shot again, and look at the hot pink tank top under the cardigan, you can actually see a little spot of toothpaste on it. 😉 You have to look closely, but it’s there!


I had two umbrella stands aimed at my face here, each at a 45-degree angle, and my Speedlite in my camera’s hot shoe aimed slightly towards the back wall instead of bounced directly off the ceiling. I read somewhere that doing that would create better shadows, and I think it worked. I also think the ExpoDisc worked amazingly well here, and I loved the skin tones I got out of it.

RAMBLE #2: Another thing I’d like to mention is a little makeup tip for portrait photography: StudioFix Powder Foundation by MAC. I don’t use powder foundation on my face anymore as it’s too drying; but I’ve discovered that StudioFix in powder form is terrific at concealing the sun damage that’s begun to show on my neck and decollete (I went to the dermatologist last week for my yearly skin-check, and he confirmed that the redness and splotching I have now on both sides of my neck is sun damage, nothing else, and that there’s really no treatment for it. Oh well.)

coppertone-ad-1970-skin-tomorrow Ha ha ha NO.

To try and show what I’m talking about, and so you can see how well the StudioFix covers it up for photos, I took a quick pic with my cell phone of my neck under normal light:


It sucks, but it’s not the worst thing in the world, and for my day to day life I don’t give it much thought. But when editing photos, MAN can it be frustrating. I don’t have any examples because I’ve been using the StudioFix for a few months now and I’m not about to dig back through thousands of files to find older shots where it caused problems, but trust me when I say that I had to do a LOT of editing to clear that up for portrait shots, and it never worked perfectly – far from it. But the thing that amazes me about using the StudioFix is that I did not have to edit out any discoloration AT ALL. It completely conceals it. Interestingly, in real life, I sometimes take the time to apply the powder foundation on my neck and chest also (it stays well and doesn’t smudge onto clothing), and under normal daylight it doesn’t completely cover it (although it helps). I suppose it’s the matte nature of the foundation that makes it such a great barrier for photos though, or perhaps it just reflects light really well? For whatever reason, this stuff works. Instead of asking you to scroll back up and look at that shot of my neck again, I’ll give a comparison collage, but in this one, I didn’t do any editing at all to the studio shot, that’s straight outta the camera. Pretty amazing…I had loads of the stuff plastered on, and big old bright lights aimed at me, but still. I should probably start using the StudioFix on my face as well during shoots, but it’s just so drying on my already dry skin that I think it might cause problems.


Anyway, enough about sun damage and gray hair. Let’s talk about the burn tool in Photoshop. I decided to edit one more portrait and do a little comparison of it without using the tool and after using it; it’s definitely a subtle difference but it is there. You can use it to darken highlights, midtones, and shadows by creating a layer, setting the desired opacity level of the tool, and using it to “paint” the effect over the chosen area with a brush. I have yet to play around with the dodge tool, which works the same way but lightens those areas instead of darkening them; because of all the light I use in my little studio I tend to need to add more shadows and depth than I do light, but I am definitely going to play around with it next and learn to combine the two. Dodging and burning are tools that need to be applied subtly unless you’re really going for a funky look, so I’m not sure how obvious the difference is going to be here, but I like what I ended up with. Collage time (before burning is on the left, after burning is on the right – click the pic if you want a bigger version):


The highlights on the left were just a little bright (burning highlights is really tricky because they can easily go flat and gray, so I was only using about 3% opacity for it), and the shadows on my face in particular lacked a little depth. Without making any obvious changes, I think the shot on the right has just a bit more color in the face and a little more detail. Every little bit helps!

Lightening Up

First of all I apologize for the rambling mess that is this post; it’s late and I am struggling to keep my eyes open, but I wanted to post some shots from today’s spontaneous set before turning in. So forgive me for being less than eloquent here.

I got off work early and decided to play around in makeup and take portrait shots,  then the best pic of the 500 I took was one where my face doesn’t show at all – go figure.


I love that top for photos, even though the cropped aspect of it is problematic. Sure I look OK in this photo, but there’s plenty of others were I most decidedly do NOT, which is why I tried to take all my photos of the head and shoulders only; I just missed the mark in some of  them like the one above. But the asymmetry and vibrant color really make it a good photography top, exposed skin notwithstanding. I actually cropped this one to share it on Facebook because I’m not totally thrilled with the amount of skin I’m showing here; it’s just that the shape my body made in conjunction with the curls and the one-sleeved top was very visually appealing, so I prefer this longer version to my Facebook one (which has cropped out the entire abdomen area. I’m a bit of a prude about skin-showing, what can I say).


Anyway, there’s the makeup. I think I did a pretty good job. I really wanted that yellow to pop, so I loaded up on it as well as on eyeliner and brow pencil (as usual). I even added a little cleft to my chin, but it may look more like I smudged off my makeup right there. not sure.

This next one was a mistake – I  meant to reduce the exposure of my Speedlite but accidentally increased it instead, and this shot was blasted out from the flash. I decided to try and edit one of the shots I took like this before I realized what I’d done, but on its own it wasn’t quite right.


The highlighted areas are all too flat and there’s a lot of purple tint to my skin, so I uploaded this one to Pixlr and came up with the following:


Eh, it’s a little campy but I like it all right. I have a lot more to process as I was actually playing around with light a lot in this set – using reflectors and off-camera Speedlites and what have you – and I took over 500 photos (!). But I ran out of time and energy tonight to edit any more than these, so more coming over the weekend I am sure!

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.


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:


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:


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):


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:


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.

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.

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.

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.

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!


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:


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:

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:

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:


And here’s the final version:

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!