Picture Imperfect

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New Year’s Eve day (is that an oxymoron or a paradox? or neither?) I had  a few errands to run, and while I was out I popped into the local Pier 1 that is in the strip center where I was picking up some other things. They had a 50% off sale for Christmas items, and since over the years I’ve used a lot of stuff from the store in my photographs, I always stop in there when I’m nearby (while I share some photos and talk about this shoot, I’ll also work in a few other random shots for older sessions that I’ve edited while on vacation – both the one above and the one at the end of this post).

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See that furry little bird there? It didn’t survive the shoot – or rather, the wrath of Simon.

I had a free day New Year’s Day, since Doug and I typically don’t do much and just hang around the house, so I got all gussied up and jumped right in. I’d purchased several wigs over the past few weeks that I wanted to try out, so between those and the props from Pier 1 I figured once I got my makeup on and set up the studio I’d be good to go:

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Unfortunately, the photography gods were not smiling on me this day – or rather, the prop gods weren’t on my side. Neither was the god of unruly pets; my biggest issue on this day was Simon, who would not stop messing with my things. Every time I turned around he was knocking something over, trying to eat something, or making off with an item I needed so he could bat it around and play with it in a corner. I always have to keep him locked out when I am taking photos because he’s too curious and rambunctious, but on this particular day Doug wasn’t home and I felt bad just locking all the pets out of my studio for that long (silly, I know, but there you go). Normally Doug is here, and he keeps the animals occupied while I lock myself up in my office and snap away, but on this day I kept the doors open so the pets could wander in if they got lonely. In the end, I had to lock Simon out though; him knocking over an entire bottle of Coke from which I was sipping onto my makeup counter and getting everything wet was the final straw (no pun intended, but I did have a straw in the bottle since I always use one when applying my stage makeup so my lipstick doesn’t get messed up, and Simon LOVES straws which is what tempted him to knock the bottle over). Unfortunately, as I ran around I kept forgetting what doors I’d left open, and through the entire shoot I was finding him in the most disruptive places – the costume closet, for example. At one point I left the door where I had all my wigs and props laid out open since I’d just gone running in there for one item, and he not only managed to sneak in and out with a little feathered bird ornament I planned to put on my head, he then left it on the floor in the den for Sprocket to chew to pieces. Grr.

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The bird that survived

Simon was not my only frustration this day; my props just wouldn’t work with me, either. I started out OK, but the more costume changes I tried the more frustrated I got with how  nothing was working as easily as I’d hoped it would; clips fell off of ornaments I’d planned to pin to my wigs, this adorable little crown ornament would NOT stay pinned to my head no matter how hard I tried, a few really cool ornaments I wanted to wear as earrings didn’t have any way for me to attach them to my wig (I usually can use the string that hold the ornament on the tree to bobby-pin them to my hairpiece), and then there was the aforementioned cat-stealing and dog-chewing. About halfway through the shoot, I just said to hell with it and abandoned the props entirely, choosing to spend the rest of my time simply putting on the new wigs and flinging them about in the photos, which is probably what I really wanted to do all along anyway.

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The rare cooperative prop

Not only was all that a royal pain, but my camera was being finicky. It wouldn’t focus properly a lot of the time – a problem I also had when I went with my father to photograph airplanes right before the holidays – and I’m starting to think this 7D is in need of replacing. It’s not such a bad deal, since I knew I eventually wanted to upgraded 7D anyway, but it is a lot of money to spend for a new camera body so I was not wanting to make the purchase any sooner than I had to. The time may be coming, though.

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Even as I was viewing the results of this shoot on my LCD screen, I was pretty frustrated with what I was seeing. Throughout the shoot I felt that I wasn’t getting many really good shots, and for most of the time I was feeling irritated and discouraged. So imagine my surprise when I went to load the images onto my computer and discovered I’d taken close to 700 photos. I haven’t taken that many in one session in a long time; I’m sure the number of new wigs had a lot to do with it, but for whatever reason it happened, I ended up with a TON of really great shots to process. Don’t I always say that? Anyway, it’s true; once I could see the images on a full-size screen I was pleased to find so many I liked. And I made many costume changes, too, which I haven’t done in awhile, and which will make it more interesting for me to work with lots of shots from the shoot since there are many different looks to choose from.

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This was my second attempt at erasing my real eyebrows and drawing on fake ones that are much higher on the forehead – I think I did better this time but i still had to do a lot of smoothing in PS

I’ve been using my Portraiture plug-in religiously to smooth out my skin and even the tone, but I haven’t much gotten into the Retrographer with these photos since they came out nicely without all the extra processing. I’m sure I’ll play around with it more later, once I start to get bored with editing the photos straightforwardly and want to start messing around a bit. I’m still loving  both programs though; hours of fun playing around in Photoshop with them both.

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Ugh, I hate this. Didn’t come out at all like I envisioned, but I worked hard on it so I’m sharing it anyway.

More to come as always; school starts again on Tuesday and we have to report for a staff development on Monday, so one more day of relaxation and then it’s back to the grind. Hope your new year was festive and your 2016 shines bright! Let’s get to it.

Video Wig Review: Colette by Jon Renau in Colors 4-33 and 130-131

I wonder if anyone’s at all interested in older wigs with all the new fall styles that have come out recently…if not, oh well, since I’ve not bought anything since school started.

Collette is a very cute wig even if it isn’t new; it has a strange, zip-zag part which I guess was a “thing” back when this style came out, but you can’t really tell since the hair fiber is a little thick and the zig-zagginess really doesn’t show. But the part is a monofilament one and looks realistic, and overall I think this style is quite convincing as one’s real hair. Colette has been discontinued but it can still be found online; most of the places I found it had it on clearance for about $150. I had her in two colors, obviously, so I’m showing both of them together here.

Video Wig Review: Drew by Estetica in Color R6LF29

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I am both pleased and pissed about this video. On the plus side, I finally hit upon the right camera settings and white balance to get a fairly clear, accurate representation on camera, and I very much like how this video looks in that regard. The colors could be a little more saturated, but that causes other problems that make the final result a bit too contrasty, so it’s a fair trade. And using a higher ISO helps to eliminate some of the band-y vignetting I was getting at 100. I know, I know, more camera nerd BS, but I guess that’s part of the reason I like doing these videos is working with the visual aspects of it. And I barely know what I’m doing and/or talking about, so I’m also learning new things, which is fun.

Unfortunately, I learned one lesson too late this time: for reasons I don’t yet fully understand, my camera shut off at the twelve minute mark automatically. This has happened once before, but I don’t recall exactly which video it was, which is a bummer because if I could remember when it happened I’d know if this happened as a direct result of the new camera settings I’m using. But I don’t know that, so I’ll have to research it further. Anyway, it’s also possible I rarely film more than 12 minutes at a time so that’s why it hardly ever happens, but I rather doubt that. I mess up a lot, and stop and check an email or two or fix the hair if it’s looking wonky, deal with a dog or cat that’s causing problems, etc. and I never stop filming when I do  that stuff; I just keep the camera rolling and edit all that mess out later.

For whatever reason though, it did switch off again today, which in and of itself isn’t a big deal, except for the fact that I assumed the camera stopped recording when I heard it click, so I walked over to the camera and punched the record button again and went back to filming right where I’d left off. It wasn’t until I was editing the video later that I realized the click I heard was not the recording mechanism stopping; it was the camera going into sleep mode after being non-functional for several minutes – it had actually stopped filming earlier and I didn’t hear it. And where it stopped filming was right as I started showing the sides and back of Drew. Since I didn’t realize at the time of filming that the camera hadn’t caught all of that, when I started recording again I didn’t go back and show the sides and back again, and when I realized I’d missed that I’d already completely dismantled my set and taken my makeup off and well, I just didn’t have time to do all that over. So, long story short – I punted and used some crappy iPhone pics I took of the wig from all angles when I got it in earlier in the week. Sorryboutit.

Anyway, Drew. I think the cap circumference is a little short on me; you can see how Drew wants to slide back on my forehead and you can see a lot of my hairline on the sides – now you know why i don’t like to wear wigs with a hairline that isn’t close in color to my bio hair! I’m always torn about wigs like this. I don’t like it on me, but I don’t think it’s a bad style, so I struggle to straddle that line when I talk about it on camera. In looking at it, it even more so reminds me of Socialite by Gabor; except that I had a bit more freedom with Socialite to cover my forehead than I do with this one. Anyway, here it is – and in spite of the missing footage, please enjoy the improved picture quality I worked so hard to obtain 🙂 .

And by the way, if anyone is interested in this one – I’ve seen it online a few places, and most stores list it at a price of $253. For whatever reason, when I bought it at e-wigs.com it was listed at $165. Pretty big difference and I’m not sure how long it will last, so there you go.

Disclaimer: I bought this with my own money and no one asked me to do this review. Opinions are my own. 

Wigpics

I snagged a new wig on clearance last week and finally got a chance to write up a review for it on my friend’s wig blog. Since I wanted to give a detailed review of the thing, I took a ton of photos, so I’ll share a few of them here. If you want to see details about the wig you can check out the blog post over at Real Life Wigs, as I won’t be sharing close-ups of the lace front or anything like that here. But I will share a thing or two about how I took the shots, so let’s get to it.

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I used my 50mm portrait lens for all these shots, and I also used my ExpoDisc to customize my white balance to the light being used. This worked out great, as the shots didn’t need too much editing and refining when I pulled them off the camera, not as far as white balance or exposure anyway.

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Very different lighting for the indoor shots, but the ExpoDisc worked its magic again, and I think they came out great. I also used the new skin softening techniques I learned last weekend, and while overall I like the effect, I think I need to refine the process a bit so the shots don’t look so weird when I magnify them to their full size. I know no one else in the world gives a damn about how a digital photo looks when blown up to 100 times normal, but I do, and when zooming in on these they look weird. I did all the softening and then I sharpened and clarified, which has always been my workflow, but I may have to change that and make the softening the last thing I do. That might help.

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When shooting outside, I actually used my Speedlite with a softbox attached as a fill flash. This is not something I’ve ever done, preferring to keep the outside light totally natural, but since I took the indoor shots first and already had everything attached to the camera I decided to leave it that way and see what happened. I really like the results. I generally prefer not to attach the Speedlite if I don’t have to, since it makes the camera heavy, but the fill flash I got out of it eliminated a lot pesky shadows from my face and was worth it in the end.

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I don’t have much to say here except, it’s a damn pretty wig. Found it on clearance for seventy-five bucks too. Look how natural that hairline is! And I did a pretty nice job on my makeup here too, considering I started with what I’d had on all day while I ran errands and just slapped more of it on. I even managed to make my lips look good today. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, people.

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Close-up shot I took outside to show blog readers the color. And I always forget how cute those spare glasses are until I put them on for a wig picture. I don’t like to wear my usual glasses with wigs because I have to stretch out the ear pieces a little bit to go over the ear tabs, and it loosens the glasses eventually. I don’t see as well with these as I do with my cat-shaped ones, so I tend not to wear them very often.

Saturday I am heading out to my parents’ side of town to attend a fundraiser for an aviation museum with my dad. Gonna load up the camera and take some airplane pics, so lots more to come!

Right on Target

Got up about 7 AM Sunday morning, enjoyed a leisurely cup of tea, then got to work on taking photos with the pink Target wig my friend Chadwick sent me from Chicago. Setting up the studio took about 30 minutes, including breaking down the office and converting it into a studio space, then setting up the camera and lighting, then it took an hour so to apply the makeup. All in all, I was ready to shoot by 9:30 and completely done by 11:00 AM, which may be a new record for me. I’m sure the extra hour from ending daylight savings time helped (and am I the only one who does not get up in arms over the whole daylight savings thing? To me, it indicates the start of a new season, so I enjoy it both coming and going), plus I’m not including the reassembly of the office into all of this. I didn’t clean up until late afternoon as I immediately got absorbed in editing the shots, as I always do.

Overall I am pleased with this set. I really went on a marathon today trying to process as many shots as possible, but as usual I couldn’t get them all done. The portrait shots came out better than the jumping and movement ones, because I forgot to change the lighting setup when I switched from close-ups to full-body shots, and as a result the lighting is off on those (too bright and the focus isn’t very crisp). But when I spend as much time on the makeup as I did with this set, and the portraits don’t come out nicely, that’s a real pisser – so I’m happy enough to have gotten some great shots that accentuate the work I put into my face.

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I’m going to share with you a little secret about posing for portraits that I picked up from an online member of a wig message board awhile back: before taking close-up shots with bright lighting like this, I shave my face. I do this because I have a lot of peach fuzz (getting more as I get older, too – thanks nature) and with the amount of bright light that I aim at my face, it all shows in close-ups. It’s always bugged me and I’ve done my best to edit it out, but when she mentioned the face-shaving thing I decided to try it, and I love the results. The woman who shared that she did this lives in Japan, where apparently this is a common practice for all women – peach fuzz apparently is a much bigger deal there than it is here, and is considered very unappealing. I got online and read up on the subject, and it turns out you can go to an aesthetician and pay a hundred bucks or more for a service called dermaplaning, which isn’t much more than a straight-edge razor shave. I use what’s called an eyebrow razor and my husband’s shaving cream, and do it myself (this actually is also great for shaping eyebrows, which is how it’s marketed). It makes the face smoother and the makeup blend and stay put – it looks so much better in photos and is actually the secret of many a supermodel. I don’t believe for a second that it makes the facial hair grow back any darker or more coarse, so no worries about it on my end (I’ve been shaving my little lady-mustache for years anyway; creams burn my skin and to go for waxing constantly is too much maintenance. Never had a problem with it). If you ever want to try it, don’t be afraid of those old wives’ tales about facial growing back darker if you shave it off. It’s baloney. And a good face shave is better than a scratchy old exfoliant anyway – that’s why men always look so fresh-faced after shaving. .

But enough about my face shaving:

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Not totally pleased with this shot, but I edited it anyway because you can really see the eye makeup. My eyebrows have gotten sparse over the years, but they are still dark, so I actually used a long-wearing Lime Crime coral red lipstick called Suedeberry on them, then blended the pink eyeshadow into that. I got those false lashes on sale after Halloween at the grocery store, and as you can see they didn’t stay put too well. One of them is popping off there, but hopefully it’s not too noticeable. I can also see on my chin where either my skin was dry or my face powder wasn’t blended very well – that’s how harsh the lights I use can be. Makeup really does need to be flawless, because every little error will show. Not that anyone else would notice when looking at the photo. But I do.

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A bit of a weird shot, but I couldn’t resist that shadow on my face that frames one eye. You can also see that I played with layers in this set – all of the shots were taken in front of my beige backdrop, but I changed the color of it to work better with the bright colors of the subject. Also, I got those paper butterflies at Party City over the summer, and finally found a use for them. Unfortunately the butterfly at the very top fell out at some point during the shoot, and I didn’t realize it until I caught it in Simon’s mouth after shooting was done. So I have loads of pics with one less butterfly (More about Simon later – this was his first time experiencing photo day and he was quite interested in what was going on).

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Now this shot makes me happy. At some point I applied a bit of talcum powder on my face because it kept appearing shiny and I wanted my skin to look a bit lighter. I think that worked well here, and this is one of the shots I did not end up editing much, as tempted as I was to jack with it like I do most of my shots. I thought it worked as is, and just made a few adjustments. Oh and the butterfly isn’t actually balancing on my nose – kinda gross, but the butterflies were stuck to very thin, long pieces of wire that I was able to stick into the wig to get them to stay – here, well, I have the wire shoved up my nose. Just keeping it classy, people!

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I admit to having run out of good ideas for portrait poses at this point, so I often end up reverting to some old standby stances and faces to get some variety. This is a goofy, half-surprised look I seem to enjoy making (probably in life as much as in photos). Sometimes I move the camera around to shoot my face from different angles, but from the sides in this wig you could see too much of the wig cap and my natural hair. These wigs are cool as hell, but not exactly easy to wear. In fact, most of the problems I had with this shoot were due to that wig – once I managed to get it on my head properly, I could not in any way shape or form put my glasses back on, so I had to focus the camera without seeing what I was doing at all, which is less than ideal. It also kept banging into doorways and lighting umbrellas and was just generally a nuisance for self-portraits. But it looks great. It had also, after about two minutes of wearing it, worn off all the makeup on my forehead.

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Simon, however, had no such issues.

Speaking of Simon, as I mentioned earlier he was fairly curious about what was going on during this shoot. His main fascination was with my little remote, since I toss that to the ground after pressing the button for each shot. To him, that was a clear indication the item was there for his enjoyment, and he kept grabbing it in his little mouth and scampering away with it. He also got into swiping and biting at my skirt a bit, but not nearly as much as he got into pouncing on the remote.

Although clearly he got into pouncing on the skirt a bit too – as evidenced in this next gem, which was not intentional on my part in any way, shape, or form; in fact, I had no idea what Simon was up to until I saw the shot. I’m sure I felt him landing on my skirt and starting a little kitty-war with it, but at the time I had no idea I’d managed to capture his little ambush on camera:

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Eyes on the prize, Simon!

My makeup also didn’t translate well to the full-body shots and I should have slapped on some lipstick for them. So overall, not too pleased with the full-length photos in this set, but that one was too good to pass up. Also, in this shot my right arm actually was in the photo originally, but the angle the camera caught it at was just plain weird, my elbow looked huge and distorted, and overall I found that arm to be a huge distraction. So I just edited it on out of there and figured I’d pretend my arm was behind my back or something. Much better this way.

More later!

Medusa shoot

I had some time to work with one of the wigs I got from Target today. I also did some more light experimentation, but those shots are so different from these that I am going to create a separate post for them later.

I don’t have a whole lot of preliminary stuff to say about these, because it’s quite late and I’m tired, so I’ll just show you what I’ve had time to process so far. Between this shoot and the tutu pics from last weekend, I have a ton of stuff still to work with, so I may lay off doing any more shoots for awhile until I can catch up.

For this first one, I decided to change the color of the snake wig to match the backdrop and the dress. That’s not something that always works out, but it was easy to pull off this time. I also have a plastic shower curtain hanging up behind me; the creases in it can’t be steamed out, unfortunately, but it still creates an interesting backdrop, and I managed to pull off some cool stuff with it in my light experimentation shots I’ll share later:

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Not bad, but I do like the bright green of the wig so I didn’t do this again.

For the second one, I cut up this cheap old Cleopatra hat so I could use the silly-looking snake that adorned it as a tongue. This really didn’t work all that well so I don’t plan on processing any more of these. But the Cleopatra tongue-snake did match the silliness of the wig, so it was worth a shot.

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I’m torn on this next one. I love the color but at the same time, I think it might work better and as black and white shot. I can’t make up my mind which one is the real winner. The goggles, by the way, were purchased off Amazon a few years ago, and have been used in several shoots. This dress was an eBay vintage find; it was pricey but it’s great for photos:

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I pulled out all sorts of old props and doodads to throw on with the wig; one of them was this bellydancing scarf I picked up somewhere. In this shot I’d flung it around a bit and I liked the way it was moving across my face here:

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The sequined gown I am wearing in most of these shots, by the way, belonged to my mother-in-law. It is full-length, all sequins, weighs a ton, and cannot be pulled over my hips to save my life. As a result, I had the whole thing yanked up like some sort of weird miniskirt during the shoot. Also, it is backless with one of those little hooks at the neck to keep the entire top from falling down due to its weight; there was no way I was going to be able to fasten that hook on my own, so the dress is being held together at the neck by a chip clip. Nothing but the classiest for me – YEP.

More pics to come!

A Few Shots From Wednesday

I got all dolled up and shot a whopping 398 photos the other day. That may be a new record for me. For part of that time I decided to play around with my new Canon Speedlite 600 EX-RT, using it as a master to control my old 430 EX-II. I bought a Field Guide to get the basics of the new flash down when I bought it, but I’ve never been much good with written instructions, or remembering  details, for that matter. My main mode of operation is to randomly punch buttons and move stuff around and see what happens, which is why I haven’t done much experimenting with this new flash; it really sucks to spend 1.5 hours getting dressed for a shoot and have all the photos turn out like crap, so I’ve been using the 600 much as I used the 430. But I spent less time in makeup Wednesday and more time screwing around with my flashes, and the end result is that I have a ton of interesting shots I’d like to process; I’ve been working on that like crazy the past day or so.

I’m including a gallery of the shots I’ve processed so far; I am not sure how many of these will end up being favorites. Much like when I wrote poetry, I tend to love everything that is new but only a few end up making the long-term cut. I also think some of these need to be re-edited now that I’m looking at them again. And I did find some nice blooper shots I can share later, haven’t had time to process those yet.

And can I go on for brief second about the outfit? I found the gold sparkly harem pants (that’s what we called them back in the early 90’s) at an online store called Thrifted and Modern; they usually have some great vintage on sale. That flowy top was bought cheap somewhere I can’t remember and has  been used in more photoshoots than I can count. The wig is called Drew, it’s by a manufacturer named Beshe, and it only costs about $40. It is fabulous and I ordered it in four colors. Oh, and you can get the glasses at Amazon here.