Cinematic Looking Photos

Cinematic looking photos that look as if they’re a still from an actual film are pretty cool. Kitschy? Yeah, a tad, but still cool.

If you’ve paid attention to movies you’ll notice that they seem to have a pretty unique color grading scheme; usually a kind of teal and orange pallette. In fact if you haven’t noticed it before, now that I’ve brought it to your attention, you’ll notice it enough to where it might drive you a little nuts. There are all kinds of ideas as to why films predominantly use a teal and orange color grading.

The ones that I think seem to make the most sense is that:

1) colors in the yellow/orange/red spectrum contrast nicely with colors that are in the blue/green spectrum. In my observation this is true. Complementary colors contrast nicely and add a vividness without hashing the saturation. You’ll notice that often times movies tend to be a bit desaturated yet still pop. I think it’s because of the use of complementary colors. I say often times; keep in mind that if you’re watching a Michael Bay flick, all bets are off. Everything, including the color grading seems to be turned up to 10. Anyway, human beings no matter their ethnicity tend to have skin that falls into that yellow/orange spectrum. The orange teal grading makes actors stand out.

2) this is, I think, a biggy. The orange and teal pallette tends to replicate so called golden hour lighting quite nicely and golden hour lighting pretty much rocks.

Here is a photo that I’ve sort of given the “cinematic” treatment.

Anna With A Rifle
Anna With A Rifle ISO 100, 35mm, f16, 1/125 sec

Granted, it’s not full on “cinematic” in that I’ve kept it a bit brighter than you might usually see. Actual movies tend to have the blacks and shadows crushed a bit more than my attempt. Also, perhaps the skin could have been just a touch more orange. The reason I chose this image is because I think it looks intriguing from the get-go. It looks like a slice of a bigger story; perfect for a faux movie still. By the way, this photo was taken using off camera flash; 300ws strobe camera left with a 22″ beauty dish.

For more information regarding giving your photos a full blown cinematic treatment I recommend first checking this tutorial out. It’s a great tutorial that even if you don’t want to do the cinematic thing it’s full of great information regarding curves and general color grading. Then, to add that extra cinema touch, this tutorial goes into adding the black bars to the image, and explains the aspect ratios of movies. I mean, if you’re going to go cinema, you may as well do it right.

Bonneville Salt Flats Photo Shoot Daylight Off Camera Flash

Bonneville Salt Flats Photo Shoot With Daylight Off Camera Flash
Girl In A Skirt At The Bonneville Salt Flats ISO: 100, 50mm, f16, 1/200 sec

I’ve dabbled in off camera flash for the better part of a year now and as I progress I can say that it’s completely changed how I approach photography; even when I don’t use flash, my way of thinking has completely changed. It has helped me to become more aware of light and how it affects a photo. Yeah, that seems almost rudimentary. Light is always important, but trust me, wrapping your head around off camera flash will reroute some synapses in your brain vis a vis lighting and it will be a good thing. Even when you think you don’t need to use flash (and yes, you may not NEED it) it’s beneficial.

In the photo above, taken at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah you can see that it certainly didn’t need flash, but it really added something to the shot. The sun was hitting the subject from behind at about a 35 degree angle. for the off camera flash I set up a 300ws strobe with just the 8″ reflector at camera right more or less perpendicular to the sun; just out of frame. In fact I had to clone some of the stand out. It helped immensely to lift the shadows under the hat and add a bit of a pop to the model overall. I’m happy with the shot.

My camera’s max sync speed is 1/200 second which makes it very difficult to bring down the ambient, hence the f16 aperture setting to help bring down the sky a little. Since I don’t have a neutral density filter or high speed sync capability my goal is a portrait/model/landscape shot because, well, I don’t have any choice. Since my DOF is miles deep I may as well incorporate the background into the shot. The Bonneville Salt Flats is perfect for that.

Eventually I do want to do some outdoor flash with shallow DOF so you can bet your sweet tukis that I’m going to invest in a neutral density filter. Also, I see a HSS setup in my not too distant future as well.


Girl In a Skirt Project Hits a Block

Girl In a Skirt Fights the wind.
ISO 200 10mm f10 1/500 sec

Continuing the Girl In a Skirt project, I’m coming across a huge challenge and it has nothing to do with anything camera related, lens related or anything technical. The hardest part is finding skirts. We bought this skirt in Moab and haven’t been able to find another anywhere. Short, mid-thigh flowing skirts are almost impossible to find anywhere. We’v traipsed allover the city trying to find something kind of like what’s in this photo, but different.

None. Nada. Zilch. Next stop, probably some second hand stores.

Girl In a Skirt

Girl In a Skirt looking at red rocks. ISO 200 10mm f9.0 1/640 sec

I’m starting a new project called Girl In a Skirt. I’m not quite sure where it’s going to lead other than it will feature, well, a girl in a skirt. But I am thinking maybe the same girl in various different skirts and locations and shot with different styles. I don’t know. But I like the idea of a unified project to give some direction in which to go. In reality it’s probably going to evolve as I go. The only thing I do know is that it will be a girl in a skirt.

This particular one was shot with my  Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM which I’m really growing to like.

Golden Hour Photography

I love so called golden hour photography. There is a period of time in which sunlight travels greater distances through the atmosphere which produces a warm, softer light. This period of time is just after sunrise and just prior to sunset. Landscape photographers love this light for not just it’s warm softer tones, but also because of the textures provided by the longer shadows caused by the directional light. The quality of light during the golden hour is great for skin tones as well. In fact I would say that it’s the best light for skin tones. Although post processing can closely replicate it, it’s still not the same. The low, directional light fills in the pores producing softer skin more naturally than skin softening techniques used in post production.

In this photo, if you look at the subject’s sunglasses, you can clearly see the sun’s position above the mountains; just over the horizon mere minutes from setting. Perfect light.

Golden hour photography
Golden Hour: ISO 100, 50mm, f5.0, 1/800 sec

This photo has very little adjustment done from the original raw file. I brought down the highlights a bit, and did some adjustments on the white and black balance. Other than those adjustments, there was nothing else. This is a huge benefit of golden hour photography.

This photo, also taken during the golden hour:

Golden hour photography sun gazing
Sun Gazing: ISO 400, 20mm, f8.0, 1/800 sec

The first thing I notice with this photo is ISO 400? What the hell was I thinking?

Anyway, this one has considerably more post processing done to it. Keep in mind that although it looks HDRish, it’s a single frame with some major tweaking of the highlights, and I bumped up the blues a bit as well as the overall vibrance and saturation, and filled in some shadows. I was trying to give it an HDRish look. But the overall warm tone in the image is a result of where the sun is in the sky. Note those longer shadows, too.

At the end of the day–pun intended–golden hour photography is certainly something that I’m going to continue working on.

Retouching Photos Frequency Separation And Taste

One of the things that I enjoy most about photography is the never ending learning curve. Sure, the curve may flatten out a bit, but it’s always there. One of the steepest curves for me is retouching photos. On the one hand all of the tools we have access to open up so many possibilities, yet on the other hand they contain so many pitfalls. For the most part, I prefer a light retouching hand; to not “over bake” a photo. But one person’s masterpiece could very possibly be another’s over baked mess.

I was talking to someone today about retouching and he claimed that he doesn’t do any retouching, preferring instead to “get it right” in the shot. That’s all fine, but if you’re shooting in raw format, some processing is going to be in order no matter what unless you want a flat, bland photo. When I mentioned that his response was that he didn’t believe that the adjustments you make to a raw image–adjusting color balance, contrast, etc–should be considered retouching. He has a point. I’ve always considered any post production work to be some form of retouching, but maybe that’s not quite correct. After all, if you set your camera to JPEG mode, you’re simply letting the camera do the post production work for you at a very basic level.

But even then, many photos can benefit from retouching if not require it. I’m talking techniques to lighten skin blemishes, balance skin tones and other things.

For example this pic is straight out of the camera, untouched accept to convert it to a JPEG:

Kid Before
Kid Before: ISO 200, 50mm, f8, 1/200 sec

This was a flash experiment using an off camera flash gun camera left. It looks fine, but like all raw files flat. Plus when I was taking the pic he was complaining about his pimples. I mean what 14 year old isn’t going to complain about their pimples, right? Also from my perspective, along with the generally flat nature of the photo, I wasn’t crazy about the background which is simply a wall painted off white. Just about everything with this pic is “right,” but it can still be better.

After messing around with the color balance in Lightroom I exported it over into Photoshop where I did some frequency separation to smooth out the skin and reduce some of the shadows under the eyes (hey, he was just home from a grueling day of school). I also did some goofy stuff with some filters to bring out the texture in the wall and warm it up–a lot–because I like the way it looks.

It turned in to this:

Kid After: ISO 200, 50mm, f8, 1/200 sec

In hindsight, I think I could do more to reduce the shadows under the eyes, but I was concerned about it looking over baked. But even then, I think it looks much better and the blemishes I took out were the temporary ones. I didn’t do anything to change any features or his natural appearance. I am going to go back and work on those eye shadows for sure. The top, unretouched photo, aside from the flat nature of being a raw file, represents the subject as they were at that exact moment, but the retouched one represents them more accurately generally. Except the wall. The wall would never look like that, but so what? I like it better.

My goal, whether I’m always successful or not, is to produce a result that is natural looking, not over done. I’ve seen some retouching jobs that look so over baked that the subject doesn’t even look real. They look plastic. Definitely try to avoid that.

The whole frequency separation thing is pretty new to me and I’m still learning. There are a ton of resources all over the internet if you’re interested. One of the better ones is this one.

Street Photography With Two Different Approaches

Street photography is its own beast. Lately I’ve been reading a thread on the DPReview forums about the supposed perils of street photography. The original poster wrote about a person accosting him with a knife and threatening him. Others followed suit with their own stories of sketchy encounters while photographing people on the street. Outside of an old lady scolding me for photographing her cat in Kyiv once, I’ve never had any problems.

The thread veered off a bit when some expressed that it was impolite to photograph people without their permission. Some of the reasoning was a little goofy. Here’s how I look at it. If someone is on public street it’s fair game to photograph them. I’m no attorney, but from what I understand, photographing a person in public space is legal. Well, in the USA anyway.

Now snapping someone without their permission or knowledge when it’s not in a public space does begin to get a little creeperish. Or upskirt nonsense. That is definitely creeper behavior even if it is in a public space.

But, generally, I don’t have a problem with photographing someone in public. I’ve never had it happen, but I suppose if someone did come up to me and demand that I delete their pic, I might grant them that wish. Maybe. But, generally speaking, most people don’t mind or don’t care. Some even ham it up.

You can always ask people for their permission and I do sometimes. Especially if I want a different kind of photograph. Shooting an unexpected snap of someone in the street or asking their permission will result in a completely different photograph.

For example, this pic.

ISO 100, 50mm, f4.5, 1/320th of a second.
Black And Red-ISO 100, 50mm, f4.5, 1/320 of a second.

I saw this girl walking in a crowd of people and I simply asked her if I could take her photo. I mean, look at her, why wouldn’t I want to take her pic. She said, sure, go for it, and I did.

And this pic:

ISO 100, 35mm, f3.5, 1/160th of a second.
Brown Eyed Girl-ISO 100, 35mm, f3.5, 1/160 of a second.

This one happened in much the same way; crowd of people, look at her, she’s a combination of both beautiful and interesting. Of course I’m going to take a pic. Like the previous example, I simply asked her if I could take her pic. I took several, this one is the one I like the best.

As much as I like the above photos, they are very different than had I not asked for their permission.

This photo:

Dread Man - ISO 100, 35mm, f4.0, 1/800th
Dread Man – ISO 100, 35mm, f4.0, 1/800 second.

I saw this guy walking across the street, again in a crowd of people, walked up to him and snapped the pic. Again, why wouldn’t I? Look at him. The guy weighs heavy on the scale of interesting. Right after snapping the pic, he stopped, kind of startled, then his face erupted into a huge smile, he threw out a fist bump, “Dude!” and walked on. If I had asked him if I could take his pic he probably would’ve said yes, but the pic would have been vastly different and probably not near as interesting.

And another:

In A Hurry-ISO 400, 50mm, f2.5, 1/600 of a second.
In A Hurry-ISO 400, 50mm, f2.5, 1/600 of a second.

Same thing. I pulled up my camera, she looked at me, I snapped, her face lit up in a smile. Yes, a smile is nice, but it completely changes everything about the photo.

Asking people permission in the street to take their photo is certainly a valid approach, but just be aware that it will result in a completely different photo than if you don’t.

Why not mix it up?


Women and Self Defense

The old adage goes, “A well armed society is a polite society” which is true.

Also, a society full of women who are able and willing to fight back against attackers makes for a better society. This kind of training and drilling is some of the best.

Ruger Single Six

Over Christmas, my dad decided to give me his old Ruger Single Six. I was completely taken aback when he did because I’ve always loved that gun. Even though I’ve probably only shot it a small handful of times. The reason I’ve always loved this gun is because it’s one of few things that I absolutely associate with my dad. Over the years I’ve never known my dad without that gun. He’s always had it in whatever vehicle he was driving; most often a pickup truck of some sort or another.

Ruger Single Six

As you can tell it’s a bit rugged looking. After all, dad had this gun for fifty plus years. It was always in its holster under the seat or on his belt. This thing was used and used heavily at that. Over the years dad spent a lot of time on horseback doing the cowboy thing, riding the mountains looking after cattle. This gun was always with him. Whenever we went camping, driving out in the woods, hunting, whatever it was, this gun was always with him. If he shot a deer with his rifle, he’d use the Ruger Single six to finish the job if need be.

Dad has never been into shooting just to shoot because it’s fun. That’s more my style. I’ve always loved to shoot. Dad is more of a utilitarian when it comes to firearms. Guns are a tool, nothing more, nothing less. Even so, when it came to shooting this pistol, I saw dad do some pretty damned good shooting. The last time I watched him shoot it was about 20 years ago. I was visiting him and my step mother out on a ranch near the confluence of the Snake River and the Salmon River on the breaks of the Hells Canyon. I’m not sure how we got started, but my dad pulled out this pistol and was casually shooting walnuts out of a huge walnut tree in the front yard of the house. Not the low hanging fruit mind you, but walnuts high up in the massive tree. Don’t know about you, but in my way of thinking that’s some impressive shooting for someone who spent little time shooting just for the hell of it.

When dad handed the gun over to me we got to talking and he told me about the last time that he shot it. It was 10 years or so prior and he was out on Jackson Creek near Council, Idaho riding for strays with one of his cow dogs. Twiggy was the dog’s name. Dad got on his horse and headed up the hill and Twiggy ran ahead, bouncing through the bunch grass and around the trees, disappearing over the hill. As he followed along, he heard Twiggy yelping, obviously in some serious distress. Dad stood up in his stirrups to get a better look, and running hard towards him was Twiggy yelping and baying. Dad said she was running as fast as he’d ever seen a dog run. Right on her ass was a coyote, teeth bared, nipping at Twiggy’s tail and ready to kick some serious cow dog ass.  The coyote was so bent on kicking Twiggy’s ass that it didn’t even notice the old man and his horse. Twiggy ran by, dad drew the Single Six with a cylinder full of .22 magnums, and shot the coyote while sitting in the saddle; pistol in one hand, reins in the other. Cowboy 1. Coyote dead. Twiggy forever grateful.

Ruger Single Six needs a little work.

Wouldn’t you have loved to see that? I know I would have.

As you can see, the Ruger Single Six needs some work. Yeah, it shoots well, but it looks like what it is; a gun that’s spent fifty years living in a holster and used as it was intended to be. I don’t want to refurbish it, just give it a good, thorough deep cleaning. I like the idea that it has marks and blemishes put there by whatever way the old man was using it over the years. Dad says he bought it second hand back in the year that I was born, 1962. He says it was in new condition and he seems to think it was manufactured around ’61, but based on the serial number and a cursory look on Ruger’s website, it appears to have been manufactured in 1954. Ruger initially began to manufacture the Single Six in 1953. I plan to call Ruger and get a for sure on that. It works perfectly. The old man used the hell out of it, but kept it oiled. Lots of holster wear as you can imagine. It has two cylinders; one for standard .22 long, long rifle, short. The other cylinder is chambered for .22 magnum. Looking at the cylinders, the .22 magnum saw the most gun time. The .22 magnum is an awesome round.

This gun predates the safety mechanism that allows one to safely carry six, so you want to carry this gun with five in the pipes and the chamber under the hammer empty. Ruger offers to convert it over to the safe to carry six mode for free, but it requires sending it to them. I don’t intend to do that.

I’m looking forward to taking my son out and shooting it. He looks at it and says, “Cool cowboy gun, papa.”

Yep, sure is. I’m no cowboy, but when the day comes that I give this gun to my son, it will still be a “cowboy gun” because, well, a cowboy carried the thing for over fifty years.

Thanks, dad.

The Shemagh

cowboy-bandanaWhen I was growing up it wasn’t uncommon to see ranch hands donning those big, over sized bandannas. They were always loosely wrapped around their necks in a kind of billowy manner. There was a time in my youth that this kind of bandanna was almost ubiquitous to the point that I never put much thought into it.

However, when I got older, I did a stint in the Forest Service which landed me on the front lines of several forest fires. It was there that I quickly adopted what the experienced fire fighters were wearing; an over sized bandanna around the neck. It also became obvious why it was worn loosely. The primary use for it was for a way to protect the back of your neck from the sun. Being bent over for hours under a beating sun digging fire lines exposes your neck, even with your hard hat on. The loose fitting aspect quickly became apparent, too, because you wanted them loose enough that you could pull them up over your face when it got real smokey and/or dusty. In fact it only took one trip to the fire line and I soon adopted wearing two of them; one tied in the back to drape the majority of the fabric to the front, and one tied at the front to leave fabric draping over the back of my neck. The whole set up was an absolute necessity. It kept me breathing, it kept my neck from being fried, it kept me noticeably cooler, and it kept floating fire embers from finding their way under my collar. I remember thinking to myself then that I sure wished that I had adopted this bandanna set up a few years earlier when I was earning summer cash bucking hay for various ranchers around the valley.

Over the years I found myself wearing them as a kind of do-rag on my head. I wasn’t out in the sun as much, but I had long hair (back in my rock and roll band days) and when I did go camping or found myself working outside, it helped in the usual keeping me cool and keeping my hair out of my face. After my rock and roll band days and cutting my hair, I still continued to wear a bandanna on my head occasionally, mostly out of habit. Shortly after, I transitioned to wearing a ball cap most of the time. In many ways it does what the bandanna did with the added bonus of helping to keep the sun out of your eyes, but, of course, without the neck protection.

Here, I’m wearing my awesome Kiev! ball cap at No Business Lookout in Idaho.

Lack of sun protection for the back of the neck is not a big deal when you’re just kicking around. Yeah, one could wear a cowboy type hat, but just kicking around in a cowboy hat isn’t my style. In fact, it shouldn’t be anyone’s style. Really, if you’re kicking around in a cowboy hat you should reevaluate that choice. The only people that should wear cowboy hats are actual cowboys that, you know, ride a horse out in the sun, round up cattle, work the range; that kind of thing. Maybe country and western singers can be given a pass, but even that makes me cringe.

Life has a way of ever progressing, we change, adapt, move on to new eras while leaving another behind. I’ve always been a person with an outdoors bent. I grew up in the mountains of west central Idaho and spent as much time if not more outdoors than indoors. After I moved away from Idaho I lost touch with that outdoors bent for a period of time. Then, after several years, my life veered back to a direction in which I have found myself back in the outdoors mode again. But, now, I live in a part of the country far different than the mountains of the Nez Perce Indians, and the Rivers Snake and Salmon.

Target shooting in Utah's West Desert.
Target shooting in Utah’s West Desert.

Now I call the second driest state in the Union home. Sure, heading east of Salt Lake City takes me to 11,000 plus foot mountains and alpine forests, but heading west you immediately find yourself in a desert environment. It doesn’t take much time at all in the West Desert to realize that a ball cap just doesn’t cut it if you’re doing much walking around. Even a boonie hat doesn’t cut it by itself. A boonie hat alone would cut it for southern Utah, like Moab or places like that, but in the West Desert, it doesn’t because of bugs. The biting gnats out in the West Desert are relentless. We went out a couple of times last summer and the things just ate us alive.  In the photo above we went out with some friends and we quickly learned that wearing shorts and short sleeved shirts just don’t cut it. By the time we left, we had more bites than we could count. I think that I was the only one who didn’t wear shorts; I don’t do shorts. As you can see, my son didn’t do shorts either. But, that being said, all we had was our ball caps. Well, except my wife. She did have a good sun blocking hat, but all of us were nothing more than a feast for the biting gnats; mostly around the hairline and back of the neck.

Bad ass Special Operations dude sporting a shemagh.
Bad ass Special Operations dude sporting a shemagh.

This brings me to the shemagh. The shemagh is an Arab garment that our military men and women quickly adopted when deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for good reason. It’s literally tailor made for a desert climate. When I first saw photos and videos of our soldiers wearing them, I instantly thought of my excursions out into the West Desert and the light went on in my head. It’s light cotton; almost see through, it’s huge–a proper shemagh is at least 42″x42″–it’s like a big, honking bandanna with a lighter fabric. It’s a garment invented by a culture living in the desert for thousands of years so it stands to reason to be hugely practical in a desert environment. Using a shemagh with a cap or a boonie hat would be a huge plus for traipsing around a bug infested desert. Also, I think it’s a good addition to the get home bags I have for me and my wife. Our get home bags are geared towards getting home post major earthquake because the area in which we live WILL suffer a major earthquake. A big-ass piece of cloth to wrap around your face in a post earthquake environment has nothing but upside.

Alek sporting a shemagh and an M-4gery AR-15.
Alek sporting a shemagh and an M-4gery AR-15.

A few days ago I took my 12 year old son out to the West Desert to do some shooting. It’s early enough in the year that the biting gnats are still a couple of months away, but the chilly air was reason enough to pull out the shemagh and wrap around his neck. He likes it so much he asked me to buy him one of his own. I told him that I would on the condition that he only wear it when it’s of practical use. Wearing a shemagh simply to wear one would be much like wearing a cowboy hat when it’s not needed. If he wants to wear his shemagh as a fashion statement, I’ll have to strangle him with it. Okay, I’m joking about the strangling part, but not the stupidity of wearing a shemagh as “fashion.”

Which brings me to another topic part of a conversation related to shemaghs. Apparently, wearing shemaghs is a big deal in the hipster community which is enough to make me shove an ice pick into my retina. Really, what kind of douche baggery would one be guilty of wearing a shemagh around town, to class, or clubbing? It would be of immense proportions.

Colin Farrell being a douche.

This is an example of what I’m talking about. Colin Farrell, you need to be pimp-slapped, dude. Yeah, a shemagh is more or less a glorified scarf and people wear those around all the time, what’s the big deal? Well, I can’t put my thumb on it, but it’s just stupid.

On the flip side of the pretentious idiocy that emanates from someone sporting a shemagh as casual wear are things that I’ve read from some people who regard wearing a shemagh as somehow supporting Islamic terrorists. From what I understand, some colors are significant to certain terrorist orginazations, but keep in mind that it predates Islam by millennia. Also, the British SAS have been using them for years.

I guess the bottom line is that a shemagh is more or less a glorified bandanna with many uses. Fashion is not one of them. You can get them here.