Posts Tagged ‘Photoshop’

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The Aerie “Real” No-Photoshop Campaign

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Aerie, a brand of the American Eagle Outfitters clothing company targeted at the 15-21 year old female demographic and selling primarily bras and underwear, announced an advertising campaign on Friday in which it is promising to use photographs featuring women without any digital alteration or retouching.

Click for larger version

Click for larger version. Photo Courtesy American Eagle Outfitters.

As a commercial advertising photographer the issue of drastic, severe photo manipulation in advertising and media is one that is of great interest to me (I refer to this manipulation, usually of women and usually to make them appear skinnier and with fewer skin imperfections than in reality [for example, all these], as “photochopping”… as distinguished from the more minor, lightweight “photoshopping” that I do on my images on a regular basis to do things like remove stray hairs, etc.).

There is no question that the imagery we see around us every day affects our perception of reality and our expectations; it is just another example of the old truism that if you tell someone something enough times, eventually they’ll start to believe it. Sadly it appears very clear that when women (especially young women and girls) are constantly shown fictionalized, impossibly-idealized versions of women’s bodies, their expectations of themselves and their own bodies change, even if they are consciously aware that the images are fictionalized. The resulting psychological damage that comes from being unable to attain the bodies women and girls think they should have seems almost inevitable.

That’s why I am so glad when companies pledge to use unmanipulated imagery in their advertising (happily, these campaigns seem to be gaining steam in the U.S., with the most well-known previous example probably being the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign). It’s great to see aerie in particular take the no-fakery pledge because the demographic that brand serves is probably the single most impressionable and susceptible to poor body image and self esteem issues as a result of manipulated advertising.

Click for larger version. Photo Courtesy American Eagle Outfitters.

Click for larger version. Photo Courtesy American Eagle Outfitters.

Looking at the images from the campaign above and below, there are several obvious (to people who do advertising photography for a living, anyway) examples in each image of things that fashion photo editors typically would have altered: a stretch mark here, an uneven skin tone there, a slight skin bulge or crease, etc. But all of these “issues” are very minor. All of the models aerie has featured in these images are beautiful women (who, it bears mentioning, while not digitally manipulated after the photoshoots, were professionally made-up by makeup artists before the shoots and photographed by a talented professional photographer who knows how to make people look good). The women featured in these images, to one degree or another, generally fit into our cultural standard of what would be considered attractive people.

Nevertheless, American Eagle is commendable (and smart) for making this campaign. Each campaign like this helps to both raise awareness that images in the media are often faked and also helps to give women and girls the confidence and self esteem to love their bodies the way they are (the campaign will also earn the brand a fair amount of social responsibility goodwill… so in addition to being a good deed, it is also good business).

Click for larger version. Photo Courtesy American Eagle Outfitters.

Click for larger version. Photo Courtesy American Eagle Outfitters.

Ultimately though, in my mind, the choice to forego unrealistic (and unhealthy) digital fakery in advertising imagery would ideally not be limited to a single ad campaign, but would be a permanent, industry-wide change. American Eagle has taken the first step in that direction with the #AerieReal campaign; will they lead by example and stand for womens’ and girls’ body image and self esteem and make the change permanent? Or when the media and blogosphere spotlight on the campaign has passed, will American Eagle revert back to using manipulated images? I posed this question to the company’s representatives when they provided me the images above; as of the time this post was published they haven’t responded.

I’ll update this post if they do. Until then, this campaign is at least a good first step in the right direction.

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How To Color Balance Mixed Lighting Sources

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

I just finished a series of four blog posts talking about the various advantages and disadvantages of different types of lighting for photo and video work (the first post, with links to the others, is here), and why I’ve decided, for the time being, to use a mixed kit of fluorescent and LED lights. This kit is great and should serve my needs very well, but there is one hurdle that needs to be overcome first: while these lights are all advertised as “full spectrum” and “daylight balanced” at 5600K, in reality they all have visibly different color temperatures, so they need to be balanced with each other in order to work well being used together to light the same scene. In this post, I’m going to give step-by-step instructions on how I took three different lights with radically different white balances and balanced them to work together beautifully.

Before: Unbalanced

Before: Yuck. When white balancing for the mini LED panel on the left, the fluorescent softbox in the center is very green and the LED 1x1 on the right is slightly magenta.

In the image above, which I designed intentionally to exaggerate the color balance differences of the three lights, I placed (from left) a miniature LED panel, a fluorescent softbox and a 1×1 LED panel next to each other and aimed them at a uniformly white ceiling. The difference is striking (and awful).

Before: Yuck

Alternately, the same image above, only this time white balanced for the fluorescent soft box in the center, the LEDs on the sides are both overly magenta and orange.

As is, it would be very difficult to use these lights in a scene together without them appearing different colors. So they need to be balanced together. How to do this? Gels! Pulling out my collection of gels, I got to work.

I keep an assortment of gels to color balance pretty much anything (from left to right): CTOs, CTBs, Plus Greens and Minus Greens each in 1/8th, 1/4 and 1/2 densities. With this assortment, no matter which way a light is off balance, I can balance it.

Gels Gels Gels!

Gels Gels Gels!

In order to balance the three different lights (from three different manufacturers!) I started with the one that is most difficult to gel: the fluorescent (this is one of the biggest weaknesses of fluorescent lights in my opinion… they’re a pain to gel). I used that as my basis and then adjusted the other lights to match it.

It is possible to simply judge the color of a light visually in comparison to others next to it, like in the photos above, and to experiment with different gel combinations to get the lights to the point where they visually look the same to the eye, but “eyeballing” it like that is extremely difficult to do accurately; I have a very good eye for color (I scored a 19 on the X-Rite Online Color Acuity test! Take the test yourself, it’s fun!), and even I can’t achieve the level of precision that I want by eyeballing it. So to measure the color balance precisely I decided to use a couple of precision instruments: my camera and computer.

To start with, I set up a simple 18% neutral gray card on a light stand (I use this one from Amazon… it’s cheap and does the job well), along with a color chart. I lit the gray card and color chart with the fluorescent light (placing the light at an angle so that the light is illuminating the card but not reflecting glare). I then blacked out the windows in my office and shut off all the other light sources (overhead lights, computer monitors, etc.) so there was no “contamination” and I knew all the light hitting the gray card was from the light in question, and I took a still photo of the gray card and color chart with my Canon 5D Mark II camera in RAW format.

Gray Card and Color Chart

Gray card and color chart on stand for determining exact white balance of a particular light

I downloaded the photo onto my computer, and opened the file in Photoshop (you could also use Lightroom or any other application that can work with RAW files, I just happened to choose Photoshop). Using the White Balance Picker / eyedropper tool in the Adobe Camera Raw conversion screen (the same tool is in the Develop tab in Lightroom in the White Balance box), I sampled the 18% neutral gray card to set the proper white balance for the image, the values of which are then displayed in the white balance section on the right (it is a good idea to click a bunch of times in a few places on the gray card as the individual measurements will vary slightly, then average the values).

Sampling White Balance in Adobe Camera Raw

The White Balance Picker tool is the eyedropper icon near the top left. I sampled a spot on the neutral gray card, which gave me the white balance values shown in the white balance box at the top right.

Sure enough, I now saw numerically what I had seen visually on the wall: that fluorescent light was very, very green (+28 tint!). Since that is the light that was most off balance, ideally I would have gelled it to match the other lights, but since this light is so difficult to gel and the other are so much easier, I instead went the other way around and gelled the others to match this one.

With the temperature and tint white balance values for the fluorescent light in hand, I then repeated the process (blacking out the room, lighting the neutral gray card with a single light source, and shooting a photo) for each of my other lights and then found the white balance values for them as well (I found that my miniature panel has white balance values of 5100K temperature and -3 tint, and my 1×1 LED panel is 5050K temperature and +5 tint).

With that information, I then knew precisely how off balance my lights were from each other. I then added a gel to one of the lights, repeated the process of measuring the white balance values, and noted the numerical effect of a particular gel (bear in mind that as much as the gel manufacturers try to keep the color of their gels as pure as possible, a Plus Green gel will never be purely plus green…for example, my Rosco 1/4 Plus Green gels turned out to add +28 points of green tint, but also knocked off 300 degrees of temperature. But after measuring the color balance values of each light and the color effect of each gel, it was very straightforward to figure out which gels to add to each light to balance them together.

In the end, to balance my LED panels to my fluorescent lights, I needed to add 1/4 CTB and 3/8 Plus Green (one 1/4 and one 1/8) to my mini LED, and 1/8 CTB and 1/4 Plus Green to my 1×1 LED, which, while not numerically perfect, got my lights as closely balanced as possible with 1/8th-increment gels. Now I can comfortably use all of my lights in the same scene together and be confident that their colors will be balanced and visually indistinguishable.

After: I've Brought Balance to the Force

After: I've Brought Balance to the Force. While I can still see differences on this uniform white wall, in practical use these lights will never appear unbalanced.


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Back to a Favorite Spot

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

We’ve all got favorite places; places that for whatever reason we keep coming back to, whether it’s because they’re pretty, they’re comfortable, there are good people there who we enjoy spending time with, whatever.

The weather has been beautiful in Boston for the last couple of days (with the exception of that earthquake yesterday! Does that count as weather?), and I had some free time last night so I decided to go back to one of my favorite places in Boston for shooting at night.

The Longfellow Bridge connects Cambridge and Boston across the Charles river, and looks out on the part of the river known as the Sailing Basin, because as the widest, most open part of the river, the MIT, Harvard and other university sailing teams, as well as the public all use it as a great spot for sailing small boats. On any given afternoon there are dozens of sailboats on the water here.

This spot on the bridge is a favorite of mine because in addition to the great view of the river, from this vantage point there is also a great view of the Prudential building and the Hancock Tower, Boston’s two tallest skyscrapers, and the bridge faces southwest, meaning it is wonderful for shooting landscape photos at dusk.

"Charles River Basin": Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM @ f/8, 17mm, 3.2 sec., ISO 160. ©Chris Conti Photography

For this image, because I knew I wanted both the natural light in the sky as well as the artificial lights inside the buildings to be visible with a nice balance between the two, it was important to wait for just the right light. I knew that would mean in this case that would mean a little bit after sunset, when the sky had dimmed sufficiently to not overpower the artificial lights (sunset photos can be gorgeous, but I’ve found that often the best light is actually after sunset, such as here). With the camera on the tripod and using a wide-angle lens (my trusty Canon 5D Mark II with the superb EF 17-40mm f/4L lens), I stopped the lens down to f/8 because shutter speed wasn’t going to be an issue (thank you, tripod) and I wanted the little bit of extra sharpness that comes with a smaller aperture. Using a remote cable release to fire the camera to avoid shake I fired a few frames to test exposure (the camera’s internal light meter here is a decent starting point but only a starting point) and play with a few different angles. Since I wasn’t using a tilt/shift lens and the camera needed to be angled up to get the framing I wanted, I had to do a bit of digital alteration in post (Photoshop’s “Lens Correction” function) to remove the distortion and make the buildings straight.

The result is what I think is a nice image, somewhat different than ones I’ve taken here before. It is by no means perfect though (if in fact an image can ever be), so I’m sure that I’ll be back to this spot again some time.

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Zaza Gallery Canvas Photo Print Review

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

So about a month ago (jeez, it’s been a month already…!) I wrote that a company called Zaza Gallery that makes canvas photo prints had offered to give me a free canvas if I would review the product here on the blog. The technology that drives many of today’s photo products is evolving so rapidly that I’m always interested in hearing about and trying out new vendors, so I was happy to take them up on it.

Their initial offer was for a 16″ x 20″ photo canvas. I shoot on Canon cameras, whose sensors are built with a 3:2 aspect-ratio frame (meaning the width of the image is 1.5x the height) and like many pros, whenever possible I use the entire frame when composing my shots (this is a good practice, as it maximizes the sensor area that you’re using for your final composition, thereby maximizing the image quality). As a result, the 16×20 canvas was a different aspect ratio (5:4) than my intended composition. I brought this to the attention of the company, and they generously offered to instead provide me with a 16×24 canvas, which matched my images’ 3:2 aspect ratio.

Zaza directs that for best quality, the image file that customers provide for printing have a resolution of 300 dpi in order to preserve detail in the final print. This is good, because in order to achieve the great detail of true professional-quality prints, high resolution is essential. For a 16×24 print though, this works out to 4800×7200 pixels, or approximately 35 megapixels, which is a higher resolution than even the best pro cameras widely used today (there are a small number of exotic systems that can achieve this resolution natively). What this means is that to make a Zaza canvas print properly, photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom is needed to increase the resolution of image files (known as “up-resing”). Since up-resing can result in nasty pixelation, artifacting and other image degradation if not done carefully, images that will be used to print high-quality prints such as canvases must be originally captured in the highest resolution possible.

In any case, for this test canvas, I chose to use one of my more recent photos (featured previously on the blog as the first Photo of the Day, here) which I called “Daybreak”. Here is the photo:


I chose to use this photo because it would really put the Zaza printing process through its paces: With its heavily saturated colors it would test Zaza’s ability to color-match, the absolute blacks in the silhouettes and sky would test the ability to achieve true black, and the smooth fade-to-black in the sky would test Zaza’s ability to print smooth gradients.

I prepared the image file according to Zaza’s specifications, with the appropriate resolution, format (Zaza takes standard JPG files) and embedded sRGB color profile (color profiles are essential for accurate color reproduction) and sent the image off. In about a week and a half (which is a normal turnaround time for canvas prints like this) I received the finished canvas. It was packaged well-protected, in a cardboard box in a plastic bag covered in bubble-wrap. Here is the finished canvas:


Zaza offers a number of different wrapping style options – a traditional “gallery wrap,” in which the image extends beyond the edges of the frame and continues on the sides, white and black wraps, in which image extends only to the edge of the frame and the sides are white or black, and finally “mirror wraps” and “blur wraps,” which are the best of both worlds: the image extends only to the edges of the frame (meaning the image is not cut off), but the edges are colored either by a reflection of the edge of the image or a blur of the edge of the image (which is nice so that the sides, if visible when hung, have some color and look like a real gallery wrap). I elected for the blur-wrap style. I haven’t seen this option with other canvas print vendors, and it is really nice. Your image doesn’t get clipped, but you still get nice coloration on the sides of the frame.

The quality of the final product is very good. The frame is sturdy and the canvas is stretched quite taut and stapled very securely. As far as the print quality:

-The color reproduction is very good. The colors matched the file I provided, and the saturation and vividness are excellent. Neither over- nor under-saturated.

-The blacks are truly black, the white truly white. Overall, contrast is excellent.

-Detail sharpness is average. On extremely close inspection I can make out a bit of fuzziness in the details, but this is to be expected from a file that was up-res’ed. And in any case no one viewing the print on a wall will get close enough to see the level of detail that I was inspecting. No complaints here.

-Like nearly all canvas prints I’ve seen, the print reflects a moderate amount of glare light, so care must be taken in regard to where the canvas is hung to avoid glare light. But again, this is common for canvas prints.

So there you have it, that’s my review! This canvas will hang proudly on my studio wall. Good job Zaza!

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An Unusual Request

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Take a look at this photo – does anything seem wrong here?


After shooting a portrait for a client the other day, the subject emailed me with an unusual request. Now, in editing portraits in Photoshop, I often trim a few inches off the waists of subjects, remove skin blemishes, etc. This client’s request though, was a new one for me: he wanted me to give him a thicker beard.

Apparently, he had given up shaving a week or so before the portrait was shot, and therefore had several days’ growth of stubble, but wanted a fuller beard for his portrait. In fact, the subject’s beard was pretty stubbly. Here is the original image:


I emailed the subject back that this kind of digital Rogaine would be tricky to do without it looking fake, but nonetheless he asked me to do what I could. I generally don’t like manipulating photographs to such a degree that it crosses the line in my mind from simple retouching (correcting skin blemishes, for example) into outright fakery (which this clearly did), but at the end of the day, my job is to make the client happy. So I proceeded. After my standard, basic Photoshop tweaks (slight Curves, Hue & Saturation and Color Balance adjustments in the form of Adjustment Layers), the image looked like this:


To give the impression of a fuller, heavier beard though, I was going to have to get creative… I decided that in order to achieve a realistic look I would need the texture of actual fibers and strands of hair. So, I identified the thickest part of the subject’s facial hair (which looked to be an area under his nose, highlighted in yellow below), selected it and Identified it as a pattern for the Pattern Stamp tool. Essentially, I was going to use the subject’s own hair to clone in additional hair.

3 patterns

I then used the Pattern Stamp tool to “paint on” the additional hair into a separate layer, varying the opacity from 90% where the appearance would be heaviest around the subject’s mouth, to 10% (in 10% increments) where it would be the lightest, on the sides of his face. The “mask” created by this process is represented below as a Quick Mask, showing the varying degrees of opacity. This process got me close, but didn’t give me quite the look I wanted, so I repeated the procedure using another pattern, this time taken from the subject’s head (highlighted above in green), rotating the selection such that the strands of hair flowed the correct directions. Again, I used the graduated-opacity mask shown below.

4 mask

The end result came out pretty well – I was able to significantly thicken the subject’s beard, but don’t think a typical viewer would look at the photo and think anything had been altered. Placed side by side with the original, however, the difference is substantial:


As I said above, I don’t like altering photographs to an extent that constitutes fakery (the distinction of which of course is a completely subjective judgement, but which in my mind means going beyond simply erasing an unattractive pimple here and there)… I find it distasteful. But as a corporate headshot, the purpose of this photo is to make the subject look good (this isn’t a documentary or photojournalistic shot), and the job of the photographer is always to make the client happy. With this little bit of Photoshop creativity, I think I succeeded.

(By the way, this portrait was shot on my new Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro prime lens using my Canon 5D Mark II body. This was the first time I used the lens for client work, and it is fantastic! The lens is so good I think I’m going to have to write another blog post about it when I get the time! For now though, great lens, highly recommended!)

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