The Magic of “Clean White” backgrounds

We have all seen them – pictures with white backgrounds. White is probably the most common color (or lack thereof) for a photo background.

 

The most obvious reason for this is that white backgrounds are the most commonly occurring for pages of text. Having the image background the same color as the printed page or screen makes integration between text and images easy. It is also a good starting point for extractions when one wants to have different background color options.

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Extracted image shown against various color backgrounds.

A white background helps the colors to “pop” without competing colors in the background.

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Sometimes the desire is just to have an image of the subject without the distraction of a bounding rectangle.

Producing an image with a “clean white” background is not the same as just shooting an image against a white background because without particular care, the “white” of the background will not match the white of the page and you will still have a bounding rectangle as can be seen from the two images below:

Particular care must be taken to light both the subject and background independently as both subject and background have different lighting requirements. A white backdrop does not guarantee that the background will come out looking white in the final image as can be seen by these images in which the subject was lit identically. The difference being that one had light on the background and the other did not:

Even a lily-white background will come out looking gray if there is not enough light hitting it. Additionally if too much light hits it, the result is “ghosting” with the light coming from behind affecting the subject:

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This may be a desirable look for some kinds of work, but where it isn’t, special care needs to be taken to ensure there is enough light to ensure the background comes out looking white, but not so much that it reflects off the background and affects the look of subject.  The intensity of the light and distance to the background must be just right. When the subject is against a white backdrop, problems can arise with backdrop texture and shadows:

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Natural (window or outdoor) light used by itself, is almost never going to satisfactorily achieve the desired (clean white) look. This kind of work will be accomplished on a consistent basis by a photographer who is competent in lighting.

For the reasons stated above this is a very useful look for both people and products in printed materials and on screen, for publication and for advertising. While it is possible to use different kinds of backgrounds and extract the subject using photo manipulation tools, this tends to be an inefficient approach and can be especially unwieldy for large numbers of images or where quick turnaround is a necessity.

Actor and Model Headshots

As an actor or a model, you trade in your visual appeal. Your headshot is not just for identification, it is your calling card and the best way to make a first impression. models_beautYour headshot is a way to convey your personality at a glance. Yes, people make snap judgments based on appearance and you want that to work out in your favor.  Even for experienced models, it helps to get effective direction from the photographer because you can’t see yourself while you’re posing 🙂

Very often in castings, the headshot photo will determine whether or not an actor/actress/model makes the first cut.

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For new talent, it is especially important for the photographer to be able to guide and direct the model. Part of growth as a model is being able to learn from photographers and to get to a point where they know their “angles”.  This makes it necessary for the photographer to actually have the knowledge to pass on. Otherwise, it is a case of the blind leading the blind. For more experienced models/actors, it is a lot easier but they still need some guidance, especially if the goal of the session is to achieve a particular look.

Other considerations are the photographer’s skill at lighting especially when in comes to being able to handle indoor and outdoor locations, to make use of natural and artificial lighting and to blend them when the occasion calls for it.

It is always advisable to take a good look at the photographer’s portfolio to get an understanding of their competence with lighting, checking how much work they have had published and if they have worked with agencies. If you are looking to get your portfolio built, you want someone who has a good sense of what agents/clients look for. A phone call or in-person meeting would be a very good idea. Get in touch with me at photo@pixyst.com if you need help with this.

Finding a Commercial Photographer for your Business

Creating a visual representation of your business is a great way to attract customers. With a wealth of options, how does one find the right fit? If you have the right skill set, you can, of course, decide to do the work yourself. Most people quickly discover that there is more to commercial photography than initially meets the eye. Some tips to keep in mind when one decides (or is considering) to hire a photographer.

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Communication

Every situation has unique features. Even when a photographer has previously worked with a business, there will still be a need to understand differences that may arise with each new assignment. That is done by asking the right questions, by listening with an open mind and by presenting options to open up the client’s mind to the possibilities that exist for what can be delivered.

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Versatility

In order to showcase a business, a variety of image types and genres may be required. A variety of subjects may need to be photographed. This will, of course, depend on the nature of the particular business – subjects vary from people to products. Whatever or whoever the subjects are, they must be shown at their best. That can be done with a deep knowledge of lighting, posing and staging.

Competence

It may be difficult for someone who is not a photographer or an art critic to properly evaluate photography. Who is going to make our people, products, and business look attractive to the public? One method is to look at the ads in high-end magazines and compare their look with the look of the photographs you are evaluating. A good photographer should:

  • be able to handle a variety of lighting situations
  • be able to direct pose and give concise directions to the subject
  • be able to work quickly and efficiently so as not to waste the client’s time

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Ultimately, this is a partnership, between the representatives of your business, and the photographer, with a common goal of providing the best images to help the business to sell their goods and/or services. Contact http://www.pixyst.com for support with developing your imaging strategy.

 

Executive Portraiture on Location

Are you involved in any service in which trust is a major selling point? Do you have an online presence? Then people want to see who you are. They want to see what you look like, and then they are going to draw conclusions based on the images they see of you. You want those conclusions (impulsive as they may be) to be in your favor. People form opinions about you based on the visuals you present, and there is no substitute for a good first impression.

You want your customer-facing representatives to have strong headshots on your website and other collateral. The look should be consistent from one image to another and it would be nice if you did not have to face logistical challenges of having everyone go off and look for a photo studio. What if the studio could come to you.

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All you need is a conference room and we can set up a studio with backdrop and lighting right in your premises. Very precise direction is provided, so the subject never has wonder what to do while in front of the camera. The result is a minimum of time expended and a maximum of convenience – a win-win.

Photographic Solutions

Sometimes you don’t just want a picture made. Sometimes there are real challenges. Take, for example, this team of realtors who needed a group photo done:

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This was going to be used in various marketing collateral. In print, and online. The clean white background meant that it would integrate smoothly with the page. The only problem was that there were logistical challenges. The team members could not (for scheduling and location reasons) be at the same place at the same time for the photo.

The solution was to photograph them separately and then composite the images together:

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Keeping lighting, distance to subject, camera height, and focal length consistent meant that the individual images could be brought together into one believable whole. What challenges do you face in getting the right images for your marketing? Let us help you find solutions, contact us at http://www.pixyst.com.

Cinematic Headshots

If you are in a business that involves customer facing, your online presence has to have a way to project the personalities of those people who are the face of the business. Pictures may serve to identify the individual, but beyond that, you want the client to get a sense that they know this person and would like to do business with them. It’s a snap judgment, but it’s real and you want it to work in your favor.

While there are different styles of headshot, you want something that relates to your personality type and the message you are trying to send. Cinematic Headshots are a style of headshot branded by Dylan Patrick. They have now been introduced to Phoenix, AZ.

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They can be done literally anywhere – an office hallway, parking lot, anywhere. They make the subject look professional, yet approachable. I give all the direction you need, and the results are always excellent.

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The image below was the setup for the result obtained above. Even when your environment does not look particularly attractive, you get a beautiful out-of-focus background that enhances your look. You can see more examples here. If you want to stand out from the crowd, please contact me at photo@pixyst.com and give your image a boost. #Headshots, #Executive, #Portraiture, #Phoenix, #Chandler, #Scottsdale, #AZ

A place for film in a digital world

A place for film in a digital world

An article I wrote for the AZPPA on the value of film technology as an educational tool.

Introduction

There was a time when the question was asked with regards to image capture, film or digital? Today digital photography is the default. Film has been relegated to a specialty medium. Initially, film had the qualitative edge over digital, but with the march of technology,  those advantages have been eroded. First, it was resolution, then dynamic range and color fidelity. Sensor size remaining equal, digital capture has the clear edge.

That said, film is far from dead, and there are a number of reasons for this. Among others:

The look: Film lovers swear by this, that in spite of a wealth of filters and software processing tools that promise to replicate the ‘looks’ of various types of film, there is nothing quite like the real thing.

Large format: There are currently no commercially available cameras with sensors as large as 4×5 or 8×10. If you want the specific look of either of those formats (razor thin depth of field, unique perspective etc), then you have no choice but to use film. Large format film cameras are about the only film cameras with image quality to rival today’s digital cameras.

“Because I can”: This was a response I got from a professional photographer a few years ago and I can sort of relate because not everyone can. It is a more deliberate process, and if you don’t at least have some idea of what you are doing you will most likely end up with nothing. It, therefore, helps to give a photographer the prestige of being more than a ‘digital kid’. Opinions will differ.

Educational value: This leads me to the reason that is the focus of this article, and that is, film as a teaching aid. The more manual, more intimate process of shooting film forces the photographer to become more involved in the process. The emphasis here will be on 35mm film.

Shooting 35mm film on a manual body forces you to slow down. Get your basic composition, set exposure by adjusting shutter speed and/or aperture (not ISO), wind film, finalize composition, focus and press shutter release – or however you prefer to do it. All that effort to make just one exposure combined with the fact that you have to take the film to be processed after just 24 or 36 exposures and then wait a further period of time to see the results amounts to quite an emotional investment. Who wants to go through all that just to see a bunch of worthless images? If you are going to work that hard for a few pictures, you might as well put in the effort to learn the correct methodology and get something worthwhile out of the effort. Let us not forget the financial investment of actually buying the film and paying for it to be processed.
Contrast that scenario with today’s world of digital in which you can click away with no consequences whatsoever and delete the resulting images just as easily.

Aperture, Shutter speed, Appreciation of ISO
The beauty of a manual film camera lies in its simplicity. It is not hard to teach the concept of aperture –  just hold down the depth-of-field preview button and turn the aperture ring and you can see the lens diaphragm opening and closing in response to your movements. Shutter operations and shutter speed are also easy to demonstrate by opening the back of the camera (not an option on digital cameras) and operating the camera. Wind the film advance lever and press the shutter release while varying the shutter speed and you can see a clear demonstration of shutter speed and of first and second curtain concepts. You can easily explain the concepts of flash sync speed in a visual, practical way.

Reducing levers of control
Using a film camera, you have just shutter speed and aperture with which to control exposure – there is no possibility to vary the ISO from one exposure to the next. You are stuck with one ISO for as long as the roll of film lasts. This makes it easier to demonstrate that getting the right exposure is a dance between these two values.

Slowing down
The entire process then is a much more deliberate, more time-consuming process. It forces one to slow down and give some thought to the process of what you are doing. You also have fewer opportunities to make mistakes and a financial consequence for each mistake you make.

Challenges of film
Using film these days does present some challenges:
Cost: Exposures are not free (they are not really free with digital either, but that is another discussion), you have to pay for each roll of 24 or 36 exposures and you can burn through those really quickly. It adds up.
Processing: It is becoming more and more difficult to get your film processed. A number of major drug store chains have stopped processing film in-house. They send it off to a collection center and get back digital files which they put on a disc and print for you – you get a disc and prints – no negatives. Your wait time also goes up.
Storage and management of negatives/slides: Managing physical objects (that have no metadata) in a way that they can be easily referenced and protected from damage is a challenge.
Scanning and Sharing: We have become so used to using online media to share our images that it has become a given. There is no comparable way to get such wide reach with our work. With film, there is the extra bother of scanning to get the digital file.

Where digital takes over as an educational tool
After acquiring good habits and discipline from film, it is time them to graduate to digital for the next phase of one’s photographic education.

Despite the usefulness of a manual film camera as an educational tool, I feel it is complemented in this purpose by the digital camera. The instant feedback obtained from the LCD monitor is invaluable in understanding the effects of various settings and configuration changes. You have a lot more opportunities to make mistakes with no financial consequences for doing so. The likelihood is that you will shoot a whole lot more and therefore learn faster. Digital, therefore, opens up a world of creative exploration which would not be as readily accessible with film.

In conclusion, nothing stops you from learning and developing the virtues obtained from this process on your own by whatever means you choose, but using film (in combination with digital) is certainly an effective path to that goal.