Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Inspired by Dia De Los Muertos

Caro - Face of the Dead

Ever since I was introduced to pin-up photography, I began to see more and more shots like the one above across the web. It had me quite intrigued. While I wouldn't categorize the shots in this post as pin-up by any means, it seems to be pin-up models who have a great appreciation to participate in this type of shoot.

I've always wanted to do a "Muertos" shoot, and thanks to one of my favorite makeup artists asking me, I was finally able to get one under my belt. Neither of the models pictured in this post are actual pin-up models. In fact, one of the models (Caro) has never modeled in front of the camera. I chose the other model, Andrea Gilliam, because I thought her brown hair and brown eyes, along with her facial features, would be a good fit for the makeup she would be wearing.

Caro and Andrea - Los Muertos

I think if I could do it over again, there is a couple of considerations I would give more attention. The first would be a realistic start time. With the days getting shorter, after planning to shoot outside, getting an early start on a style of shoot you have never done before is paramount. Makeup alone is a very lengthy process; a two hour minimum per model is not uncommon for a muertos shoot. And then they have to have elaborate hair as well. Add another model to the mix, and you quickly realize the project requires a lot of preparation.

Andrea - Muertos

The second thing I would plan a little better is the type of shots I want to get. During this recent shoot, light was falling out of the sky faster than I could secure my creative beanie atop my head. As a result, I found myself directing the models to do fashion poses in a pinch. It didn't really feel appropriate, but at that point I was just happy to get close up shots of Tabi's makeup work for her. While setting up scenarios probably would have been a better option for the location, I am still happy with the shots I captured during the shoot.

Caro - Darkness is coming

One more thing I would consider is shooting this concept in the studio. That way you have more control over light, you can feel free to spend a little more time being more creative with makeup and hair, and you can basically shoot until everyone is yawning and starting to complain about how late it is. The next time I am asked to shoot a muertos concept, I will suggest the studio unless there is a prime location involved.

POSH Makeup by Tabi
Marly's Hair and Makeup
Andrea Gilliam imagery by Eric Courtney
Think Tunk Productions Facebook Page

For more local photography info, check out my column on Examiner.com.
My website: Sacramento Photographer

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Green Screen for Still Photography

Courtney - Green Screen Background

Anybody who is interested in chroma key photography may find this interesting. If you're not familiar with the term chroma key, it is basically the process of compositing multiple images using green screen or blue screen technology. It may sound complex, and it can be very complex depending on the project you are working on, but for this post I am only sharing some samples of my experience creating still-photo portraits using the process.

We've all seen films like The Matrix, Avatar and Spider-man. Today's cinema blockbusters are using this technology to catapult films into huge money making film attractions. But it's not just big budget studios using the technology. Low budget independent films and even online video-bloggers have easy access to the technology, and many are using it effectively. While I have played around with it in some test videos, it is still-photos that I am playing around with right now.

The small image of Sacramento model Courtney Riggs (above) is a raw photo straight out of my Nikon DSLR. As you can see, Courtney is posing in front of a green background. A very bright green background. The photo below is the end result using the chroma key process. As you can obviously see, there is a dramatic difference to the image, yet still very much the same image.

Courtney - Green Screen

If you have ever extracted the background, or foreground, of an image to combine different images into one, or create effects, odds are you have used the marquee tool in Photoshop or another photo editing application at some point throughout the process. Chroma Keying let's you eliminate that time intensive technique by eliminating the green or blue hue with one click of your paint bucket or one short pass with your background eraser tool. Of course this is all assuming you are extracting on a budget.

Naomi - Green Screen B&W

There are plugins for Photoshop and stand-alone applications that will allow you to eliminate the green or blue hues from your images with precision accuracy. But they're not free. Digital Anarchy has a plugin for Photoshop that has a pretty good reputation. It is called Primatte Chromakey. There is also a stand-alone application called PhotoKey 3, and it is available for both Mac and Windows environments. Prices for both range from $150-$300, so you can start creating your own masterpieces within a relatively reasonable budget.

Sonar - Princess of Good

Of course you can always do it the hard way, like I did, without the aid of specialized software. But keep in mind, chroma key software was developed to easily correct all the mistakes one can make from doing it themselves using only a Photoshop extraction technique. One of those corrections is the correction of color cast or spill.

Color spill (or cast) is the result of color cast onto your subject via a reflective colored surface. When you use a blue or green screen as a backdrop, you are going to deal with the color of that backdrop effecting the visual area of your subject. Even after it appears that you have eliminated all the color to be extracted in your image. The closer your model is to the backdrop, the more spill you are going to deal with in the post processing stage. The farther away from the backdrop your model is, the lower the reflective area of color hitting your subject you will have to deal with.

So if you opt to do it yourself, prepare for a little trial and error. There are plenty of instructional books out there as well as tutorials online that will help guide you along the way.

One other benefit from using green screen as your backdrop, is that you can save a bundle of money on buying actual backdrops for portrait sittings. You have all the control in the world over color and patterns to place behind your subject instead of dishing out over $150 for a Muslin backdrop that is going to be tired looking after three portrait sessions. Of course you may run into problems with that philosophy if your subjects insist on wearing a lot of green (or blue in front of blue screen). So having a couple of options is always best.

Check out my column on Examiner.com. I am now a Sacramento Photography Examiner
You can also find me at Sacramento Photography on ThinkTunk.com

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Photo a Day for 365 Days is harder than it sounds

Yesterday I produced the final image of my 365 days, photo a day, project. I am including a few of the highlights in this post, but I would be lying if I said I really like the quality of everything that I produced throughout an entire year of shooting a photo a day. None the less, I will provide a link to the set that contains all 365 images at the bottom of this post so you can see everything.

365/365!!!  I came, got a shave and a woman, and left this town...

I came, got a shave and a woman, and left this town... On my METAL STEED
- Photo by Eric Courtney

The image above was the last image of the year long effort, and I made a pretty solid effort to do something fun that would cap off the project with a celebration of sorts. If you click on the image, you can read about the setup on my Flickr Stream. I will summarize quickly by saying that the shot almost didn't happen, and that it was fun sneaking around in the corner of a darkened, somewhat-popular, intersection in Sacramento.

003/365 - Rain on Saturn

Rain On Saturn
- Photo by Eric Courtney

008/365 - Rusty Old American Dream

Rusty Old American Dream
- Photo by Eric Courtney

Bella - Bel Air

Bela Bel Air
- Photo by Eric Courtney

There is a common trend with 365 projects right now that they should only be self portraits. While I am not handsome, or presumptuous, enough to keep my interest for 365 self portraits, I chose to go the direction of how I view the world in an artistic sense. I think it breaks things up a little better, and I really think it helped simplify the project. I captured shots of many different things throughout the year. Everything from cars, models, lightning strikes, and fireworks to the extremely mundane lines and textures of ordinary objects around us that we often overlook on a daily basis. A lot of the captures I loved. Many of them not so much.

Regardless of the philosophy behind the approach of committing to the project, it is a hard commitment to keep. I wanted to quit many times throughout the course of the project, but thank goodness I had a lot of support from friends and online fans who fueled my desire along the way. This project was a burden in my life at many times throughout it's coarse, and a lot, A LOT, of the images reflect that part of my life. I can not even tell you how many times I snapped a photo at 11:45 in the evening, of the most meaningless object, just to fulfill my obligation to complete the project. If you are reading this, and you have taken on this project and completed it, I have nothing but pure, and undiluted, respect for you. Those of you who have started and given up can relate to the difficulty involved.

085/365 - Vicious Bettys!

Vicious Betty's
- Photo by Eric Courtney

211/365 - The Mighty Pacific

Xue Vue and The Mighty Pacific
- Photo by Eric Courtney

084/365 - Naomi in the Depths of Preston Castle

Naomi in the Depths of Preston Castle
- Photo by Eric Courtney

164/365 - Promo Shoot

Naomi and Menace pose for a promotional flyer
- Photo by Eric Courtney

During this journey, I made many friendships. A few of the most notable above. These people had a profound impact in my life over the last year, and I am beside myself that I was able to connect in a way that would help me learn, improve my quality of work, and the best part is... They were contributors to my 365 project directly.

I also got to meet and work with some amazing models over the course of the year and most of them are a lot of fun and great people to be around. Some (definitely not all) of my favorites below. As you can see, I try to keep things fun.

106/365 - Three Hot Rockers!

Three Hot Rockers
- Photo by Eric Courtney

140/365 Sonja - Pop King Diva

Sonja Renee - Pop King Diva
- Photo by Eric Courtney

177/365 - Dahlia Blu Rocks!

Dahlia Blue Rocks
- Photo by Eric Courtney

174/365 - Leap of Rock!

Mary Nguyen - Leap of Rock!
- Photo by Eric Courtney

While I didn't dedicate my entire project to the self portrait, I did take my fair share over the year. Sometimes it felt like the last option. I am going to be posting a blog about self portraits in the near future, so I will only show a couple of the many I created this last year. The two below were special because they were at major milestones during the project. 100 days, and 300 days.

100/365 - Experiment with Brushes and Flares

100 Day Milestone
- Photo by Eric Courtney

300/365 - Tonight -- We Dine On Leftover Turkey!

300 Day Milestone
- Photo by Eric Courtney

I could easily continue writing about the many things I covered in a year, but I think I have gone on long enough. This past 365 days was definitely an experience. One that I am glad that I committed to, but one I will never try to duplicate again. It is very important to set goals for yourself, and I am proud that I was able to reach this one. In the future, my goals will be bigger, but on a much more productive level. I have ideas, and I look forward to having complete creative freedom to tackle them soon.

Now as I Promised... Here is the link to all 365 images: My 365 Flickr Set

Sacramento Photographer
Sacramento Photography Examiner

Monday, January 11, 2010

Old Town Sacramento offers many opportunities for photography enthusiasts.

(This article was submitted to another site as an example; I thought I would share it here)

If you have ever been to Old Sacramento, you know it is an experience you will not forget any time soon. Located along the Sacramento River, the area still expresses a historical feel to the days of the California Gold Rush. Today it is very popular to tourists and local residents looking for great shopping, entertainment, and dining. The area is also becoming very popular to photographers and photography enthusiasts searching for a great place to capture nice photographs.

Old Sacramento’s 28 acres provides seemingly endless opportunities to capture great photos, regardless of the style of photography pursued. The long brick alleys between historic structures provide great backdrops for fashion and commercial photography, while the old Transcontinental Railroad train tracks that run through town are a popular subject to shoot for local artists in a safe environment. The California State Railroad Museum is also a worthwhile visit for taking great photographs.

Naomi & Veronica - Rush to the Park

If the character of the town itself is not enough to get someone to point and shoot, a very short walk to the Sacramento River yields a beautiful skyline that includes Sacramento’s famous Tower Bridge. That particular area is very popular with tourists who want to capture a great moment to remember their visit. The river is a popular spot year around and very active during the summer months. Docked along the river in Old Town is the Delta King. The Delta King is an old sternwheeler riverboat that is now a hotel with a four star restaurant inside. It is a great location for photo opportunities, inside and out, and it is a favorite among local wedding photographers.

There are plenty of great examples to share, but the best opportunity photo enthusiasts can give themselves is a visit to Old Sacramento to check it out first-hand. Get a map and check out images of the area here: http://maps.google.com/maps/place?ftid=0x809ad1346fc169f7:0x5d22e86bd345e49a&q=old%2Bsacramento,%2BCA

Don’t forget your camera!

Sacramento Photography

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