In a previous article—“Park it right here,” Professional Photographer, February 2013—I discussed how to set up a portable background in a typical residential garage and rotate it for various lighting effects using the open garage door as your main. But garages offer more than a large light source and a place to put a background. They offer a wealth of fun stuff to use for themes and backgrounds, such as tires, tools, sports equipment, vehicles, walls, windows, and random things that can inspire you in ways you’d never expect.
You’re already familiar with the lighting techniques I use in garages, so let’s apply that skill with some real backgrounds.
In the first image, I used an open door as the sole source of main light. No other light control devices were needed. My back was to the open garage door. This light can be a bit flat, but sometimes low-contrast light is perfect for the result I want. I added a slight texture to the image to enhance the “oldness” feeling. This image was done in 2006, and textures were more in vogue at that time. But as long as the technique is done appropriately, without drawing attention to itself, enhancements should be able to stand the test of time.
The next image was lit from the open garage door, but with the door at a 90-degree angle to my camera. This causes more contrast and “modeling.” I had the subject turn his head toward the light to avoid a shadow problem on his face. The refrigerator suggested a nostalgic theme, and I noticed in their house that they had an old Coke bottle to use as another prop.
The next photo was set deeper in the garage, which produces a bit more specularity in reflections, but it's still flat, which can be an interesting combination. Because of the theme, I gave it some edginess with Nik’s Tonal contrast and reduced the saturation to complete the old, gritty feel. But with the addition of an accent or separation light that was caused by a window. It’s important to recognize and properly utilize existing light sources.
I love walking into a situation not having a clue what to do, and discovering buried treasure. At one location there was some construction materials were leaning against the wall, but I spotted some peeling drywall behind it and thought it might offer an interesting background. I moved it, and liked it, so I asked the senior to wear something white. All she had that was white was a robe, but it was perfect. Seniors have lots of great clothing … just not always what you might have had in mind. Those surprises and tangents are what makes working at their homes a treat. I wanted to accentuate the details, so I chose LucisArt Sculpture, but still wanted softness on her skin and used Imagenomic Portraiture.
Let’s turn our attention to secondary lighting. I created the next image on film in 1998. I want to point that out because good lighting, composition, and quality don’t change. Clothing or hair styles may, but an image should not be dated by a photography fad. There were two open doors contributing light for this image … the main to my left and the accent to my right. I placed her in between them, allowing the right garage door’s light to accent her figure.
Let’s shift our attention and point of view to using an open door or window from the side. There was skylight and sunlight coming through a window to our left in photo below. Sunlight striking the wood floor reflected back up to the shadow side of the young man’s face, giving me a more unconventional result.
It's a good idea to walk around our original setup to look for other viewpoints and options. Other vantage points can give us a different style to the lighting, pose, and composition.
Part of the process of working on location is to not only create images in a proactive way, but also to be open to inspiration that will let you see possibilities in a reactive way. If all we do is go in with preconceived ideas, we’ll produce images that are simply repeats of what we’ve done before. The beauty of working in new places with every session is the endless stream of discovery.
The capture below happened because I saw the shadows on the wall from the stairway. I asked the senior to find a simple shirt that he’d use to work on a car. The open garage door from the right provided the main light, and the accent light was from a window on our left.
Garages offer a wealth of “stuff” to use, but the lighting where that stuff is isn’t always ideal. I use many different kinds of lighting for my senior portraits because throughout a session, there are many different challenges to overcome. For Image 9, it was easy enough to reflect the light coming through a window behind him onto his face using the mirror side of my Fuzzyflector. Converting the image to brown tone and adding a bit of Nik Tonal Contrast, combined with the low light direction, gave me the tough look the image suggested.
I don’t always use a low reflector as a main light, as in the previous two examples. Here I used it for fill light (below). A window to my right already provided a good main light, in a split light pattern. Since that leaves the other side of the face in shadow, we can fill it with any kind of light we like. I happen to like a low reflector for that touch of drama. I loved the old tools in that workshop/garage.
Garages are usually filled with not only tools and clutter, but also vehicles. When it’s something a bit more interesting than a minivan (sorry, minivan owners), I like to incorporate it if possible. This subject's dad’s Harley definitely qualified. I reflected the open garage door light with my Fuzzyflector for the two images images below. I thought some smoke below the Harley might be fun, so I used a bug sprayer with fog fluid in it for the second image. Even though there’s a trigger to send fog, this kind of fog machine sprays pretty much when it wants to and longer than you want to! I use a battery-operated leaf blower to clear the fog between shots when there isn’t enough of a breeze already.
Clients often ask if they need to move their vehicles out of the garage for the session, but I usually decline because I can work the light better that way. I use all kinds of lighting techniques, depending on whatever gets the job done. Sunlight through an open window gave me plenty of light for my subject, below, but he needed sunglasses to avoid squinting. The back of the Corvette was in deep shadow. I wanted more definition to show it’s a car, so I fired a small strobe in Auto. I usually start in auto eTTL, and if I need to make change, I will. The second photo shows the effect of that additional flash.
The next two images were done later in the day, without a lot of ambient light. As seen in the pre-lit image below, there isn’t anything about the light that’s good for portraiture.
I set up a main light, a Canon 580 EXII with a Larson 22 inch soft box. I also added an accent light with another canon 580 EXII without any light modifier. The accent light touched her cheek and lit the side of the old Stingray. Tonal contrast and some Photoshopped grease on her face, arm, and leg completed the story.
This image with the bike and pink umbrella was done in a garage, not a high key studio. As shown in the setup photo, I used a main flash, fill reflectors and two background lights to evenly light the white drywall. Why the umbrella? I don’t know! I guess because the colors matched.
We can easily gel small strobes for creative color. Just don’t illuminate the surface you want to gel with the main light. The first image below shows where I started, using a strobe behind her to gently light the drywall. But because the jukebox suggests a more neon feel, I wanted more color. I moved my main light more to the side so the jukebox would shield the drywall from the main light, and I put a blue gel on the background strobe.
We can experience a fun color shift when using tungsten light in an environment where there is some neutral ambient light. The first photo shows the traditional capture that I started with, but I was bored with all the beige and wanted to try something else. I grabbed my tungsten spotlight and lit her face. Partially compensating for that warm color means that any ambient light will shift toward blue. You can also create this effect by placing a gel on an LED main light. Try different colors, but be sure to start with a gray balanced image to make your life easier in post production.
Most important, have fun discovering the endless potential of working in garages.
Mark Levesque, CPP, M. Photog, Cr.
If the goal of a professional portrait is to portray the subject in a realistic yet somewhat idealized manner, post-production provides the finishing touch to a properly lit portrait. This tutorial shows you just a few simple Photoshop steps that take a solid photograph and elevate it to a pleasing portrait. While I use particular plug-ins in my workflow, the general treatment can be accomplished in Photoshop itself.
Subtle retouching enhances your client’s portrait without taking away character or completely shattering a semblance of reality. [Click for larger view.] ©Mark Levesque
My goal is always to accomplish as much as possible in camera, providing the best possible image to begin with. In this portrait I started processing with just a few minor adjustments to the white balance, vibrance, and saturation in Lightroom.
Next, open the portrait in Photoshop. In general, I try to work as non-destructively as possible. I've done this enough times that I'm comfortable working on the background layer with a copy of the original file safely stored away. Alternately, you can make a copy of your background layer (cmd/ctrl + J), turn off the background layer and begin your work on the copied layer.
First I eliminate distractions such as stray hairs, dust specks, and blemishes. Set the spot removal brush to a size slightly larger than the spot you're modifying and apply. Try Content-Aware mode first, and if that introduces artifacts, try Proximity Match.
Once the obvious distractions have been eliminated, I work around the eyes. Whether we are concerned with indications of aging or simply minimizing natural darkness under the eyes, the remedy is the same: Replace the affected areas with pixels from elsewhere on the face that do not have the issues. Depending on the image and what areas are available, I use either the Healing Brush or the Patch Tool. In either case, you'll want to reduce the effect by fading the result. Immediately after painting a stroke with the healing brush, press shift + cmd/ctrl + F to bring up the fade dialogue. Here I fade the result to 55%. This reduces creases in the skin without obliterating them completely, for a more natural look.
Once the wrinkles have been reduced sufficiently we will examine the teeth. Many photographers like a slightly warm white balance to give a healthy color to the skin tones. Warming the skin tones may exacerbate the yellowing of teeth. To address this issue, use the lasso tool to make a selection around the teeth. It’s OK to go a little bit into the lips as they are rarely affected by the adjustment we are about to make. Create a new hue/saturation adjustment layer. Select yellows as the targeted color range and reduce the saturation. This will remove the yellow from the teeth, but they may simply look gray. To reduce the gray, increase the brightness of the yellows by moving the slider to the right.
If the teeth were really yellow, you can simply stack on another adjustment layer by dragging the hue/saturation adjustment layer to the new layer icon. This doubles the strength of the adjustment. If this turns out to be too much, dial it back by reducing the opacity of the layer. When you are satisfied with the result, flatten the image. You now have your base layer.
The next step is to duplicate the background layer twice (cmd/ctrl + J). Double-click on the top layer and change the name to portraiture. Double click on the middle layer, and change it to sharpening. Turn off the visibility of the top layer, select the middle layer, and change the blending mode to luminosity. We will be sharpening this layer, and putting it in luminosity mode will prevent the sharpening process from introducing any color shifts. I use the Nik Sharpener Pro plug-in for this, but Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen in Photoshop will provide a similar effect. The idea here is to sharpen the image to counteract the softening created when the light passed through the low-pass filter in the camera. Don’t overdo it.
Now we will soften the skin. Turn the visibility of the top layer back on, and select it in the layers palette. I use the Imagenomic Portraiture 2 plug-in. It does a nice job of softening the skin while maintaining some of the skin’s texture. Portraiture allows you to indicate what the flesh tones are by sampling within the image, and will show you what tones will be targeted by the filter. The settings shown here will usually produce a little more softening than needed, but we’ll take care of that.
Once the filter has run, I mask off the result by adding a layer mask and painting in with a soft edged black brush. Set the brush to 45 to 50% opacity so the masking effect is not overly harsh, and so that you can make subtle increases in the masking with multiple strokes. Mask off the portraiture layer over the eyes, brows, lips, hair, and anything else that you want to stay sharp. To complete the effect, dial down the opacity of the portraiture layer until the skin looks great, but real. You can expect to find the right balance in the 60 to 80% opacity range depending on the strength of the filter’s effects in any particular image and on your taste.
For the final touches I create two curves adjustment layers for non-destructive dodging and burning. First, create a new curves adjustment layer, and pull the curve down about 30 points. Label this layer Darken, and type cmd/ctrl + I to fill the layer mask with black, effectively hiding the effect of the adjustment. Now create another curves adjustment layer and pull the curve up about 30 points or so. Label this one Lighten, and fill its mask with black as well.
Now we can use a soft-edged brush to selectively lighten and darken specific areas of the portrait to subtly complete the enhancement. Set the brush opacity to 40 to 50%, and select white as the color to paint, then carefully paint a half moon shape in the irises of the eyes opposite from the catchlights. Your brush size should be smaller than the width of the iris. If there are any additional areas where you would like to lighten the image, paint with an appropriately sized brush. This is a pretty subtle change, and you may need to toggle the visibility of the adjustment layer to see if you are really doing anything. Once you've finished lightening, select the Darken layer and paint anywhere you would like to darken the image. For example, you might want to use a large brush and add a bit of vignette. Finally, save your master file.
With these techniques you should be able to provide your clients with the portraits that exceed their expectations.
By Cate Scaglione
Many world-class wedding photographers can cover most of a wedding using a 70-200mm lens. With the versatility of its focal range and the appealing compression it displays at longer working distances, it’s a champion lens in the photographers’ arsenal. As a family photographer, I took a cue from the wedding pros a few years ago and began to use the 70-200mm to transform my children’s portrait work. It offered a practical advantage to capturing little clients on the move. I simply loved the results. It’s quickly become my favorite lens for family and editorial shoots.
I typically work with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lens. Given the opportunity to test Tamron’s 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD zoom lens, I was naturally curious.
I first put the Tamron to the test at a wedding venue in our brutal Northeast winter. I had arrived an hour early and was doing some leisurely outdoor detail shots, so I gave it a try. It may have been the frigid temperatures, or a malfunction with the unit itself, but the shutter kept freezing in place. Frustrated, I gave up and continued on with my day. I contacted Tamron, who courteously and rapidly replaced my unit with another new lens unit.
For many photographers, that first test may have been a deal-breaker. I’m thankful I did not retire my efforts then. I brought the replacement Tamron 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC Telephoto Zoom unit with me— again a blustery winter evening at dusk—to photograph an editorial-style children’s fashion session. I was astounded by this lens, primarily by its new VC (Vibration Compensation) feature and beautiful compression.
Photographing an active child in waning light conditions, I was thrilled with the capabilities it offered. If, like me, you’re not bound to a tripod, you generally need to have a very steady hand below a shutter speed of 1/60 second. Tamron’s new and improved Vibration Compensation functionality adds an impressive solution. I was able to shoot as low as 1/15 with acceptably crisp results on low-lit portraits. Personally, I have never achieved this before in a handheld setting.
This image was captured handheld, exposed for 1/15 second at f/11, ISO 100, to test the Tamron lens's vibration compensation.
Moving about our old-fashioned gas station location, I observed that while some of the scenery worked as shabby-chic for my purposes, much of it did not. Lens compression was key here. The Tamron glass at 200mm produces a beautiful, creamy bokeh and maintains a deliciously sharp foreground for stunning portraits and crisp clothing detail.
At 200mm, the not-so-attractive background fades away
into a creamy blur while the foreground stays vividly sharp.
I also tested the Tamron 70-200mm more intimately as a portrait lens and was very happy with the results. In this charming image of a newborn baby and his older sister, exposed for 1/200 second at f/2.8, it rivals the shots I’d typically achieve with my wide-open 50mm and 85mm prime lenses. Its performance has changed my former assumptions about third-party lenses.
With its quick and nimble Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD), its autofocusing capability was entirely accurate. It's smaller and lighter than the competition but still a heavy lens—that is the nature of f/2.8 70-200mm category. It ships with a flower-shaped lens hood, which helps mitigate vignetting at wide focal lengths. Without a lens hood, there were no issues until some of my lower-key shots where I noticed approximately a quarter- to a half-stop of vignetting, which was easily remedied in Lightroom. (I tend to process with vignettes anyway.)
The Tamron 70-200mm is slightly shorter than the comparable Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS models, and it has a solid build. As with other Tamron lenses I’ve used, I prefer its rubberized focus ring, which enables smooth and effortless manual focusing. It’s important to note that the zoom ring is further from the camera body than Canon or Nikkor lenses, which I find helpful, but Canon or Nikon lens users may need some time to get accustomed to that. The lens also features four low-dispersion elements to combat chromatic aberration.
Priced at $1,499 and covered with a 6-year manufacturer warranty, this lens gives a lot of bang for the buck. The optical quality is very good for the price and can stand up to its competition in a variety of situations. The question remains if you are ready to invest in its pricier competitors – the Canon’s 70-200mm f2.8L IS II ($2,199, with a 1 year warranty) or Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II ($2,096 with a 5 year warranty). The Tamron stands as a solid, economical lens that won’t disappoint.