Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It – Hands On
I spent Friday at Dave Cross Workshops for a hands-on version of Scott Kelby's Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It (hereafter known as LSR) workshop. Rather than demonstrating his techniques to a conference hall filled with nearly a thousand people, this was a workshop for less than 16 people. We had three models (two female, one male) and went through five lighting scenarios, just like the tour. To be honest, I wasn't sure if we would get through all of the scenarios. At the end of the day, Scott mentioned that he also wasn't sure if we'd get through.
Fortunately, we had an excellent group of people in the course who kept things moving along and didn't get bogged down with shooting a hundred frames when we only needed one to retouch. In fact, the friendliness of everyone involved is a major reason this was a great day for me. Dave, Scott, & Brad kept everything running with a friendly tone, all of the attendees were friendly – it was just a fun workshop because of the people.
Dave's studio is really versatile. He has photos and a walk-through video on his web site. We had plenty of room, water & soda in the fridge, Subway delivered for lunch and a little chocolate fix in the afternoon. If you're in the Tampa area, he also rents the studio out – for much less than I could rent a place in the Orlando area. Makes me a bit jealous, actually. Since I had such a good time at this workshop, I won't have any problems going back if he gets another one that catches my eye.
The day starts with the handouts. Dave has brochures and discounts from his sponsors. Scott passed out copies of his recent book – Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques for Photographers, as well as the same workbook used on the LSR Tour. The latter comes with a free download of OnOne Software's PhotoTools 2 and the Goodies Digital Downoads.
At various points in the day, Scott touches on his gear choices and why he made those choices. In some cases, I have the same stuff. For example, he uses Elinchrom BXRi 500 studio strobes and those are the units I have. The reasoning about strobes, flashes, etc is pretty simple. They make a big burst of light. You can spend a little or a lot, but you get something that makes a big burst of light. So, you're left with other factors to help you decide which product will make your burst of light. Those Elinchrom's include a radio receiver and the transmitter can move the lighting power up/down by increments of a 1/10th stop. That's pretty handy when you compare it to going to the strobes after a shot to change the power.
More important than the burst of light is what you put in front of them – the light modifiers. I have a few of my own modifiers, but I've been hesitant to invest too much in new ones until I knew what I'd do with them. This workshop answered those questions for me and changed my priorities about which modifiers to buy next. Since I already have a 39″ Deep Octa soft box, along with a pair of reflectors & grids, I ordered a 17″ beauty dish & diffuser when I got home.
My reasoning was from seeing the same model under different lighting conditions and the effect it had upon her complexion. The image I have of Lauren above was retouched, but the original image looks very good by itself. As we saw Scott's photos of her appear on the monitor, we were all impressed by her clear skin.
The next setup was the complete opposite – dramatic lighting with quick fall-off. As each of the images from this setup appeared, I saw all these little bumps and spots appearing on her face that everyone in the room would swear just wasn't there when you looked at her. Although I've read different things about how to complement a person's complexion with lighting before, I had never really seen the differences illustrated so well before. I love my Deep Octa soft box, but that Beauty Dish looks definitely cut down on the retouching necessary in the image. I'll grant you there were other differences in the setup, but I'm satisfied enough to buy the beauty dish.
Nelly was up next for a couple of compositing shots. The key tips I learned here was what works best for extracting your subject to use in a composite. According to Scott, an 18% grey background makes things easier than using a white, black or even green screen background. That makes life MUCH simpler for me. It means I don't have to worry about extra lighting to turn white seamless into pure white, or preventing light spill from getting on a roll of black seamless paper, much less buying a green screen background. Put up a roll of white seamless, move your subject forward and let the background go grey. Mind you, it may go a bit too grey, but that was easily solved in Aperture before I exported the image to Photoshop. Had to learn that lesson the hard way, though. When I tried working on the image with too dark of a grey background, there were areas in her hair that I just didn't get quite right.
The other key tip was just how good Photoshop CS5's Refine Edge feature is for masking. I've used OnOne software's Mask Pro in the past. My opinion is that it's a pain in the ass if you don't have a ton of RAM and strong CPU. The alternative for lacking resources is to break up your masking into sections, which prolongs the time you need to use that tool. CS5 doesn't have that problem. There were spots I still needed to tweak, but it did an excellent job right off the bat.
While we were discussing this subject, Matt Kloskowski stopped by the workshop to show Scott the first copy of his new book on compositing. It just arrived and he was kind enough to pass it around the class to take a look at it. I only flipped through the pages for a few moments, but the photos are stunning. I believe it comes out August 7th, so I'm looking forward to getting a copy of it.
Speaking of Matt, he was our male model. This image is right out of camera without any Photoshop. There's a beauty dish above (no diffuser) and he's being lit with grids from either side behind him. A couple of things about the raw images from this shoot struck me.
- Good lighting really saves you time later in Photoshop
- Moving an inch or three can put your subject out of the range of good lighting.
In this setup, I noticed Scott had to adjust a few times when Matt changed a pose and stepped forward or backward – the light was no longer falling where it needed to be. I think I should've made a correction in this frame to ask him to tilt his head-up just a bit and get a bit more light in his eyes.
Retouching for a male subject is a bit different, of course. Scott demonstrated a few different techniques to add a bit of texture and grit to the image, but done selectively. For example, he could put this through Nik's Tonal Contrast filter for a gritty look, but then it seems a bit overdone on Matt's face – actually even changing the color of his face. Masking out Matt's face left it as shot, but still added some texture to his clothes or wrist-wraps. Another suggestion was to apply the filter and then only mask it in selectively on one area, such as the wrist straps. I do the same thing with my HDR images – put the effect only where you need it.
Breaking New Ground
There were two other things that weren't necessarily part of the lesson plan, but made an impression upon me. The first was using my Wacom Intous 4 tablet. For about two years, I've regarded this thing as the worst money I ever spent on photography gear. Yes, I know. Everyone who has one loves it. Can't say that I've ever been one of those people, but I brought it to see if I could get some new insight on using the thing. I'll post about it in more detail this week.
The other aspect was tethering. I've never tried it before, so I was interested to see what I learned about it from Scott. When he talked about the benefits of using tethering on a shoot, he asked if everyone used Lightroom. Everyone did. Everyone except for me. I think he had a moment where he inwardly groaned and saw a Bridge/Camera RAW user who couldn't tether. Once I told him I used Aperture, he said that's great – you can tether with that just as well. I practiced with it a bit when I got home and I've noticed some differences between Lightroom & Aperture for tethering, so I'll go over those in more detail later this week, too.
Next Stop, Orlando
The LSR tour hits Orlando this Friday. As luck would have it, I signed up for that before this workshop was announced. I'm still going, mostly because I enjoyed the session and I may yet pick up a few more tips. Also, I like this idea of having three-day weekends. I simply have to debate whether to bring my own lunch or trust the offerings of the Orange County Convention Center.
One more thing – I sat next to Shawn Heifert who came down from Savannah. Very nice guy with talent. Check out his great portrait images on his web site.
Dave Cross shot some video of the workshop, so I thought I'd share it here so you could get an idea of what we did in the class.