HDR Portraits

By now I am sure you have heard of HDR or High Dynamic Range Photography. Usually the images are done for landscapes or architecture where there is little or no movement from the subject. This is because you need to blend several images, taken at different exposures, together to show the full dynamic range of color. Doing this with portraits has been difficult or impossible because of the (however so slight) movement of a portrait subject. Not anymore.

In the tutorial below I show you how I got to the dramatic image above from an everyday image that is well exposed but is nothing special.


With Lightroom 2 and Photomatix Pro and a single image of James I was able to create an HDR photo in just a few minutes. The image isn’t perfect but it’s an example of what you can do in a very short time and a little creative thinking.

To do this tutorial, first find an image that you want to work with. Then make two copies of that image. They need to be the same size, exposure, etc.; exact duplicates. I jump ahead in the video to where I have three copies of the same image. Once you have your three, click the image below to watch the video.

(A new window or tab will open; then  just click the play button)


(Best viewed in at least 1024×768 or greater)

Not too tough was it? Do you like the results of your work? If not, go back and play a bit more. Tweak the settings until you get just the HDR portrait you are looking for. Remember, you will get your most dramatic results from portraits of those people that have a lot of drama and character to their looks.

Until next time…

Happy Shooting!

Retouching Parts 1 AND 2!

I have been asked many times to retouch images or to “make me look perfect” by clients. Personally I prefer 100% natural images straight out of the camera. The thing is, I’m not paying me, my clients are. Now it is possible to help someone lose a few pounds, or at least take off the “10 pounds a camera puts on you” but is it necessary? With just a little retouching you can make someone look fantastic! You would be amazed at how far just a little bit of skin softening can go.

The problem in magazines today is that many of the people responsible for the content don’t know and they go too far. Way too far. Don’t blame the photographer or even the retoucher, they both know what reality is; however, often the person paying them doesn’t.

To learn how far is not too far, click the link.
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Faded Old Photo? Easy!

When I did the tutorial on the image of my father I was reminded of a task he gave me before he died, restore as many of the old family photos that I could.

Being the good son that I am I gladly took the box of old photos and brought it home with great in tensions. I was going to restore the images and make them available online to all aspects of my family. Also being the typical son, the box sat in a closet, untouched, for a long time. Then I did the tutorial and remembered my promise.

I can tell you that my family is much more complicated than I ever thought it was. I was looking at the photos saying to myself in a voice like Jack Palance, “I don’t even know who the hell you are!” I spent hours putting older faces to the younger versions and then trying to match them to the faces I had never seen before.

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Selective Color In Photoshop CS4

Although many people liked the James image, almost as many like the image of the older man with the flag in the background. Well that old man, he was my father.

Although he passed away this year at age 84, I look at the image often and I wonder what I could have done better. Of course I am my own critic and I do that with a lot of images. This image though for obvious reasons gets a gander a bit more often.

As my father was very much the ‘Navy Man’ I often wonder what I could do to make that subtle reference pop out more. After all, If you ever met my father and let him talk, and trust me it was hard to stop him from doing that! He would have let you know rather quickly that he was in the Navy.

To make the image  pop I decided to add a little selective color.

Follow the link to find out how.
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The James Effect

By far the most popular image on my site is James – The Mystery Man. I have been asked if it is a drawing, a painting, everything. It is a photograph.

I shot Jim about a year and a half ago and we spent the better part of the day shooting. The image that first loads on the site is an image that was done in the early part of our day. We were in the shadow of a building and this allowed me to control the light completely. I used one SB800 flash unit to light the area behind him and one to light Jim. The light is about waist high and a grid spot used to light only his face.

After the image was captured I used Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to convert the image to what you see on the site today. The technique is a variation of Scott Kelby’s grunge effect. If you are a member of NAPP you can see Scott’s tutorial at www.photoshopuser.com and search on Grunge. I did alter the tutorial a bit and you can see how by clicking the link below.

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Single, Small Light Source (sort of)

How many times have you heard a photographer or photography supplier say, “Oh, to get a good portrait you need strobes/flash/hot lights.”? Or maybe you have just read a few books about portraits and you see all the diagrams with snoots and gobos and umbrellas and big light sources. I am here to tell you that you don’t have to have a bunch of expensive equipment to get great shots.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that there is no need for all kinds of different equipment. But do you have to have it to get the shot? Nope. Joe McNally said in both his books that to get something you have to give something and that’s very true.

Keep reading to see how I got this shot with just a 40watt light bulb in a 20 year old bedside lamp.
In the shot above I had my model, Lynn, lit only by an old bedside lamp with a 40watt bulb in it. All the windows in the room were blacked out and a black backdrop over that. I had the camera set to ISO 200, ¼ of second at f4.5 at 57mm and of course I was using a tripod. By doing the fairly long exposure I was able to capture the subtle shadows across Lynn’s face and still light her eyes. See the diagram below.



What I had to do was have Lynn hold very still and look right into the lens. Now I could have pulled this off with a speedlight or two and cranked up the exposure time to say 100th. Then you have to balance the light, take time to set everything, test shoot and retest and reshoot… But if you are patient and take the time, you need very little light. Just remember, little light equals long exposure.

In Lynn’s image above I was able to get a good key light reflection in her eyes because she was almost facing the light. Not the case with Amy’s shot below.

I wanted to cast more shadow across Amy’s face and I wanted more of a hair light look (not in this frame). That meant moving the light behind her. But that presented a problem, how to get the catch light in her eyes. I had to go out and get a light. Now being the cheap bastard I am I wasn’t going to buy a speedlight/hot light or strobe, after all I am working with a 40watt bulb here! SO what is the next best thing that will give that warm glow to the face? A $0.99 Bic Lighter. Yes I cheated; I used 2 light sources. The lighter is camera right, just in front of her face and at that speed provides a nice glow to her face. See the diagram below.


Now with the setup for Amy obviously I was using a tripod. The camera was set to ISO 200, 125mm, for 1 second at f5.6. Yes it took a full second but like I said above, the light is there, you just have to wait for it. [Note: these were shot in the same studio, with identical setups but on different dates]

Until next time, Happy Shooting!