Software for portraits

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by christian_stahl, Nov 23, 2011.

  1. I have a Nikon D40x with the kit lens, shooting RAW and processing with Capture NX2. I will continue using this set for a while. I am, however, unsatisfied with the general look; I suspect the chip size (I had the same problem with analog photography, medium format was the solution). I started comparing d40/d700 pics from the net, liking the d700 a lot better. I also found that using software seems to make a big difference (Picasa 3.0 and paint shop pro photo 12,50 and of course photoshop).
    Getting a d700 with a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED AF-S will be step 2 (for obvious reasons). Step one will be - practice, o.k.; but might software help (a lot, I mean).
    That is the question: will software will help. Portraits are my focus.
  2. Capable software can make all photos better, not just portraits. Try the GIMP, an entirely free heavy-weight package. As you shoot raw, you'll also need UFRaw. The two programs work together.
  3. What are you using for lighting? The lighting you use will probably make more difference than software.
  4. Lighting is the most important ingredient of photographic portraiture. You can save a lot of post-processing time by having the lights set up properly, get some books on the subject and read e.g. Neil van Niekerk's tangents blog - it's very good advice.
  5. Thanks, Lorne.
    For lighting so far I use the sun before sundown, pref. in autum. That gives me about 30 min very good light, + I use daylight and a diffuser. I plan to get some lighting (preferably for video use). I don't like flashes (because I can't use them for video).
  6. I am, however, unsatisfied with the general look; I suspect the chip size (I had the same problem with analog photography, medium format was the solution).​
    It'd help to know more specifically in what way you're dissatisfied. I've used 35mm and med format and I've used APS-C and FF sensors and frankly that's not what distinguishes mediocre from good portraits. As others have noted lighting is critical in portraiture, as is posing. IMO these, and precision in exposure have A LOT more to do with the photographer's satisfaction, and the client's satisfaction than sensor or negative size. YMMV.
    I see ads every day for software like Portrait Professional. Like any tool, when used judiciously it has its place but too often I see it overused resulting in images that are all about the retouching and not at all about the subject. It's electronic Botox when misused and IMO is misused far to frequently.
    Henry Posner
    B&H Photo-Video
  7. If the problem is more depth of field than you want, then software can help only if it is used for selective blurring.
  8. +1 for Loren, Ilkka, & Henry
    As a Cinematographer and Photographer, I would not suggest buying video lights and hoping to use them for photos as well. Not that it can't be done, I personally own about $10,000 in video lighting gear and occasionally I break them out for photos. I've picked up an SB-800 for $300, and at close distances, especially for solo portraits it can over power, or at least match the sun. Try doing that with most video lights, its not till you get up into the 1200w HMIs that you get that kind of power, and they run in the $7000+ range for an Arri Sun, plus you need 1200 watts of power, plus a heavy duty stand, plus gelling or adding diffusion is difficult, plus the bulb is very expensive (think $250+ & I believe they are only rated for 200hours). Point is, if you are a videographer, buy a the lights you need, or rent them on shoots. If you are a photographer buy flashes. If you are a bit of both, then buy a bit of both kinds of lighting, and hopefully you can even use them side by side on stills.
    Also, everyone is absolutely right, software can help offset a poor picture with "bad" lighting, but a photo that is well lit needs little or no adjustment, unless of course you've got a "look" that con only be achieved by posting it.
    Below is a sample I took with a D40 (not even an D40x), that's cropped into about 2 or 3MPs, so there is only 3MPs of resolution left. I shot it with an old 80-200 F/4 manual focus lens, which I manually focused to get this shot with a 2X teleconverter. Point is, on paper this is about as bad as your gear can get (although the 80-200 is a stunningly sharp lens, the 2x teleconverter eats up what sharpness it has). Even though within a year of having a D40, I was shooting with a D3s (little jump there), this is still one of my personal favorite wildlife shots.
  9. I`m not sure if the software makes the difference, even if the sensor does. Don`t know the D40 (never used one) but in my own experience there is almost no difference between the D300 (DX) and the D700 (FX) pics, -at the lowest ISO settings-.
    I used to use a Photoshop pro version, switched to Aperture and NX2, and sincerely, I prefer NX2. I only use Photoshop (currently an Elements version) for layers work. The use of "portrait software" like the one Henry mentions is another topic. I like that "electronic botox" definition; if the effect is not noticeable the results are great; but if noticeable, the worst.
    Light certainly makes the difference. Even having tons of gear and illumination devices like I have, to get the perfect illumination seem to me a difficult task.
  10. First thanks to all of you, that's a lot of input. I take the "it's the person behind the camera" and light issues for granted. I usually put the motiv first, then the light; but some gear apects make a difference, a certain feeling in the stomach. My stomach feels wonderful with analog medium format (if motiv and light are right); I have a somewhat fuzzy feeling with the D40.
    Since I hold two university degrees in music, music projects are mostly what I do. So musicians are my motif. A lot of times, skin is a problem, or red noses, etc. Hence my interest in software.
    Also pictures without software editing look somehow "bleak". I found two D40 pictures that had very nice colors, they were edited with Picasa 3.0 and paint shop pro photo 12,5.
    If I have a long shot, that's fine with video because of the movements. But in photography, the background and faces are too "fuzzy" - not crisp - with the D40. Hence the idea for a bigger chip.
    With the D40 I learned to avoid a long shot...
  11. My stomach feels wonderful with analog medium format (if motiv and light are right); I have a somewhat fuzzy feeling with the D40.​
    My stomach used to feel fuzzy with Ovation guitars. Who wants a guitar made from recycled soda bottles? Then I read they were used by Yes and Pink Floyd at a time when they were the only acoustic guitars with a built in pickup so they could be recorded right into the board.
    It's the carpenter, not the hammer.
    It's the player more than the instrument.
    Henry Posner
    B&H Photo-Video
  12. Christian said:
    . . . but might software help (a lot, I mean).​
    Saying that you think software will help "a lot" in your portraiture, I think, suggests that the solutions for the results you seek, may lie elsewhere.
    Getting a d700 with a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED AF-S will be step 2 (for obvious reasons).​
    Moving to a full-frame body will lower your noise floor, and perhaps, expand your dynamic range a bit, but other than that, any expected benefits specific to improving your portraiture aren't necessarily so obvious. Also, 70mm is a bit short for my tastes for portraiture on a full-frame body. I would instead choose an 85mm f/1.8/1.4, 105mm f/2.0, or 135mm f/2.0.
    A photogenic subject, large-source lighting, and selective-focus are common techniques which can lead to great portraiture using any cropped-frame body. I've shot a lot of subjects with DX bodies, which don't look substantially less-good, aesthetically, than anything I've shot with my full-frame Nikon D3s.
    Now, I'm not saying that software isn't often an excellent tool for producing better images. Below is a shot of an ex-girlfriend, shot with a "crummy old" Nikon D70, where I was too inattentive to shoot with a faster lens to blur out the distracting background. So, using Photoshop, I resorted to a rather inelegant selection, and applied a Gaussian blur to the unwanted elements:
    I'm just saying, the shot would've been much improved had I better art-directed my background, or shot with a much shallower focus, and gotten the shot correct "in-camera."
    Most would likely agree that professional-looking portraiture often consists of the following elements:
    1. A technically well-executed lighting motif/well-controlled contrast ratio for exteriors.
    2. Artful posing of hands, face, and body.
    3. Competent art direction/set design/location selection.
    4. Professionally styled wardrobe/make-up/hair.
    I know, that's a lot to put together, but at least you can attempt '1' through '3' to the best of your ability. Many excellent portraits have been taken in available light, outside, with a simple sheet of Foamcore. But, again, as others have mentioned, lighting, is paramount. In this view, post-processing software should be ancillary to the primary photographic elements already captured in-camera. Post-processing software should be used for "polishing" an image that was already good to begin with. In answer to your question, my favored photo post-processing application is Photoshop, but mainly because it's the one I'm most familiar with. Good luck!
  13. it


    Lights and software have nothing to do with portrait photography.
  14. Ralph, thanks for your input. I find the "artful posing of hands, face, and body" esp. demanding (see my favorite portrait below)
    Henry, I did not quite understand you: did you have a queer feeling about ovation guitars while playing one (which would be a first hand judgement)? That would correspond to my feeling about the D40 pics when I look a them - I don't like the feel of the look too much, just as I like the sound, feel and handling of a specific instrument or do not. By the way, it's very, very difficult to find a good instrument.
    Or did you have a queer feeling about something you heard about ovations (e.g. the material, the image, etc.)
    Thanks of course for underlining my statement, that yes, it's the person behind the camera. But my statement was that, taking that for granted, let's talk about secondary issues, as the size of the chip.
    I must have misunderstood you somewhere...
  15. Skyler, about the SB-800: yes, good point. I will have to get into this soon, I guess.
  16. Some portrait books, online training, or classes are often a better investment than more equipment acquisition without having a specific use for the new item.
    With the added knowledge, then new tools can be acquired with a specific use and purpose in mind. The camera you have can make great photos, and the processing software, with the exception of the specialized treatments of Portrait Professional, can each duplicate the look that other is capable of producing. Even the automated effects of Portrait Professional can be manually duplicated in other software.
  17. Portrait Professional. Like any tool, when used judiciously it has its place but too often I see it overused resulting in images that are all about the retouching and not at all about the subject.
    Yes! Their own advertisements show way over-the-top examples, really grotesque, making the subjects look like wax figures or mannequins. Maybe the examples are extreme to show what the software can do, but I'm reminded of a photo in the art from one on the R.E.M. albums from the 1980's, a picture where the subject says, "Help, they've airbrushed my face."
    But we indeed live in a world of Botox and plastic surgery run amok. Maybe a lot of people really want that.
  18. For me portrait work is all about good lighting, posing, and good composition. I am no professional, but I have had great success using third party speedlites with shoot-through umbrellas on stands etc. I find that the control you have with lighting (speedlites or studio strobes) ensures that very little post work is needed if you get the lighting ratios right, and the exposure right. I inevitable end up processing photos a little, but as little as possible. I do all my processing in Lightroom 2 on my desktop iMac, or Lightroom 3 on my macbook pro. Here is a portrait I took a couple of weeks ago using one speedlite (right side in image) and a reflector (left side in image for fill). I am shooting with the original 5D. I was previously shooting with a 40D, and was able to get many great portraits with that camera, but decided to go the full frame route for the shallower depth of field using the same lenses, as well as fantastic resolution. Good luck.
  19. Hi,
    I have Portrait Professional. I rarely use it, though, having found its effects looking pretty fake. If you use it, it has to be really subtle.
  20. Christian said:
    Ralph, thanks for your input. I find the "artful posing of hands, face, and body" esp. demanding (see my favorite portrait below) . . .​
    Well, my input was more, well-intentioned critique of your post, rather than a direct response to your question, but thanks for taking all it in good humor. Yes, I also find that posing is possibly the most difficult part of shooting people. A friend at work found an excellent website full of tips and pictoral examples for posing models' hands, body, etc. But, we both forgot where it was. If anyone knows this site and can point me to it, I would very much appreciate it. If not, I'll start another thread asking about it. It was that good.
  21. it


    I make my living as a portrait photographer and I don't carry a flash or do much post production. I just look for nice light, use wide open apertures, pay attention to my backgrounds and most importantly, try and make my subject comfortable. (No one cares about that around here.)
    I took this one a couple of days ago using those simple elements.
  22. Christian said:
    (see my favorite portrait below) . . .​
    In that image, I suspect that Herr Möller used a 6-foot Elinchrom Octa Lightbank, but ruined it by over-use of CS5's painterly effects. In fact, Möller's use of light closely resembles technique still popular today: a large, soft key, placed above, and slightly left of camera. Given a studio, dressed similarly, with a like-costumed model, this image could easily be emulated with a single source: e.g., a 6-foot octobox or large softbox. Notice, there is no backlighting. Using a single, large, soft key, such as an octobox or large rectangular softbox, is one of the easiest set-ups there is, and typically pays off with pleasing results.
  23. Very nice, Ian. As Ian's example shows, he chose an already subdued background--his contrast ratio was well under control. He also made sure to blur his background to make it less distracting. This is controlled by aperture (wider aperture = shallower depth-of-field), subject-to-camera distance (closer = shallower), and subject-to-background distance (further = shallower). Also, this effect appears more pronounced when shooting FX over DX. Note that this may in fact be difficult to do with your slow, f/3.5-5.6 kit lens on a DX body.
    In what I assume is a daylight exterior, Ian has soft (due to its large source size), indirect skylight illuminating his subject, coming from just over his left shoulder--similar to the lighting in Möller's image. Gorgeous shot!
  24. There are certainly many good approaches to portrait photography.
    Christian, it may be of interest for you the work of the spanish Josep Molina; like you, musician and photographer. I like so much his photographer`s work, always from his point of view as a musician.
    It happens that he has a video on his site, showing himself at work (reflectors, strobes, backgrounds, etc.). Here. It`s worth a look.
  25. I'm no good portrait photographer at all, so take the advice for what it's worth. Instead of software or a larger sensor, I would consider a AF-S 50 f/1.8 first. Getting a larger sensor isn't going to make a earth-shattering difference. The 24-70 could be a great option too, on the D40, budget allowing. The wider aperture will sure give a lot more creative freedom than the kitlens can provide, and coming from medium format to DX with a f/5.6 zoom, you lost out a lot in the DoF department.
  26. I mostly do portraits and weddings. I use the D700 primarily because I want the flexibility of ISO performance that allows me more flexibility in location portraiture. My lens for the most part are 24-70 f2.8 and the 70-200 f2.8 VRII. I shoot everything in RAW and post process through Aperture and when required Photoshop. Personally, I really like the nik Silver Effect Pro filters for B&W conversion.
    For lighting, I use three different approaches: all natural, natural combined with strobe and studio lighting. For portable lighting I use SB800 and SB900 controlled with either the built in wireless capabilities but more recently the Pocketwizard MiniTT1, Flex5, AC3 system. I am considering the Einstein E640 when I really need more light.
    If you want to see what this combination can give you, visit my website at
  27. I would add to my note one other important ingredient. Thousands of hours of practice, study and trying it again. And I still consider myself only average in skills.
  28. Well, that's a lot more very, very useful input than I dreamt to expect.
    David Ralph - "Some portrait books, online training, or classes": do you have a specific favorite? Up to now, I like to go to the local (that is Dresden) art gallery and have a look at baroque portraits.
    Paul - "speedlites with shoot-through umbrellas on stands". Well, your example is pretty convincing, so as I wrote bevore, I'll see into that.
    And Ian, I very much enjoyed your first entry. I couldn't write that, though, without sounding sarcastic. It seemed so off!!! But, yes, "try and make my subject comfortable" seems to be the key. I worked with two professional photographers years ago, and they just didn't get it right. Then a friend (a manager at AMD) took some shots, and they were quite good, because he made everybody comfortable. Now nice light, wide open aperture - that means a fast lens. An AF lens for the D40 is hard to come by... the background you chose is simply "blurry green". Quite good, but no problem with the gear I chose in my first entry: a d700 with a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED AF-S (or any other fast lens + a full frame chip, of course).
    Ralph Osphiro: I'm not sure about your entry. Andreas Möller (1684-ca.1762) was the first internationally renowned Danish painter, the portrait is of Archduchess Maria Theresa in 1727.
    But really, Ians portrait and description comes closest to what I'm looking for.
    Josep Molina, yes, that's it.
    Steven. Yes. I know.
  29. Whether you use lights or go with all natural light really comes down to your own personal preference of how you like to work. How you work with your subject and the light falling on you subject be it natural or artificial is going to have more influence on your photos than a full frame or crop sensor. Personally I like to use lights from time to time.
  30. I said:
    In that image, I suspect that Herr Möller used a 6-foot Elinchrom Octa Lightbank, but ruined it by over-use of CS5's painterly effects.​
    Then, Christian said:

    I'm not sure about your entry. Andreas Möller (1684-ca.1762) was the first internationally renowned Danish painter . . .​
    Obviously, I was only kidding!

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