Thoughts On The Lighting In This Pair Of D300 Photos?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by whoz_the_man_huh, May 6, 2009.

  1. D300 (Neutral mode with zero saturation and sharpening) -> Capture NX 2.1.0 (only conversion from RAW to JPG):

    Full res photo A
    Full res photo B

    I've been told these photos lack zip, spunk, mojo, what have you.
    Can I blame this on the gray sunlight? Is there anything I could have done differently on this overcast Saturday?
  2. I think some fill flash might have helped. They look a little flat I feel. Pity as it's a good setting and subject. Not cheesy either.
  3. Fill flash.
    That is all.
  4. Thanks, Clive.
    The only flash I have is pop-up so I have doubts about whether that's worth using.
  5. Some fill-flash might have helped, but basically there's just too much background left in. All I could see while waiting for the download was mainly out-of-focus foliage, so crop in tighter would be my advice here.
  6. Dan, would reflectors have been effective on such a cloudy day?
  7. BTW, fill flash is about the only thing a popup flash is good for!
  8. You could add saturation a bit or switch to Portrait picture control mode, it adds a bit of life.
    Then select the main subject and adjust the midtone contrast a bit with curves. I did a really quick job to illustrate.
  9. The popup flash, even when used as fill, adds glare and a pin-sharp catch light which to my eye is very ugly. But it can be used as a commander to other flashes which produce nice light.
  10. A cloudy overcast sky as the main light produces this kind of image without any harsh shadows because of the diffuse lighting from a really large source. I think it quite fits the mood, or said another way, I like the low-contrast mood it creates. The only other way would be to use "key" flash(es) to overpower the natural light, with additional flash/reflector to act as the fill, and use the ambient atmospheric lighting also as the fill/highlights. Here's a video example from a photographer that does this (watch his entire series, not just the first one).
    You could tweak the contrast just a tad bit higher in this image if you so wanted. Also, looks to me that the skin tone is a slight bit pinkish. But overall, great shots.
  11. Thanks, Ilkka.
    After you added punch to the photo, I'm curious about whether fill flash would have even been necessary in this instance.
  12. Shadows are the photographers friend. The Dutch master painters knew this 400 years ago.
    I recommend watching Joe McNally and Bob Krist on the Nikon DVD called "A Hands-on Guide to Creative Lighting" or the book called "Light Science & Magic" by Hunter, Biver, and Fugua.
  13. I think fill flash is quite unneeded in this shot as it's purpose is to fill in the shadows, and with overcast lighting there are very little shadows to fill in. To make it punchier it would have been efficient to add off camera lighting to create more light and shadows. But I like it as it is. For a souped up version you could do this in post:
  14. Agreed, Ilkka. I'll employ fill flash only once I get a decent unit.
  15. Thanks for your insight and the link, Sasvata.
  16. Pete, WHOA.
    Can you please let me know how you did that? To me the picture looks stunning now. It seems you've injected a vast dose of mojo into the background - while not only maintaining the natural tone of the skin but also adding depth and detail to it!
  17. No harsh shadows = no need for fill flash. I like your pictures as they are. The need for post processing is a matter of taste. But if you want some "mojo", you can increase the contrast and saturation using PS, or set you camera to "vivid" mode.
  18. Agreed, no need for fill flash. Just a bit of post processing will do nicely.
  19. Cal, it only takes a few minutes to do it but it takes much, much longer to explain so I'll only point you in the right direction.
    It's a combination of global (everywhere) and local adjustments (select parts).
    Background is a color burn adjustment layer (adjust fill % to taste) where I paint with black and use gaussian blur (25-70 pixels) to smooth out my paint job.
    Overall I increased the saturation slightly and increased the gamma with a curve.
    The 3D look which shows in the face is a global adjustment using a bleach bypass process (increases contrast by blending original with a B&W version) and diffusion applied to the lighter parts of the image using a luminance matte.
    I added some shine in the hair by painting with a very light color (in this case light pink) on a soft light adjustment layer (fill% to taste) and using gaussian blur to smooth it out (10-25 pixels or so).
    I also like to put some uneven light on the subject similar to lighting with a cucoloris. Technique is the same as above (painted soft light layer blurred).
    It's not as difficult as it may sound at first and there are many ways to achive similar results. I use a wacom to paint so it can be hard getting the same results with just a mouse.
    Some selective sharpening on the final results can also be used to make the subject standout and avoid making the out of focus areas look harsh. Apply with a light hand or it will look overdone.
    There you have the mojo recipe :)
  20. Holy mackerel. Sorry for making you type all that, Pete.
    It was very kind of you to share your technique but it seems far beyond what casual photo tweakers like myself are capable of. Unless I'm mistaken, you're a professional Photoshop artist who charges a high rate for his services and is worth every penny.
  21. Here's my retouch:
    Increased contrast with Levels, increased Vibrance, increased Saturation, added a "Diffuse Glow" to the face , removed the bag under the left eye, touched up a few facial areas with Healing Brush, sharpened the left eyebrow and eye lashes, and added a vignette to emphasize the model and bring down background illumination.
  22. Calvin... I agree Pete's work here is awesome... And you should know that you can do pretty much all the same things in Capture NX2 -- particulary if you get Nik's Color Efex pro plug ins. Since NX2, I find I use photoshop very little.
  23. i'll agree, pete. that's fantastic work. but i think that my main complaint with the first photo is that the composition is a little bland. center subject, not much going on, but nice blur in the background. i think that the second picture is far incer, with that diagonal shooting across, subject off center facing into the frame, strong lines with legs and arms. i think applying some of the photoshopping to this one might produce more pleasing results. but 'gray' light can be some of the best light to do portraits in. if you would like to increase the contrast, get yourself an sb600 and throw some hard light across the side for alittle more contrast, and maybe increase the xposure a little. my two cents, but i do like that second one you have.
  24. To be quite honest I prefer the originals and think all the other attempts look over processed and unnatural. Your original images were taken on an overcast day and have a soft and subdued quality which is charming. Don't try to turn them into something they never were.
  25. Thanks, Brooks.
    You did startle the subject with what you did to her eye, I must say. Heh.
  26. Ron, I'm brand new to Capture NX. I'm embarrassed to admit I've never used it for anything other than RAW conversion, and pretty much don't even know where to start learning.
  27. Dan, you're right. The composition of the second photo is certainly less dull.
  28. The light is correct to me, the pics are nice, perhaps a bit of retouching could help. No need of fill flash. I agree in some part with Milo.
    What I miss is about composition. Background is too distracting, framing is "open" or I should say, it`s no framing.
    Let me try it on your second pic (all in NX2- darkening, selective sharpening, a bit of color change):
  29. "To be quite honest I prefer the originals and think all the other attempts look over processed and unnatural."
    I think this is a good indication that there is nothing seriously wrong with the original image from a technical point of view. Actually the soft diffuse light is always helpful to keep the dynamic range withing the capability of the sensor. This makes post processing easier.
    The processed images show two things:
    1) One can do a whole lot with post processing if the original image contains a lot of data. The required skill in post processing needs a bit of learning :) We can clearly see that from the recipe above, this work-flow is clearly not the result of a one day fiddling. Post processing can change the "message" of an image dramatically.
    2) If the skill in post processing is used to carry the "right message" to the viewer the image will benefit a lot. The photographer has to define the "right message" :) (Let me ignore the "over processed" comment as this was probably intended to show the point)
    Just a personal comment: Do not let the "public" taste force you to produce "mojo" high contrast high saturation highly sharpened images no matter what the mood of the situation is.
  30. "Interpretation" is of course very personal, only the photographer should know if the image is right or not... although it could be extensively discussed. This pic seems more difficult to improve because it`s even more "open" to my taste, is not "round"(I`m so sorry I don`t know how to express this subjective concepts in english)... here I go:
  31. Thanks guys for the kind words. I think Calvin has gotten a lot of good responses in this thread.
    What the brain experiences in the scene and what the camera captures is not the same thing so in general I think it's best to decide what kind of images to make before actually clicking the shutter. And then the subject, the background and foreground, the lighting, the framing, the perspective, the depth of field, the post production etc etc will all contribute to achieving the photographers vision.
    What direction to take is up to the photographer. I'll give you a different interpretation on the second image where I tried to make it much lighter and softer in feel with subdued colors.
  32. Here's a minor adjustment in NX 2. I placed a control point on her face and increased brightness simply to draw attention to her face. You have a good exposure, and that gives you plenty of latitude for interpretation.
  33. Jose, I agree that the framing can appear loose. However, how could I have made it tighter while preserving the length of the - to me anyway - interesting diagonal?
  34. Walter, right, Pete's recipe is not exactly scrambled eggs and ham - or anything else a cook can follow unless he's spent a few years in a gourmet kitchen.
  35. Pete, indeed I've received invaluable feedback as well as personal interpretations of my photo. The latter were especially pleasant surprises.
    Thanks everyone, for contributing to what makes the best photography address on the web.
  36. I think the diagonal is perfect... I wanted to mean something similar to the effect of vignetting, where attention slide from the darker areas to the brighter ones, where the important subject is. I usually like to darken the sides of the pic and/or neutralize brighter areas to achieve this effect.
    The same effect is given by Pete (with better expertise) but with the opposite way (which I probably prefer here); that background "framing" is inverse. I this case the subject is surrounded with a soft lighter background that makes the viewer to concentrate on the subject.
    It`s nice to see how others "interpret" the same pic.
  37. Just for fun...
  38. Thanks, Jose.
    I too love the "angelic pure innocence" aura Pete has going on in his interpretation, which almost passes as a pink-tinged vision of heaven.
  39. Do the post processing. A good lens with a large aperture can help to make the subject pop even more, then do selective sharpening and local contrast improvement and you might want to very slightly darken some areas. BTW, I hate obvious fake vignettes.
    Artificial lighting can do many interesting things, but it's better to work on the basics first.
  40. I too prefer the originals. She has a such a lovely skin tone that you have captured in the original - the post processing options take away from that smooth porcelain skin. As said earlier, there is no need to go for "pop" because it's popular. Sometimes subtle is fine.
    I think that a reflector would done a good job, even on an overcast day, and it would have helped with the shadows on her face around the mouth and eyes. Reflectors harness a surprising amount of light. It would have removed the under-eye shadows and if you chose gold, it could have warmed her up. Sometimes the gold looks cheesy, but on a day this cold, I think it could go either way. Reflectors are not always easy to work with if you have no assistance, but if you had a friend handy, the reflector would have helped. The plaid shirt she is wearing is distracting. it might have been better to have her in something with a subtler pattern, but if it was a spontaneous shot, there's not much you can do about that.
  41. Thanks for the advice, Jennifer.
    I guess it all just depends, as many have suggested, on one's intentions. Both the original and processed versions could have much to say to an audience.
  42. Calvin,
    Wanted to try some photoshop adjustments. Here is my take. Beautiful model, BTW. Hopefully, I will be able to upload the image
  43. Thanks, ILF.
    After Pete mentioned curves I tried playing with them but didn't have much of an idea about what I was supposed to be doing. I like your take.
  44. Forget all that photoshop mumbo jumbo.... simple suggestion.... shoot on a sunny day during golden hour (about an hour before sunset) and position your model accordingly.
  45. But Photoshop mumbo jumbo makes major mojo.
  46. What was white balance set to? Automatic, which is a bit of a roll of the dice? Try cloudy, or even sunny when outdoors like this. They are usually better than automatic white balance and I think you will see a little pop. This is easy to experiment with in Capture NX since you still have the raw file. The other thing to do is to move the left part of of the histogram, for black, to the to left portion of where the data begins. Simple, and it does not require much knowledge of curving graphs, etc.
  47. Thanks, David. The white balance was set to cloudy.
  48. I use 2 programs to edit images. Lightroom 1 for basic adjustments and archiving, as I always shoot in RAW. For layers and more complicated "stuff" I use Paint Shop Pro 9, which was about $150 (ie much cheaper than photoshop). Admittedly much less functionality, but all I need anyhow.
    If you are not willing to learn a whole new skill of image editing then in PSP9 there's a wonderful button called ONE STEP PHOTO FIX. It runs through a whole set of "often used" adjustments: contrast, sharpness, saturation, etc.
    It so easy - just press one button. I've rarely found a jpeg that it doesn't work a little bit of magic on.
    Probably get shouted at now by all the professionals, but if you're not interested in spending hours and days to learn what all the sliders do, it's a quick way to add a bit of punch. Took me less than one second to find and press the button....
  49. jbm


    Pete's retouch is great. It does not look overprocessed at all. Ilkka's works well, too.
  50. Just for the sake of experimentation, here's my take... perhaps a little too much pp but its a matter of opinion I guess.
  51. James, can you please find me a photo editor equipped with a 'Pete S.' button?
  52. Ryan, I think your take has a 'shopped look but is extremely pleasing aesthetically nonetheless.
  53. Like the second one a lot as is, maybe just a touch of contrast. I wouldn't saturate it, I don't find it flat. I like a nice overcast day soft light. The 1st one is perhaps a little flat, but I wouldn't do more than a little contrast. I don't like the versions here where people punched up the color, but that's just my taste. In other words, it's your pics, they are good enough that you can decide. I wouldn't have used fill flash either. You don't usually need it this kind of light as there's not an overly amount of shadow you need to "fill".
  54. I've found overcast days can be great for outdoor portraits. The even illuminination is flattering, as it softens features and open shadows so the entire face is rendered well. When I first saw this, I thought "It's not the light, it's the color." The pink blossoms on the trees don't have the brightness one would expect, and her skin tone is, to me, bluish. Maybe a white balance adjustment should have been done first. Overcast days can be very good for bringing out color contrast, and can be excellent for floral shots. I would say experiment with settings, and you should find some very pleasing results.
    I disagree on the fill flash, which IS good for high contrast situations. If it were used on a very low setting it might be good to provide a little catch light in the eyes, but other than that it's not going to solve the problem. Fill flash evens out illumination, and the illumination is plenty even as it is.
  55. Got a lot of mojo.. and I like em. Adjust the curves to a slight S and you are there. Fill flash can help, but it is not a must and can blow out highlights, depends a lot on the situation.. I still use a diffusor outside on the flash when using fill flash, but it also depends on the distance. Go experiment! And feel the mojo :)
  56. Hi Cal,
    I think your portraits are nice. Fill-flash might often kill the atmosphere that you get from natural light, so my recommendation would be to be very careful with that. If the light is of high quality (e.g. an octabox) it might blend in nicely though. But these portraits can be enhanced quite well with a few adjustments in photoshop. Overcast weather is like photographing with a huuuge softbox and is usually very good for portraits. You could fill in some light by bouncing light from a white reflector.
    The face should be the center of attention, hence you need to get a proper balance. Digital files often look a bit dull (especially if you take them from the raw converter at flat settings with regard to contrast) and might benefit from a contrast increase (e.g. copy background set to softlight at 40% opacity). I always think that bringing down the background by a curve adjustments layer and painting back the subject in focus works very well. People have different preferences on this so my opinion doesn't apply to everyone of course. Here is my quick contribution.
  57. sorry duplicate
  58. Here is another version if I can figure out how to post it.
  59. This might work.
  60. You can also not save the jpg in Adobe RGB...looks much greyer and flatter when viewed in non-colorspace aware browsers. Just convert to SRGB for web viewing and the color returns to her cheeks.
  61. Thanks, Andre. I agree with you and many others here that there was probably no need for fill on this day.
  62. Thanks for your comments, Oistein.
    I've always been against the artificial look of fill flash although that may be because I don't own the right equipment.
  63. Dear, Dear Henry
    Assuming your comment was directed at my version: Actually the posted version is very close to the version I see on my screen (relatively that is) save loss of some detail in the black areas. I don't mean to burst your bubble but I don't share your love of 'rosy cheeks.' My version was entirely intentional except that I pandered to Calvins predilection for saturated colours, though I don't believe it works for this image. I was just having trouble with the posting procedure; sequence and size of file.
    Also, Calvin I would suggest you experiment with your on camera flash used as fill flash - sometimes it works wonders or at the very least produces interesting effects. Experience counts more than the opinions of others.
  64. Thanks, John, for your thoughts and your interpretation of the photo.
    With respect to rosy cheeks, I believe they have their time and place, depending on whether they contribute to the atmosphere and intentions of a particular image.
  65. Exactly my view Calvin. Not every image needs rosy cheeks. Now tell that to Henry.
  66. assume incorrectly that I was commenting on your version - how you reached this conclusion is beyond me. Anyway, the original files that Calvin posted are in the Nikon Adobe RGB colorspace, and whether you chose to believe it or not, viewing those files in a non-colorspace aware application WILL cause them to appear slightly washed out and flat - exactly what Calvin was concerned with.
    As for you bursting my me, you haven't. I made no mention of rosy cheeks and certainly did not make any representation of what MY preferences were, nor did I attempt to foist my preferences on the OP. Fact is Calvin was asking for input regarding a lack of "zip, spunk, mojo, what have you"...and had asked if there was anything he could have done about the "gray sunlight" and overcast lighting. I simply pointed out that using the correct colorspace for the intended audience could affect the viewing experience of said audience, and thereby affect the feedback he received.
  67. I don't believe you. Your post originally mentioned rosy cheeks but it was edited.
  68. IMO, Andrea and Oistein have contributed the best of the variations to the first photo, which in its "untouched" form I wasn't watch finding that appealing. I think it was a cropping issue, and the curves added a good deal too. I especially like the crop Andrea applied. As for the second photo, it's very pleasing as is. I'm with those who say that "pop" is not always what you want. It can be especially unnatural with photos of people.
  69. John, believe (or don't believe) whatever you doesn't make it true. You jumped to conclusions and now stoop to unsubstantiated accusations. You've shown your colors, as I'm sure you will yet again in response to this post. I'm done with you...have a good day.
    Calvin, sorry your post was dragged off topic, there has been much good input on this thread and I hope you found what you were looking for.
  70. Thanks, Henry and John, for your ideas. Let's let the matter rest here.
  71. Mainly white balance adjusted using white control point on her blouse. Cloudy white balance setting was a logical choice on a cloudy day, but it just did not look right to me this time -- even in Capture NX.
    I moved the black cursor point in editing to the right to meet the start of data, which adds some contrast and pop. Most times these two edits will suffice for a majority of images.
    Her hair was dark and hard to see. So, I put a little shadow recovery and lightened her hair a smidgen with color control points.
    The EXIF data indicates that this D300 image (my own main camera) was apparently shot at ISO 100 equivalent, minus one EV. I am just curious why you made that choice since the camera's optimum ISO, and dynamic range, is usually regarded as ISO 200.
    I converted it to sRGB colorspace for posting here as that will look natural on a web browser. Adobe RGB will not look correct on a the web in a browser, only in the editing software, but will not produce correct colors in a web browser. The original files seemed to have a greenish color cast in my browser.
    Just to experiment, I did a very little smoothing of parts of her face with Photokit Sharpener plugin in PS CS3, and then output sharpened for web purposes. My fiance hates it, her sister too, when I take a portrait with a really sharp lens revealing every exquisite pore and hair on her face. I need to practice this more.
    Finally, you apparently took the shot with an 85mm 1.4. I think the image is really great, with background out of focus in a nice manner. How do you like using that lens?
  72. Calvin, that cloudy white balance might have looked satisfactory to you in Capture NX. We cannot tell what it looked like out here on the web since Adobe RGB color space was published. That white balance setting was baked in, though, when the images were saved as jpgs. Ergo my use of a white point in the jpg to modify the color balance.
    I do not know if you originally shot these in raw or jpg. Raw allows easy use of any white balance variation in the converter.
    In the case of the D300, a raw file has approximately five more stops of dynamic range than does a jpg. Raw would have provided a lot more room to recover detail, such as the details in her hair.
  73. Thanks for your work on the photo, David.
    I would rather lose an arm than the 85mm F1.4 which some justifiably call the "king of bokeh". It's simply boss.
    Finally I always shoot in RAW and minimal ISO because... well... that was what my mentors taught me. Heh.
  74. Calvin, on that cloudy day, with all that nice even light and low contrast, the LO setting on the D300 was probably just fine. In general theory, low ISO usually means better image quality. The small cost in this case would come in a high contrast situation. Part of a stop of highlight range is given up at the ISO 100 setting in the D300. At least so says Thom Hogan in his D300 guide. I believe Dpreview found the phenomenon.
    Have fun with that 85mm 1.4 I am envious.
  75. I agree about the photoshop mumbo jumbo .... capture the image the way you want the first time.... Lots of different ways fill flash could have been applied, but the most simple would be the pop up flash. You are mistaken if you think the pop up is inadequate for the job.
    Someone commented that the pop up flash gives kind of a harsh light for fill , but that is totally a matter of taste. You need to try it to see if you like it or not. I think it would have given these photos the pop you are looking for and been much quicker and more effective than all the "post" work in photoshop.
  76. I think it's a good image and minor adjustment in PS can just improve the mood.
  77. As shown above just a little saturation and adjustments with curve. I like Pete S's version.
  78. "It was very kind of you to share your technique but it seems far beyond what casual photo tweakers like myself are capable of."
    Calvin, you can do anything that Pete did, it is just a matter of taking the time to practice a bit and following his instructions. Remember if we say "I can't do it" what we are actually saying is "I can not do it." We can always not learn or do, what we give ourselves permission to and do what we are determined to learn.
    Like I tell my wife, you have been painting for decades, I just began, but can learn. You gain experience each year, so I may never catch up to you, in experience. But I can learn all the technique and with my knowledge of photography be as good at composing paintings.
    You may not catch Pete with his experience.
    But could be amazed at what you can be doing within a year or two.
    You only need to begin learning his techniques.
  79. Calvin:
    The overcast light of these pictures is very good for portraits in general and, as others have said, there's absolutely no need for fill flash, which in this case could create problems rather than solve them. The problem is rather of the general conceptual approach to an obviously posed portrait which is also reflected by the use of the generalized and essentially meaningless word "mojo" in this context. Better to think what you specifically didn't like about the two pictures which, judging by your subsequent comments, seems to be a flatness of tone — and which could also be, in my view, a blandness stemming from the the artificiality of the somewhat artificial poses. As it is difficult to get most people to pose naturally my own preference is to keep the subject in conversation as he or she moves around, as I do as well, and occasionally to take a picture — but that stems from my own preference for unposed portraits of people in their own environment, of the type that you can see in a slide show by clicking here.
    Tsumeb, Namibia | Nikon D300 | 17-35mm f/2.8 lens | ISO 800

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