Of Pixels and People

I’ve recently arranged a long term studio hire situation (in colonist-speak, that’s “rent studio time every month”) with The Photographic Studio. This is a great studio for my needs for a number of reasons. First, it’s precisely fifteen minutes by car away from my house. Secondly, it’s right next to a train station so the talents can get to it easily. Thirdly, it’s black. Another bonus is the big loading doors I can back right up to so load in/load out only takes a couple of minutes. It’s well heated and has plenty of outlets and a bench with outlets for HS/MUA. I got really good at shooting whitewall at Hardware Studio, but at the same time I’ve grown bored with shooting whitewall – while I’m glad it’s part of my skillset, I also want to grow my skillset. Additionally, I prefer doing selects and cutouts from black. My first time there, I didn’t bring anyone in, but instead I spent my time playing with some different lighting strategies and getting a feel for how much working room I have (the space is smaller than I’m used to). I’m glad I did, too, I was able to come up with a recipe for shooting stock that allowed me to setup and get the lights dialed in twenty minutes. Although the space feels small, I can do full length shots at 50mm with no distortion.

The first model I’ve shot outside of North America is the absolutely delightful Beth Chambers. She’s absolutely wonderful to work with, I was able to get over 600 usable images across 3 different looks in 2.75hrs. We even had time for some just-for-fun portfolio work, too. There’s definitely a lot to be said for the quality of models around London; the fashion and advertising industries are orders of magnitude vaster than in Seattle so there’s an accordingly larger pool of talent to draw from. While I certainly miss the connections I had in Seattle, and it’s frustrating starting over at the bottom rung of the name-recognition ladder, the opportunities are also bigger here. The drawback is that TF hardly ever happens here; it’s not uncommon for models to put out casting calls looking for a photographer to do a specific look at a specific time and place per the model’s request, and expect the photographer to pay for it. Maybe I’m not understanding the scene around here. Hopefully, I just need to get noticed as being on a different level than the endless numbers of GWCs and then more collaborative opportunities will happen. In the meantime, the going rates aren’t too bad, most people are willing to negotiate on their rates, and I end up with skilled and experienced people in front of my lens. I’m about maxed out on equipment, so what else am I going to spend all my hard-earned quids on, anyway?

I’ve completely re-engineered my postprocessing workflow. I’m still looking for punchy color that looks like a dripping wet print on superglossy paper, but I’ve changed how I go about it. Firstly, I’ve invested in Imagenomic’s Portraiture on the advice of more than one full time fashion photographer. After using it a number of images in my catalog, I can see why it’s so popular – especially given the creamy, glossy, heavy-handed retouching that’s popular around here right now. I’m glad I know how to do frequency separation, dodge/burn, hue layers, etc and there’s always some manual touchups that are required – but I don’t miss spending around an hour on each image, either. The way Portraiture is able to automagically find skin tones and mask them without any manual intervention is worth the cost, even if you’re not using the skin smoothing and toning functions. I’ve also optimized nearly all my operations in LAB with a number of presets and utility actions to draw from, so I spend less time making adjustment layers, masks and twiddling the curves and more time retouching. All with much more consistent results.

Most importantly, however, is that I’ve written a Powershell script that takes my output from Photoshop and automagically resizes them using Image Magick, runs the images back through Photoshop to use the Nik Dfine filter and adjust the color depth and color profile, back through Image Magick for resizing, sharpening and format conversion and then cleans up the EXIF with exiftool. Why, you ask, don’t I just do everything except the EXIF repair in Photoshop? Because Adobe, secure in their market dominance, is still stuck in the mathematical dark ages using bicubic interpolation for all their resizing algorithms. This is not unlike trying to power a Mclaren MP4-12C with a two-stroke engine. The BI algorithm is about as old as digital imaging, and it’s a crappy way to sample and condense pixels. I’m a fan of the Lanczos algorithm because it works very hard not to make jaggy pixelation on diagonal, high contrast lines – like well lit people against darker backgrounds.

PhotoPost Screenshot

PhotoPost working on a single image. This pass was a rework of a previous attempt, so the script moved the old copies out of the way before cooking the new version.

I’ve been awfully busy lately, but it’s fantastic to be back in the rhythm of studio shooting every week and developing and pushing my skills. There’s a lot of amazingly talented people to learn from and work with here, and it’s my intention to take advantage of these opportunities as best I can. Now that I’m on top of my new and improved workflow, I’m going to do some work on the website and then split my energies between my business venture, the Sevenoaks Camera Club competitions and as many seminars and shoots as I can get to.