Friday, April 11, 2014

5 Ways to Emulate Film with Digital Photography

Once upon a time...about 1 year ago I was in search of how to get my digital images to look more like film. Film was popping up everywhere & it looked amazing. I loved the versatility & magical quality of it. I was tempted to go buy a film camera but I'd just invested $3400 on a Canon Mark III & I knew buying another $3500+ camera might entice my husband to murder me & make me the star of an episode of 'Snapped'.

So before you decide to listen to my advice heres a few images I shot following my own advice. If you like the way these look, then read on. Or if your too lazy or busy to read all that text below watch me edit a really muddy looking digital picture into sunny perfection here

Why Film Kicks Ass:

Due to films wide dynamic range, you have the ability to shoot in broad daylight & still get amazing images that sacrifice neither highlights nor shadows. You can have your cake & eat it too (& then there should even still be enough left to throw at someone). With film you just expose for the shadows & unlike digital where your highlights would be bright spots of yellowed nothing, you'll get these dreamy beautiful highlights instead. The full wonder of this is easily understood by considering a typical wedding or really...almost every wedding you'll ever shoot if you're the average photographer shooting real weddings. There are so many times as a Wedding Photographer, when you have to shoot in the middle of the day due to time restrictions.

Think about outdoor ceremonies which never fail to have the bride & groom in the shade & everyone else out in the sun. So you're left deciding if you want to sacrifice the shadows or the highlights because they only other option is to stick a giant strobe out there to balance the shadows to the sunlight. The downfall to this being that a strobe going off throughout the ceremony might leave guests feeling like they're in the middle of an alien abduction....aka...constant flashes of bright light & the fact that'd it'd be beyond distracting.

Here's a great example of a wedding I shot where the bride & groom are going to end up in the shadows & everyone else including a few people in the bridal party are going to be in the sun

With film this could be an amazing image! That little black hole where the bride & groom will be would look perfect & the guests would like like dreamy little angels out in the sun.

When trying to make digital emulate film I think an important disclosure is that nothing is going to be exact so don't expect that but you can get it really close...close enough people will wonder. Here's just a few things we will cover to get you headed in the right direction:

1. Using film emulating presets
2. Camera calibration & tone curve Settings
3. Changing your settings in camera
4. Shooting with gear that gives you more film like results
5. Hacking your camera with Dual ISO

1. Using Film Emulating Presets

Another great thing beyond the dynamic range of film is the color. When you have a few hundred images from a wedding to turn around, not having to edit every single image for basic color is huge. There are two major film types you will see everyone shooting & trying to emulate, which is Portra 400 & Fuji 400H. With these films the colors are different in comparison to digital. Skin tones are more of a yellow/orange (versus a red/orange in digital) & greens are more blue based (rather than a yellow in digital) which I find looks much nicer. And if you'd like to see comparison of VSCO & Replichrome presets click here to read my other post.

So the first way you can achieve these color differences in digital photography is using Presets. There's plenty of different versions of film presets out there now but the two I recommend trying are Replichrome & VSCO. When using presets its important to note that you wont get the best results unless you start with a correct exposure & white balance. I also recommend using the presets on RAW files & not Jpegs.

2. Tone Curve & Camera Calibration Settings

I suggest making these changes in camera raw because your getting as close as you can to altering the photo as if it were still in the camera but you can also do this in Lightroom. With the edits, one of the main things about film is the push towards brightness without sacrificing all the detail so you'll want to start there.

You can do this by brightening the exposure & then bringing the highlights slider back to make sure you aren't losing all your detail in the brighter areas. You have two areas that do highlights but start with the first slider (basics panel) which is more accurate. Make sure not to over-brighten your image & take into account if your monitor has the brightness turned up or down (calibrating it is the best way around this issue) because that can really alter the way everyone else see's your image.

Secondly take the shadows slider (basics panel) & lift your shadows then lower the contrast with the contrast slider. Now use the blacks slider or the darks (tone curve) to bring some life back to the image so it doesn't look flat.

Now that you have the basic feel of a film image you need to get the colors where they should be. To do this you can edit either the tone curve red, green & blue channels or use camera calibration. For tone curve you will click on the little icon in the bottom right of that panel area, see the image for example:

Next click channel & change from RGB to the different channels & adjust them to match the color tones of film. Now maybe this is overwhelming & most likely what will happen is you'll find something you like but it wont be anything like film. This is not an easy step & you have to be able to see colors in the highlights & lowlights & know that combinations of colors will = whatever result. So if this is too difficult don't worry, save whatever cool thing you came up with as a new crazy preset & enjoy it & let's move on to the next method. 

The other easier method but not as correct is camera calibration which is the last section in your tool panel.  Here you can move the slider left & right to adjust the overall colors in your picture. Red looks good moved to the right & will give skin tones more yellow & less red tonts.  Greens looks good moved to the right a little to put more blues in the greens like in film. You can adjust the saturation down or up as needed as well.

You will find that moving one slider will make you need to adjust the others to compensate & find balance again. Play around with them & find something you like. I could go into detail about how much or little to move these but the best thing you can do is compare it to a film image you took the same day or find one online that has a similar light & color palette to yours & work your colors to match. You will also want to adjust the white balance & use your HSL & Color panel as backup for adjusting the color hues & saturation if camera calibration doesn't get you exactly where you want to be.

Now that you did all that, you need to frost the cake as I say. You got a good thing going, but it needs the final polish. To really hone in on the film look adjust three final things. The first is the grain amount, which you'll find in the effects panel. Film has grain so having no grain means your picy no looky like da film. Play around with it & make sure your zoomed in to about 50-75% so you get a good grasp of the amount your adding. Second, lower the clarity in the basics panel which softens everything by lessening the contrast. Then take the adjustment brush & paint clarity & sharpness back to any important details like faces & eyes if you want.

3. Get it Right in Camera

Highlight Priority Mode:
Start by setting your (Canon) camera to Highlight Priority Mode which is a setting in your camera menu (If you have an entry level or older Dslr you might not have this). This setting helps retain detail in the highlights of your image which consequently allows you to shoot a little brighter exposures without blowing things out. This setting also adds noise to the shadows but film has grain so I think this just adds to it.

The next obvious setting is your exposure. Don't obliterate all detail by overexposing all of your images but do bump it up.You can set your blown highlight warning (located in your camera menu) to flash or use the histogram on your camera to make sure you don't over do it.

Shoot Raw:
Another setting to use is to shoot in RAW. This is important because you'll be editing the images in post to get the film look & doing this in RAW, as stated above, let's you adjust the settings almost as good as if you did it in camera.

Lastly, play around with the style setting. You can either set it to 'Faithful' which puts the contrast, saturation, sharpness & color tone to 0, or do what I prefer which is to to bring down the saturation & contrast one notch...find what works for you based on what look your trying to achieve.

4. Shoot Right

Choose the Right Lens:
Start with a good lens. Some lenses as you may have noticed, give you different amounts of contrast, colors, compression etc. Put every lens you own on your camera & take the same picture. Now compare the images on your computer. What lens gives you a better film look? For me the answer is both longer & prime lens's. Longer lens's compress the background & make the subject really stand out giving the image more dimension like film. A 100mm or 85mm would fit that description. I use an 85mm & shoot at wider apertures of 2.8 & below often for this reason.

*Also worth noting, is that most of the film images you see are shot at 85mm, so using the same focal length helps mimic the feel.

Find Good Light:
Next, shoot in good light. Open shade, window light, any softer light is great. Film has great light so if your taking a ton of pictures in terrible light your only making it harder for yourself because its one more thing you have to fix & it's the hardest thing. Harsher light is harder to make look like film because you'll have the shadows & blown highlight thing to fix that we talked about above. It can be done but it's just easier not to go there in my opinion. In situations like a wedding where you have no choice but to shoot in crappy light because of candids or where things are setup, then that just is what it is.

Use Fill Light:
Make sure to use a reflector or fill light if you can too. This will give you another layer of good light, filling in shadows & bringing attention to whatever it is your shooting, adding another layer of dimension. The white part of your reflector will give you a softer fill like film but you can also use bounced natural light from a large source or use your flash turned all the way down & heavily diffused.

Lastly some colors just photograph nicer & will give you the softer look you see in film. You'll notice a lot of pale colors like pinks & blues, metallic's, creams & blacks because they photograph so nicely.

5. Hack it Up

The D800 from Nikon, is rated as having better dynamic range so if you have one of those you're already ahead of me & other's with a Mark III. If you don't have a Nikon D800 but you want a comparable dynamic range then you can hack your camera. Magic Lantern came up with Dual ISO which allows you to tap into a better dynamic range by sampling half of the sensor at ISO 100 & half the sensor at a higher ISO giving you closer to 14 stops. I'll be honest though, I'm not sure how I feel about it. There's extra steps you have to take to process the images & I think you sacrifice quality in doing this & then there's the fact that you're tinkering with such an expensive camera which kinda scares me. Maybe Ill dare to try it in the future, but you can see for yourself in the meantime by watching this video I found which shows what you'd normally get with a Raw SOOC image versus the Dual ISO image & then research the pros & cons more for yourself & decide:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Branding Your Business: Step 1

So I’ve had my branding revamp on my to-do list for a couple weeks now with no progress on my end. Today I decided I better just sit down & get to it since I feel like I’ve been avoiding it like dirty laundry. It’s not that I’m not excited about having it re-done, I’m just scared. I want to make sure that whatever I decide on will be something Ill be happy with for a long time. I know the first step to this overhaul requires me to actually contemplate & define things I like so they can be curated into a defined look; seems easy enough right?  I lean back in my desk chair, kick my feet up on the desk & twirl the globe….a dart in hand. The continents can represent the different styles I decide rather pleased with myself. I’ll just throw this at the globe & wherever it lands, that’s what I’ll commit to I decide. But I start to break a sweat & I think I’m having a mild panic attack. It’s too much to narrow down, it’s like telling your husband to pick & then whatever he picks you’ll definitely want the other option. I decide to go to plan b….Pinterest. That’s what any normal woman my age does when they need to be inspired! Scrolling through there I’m sure to find something I like & I can go from there. But what happens next is any indecisive persons worst nightmare.
If I felt like I was drowning in decisions earlier it had only gotten worse. Suffering from a mild case of adult ADD, my first problem was the struggle to not be distracted by the witty memes talking about bitchy things that were suddenly funnier because they had old fashioned Victorian ladies on them or the barrage of cute animals or the neverending stream of beautiful home interiors that mine will never look like!!! Gahhhhh! Ok. You can do it I say. I take a deep breath & stumble to the search bar where I can type exactly what I need & stay focused. “Photography Branding” I type into the little rectangle pleased I’ve made it so far. The page begins to load. As I scroll down & further down…I consider tumbling would maybe be a better name for Pinterest as it more accurately describes your feelings towards the neverending bottomless page.  Alas, I find a few things that speak to me. The corners of my lips turn up slightly to form this thing called a smile. I’m getting somewhere. I’ve now successfully pinned a few things. I click to go to the board so I can review the sum total of my progress. Well let’s see here….I pinned two outfits…one classy & timeless & the other modern & business like. And I pinned a cupcake. I wonder if she’ll be able to clue this all together? I feel like my board is trying to say that I like two things which are completely opposite mixed with something tasty & fattening….maybe I should start over.  
Why do other people’s branding boards always seem so confident, so clear? Like an ad campaign for J Crew.  A dash of sparkle here, something classic there, with just the right mix of color & some cute fonts. They look so polished & mine looks like a food war. I guess I should have started with my own advice I start to think. I think back about the article I wrote on Branding & the questions I need to answer to start getting a clearer picture of not just what I want, but what my clients want & will identify with as well. So I ask myself, what is my business? The short answer being Photography. But beyond that knowing I have to narrow down what Photography I really want to focus on.  I remember when I first started it was everything. I think everyone goes through that spell don’t they? No? Its part of the learning curve if you ask me. Phase one: something inspires you to buy a camera so you do & then you take tons of pictures of said thing. Phase two…you start to explore other things. You ask yourself logical questions like why can’t I be a baby, wedding, family, child, senior, fashion, product photographer? And so you set out like Columbus to explore new lands, nothings safe. Phase three: You realize your business isn’t growing like you wanted it to because your overextended & not focusing your talent & well…your just plain confusing people.  (See current branding  by visiting my full site here or my blog here & add your thoughts to how it should change in the comments below)

So what do I want to shoot anyways? Babies aren’t really my cup of tea…I’d rather admire them from afar if you know what I mean. And Seniors? I feel more awkward then them most of the time so trying to put them at ease? Ha! This is where I decide that I like people who are so distracted by love they often forget your there with a camera + that I grew up in Mexico & Id love to spend more time there = I really want to shoot destination weddings in Mexico where I grew up! Yes please! But I can’t ignore that I first got into photography because I love the limitless world of fashion photography. I love that it can be anything I can imagine & allows my creativity to roam free. So I’ll have to tie that into my business model too somehow I conclude.  

Now with that all decided I ask myself the next question:  What demographic do I want to attract? Well…I’d like clients with a mid-high range budget, male & female & Id like people who will appreciate my personality & not be turned off by it. I happen to be this weird mix of introvert & forced extrovert…kinda like a Chihuahua mixed with Lassy. I prefer to keep to myself but in Photography you can’t be quiet so I force myself to be talkative & relatable. I think it mostly pays off but there’s definitely been times where I’ve gone blank on what to say. Perfect examples of this are High-school Seniors. They’re going through a lot of changes, they’re finding themselves, they’ve taken plenty of selfies but when it comes to shooting, there’s definitely a warm up period where your trying to find common ground & put them at ease.  But me? In search of friendly conversation I realize I don’t know any age appropriate jokes & I go blank. This causes me to panic followed by my rendition of runaway bride where I bolt for the hills & all they hear is the barely audible sound of my trailing voice sqeal…”sorrrrrryyyyyyyy”.   So the point of all that? Does there have to be one? Ok, well, it’s made me picky. And why not be? I want people who will enjoy having fun through the process & who are discerning but not overly critical. Who are fun loving & allow me to feel confident & be myself because they’re super fun & outgoing themselves. Sounds like a tall order but then I have been blessed with just this sort of client in the past.
So I have to ask what appeals to this sort of client? And  what appeals to me? Well, I know I like straightforward yet bold design mixed with touches of feminine & grandeur.  Now don’t ask me what the looks like as it comes together like the big bang, but that’s why god made Dawn. And yes, I realize how terrible that sounds. I know she isn’t here for the sole purpose of working on my branding but let’s be honest, I’ll be as greedy with her time as she allows me to be. She totally rocks & if I can have her creative mind indulging my re-branding fancy then Ill take it!  So what else? Well, I like information to be said in a way that’s entertaining & not monotonous. I think that’s pretty much everyone across the board these days though. We like to be entertained & have come to expect it. But there’s a fine balance between entertaining your client &, “your not funny”, “your trying to hard”.  I feel like my ideal client would appreciate all these same things because its straightforward but with touches that make it unique just like them. Hmmmm. My head fills with inspiration, I visualize the perfect color palette & I paint…the beauty of it all starts coming together, forming a masterpiece. Goosebumps on my arms. It’s going to be amazing.  I glance back over at the globe & think about the design styles I had assigned each country. Europe is going to work perfect I decide as I grab a second dart & throw it towards LA. 
Check out my Pinterest Branding Board here to see as it comes together & visit Dawn Aldermans Blog for more posts I've written on marketing & branding

What Successful Business All Have in Common

Hopefully everyone had mind boggling sales last year & had to reinforce their doors with steel to keep back the swarm of clients. I know how that goes right? Just living the dream. But maybe good isn't good enough. Why not great? How about we have to build a great wall to contain the mob of people trying to work with us? It's already the end of February & hopefully you took the time to hash out goals for 2014 & get all your ducks in a row but if not, it's not too late. There's some important questions you should have answers to in order to set a clear plan for 2014. A big one being: Do you know what worked for you last year & what didn't? It's hard to set goals & find direction if you don't know what's going on. It's something every successful company takes time to do regularly. So get a pen & some paper & take time to assess your business set clear goals for this year. Start by answering:

1. What aspect of your business do you enjoy doing most?
Many times we start a business because we love doing something so much that we want to do it all the time. Unfortunately then we get into business & realize there's so many things that go into running a business that you don't get to spend enough time doing what you love anymore & it can cause us to lose our passion. Losing your passion is the equivalent of dumping your business off a bridge. It means you probably aren't happy or excited about new work which shows in the quality of what your putting out & the level of service your providing to your clients. So if you found yourself loathing your daily to-do list at work, it's time to figure out what those things were & how to do them less so you can free up your time for the stuff you love. Which leads us to our next obvious question of, 
2. What aspect of your business do you dread?
Whatever it is the next question to ask yourself is how can I do it less? With Photography for example it's usually sales or editing. If your spending a bunch of time editing & you don't like editing:  
  • Outsource. There's plenty of companies that do high volume editing as well as some that will do more custom work. If you don't want to hire a company to do it look for retouchers or other Photographers that are accepting new clients. I've come across talented photographers who edit on the side for other's during their slower times. 
  • Try to get your settings better in camera so there's less editing needed. If you're always in a rush when you shoot & don't take the time to correct the white balance as you move between locations or don't stop to adjust your lighting...make time. A reflector for example, or a speedlight at a low setting for barely there fill will save hours of editing time in post where you'd normally have to brighten the subjects otherwise. 
  • Create actions/presets & shoot consistent so you can minimize how much editing you need to do. Find your shoot style & the camera settings that work best in different situations & stick to them. Customize a few actions for each setting like one for shooting in the sun, one for shady day shoots, one for indoors etc so you can click them & get consistently good results that don't need tweaking. 
3. Did you meet your goals last year?
 This could be so many things. But if you didn't meet your goals last year figure out why. Are you where you need to be skill wise? If not take time to perfect your craft & learn. The worse thing that could happen is you get a lot of business but aren't ready for it. Maybe its not your skill that's behind but you just don't have a solid workflow or business model in place to be consistent. Do you have a clear & consistent flow of how to do things when you get a new client or do you find yourself struggling to stay organized & on point? Getting everything streamlined is HUGE I tell ya, HUGE! For one & most importantly it helps you avoid people falling through the cracks or customer service fails which lead to not only unhappy people but a giant loss of potential customers because a happy client is your best source for new work. By having a clear definition of how you'll handle inquiries, how you'll book & then communicate & work with can avoid making mistakes & not giving them exceptional service.
Continue reading by clicking here. The link will take you to Dawn Alderman Designs blog where I originally wrote the post along with others about marketing & branding. 
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