Category Archives: Instruction

Thinking in 3D – Middleground

Is middleground really the term for the thing between the foreground and the background? I don’t know, but it A) let me make a hobbit joke, which is cool, and B) explains where this part of the picture is well.

Hollis Behind the Vail
Hollis Behind the Vail

This is where we put the subject. There’s the stuff in front of the model – the foreground, and the stuff behind the model – the background. Where the model is is the middleground.

But is seems this creates a bunch of misconceptions about the middle area. Let’s break down the image of Hollis behind the vail.

Foreground, the vail. Middleground, Hollis’ face, specifically lips and eyes. Background, the window behind her.

Notice a couple of common misconceptions abused in this image.

Is the model in focus? Nope, the middleground is fuzzy. The foreground is in focus, as is the background.

Is the model halfway between the background and the foreground? Nope. Often the model is right behind the foreground. Sometimes really close. Sometimes she’s way far away, or right up against the background.

Don’t be afraid to play with where the model is in the 3D space of the image.

Thinking in 3D – Foreground

Jack Sparrow in Chains
Jack Sparrow in Chains
A photograph is a two dimensional, flat image. But it is of a three dimensional world. You need to be thinking about how to tell the viewer about all three dimensions. To do this think of your image in terms of three parts

The Foreground, what’s in front the model.
The Middleground – not be confused with Middle Earth – where your model is.
The Background, what’s behind the model.

The Foreground Makes The Image 3D

A lot of the time we try to remove everything we can from in front of the model. We’re focused on just seeing her, and don’t want the distractions. But very powerful, deep images can be created by putting something between the viewer and the model.

Something in the foreground does is place the model in the 3D space the viewer is creating in their minds. They know what is behind her – she blocks it – now they have an idea what’s infront of her because something blocks her.

Depth of field helps with this three dimensional idea too. Normally the things in front of the model will be out of focus. They will be big and fuzzy and the viewers brain will use that to put the object closer to the camera in their mind.

The Foreground Focuses The Eye Where You Want It

The most obvious thing you can do with something in the foreground is block something you don’t want the viewer to see. Do you remember the scene in the Austin Powers movie where the to main characters are walking around naked, but they keep having their private parts obscured by things in the foreground? (YouTube with lots of off-color humor). This has a number of examples of using the foreground to hide things.

Another way to move the eye is to put lines in the image that will draw they eye toward your model. You can use foreground objects to make these lines.

Lastly you can add story information in the foreground. If you have a model sitting behind a desk and in the foreground on the desk is an out-of-focus gun, you’ve added a story element.

Thinking in 3D – Background

If you’ve signed up for our free model photography mini-course, then you know that one of the 10 Common Mistakes of New Model Photographers is not watching your backgrounds. They having stuff coming out of their model’s head, like telephone poles or trees. Too often we don’t pay attention to what is behind our model and mess up a great image.

For me the biggest use of the background is to add information or feeling to the image. (How to Create Feel In Photographs is lesson #13 & #14 of the mini-course). This is why I’m not a big fan of plain white backgrounds. A plain background is great at removing distraction and focusing the viewer on the subject, which is a good thing when you are creating a catalog or fashion image because it is all about the clothes. When you are creating more artistic images, you need to use everything you can to add meaning and emotion.

Aerial Dance on Black
Aerial Dance on Black
Even when I’m using a plain background – black more often than white – I like to put some color in it. Like this image of an aerial dancer. The fact is a person floating in mid air like an angel is pretty good all by itself. The white she’s wearing separates her from the background well. But the splash of color takes it to a different level. And it has become part of my style.

Another way to use the background is to put something in it that gives it context. Maybe that is a city skyline to a swimsuit image, which says where they are and ads an cosmopolitan feel. Or a wooden wall, that gives a grunge or dirty feel to it. Or even a group of zombies to tell you why the model is carrying a shot gun. (See these images and post your backgrounds in the forum).

Think about your background. Use it to turn your images from good to great.

How have you used your background to change the meaning or fell of your images? Show us in the forums.

Focus – Decide Where They Look

Locked and Loaded
The power of being the photographer is you decided what the viewer sees. No matter what else is going on on set, no matter how big or small your shooting space is, no matter if your model is tall or short, or any of 100 other little weaknesses of reality, as the photographer you control the frame. You get to pick what the viewer does and doesn’t see.

You need to be thinking “What do I want the viewer to focus on?” as you are creating an image. Once you know this, you can use many different techniques to pull the viewer where you want them to go.

If you don’t know what you want them to look at you’re betting on chance to create a great image.

Focus is actually one of the tools you can use to get the viewer to look where you want. I like to think of focus as the parts of the image that are fuzzy verses the parts that aren’t. Guess what the viewer looks at? The sharp parts.

You can also use composition – where you put various things in the image – to focus the viewer.

I’m going to write a number of articles about various tools you can use when creating a great image over the next thirty days, but you need to first know what you want.

Yes, having a hot chick on a white background is easy, but it isn’t great. Lots of people will like such an image, but they are liking it because of the subject, not because of the photography. We need to take it to the next level and make it about a hot chick in a cool setting, with quality craftsmanship.

White Balance Trick: Tungsten and Natural Light

Thursday I had a comercial shoot during the day at the studio and needed to be somewhere downtown in the evening so I decided I’d just hang out at the studio while one of my partners shot. Bob Warren was shooting traveling model Hollis Ireland that evening and invited me to come along. He planned to go to a number of places around the studio and shoot just using natural light. Hollis is super hot redhead so it didn’t take much arm twisting to get me to come along.

The sun was fast dropping and the Texas wild fires where doing interesting things to the golden hour light. When we got to our last location the sun was almost down. We were shooting under an overpass, using the tungsten lights as our light source. I asked Bob what he was doing for white balance and he said he was using tungsten, but that the natural light would have an interesting blue cast. Ok, whatever. I switched over.

Then I was blown away by what happen.

Where the overhead lights hit the model she was a warm gold color like you’d expect from tungsten – though I’m not sure why changing my WB didn’t make that white. But where the natural light hit anything, it turned a rich blue color.

As the sun went down, the blue got darker as you’d expect. (The less exposed/more underexposed something is, the darker the color.)

This is my favorite image from the shoot and shows the dramatic difference in color temperatures. There was no color work in post production at all.

The only negative to these images was my ISO was cranked up to 1000 and the images where still underexposed giving me a lot of noise. I used Lightroom’s noise correction to fix some of it, but now I feel the skin is too smooth.

Next time you are out shooting at sun down, look for some tungsten light and try this out for yourself.

PS: Don’t worry Shawna and I are planning our return to podcasting, and there will be an expansion of what we’re doing here at P&M to build up the community.

How-To Build a Cyclorama Photo Studio

I’ve always called a cyclorama an infinity wall. It is a white background that curves as the bottom so you can’t see where the floor ends and the wall begins. There is no line there.

Here’s a great video on how to build one. This is no simple project. They really build not only the curve, but also the floor.

Oh and the video itself is really well made and fits how we do things at my studio. Though photographer and model does not endorse the use of power tools while only wearing lingerie for safety reasons.

Hat tip to Chase Jarvis for pointing out the video.

The Power of a Portrait

A couple of years ago I had a friend who was newly divorced and starting online dating. Having been married for almost 20 years I knew nothing about online dating, so I asked to see her profile.

“OMG, that picture is horrible.”

I don’t know online dating, but I know photography and her image was horrible. It barely looked like her. It was cut out of a picture with her ex in it – complete with disembodied arm around her shoulder.

My Friend's Online Dating Image
My Friend's Online Dating Image

“Girl, you’ve got to come down to my studio and let me take your picture. Pay the makeup artist and I’ll shoot you for free.”

I brought her down to HSS, shot for a couple of hours an got her some new images using the simple techniques I’m teaching this weekend at the Portrait and Headshots workshop.

A year later I shot her wedding.

Within hours of putting up her new pictures, she was flooded with winks and messages on the dating sites. One of those was a guy she connected with and later they got married. That’s the power of portrait photography and some the work I’m most proud of.

You can still sign up for the workshop at the HSS website.

Look we all love shooting models, but it is the stuff we learn in this workshop that can make the biggest difference in people’s lives. This is the stuff you can use on family and friends.

You may have noticed that the model for this workshop is Janet Tillman, a makeup artist not a model. I picked her for three reasons. One she has one of the most photogenic faces I’ve ever shot, so you’ll get good images. Two she isn’t a model, so you get a chance to work with a real person. Three she’s a lot of fun.

I just added a couple of new headshots to the workshop page of Janet. Go check them out and sign up now.

PS. This is a content review workshop, which means you’ll get to look at your images on a big screen, get feedback and shoot the same thing to improve them.

What Makes You The Photographer Of An Image?

Is the person who clicks the shutter the photographer of an image?
I always kind of thought so, until I took this image of Shawna and I. I set up the lights. I posed us. But my wife clicked the image. I even told her how to compose it. But since I’m in it I couldn’t take it.

So is she the photographer or am I? She clicked the shutter. I could have put the camera on a tripod and the played trial and error too get the composition right. Would I then be the photographer because I started the self timer?

Seems obvious in this scenario that I created the image. I did everything to make it happen the way I envisioned it.

Let’s look at another scenario, a workshop. At my studio’s workshops we set up the lights. We recruit the models and pick what they wear. We often give them most of the direction they are going to get. And we tell the student some good ways to compose the image. But they press the shutter. Is it their photograph or ours?

We allow leeway and encourage them to direct the model. If they have an idea we’ll sometimes let them change the lighting and the models work with them if they want particular poses or wardrobe or props.

You kind of feel if they just do exactly what we tell them they aren’t the creators of the image. But if they start directing and making changes, then they become the photographer, but how much do they have to change to make it theirs?

Last data point, many high end fashion photographers don’t do their own lighting. They hire a lighting director, just like they hire stylists and makeup artists. But they click the shutter. Of course then everyone from the client to the art director review the image and influence how the next one is taken. So are they the creator?

What do you think?