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Anatomy of a shot

Here is how I took an image I knew was killer and got it there.

First off, the artist is Annie Rose, a blues singer from the Green Bay area who has been cast to play Janis Joplin in a movie that will start shooting sometime this summer. I knew I had to get great images of her, but was hamstrung by a couple of factors:

1. Despite four lights the band brought, there was NO WAY I was going to be able to shoot existing light with ANY of my lenses.

2. The club I was shooting in had a most distracting background.

3. This woman was just a ball of energy on stage with frequent hand gestures, etc. Shooting tight shots was not going to work, I quickly found out.

I solved the first problem by using on camera flash, but dialed it down to -2 stops and checked the histogram to make sure my exposures were going to be something I could work with in the RAW converter and PhotoShop.

The second problem I'd take care of in post processing.

The third problem I could also handle by cropping in PhotoShop.

Here's one shot from the evening:


The image as shot (No cropping or corrections other than in RAW converter)

This is pretty much indicative of how I expose my images. For shots of the bass player -- who was right next to the four lights, I could go down 2 1/2 stops in exposure and get a lot of the lighting to show through.

Here is the shot cropped and corrected in PhotoShop. Mostly used levels adjustments and some tweaking of the contrast and brightness (in that order).

Annie Rose 1

Image cropped, adjusted and with distracting background taken out.

You'll note that the distracting background is gone. I worked with a WACOM pen tablet and with the background color in PhotoShop set to the predominate "black" in the image background, I set about taking out chunks of the background. I left the neon lights behind her because it added a little color to the photo. I then burned in around her arms to blend the background in. I also dodged a bit in her hair to make it stand out.

To see how the image would look in Black & White, I did a quick mode change to grayscale.

Annie Rose 1 -- BW

Image converted to grayscale

Normally if this looks close, I undo and do the conversion using the channel mixer method. However, with just a tweaking of the contrast and brightness, I thought this one worked.

Bear in mind, a lot of my PhotoShop skills are self-taught from reading books and magazines and tricks people have shown me. I've had no formal training in PhotoShop but was a very accomplished darkroom printer before switching to digital capture.

The important thing to remember when faced with shooting problems is to NOT GIVE UP! A lot of times you can take an image with a flash and not have it look like you did. It's just a matter of practice, practice, practice!

Also, if your camera can shoot in RAW, do it. It may be a hassle for all the extra work you have to do, but who is in charge of the image making process, you or the camera? You can do a lot more with your images if you have all the information the sensor records. It's like darkroom work and then some.

A NOTE: If I were to use this shot in the newspaper I work for, the background elimination step wouldn't have been used as that would be a violation of the NPPA Code of Ethics. But since this image can be used for public relations and publicity use, the method is acceptable.

Jamie Taylor
TailWind Imaging
"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment." -- Buddha

I actually prefer the skin tones in the original image. The second image (adjusted) looks over processed and washed out, and has too much contrast, at least for my taste. I agree it is better to leave too much room around the subject and crop during post production vs cropping tightly in-camera and risking that you miss something.

I also agree with eliminating the disturbing background to clean up and simplify the composition. Another method to achieve that is to make a selection of just the background and drop the levels. You can lower the levels enough to leave just a hint of detail in the background without removing it altogether. That gives some semblance of atmosphere without being distracting.

Walter Rowe - Rowe Images
Professional Photographer
Columbia, Maryland - USA

Founder, MusicPhotographers.net
Columbia, Maryland - USA

To show my fiancée your comments, Walter.

We worked on that image side-by-side and that was the look SHE preferred over one I had with more natural skin tones. Gives us something to think about when doing the rest of the shots later this week (I'm up to my eyeballs working on a 2-page photo spread of the high school prom for the paper this week, otherwise I'd be working on them right now).

HOWEVER, the band's bass player has already added his comments to the shot on our MySpace account. I guess it all boils down to how you like the images processed.

I'll have to give your background trick a try when I take another swing at the image.

BTW, the crop results in a standard 8x10 print at full resolution and size. That's how I size them for upload to our Photoreflect site.

Jamie "Shooter" Taylor
TailWind Imaging
"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment." -- Buddha

Jamie "Shooter" Taylor
TailWind Imaging
"Away you will go sailin/In a race among the ruins/If you plan to face tomorrow/Do it soon." -- Gordon Lightfoot