Musical Shots

I did another photo shoot, this time of my friend Thom Snell who runs Sunday music at church, which let me get a different setting than the ones of Kristy and Anna in my living room. I wanted to get more “dignified music director” photos to contrast the goofy ones of them from last time. He was a willing model in spite of my myriad cheapest-possible-flash-tripod and general lighting issues, and I appreciated his patience a lot. Unfortunately, after dark, the UU church is not really ideal when armed with one light. If I could go back and try again when there would be natural light, the lighting might come out more along the lines of what I had in mind. Still, I think they came out worthwhile and I’m learning lots.

First, I tried using the bookshelves of music storage as a background, where I could control the lighting in the room well enough to make up for only having the one flash, but the overhead lighting was so orange and the flash was so blue that after a while I decided there was very little chance of being able to correct the color temperature of the pictures without a lot of work.

You can see the troublesome light colors a little: that’s why the others from this attempt are black-and-white!

I tried using my new creation, a piece of white foam-core covered with aluminum foil on one side, as a fill reflector for the shadows, but there was so much else I was fiddling with that I didn’t pay enough attention to where it was placed and whether it was doing its job. I don’t think it did. Maybe next time.

After reviewing the photos on my laptop, I decided to take Thom’s suggestion of finding a spot in the sanctuary. Sadly the organ, which is such a favorite of the congregation, isn’t positioned well to serve as a backdrop. (How thoughtless of the Great Organ Transplant people!) The piano worked well enough, and he asked for a couple of the typical composition looking along the strings of the piano that he could use for his own purposes.

Most of the post-processing I needed to do afterwards was to try to repair the white balance (blue flash vs orange overheads), bring the exposure and fill light settings up a lot, and adjust saturation slightly to look more serious.

I cropped all the photos, and some of them I changed to be more a comfortable 3×4 or 4×5 proportion. I did some local adjustments to lighten the dramatic shadows, plus adding vignetting. It’s probably not enough that you can notice on the web pictures but I sharpened the eyes, mouth, and hair, which have a lot of little details, whereas skin can look better if it’s a bit blurred. In a few places, I brought down the shines on his face a little bit and adjusted the shadows on his neck a little for aesthetics. The tapestries were getting some light from the flash and coming out very bright red behind his head, so I darkened the background and desaturated them some. I liked the warm tones of the inside of the piano, so I tried to preserve those, although I added a gradient to reduce the exposure as it got closer to the bottom edge of the frame, to keep your eye from traveling along the strings out of the picture.

Before: shot with 60 mm lens, f/7.1 at 1/10 sec, ISO 100
After: RAW editor’s local adjustment markers plus notes – does not show area effected by each marker.

All of the photos were shot with my old Canon Rebel XT and 60mm macro lens. I probably could have set the aperture larger and let the backgrounds be more blurred, but my camera was having trouble focusing with the room being kind of dark and I decided to err on the side of more depth of field, since I’ve had trouble with that in the past. As with the last batch, I didn’t bring these into Photoshop for retouching, so the edits are somewhat rough and limited. As I get better with taking portraits and need less editing just to get the pictures in order, it may be more worth it to take them in to PS for more detailed work, but for now I figure the RAW editor is good enough.

I wish I had gotten a picture of the setup we jury-rigged for the lighting which involved setting the flash tripod somewhat precariously on three music stands in between the sanctuary chairs, because it would have given you a better idea of how much of a hassle it was to deal with the lighting. -.-

I see why a piano is such a popular thing to take pictures with … I think it lends some interest even with my lighting options frustratingly limited, just from having the instrument as part of the composition. Unfortunately I didn’t notice how close the lid of the piano is to Thom’s head until I started cropping the pictures down, so it was not totally successful. At some point I’ll work out how to take tethered portraits (immediate review on a laptop instead of the camera’s LCD), and hopefully that will make spotting these things easier. As it is, it’s a learning process to remember to QA the subject matter of my photos – not something I have to do as much with my usual macro photography because there’s so little in the frame.

Until I’m more practiced with my equipment, it may be simpler to just stick to figures with neutral backgrounds, without having to try to light surroundings appropriately in addition to the subject.

After taking these pictures, I found a really great set of portrait lighting setups which would have been super-helpful to have at the time. Oh well, next time I guess.

2 Responses to “Musical Shots”

  1. Angus Rockett
    | Reply

    Many of these shots are really nice portraits (especially after you have gotten done with Photoshop adjustments). I would not be surprised to hear that your choir director would be interested in copies of some of them.

    • ellen
      | Reply

      Thanks, already taken care of!

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