Monday, January 14, 2008

Baby’s Breath Deconstruction

Baby's Breath series 2-2
Baby's Breath series 2-2
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
I thought I’d take an image and explain how I took it. If these types of posts turn out to be popular then I’ll do more of them this season.

The subject in this image is Baby’s Breath, a very common flower that you always seem to get as dressing for bigger flowers. I thought they might look good under a macro lens and after a little trial and error decided that they looked best at twice life size. I also wanted the depth to be very shallow to emphasize single flowers and to keep the threads in the cloth that I was using as a background from showing up in the image (more on that cloth later). Last I set the ISO to 100 because I wanted to keep the noise as low as possible since I would be under exposing the images to saturate what little color is in the flowers.

I set the MT-24EX to +2/3 FEC for an under exposed image –nope, not a typo. The flowers are white so most of the pre-flash that the MT-24EX sends out for the camera to meter off of will get reflected back to the light meter and it will react to it by setting the exposure too low (the duration of the main flash will be too short). Even though I set the MT-24EX to +2/3 FEC the resulting photos still came out 1 full stop under exposed…

Under exposing causes the colors to saturate later when I bring up the exposure in post processing. It also keeps the flash from blowing out the fine details in the flower petals.

With the lens at F8 the depth of field is shallow at 2x, so I chose to use the green “petals” underneath the flower as my point of sharp focus. If that area of the image were out of focus, or even a little soft, you’d notice it and the composition as a whole might not work. The depth also kept me from getting too much detail in the cloth that I was using as a background. I wanted it to show up as a “grain” in the back of the images, but not in a checkerboard pattern where you could see the individual threads.

I placed the MT-24EX’s flash heads on the Canon supplied flash mount and positioned them both at the top of the lens so that they would act as a single light source –something that I think looks better when shooting a flower. I’m currently using pieces of a LightSphere II that I hot glued to my flash heads to diffuse them. The resulting light has a really good quality to it that just seems to make colors “pop”. Also since the working distance was short, and I was getting a lot of reflected light off of the table cloth, the light from the flash wrapped around the flower. It wasn't even, so it doesn't look flat. But the contrast was low and the shadows weren't too heavy.

Post processing in Elements 6 was simple: This was going to be a series of images and since I was in full control of the light I wanted to process all of the them in the same way to maintain a constant look. Initially in RAW I used the “auto” option on all of the photos, but after reviewing the images I've decided that they look better if I leave the exposure alone and simply adjust levels later to lighten the images. It looks good and it was an easy way to keep the photos consistent.

I set Clarity to 50, Vibrance to 35, and Saturation to 20. I also adjusted the Luminance and Color noise reduction while viewing the image at 100% -something that there is no science for so you’ll just have to see what looks good to you.

In the main editor under Enhance / Adjust Lighting / Levels I used the Auto option and since it looked good I kept it. With some images I just set a black point, and I tried that with this set but I didn’t like the results. Also under the Enhance/ Adjust Lighting menu I went into Shadows / Highlights and set Darken Highlights to 5% and Midtone Contrast to 10%. These are settings that you’ll have to play with –there is no right or wrong here. The settings I chose just fit what I was looking for.

I then used the Enhance / Auto Sharpen option to sharpen the image. Not too necessary with this type of photo since I’m not going for high detail, but it does make the prints look better. Also the auto sharpen option in Elements is the only sharpening that I do to an image other than the default sharpening that’s applied by the RAW editor. There are a lot of people out there who say that you have to sharpen a digital image, and I don’t disagree with them. Unfortunately none of them can agree on how much to sharpen photos so I stick with auto sharpen since it won’t over sharpen an image.

Last I rub out dust spots with the Spot Healing Tool and sometimes use the Close Stamp Tool as well (depends on where the dust is). I then add my copy right to the EXIF data via the File / File Info menu and save the image as a JPG. Total time in post processing: Less than two minutes. Although how I take a photo changes depending on the subject and what I’m trying to do with the image my post processing routine is always short –I’d rather put more time into my technique with the camera.
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