The Photoshop Discussion…Take Two!

1no_ps

I tend not to see things like most people. I’m not taking anything away from how most folks see, but I typically look at a scene and try to find ‘the shot’, even when I’m not working. I think I got this way when I assisted Enrico Ferorelli back in the early 80’s. He was always about finding the one perfect shot…and in a lot of ways I’ve been looking for that perfect shot ever since. But in the past tens years or so…a time frame that just also happens to coincide with how long we here at Damn Ugly Photography have been Photoshop-compliant…the way I look at just about everything is in some way based on how I know it will look after I’ve finished working on it in post. Before Photoshop I could, of course, alter reality in subtle ways with film choice or by employing some nifty darkroom tricks & techniques, but my style and the way I shoot has changed as my proficiency with Photoshop has improved. Choosing Kodachrome over Velvia over Ektachrome 100 is fine, but you don’t know color control until you’ve fully mastered the Selective Color tool in Photoshop! And while I’ve never crossed over to the dark side and become one of those guys who has to shoot 20 or 30 elements in order to make one final image, very early on I recognized the amazing potential and the options that were now open to me as long as I was able to reconcile what I believed was possible. I now scout locations and very easily see what can fall away or what can be modified. And while cosmetic changes are an obvious first step, I can alter the reality of a scene in extremely subtle ways to make it better…more appealing…while still keeping the ‘integrity’ of the portrait intact. But I can say this because I maintain that my ‘vision’ as a photographer isn’t held up to the same journalistic yardstick that others find themselves judged by. I’m chosen for an assignment by clients who know up front that my interpretation will not be based on a real color palate or a literal translation of a scene. This has been on my mind since I posted that link last week about the disqualified entries to the Pictures of the Year competition. And even today another discussion started up on The Huffington Post about how the Washingtonian Magazine altered a shot of President Obama for it’s recent cover…the Ethics of Photoshop is becoming a real hot-button issue.

But since a bunch of you wrote to me over the weekend (and why some of you still don’t get how easy it is to post a comment on the blog instead of e-mailing me is makin’ me shake my head!) because you know the amount of post work I have done on some of my images…or at least you think you do…I thought I would pull away the curtain on a few of my shots so you can see exactly what sort of thing goes on after hours at Damn Ugly Photography…..

*Click on any image for the full-size preview*

Here is the RAW file of Jon Bon Jovi…

bon_jovi_raw1

…and the final, retouched version…

bon_jovi_final

This is probably the simplest example I’m showing. Aside from some color-shifting and contrast work, there is just a bit of cosmetic ‘fixing’ to get rid of a few wrinkles and bulges better left unseen.

A much more involved photo was this one of Cornelia Guest. Here is the RAW file…

cornelia_raw

…and the final image…

cornelia_final

With this one I removed the lights over the paintings, the unfortunate wall-socket and the heating duct…then brightened the entire image. Next I shifted the color palate from green to blue and highlighted some areas (the window, gave the dog a bath!) and darkened others (the floor, the corners). But the real heavy lifting came with the cosmetic retouching on the subject…I built a contrast layer that allowed me to highlight her arms and face by putting them in kind of a glowy light. Then I cleaned up any wrinkles and slimmed down the line of the front and back of the dress.

Joe Rosenberg, RAW…

joe_rosenberg_raw

…and retouched…

joe_rosenberg_final

This is just one of the ‘Less is More’ situations…by simply getting rid of the ceiling lights and the heavy black bars in the windows, the shot takes on a completely different feel. And while the color shift looks extreme, this is one of those cases where the RAW file isn’t really showing ‘reality’ either…the original scene wasn’t nearly as muted and murky as the unretouched image leads you to believe. I find that often a RAW file is so much lower in contrast that without a good dose of tweaking in Photoshop you’d be left with a pretty unappetizing image!

Sheila Nevins, RAW…

sheila_nevins_raw

…retouched…

sheila_nevins_final

There are a few of you out there who know the story behind this shot of Sheila Nevins, the president of HBO’s Documentary Division…how I only shot this one single frame when she bolted off the set because the bright explosion of light from the ring light I was using destroyed her eyesight and gave her an ‘ocular migraine’…! I hoped her eyesight was back to normal by the time she was back in her office, but after I checked to make sure my one image was intact, I still had to remove the ugly stainless steel power strip and microphones that ran the length of the boardroom table, as well as brightening the whites and desaturating the pinkish-red skin tones. Oh yeah, then I had to regenerate a reflection of her in the glass table top…

Toxic House, before…

toxic_house_raw

…and after…

toxic_house_final

This BusinessWeek shoot about a family who bought a house sitting on a toxic waste site was definitely made infinitely better by pulling out the Photoshops tricks. To get a feeling of ominous doom, I dialed up the contrast a ton, even for me, and went heavy on the Hi Pass and Multiply layers, so much that it left a glowing halo around the edges…almost like the house was vibrating. Then I highlighted their faces in the masks with sort of a spotlight effect to pull detail out of their faces. I also oversharpened the living daylights outta the thing to make it look even edgier, and finally darkened the sky to further add to the sense of peril.

Steven Spielberg and the scary tree, before…

spielberg_tree_raw1

…and after I made the tree bigger and scarier…

spielberg_tree_final

I shot Steven Spielberg just before his remake of ‘War of the Worlds’ came out, and for one of my three set-ups I placed him in front of a huge tree in front of the Amblin offices on the Universal backlot. The way the tree looked with it creepy shedding bark, reminded me of the scene in the original 50’s film where the aliens crawled outta the crater that was caused when they crashed, so I lit him with a monster-light from down below and finished it off in my computer. As big as the tree was, I still wanted to dwarf him a bit more, so I cloned the trunk on the top and left of the frame, then I shifted his baby-blue shirt to grey and went about desaturating and increasing the contrast overall. Finally, I darkened the whole shot overall and brightened the light on his face to separate him and give the appearance of something glowing off-camera….in a crater…..with the aliens!

Only In New York….

Walking through SoHo the other day I came across this window at E.R. Butler

coyote_bunny

Only in New York could you sell a $4,319.00 Nymphenburg porcelain bunny by showing a coyote about to eat him…