In Photography, there are a lot of rules, especially in portraiture. I used to be a strict rule follower. Never crop her at her feet! Place her at the exact thirds of the picture! Make sure her eyes are above the upper thirds! Make sure to get that catch light in her eyes! And so on.
Even though I followed those rules, I noticed pros who I admire rarely followed them. I began to realize that the rules weren’t always to be followed. In fact, if the content is solid, the rules don’t matter. They’re minor distractions.
Before, I would critique other photos based on those rules. I now cringe at the stuff I said. Nitpicking photos on those rules isn’t constructive. It’s just an ego booster. But that’s another post.
Other clueless photographers critiqued me with those nitpicky rules as well. Over time, no matter how perfect I try to make the photo, someone has something irrelevant to say to boost their ego. I got tired of it and decided to just break the rules.
You Can’t Have Shadows In the Eyes, That is Unflattering
A common rule in portraiture is to have catchlight in the eyes. That is supposed bring soul and life into the eyes. In fact, they hate shadows in eyes. They say it make women look unflattering. These girls look ugly don’t they?
You Must Always Point the Face Towards the Light
In addition to the rule above, you should just have the model face the light. These images below are crappy since the light isn’t shone on the face.
Don’t Crop At Fingers, Toes, Feet, Under Elbows, Tip of Heads, etc.
We all know the proper body cropping rules. Don’t chop off the limbs. But this is the rule that all top photographers break.
Honestly, if you control the contrast at the crop, it isn’t as bad. Also if the brightest part of the image draws the eyes away from the crop, it’s okay too. Heck some top photographers blatantly do it. It’s like they don’t even know about this rule.
So here are my crappy images since I break cropping rules:
The Eyes Must Be Razor Sharp
The eyes are the soul. You must focus on them and have them razor sharp.
I used to follow this rule pretty religiously. Lately, I’ve been lazy about keeping this rule. One reason is because I have heard one photographer blurs his pics! You don’t need to have a super sharp picture. Would my pictures be any better if the eyes were razor sharp?
As you can see, some of these break more than 1 rule. These aren’t the best photos I’ve taken. But I don’t think they’re that bad. Would they’ve been better if I followed the rules? I don’t know. Maybe.
Also, I know there are photographers out there reading this post cringing at my photos above. Oh well, I can’t win them all.
I’m not saying we should not follow the rules. I try to follow them most of the time. In fact, getting a good photo becomes easier when you follow the rules. However, I will break them when it requires me to have the right expression, feeling, and emotion at that moment.
I had a recent photo shoot. I decided to use Capture One to process it. When I was testing out various RAW converters for my Fuji cameras, I mentioned I loved Capture One’s skin tones. Funnily, for my first Capture One session, I decided to do the set in black and white.
I love black and white photos but have rarely processed my portraiture in black and white. So for this shoot, I put my camera in black and white mode and decided my set should be in black and white. Of course, the RAW would come out in color, but at least in my camera, I would know what the black and white photos will look like.
The models were Haley J, Kimberly P, and Madison L.
I think they look underexposed. But I wanted to give it a darker feel. If I were to do these again, I would try upping the exposure or brightness setting in Capture One and seeing how it would turn out.
Also, I could’ve used the levels slider in Capture One to make the blacks darker. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that. I’m used to Lightroom’s black slider.
How Did I Process These?
If you’re interested in how I processed these, I used a “complicated” method: I just put the saturation slider to 0. Yeah, it’s probably not the best way to do it, but I have seen professionals who I respect use that method.
I guess I have more control if I used the black and white setting such as filtering certain colors. But this is my lazy, quick, and easy method. Also, I can put a slight blue tint to the shadows when I have the saturation at 0. I don’t know if I can do that if I use the black and white setting in Capture One.
If Lightroom does come out with the film simulations for the Fuji cameras, hopefully, I can just use that. I love how Fuji’s black and white film simulation looks.
In most cases, I can tell if someone is a good photographer by looking at their Website. I don’t mean looking at their gallery, I mean looking at their actual Website.
To be a good photographer, you need a good eye. That means your eyes has to know what looks good from an artistic and design standpoint. If your Website looks like crap, then chances are, your photos look like crap too.
What makes a good Website? It needs to look good from the colors to typography. It has to be useable. It needs to be simple. It needs to be focused.
Also, with all the free, good-looking templates from Squarespace, Wix, and even WordPress, there is no excuse NOT to have a good looking photography site. It still boggles my mind when Photographers have Websites that looks like it’s from the 90’s.
I have learned several ways to retouch skin. Some are good and some are bad. I’m going to retouch the same image and describe each one.
The Original Image
This is the original image I’m going to use. The hardest part was finding a picture of a model that had skin that can be retouched for this exercise. Most of my models had great skin.
Sorry LaCole for using your un-retouched pic. Fortunately, I don’t think she will even see this blog.
Here is the un-retouched photo. I shot this with my Fuji X100s. I cropped to her face to get a better look at her blemishes. I also fixed the exposure. Other than that, it’s straight RAW out of the camera converted using Lightroom.
Before I begin, I didn’t put too much effort into this. I hate retouching. It feels tedious to me. I rather be shooting than retouching.
Therefore, these might not look good and sloppily done. It’s because they are. Also, I was doing these on my laptop with a dirty screen, using my touchpad. Those are my excuses if these don’t look good. Anyway, let’s get started.
Blur Skin + Healing Brush
This is probably the worst method ever. I learned this method early on from one of Scott Kelby’s youtube videos. I can’t believe he suggests this method. It is one of the worst methods ever.
Having said that, it is the fastest method. This took me less that 5 minutes to do. The only problem is that it destroys skin texture. It gives the porcelain doll look. I do not like it. It makes it look unnatural.
Also, some people abuse this technique so they blur the skin even more. It makes the image look ridiculous.
How do you use this?
Copy to new layer.
Use surface blur in Photoshop. Scott actually says to use Gaussian Blur. I think surface blur makes a “cleaner” blur. So use that instead. You need to mess with the slider to get enough blur to clear away most imperfections while trying to keep things looking natural.
Drop the opacity down in the blurred layer until it looks natural.
Mask away the eyes, lips, and hair. That way, those will look sharp and natural.
Heal away the rest of imperfections.
This is where you create 2 layers. One is the tone layer. The other is the texture layer. You “separate” those frequencies.
That way, when you heal the skin, you don’t have to worry about the skin tone. You just have to make sure the textures match. So you can go to any place in the skin to get the sample for your skin to heal from.
This preserves skin tone and texture much better than blurring skin method or straight healing brush method. This takes a long time to do though. My image took about 15-20 minutes to complete. And I wasn’t even putting much effort into it.
Also, you can get a bad texture and screw it up. Also, when you have skin as bad as hers, it’s hard to find a good texture to start from. So it can look “patterned.” You would need to get into 200% zoom and do it more meticulously.
But if the model has good skin in most places, this is one of the best ways to retouch skin.
How do you do this? It’s too complicated to explain. Search “frequency separation” on Youtube and you can find a ton of videos from there.
Dodge and Burning
Dodging and Burning is what the best retouchers use in the industry. It completely preserves all skin textures. It is the most natural method.
The only problem: it takes freaking too long. Also, there is no way to do this with a mouse or touchpad. I had to bust out my Wacom tablet. If you hate retouching like me, this will test your patience.
However, I do use this method more often these days since it makes people look more natural. I don’t do it at a micro level too much though. I do it on a macro level.
If you want to do this properly, you need to zoom in to 300-400%. This is also the hardest method since you need patience and artistic talent. When you dodge and burn away the skin, you can lose tonality. But you can add tonality as well afterwards. Therefore, it helps if you know how to paint in shadows and light.
If you overdo this and make the skin super smooth, the skin will look blurred. So you have to be careful not to spend 8 hours chugging away with this method and have it look like something you could’ve done in 5 min. However at 100% zoom, you’ll be able to see each texture of the skin.
So how do you do this? This is also complicated to explain. Create a 50% gray, soft light layer (search for this method on the Internets). Then you zoom in 300%, dodge dark spots, and burn light spots in the skin. Repeat until everything looks even.
This can get complicated. Like I mentioned earlier you may lose tonality. So you have to paint those back in. You may also lose skin color as well (like in my pic). So you would also need to paint those back in. It’s just too tedious and painful to do it correctly.
You should, however, do D&B on a macro level for all your images. It can help the image.
100% Zoom Of Each Method
Here are the 100% zoom of each method.
2. Frequency Separation
3. Dodging and Burning
There are other methods I haven’t shown.
Lowering clarity slider in Lightroom. This can look horrible if you’re not careful. But it can lighten up some blemishes if used well.
Going crazy with clone stamp on a new layer and dropping opacity.
Using portraiture and other insta-retouching software.
Many others I’ve forgotten about or not know about.
You wouldn’t use these methods exclusively. You would combine these methods to get the best possible results.
Honestly, I like the Blur method out of all 3 with this particular image. Yeah I know I wrote it’s the worst method. But it looks the best to me. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t look sloppy. I just can’t stand the over-smoothness of the skin though. Oh well. Maybe if I spent more time on the other methods.
Each technique can be used depending on where the image will be shown. If you need to show images to a client quickly at a small resolution, the blur method might be good enough. If you’re going to print big, perhaps the other methods can be good.
Besides using software, having someone with good skin, getting a good makeup artist, having good lighting, and other factors can help as well.
Other sneaky ways you can try is soft-focusing and/or using a high ISO can help make the skin look smoother–whatever you can do to lose the details.
A model once said she liked my pictures because I don’t process them. I wasn’t sure if I should be proud or insulted by that. I spend a lot of time thinking about my post-processing and applying them. It could mean she couldn’t tell if I processed my photos. Or it could mean I’m awesome because my photos look natural.
I’ve pondered at my post processing. I noticed it goes through cycles from doing too little to too much to doing too little again. It depends on what new techniques I learn and what other photographers do with their photos.
When I first started getting into photography, I was an in-camera only guy. I thought using photoshop or lightroom was cheating. I had to get it perfect in camera. And I still believe that.
The photo below is one of my earlier shots. I just crushed the shadows and applied some split toning (and boy can you tell). That’s all. I didn’t even retouch her face nor touch any other sliders. Luckily she has good skin. People wondered how I posted my pics so fast. It’s because I just did split toning, synced all photos, and posted it it.
Then I got into post processing heavily. I learned some retouching techniques (both good and bad techniques, but that’s a future post). I loved using Lightroom and Photoshop. I believed post-processing was an essential part of the finished photo. And I still believe that.
I did a lot of stuff to my photos during this phase. Luckily, I never got into the horrible HDR phase.
Here is one of my more processed photos. Man, did it look overprocessed. It did give a distinct flavor to my photo. You know, the flavor of sunburnt skin.
Later on, I hated my post-processing on that photo. So I redid it. It looks smoother and more elegant. I made things subtler. The skin tone looks more natural. I even retouched her skin. Is this one better? To me it is.
Then I went to this. I used the radial filter heavily to get rid of the distracting elements in the background. Heck, I probably even used the brush tool to darken big areas as well. I was going to town on my Lightroom, using everything it has.
It almost looked like I used a softbox on camera left and hair light on a boom on top of her. In fact, this was all ambient light. She was sitting on a pool table with the lamp above her. That’s it. I also cleaned up her face using frequency separation.
I also went through a phase of trying to save bad photos using post. I won’t be trying that again. The image below is heavily cropped and processed. It’s an okay photo. Nothing can save a bad photo.
Here is where I am now. I dodged and burned her skin to lighten up the bags under her eyes and to eliminate a few imperfections. I also messed with the curves, saturation, and contrast a bit. That’s about it.
My Opinions On What Post Processing Should Be
So now I’m back at trying to get everything in camera again. But when I look back at my photos, they haven’t changed much, no matter how much post-processing I used.
One reason is my philosophy of keeping things as subtle as possible. I try not to max out, or even go past 25, on my sliders.
Also, I believe the first thing you notice in photos CANNOT be the post processing. The processing should fit and become seamless with the photo. It has to match the mood, story, and feeling of the photo.
Later on, I’ll go over many different ways to retouch skin.
I hate most of my pictures. I guess that’s normal for most photographers to be critical of their photos. But I buckled down and decided to choose 6 favorite pictures I took in 2013. Why 6 and not do a more traditional top 10? I couldn’t find 10 I liked, so I chose 6. Some of them might not be the best photos I’ve taken, but I have an emotional attachment to them. So here they are in random order.
I hated this photoshoot. The lighting sucked, and I thought I was going to shoot adult ballerinas. But all we got were kids. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about shooting kids. I came out of this shoot feeling depressed. I seriously thought I got 0 good shots from this shoot.
When I go back and look at them, I don’t think they’re bad at all. In fact, I think these are some of my better pictures. I just used on-camera flash on all of these.
The picture above is one of my favorites. I like the composition and atmosphere of the picture. I was still in my “treat every photo as a design exercise” phase.
Also, the on camera flash made that scene look like a stage and a spotlight hit her.
I think Victoria is a great model. She made this shot work. But I must admit, it wasn’t my idea. Some dude asked the guys in the motorcycle to rev their engine so the smoke would come out. And Victoria did her thing. I just hung back and stole some shots.
I had a supposed professional fashion photographer critique this photo. His main critique was that this photo had no story. He didn’t understand why the guys were in the motorcycles in the back. I had no clue what he was talking about. I mean, to me, the story was the clearest part of this photo. What is there not to get? There are so many interpretations of the story in this photo.
Maybe he was right. Maybe I’m too arrogant to think otherwise. Whatever. After that, I never took people’s critiques seriously unless I admired their work.
My friend Christine wanted me to take her maternity photos. I resisted for a long time. I thought all maternity photos were cheesy.
Well, after researching and thinking about it, I decided to do it. All I had to do was take a nice portrait of my friend who happened to be pregnant. That’s it. I didn’t have to do anything cheesy like making heart signs on their bellies or having the dad kiss the stomach.
Sure, the photo isn’t perfect. I could’ve photoshopped her fly away hairs. But I think I accomplished my goal.
This was a fun shoot. I liked this picture because of the genuine emotion between two models. No posing, no emoting, no modeling. Just a good snapshot.
This was my first popular 500px photo. I strategically made sure this would get popular in 500px. I had it all planned out: flattering lighting, hot model showing skin, clean post processing, glamorous style, and a clean image.
I accomplished my goal and got a 95.5 score and got to the popular section of 500px. I got my validation from the circlejerk that is 500px. I’m glad I don’t have to subject my eyes to their boring photos again.
I’m not a landscape photographer. But for some reason, I like this pic. It’s nothing special. But I like it. People liked my Joshua Tree pictures better. But again, I just like this picture better.
Why do I like it? I don’t know why. There’s a lot of problems with this photo like the huge empty space on the top. But I still like it.
I guess it feels like a poor-man’s version of Ansel Adam’s Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico photograph to me.
According to fujirumors, Fuji is coming out with a SLR-inspired mirrorless camera based on the Fujica ST design.
First of all, I have no idea why mirrorless camera makers are making cameras that look like SLRs. The point of the hump is to put the pentaprism in it. Mirrorless cameras don’t need the ugly hump, unless the EVF requires a lot of space.
Many Fuji users agree Fuji should stick with the rangefinder design. I agree. If Fuji wants to do a Fujica ST design, then they should make it with a mirror. They should do what Nikon DF tried to do, but do it right.
Here are the rumored features of the new body:
bigger and better EVF
APS-C X-Trans II
double SD-card slot
weather sealed body
launch in January (CES)
price range between X-E and X-PRO line
All those are fine and dandy, but I don’t care of about any of those except for the better EVF. The EVF can never be too good. But you know what else they should have? An ISO dial. I hate diving into the menus to get to it.
The original Fujica ST has a dial on each side of the camera. The left one should be ISO. The right one should be shutter speed. And where the film advance lever was, put the exposure compensation dial. There you go, nice and minimal and closely matches the design of the Fujica ST. Also, the shutter speed and ISO dial should go 1/3 stops instead of full stops.
Also, they need to have tethering support. Then it can be seen as a real-deal pro camera for fashion and commercial photographers. Sure, the newer X-cameras have WiFi, but it only works with Fuji’s apps. It should be able to tether to Lightroom, Capture One, and other software.
Honestly, when I saw the glimpses of the Nikon DF, I was ready to dump all my Fuji gear and move to Nikon. I would’ve bought the Nikon DF with the Nikon 58 f/1.4 and be done with it.
Luckily for Fuji, Nikon screwed up. Like I said earlier, Fuji should do what the Nikon DF tried to do. Fuji should just slap a mirror in their new camera and create a big, bright, optical, viewfinder (along with an awesome EVF). But they should make it the same size as the original Fujica ST. Is that possible?
So would I get this new body? I don’t know, maybe if they did everything I wrote here. Even then, I’m not sure.
Currently, I’m 95% happy with my X-E1. It’s sluggish though. It feels “old.” But the image quality is nice. The X-Trans II isn’t going to improve my images much. So what’s the point ? I learned to keep my GAS in check after I got buyer’s remorse when I upgraded my X100 to X100s.
I’m not a fan of landscape photography. It’s because I suck at it, and many people suck at it as well. Then again, a lot of people suck at photography in general. But I have found a guy who does incredible landscape work. Check this dude out here.
I’ve been to several Meetup.com meetups to practice shooting models. There’s a difference when shooting models through meetup vs shooting them one-on-one. Both have pros and cons, and here’s what I’ve discovered so far.
Great way to meet and network with a lot of people trying to get into the industry like photographers, MUAs, hair stylists, models, etc.
You get to shoot a lot of models
You can bounce ideas off other photographers, ask them for help, etc. Sometimes they have a guru photographer to guide everyone who isn’t as experienced.
You don’t need to worry about having hair, makeup, wardrobe, creative direction, etc. All these should be taken care for you.
If the other photographers suck, your stuff looks better compared to them, even though you suck too. You just happen to suck less.
Awesome for beginners who need to start shooting fashion, beauty, models, etc.
There are too many photographers. You won’t be able to get good 1-on-1 time with models. The ratio of photographers to models range from 2:1 to 10:1. Once you get over that 3:1 ratio, you end up doing paparazzi style, which sucks.
Some of these meetups are expensive. They can cost from $20-$200 to shoot. That’s a lot of money to do paparazzi style shoots. You can use that money to hire a model for an hour or 2 and get all the shots you need.
Having everything done for you is also a bad thing. On some of the meetups where everything is laid out for you, I feel all I’m doing is pressing the shutter button. I feel these aren’t my pictures because I had no input in them. I feel more and more guilty when I post them up.
Sometimes, at these meetups, you get no feedback. You don’t know if the models hated your pictures or liked them. It’s understandable. They probably get contacted by creeper photographers every day. So it doesn’t bother me too much if they don’t say anything about my photos or reply to my emails. Usually, if I don’t hear anything from the models, I just assume they hated my pics and move on.
One on One Pros
You get to have the models all to yourself.
No other photographers to “steal” your shot or get in your way. Also, dealing with other ego-manic photographers is a pain. Besides, I can’t stand people with egos big as mine.
You get complete creative control.
They’re very educational. If you’re starting out, you’ll make a lot of mistakes. There’s no one to blame but yourself. You’re the one who set the lights wrong. You’re the one that composed the image wrong. There were no other photographers rushing you or getting in your way. You have no excuse. This helps you to learn fast and hard.
You can actually create rapport with the models, depending on their personality (and yours). This makes the shoot fun.
One on One Cons
Models can flake
You need to provide Hair, Makeup, and wardrobe. You can get models to do their own hair and makeup. You can get the models to bring their own clothes too. But sometimes, the models can’t do hair and makeup themselves.
Models are expensive. They range from about $50-$200++ hour. And you would need about 2-4 hours of shooting time. You can do TFP of course, if they like you enough.
You’re all alone. Sometimes you get stuck and have no idea what you’re doing. You can’t “steal” from other photographer’s idea or poses. It’s all you. I feel nervous every time I get a model alone because I have no idea what to do.
There’s more administrative and prep you need to do. You should get a model release written up. You should scout the location. You should make story boards and notes on what you want to cover.
Overall, I like one on ones. They are nerve-wracking and most of the time, I don’t deliver the quality the model wants. But I like the bootcamp feel and the creative control I have.
Also, I like to make fun of the models one-on-one. I can’t do that when there’s 10 other photographers trying to get the model’s attention.
I’ve outgrown my Fuji X100s. It was my first “real” camera, and I had it for about 9 months. So after 9 months of “serious” shooting I’ve outgrown it.
I’m not suffering from Gear Acquisition Syndrome. If you don’t know, the Fuji X100 is a fixed lens, APSC, compact camera. The lens is stuck at 23mm with a crop sensor. So I can’t change lenses. I’m stuck.
I’ve managed to squeeze a lot out of my little Fuji X100. I love this camera. But I need a longer lens. I wish Fuji came out with a 85mm equivalent of the X100. Then I can just use that camera along with the Fuji X100 and be good for another year or so.
Why do I need a longer lens? Well, since I mostly shoot people, it’s great for that. I don’t have to worry about distortion so much. Even when posing models, I have to watch out for limbs that’s nearer to the lens because it could look bigger.
So what system should I upgrade to? I’m not sure yet. But here are my thoughts:
A Full Frame Can-Nikon/Sony System
Canon has there 5d Mark III that looks freaking sweet. They have those gorgeous 85mm 1.2 or 70-200mm 2.8 lenses. Of course, Nikon and Sony have similar quality lenses and bodies as well.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I can move up to a DSLR. Why? They’re just too dang big and heavy. I’m so used to my compact and light Fuji x100. Every time I use those behemoths, I get tired. Also, the 5D Mark III is about $3000. They’re too expensive. Not to mention I have to get a $2000 lens. To me, it doesn’t justify the cost for the same image quality, bigger and heavier system, and to learn a new system.
Micro 4/3 Mirror less Cameras
I seriously thought about the Olympus OMD before I got the Fuji X100. But now, there’s no way I can “step down” to micro 4/3 sensor after using the APSC sensor. Using a M 4/3 camera would feel like a downgrade for me.
Fuji X-Pro/ Fuji XE1
Well, this would look like a logical choice. I mean I love Fuji. The X-Pro or the XE1 would work almost identically as my X100s. And they would keep the same Fuji Colors in my images. I love those colors.
But, their 56/1.2 won’t come out until next year! That means I would have to wait a while. And their 55-200mm lens is too slow. And since I have the X100s, getting the X-Pro or XE1 would be a downgrade in speed and technology.
Now this is where it gets interesting. When I heard about this camera, it intrigued me. A medium format (kinda) camera for less than $10,000! This thing costs as much as a Canon 1DX, and it’s (almost) medium format!
This is probably is the most tempting right now. Sure it’s big and heavy, and I did say I don’t like big and heavy. And I did say I don’t like expensive. However, it’s medium format! I’ll sacrifice the bulk and weight to get some gorgeous pictures. The upgrade in quality would be worth it unlike the Full Frame cameras.
Also, if want to get serious into Fashion/Commercial/Editorial photography, the industry standard is a Medium Format Camera.
Of course, there are some cons to this system. Their lenses are not leaf lenses like the other Medium Format cameras. Their sync speed is a pathetic 1/125 sec.
Also, it’s a medium format camera. So it’s going to be slow, unusable in low light, and clunky. It would force me to slow down, and I’m not a patient person. Then again, maybe that’ll be a good thing for me.
I’m not a fan of Sony Nex’s. Maybe if they come out with the rumored mirrorless Full Frame camera, I would be more interested. But by that time, I would probably get the Pentax or the Fuji X-Pro 2 anyway.
Leica was pretty tempting to me. They have gorgeous lenses. They have great image quality. But their low-light capability is bad. Also they’re all manual focus. Also, they cost as much as the Pentax. So if I had to choose, I would go up to medium format anyway.
Ah, my dream camera. Too bad it costs $45000 or so. For that money, I rather buy a Tesla.
The Winner is…
So what would I do? What will my next camera be? I’m not sure. I’ll probably end up just using my Fuji X100s until the X-Pro 2 comes out or I save up enough money for the Pentax.