Thursday, November 20, 2008

Work with what you've got


Settings: Window light to the right, tungsten ceiling lamp to the left.

A few days ago, one of our PR people asked me to take some photos of two employees at work. The problem is that she asked me the day that she needed them, and I hadn't brought any of my equipment to work, not even the camera. I asked around and a friend has his 400D plus 50mm 1.8, which is a perfectly usable camera and lens. (normally I prefer my 40D with the 85mm 1.8). Now I at least had a camera, but I needed some light.

Unfortunately, this time of year, Iceland only has a few hours of daylight, and it was nearing the end of these, plus it was overcast, so I had very little window light to work with. I scooted a couch right next to the window, and had a nice set to work with. The window light is on the right, and an interior tungsten is on the left. I angled the couch so it would be easy to get the window light onto both sides of the face if they turned towards it a bit. Had the couch been perfectly perpendicular, they would have had to rotate unnaturally far. The light was so dim, I was working at ISO 1600, f/1.8, and 1/80, pushing the limits of the camera sensor and lens.


Settings: Window light to the right, tungsten ceiling lamp to the left.

Once I had the two photos, it was off to processing. First, since ISO 1600 is quite noisy on the 400D, I reduced all chroma noise. I personally don't mind luminance noise in an image, I think it can have nice qualities to it, so I always leave it in, smoothing only on large solid colors that might be in the background. Next I needed to make a custom White Balance mask to suck out the yellowy green of the tungsten light on the left side of their faces. Then I did a quick highpass and smart sharpen to bring out a bit more micro contrast, and desaturated the shirts to make sure focus was on the face. This layer is masked to only contribute fully on the face, but fades out of the shirt and background.

Could I have done a lot nicer job with my full kit? Sure, but for a last minute corporate headshot, these work fine. Look for nice light and settings wherever you are.

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