Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Annual Folkmoot Photo Salvage

I look forward to Waynesville's annual Folkmoot Festival each summer. Dance groups from around the world come to Haywood County with their colorful native costumes to share a little of their culture with us. It's a visual delight for us photographers, albeit with some challenges.

The first challenge is the weather. The organizers of this event chose the hottest part of the North Carolina summer for dancers to perform in elaborate, and often heavy costumes. The heat is loved just as much by the visitors to Folkmoot. This year we didn't get heat, we got rain for the street festival, and somewhat milder temps for the parade the following weekend. The next challenge is backgrounds. Since I photograph at the street festival and the Parade of Nations, the background consists of buildings on Main Street, other dancers, and the crowd. Joe Tourist with his brightly colored "I Love Gatlinburg" t-shirt somehow seems to often end up in my pictures. Foregrounds can also be a problem as some people seem to have no qualms about stepping right into the action, blocking the view of everyone else, to get a shot with their camera phone. This woman below decided that everyone would love to have her in their pictures of the group from Hawaii as she brazenly stepped right in front of everyone. By the way, nice outfit there, Ethyl. The top and pants almost match.

"I wanna be in pictures"

There's really nothing you can do about the backgrounds, so you either live with them or change them later on the computer. The latter route is the one I have often taken over the years, inserting a better background behind a tighter crop to produce more of a portrait of a particular dancer. The young woman below was part of the group from Russia. As beautiful as she and her colorful costume are, the viewer's eye can't help being distracted by all the clutter in the background in the original version.

Original photo

I decided to go for a tighter crop, which gave me less background to delete. I then got the idea to mimic pictorialist style portraits of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These tended to have soft focus and darker tones that I like for some portraits. I selected what I thought was an appropriate background for this style portrait, and converted the photo to a soft sepia toned black and white. This meant losing the color of the costume, but I think the version below still suits the era of this clothing.

No, it's not an authentic capture of a dancer in a parade, but then I'm not a journalist either. I like this "manufactured" portrait better, and I'm willing to bet the dancer would like it too. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Washed Out

Rainy Day Blues, Waynesville, NC  -  2014
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

Last week's Folkmoot festival began with a total washout on Saturday. A steady drizzle until late afternoon meant small crowds, no dancers, and minimal photo ops. I hung around for an hour or so, dodging from building to building to try to keep dry, and looking for anything interesting to photograph. The blue ponchos worn by these two women at the ATM were the most colorful costumes I saw that day. Some days you just take whatever you can get.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Candids - The Only Way With This Girl

Selling T-Shirts, Waynesville, NC  -  2014
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

My daughter Courtney is beyond camera shy. Apoplectically opposed is more like it whenever I approach her with a camera. Well, to be fair, she has had my camera pointed at her literally since her first breath. She and her sister  refer to me affectionately as their paparazzi. At least I like to think it's affectionately.

Last weekend she was working for the Folkmoot Festival, selling t-shirts. I knew that if I wanted a picture of her at work, it would take stealth and a little luck. Apparently she was watching for me, but maybe the public setting forced her to restrain her normal emotional eruption upon seeing my lens pointed her way. Anyway, I got a nice photo of her in a quiet moment between sales.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Street Wisdom

Changing Standards, Asheville, NC  -  2014
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

I can remember as a child in the 1960s hearing the slogan, "Don't trust anyone over thirty". As the originators of that thought are now approaching retirement age, I guess their thinking has changed a bit.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fix It In Photoshop

Those words, "I'll fix it later in Photoshop", are supposedly the mantra of the lazy photographer. There are those who believe that they can compensate for sloppy technique at the time the photo is made with the miracles of computers and software, but "garbage in, garbage out" still mostly applies. There are times, however, when software can turn photos made in an unfortunate shooting environment into a decent photo.

Yesterday, I made some quick shots of a friend's daughter at church. The little girl was sitting in a seat with all kinds of gizmos attached designed to keep a baby amused. From any angle, there was some brightly colored, oddly shaped piece of plastic intruding into the frame, or appearing to protrude from the baby's head. There was also the problem of mixed lighting: fluorescents overhead, and daylight streaming in from a large window to my right. That combination can make for some strange color casts, especially on skin tones.

Original, out of the camera version

On first viewing the photos when I got home, the distracting background and weird color casts made me cringe. But that smile! It would take some work, but I believed I could "fix it later in Photoshop". Had this been a deliberate portrait session, I certainly would have chosen a better shooting environment, but remember, this was just a quick grab-shot. In this case, Photoshop is a legitimate salvage tool.

Distracting backgrounds are the most often occurring ruination of people pictures. Those plastic attachments appearing to grow out of the baby's head had to go! Careful use of the clone tool made quick work of that. That print on the white border of her chair was bothering me, so I zapped that too. I also cropped a little tighter to give the composition better balance.

The next problem was that awful color cast from the mixed lighting. I tried every trick I know of, but I couldn't get the colors to look like they should. If I got the skin tones close, everything else looked wrong. I finally got one version that looked close to being right, but it still wasn't quite good enough. Finally I decided to punt and go with a black and white portrait. After experimenting with several options, I finally decided that the "Pumice Golden Girl" filter in Virtual Photographer was most to my liking. I don't know how they come up with these names for filters, but this one did a good job for me. It gave me nice, warm tones, and a little bit of a soft focus effect. I thought the look this filter gave helped change the photo from a snapshot to a legitimate portrait. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Finished Portrait

I agree that the "I'll fix it later in Photoshop" attitude is a bad one for any photographer to take, but I'm glad that option is available to keep a great smile from losing out to less than ideal shooting conditions.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Is all retouching "dishonest"?

In photography blogs and magazines there seems to be an almost constant stream of articles decrying the over-use of retouching in Photoshop. Examples are shown of models who have had pounds digitally shaved off their bodies, and in some cases, their physique essentially re-shaped. There are also the humorous articles showing examples of horrible Photoshop re-touching that any viewer could easily spot as a fraud. But is all retouching evil and dishonest?

When I do portraits for friends and family, I follow the philosophy of one of my photographic heroes, Yousuf Karsh. Karsh always strove to make his subjects look their best, in contrast to other photographers of his era (think Avedon and Arbus) that wanted show their subjects "warts and all". I have always tried to do likewise. I can't make everyone look like a movie star, but I do try to show everyone in their best light. Choosing the right camera angle and lighting can make a huge difference in how someone looks in a photo. It sometimes involves getting rid of a temporary zit, de-emphasizing (but not totally removing) facial wrinkles, or smoothing clothing after the fact on the computer. I've never done wholesale body re-shaping, except on a few gag photos.

Original Version

An interesting situation developed this past weekend while photographing my two daughters in our back yard. On seeing the resulting photo (which I was quite proud of), my oldest daughter, Heather, remarked, "That dress makes my arm look fat." I didn't notice it until she mentioned it, but the combination of camera angle, the sleeveless dress, and how her arm was positioned, made what appeared to be a bulge in her upper arm. Obviously, Heather does not have fat arms, and I thought the original version was fine. However, young women in their early twenties notice these kinds of things. So back to the digital darkroom I went to try to please my client.

The Offending Bulge

My objective was not to make her arm look thinner than it actually is, but more like it is. To me, the former would be dishonest, the latter, more realistic. Using the clone tool in Photoshop I was able to slightly trim back the offending bulge, making her arm look more like I knew it to be in reality. Deceptive? Dishonest? I don't think so. I didn't try to make a 150 lb. woman look like 105 lbs., I simply made her arm look more like it really looks. Heather was more happy with the second version, and therefore, so was I. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Re-touched Version

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Rarity

Courtney And Heather, Canton, NC  -  2014
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

The planets must have been lined up just right. I actually got both daughters together and cooperating for a photo before church yesterday morning. Who knows when this will happen again!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Scene From The 4th

Summertime Corn, Waynesville, NC  -  2014
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

Independence Day isn't just about fireworks, it's about good eating too. This little girl was enjoying some corn on the cob at our church's July 4th Freedom Fest. I wanted to get a picture of her sans the corn, but she was a little on the shy side. Maybe this picture tells a better story anyway!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Back To Color

Four Windows, Charleston, SC  -  2012
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

With those intense green shutters and window frames, I couldn't very well make this one a B&W, could I?

These are windows of the 2nd story slave quarters behind the Aiken-Rhett house In Charleston, SC.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Citadel Square Baptist Church Steeple, Charleston, SC  -  2012
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

I don't understand myself sometimes. It's a very colorful time of the year - the forests are lush and green, and vibrant wildflowers can be found in abundance. For some reason, however, I'm in a B&W frame of mind. I was going through some un-worked photos from a trip to Charleston two years ago, and on almost every photo I kept thinking, "I wonder how this would look as a B&W?" I'll do a few B&Ws to satisfy this periodic itch, and then I'll probably be thinking color again in a few days.