Realizing What You've Learned
Every so often I like to make a Throwback Thursday post to Instagram to highlight some of the past work we have done. Recently I did this with a photo of Allybelle as Azura from Fire Emblem: Fates from almost two years ago. This was the first time myself, Allybelle, and Tacocat had worked together on anything that wasn’t a few convention photos. I had taken some photos of Allybelle’s Azura at Anime Austin since she hadn’t had any pics of that costume before then. After that we got to talking about doing a proper set for Azura. But given the character we would be shooting we knew we would need access to a body of water of some sort.
Thankfully Tacocat lived in a housing development that didn’t have a lot of families yet… and also had an amenity center that just opened that also had a pool.
So we did the shoot, tried some things out, etc. When I edited the pics and sent them out everyone was happy with them at the time.
After I posted that throwback photo I sat and looked at it… and thought to myself “how would I shoot and edit these today?”
As a creative exercise I went ahead and did that.
Now there were four things I knew I had to consider here:
1) I had only been using the Fujifilm X-T2 for three months at this point compared to a number of years using the Canon T3i,
2) I was really only starting to grasp how to use lighting, and most of that was in controlled situations,
3) The weather for the day of shooting made for rapidly changing light conditions. It would quickly go from mostly cloudy to partly cloudy to sunny and then back to cloudy. That made it difficult to figure out how to use what lights I did have available.
4) Up to this point I had been doing primarily concert and event coverage and the way I edited then was built around that work.
With keeping all of that in mind I went through this.
What were the stark differences between then and now?
Getting Image Consistency In Camera
First off I had my white balance set to Auto. So colors would not be completely consistent from image to image. Like I said earlier I was still learning the camera at the time so there was certainly some ignorance on my part. Today I put my camera on 5500K since it’s the closest setting to the color temps of my Godox gear. Even though we were outdoors for this set I used 5600K for the color temp as I really like what that does with skin tones with this re-edit.
Secondly was getting consistent exposure in camera. Since the X-T2 is mirrorless I can get instant histogram feedback. Though at the time I didn’t fully understand what the histogram could tell me. This will be a very important point later.
Understanding How Lighting Works
As I stated earlier at this time I was only really beginning to use lighting for my photos. In the times I did so prior to this they were typically either in indoor scenes or at night. What I had learned there did not translate into what I should do during the daytime, especially under rapidly changing light conditions. Outside of the changing light in hindsight there would be two things I could have done differently: 1) use larger shoot through umbrellas to create a larger light source, and 2) move them closer to my subject. Those two things alone would have helped quite a bit especially with post production.
Well, there is a third thing. Use proper light stands and sandbags. At the time I was using cheap tripods as light stands. Because of that if the wind would kick up the lights would end up falling over. Plus they would have not been able to be used for some of the later complicated shots.
Investing in solid support equipment is always a good idea.
Editing To The Histogram
When I started looking through my original edits the first thing I thought was “HOLY FUCK THE HISTOGRAM IS ALL OVER THE PLACE”. For a good chunk of them everything was way exposed for midtones and highlights while completely leaving out the shadows. So for those I really had to bring down the exposure while bringing up the shadows to get some decent balance out of everything. Not everything was that extreme but applying those steps in some fashion was common across all of the images.
Now I also use the histogram to review the whole set after my post work is finished to make sure there’s image consistency across all of the pics. This helps ensure there’s not a pic that looks out of place when it comes to color, exposure, etc.
Knowing Your Tools
One specific bit I used during this re-edit that I was not aware of back then was the Local Adjustment tool in Camera RAW. With the lighting troubles we dealt with while doing this shoot this would have been really helpful back then. Especially with being able to adjust exposure to certain parts.
Though in hindsight since I hadn’t really developed my “editing voice” at that point, maybe it was a good thing I wasn’t aware of it because I possibly could have gone overboard. Since now I feel like I’ve established a good image balance when it comes to editing I tend to use tools in subtle ways. Here the main thing I did was to use the Local Adjustment tool to bring up the exposure up on Allybelle by a third of a stop. That way I could bring her out a bit more in the photo without being really obvious about it.
Another thing I apparently didn’t do in my original edits: nothing regarding applying sharpness, contrast, etc., to the pics. With this re-visit I did utilize the high pass filter method for sharpening along with using the Brightness/Contrast layer to add a bit of ‘oomph’.
Going through this exercise was an interesting way to understand how little I knew back then. And how much I’ve grown now.
Was I able to make the pictures better than what they were before? Yes, I believe so.
Was I able to make them perfect? No, not by any means.
If there’s anything that’s been made obvious by this is that trying to do everything possible to get things correct ‘in camera’ is always the best way to go. Spending a few more minutes to correct problems while you’re actually shooting means a lot less time working on the image afterward. Or even worse, just figuring out that an image you liked ended up being unusable. Doing this also helps with the editing workflow and allows me to decrease my turnaround time even more.
The other piece I also realized was how much my ‘editing voice’ had changed over time. With my previous event and concert work the style I would apply in editing was “capture what the eye saw”. But that doesn’t work for fine art portraiture. In a way I was relearning multiple aspects of photography when I started out doing all of this. With that because I knew I wanted to see a change in the landscape of this kind of art I would have to go educate myself in order to step up my game. It does help that I like learning new things.
I’m glad I realized this early on. Otherwise I don’t think our work would have the impact it does today.