Make a Photo The Palinode Way

Hey. Do you like workflow? Does the word 'workflow' sound sexy to you? Or does it sound sort of anatomical and squicky? Whichever way you lean, workflow seems to be the chosen term for photographers describing their process. Workflow captures everything from image preparation and capture to organization, post-processing and delivery to clients. Given the multitude of styles and tools available to photographers, the process is more or less unique to each person.

And hey, here's mine.

People seemed to like this photo, which showed up on this site (where no one saw it), Flickr (where a few people saw it) and Instagram (where a whole schwack of folks scrolled past it). It's an image of two women in conversation over lunch at a local Korean fusion restaurant. I make no claims about this photo's greatness, but I have a blog and my wife's out of town, so hello free time.

This may shock you: that scene presented above has been tampered with. It has been nudged about, visually massaged and, most damningly of all, Photoshopped. Let's take a look at how I went from my original shot to the one above.

Photographers tend to gravitate towards certain subject material. Some adore wildlife, which leads them off into the wilderness with foot-long lenses and camping gear. Others like natural landscapes or night skies. Some have a fascination with faces and end up doing portraits.

My primary photographic love is people: people in action or just sitting around, people striding down the street or holding hands or doing any one of the million startling and beautiful things people do. In a photograph, people become abstractions of shape and contrast, but they are shapes that form stories.

In this case I spotted two women talking over lunch, and I wanted to hold that action: one woman leaning in to listen as the other expounded. Given my position and the 35mm field of view of my lens, I knew that I wouldn't be able to isolate the subjects in the frame; there would have to be some context, mostly in the form of the man on the left. Fortunately, the rope partition perfectly set the two women off from the man but allowed me to capture three figures in the photo for an asymmetrical composition. If you can't do perfect symmetry in a photo, always go for threes or some other odd number.

When I'm out and about, I usually carry my Fujifilm X100T, which is either the greatest or the worst camera ever for street photography, depending on whom you ask. I like it because it's relatively small, relies on separate aperture and shutter controls for basic exposure controls instead of a PASM dial, and has a virtually silent leaf shutter (It's also a beautiful looking camera that assuages the disgusting hipster that dwells in the filthiest regions of my soul). I had the camera set to a 4.0 aperture and a minimum shutter speed of 1/60, which I knew would give me the right depth of field and motion capture for this scene. I've found that f4 is really the sweet spot for the X100T's lens, with just the right trade-off between depth of field and sharpness.

I took four or five shots to make sure I got what I wanted. I knew I needed the women with their faces visible, their eyes open and their features expressive but also flattering. Lots of street photographs play up the grotesque, but I like to portray people in the best possible light (unless they're jerks).

Anwyway, once I got home that evening, I imported the photo into Adobe Lightroom as a RAW file, which is essentially an 'uncooked' photo; RAW files contain the information captured on the sensor and can be thought of as the digital equivalent of a film negative (indeed, Adobe's version of the RAW format is .DNG, which stands for "digital negative").

As you can see, the RAW is reasonable but underwhelming.

The horizon is tilted, the subjects are a little washed out by contrast, the exteriors are completely blown. The first thing I did was straighten it up with the Auto upright correction tool. Sometimes this works beautifully, sometimes it's a complete shit show and you have to tweak perspective manually. Depending on distortions introduced by your lens, this can be finicky work. The 23mm 2.0 lens fixed to the camera does show distortion in certain situations, but in this case it wasn't an issue.

All straightened up! The next thing is to consider the role of colour in the photo. To wit: does it add to the story or distract from it? In this case, I didn't feel that it added anything. The photo would be a lot more compelling if the shapes and lines were emphasized - the angles of people's backs, the three horizontals and the srong verticals of the ropes dropping from the top of the frame and being picked up again in the reflection on the table.

I have a number of black and white presets that I use from various sources, but in this case I avoided presets (programmed settings) and went with the Monochrome + Yellow Filter Fujifilm camera profile. The result is a crisp and slightly contrasty look that I enjoy. Sometimes I tweak the profile controls further, but in this case I mostly liked what I saw.

Then I did what most photographers probably do but won't admit to: I went to the Basic adjustment panel and hit Auto Tone. This lets Lightroom do a series of basic exposure and tone controls. It's often a good starting point for adjusting a photo and can sometimes bring out aspects of the image you hadn't thought about beforehand.

In this case, Auto Tone did much of what I wanted: brought out some of the fine detail, toned down the contrast a bit and generally balanced the exposure to reduce the problems of dealing with backlit subjects.

After a bit of mucking around, I wasn't quite satisfied with the empty space around the bottom of the photo, so I added a -.5 exposure gradient to darken the area a bit and keep the eye on the main subject. I like to keep most of my adjustments small and subtle where possible.

I continued to make small adjustments here and there to minimize the empty space and elements around the edges of the frame (particularly the light fixtures), but eventually I decided to crop in a little bit. Cropping is a last resort for me, but if it serves the photo better, then so be it.

Perhaps you prefer the extra space along the top and right areas, but photos on the Internet are usually seen as a thumbnail first. If the composition isn't immediately strong, no one is going to pause and take a closer look.

One thing I didn't do in Lightroom is sharpen the image, which really surprised me when I was preparing this post. I apply some sharpening to every image I process, but this is one of the rare photos that doesn't benefit much from sharpening. If I were to process this for print, then I'd definitely sharpen it up. Strange things happen when an image hits paper.

There were a few more adjustments to make to the image, but they couldn't be done in Lightroom. This was a job for Photoshop.

If you look closely at the photo, you'll see some unnecessary elements: signs, lampposts and so on. It's the ugly random crap that your eye snags on. For example a parking sign just below this woman's chin:

Yeah, that's gotta go.

What the hell? Stupid content-aware fill.

Turns out the solution was more content-aware fill! That tool is the solution to, the cause of and solution to all of my problems.

I won't go through the rest of the Photoshop process in numbing detail (mostly because I'm awful at Photoshop and I don't want to show just how bad I am), but a bit of careful selection, Content-aware fill, cloning and blurring removed the signs and the lamp posts.


Every Day I'm Concertgoing #60

Last night I went to the CJTR Radiothon wrap-up party. I left before the night was through - who can keep up with community radio supporters when their blood rises and the moon creeps up in their eyes? - but managed to capture the Bystanders and the Ben Templeton Trio. The Royal Red Brigade played as well, but I'm old and stuffy and the methamphetamine was wearing off, so home I went.

Concerts are so blue and red. It's like you're stuck in a musical paddywagon with beer and hickory sticks.

And here's a gallery with extra photos thrown in to enhance your photo-looking-at experience.

Photos taken with my Fujifilm X100T and tweaked in Lightroom. With a couple of exceptions I used the Classic Chrome profile to mute the reds and bring out some fine detail. What's that you say? A camera profile doesn't affect detail rendering on images in Lightroom? Yeah, so what.

Every Day I'm Photoing #55 (What I Do edition)

Regular visitors to this site may think that my photography is limited to wandering around the streets of this city and taking pictures of garbage and people (but not garbage people - they're up too early). But every so often I pull out lights and backdrops and do some grade-A professional headshot-style photography.

For example: this is Jill, who needed headshots for her new job. One speedlight, a looming bat of an umbrella and a portable backdrop.

I took a lot of shots of Jill, but she looked most relaxed with her head at a slight tilt. So there you go.

And Rolli! I shot him at The Artful Dodger with a combination of window light and a softbox (note the square catchlights in his eyes) on a stick. And a camera. I used one of those. Cameras are so useful for those moments when you want to take a photograph.

My first impulse with portraits is to blast the subject's face with light and banish all shadows to the land of wind and ghosts, but I let the edge of Rolli's face fall into shadow, because mystery. We also wanted to imply that he could snap off his chin and throw it with deadly force at his enemies.

Do you want to wear a lycra bodysuit and a harness and do a superhero pose on top of a building? Because I'll photograph that bidness.

And this is hard to see, but you're looking at a man dressed up as Darth Maul suspended from a 21-story building. You probably want context. Perversely, I refuse to deliver it.

Okay, it was for the Easter Seals Drop Zone charity event. People were rappelling down the face of Hill Tower in downtown Regina. I rappelled at the end of the day and discovered that I wasn't afraid of heights, but the harness, which had been used all day, smelled like the concentrated panic of dozens of spandex-clad adventurers. Not too pleasant.

A note on all the gear: Jill Pacholik shot with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Olympus 45mm f1.8. Rolli shot with a Fujifilm X100S. Drop Zone guy #1 shot with a Fujifilm X100T and Sneakers Darth Maul with the E-M5 and Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8.

Every Day I'm Photoing #54

Sometimes the best you can hope from the world is a bit of texture. It's like that spike of ketchup on the grey greasy fries of existence.

But as always, there's more going on than texture. There's Jenelle, making puttanesca sauce on the barbecue somehow. There's a false owl, set atop the patio umbrella to intimidate stray pigeons. Then there's the unexpected symmetry of windows above and below the balcony. Yeah, that's okay.

Every Day I'm Photoing #52 (Mike Yesterday edition)

This is Mike. He lives in Yesterday. Yesterday is a place where the sun is out and the weather is just warm enough, where a fresh beer has just been placed on the table for you and there's a snake to hang out with.

Not far from there is an alleyway with a puddle that's just been disturbed and a truck that waits for someone to emerge from a hidden doorway.

Good old sunny inaccessible Yesterday. I think I left my keys there.

Every Day I'm Photoing #51 (Morning Edition edition)

This morning I was a guest on The Morning Edition to talk about restaurants (let us say, the restaurant scene) in Regina. Anyway, while I was waiting for someone to come and get me, I poked around the lobby and discovered that the CBC building had a scale model of itself on display. A tiny CBC!

And inside this tiny CBC building is a legion of tiny broadcasters making tiny content for their tiny audience. News, I imagine, about insects and mice and the fake trees out front. What a great gig that would be.

Remembering Stacy

My friend and former colleague at, Anastacia Campbell, committed suicide yesterday. She was an exceptional human being: warm, imaginative, funny as hell and just a bit demented. My Facebook timeline is a flood of sadness, memory and gratitude.

During our time at MamaPop, Stacy appeared in a few of our video roundtables, which I put together every other week. I'm still tracking some of them down. But here's one of them: the "Imaginary Friends/Wish They Were Real" Edition, featuring Stacy in a pair of pink goggles. She shows up at the 1:35 mark to talk about friendship, good hair and Perfect Strangers

And here's the possibly more coherent group lipdub of Miley Cyrus' "Party In the U.S.A."

If you're struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide, stop before you do something drastic and talk to someone. Schmutzie's post on suicide is a wonderful resource and I urge you to go there. And remember Stacy, because she is only memories now, and she should be here with us.

Every Day I'm Photoing #50 (Grrrr Edition)

Let me be frank: I don't like this picture. It raises my hackles so much that I misused a colon in the previous sentence. I'm willing to betray my years of Englishing to express my dislike and even drop a comma splice, that's how much I don't like this picture. I hate the drooping leaves with their off-colours in the background, I find the foreground fussy, and this guy refused to open his eyes properly (probably because the concrete dust was bothering his eyes. Why isn't he wearing safety goggles?). But there you go.

These are the kinds of images that I file under 'missed opportunities'. I wanted to capture the man hunched over his machine, with concrete dust and smoke billowing out behind him. But I tried to be stealthy and sacrificed a better composition. And in truth, I tried. I moved around to the opposite side, but by that point he realized that I was trying to shoot him (sometimes I ask before I take someone's photograph, but I didn't want to distract this guy while he was handling heavy equipment) and was giving me a weary look, as if to say This job sucks and you think it's entertainment, asshat. So off I went.

Every Day I'm Photoing #48: Bullet Dodging Edition

I'm posting photos because otherwise I'll put up my essay on the Fantastic Four movie. So please accept these images of the world's least inspired water fountain.

This fountain is just a big dark rock outside the Salvation Army with a halfhearted burble of water.

The stick is new. I doubt it's official, though.

This one looks like a bear! Very considerate of this complex, constantly shifting liquid shape to present itself in an ursine configuration. I almost feel bad for casting judgement on this thing.

The Other Day I'm Photoing #47 (Leonard Eyes Edition)

This is Leonard the Friendly Snake. He's good at staring into the lens at the right moment. He lives at the Prairie Dog offices.

Also in the picture: my hairy knuckles, which Leonard probably mistook for underbrush.

If you're curious about the brute material conditions of this photo, I took it with my Fujifilm X100T with the aperture set to 2.8. This particular photo demonstrates the characteristics of the 23mm lens when you get in close - the out-of-focus parts of the image take on a glowy, hazy quality (also note the abrupt transition across the focal plane, which I'm not a big fan of). I applied a bit of dehazing to up the contrast and generally get the most Leonard out of the image that I could muster. 

Every Day I'm Photoing #45 (Fashionable Infrastructure Edition)

My city is becoming so fashionable lately that even the infrastructure is getting all haute. For example, this fire hydrant has decked itself out in a black crepe scarf:

And this potted plant is sporting an asymmetrical hipster haircut.

What's next? Bollards with waxed moustaches and knitted caps? Streetlights that blink on in the evening and peer at you through your bedroom window? Wait, that sounds like regular infrastructure.