Concord Litho Products

Final Product

This past week, three of us wrapped up a photo shoot that has spanned an entire month. Concord Litho, a commercial printing company in Concord, NH, tapped us to shoot new photos for their aging website. The last update was roughly eight years ago when they changed their logo and while they planned on using stock photography for the smaller pieces, they wanted personalized photos to fill in the slideshow banner at the top of each of the two main pages. This is where things became a challenge. The photos needed to tell a story and fit a very odd crop size – 11.806″ wide by 3.764″ high. Although the website has not yet launched, expect that at the end of the month, two of our images have been used as their Facebook Welcome page. Once the site goes live I’ll post about our entire process, but for now, here’s a behind the scenes look at shooting and creating the product shot.



Rather than build a giant lightbox, we converted a print viewing booth on location with a roll of white paper and then ran through over a dozen test shots trying to get the lighting right. At first we tried to light the background separately with the use of gobos to block the light from the product (we can call that approach an epic fail) and soon switched to shooting two diffused flashes into the reflective lighting panels of the booth. A third flash was used camera left with a giant softbox to add some directional light to the product.

Once the lighting was solved, all that remained was setting up the product to fill the composition and to eliminate glare. Fitting the necessary composition size wasn’t going to be possible in one shot, so I simply shot it in pieces that I would layer back together in Photoshop. After importing the numerous images into Lightroom, I was able to select the best candidates for the left, middle, and right as seen below and open them directly to Photoshop as layers.









First things first, I resized the canvas to allow me the room to position each layer where it would nest with the other, then lowered the opacity of the object I was moving to see where it best aligned. The next step was to add masks to each layer and hide everything I didn’t want to show – namely the edges of the paper roll and the white areas where other layers needed to show through. The completed mask allowed the product to stand out against a white backdrop while still having some slight shadows from the very soft light. A quick curve layer to add contrast and a little unsharp mask finished off the image. Check out the images below to see the positioning, masking, final image, or see the image in use. Click the final photo to visit the Concord Litho Facebook page.







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Under The Bridge

Under the Bridge

Freshly cut metal links litter the muddy ground. The chain link fence is rolled back just far enough to slip through, and for whatever reason, the ten foot tall metal slats that protect the other two sides are absent. Someone went through a lot of trouble and there’s no telling how many times this has happened. Once through the fence, you’ve reached the underbelly of the Queen City Bridge as it stretches out across the river. It’s simple enough to scramble up onto the cement tower and from there it’s two steps up onto the catwalk that runs the entire length of the bridge. Graffiti covers every surface in vibrant colors and I can’t help but wonder the point of it all.

Not the point of existence or anything like that, but rather, the point of graffiti. Some people call it vandalism, while others claim it is art or something akin to self expression. Personally, I find it to be a little of both and I’m not entirely sure where to draw the line. Prior to living in Manchester, graffiti wasn’t something I had much contact with, but now I see it daily. If I walk to my car, head to the park, or go out for a run, it’s there on posts, signs, trash cans, buildings, and boxes. Some of it angers me and some of it injects color into my day.

In Bow, NH, the town constructed a new water tank adjacent to the 93 corridor and it seems like it was only a matter of days before it was tagged with graffiti so large that it can be read while driving past. The town is unable to repaint it due to the cold weather, but I read somewhere a proposal to allow the tank to be an ongoing piece of art because otherwise it will be continually tagged. A similar piece of vandalism sits below Amoskeag Falls on an old stone wall visible from 293. I call it vandalism because of its size and the amount of work that would be required to remove it without adding pollutants to the river. I understand the need for self expression and artwork is beneficial in the lives of many, but how is it that these graffiti artists can view destruction of property as acceptable?

Of course, whether or not graffiti is art or vandalism is a matter of ongoing debate with points on either side. As I stand beneath the bridge finding my own art through a lens I’m just amazed at the lengths that members of this underground culture will go to. Most people may never see their message or their simple tag but I would assume that the more difficult it was to create then the more street cred they earn. I try to understand my own internal logic for being here and documenting what I see but I can’t quite find the words for an explanation. Maybe I’m compelled in the same way they are to create something with a major difference being that my expression is legal, but then it occurs to me that I might be trespassing and I promptly flee the area.

Where do you stand when it comes to graffiti? Leave some thoughts below.

Creativity, Failure & Groundhogs

Tranquility

The groundhog sat on the carpet with his front legs extended. A light green pillow lay on the floor about ten inches from him. An empty cup rolled on its side and stopped. He stared at the pillow, looking for its tongue, but it didn’t move. Slowly, he crawled across the floor and gave the pillow a cautious nudge. Nothing happened. Bob sat back in confusion and waited. He bumped the pillow again. A red tongue shot out and lapped him on the nose.

And thus the groundhog saw his shadow this past week, a sign that this mild winter is supposed to continue for another six weeks. Of course, none of this has anything to do with photography, but given that I have three other blog entries dealing with jobs that aren’t complete, I was left without anything to post this week. So I dug up a few images that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day.

Between test shots, alternates and faulty images, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of photographs are never seen. Nowadays they live on hard drives, on backup DVD’s, or wind up deleted because they don’t make the cut. The point in the end is to satisfy the client or to create something that is usable or sellable, but not every shot lives up to that. Every test and every failure though does serve a purpose if we’re willing to learn.

These three images, in my eyes, were failures in numerous ways. First up, the HDR of the waterfall is part of a panorama that when stitched shows off the full 360 degree scene, however it was the first time I’d ever tried anything of the sort. Conditions were perfect, the colors were amazing, and I wound up with something mediocre at best. The images wouldn’t stitch together due to viewpoint changes, I didn’t bracket enough shots to get detail in all of the sky, and the final product took me an unacceptable amount of time to make look presentable. I grabbed this single frame and polished it up, but as a standalone photograph, it’s badly composed and while the details in the rocks are great, it would have been better to shoot with something other than the fisheye. If I were to do it again, I’d get rid of the blue cast to the rock face of the waterfall, I’d add a flash to pop the subject out of the background, and he wouldn’t be sitting dead center in the frame. The hotspot where the sun is shining is simply atrocious.

The two images of the trees were again products of a panorama. The distortion at the edges of the fisheye lens caused problems when stitching the tops of the trees, and forgetting to shoot on manual exposure forced me to burn the trees in Photoshop to hide the obvious difference in tone. I nearly deleted the files altogether but let it sit for months which is when I came up with these two renderings of the scene. It strikes me now as too dark and should have been captured in brackets to pull the detail out of the scene. The tunnel is at least visually interesting.

Without those failures, I wouldn’t know how to capture similar images correctly. Failure is simply part of the creative process and an illusion. Maybe we get it half-right and work from there, maybe we learn something to apply later, or maybe we realize we’re barking up the wrong tree completely. With the other jobs I’ve been shooting lately, I’ve come to numerous dead ends, dealt with the frustration, and moved on. Another part of the process should be remembering that nothing beneficial is easy and that limitations can either assist or stifle creativity. Find what works and build on it. Sometimes it helps just to shoot everything you can think of, take a break, and then do it again. Rarely do we find what works on the first try, and not everything comes out the way we imagined it.

Self Portrait Rejects

Levitation

The theme for this past week in the 52 Week Photo Project was self portraits. Most photographers have a tendency to want to remain behind the camera, so I was somewhat interested what others would come up with. It would be easy enough for me to set up the new Apollo Orb or my ring flash and shoot myself against the wall, but the idea of a standard portrait didn’t appeal to me (even though I haven’t had my portrait taken since high school). So my first thought was levitation. Sounds obvious, right? I levitate all the time.

In the Waumbec Mill of Manchester, NH, I set up on the 3rd floor and waited to see how many people were still in the building. With the exception of two people leaving their office and asking if I was hunting ghosts, the hallway was quiet, so I framed up the long hallway in the viewfinder, plugged in the wireless trigger, and took a walk. Every so often I would stop and snap a frame to figure out where best to stand or sit. After reviewing the results, I walked back to a prime location, sat down and summoned all my energy to float off of the floor. In reality, I am sitting in that exact spot, so it’s not a case of cut and paste. I just removed what I was sitting on in Photoshop using some layer masks and compositing with a photo without me in it. The shadow beneath me was added by selectively using the burn tool on a duplicate layer.

Unsure of the results, I next shot a quick bracket of seven photos to later merge into an HDR image. In processing, I layered it with the base exposure and brought back natural skin tones as well as removing any motion artifacts. Turns out I couldn’t stand still for that long. The solarized version appealed to me more than the processed HDR, but in the end, I didn’t choose any of them. I composited together a few of the shots from when I first walked the hallway and found a nice balance that I was happy with.

Click here to view the 52 Week Photo Project Gallery on Flickr

Juxtapose

Monadnock Sunset

The temperature hovers around freezing, providing a thin layer of melt atop the ice of the stream. The white floe shivers and waits. Bare rocks jut into the path as it meanders further and further into the darkening woods. With elevation, the trees will thin, but here they huddle close for protection from the wicked winds. Somewhere out of sight, the rocky summit of Monadnock hides. Its allure draws many and has for years. Voices trail off into the distance, leaving only silence dotted by the random babbling of water. In peace, he sits on the rocks and spins a black umbrella.


Juxtapose – to place together for contrasting effect.

As I ventured out the door with a 50mm lens, a flash, and a single colored gel, I had an image involving an umbrella in mind. The vision was to capture something out of place by having someone sit on a rock beneath an umbrella and to hide the flash away to let the umbrella become the light source. Underexposing everything else so that you could still see a darkened mountain in the distance would make the person stand out. Between the wind, a time restraint and an uncooperative umbrella, I was forced to rework the idea into something less ambitious.

The darkened woods provided the backdrop. With the 50mm lens opened up, I could get enough light to shoot handheld without turning up the ISO. The Fantastic Mr. Fox sat on the rocks while I dialed down the exposure to darken the forest by about two stops, then even more patiently waited while I popped flash after flash into his face to expose him properly. A color correction gel on the flash head at first meant that he was coming out orange, but with a simple shift in white balance to tungsten light, he was his normal color while everything else took on a moody shade of blue. All he had to do was strike a pose.

With his hand on his hip and the umbrella on his shoulder, he tilted his head and the juxtaposition was complete. A tough guy in a dark and moody world striking an unmanly pose with attitude. If only we’d been able to find a tutu…

The point of the gel was to play with the color of the lighting. Our eyes don’t usually see it, but each light source has a different color temperature. Normal household light bulbs put out orange or yellow light. Newer CFL bulbs can be bluish, while fluorescent bulbs can be green or even purple. Color correction gels can either be used to make lights match or to add color casts of our own design.