Old School Film Hack

Imagecraft Bootcamp — Intro and First Challenge

Your host at the summit of Mauna Kea -- The Big Island, Hawaii (April 2009)Leica D-LUX 4 + 24-60mm

Your host at the summit of Mauna Kea — The Big Island, Hawaii (April 2009)
Leica D-LUX 4 + 24-60mm

Please note: This is a joint post between my website, Exploratorius, and Lucile de Godoy’s website, Bridging Lacunas.  Lucile is based across the pond in Holland (a region on the western coast of the Netherlands), the land that we typically associate with tulips and windmills — where I will be hosting a weekly series on advanced photography, while also sharing each post here.

Welcome to the new weekly Imagecraft Bootcamp on Lucile’s site, Bridging Lacunas.  I’m your host for the series, Mitch Zeissler, otherwise known as the face behind the site, Exploratorius.  Lucile recently approached me about doing a regular advanced photography gig here and I am honored to be doing so, with the result being what you’re reading now.

My credentials?  I’m a former professional photographer, long out of the game, but got back into it in a big way when I began blogging in October 2010.  If you want more specifics about my background, you can read all the nitty-gritty details here.

The premise?  Everything related to photography — composition, landscapes, people portraits, animal portraits, architecture, film, street photography, color, black and white, digital, gear, film processing, post-processing on the computer, whatever is of current interest in the photo media, etc.  The list is endless.  Think of it as being somewhat similar to the WordPress Photo 101 course, but a bit more advanced (actually quite a bit more) and with more meat to it — plus additional content that we plan to develop over time.

How can you join the fun?  Leave comments on either her site or mine, and you can add special tags to your posts so they can easily be found in the WordPress Reader; please include “#photo101rehab”, “#photorehab”, and “#imagecraftbootcamp” with your normal tags.  Lucile and I will monitor the comments here during the course of the week (she’s in the Netherlands and I’m in America), though formal image submission to the challenges and exercises will be done though our Imagecraft Bootcamp group on Flickr (you must be a member of Flickr to post images to the group, but Flickr membership is completely free).  Viewing of the group images is open to all (you don’t need a Flickr membership to simply view them, but you do if you wish to take part in it).  Membership to the group is only open to people who participate in this weekly series; it is not open to the general public.

Why are we not hosting the images here on Bridging Lacunas or Exploratorius?  Because doing so rapidly chews up our own available image space, whereas on Flickr each member has an entire Terabyte to play with.  Also, hosting the images on Flickr will make managing the weekly events a lot easier for the both of us, as — like you — we would like to spend our free time taking photos as well.

The rules?  We’re all adults here (or at least that’s the level that I’m going to address you), but we need to keep this a place that everyone feels secure and comfortable in, so the rules are as follows:

  • Have fun!  The photography we’re about unleash here is all about fun, learning, growing, pushing your own boundaries, and having a good time; it’s not about who can post the fastest, or be the best, the most creative, or what have you.  This series is intended to be a forge for new ideas, creative insights, and eureka moments.
  • No spam, trolling, personal attacks, or nasty comments.
  • No religious, political, lifestyle, gender, or racial commentary.
  • Have fun!
  • No offensive or off-putting imagery.
  • Any comments made about specific images must be constructive and helpful to the photographer in question.
  • Have fun!  Did we mention have fun already?  Go nuts, look at things in a new light, develop new friends, engage with others — but above all, enjoy taking photographs.  Some of what we’ll cover here may be old hat to you (just roll with it), but there will other posts guaranteed to nudge you out of your comfort zone — and that’s how your photography improves, by being challenged.

Anyone breaking these rules (including the having fun part) will be banned from the site and all their comments removed.

So with that out-of-the-way, I’d like to start the Bootcamp this week with a challenge — high-key photography.

What is high-key photography?  It’s a photographic technique used to lighten up an image and present the subject in a very flattering manner (it has the magic ability to reduce or eliminate harsh lines, which is particularly effective for newborns or portraits of adults).  It has been used extensively in wedding photography, formal portraits, black and white films, music videos, and the like.  The look can be achieved through lighting, careful setup of the image prior to taking the photo, in post-processing — or a combination of any of those three.  A more detailed explanation can be found here.  I am going to provide a link to sample images, but must warn you that a few of the thumbnails may be NSFW (Not Safe For Work) even if you have your browser set for “SafeSearch”; the link to sample high-key photography via Google may be found here.

How is it actually achieved?  If you are using Adobe Lightroom (big hint: you can save yourself money by saving some of these steps or all of it combined as a Lightroom preset), here is a step-by-step process, using my own photo as an example.  Please note that this technique works best with the subject in front of a light background:

  • Open up the target image within Lightroom.

  • Go into the Develop module and adjust the photo as you would normally.

  • You can choose to crop (if necessary) the photo now or later to focus the composition better on the subject (I’ll crop it later in this instance, so you can see what happens to the rest of the frame).  Since this image is still on the dark side, I’ll boost the Exposure up to +1.20.

  • Once you have the image looking the way you want it, switch to the Basic panel (the top section of controls along the right side of the screen).  In the same panel — before making any other adjustments — go to the Presence section (all the way at the bottom of the Basic panel).  Clarity should be set to -65, Vibrance should be all the way down to -100, and Saturation should be at -80.  It’s important to do these adjustments at this stage, because once the image is converted to Black & White, the Vibrance and Saturation settings can no longer be accessed.

  • Now head back up to the top of the Basic panel to the Treatment section, then move your cursor to the Black & White tab, and click on it to change the image to monochrome.  There will be some minor changes during the conversion, but not much.

  • As a starting point, adjust the Contrast to +90 and the Highlights to around +60.  This will dramatically increase the contrast in the image (especially the dark areas), but also make the overall light areas of the image much brighter (see below).

  • Next go to the Tone Curve panel.  Here change the Highlights to +20, Darks to +50, and Shadows to +100 (see below).  The background is looking better, but the face is all wonky.

  • In this case, I boost the exposure up to +2.16, to make the face more natural looking (see below).

  • That’s better!  Now I bring up Clarity to +30.

  • Nearly finished.  Just crop the image to the way you want it, hit it with some more minor adjustments to the Tone Curve and the clipping levels on the Whites and Blacks settings, and — voilà! — you have the finished high-key image.

So now that you know how simple it is to create one of these yourself — here’s the challenge: find or create an image of your own (don’t “borrow” a photo from someone else off the Internet!), and go through the same step-by-step process I outlined here to produce your own high-key photograph.

Once you’ve finished, be sure to include “#photo101rehab”, “#photorehab”, and “#imagecraftbootcamp” with your normal tags — and if you wish to submit it to the Flickr group, you’ll need to join us there prior to doing so.

Good luck, and see you next Wednesday!

27 thoughts on “Imagecraft Bootcamp — Intro and First Challenge

    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Nope. It appears (after digging deeper into the issue) that there is no way for folders to be used within Flickr groups. Instead, we have to post images within the discussion topics and/or use group specific tags.

      Let me discuss with Lucile and we’ll come up with route to do just that.

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. katieprior

    Nice tutorial Mitch. I’ve always really like high key images, just never got round to shooting them. I have followed your steps and created a processed high key image and have saved the settings as a preset (thanks for the tip!). I know I’m really late for submissions for this topic, but here is my attempt anyway! I look forward to catching up with the topics eventually!


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