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November 2010

Why I Am a Green Screen Photographer

(while it's not original, I am playing off William Beem's last few blog post titles).

When I got back from Photoshop World, I decided the next step in my photography was to shoot my own family photos. As mentioned in the last post, it's not that I don't think other places can do a good job, it's just something I wanted to do.  When deciding how to shoot that, I definitely still wanted to do some of the more natural/candid shots (again, as evidenced by my last post), and still wanted to be able to shoot posed stuff in a studio.  


As this post isn't about lighting, the only thing I'll say about that is I love the Westcott Strobelite 3 Lite Educational Set. That's all I'll say about that for now.  

With a studio though, I did need to decide what kind of background(s) to use.  I was very very tempted to go the white seamless route, since Zack makes it look so easy, but I knew I wouldn't be satisfied just with that.  I read a bunch on green screens, and decided to try that, getting the Westcott Green Screen.

The main negatives with green screens I read about, and can confirm are:

  • when you download the photo from the camera, you still have to deal with the background
  • selecting the green screen or things off the green screen can be difficult
  • sometimes your images on the edges will get a green color cast so you have to deal with that as well.

Even with all that, I still actually enjoy it. I'm a person who likes to change things up, and once you can pull the image off the background (or the background off the image), you have a virtually unlimited number of choices as to what you can do.  Do I want a scenic background? Do I want a solid color? A combination of colors with a texture?  Snowflakes?  The sky is the limit.

While there are many different ways to find digital backgrounds, I went with buying the Photobacks Upgraded Advantage Set (hint: they sell on Ebay too and it's slightly cheaper).  Yes, a lot of the backgrounds look like an amateur made them, but I've found more often than not that there is something I really like and want to use.

For our family photo, I combined 2 different backgrounds from that collection, and dropped the opacity on one to get a little bit of a color mix. Then I found a texture I liked and added that in.  

Original, untouched photo:

Original, untouched photo

Final, edited photo:

Family portrait

(some will note that I took out Peter's scratch on his face. I thought about that one long, and hard, and while this post isn't going to talk about that, I decided to do it because it's not normally part of who he is).

Normally doing a selection isn't that bad. I do one of three things normally:

  • Photoshop CS5 Quick Select with the Refine Edges option
  • Photoshop CS5 Color Range selection
  • onOne Software Mask Pro

Which one I do, depends on basically which one I'm in the mood to do, and sometimes if my first option doesn't work well, I'll try a different one. I honestly can't remember which one I used here, but usually I can get great results with one of those options, making sure I get the hair selected, and removing the green haze from the edges that you can get sometimes.

In conclusion, if I had an infinite amount of money to buy an infinite number of backgrounds I liked, I'd definitely do that, but since that's not an option, I'll stick with my green screening.


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Things I've Learned From Photographing a Toddler

With my whole new foray into the world of photography, I thought it would be fun to try and shoot Peter's 2-year photos myself. I mean, there's nothing wrong with a Sears, or Kiddie Kandids (well, except the latter screwed over all their customers and employees when they closed their doors and wouldn't give people the stuff they ordered, and then reopened later with different employees, but I digress...), and there's definitely nothing wrong with paying a professional to take kickass photos, but it's something I really wanted to do myself.

I mean, how better to learn, right?

The first thing with shooting a toddler, is that you really need another person.  It doesn't matter that I'm his mom.  He's constantly on the go, never staying in one place more than a couple of seconds.  I needed someone else there (Leif, in this instance), to distract him, make him laugh, whatever, so I could set up for the next shot.

The second thing I learned, is to shoot on continuous mode. When you think you've got a decent shot, hold down the shutter, and take a few. In most cases, a bunch will be blurry, he won't be doing what you want him to, but since all you need is that one, good shot, the more you have, the more chance you have at getting something worthwhile.

The third thing I learned, is to let him do his thing. Telling a 2 year old to "look at the camera" not only doesn't work, but if it does, he does this weird "CHEESE" thing (I didn't teach him that, I think he got that from school). Just ignore him, follow him around, and always be ready to snap the shutter.

The fourth thing I learned, which I knew already from observing him for the past 2 years, is to shoot his good photos in the morning when he's at his freshest.  Shooting something in the evening is extremely dicey because he may be in a good mood, he may not be.  In the morning, he's always in a good mood (as long as he's feeling ok).

I was initially planning on doing all his photos indoors in my new little studio, but one day last week I looked outside behind the house, and noticed that the big area of trees was still all pretty and yellow with their fall colors, and I realized I had to get him out there. The area is pretty close to the side of a road (hence another reason you want a second person with you), but we got lucky enough that with daylight savings time, he got up Monday morning at 6:30 (7:30 old time), so we had some time to work with before having to take him to school.  After getting him dressed and ready, all 3 of us headed out behind the house, and just let Peter do his thing. Every once in awhile I'd call his name to try and get his attention, but he was having fun stomping in the leaves, and looking at the trees.  All in all, we were only out there for about 10 minutes. These are my 2 favorite shots:

Playing in the woods


Fall photo

Not to be content with that, I still did want to get some in-studio shots. Yesterday morning we were waiting at home for some friends to arrive (Peter wasn't at school so he could play with their kids), and I figured that was as good a time as any to try this out.  5 minutes downstairs with him sitting on a little stool, and this came out:


All of the photos were post-processed in PhotoTools, and I used PhotoFrame on the border for the last one, as well as a PhotoBacks background.  He's looking at Leif who's blowing raspberries or something.

I have a few more photos I want to take with him, especially on a white seamless background, but if this is all I get for his 2 year photos, then I'm happy with my progress.

As always, I still have a ways to go before I feel like I know what I'm doing, but in order to get there, I just have to keep practicing!

This is Halloween, Everybody Make a Scene

 (title stolen from "This is Halloween" from A Nightmare Before Christmas.)

I've always been a big fan of Halloween. As a kid, it definitely was more for the candy, but it was also dressing up as something completely different for a night.  My dad would always take me out, until I got old enough to go with just my friends. When I was little I had the little trick-or-treat pumpkin basket, when I was older, it was a pillowcase, and we'd hit houses until the bags were too heavy to carry.

While all my childhood Halloween photos are at my parents, I found this photo floating around. I think I was 21, and decided to dress up as Obi-Wan Kenobi. This was also before I started wearing contacts occasionally, as you can tell.

With Peter, I'm happy to share my love of Halloween with him.  This year, since he's almost 2, we figured we could actually do stuff with him. Oh sure, we took him trick or treating last year, but only to a few houses, and we had to carry him:

Luke Skywalker carries Yoda

With all the Halloween goings-on this year, it was hard to narrow down exactly what to do, but we settled on the Colorado Railroad Museum:

Peter and Trenton

 Boo at the Zoo:

Boo at the Zoo.

and capped off the weekend with Trick or Treating:

Peter, Lily, Trenton, Addison

He definitely seemed to have fun at all the events.  The weather at the railroad museum was a little bit warm, so we put him back in his Yoda costume, which fit ok (it was a toddler size when we bought it last year).  However I believe I've created a monster in terms of candy.  Everytime somebody put something in his bucket, he'd immediately want to eat it, so I took to having a little bag of M&Ms in my pocket, and I'd give him one after each house.  Monday morning he saw the candy on the counter, and said "candy, candy" until we took it away.

Next year he'll probably be at the point where he can pick out his own costume, and won't have to be prompted to say "trick or treat" (he said it as "dee-dee-deet" this year :).

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