Sunday, October 19, 2014

ThePatch :: Remembering Rembrandt

Whenever I hear of a low key portrait as a style, I think of Rembrandt Lighting, which is a very popular technique taught in studio lighting workshops involving two lights (sometimes one is a reflector). one light is a strong spot or key light and the other is diffuse just to fill in the shadow. The light arrangement is such that one half of the face is well lit and on the other side a small triangle of light illuminates the upper cheek below the eye. A purist interpretation is that the triangle be approximately the width of the eye, and length of the nose tall. It’s actually a modern invention nothing to do with Rembrandt approach, the effect just tends to look like his portraits (see the section Origin of photographic term in the wikipedia link above).

Rembrandt's studio todayI have been to Rembrandt's studio and he only has a row of windows on one-side, (there are heavy shutters to blank off the bottom windows and a bleached canvas blind hanging above an end window) So I suspect Rembrandt himself would probably fail the studio lighting work shop. What he definitely would not have failed is portraiture and particularly low key look  (ie where most of the tonal range is in the darker tonnes) Some of his deep A bit too theatricalrichness may have come with the age of his painting (most are now over 350 years old) but if you have every seen the original of his portarit paintings (such as his 1659 self-portrait) I’m sure you will recognise the fresh feel and emotional connection.

I quickly dropped the theatrics of trying to be visably arty, and just focussed on a natural lighting from a single window. I had to add a dark backdrop and use a white sheet of paper as a diffuse reflector on the righthand side.  With my camera on a tripod and set with a timer on the shutter, it was then only a matter of adjusting aperture (first) and then ISO/speed to get the right low key exposure. A little further adjustment to warm the shadows (raw umber-fy) and adjust the black clipping point in lightroom to avoid too much gloom. Unfortunately I can be seen more worried about the shutter timer working than trying to look artistic. But it is a decent selfportrait.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Is it a self portrait of a still life?

Mornington Peninsular Regional GalleryIn a very popular move the Archibald Prize finalists are being toured around some regional galleries giving more the opportunity to see the original paintings. This year for a second year running they are currently being displayed at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery.

One painting I liked is Peter Churcher’s quirky ”Four self-portraits in a bunch of balloons”. It is both vibrant and fun yet deeply detailed in an MC Escheresque manner. What caught my attention was the replicated reflections, the self portraits. In many ways it bought home my attempts to get a “floating” selfportrait onto my stainless steal espresso cup, for my patch entry last week. The question asked in the accompanying note for this painting being so relevant. “Is it a self portrait or a still life?”

Before photography any artist wanting to make a self portrait had to resort to a mirror (and therefore the resulting portrait will be back to front). A few brave artists, and MC Escher is a prominent one of them, dared to include reference in their painting and illustrations that they were indeed looking at reflections.  Thus I think it is cleverly both.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Anatomy of (an older version) of PhotoShop Elements

Adobe have released a new version of Photoshop Elements, version 13, surprising as boxed software (not as part of their subscription service!). I must admit my version (7) has languished in the seldom used category and is only running on my studio laptop, and supposedly where I connect to creative cloud). Whilst photoshop elements tends to be looked down on by the purists, it has always struck me as a better way to get most of the features of Photoshop with a much simpler learning curve and a much more affordable price. The new version looks a lot different in terms of the User Interface, so what I am showing here is not likely to be immediately beneficial to a new purchaser wanting to learn how to use the software (and version 13 is clearly aimed at the new user) However I have chosen to show it before my look at the lightroom workspaces because it helps put in place the abobe concepts (and work flow) Organize –> EDIT (FIX) –> Create –> Share and how they have become separate workspaces.. The significance of these “workflow-centric” concepts still pervades adobe’s software offerings.


imageThe screen is laid out in several blocks. There is the conventional Menu Bar at the top and a second tools bar of handy context related tools, depending on what is displayed in the main workspace and which module you are in. The are two extract useful keys with drop down menus. The first controls the display formats (which can include a folder views, which takes away from the space available for the main workspace, full screen view, side by side comparative view etc) There is also a quick edit to access the main edit features. Once you selected and image by double clicking on it, that single image files the workspace and you can work on that images and/or take it into the other modules.

The Fix (aka Edit) modules is where you do most of the refinements and retouching, Each of the buttons on the panel on the right-hand side takes you into a separate tool (or set of tools) to do that task. Several of these begin with Auto and these are essentially wizards that attempt (they are not perfect) to correct or enhance specific aspect of your photo. For any one new to photography they are probably wonderful but more novelty that long term tools. at the bottom are three keys that bring up a separate edit window with the serious edit tools.


There are many edit tools and filter options but the simple icons and small thumbnails on the filters make it easy to understand what they do, so the system is easy to pick up. The big feature that photoshop elements offers that few other inexpensive photo editors do is layers (a topic that requires more detail that I should spend now). The layer controls are simple but are really focussed on copying part or all of the source image and allowing a good range of blend modes between them (ie they are very useful but you probably need to know what you are trying to achieve).. I suggest they require a bit of understanding of how layers and blends work before they become useful to a new user (ie this is one area I trust the new version of Photoshop elements has refined)

Fullscreen capture 8102014 101056 AMThere are two more modules, which I seldom have used, but they are likely to be imagevery helpful. However since I have never used them I got a bit lost trying to figure out some basics and that is  when I discovered the on-line help no longer works (See notes at the bottom of this post). I suspect the back ends for the photo book and Online albums may no longer work. An area that many novices get into difficulty is email images, particularly images from larger DSLR cameras, is emailing.They tend to send the full resolution image, which is way to big to display of computer or photo screens and very large to send). The email tool support outlook and resizes the photo to suit viewing in any email browser. (there is a slider to further adjust the image size id necessary)

So whether you spend most of your retime in the organizer windows and use the auto wizards or dive into the more photoshop-like edit windows you should find photoshop elements a well though through image management and processing system, delivering a significant number of features that the full photoshop reputation is based on.. It is clearly marketed as an introduction for new users and is likely to be a great stepping stone towards photoshop. Having said that many would probably be quiet satisfied with it as their only software. Thus selling this as a standalone box software does make sense, at a time when adobe is moving towards subscriptions for its higher spending users

Somewhat interestingly you can only get help on-line, (which is what you get is you press the help key) back to version 11 of photoshop elements.  Don’t despair the user forums have a list of various useful archive references files, covering most things back to version6).