lamp lighting and post processing

this post is broken as I’ve lost all the image. oops

since I bought myself two extremely cheap plastic lamps and a stock of R50 bulbs a month or so ago I’ve been scurrying around the house with an extension lead and lighting things that really don’t need to be lit in a way that they really don’t need to be lit just to see what the lit is like. mostly harsh. but we like that. it shows we’ve used a light. there are fabulous excellent intricate and exacting examples of what you can achieve with uber strobes and umbrella and softboxes and gel packs and chocolate factories all over flickr but, you know, I don’t have any money, so if its got a reflector bulb in it and I can point it in a certain direction and it cost less than a tenner then its good enough for me. well, I say that, but obviously if a ton of remotely triggered lighting gear landed on my doorstep for nothing I would happily spend hours adjusting flash stands and putting umbrellas up indoors on friday 13th under a ladder but that isn’t going to happen so I’m using a plastic clip light and a desk lamp with a bendy bit in the middle with a propensity to fall off the chair I’ve balanced it on.

mostly I have been scurrying down the cellar. its a bit like a slasher film. I know I shouldn’t go down there when all the lights are off but I just can’t help myself and anyway its uncluttered by the things that exist in every other room of the house and its got white walls and a stone floor and some suspicious looking tools lying around like axes and drills which might as well have exhibit a and exhibit b taped to them and there’s the odd patch of undetermined stuff which has been there since 1897 when the house was built and they were still allowed to hang things up by the neck even though it states clearly in the deeds that you’re not allowed to boil their bones.

which brings me haphazardly to my latest lamp lighting debacle. someone mentioned the film the lives of others on a comment on a photo on flickr on their computer on wednesday and I thought I could do something with that and in a flash of misinspiration I flattend down my hair put on a black tie and dug out a real phone. you know. a phone. with a bit you hold and talk into which isn’t the bit you dial with or play mp3s of the dave matthews band with. a real phone. uncannily like the kind of real phone they might have used in the old east germany in the 1980s except my real phone is from the netherlands and is green. anyway, having dressed for the occasion of sorts I set up my gear. when I say ‘set up my gear’ I mean I went down the cellar and put the desk lamp on the floor pointing up and the clip lamp on a chair pointing left. that’s about it really. for some reason I also though it would be good to put bubble wrap on the wall. mainly because there was some bubble wrap on the floor. you can see I’d thought this through. I stuck my tripod on the floor, switched on the remote and tried a few test shots:

oh what fun I have, right?

they are all pretty dark because I’m working at ISO100 and at I’m at about 35mm/52mm and it’s quite dark anyway but I don’t want to have to stand still for more than half a second when I’m pulling such graceful poses so I make sure I’m using a shutter speed of, ooh, half a second which drops the exposure levels down pretty far but have you gathered its dark and that’s how I want it to look anyway because I’m pretending to be in a dark room in east germany somewhere listening in to someone else’s conversation on my old phone I mentioned before and so its all a bit dark. technically, it should be lighter. technically, I don’t really have time to care because I’m doing this in my lunch hour and I’ve already spend 30 minutes of it spreading marmite around and reading about the council in the local paper.

when I get back to my desk and have a look at what I’ve got I immediately think to myelf ‘ooh, they’re a bit dark’ which dammit is what I had intended but when you look at a dark photo on a dslr lcd you think to yourself those blacks are pretty good and I like the tone of it but when you look at it on a 24.1 inch monitor at full size you think to yourself ‘I can’t see my eye! I can’t see my eye!’ and lament the lost last 30 minutes. then you calm down a bit and remind yourself that’s what you meant to do. just keep thinking you’re in a cellar in east germany. it’s the mood, right.

here’s what do come off the camera sensor:

its a bit flat. but everything I need is buried in there somewhere. I just need to dig it out. there will be more metaphors related to buried things later I have no doubt.

first things first which these days is a quick salvage operation with topaz adjust which has a nifty set of presets which I mostly don’t use except the clarity one and the mental psychedelic one when I’m feeling bored but I mostly now use a small set of my own custom presets with names like ‘the one that worked that time when you did it on a cathedral interior at night’ or ‘norwich night long exposure’ or ‘arse’ (there really is one called ‘arse’, its a low radius high exposure and mid-level low radius detail setting I once used on a chin and didn’t have time to think if a decent name although come to think of it ‘arse’ is a pretty decent name), or, as I used in this case and I know because I just checked, ‘office_half_natural_light’ which doesn’t bear any relevance to the dark cellar in lamp light situation I find myself in but it worked all the same which just goes to show that topaz is very flexible and my naming conventions are rubbish. after applying the adjust I also topaz deniose to the tune of ‘super smooth’ because I like it super smooth you see:

its not a dramatic difference but there’s a ton of highlight and shadow detail there which wasn’t in the original and it gives it a not very subtle harder edge to the light casting which is not very subtle to start with but I want it to look like that so there. of course, I’m just getting warmed up, even though I’ve got about 5 minutes to finish this before I need to start migrating user experience meeting minutes to a new wiki so I’ll try a few things to see what happens and bung a few old favourite adjustment layers on top like you bung hundreds and thousands on ice cream when it doesn’t really need it but it looks kind of nice.

next stop is photomatix which is totally unnecessary but might sometimes surprise you with the way it gives skin tones a but of extra clarity. I mainly use photomatix to individually render sandstone bricks in hdr cathedral photos but sometimes just throw it at a random 365 photo to see what happens. what happened in this case was this:

which, um, is not quite what I have anticipated. I mean, the effect looked pretty good on the preview window, even at the large size, but if you know photomatix tone mapping, you know that the similarity between preview and result are about about as predictable as the similarity between cheese and a laptop. anyway, all is not lost, I kind of like the glow cast under my wrist so I’ll probably use that somehow I just need to soften the blow and mix things up a bit so that so that I retain the lighting effect but lose the rest pretty much. I know, I’ll do something with that arse preset in topaz and see what happens. so I create a new layer from the original capture, apply a bit of arse and denoise, shove that layer to the top of the stack, stick a vague gradient mask over it from left to right, turn down the opacity of the photomatix layer to about 67% and hey presto, you probably can’t even tell the difference to what I did 2 frames ago:

well, you see, everything’s a little brighter, I’ve got the glow under my wrist and there’s a bit more detail to things like the stripes on my shirt. but, ooh, the colour is not what I had in mind. its all a bit too healthy glow looking. all a bit orange. never fear, that’s what adjustment layers are for.

before I get the colours as I want them, I’ll just sharpen things up a bit to put out some extra detail on the things I’ve denoised and add some specular highlighting (I just said ‘specular’ because I like the sound of it) to things like my shiny glasses. there’s a number of way to do that but I tend to create a high pass layer at about 3 pixels (a suitable pixel width for photos the resolution I’m working at), stick it on top of the layer stack and blend at 100% using vivid or linear light, depending on the effect and, usually, how much noise gets created. for a photo like this, noise isn’t really an issue as it is both very dark and reasonably busy in terms of content. high pass sharpening tends to cause more problems where there are large areas of flatness, like walls, but then, you just pick up a brush and mask it out.

back to colours and as I want to conjure up a certain bleakness in the shot I’ll use a hue/saturation adjustment layer to take it all the way back to -68 and then add a color balance layer to slide around with the shadows and highlights to take the orange edge of everything and cast a more general grey/blueness to the scene:

mind you, I’ll mask out most of the colour adjustment on the phone handset, because its green. and I like it that way. it’s only me and the wall that is supposed to be miserable. this isn’t an exercise in cut-outs, however. you can shoot me if I do one of those.

as I’m into my final couple of minutes of tinkering I’ll pull out a couple of old favourites to make things just that little bit more lively – a quick channel mixer with black and white with green filter, blended to luminosity, a cheeky gradient map black to white, blended to luminosity at 60% and a brightness/contrast filter with the contrast whacked back to -50 to flatten things out a bit (it was a bit too vibrant for the feel I wanted) and brightness cranked up +45 so you could still see everything. that last adjustment is really quite brute force but as an overall effect can fix a number of side effects that everything else I’ve done often produces.

what I’m ending up with is:

which is kind of what I had in mind as far as the overall tone of the thing goes. I did have in my head originally a table with me sat at it with the phone in the foreground all looming and sinister and me in the background looking a bit like this but in a more officious office-like environment but as I didn’t have a table to spare that wasn’t really going to happen and there’s only so much you can do in half an hour which is considerably shorter than the time it takes to write this and by the way if you really really really want to study the photoshop history to see the steps I just described here although you’d have to be mad although I know some of you are you can find it as always in the exif data of the file uploaded to flickr.

today I shall have star wars in mind but will end up making something that looks more like eastenders.

for more lampism, for that is what I have determined I shall be knowing it by, stop by the lampist group and feel free to throw in some of your own. as long as you used a lamp, of course.


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