Using Silver Efex Pro 2 To Hype Your Contrast

Have you ever been interested in pumping up the contrast in your work beyond the standard tone-curve adjustments that all of the books teach? After hanging with my friend Douglas Sonders at Photoshop World in Vegas and mentioning my technique to him, I decided to put together this video tutorial on how I do it. For me, I enjoy walking a line between real and not real. I tend to use HDR, for example, on certain parts of background images but never the whole image. With this effect it's the same idea. In the past I would use a plug in called Lucis Art to get a similar effect. It's a very popular plug in and has a very distinctive look. One of those 'you know it when you see it' looks. Unfortunately, the company that makes it has stopped further development on the Mac platform. This is a shame, really, because Lucis Art was creating a look that no one else could do. Enter Silver Efex Pro 2 by Nik Software.

I picked up Silver Efex Pro 2 on a whim. It was totally an impulse purchase during a conference last year (I think it was Photoshop World Orlando). Silver Efex Pro is designed to do one thing well - make black and white images. It excels at it, to say the the least. After using the plug in for 2 minutes, I completely ditched my older methods for creating black and white conversions. It really is that good. However, while messing around with it I came across a way to use it to give my color images a Lucis feel. Check out the video below to see how I used it for the cover shoot of the first issue of Austin Man Magazine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHUDijEGE9c

So there you have it - pretty straightforward. If you liked this tip, you my want to subscribe to the feed as I'll be posting more soon. Also, be sure to add me on Google Plus if you are there, as I'm planning on doing a hangout to show this in action.

Italy, Part One: Places

I'm back! We recently returned from an incredible trip to Italy, and this is the first post (of at least 3) about it. Both my wife and I have relatives there (mine are in Sicily, and hers are in a small town a few hours from Rome). I think we started planning this trip last year, and for the most part everything went very smoothly! Besides our family, my wife's sister-in-law and her 2 daughters came along. And, before I go any further, a big thanks to my wife and sister-in-law for all of the hard work they did planning! My oldest son turned 6 during the trip which was way cool. My 3 year old was fun too, considering that we had several long days of sightseeing.

We flew into Rome and stayed for a night, and then headed to Sicily, followed by Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, Venice, Fabriano, Assisi, Orvieto, and finally Rome again for one night before we flew home. I also drove in Sicily and from Venice through the end of the trip, which was insane! In parts of Italy, things like traffic lights and stop signs are more recommendations than requirements.

I travelled with a very minimal kit - just a camera body, a 580 ex flash, a 50mm lens, and a 16-35mm lens (which I hardly ever used, especially once something startled to rattle on the inside of it). I ended up shooting about 2,000 images, which worked out to about 35 GB (I was shooting plenty of images at 21 MP for a project I want to do later). I probably could have shot more, but it's the classic tradeoff between shooting and seeing things with the family. I had a couple 'I am going to shoot for an hour' opportunities though, so it worked out well. I didn't have a laptop, so I backed up everything to an Epson portable drive.

Let's start off with a few Rome shots:

In Sicily, we visited my relatives plus got a chance to drive halfway up Mt. Etna. It's a cool volcano - still having eruptions every now and then. Here you can see some older lava flows:

After Sicily, we took an overnight ferry to Sorrento. Here's a shot from the hotel:

You can see Mt. Vesuvius here:

Capri is an incredible island off the coast of Italy. Besides having a lot of cool stores and restaurants on the island itself, you can have a lot of fun around the island, checking out the rock formations, the fabulous colored grottos, and more:

They have a cable car that goes to the very top which is awesome! The view is incredible and peaceful:

Here is the famous Blue Grotto, which is a cave on the outside of the island. To get in, you literally have to lay down in a boat while the boat driver maneuvers into a little hole. Once inside, the water glows blue because light is coming underneath the entrance:

After Capri/Sorrento, we headed up to Venice:

I got lost quite a few times walking around there. Thankfully, a cool navigation app saved me (more on that in a later post).

Leaving Venice, we drove down to the Fabriano region (where my wife's relatives are). We came across this cool castle museum that had an incredible view out the front door:

Who wouldn't want to walk out to that everyday?

Our last stop was in Orvieto, which has an absolutely incredible church. It's also massive. Here's a shot looking at the entrance:

So there you go - the first post on the big trip. Next up, I'll show you some of the fun times we had (including an incredible birthday party for Brandon), and later on I'll post some iPhone pictures.


WPPI 2011

Yes, it's early. But I am way excited to announce that I'll be teaching a masterclass at WPPI next February in Las Vegas! I'll be covering shoot planning, location lighting, post production, and compositing. More details can be found on my other blog here. Hope to see you in LAS!

The 2009 Christmas Card

Lisa and I like to go all-out on our Christmas cards. We're talking full-on, crazy productions. Last year all of us were playing Guitar Hero inside a Christmas tree. This year, we decided on a 50's-themed card. We actually started talking about this idea last Christmas, and we love it.

Click the image to view a super-large version, and see if you can find anything hidden! When you are done, check out the making-of video at the bottom plus the details to to learn a little bit about how I shot this, and what I hid where.


Creating the Card The first challenge was the location. I looked into renting some 50's-looking appliances, but in the end I was able to shoot at the Austin Diner. It has a great retro vibe. Here's a shot of the diner. Notice the details that wouldn't have existed in the 50's, like the beer signs and the digital clock:


Everybody was photographed separately, and then composited in. Thankfully, the boys were cooperative this year. We used a 5 light setup for each person, shooting against grey seamless. To make this shoot a little easier, I used a 50mm lens for everything. I also made sure to keep the tripod height and angle as close as possible for all the components.

Here are two of the unused images. Note the seamless-covered table. This was to simulate the diner bar, so that when I placed my hand on it, it matched up close to the original.


Here's the final masked shot of Lisa, put against a black background. A few things to notice here.

  • The black masking around her elbow is where the flower vase will partially show through.
  • There's a reflection of her on the table, which is made by copying the image, flipping it vertically, squishing it, and lowering the opacity.
  • A $2 pie from the grocery store photographs better than it tastes.


That's pretty much it! Be sure to watch the video above to find the hidden items in the card.

What do you think? Are you doing anything creative for your cards? If so, please share!

Atlantis in HDR

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and it's a way to photograph where you take several pictures of the same scene and then merge them together. When you do this, you get an incredible mix of the darkest darks and lightest lights. The ideal way to do this is with a tripod, using some special software. Sometimes (well, alot of the time) HDR photos can look overly fake. I like HDR images that enhance the photo but don't take it into the crazy world of surrealism (a.k.a. bizzaro-land).