Terry McNamara is a Manchester based freelance and commercial photographer and photography tutor.  Here you can keep up to date with the projects Terry is working on and whatever he may be currently thinking about.

 

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Welcome to 'A Tog's Blog'.

In these pages I hope to give you an insight into my life as a freelance and commercial photographer in Manchester.  I hope I can make it interesting enough for you to want to read it.  Thanks for stopping by to take look.

Product Test - Sleeklens 'Strike a Pose' Portrait Workflow

August 30, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Sleeklens 'Strike a Pose' Portrait Workflow

Let me start by saying that photographically I'm a bit of a Luddite. I'm all for new technologies and things that will make my job easier but when it comes to ready made development actions and presets I have, until now, stayed well away from them.

It's not that I'm afraid of using them, it's just that when it comes to processing or developing my images I like to do it myself. I've always held the belief that using preset actions that someone else has developed is a bit like letting them decide how your final images should look. Also, and I'm on record for saying this, I always said that using automated processes helps you stay stupid. You may get nice looking images at the end of the process but unless you know and understand what steps have been taken during those processes you haven't actually learned anything or developed any new skills.

So, when I got the chance to try out the Sleeklens 'Strike a Pose' portrait workflow I decided this was the opportunity I needed to see for myself just how useful (or not) automated workflow tools are and how beneficial (or not) they might be.

Step 1: Installation

Installation was easy and simple. I would normally just dive in, try to do it myself and then turn to the instructions when things don't go as they should (I'm a man, it's what we do). However, as I was testing the system, I decided to break with tradition and follow the instructions first. Instructions were clear, concise, well documented and even included screen-grabs of pop-up windows that you are likely to experience. All done, restart Lightroom and away we go.

When Lightroom opened, all the presets and brushes were installed and located exactly where the instructions said they would be. So far, so good.

Step 2: Process an Image

Before, After & FinalThree images showing the development process from the original through to the final edit. I had recently done a 1940s style vintage portrait session and, as a lot of my work falls within this genre I decided to try the presets and brushes on one of the images from that session. I had worked with two people who were both award winners at the 2015 National Vintage Awards; model, Scarlett Luxe and hair & make-up artist, Bethany Jane Davies of The Vintage Beauty Parlour. When you're working with people of this calibre it's hard to get a bad image and Scarlett was presented to me with perfect hair and make-up. In honesty, this did reduce the amount of post production work required, but there is always something to do to add that final 'je ne sais quoi'.

Step 3: Working with The Presets

Initially, working habits kicked in and I started to make manual adjustments to things like exposure and contrast.  However, I quickly stopped myself and made myself use the presets. At first, I did find the presets a little overwhelming. There were just so many of them to choose from! (69 in total).

I made full use of Lightroom's Navigator window to see a preview of what each preset would look like when applied. Then, when I found one that suited the image, I applied it.

My initial fears about 'staying stupid' where immediately relieved. As a preset was applied I could look at the develop settings on the right-hand side and see which tools had been used and what settings had been applied. And what's more, I could even further adjust them! This changed my attitude to using presets straight away. Although initially I was applying development processes that someone else had created, I actually had full control over those presets and could tweak them until I found them to be what I was looking for.  Plus, if I didn't like the presets when applied, I could easily 'undo' them and start again.

I found the '4-tone tint - golden glow' (but manually reduced the saturation) and then the '4-tone tint - warm up' worked for me.  The finishing touch to get the vintage effect I was after was to add a 'black dreamy' vignette.

That is another nice feature of the workflow presets - they are stackable! You don't have to make do with just one, you can add several together to get the desired result.

Step 4: The Brushes

Although I do use the local adjustment brush quite often, I don't normally use any of the brush presets, but today I was determined to.

As with the presets, I was a little overwhelmed with selection to choose from (62 this time).  However, they are all clearly labelled and it is easy to see what each one does.  Also, as with the presets, the brushes are all configurable. So, if you don't like how a particular brush works, you can tweak it to your satisfaction.

I did find the brushes very useful and I think these will save a lot of time when editing. Many of the tasks that I normally switch over to Photoshop to complete can now be done while staying within Lightroom.

The most useful brushes I found were the 'reduce shiny skin' (my light was reflecting a little) and 'define hair' brushes. Bethany had done an amazing job with Scarlett's hair and I felt that my image didn't necessarily do it justice. However, a couple of quick swipes with the Define Hair brush and the detail just 'popped'! The texture and highlights that I remember seeing during the shoot were now restored.

Step 5: The Final Preset

I had already created an image that I was happy with but I wanted to play some more (yes, I was enjoying it that much). I decided to try out one of the black and white conversion presets. I tried a couple of them before I found the one I liked, but when I applied the 'Greyscale High' preset, BOOM! - the image was finished. The beauty of using the presets is that they don't necessarily undo what the previously applied presets have done. Yes, the greyscale preset converted the image to black and white, but it didn't remove the subtle sepia tones in the shadows that were present from one of the previous presets.

Finally: The Verdict

I tried my best to keep an open mind when using these presets and brushes and I think I achieved it. I started out with a fairly negative view of automated image processes but after working with the Sleeklens set I do think I've changed my mind. They definiteley do simplify the process but they don't take any of the control away from the person doing the edit. I do feel that they will speed up my workflow as I tend to jump between Lightroom and Photoshop to achieve the results I want. Now, however, I can complete many of the tasks within the Lightroom environment.

So, I started out as a bit of a sceptic. Am I now a preset convert? I guess I would have to say 'yes'.

 

Links and Further Information:

Sleeklens Lightroom presets

Sleeklens 'Srike a Pose' Portrait Workflow

Bethany Jane Davies - The Vintage Beauty Parlour

Scarlett Luxe

 

 

 

 

 


Recreating the 1940s

January 28, 2016  •  1 Comment

Recreating the 1940s

I was asked to provide images for an article in Vintage Life Magazine to be published in February 2016.  The article was to feature a woman who is writing a love letter to her husband who has gone to fight in the war.  The images needed to be produced in black and white to be appropriate to the period.

The Planning Stage

I was pleased to be able to work with my good friend, Laura, a model that I have worked with previously on various vintage projects. Not only does Laura have a very authentic vintage look, she also shares my passion for the era.  Laura and I discussed the concept and we started to gather various props including an actual picture of Laura's grandparents on their wedding day, and to scout out locations.

For the location we were initially going to use a coffee bar in Manchester city centre, but plans changed at the last moment when we went to pick out some vintage clothes.

TerryMc PhotographyScouting LocationsPaula and Laura picking out clothes and props Clothing and Location

We visited The Vintage Emporium in Pear Mill, Stockport, where several of the traders had previously offered to loan me clothes for any shoots I did.  Paula, from Mint Vintage immediately rose to the challenge and in next to no time had found us a coat, hat, handbag and gloves, all of which were period authentic.

Whilst at the mill we spotted the recently opened cafe and identified it as the perfect location for the shoot.  We asked if we could stage the shoot there and were pleased to have permission granted.

Getting the Light Right

TerryMc PhotographyScrim & ReflectorLaura on set with the scrim and reflector in place. (© Rebecca Mortimer) Although it would have been easier to set up some studio lights to take full control of the lighting, I wanted to use only the ambient light to give the final image a more authentic look (they wouldn't have had sophisticated lighting set-ups in the 1940s). This did cause one or two issues.  There was a lot of light available in the cafe area, which is generally good thing, but as we were shooting this in December the sun was very low in the sky and the light streaming in from the mill windows was too harsh.  If we positioned Laura towards the window the sun was so bright that Laura couldn't even open her eyes.  If we positioned Laura with her back to the window she was beautifully backlit but her face was in dark shadow.  This called for a little creative thinking.

To reduce the harshness of the direct light I placed a large diffuser (or a 'scrim') behind Laura, between her and the window.  This softened the light considerably but still gave Laura a beautiful rim-light effect from behind.  To get some additional light on Laura's face I positioned a white reflector opposite her and bounced some of the diffused light back towards her.  It worked.  The end result is a set of beautifully lit images without a single flash head being used.

TerryMc PhotographyOne of the final imagesClick to see the full set The Final Result

The planning, the location scouting and the lighting set-up all paid off.  We moved outside for the final shots as we felt that the story should finish with the letter being posted. We found some great vintage-looking locations around Stockport town centre.  We used an alleyway with an old fashioned street lamp, a hilly street with a genuine period advert painted on the wall, and finally a wall-mounted postbox. We ended up with a set of images that we are delighted with. The high-contrast, black and white processing leaves the images looking very period authentic and we feel that the whole shoot was a great success.

View the Final Images

If you'd like to see the final images from the shoot, CLICK HERE

Behind the Scenes

Photographer, Rebecca Mortimer, was kind enough to photograph the shoot in progress.  Here are some of the behind the scenes images showing the events that took place.

 

Special Thanks

Like many shoots this was a team effort.  Therefore thanks and acknowledgements are due to:

Haili Hughes - Columnist for Vintage Life Magazine

Laura Norrey - Awesome vintage model. Follow her on Twitter

Rebecca Mortimer - for providing all the behind the scenes images. Also a talented MUA - check her out on Instagram

The Vintage Emporium - for supplying Laura's clothes and providing the cafe location for the shoot. Check out their facebook page here


How to Correct White Balance Using Photoshop

February 09, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

How to Correct White Balance Using Photoshop

This is something very different for me.  I was sent an image and was asked if I could do anything to rescue it as the colour balance was totally incorrect.

I tried a method that seemed to work quite well and decided to write a blog article about the process so that others may benefit from it, too.  However, when I started writing each step down, the process became far too complicated.  So I decided to produce a short video demonstrating the methods used as showing is better than telling for things like this.

Here is the video showing how I went about it.

Here is the final image, too.  I hope you agree that the finished product is far better than the original image.

Also, if you're curious about what is on the end of the lanyard, it's a Swimcell.  Swimcell is a great way of protecting your mobile phone when you're out and about.  It's completely waterproof and can even be worn when you go swimming!  For more details about the Swimcell, visit the website at www.swimcell.com


Taking Actors' Headshots

January 22, 2015  •  1 Comment

Taking Headshots for Actors

Like most photographers, from time to time I get requests to provide headshots for actors.  Whilst this can be a simple procedure it is very easy to get it wrong. Actors need headshots for two main reasons; for casting purposes or for publicity purposes.  The requirements for both types of headshot are very different and could make the difference between the actor being selected for a role or audition, or being rejected.

Therefore, I thought I would provide a few pointers for taking headshots for casting.

 

First of all, for the photographer…

1. Time
Don’t rush taking headshots.  The client may be used to being on stage or being on set in a TV studio, but that doesn’t mean that they will immediately be comfortable being in front of you and your camera.  The American headshot photographer, Peter Hurley, says that portraiture is 90% counselling and 10% photography.  You have to build rapport with your client before they will be comfortable and appear natural in front of the camera.  They may be actors but they are not robots and they will need time to relax.

 

In this example , the hair, make-up and clothing are too glamourous for casting headshot purposes.

2. Lighting
Dramatic lighting may look really good on some portraits but it’s not for headshots.  The lighting needs to be even, soft and flattering.  It’s OK to have differentiation between the key light and the fill light, but no more than one to one and a half stops.  An artistic portrait with deep shadows is not what casting directors are looking for.

3. Focus
One casting director told me that “the eyes really are the window to the soul”.  The eyes have to be pin-sharp in the headshot and should be clear and bright with nice catch-lights.  Also, depth of field should be sufficient for the whole of the face to be in focus. As with point two, shallow depth of field may produce an image that is artistically pleasing but the casting director needs to see all of the face clearly.

4. Background
A simple non-distracting background is absolutely essential.  It doesn’t have to be plain white, but it does have to be non-descript.  The last thing you want is for the backdrop to take your attention away from the person in the image.  Whether taken in-doors our outside make sure you have a simple background and, where possible, throw it out of focus.  This also relates to point three and there is often a trade-off between the depth of field being sufficient to get all of the face in focus but shallow enough to throw the background out of focus.  Choose your lens and focal length carefully.

5. Pose and composition
As the title suggests, this is a headshot and should include no more than the head and shoulders.  A current trend is to crop off the top of the head and although this may be popular it is not suitable for casting purposes – especially in the UK.  The pose should be such that at least 75% of the face is visible.  It is OK to have the face turned slightly away from the camera but not so much that it is almost a profile shot.

6. Post Production
Casting directors have told me that what they most want to see is a true representation of the person they are going to see when they turn up for audition.  A very slight amount of retouching is possible but not the full skin-smoothing glamour process that may be used for a magazine shoot.  I use the ‘two week’ rule.  If a mark on the face is likely to be there for more than two weeks then it really should stay there in the photograph.  It’s OK to remove spots or blemishes that would clear up within a few days but things like moles or permanent facial features should remain.  And the same goes for wrinkles I’m afraid.  A casting director does not want to see a headshot of someone that looks twenty but looks more like forty when they turn up for audition.

 

Secondly, for the actor…

 

A clean, clear image showing the whole of the face is what casting directors want to see

1. Time
Read the above.  You need to arrive at the shoot location early so that you have enough time to relax before you get in front of the camera.  The last thing you want is a headshot with a red face because you had to run the last half-mile to the studio to get there on time.  You need to look your best and that includes looking fresh and relaxed.

2. Make-up
The casting director is looking for a true representation of you; something as close to your normal, everyday look as possible.  If you are female it is best that you wear no more than a basic essential layer of make up for headshots, and something that looks natural.  You don’t want to look as if you’ve just stopped off for a quick photo session on your way to a night out.  Save the glamour look for your publicity shots, not your casting shots.

3. Hair
Please wash your hair the night before or on the day of the shoot.  And take a hairbrush or comb with you.  I have been surprised on a few occasions by actors that have travelled for an hour on public transport to get to the studio and then not even bothered to tidy their hair for the shoot.  Choose a style that keeps your hair away from your face.  Also, if you have long hair, make sure you get some shots with the hair up as well as down.

4. Clothing
As already mentioned above, this is a headshot session not a glamour or fashion shoot.  Keep your clothing simple and understated rather than garish and distracting.  Keep the colours plain and simple, something that compliments your eyes and skin tone.  Remember, the most important part of the headshot is your head; don’t wear anything that will draw the attention away from it.

5. Preparation
In the run up to headshot day make sure you are well rested. Get at least two good nights’ sleep - preferably a week!  And keep your body well hydrated.  Good sleep and hydration will keep your skin looking fresh and your eyes looking bright and clear.

 

I hope the above gives you some pointers on getting your headshots right.  Whichever side of the camera you end up on, I wish you the very best of luck with your career.


Is Anything Truly Original? (or ‘Being Influenced by Another’s Work’)

November 26, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

We are constantly bombarded with images.  Everywhere we go we see posters, adverts, screens, book covers.  It is impossible to avoid them. But do we always remember them?

Psychologists tell us that once something is seen it cannot be unseen.  Somehow that image remains with us forever just waiting to be brought back into conscious memory.  Sometimes we recall the images by choice and sometimes they just ‘pop-up’ in our memories whether they are welcome or not.

I believe in this way we are indirectly influenced by what we see and, as photographers, we use this inspiration to influence our own creative work. Copyright Norman Parkinson Ltd./ courtesy Norman Parkinson ArchiveNEW YORK, NEW YORK: EAST RIVER DRIVECopyright Norman Parkinson Ltd./ courtesy Norman Parkinson Archive

But how far can we take inspiration before it becomes copying?


When Influence Becomes Plagiarism

In a recent case a photographer was sued for breach of copyright for creating an image of a red London bus.  The image depicted an iconic red London bus going over Westminster Bridge with the Houses of Parliament in the background.  The image was predominantly black and white with the bus remaining in red.  It is an image that has been repeated many times.  However, in this case, one company felt that their intellectual property rights had been infringed upon.  The rule of thumb for intellectual property is that the law does not protect ideas, but only the specific expression of those ideas.  So, if someone has already expressed a design concept is it wrong for others to do something similar?

 

Drawing on Inspiration

Two years ago I was on a vintage-styled photo shoot in Manchester.  We had already got the shots we wanted but we had some spare time.  I immediately knew what I wanted to do.  In my imagination I saw an image of two people running and holding hands, looking incredibly happy as they ran.  We moved location to Albert Square, set up the shot and got it.  It wasn’t one of the key images of the day but is still one that I look back at fondly. Copyright 2014 TerryMc Photography, all rights reservedRunning hand-in-hand

It was just a few days ago that I suddenly remembered a black and white print that I bought of a photograph by Norman Parkinson.  I loved this image.  In fact, it was the first item I bought for my house when I moved in nearly thirty years ago.  I suddenly remembered the key elements of the image – a couple in 1950s attire running, hand-in-hand, over Brooklyn Bridge in New York, both looking incredibly happy.

It was a moment of realisation that what I thought was my own original idea was actually directly influenced by the Norman Parkinson image, even though I hadn’t looked at the image for twenty years!  Somewhere, somehow a seed had been sewn and that image had lain dormant in my subconscious for many years, just waiting for an opportunity to present itself to draw on that inspiration.

Is anything ever truly original?  You tell me.

 

* Image: NEW YORK, NEW YORK: EAST RIVER DRIVE, Copyright Norman Parkinson Ltd./ courtesy Norman Parkinson Archive