Category: Research

Transformation – Final Submission

For a long time the contact sheet (a direct print of a roll or sequence of negatives) was the photographer’s first look at what he or she captured on film. Now with digital cameras we can immediately see our pictures on the screen, adjust exposure, judge the composition and so on. But this is only one picture at the time. By looking at the larger body of work, photoshoot or a sequence of shots we still, in effect, employ digital equivalent of a contact sheet.

Apart from its obvious role as a tool to select the best photographs, contact sheet can be seen as an entity in itself. It allows an intimate glimpse into photographer’s working process. It contains all the steps along the route to arriving at the chosen image. It is a record of how an image was constructed. It will very likely contain all the outtakes, mistakes, changes of composition or poses, maybe a series of very good images or maybe mostly terrible ones. Did photographer notice a scene with potential and diligently worked it through, or was he lucky to be at the right time at the right place to capture the decisive moment? Was it staged or serendipitous encounter? How much was it staged and how much post production was involved?

I think it is fascinating subject, often overlooked. We marvel at great photographs and assume there was some kind of divine intervention at play. A genius photographer just happened on a scene, recorded it and moved on to create another masterpiece. In reality it takes a lot more work. We don’t see all the wasted frames that went into the process of “working the scene” to finally arrive at potentially good photograph.

Of course this process will be unique to each individual photographer. Some will be very economical with the number of shots and take one or two per scene. Some will shoot a lot and than select the best pictures later. There is no right or wrong way as long as there is some conscious way of working the scene, rather than “spray and pray” type approach.

Now, I don’t try to compare myself to the great Magnum photographers. What I’m trying to achieve here is show the way image is transformed through edit (selection) and post-production to arrive at the final outcome. Just as it was done in the days of film photography – dodging, burning, cropping and to some extend physical retouching was used (and usually not by photographer). Digital images also (and maybe even more) need some kind of work after capture to bring them to life and give them specific feel. In the days of film photographer would use particular film for specific look and feel – the amount of sharpness, contrast, grain, colour – it was all pre-selected. In digital age we have the freedom to decide all of this after the fact, but alas there is more work to be done at the end of the process (and usually by photographer). Unless shooting jpeg, the digital raw pictures are flat, not very sharp and lack contrast.

©2017 Piotr Bednarek. Digital equivalent of contact sheet. Lightroom Library module with grid view of a sequence of photographs in a photoshoot. Selects in yellow, post-production in green and final outcome in green with white flag. Screen shot.

This is my final image for the Transformation project. It is a high resolution screen capture showing Lightroom grid view and within it a sequence of images from a photoshoot. It contains 56 original captures plus 2 .dng derivatives and 2 .tiff versions made in Alien Skin Exposure and re-imported back into Lightroom. (In original sequence there was about 10 more pictures but they were omitted for the clarity of presentation). Pictures are graded for quality with “stars”: 1*- good enough to consider, 2* – better. No stars means that picture didn’t make the edit, and wasn’t selected for further consideration.

The best pictures of the whole sequence were selected from “2 stars” and assigned yellow flags as candidates to post production. Only 2 pictures made it, one vertical and one horizontal.

First they were processed within Lightroom’s Develop module (equivalent to Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop). I didn’t like the look of the vertical one as it came too harsh, but the horizontal showed some promise.

Then both were exported to Alien Skin Exposure – vertical without, and horizontal with Lightroom adjustments. After some subtle tweaking in Alien Skin and experimenting with textures and light leaks they were saved in TIFF format and imported back into Lightroom. As they showed improvement over originals they were assigned 3 stars for quality. Also at this stage they were finished, which in my workflow is green flag.

So in the end there were only two pictures to consider. I did like the composition in vertical one, but pose wasn’t great and subjects faces weren’t visible. A shame as it could be a good one with nice balance, texture and colours. Horizontal version on the other hand came out better in post production, with subtle colours and nice painterly quality to it. Although I preferred the vertical composition, horizontal one was better overall and got the final pick (white flag in the left upper corner in “contact sheet”). To complete the process the print was made using watercolour artist paper.

I hope this shows the transformation process from the idea to the final product – printed photograph. Arguably it was difficult to show the process of forming an idea, a pre-visualisation or pre-production as it were. I think it is more subconscious and difficult to demonstrate and ultimately a product of lifelong exposure to works of others and visual content that surrounds us.



Kristen Lubben in the book Magnum Contact Sheets suggests that editing programs on computer can create only a simulation of a contact sheet and are are fundamentally different. It’s hard to argue – there is no physical medium and no limit of photographs that can be stored on a hard drive (in comparison to 36 frames of film at least). Therefore it makes it hard to revisit the work, most of the times there is too many digital pictures to be able to look at comfortably on one screen. But in my opinion the process remains almost the same, and we mustn’t lose the sight of that. It is the transition from the idea to the final photograph that is important.

Pulling a good picture out of a contact sheet is like going down to the cellar and bringing back a good bottle to share.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

And the idea could be than taken to another level. Cartier-Bresson cut up his negatives preserving only images and sequences that were successful in his opinion and discarded the rest. So did Frank Cappa, occasionally editing and reordering the sequence of images by cutting up his contact sheets and pasting them into notebooks. In a way digital process can afford us an easy way of doing that and creating a new entity. We can take parts of the body of work and create a meta-contact, containing the best parts.

I will try to embrace the contact sheet approach in my work to better my photography. Will have to find a way of grouping the photographs into sets and then analysing the whole sets. Preferably in printed form. Also will try to cut down on unnecessary frames to make the contact sheet neater and more purposeful. Than maybe create a contact sheets of various types of post-production styles and analyse them? Look at the variants of colour and how it affects the mood. In the near future I want to concentrate on professional retouching and colour grading. I think that contact sheet approach could be very useful in analysing outcomes as well.


Assignment criteria: 1,2,3,4,5


Transformation Project initial thoughts

Transformation Project initial thoughts

For the final assignment Transformations I had considered following approaches:

  • Italian Futurists paintings – highly charged modern subjects, dynamic collective experience (crowds and riots), movement and speed; memories and states of mind shown as continuous time,
  • Surrealism; abstract expressionism – transformation of a photograph into abstract piece of art; finding something that wasn’t there before; looking at something mundane with a new set of eyes (Seeing Like a Painter – Luminous Landscape),
  • Photoshop compositing – Erik Johansson – photoshopped landscapes,
  • Studio photography – showing how cameras transformed over the years from fully manual through modern film SLR to digital SLR; product photography,
  • Studio photography: clouds of colourful inks in the tank of water,
  • Street photography – transformation between light and shadow on objects in situ
  • Photographing architectural features – for example doors or stairways leading to it; genre similar to Kerbs Photography; somewhat obscure but slowly finding its rightful place among true aficionados.
  • New and old – coexisting next to each other; dilapidation of old and abandoned, but also growth of new, not always in harmony with old and existing.

My favourite subject was and still is the paintings. I try to seek influence outside of photography. The difficulty I encountered with developing this idea further is the subject matter. It proves very difficult to come up with a subject for a total abstraction. I like the play of colours and dynamism of futurists’ paintings, but the ones that I like the most do not represent anything. It is for the viewer to make up the story. The same goes for Abstract Expressionism.

While doing research I came across works of Ernst Haas (Art Wolfe referred to his work as a big source of inspiration and influence). Haas was a photojournalist and a pioneer of colour photography. He was an innovator and used photography as a medium for expression and creativity with great success. Ernst Haas was born and immersed into the grand cultural climate of Vienna before World War II. He became proficient in painting and drawing, and as a painter he had particular interest in an artwork’s formal qualities,  developing a refined sense of composition and perspective. I think this is a very good example to follow, to study art and its formal qualities. Ultimately photography and camera are only tools and whats we arrive at the end is a composition that has to be appealing to the viewer. The contents of the image, subject matter and the likes are secondary in my opinion and not as important as composition, colours and emotions that they convey.

This finding in turn led me to investigate the contact sheets. In unrelated instance I was watching another great Creative Live class about retouching process from conceptualising and shooting the image in studio to the final product. It was hosted by a retoucher Pratik Naik and photographer Felix Kunze. During editing (selecting photographs from the shoot) Felix referred to the book “Magnum Contact Sheets“, that he studied during his time in photography school. He explained how they looked at the whole body of work to find quickly the best composed photographs to develop further. This inspired me to investigate the process and maybe apply to my own photography work. What was particularly striking is the fact that Magnum photographers were often judged by the quality and consistency of their contact sheets, not the individual photographs. What it can teach us is to be more consistent and purposeful when taking pictures. Something that is somehow forgotten now in the age of digital, when each additional frame doesn’t cost us anything. Also looking back and reflecting upon a body of work can be very beneficial. You can look for developing style, weak and strong compositions, mistakes, how many frames does it take to arrive at the one that works, and why did you choose that particular one. Often there are plenty of equally good ones, or everything  is just so-so. It provides an intimate view into individual thinking and development of an image.


Assignment criteria: 1,2,3

Photography as Art

Few months ago I had chance to watch Creative Live broadcast featuring renowned nature, travel and art photographer Art Wolfe. He is an author of several books, and featured in two television series: Travels to the Edge with Art Wolfe and Tales by Light. He was born in 1951 on the outskirts of Seattle, USA. At the early age he started exploring nature around his town and was in art school drawing and painting. He eventually got a university degree in painting and art education. He attributes a lot of his success to the background in painting.

When we consider art history, painting early on was not considered art in itself, but more of a recording of historical events and portraits. As time went on and styles changed and evolved, painting became more abstract. Subject matter was no longer the literal representation of reality. Painting shifted to abstract art, culminating in abstract expressionism. You respond to it on an emotional level. Similar thing happened to photography. Early on it was copying painting style, than became documentary and eventually evolved into art form in itself, abstract and free from restrictions of previous style.

Art Wolfe – Rhythms from the wild –  impressionistic posters, inspired by paintings by Monet. Technique used: long exposures, slow shutter speed, panning of the camera.

Rhytms From The Wild
©Art Wolfe. Rhythms From The Wild Book cover
Flight, Mallard Ducks, Fraser River, Canada
©Art Wolfe. An explosion of water and wings fills this image as a flock of wild mallards erupt off the surface of a tidal pond along British Columbia’s Fraser River Delta. Wary of both man and predatory falcons and eagles, these ducks instantly react to the slightest movement.
Burchell's Zebras, Zimbabwe
©Art Wolfe. Burchell’s zebra race across an open plain within Zimbabwe’s forested Matetsi’s River region. A long exposure accentuates the graceful motion of the troupe.


How To See And Make Art In Exciting New Ways

Wabi Sabi
@Art Wolfe. Screenshot from Create Art Through Photography

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese term referring to the randomness in nature, but also impermanence and balance. It inspires to fill the frame with subject (which is random, not pattern), so your eye can navigate throughout all of this abstractions. The idea is to have the eye move evenly through the composition. Communication, inspiration, surprise. Using the line to fill the frame with content, trying to avoid areas with no content whatsoever.

Another way to achieve balance is playing with positive and negative space. Positive space is (generally) the subject, negative space is what lays beyond. When those two elements play together nicely, balance occurs and viewers eye stays where artist intended it to be. You should start looking at subject in graphic elements, squint your eyes and render them as spaces and shapes. Look beyond the obvious.

negative space
@Art Wolfe. Screenshot from Create Art Through Photography

When foreground and background match each other in space and content becomes graphic and it becomes art. Its easy to say but hard to do. It comes with experience. You start to analyse everything in front of you. The more you can do that, the more you are on your way to achieving more sophisticated, more graphic, more appreciated work. When he critiques and evaluates work he always gives a nod towards people who thought out the subject well. The stronger it is on a graphical level the more he appreciates it.


The picture of rocks went into Lightroom to convert into very strong black and white shapes. Playing with shapes, making white (negative) space as important as black (subject, positive) space. To do that he cropped the image tighter, selecting only a part and making it even more abstract. The whites are now as important as blacks. White areas come forward and dark recede, in other words the negative space now becomes the subject. It is playing with perceptions, it is a challenge and not easy to do. It is not the way we usually see the world around us.



Assignment criteria: 1,2,3


Creative Live Create Art Through Photography with Art Wolfe

Art Wolfe website

Magnum Contact Sheets

Practice of making a contact sheet is somewhat forgotten in digital age. In the film days there was no digital display to look at at the back of the camera. So usual practice after shooting a roll of film was to make a contact print. Negative was cut into strips and placed flat and then exposed onto one large print.

No post production was done at this stage, no dodging and burning or anything of that nature. The result was a sheet of positives, where photographer or editor could see what was on the roll of film, judge the composition, select the best ones or refer to it later.

Henri Cartier-Bresson looking at contacts at the New York Magnum Office. 1959. © Rene Burri / Magnum Photos

Contact sheets would give you real context of time, place and what went on during the photoshoot, especially if there were other things in the frame. By looking at other photographers contact sheets you can follow their process, formation and development of the idea. Than by looking at all pictures together – a process of selection. Most of Magnum photographers were very consistent on quality of shots, composition and expose. Impressive, considering there was usually little or no time to use a light meter.

What we now use is software like Lightroom for example, but there are some crucial differences. Contact sheet was usually limited to a roll of film (36 exposures), whereas digital can contain hundreds or thousands of images. Secondly there is no tactile feel of holding a physical object in your hands when looking at digital representation on computer screen. Arguably it is also easier to revisit and reflect on the printed collection.

A contact sheet is full of erasures, full of detritus. A photo exhibition or a book is an invitation to a meal, and it is not customary to make guests poke their noses into the pots and pans, and even less into the buckets of peelings…

Henri Cartier-Bresson


Assignment criteria: 1,2,3


Lubben, Kristen. Magnum Contact Sheets. London: Thames & Hudson, 2011. Print.

“Art of Photography” – You Tube



Still Life – Final Submission

Still Life – Final Submission


Another part of studio assignment was a still life. Having searched through many examples in books and on internet I decided to use this one by Jean Chardin (c.1732). I like it’s colours and overall feel, which I will try to convey in my photograph. Due to simplicity it was also easier to concentrate on the lighting in the scene, direction and shape of the shadows, textures and tonality.

When we talk about light we can say that a particular light source has qualities such as brightness, colour and contrast (meaning hard or soft light). But that is not everything. Lighting in photography is more than just a light – it is the relationship between the light source, subject and a viewer. Some subjects would reflect the light more than the others, some would absorb and some transmit light (pass through, like glass for example).

Material can reflect light in many different ways. One type is diffused reflection – light is reflected equally in all directions, it has the same brightness regardless of the angle from which we view it. Matt surface could give diffuse reflection. Another type is direct reflection – a mirror image of the light source in the subject – also called specular highlight. Brightly polished metal, water or glass surface can easily produce it, depending on an angle. Therefore managing relative size and position of the lights in the setup is crucial. Also light needs to sculpt the subject and produce highlights and shadows to convey dimensionality.

To start with I decided to recreate the painting to achieve all the information in highlights and shadows. My key light was Bowens Gemini 400Rx studio strobe with 60x80cm softbox, placed about 50cm–1m to the left and the same distance up from the composition. I experimented with moving it from front to back, keeping the same distance. I found to my surprise the best result to be about 45 degree to the left and back of the composition. It gave the nice wide, diffused highlight to the side of the pot, and still quite a lot of light on the rest of the items and work surface.


Now second source of light was needed to illuminate the front edge of the table. My first choice would be to try large reflector, but didn’t have a suitable stand with arm to hold it properly and safely in place. Health and safety first. Due to time and space constraints I decided to use my Yongnuo YN568EX Speedlite in a smallish 60x60cm softbox as a second light. Flash was set to manual mode and triggered via build in optical slave by the main strobe light. Again I had to experiment with positioning and power of the second light source until the desired effect was achieved. I found the best place for it to be to the camera right, further away and pointing down. It helped to fill in the shadows in darker part of the composition, illuminate the front edge and produce a shadow under the spring onion hanging over the edge. Additionally it created nice second highlight on the pot, making it look more three-dimensional.


Having achieved a good approximation of the painting it was time to add more props and make it into my own interpretation. Since Easter was approaching and there were eggs in the composition already, I decided to add more elements symbolising this occasion. Bright yellows, reds and greens added some vibrancy to the composition and went well with the brown, muted colours of the rest of the props. I kept shooting, changing  some details each time and holding reflector under the second light for some extra fill-in and diffusion of specular highlights.

The final setup looked a little bit like this:


Finally 217 photographs were imported into Lightroom. To choose the best ones I tend to use star rating system. Going through them after import, all images that are potentially good receive 1 star, and the rest doesn’t get any rating. Using the filter, only images with 1 star go to the next round, where I’m looking for better composition, better lighting and assign 2 stars. Narrowing the selection further, now between 2-star rated images, I’m looking for the ones that stand out, taking into account parts of the shot where composition or lighting changed. They will get 3 stars, and be candidates to post processing (no processing yet at this stage).

From 3 stars images I selected 4 “heroes” that were the best in my opinion. Each showed the composition in successive stages of completion, and they went to post processing stage.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 19.50.58.png

Because the light conditions didn’t vary too much between shots, it was possible to do basic adjustments on one picture first and than copy it to the rest.

Post Processing:

First in Camera Calibration panel changed camera profile from Adobe Standard to Flat, to reduce contrast. Than in Lens Corrections panel selected Remove Chromatic Aberrations and Enable Profile Corrections to straighten the lines distorted by optics of the lens. Since the painting is in brown hues, I warmed up a picture, sliding WB slider to the right a little until I was pleased with the effect. Then basic tonal adjustments:

  • Exposure +0.50
  • Highlights -55
  • Shadows +33
  • Whites +56 to compensate for loss of brightness caused by lowering of highlights
  • Blacks -19 stop just before clipping
  • Than added a little bit of contrast +8
  • Clarity +40
  • Vibrance +16 for a good measure

There were two potential problems: blown out specular highlights on top of the pepper mill, and in the middle of the pan cover. There were no blocked up blacks. I didn’t want to add any more contrast by manipulating tone curve, as I planned to do it later by applying film presets in Alien Skin Exposure X. They come with their own contrast curves that mimic the look of the classic film stocks.

Than a little bit of colour adjustments with a target tool in HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) panel:

  • Lowered saturation of orange -54; yellow -2
  • Lowered luminance of orange -11; yellow -4

And a little bit od sharpening in Detail panel (Raw images are unsharp by nature):

  • sharpening +50 (default setting is +25)
  • Noise reduction> luminance +30

That was about all post processing that I wanted to do in Lightroom. I thought all the little imperfections looked natural and added to the organic feel, so decided to skip retouching process in Photoshop altogether. It was time to export to Alien Skin for finishing touches. I quickly settled on Kodachrome 25 preset (from “Color Films – Slide” section), for its sharpness, contrast and colour punch.  Last thing to do was to add a texture to make it look more painting-like. It took some time and a lot f tweaking to achieve the desired effect, but in the end I was very happy with the result.


Originally I planned to print all my selects them at on Hahnemuhle fine art paper German Etching of Photo Rag. Unfortunately there was not enough time to receive the prints back by post. So I went to the local high street printing shop where they use only laser printers for business purposes. They were kind enough to let me experiment with different texture and thickness of papers and the prints turned out to be surprisingly good. Out of two this was the one that was ultimately chosen for submission and display.

Assignment criteria: 1,2,3,4.


Hunter, Fil, Steven Biver, and Paul Fuqua. Light: Science & Magic. 5th ed. New York and London: Focal Press, 2015. Print.

Alexandre Buisse. The Workflow Book. Craft and Vision, 2014. PDF


Portrait – Final Submission

Portrait – Final Submission

Having researched and chosen the painting to interpret it was time to build up a setup and position lights in the studio. I was very lucky to have beautiful model and fellow student Jola to volunteer for the project and equally beautiful Paola to help with styling and makeup! Jola also provided all the important accessories as headscarf, clothing and earring that resembled the original as close as possible. Big thanks!

The idea in my head was to recreate the look and feel of the painting first and then get creative and enhance it with some modern age props, once I was happy with the set up as such. Having analysed lighting in Vermeer’s paintings I had more or less established idea of the direction of light and positioning of the model. To achieve a pure black background without detail I would have to position the model far enough from it to have it fall into complete darkness behind her. Also positioning and angle of the key light would have to be carefully considered to have illumination on the face but not letting too much of the stray light hit the background and pick up unnecessary details.

Key light (also known as the main light) is the primary source of illumination on the subject in the scene. It could be studio strobe, as in this case, but also flash gun or even natural light. Usually it is the most important light and determines the exposure of the whole image. It also sets the mood in terms of quality, direction and relative position to the model.

Quality of light is modulated by the use of light modifiers attached to the light source. The larger the surface of the light is in relation to the subject the softer quality light it produces.

Hard light (ie. studio strobe without modifiers) manifests itself in shadows with crisps, sharp edges, and typically contrasty image. Soft light on the other end (ie. strobe with large softbox or umbrella) has more diffused shadows with a longer transitions between highlights and shadows. Of course there is infinite variety in between and many types of modifiers.

The direction of light dictates the direction of highlights and shadows on the subject. Positioning of light should be considered on the vertical axis (up and down) and also 360 degrees around the subject. Generally speaking the more to the side of the subject the light is the more shadows and contrast will be created. Usually positioning light about 45 degree up and 45 degrees to the side of camera-subject axis produces the most natural looking results. (Our brains evolved to viewing world this way, naturally illuminated by the sun high in the sky)

Of course again there is a whole spectrum. Starting from full on front, flat light – with least amount of shadows and contrast (called butterfly or Paramount); through loop light – with a little shadow under and to the side of the nose. Moving light more to the side will produce so called Rembrandt light – where one side of the face is fully lit and the other only partially lit, forming a triangle of light on the cheek on the dark side. Most contrast will be achieved by positioning the main light 90 degrees to the axis camera-subject, so called split lighting – where one side of face is lit and the other is in complete darkness. Again there will be a a point where one type gradually becomes another and infinite variations of camera – light – subject position.

Finally we come to the subject of short light vs broad light distinction in portrait. Vermeer’s portrait is an example of short light – meaning the side of the face that is more visible has more shadows. The light is illuminating fully the far side of the face, which appears to be narrower and “shorter”, hence the name. It is also preferred in portraiture if visual slimming of the face is required.

Opposite scenario would be the broad light, where “broad” side of the face receives the most light, and shadows are falling away from the camera’s view. Needles to say this type of illumination would make the face visually larger and more round. Lighting aside, whatever is closer to the camera appears larger, and broad lighting would only accentuate it more.

Having gone through the theory my first choice of light modifier would be a larger beauty dish, with white inside, diffuser and possibly a grid. It would be set at approximately 45 degrees up and to the camera left, approx 45 degree to the subject. Unfortunately there wasn’t one available. I don’t know if it would work as I anticipated, but I’d expect it to give a nice contrasty and edgy light, with white colour and diffusion helping to soften the light. Grid would help with precisely directing the light and avoiding spillage on to the background. The only beauty dish available was small and silver, no diffusion or grid. I anticipated too harsh light, as the source would be too small in relation to the model, silver colour lending itself more to producing specular highlights and harsh shadows rather than gradual transitions.

The next best choice of a light modifier was a softbox. As the name suggests it softens the light (but as we know it could still produce hard light if positioned far from the subject, and its relative size diminishes). Most of the softboxes have protruding edges, which help to direct the light in a precise way and avoid the spillage to a certain degree. They can also be fitted with grids as an option.

There was a range of sizes and Zigg suggested choosing the bigger one. Taking into consideration Vermeer’s studio, clearly visible in his paintings, his light source was a row of reasonably sized windows, so in my opinion it was quite a good approximation, both in size and shape.

Once I positioned the light source where it looked good on the model and took a few tests shots it was time to find the exposure value. Knowing that the best quality image is produced at the lowest ISO, I set my camera to it’s native ISO 64. The next parameter to set in the exposure triangle was in this case the shutter speed – anything down to 1/250 sec. I set it to 1/200 to be on a safe side in case of any sync speed issues. Using light meter I found the aperture value to be at f/5.6. I was happy with that, as I aimed for slightly shallow depth of field. Also the lens is quite sharp and the sweet spot extends from around f5.6 to about f/11. The studio strobe was set somewhere around number 2 mark, which meant there was room to go up in power and the aperture could be closed further if there was a need for it. Finally I switched the transmitter off to take a test photo without strobe and check if any ambient light was visible in the picture (main lights in the class were on). It was ok, with only a slight hint of the figure in the shadows, which was negligible.

I have to say that I’m not very good at giving directions to the model and posing, and this is area where I need to improve. To help a little bit with the task I printed 2 copies of the Girl With The Pearl Earring and gave one to model and I kept one at hand so we could both be at the same page so to speak. Once again big thanks to Jola for being patient with modelling and actively helping to dial in the pose. And of course the same goes to Paula who helped adjusting the headpiece and generally was checking if everything was ok.

To get the perspective right my lens of choice was 70-200 f/2.8 zoom, set at about 85mm, and adjusted as the shoot progressed. Slightly surprising, finding the right point of view proved challenging, with constantly moving the camera up and down. Health and safety was observed, although in hindsight I would have made sure that all the tables were moved more out of the way, as I kept backing into them.

Soon after establishing key light it became apparent that in order to sculpt the highlights and shadows on the face as in painting, it meant that the earring by default was in too dark shadows. As an important part of composition it needed separate lighting. With help of Zig, second strobe light was modified with snoot and positioned to camera right, giving additional illumination to the earring. It worked very well, but introduced another problem – being a small light source, it cast the hard, contrasty shadow of the earring on the neck and white scarf underneath, clearly visible and criss-crossing the direction of the main light. To remedy this Zig helped with another solution – a piece of cardboard positioned beneath the snoot to flag (block off) part of the light beam coming from the snoot. It didn’t eradicate it completely, but together with the reflector placed to camera right, made the offending shadow almost invisible. It was good enough and made getting rid of the remains of it in post production easier.

At his point everything was set, and the only thing to do was to keep taking pictures until the pose and expression on model’s face were just right.

The Girl With a Pearl Earring as shot in the camera, jpg without any adjustments
The Girl With a Pearl Earring, final edit

To me this was the challenge and a creative process in itself, but the brief called for the interpretation of the classical portrait and not a copy (a shame in my opinion). So to fulfil the requirements some modern day props were introduced, re-interpreting The Girl With The Pearl Earring as The Girl with an iPhone and The Girl With The Headphones. Thanks to Simon for lending great looking pair of headphones!. It was fun, and I ended up with a few good images to choose from.

My personal favourite interpretation was the series with headphones, and in particular the last picture. So I printed the selects on a home laser printer (not a great quality, just proof of concept) and took to the next class to submit to the popular vote. And just as I thought the class preferred the different one. Overwhelmingly the choice was the one with a smartphone taking a selfie (or maybe reading a message, who knows?)

So the chosen image went to post production. As a raw file it was converted from Nikon’s native .nef file format to Adobe’s .dng (digital negative file) format for archival purposes automatically on import into Lightroom. Then Adobe Camera Flat profile was applied along with lens profile corrections to remove any possible distortions and chromatic aberration if there was any. Than all important white balance correction (sampled the white point from neutral grey of a phone back), cropping and basic tonal adjustments. Raw file is flat as it comes out of the camera and it needs adjustments. It needed adding highlights, reducing shadows, a little bit of contrast, vibrance and saturation. Tonal adjustments in Lightroom work on a global level – effectively it brightened the whole picture, so the radial filter in combination with a brush was applied to darken back all the areas around the subject.

Once the basics were done it was time to export the file to Photoshop for more advanced retouching, skin smoothing (using frequency separation technique), and applying creative filters to make it look a little bit more like a painting. Finally save as .tiff and open in Alien Skin to add that elusive film look, contrast and colours (Kodak Portra 160NC) and texture.

Final edited copy of The Girl With an iPhone

Assignment criteria: 1,2,3,4


Lindsay Adler – Seeing the Light, Learning to read and decode lighting – pdf companion to Creative Live course

Tim’s Vermeer – 2013 documentary film by Penn and Teller  and other Creative Live courses

Universal Principles of Design – William Lidwell, Rockport Publishers, 2010

Assignment 2: Studio Practice; Task 2: Portrait – research

Assignment 2: Studio Practice; Task 2: Portrait – research

For this task we should photograph a portrait – using classical painting as inspiration. In our hand-outs we received following instructions:

  1. Research classic portrait paintings in books, magazines and websites
  2. Choose one that you would like to interpret in the studio
  3. Built a set-up
  4. Use preferred light source and studio accessories to illuminate the subject in a creative manner
  5. Record well exposed images
  6. Evaluate your work

When thinking of an inspiration for my portrait I was immediately drawn to the works of Dutch Masters. (“Old Master” refers to any painter of skill who worked in Europe before 1800). During Dutch Golden Age, spanning 17th century, the new Dutch Republic was the most prosperous nation in Europe and at the forefront of the trade, science and art. At the time of changing religious and cultural traditions art needed to reinvent itself and largely succeeded. Dutch painting of that period comes under Baroque style, and although shows most of its characteristics, it lacks the idealisation and splendour, in favour of detailed realism of Early Netherlandish paintings. Another distinctive feature of the the period was the relatively small amount of religious paintings, forbidden in churches by Calvinism, but allowed in private homes. There was a hierarchy of genres.

Portraits were second most prestigious genre, after history paintings, and followed by everyday scenes, landscape and still life as the lower categories. Dutch specialised in small paintings in the lower categories and enormous qualities were produced, which also meant the prices were fairly low. They were usually not commissioned, as opposed to portraits which were done for growing amount of merchants, more ready to pay for it. There is estimate of total amount of 750,000 to 1,100,000 portraits done.


The technical quality of Dutch artists was generally very high, mostly due to training by apprenticeship in small workshops. Traditional guilds controlled both selling and training, which were gradually replaced by academies. Dutch Masters skill in depiction of light was influenced by Italian painting, notably that of Caravaggio. Portraits were more sombre than aristocratic Baroque equivalent in the rest of the 17-th century Europe. Full length, standing pose and use of props, possessions or views of the land in the background were avoided as showing the sin of pride. Artist would draw and paint the face in in an initial sitting, and the clothes would be left at the studio and might as well be painted by assistants or a specialist master at later sittings.


Genre scenes show figures with no specific identity, they are not historical paintings, nor portraits. It is a distinctive feature of Dutch painting of this period, and Vermeer’s “Milkmaid” is a good example. It could be one person or a group on social occasion, scenes from daily lives, women at work about the house, etc. They are not accurate depictions of life though, as many illustrated proverbs or a moralistic message. Vermeer, long a very obscure figure is now considered the most regarded genre painter of all.


In still life colours are often muted, with browns dominating, especially in the middle of the century. The Dutch also led the world in botanical and other scientific drawings, prints and book illustrations. Such was the success of Dutch Golden Age painting, that it overpowered next generations, and there is no famous painters until van Gogh. The down to earth realism is connected to later 18th century French Enlightenment rationalism and realism in 19-th century painting and use of object for narrative purposes.

Having said all that I settled for my favourite – Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Technically speaking it is a tronie, meaning it’s not a portrait of a recognisable person, as there is no identification of a sitter. A tronie would denote the characteristics of a particular type of face, concentrate on facial expression or on an exotic costume like in this case. It is a form of genre painting in a portrait format, a bit like stock picture of the day. It was typically sold on the art market, and was not retained by the sitter as portraits normally were. Similar unidentified figures treated as history paintings would normally be given a title from the classical world.


My initial idea was to replicate the painting as a photograph, as close to the original as possible, to study the light and pose. I think there is a lot to learn photographically by doing that. Than I would add modern day accessories like headphones or mobile phone to make it into an interpretation as per task requirements.


Reference: Wikipedia, links in the body of text.

Assignment criteria: 1, 3 (although in this case it refers more to painting than photography)