Restoring Photos – The News

After I have successfully taken the images of Bills that I realised that the setup could be used in other ways. My wife had some old family photos that were not in the best conditions and so I decided to see whether I could improve them, and surprise her with a restored image.

Considering that the original image was taken in the 1920’s it was not in too bad of shape. Having said that it was discoloured and there were a number of scratches across it. The worst part was on the left of the image with water damage at the top and the pocket was missing on the boy on the very left of the picture.

I brought the image into Lightroom and applied some general adjustments (above) before taking it into Photoshop starting with a curves adjustment to boost the overall contrast (below).

Once I had the overall look how I wanted it it was now time to fix various problems with the image. I used a number of layers so that I could isolate each major issue. The Spot Healing Brush was excellent to deal with the small issues while the Clone Stamp and Brush were used for the larger areas.

Once I was happy with all of the fixes I then sharpened the image and them adjusted the exposure on the white dress in front as it was still a little blown out.

The final adjustment was to apply a Black & White layer to the image as I wanted to remove the Sepia tone. I then got the image printed before presenting it to my wife.

She was thrilled with the result. Of course she then said that I could tackle some of the other older images.

Another winning year

The look of age – Honours in Round 3

I was just presented with the trophy of the winner of Hutt Camera Club Advanced Grade Digital Ladder competition for 2020. This was the result of scoring the most points from the eight images submitted during the year.

In for a Landing – Honours in Round 3

Of the eight images submitted throughout the year only one received the lowest ranking of “accepted”.

Candlelit – Honours in Round 2

With the others I totalled four Honours, one Merit and two Commended.

Need a cuppa – Merit in round 2

This is the second year in a row that I have won the grade, and in fact I have won it four out of the last five years.

Water nymph – Honours in Round 1

There will not be an opportunity to defend the title in 2021 as the club committee has decided to only concentrate on critiques over the four rounds, rather than there being a competition as well.

Norbert – Commended in Round 4

Photographing Art

One of the advantages of being part of the photographic community is that occasionally you get offered work from other photographers, when they don’t feel comfortable undertaking it themselves. This is exactly what happened when a friend contacted me to see whether I was willing to produce digital versions of the artwork that a local artist Bill Hunt was producing.

I have actually been photographing art works since 2011 when my wife started an arts diploma at the Learning Connexion in tighter lower Hutt. As part of her diploma she needed to document the work she had produced and she did this by way of a blog. That meant I was taking images of the various pieces she was producing.

As these images were largely for documentary, and not for sale, we did not have to worry too much about the final product being exact replica of the original. The pieces came in all shapes and sizes and on various materials which also created challenges in the photography. The set up for most shoot was simple in that we would take an easel onto the front deck and I would stand on a small stool to try to get the right angle. We shot outside so as to use natural light as this created a much even light across the whole image.

The major challenge that you face when photographing an art work on an easel is making sure that the camera is square on to the front of the piece. Otherwise you end up with distortion which has to be fixed in post. Some people attempt to deal with this by hanging the art work on the wall however even then you face the same issue as the hanging line will generally result in the painting being further away from the wall at the top than the bottom.

In 2018 my wife donated a piece of her art to a charity auction and then told the organisers that I could be available to photograph all of the donated pieces so that they could put them into the catalogue. This meant that the images had to be of a higher standard than what I have previously dealt with.

When art work is photographed by professionals they generally use a rig that holds the camera absolutely square to the image. For the auction catalogue I recreated such a rig by putting the camera on the boom arm and using the Panasonic image app to see the image and control the camera. The paintings were laid on top of the white sheet on the floor in the doorway of a garage where they were being stored.

I had placed a level on the floor and got that reasonable straight in camera. That was then used to position the various pieces, and meant that I did not have to play around with each image. That saved a lot of time especially as there were over 30 pieces to photograph.

While the camera/lighting arrangements meant that I could shoot fairly fast and that the paintings did not have distortion, I did face a problem that the light was coming from one direction. This was particularly in an issue on the number of pieces that were behind glass or had a highly reflective surface. These images had to be corrected in post.

Fast forward to 2020 and the request to reproduce Bills work, which I know were acrylics painted on canvas. This was going to be a completely different requirement because the end product needed to be exact copy of the original because it was intended for sale. I also wanted to create a setup that was easy to put together and take down so that I could replicate the process, assuming that the first shoot would end up with further work.

I looked at a number of YouTube clips and settled on an arrangement using two large square soft boxes placed at 90° angles to where the canvas would be seated. Both boxes were at the same power and positioned at the same angle and distance from the centre of the easel support. To make sure that the light settings were identical I metered across the board placed on the easel and confirmed that I was getting a consistent f9.

The camera was placed on a tripod and tethered into my computer using the Panasonic tethering app. This meant that I was seeing the images come up at 27inch and not the back of the camera. This mean that I could really nail the focus.

The app has a really great features that make this sort of work a lot easier. Within the live view (which lets you see exactly what the camera is seeing) you have grid lines but also the ability to place guidelines.

We would position the first piece of artwork on the easel and then drag out a vertical and horizontal lines on the canvas. We would then tweak the angle to the camera, or the easel, to the get the image as straight as possible. Once we had that as close as we could then each of the art pieces at that size would be photographed.

We would adjust the guides only when we were moving to a different size piece.

This worked out really well. We did face an issue that not all of the canvases were actually square at the corners and so on some images did need some fine tuning in Photoshop.

As it turned out Bill was pleased with the first session and I have done two further sessions with his work.

Zodiac series – Aquarius

Aquarius is a somewhat unusual Starsign and that it is normally depicted as the water carrier despite the fact that it is one of the air signs along with Gemini and Libra.

As I have simplified the backgrounds significantly it made perfect sense to shoot it as most people would visualise it. I had purchased the dress for the shoot over 12 months before when I saw it on thrift shop and instantly said it fitted Aquarius. I actually used it in the Cancer shoot as well however I changed the colours of it slightly in post.

When I started casting two years ago Manuella approached me to take part of Aquarius so it was natural that I reached out for her again. The only uncertainly was whether the dress would fit. Fortunately, she does not live too far from me so I called around and as it turned out the dress fitting perfectly.

The final piece to the image was the water pitcher that I found in a thrift shop in Petone.

We tried various shots of Manuella holding the bottle but I was also determined to get a shot of water pouring out of it. I wanted to ensure that we would make as little mess as possible so the floor was covered with a tarpaulin and then I placed a towel across the top of a large tub. This meant that she had a large area to pour into and the towel would present any splashes.

I knew that the lighting would freeze the water and that is exactly what it did.

The lighting for the shoot was the same as for both Aries & Capricorn. The Westcott Seven foot umbrella to Manuella’s side and a small softbox lighting the background on the other side.

The shoot ran very smoothly and we got a series of looks to work on very quickly. Each was then taken through the Photoshop recipe to see which one I like. In the end I flipped the image to make the final one for the set as it was felt that the direction better worked in its position.

Zodiac series – Capricorn

As I mentioned in my previous post finding male models for subjects is a lot harder than female models. Therefore I was delighted when Slaine approached me to be part of the Zodiac series has Capricorn.

By the time we arranged the shoot, I settled on simple backgrounds for all of the zodiac elements. In the order of the Zodiac, Capricorn is one of the earth elements along with Taurus, so it made sense to have it consistent with the way that Taurus had been shot.


On the trip to Glenburn station earlier in the year I had found a goat skull on the beach and had brought it home to use. It did have a number of sharp edges on the underside so prior to the shoot I had smoothed them off.

Slaine is an actor so it was a simple matter of handing him the prop, and letting him go.

I really enjoy this sort of free flow photography as it produces quite dramatic images. It also meant that Slaine could use the images in his acting portfolio.

We then attached some foam to the bottom of the skull and using bands attached it to Slaine’s head. This enabled us to create a shot very similar to the Taurus on.

I ran this one through the full post process to see what it will look at. The backdrop was not extended onto the floor and the detail enhancer in the post process picked up all of the creases in it. You will see from the original image below that they are not all that prominent.

The lighting for the shoot was very simple with the Westcott Seven foot umbrella to Slaine’s side and a small softbox lighting the background on the other side. This is same lighting as used in the Aries shoot however the camera angle was different.

With a clear idea, and an able model, this was a very simple and quick shoot, which produced exactly what I wanted. In the end I decided to go with the image of Slaine holding the skull, as it added a variety to the set. It also reminded me of the “poor Yorick” scene from William Shakespeares Hamlet.

Zodiac series – Aries

Aries is a sign of the ram so would’ve been more logical to have shot it with a male model. In fact that was my original concept. Unfortunately finding male models with the right Starsign is not the easiest thing to do. Therefore when Nikita, who I have shot before, told me she was here as we booked her for the shoot.

I had a pretty clear idea for the shoot for a very long time. I wanted to model shearing hershelf in the shearing shed. I actually found the perfect location in March 2018 when my wife and I were going through an arts trail in the Wairarapa. One of the stops was on the farm and you were invited to walk around it. At the back was a perfect shearing shed.

The artist had photos in their collection so we got talking and I asked if I could use the location. That was agreed and all I had to do was get a time and model.

Unfortunately by the time I did get around to doing the shoot they had sold the farm and as I had no connection with the new owners I decided to shoot in the studio and composites the image.

I then set about making a costume. I had purchased a set of small horns online, but needed to change the red flowers on them to white wool.

In a thrift shop I found a free white teddy bear and an old pillow. The teddy bear was taken apart and then glued in sections to an old bra. I bought a length of white for to make the skirt. This was simply held together with clips at the back.

I wanted to use real old style shears so I posted online to see whether anybody had some that I could borrow. Fortunately a friend said they did have a set but they were quite old as they belonged to his wife’s father.

When they arrived they were perfect but he was quite correct that they were totally covered in rust, having spent many years in the shed. Google is a great tool as I quickly learned that soaking them in vinegar for 24 hours would lift the rust.

I did just that and they came out looking really good. A final wipe with vegetable oil brought them back to almost new. The only issue was that one of the tips was broken off but I figured that I could deal with us either with the way Nikita was holding them or I would simply recreated post.

I had shot the background back in 2018 when we visited the farm so I needed to ensure that the studio shoot matched in terms of lighting and angle. The shed had a wooden floor so I recreated one in the studio. The main light in the scene was coming from the bank of windows so replicated this using my large 7 foot umbrella.

My daughter arrived at the time I was sitting at the studio so she ended up being a stand and while I worked out the angle of the camera to ensure that the boards on the floor and the light were consistent with the original image. While putting the floor down was probably not necessary it did make it easier to ground Nakita into the composite later. The stuffing from a pillow was also used to make this process easier.

While the umbrella provided more than enough light for the whole scene I did add a second light. This was positioned behind Nakita and aimed at the backdrop. This was the insure a good separation that would make removing her from the backdrop easier.

I then did a series of shots to establish which one would be used as I like to have some variety to choose from.

Nikita had brought her boyfriend William to the shoot, which was absolutely no problem with me. I want my models to be comfortable and often bringing a support person is the best way to achieve this. I always say that the one condition however is that they act as my assistant should I need it.

In this case I put William into the role of chief wool thrower. Even though William is standing between the light and Nikita this is not an issue. The seven foot umbrella is so large that it wraps the light around him without casting any shadow.

We took a series of shots with him throwing the wool and then I used these to composite them together.

Once I had all of the images it was a reasonable straight forward job to bring them together in Photoshop. The trickiest part is balancing the colour and brightness between that shot on location and in the studio.

The end result was exactly how I envisaged that it would look. As it turned out by this stage it became obvious that the overall set was splitting into two distinct looks, which did not work together.

Therefore for the print set I went with a closer crop on the plain background which is the first image shown.

The Tattoo Project – Jazmine

As I mentioned in a the previous post, Jazmine approached me to part of the Zodiac series, however when I saw her arm sleeves asked her to take part in the Tattoo series. Fortunately for me she agreed.

It was only when she stripped off that I realised how extensive and impressive her tatts were.

We started shooting on the seamless that we had used for the later images in the Scorpio. It was a three light setup with two lights on the backdrop and a 65cm softbox camera right.

We also tried some with Jazmine lying on the floor. The lighting for these was the same as before with the exception of the main light now being tilted down.

I then switched backgrounds and lighting configurations to create some more drama in the image. As shown below we moved to a single light with a reflector to help fill in the shadows.

It was a great shoot with Jazmine, and I hope to shoot more in the series. So if you are a Wellington based model with tatts, drop me a message.

Zodiac series – Second Scorpio shoot

As I started to share the images from the Zodiac series it became easier to recruit models, and in fact for many of the signs I had multiple people sign up. As written in this previous post I had originally had Kimberley down for Scorpio, so when Jasmine expressed an interest I actually told her that I had selected a subject. What I did notice was that Jasmine had some impressive sleeve tattoos so I asked her if she was interested in taking part in my tattoo project. She agreed so a shoot day was set.

As it turned out time constraints in the original Scorpio shoot meant that I did not get the exact look I was going for, so I suggested to her that we incorporate both tattoos and zodiac together. Fortunately she agreed.

Doing a second shoot on a subject is not something that I normally do but it did have the advantage that I could refine the exact lighting settings before Jazmine arrived. My white seamless is much wider than the backdrops previously used with helped with setting the lights.

As before we shot two images with one containing the tail and one without, positioned in such a way that I could get a good separation between the Jazmine’s body and the shadow. When I shoot in studio I am always tethered to the computer so I can see the images full size on the monitor. This means that I can check details like focus, but it also means that I see how a shot lines up with one previously taken.

I also wanted to try some different variations in pose so I asked Jasmine to change from a standing pose to a crawling one. This did require some alteration of the lights, however this was not too difficult as the practise sessions I had done enabled me to reset easily. It was also fortunate that I have a Manfrotto nano stand that is quite small when not extended.

A model session is very much a collaboration and so I am more than happy when the model suggests poses, which is what Jazmine was doing. As it turned out the last pose of the day ended up being the shot used.

After doing the initial culls I ended up with three possibilities that I then took through into Photoshop. It was there that I started to encounter some issues. The final stage of the set was to run a recipe in Nik Color Pro across the image. It created the high texture grunge look I was after but it also brought out details in the blends and especially light differences. These were mainly caused by the difference in the hard light to create the shadow and the soft light on Jazmine.

However as the same time that this was happening I started to realise that I actually liked the tail being in the scene, and so therefore I changed the approach from removing it, to simply removing the stand.

As it turned out the pattern on the tail, which was actually a mistake in making, worked perfect as it fitted with Jazmine’s tattoos.

Shoot with Zaniah

One of the things I am vert mindful of is that the model in a TFP (time for print) arrangement does need to get something out of the shoot. This is particularly so when they helping you out with personal projects where the images may end being quite different from the usual style.

With the Zodiac series I knew that the images were being heavily post processed, to keep the consistency of the set, but that was going to mean that the images with not necessarily be those the model would want for say a model portfolio. Therefore I make sure that we set time aside at each station to shoot images specifically for the model model.

After shooting the Libra images Zaniah got changed into her own outfits and using the same lighting and background I shot her with two different outfits.

Late last year I have found a sequinned mini dress in a thrift store in Melbourne and I thought it would be great to incorporate that into the shoot. Zaniah was game even though the dress was a little small for her and we had a bit of fun shooting it. We also incorporated some old suitcases as props

We were so keen to shoot that we have actually taken quite a few images before we realised that the tag from the shop was still on the dress and quite visible in a number of shots. A simple facts in Photoshop but it was a good reminder that it does pay too carefully look before taking photos.

Afterwards I had of a bit of play with the with one of the images and composited into a road scene but I’m not sure if it really worked out nonetheless it was a fun try.

Zodiac series – LibrA

When I posted the call for the Libra in the Zodiac series I literally had quite a few models say that it was their sign. So many in fact that my original concept was to do a shoot with three models rather than the usual one or two.

Libra is normally depicted with a set of measuring scales so in my original concept I was going to have one model holding the scales and the other two lying in the weighing cups. Unfortunately that concept did not advance mainly because I couldn’t find any scales (at the price I was willing to pay from them).

In the end I decided that I would make some and I found a suitable bowl in a thrift store and bought a small length of chain and some split pins. I thought it would be a simple matter of putting it together. I had not factored that in the bowl with stainless steel and that it was incredibly difficult to drill through. While I did succeed my drill bit got so hot that the piece of timber I had under the bowl caught fire when it went through.

Unfortunately I was only able to buy one bowl so therefore it became obvious that I was going to only use one model and I would have to composite the final image together. At the time that the shoot was to happen Zaniah agreed to be my model.

The major advantage of being able to shoot in the studio is that you don’t have to break down each time. Therefore it lets you try things out ahead of time.

I used my manikin to test lighting and I also tried out different backgrounds to see how they would look in the final image. It was necessary to actually take these images all the way through into Photoshop and Nik software to see the full impact. In the end, all of the pattern backgrounds ended up to dominant so I settled for a white seamless backdrop.

Lighting for the shoot involved three lights. My two 400 watt Elinchrom strobes were positioned in line with Zaniah but feathered to only light the background. The main light was my Godox AD600 at a very low setting which was sitting to camera right, with no modifier on it. This is because I wanted very clear shadows on the backdrop.

It was then a matter of positioning Zaniah, putting the scale in one hand, taking the photo and then doing the same with the scale in her other hand.

Sometime before I had borrowed a skull and when I saw it sitting in the office I thought it would add a life and death element to the shoot so I balanced it with a small fern.

With consistent lighting and Zaniah holding a fairly static pose, it was easy to compose it the two images together and I was really pleased with the end result.

As often happens when you stop looking for something you end up finding them and a couple weeks after the shoot I actually found the scales that I had planned to use.

A photographic journey

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