April 28, 2020

Roth and Ramberg- About Photography XIII

(Dale Roth is one half of the photography duo, Roth and Ramberg. As writing is not his strong suit, he has asked his teenage son to correct his lack of punctuation and when possible, add in big words. However, Dale does know how to do a perfect scheimpflug.)

Photoshop and me

A long time ago a good friend told us that sitting in front of computer doesn’t make us money, taking photos does. Having said that, there still needs to be someone to do the Photoshop work. We were in business when Photoshop first rolled out and were quick to learn the basics, which in many ways were similar to darkroom techniques. Dodge, burn, and contrast were all tools we had at our disposal. As each photoshop version rolled out, we did less and less work and our skills were not as sharp as they could be. The assistants we hired were all more knowledgeable than us, so it became their job. After our move to Calgary and the purchase of a Hasselblad Digital, we decided that hiring a full time Photoshop person was the way to go. We’ve had a few awesome ones over the years (Robyn and Robin) and today we have a guy named Geoff.

Geoff is not fond of people, but he is fond of all the tools Photoshop has. He is a graduate of the ACAD Photography program and is a whizz on the computer. His attention to detail and knowledge of the ins and outs of Photoshop are incredible and he has been a welcome addition for many years. Unfortunately for Geoff, his bosses sometimes assume, like most people do, that “we can fix it in Photoshop.” Yes you can fix it, if you have all the time in the world that is. Unfortunately in the advertising business there is very little time and miracles are expected within a few days. That’s where Geoff makes it all happen. Even if we were great at Photoshop we just wouldn’t have the time needed to do a proper job. Even our close cut portraits of people on a white background are treated as if they were going to be printed large, and also with the possibility that the background colour might change. Every hair is cut around properly and there is a layer with a natural “bleed” to the edges that allows the background to change without a halo of any kind. Is all this work necessary for every photograph? No, but we want to maintain a standard for everything that goes out the door. We want the final image to look as real as possible, but also as clean, colour treated and adjusted as possible. 

The key of course to successful Photoshop work is to capture what you can in the camera, as well as capture what you need with the camera. Unless we are trying to capture journalistic style photos, we almost always use a tripod. By shooting with a tripod the scene remains exactly the same and we can build the final image using whatever pieces we want. Once we are done the shoot, we shoot what we call plates. Plates are background photos that may be required to use as elements to help piece together a final image. It may be as simple as changing the exposure to get a little more detail through a window. It could be removing a light or light stand that was needed in that particular spot and couldn’t be moved out of the frame. It could be a shot of the background so that it makes it easier to add or subtract people. The list goes on. The important thing is to keep the lighting the exact same as the original shot so that it becomes seamless. 

We once shot a portrait for a billboard and when it came out we kept looking at it trying to figure out why it didn’t look “right.” It turned out the art director flipped the photo but forgot to flip the shadow so the shadow was going in the opposite direction of the where it should be. Even though our we do our best to make the image perfect we can’t control what happens once it leaves. In most situations great Photoshop should go unnoticed. If you look at an image it should appear to be as if it was shot in camera. Even replacing skies is something that we do that no one but us notices. Geoff has a library of skies from different times of the year that he can use at his own disposal. 

There are, however, also times we want to create something surreal. For the same reasons as our standard Photoshop, we want the lighting to be similar in order for the brain to accept the image as being somewhat real. If you have a buffalo on a chairlift then it has to at least resemble a buffalo on a chair lift. We are hoping to get into more compositing and using Geoffs skills to their fullest. There is a certain challenge to building an image almost from scratch to create something that film could never do. The fun part about photography is that you can always learn so stay tuned as we start to explore down that road a little more..

In the meantime keep an eye out for any images you see out there that for some reason just don’t feel right.