D-I-Y engagement photos: part 3 of 3 — beyond the camera and tripod

September 23, 2011 § 1 Comment

At last, Part 3!  It has been too long, here are reminders of the two D-I-Y engagement sessions that O.T. and I had back in the summer (is it really officially fall?!?).

Part 1: Ed Levin Park, Milpitas

Part 2: Napa Valley, California

As mentioned in the previous posts, we used a regular pocket-size digital camera, a tripod, and a heavy dose of post-processing.  In this part, I will discuss the challenges you’ll encounter as well as the techniques of achieving a “dreamy” soft focus to any of your regular pictures, even if you don’t have the most up-to-date equipment (as neither do I) and even if you don’t have Photoshop!

My modest little camera is an old Canon PowerShot SD870 IS purchased at the time of its release in 2007.  I really loved this camera when it came out; its performance outdoes most others in its category of compact digicams.  I am still quite happy with it after four functional years, however, lately I’ve become aware that it doesn’t successfully serve the purpose of this blog.  I do hope to retire it soon for a DSLR (*hint, hint, O.T* :p).  Regardless, this little gadget didn’t stop me from taking our own engagement photos or all the photos you’ve seen on this blog thus far.

I must forewarn: the set-up of shots takes the most time, more so than we anticipated.  We took turns setting up the shots.  While setting up the camera, one would tell where the other should stand, before bolting to take their place in the shot.  The timer was set to 20 seconds (which was sufficient time to bolt and freeze) with three consecutive shots at 5-second intervals.

The challenge of doing your own photography session is that no one will tell you that his hand is totally cropped out of the picture.  Or that your belt is not perfectly centered in the shot.  Or that your sweater is a bunched up hot mess. Or that your cupcake liner flower necklace (tutorial next!) has been turned over backwards by the wind.  You may be disappointed by the number of times you will have to run back and forth from the tripod (though exercise is good for us all).  But all in all, the efforts will be worth it!

We took 15 shots just for the scene with the “love at first flight” airplane props, until we both got annoyed and decided we’ll use whatever is “best”, even though there was none we were truly happy with.  Over the two days (a Friday at Ed Levin Park and a Sunday in Napa Valley), we took a combined 337 shots, out of which we were happy with about 60.  A more discerning photographer would likely be happy with about 6.  A professional photographer would likely be happy with none.  But we’re easy to please!

For post-processing, I found some helpful Photoshop tutorials online at: www.photoshopessentials.com.  I mainly used the techniques in the tutorials:

http://www.photoshopessentials.com/photo-effects/soft-focus/

http://www.photoshopessentials.com/photo-effects/soft-focus-lens/

The technique for a soft focus effect is incredibly simple:

1. Duplicate the layer, then choose Overlay as a blend mode,

2. Apply a Gaussian Blur filter to the overlaid layer, then adjust opacity, and

3. In most cases, a mask is required to remove the soft focus on parts of the photo that should be sharp, such as the face.

The above Photoshop-edited version has 30 pixel Gaussian Blur with 50% Overlay.

This is the unedited version:

I realize that not everyone has the access to Photoshop, so if you require a free photo-editing program, GIMP is available online for free download.  GIMP is a really impressive imitation of Photoshop, for the fact that it is free.  It offers the same filters (such as the Gaussian Blur that you’ll need) and blend modes (such as the Overlay that you’ll need).

This is the GIMP-edited version:

Of course, cropping provides impact in the composition of shots, as in the final chosen edit for the scene above:

There is also a trick you can do by adding lens flares in the photo-editing process, such as in these shots.  The tutorial is found here: http://www.photoshopessentials.com/photo-effects/lens-flare/

Just to give you an idea of how post-processing can change the life of your photos, here are some raw shots and their corresponding Photoshop-edited shots.

Play around with the blur and overlay to adjust the softness as you’d like.

Remember: a bulk of what you pay photographers is to compensate for the enormous time they spend on editing photos.  Some refuse to believe this fact: most award-winning professional wedding photographers heavily edit their work.  Plenty of photographers, professional and amateur, invest in add-on actions and presets, such as those found in Totally Rad!, in order to jazz up Photoshop and Lightroom photos in a few clicks.  I am so impressed by the things you’d find in Totally Rad!

If you already have a great camera, you are already half way there (even more ahead of me in these pictures I’ve taken with my PowerShot).  I suggest taking the time to study the work of your favorite wedding photographers.  Look at style and composition, such as subject placement, angle, perspective, frame.  Especially look at wedding photography trends.  Did you realize the more current wedding photos are composed with a lot of room above the head?  And that often the subjects are cropped in ways that aren’t conventional, such as the cropping of feet or of bodies?  After you analyze your favorite works, with a bit of help from Photoshop or Gimp, you can mimic the styles and save a lot of money.  They are not going to be perfect, but you cannot beat the personal touch of D-I-Y!  How many people have said they took their own engagement pictures?  Now you can!

Click on any of the above to enlarge.

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