Saturday, July 4, 2009

Crombie McNeill Workshop with Barrett Palmer Models

On Sunday, 28 June 2009, I attended a workshop put on by Crombie McNeill with models from Barrett Palmer Models. This was a major treat for me, as I love to process women's faces in photoshop. I have worked on technique for years by downloading and processing images on the Digital Photography Review Retouching forum. I've done hundreds through that route, and many more over the years.

I spotted this workshop while cruising the web, looking for camera clubs. Since changing my family structure, I have a lot of time to fill and am looking to reconnect with photography in a bigger way. I have wanted for some time now to join the RA Photo Club here in Ottawa, and was looking at their site and at the Camera Club of Ottawa as well.

I don't remember which club's site pointed me to this workshop, but there were a half dozen members of the RA club there and none from the other there, so it is a good bet that I got the link that way.

So ... I sent email, connect with Paul (a member of the RA Photo Club who coordinates activities with professional photographers, or maybe just with Crombie McNeill ... I'm not quite sure) and with Crombie and was assured that I should be able to get something out of he workshop. That turned out to be a world-class understatement!

Once I was sure that the workshop would go ahead, I committed to it by renting Nikon's magnificent 70-200VR lens from HeadShots in Toronto. They used to have an Ottawa store, but that store is gone now. No doubt a volume issue. They almost did not have a lens for me (I really wanted both the 70-200VR and the 17-55, both professional lenses with constant f2.8 aperture) ... but a last-minute cancellation made the long lens available to me. They sent it immediately to a local Henry's branch.

I picked it up on Friday evening and shot with it all weekend. My (very scarce) regular readers would have seen the first two shoots at Dick Bell Park and the local Ornamental Gardens. I was looking forward to this lens at the workshop after seeing the sharpness of these results.

So Sunday morning arrived and I grabbed a breakfast at the local Broadway's (best breakfast in all of Ottawa, the car counters have voted) in order to sustain me all day, and that turned out to be very useful as we had only one break in the day. We shot from about 2:30pm through 7:30pm, when the skies finally opened up on us. But we had nice light most of the day. (Hint: sunlight is not nice light ...)

I shot from tripod with the D300 most of the day, although I caught a few images with the D70s. But those really did not do much for me, as I am not really a short lens shooter. I like the long lens way too much.

It turns out that I ended up shooting images of exactly eight models, for a total of 1075 from the D300 for the day. The models I shot in alphabetic order are Amanda, Anik, Betsy, Blythe, Charlotte, Jason, Julia and Olivia.

We started at the old Symmes Hotel, which is now a museum. It has magnificent white stairways leading up to a landing and a covered balcony. We got a lot of great shots there. I shot several images of Charlotte, Amanda, Betsy and Julia.

I shot many of Charlotte using fill flash, and that turned out to be a egregious error. Every image came back with flash shadows on the stairs. But I would not know this until I went to edit, so I repeated the error off and on all day. Thank god Crombie suggested I go for more natural lighting or I might have washed out completely.

We stayed for quite a while at the hotel, and at some point we were able to go around the corner to a small park near the museum and capture images near some huge shade trees. The sun was peeking a lot and I hate dappled light, so I got very few images there. I shot that scene exclusively with Charlotte and have one quite nice result. I processed it twice, once straight up as portrait, and once as a bit of a Geisha rendering. The latter is interesting to look at, as Charlotte's face has very clean lines. But I imagine it to be an acquired taste.

Remember to click on the images to see them at 800px on a side, as I intended them to be seen. You can then come back here by clicking your browser's back button.

You will note the visible copyright I have on these images. I am not kidding about this ... *** DO NOT COPY THESE FOR YOUR OWN USE *** they are owned by me, and the models and the Barrett Palmer Agency have a say in how they are used, and if they are used. So if you break my copyright, it is not just me you will have after you.

Ok ... onward. We came back to the steps and I captured a few more images, one of which was good enough for me to fight through the flash shadow removal and process it. I quite like her informal smile and pose mixed with the snappy clothing and the lovely stairs.

Here, I thanked Charlotte and stepped away in order to let the other photographers have their fair share of her time. I must say that I am not used to simply walking up to a model and asking her to do stuff, but I eventually got over the inherent shyness and was able to get some nice images of others.

I walked around to the other stairs where Amanda was posing. I started getting a few poses from her, and then Crombie walked up and posed her bit by bit. It was most fascinating to watch someone skilled at the art get the model to move each body part incrementally until the image was made.

I can definitely say that this must come from long experience, because I cannot see what Crombie sees through the lens. Only once I get into Photoshop can I start to properly critique the image. So that's the reason why one must attend these workshops regularly, or one will never know how to get a decent image up front and will forever rely on luck.

Here is Crombie's pose of Amanda, which I consider really excellent. I was at a slightly different angle from his (about 10 degrees to his right), but I quite like the open view of the stairs and Amanda.

I believe that I need to add just a wee bit of space above her head to balance the space under the feet, but other than that I really like this one. I zoomed in a bit closer and shot another image. I processed this in B&W because of lighting and sky issues. Her face simply was not lit.

I then climbed those same stairs to get to the balcony. There, I saw several photographers working with Betsy and a gorgeous gold reflector. I wish I could remember all the RA club members' names, but if I try I will embarrass myself and annoy them, so suffice it to say that they are great guys to shoot with. They all have excellent equipment and they are very generous with their equipment and time.

So ... the gold reflector. I have never seen the results when using one, but I most certainly got an eyeful here. I have a couple of images of Betsy with the reflector on her, and hers is the type of skin that simply glows with the sun on it. It sculpts the face as well ... I was blown away when I saw this image come up.

Note ... it might be possible to simulate the effect in photo shop, but there is simply *nothing* like having sweet light on your subject to start with.

Edit: I decided much later to process another of Betsy from the golden reflector series. This one has heavy editing ... more hair, obscuring her left shoulder, some liquify trimming the arm and right shoulder, heavy beauty editing on the eyes, skin, lips etc ...

These were among the last shots of Betsy before they tore down this specific shoot, so I turned around and there was Olivia at the top of the stairs, posing. I caught a few images with the D70s and short lense, but was not in love with the background from up there, so I shot a few tight in images and this one ended up looking terrific.

I shot a few others with smiles, and decided much later to process one of them as black and white.

Our session then came to an end at the Symms Museum, but just before we left, I caught a few images of Blythe. This is the only usable image I have for the whole shoot (I only shot her briefly twice, so I had little raw material to work with) ... so enjoy it.

Our next location was a park behind the marina. This park contains a 20 foot high fountain and a huge gazebo. The lighting is dark in the gazebo, and the surroundings are very unattractive ... chicken wire fence, lots of cement, typical public park. But ... that's why we shoot the good lenses. Else there was no shot here at all ...

I spent some time wandering at the new location. Crombie was shooting various models at the fountain and the surrounding trees. Here, he shoots a model that is out of view while one of the RA Photo Club members shoots Olivia in the fountain. You can see what I mean about difficult backgrounds.

And later, I watched as he shot Charlotte in the park proper. Again, tough backgrounds if you had anything but a long and fast lens.

I then walked over to the gazebo where Anik was posing briefly before Amanda took over.

Anik is one of the shorter models, but has a very sultry look. Here, she bends forward and gives you the look. It's very appealing, although Crombie considers the image awkward. I take that to mean doomed :-)

The lighting was terrible in there, hence the B&W treatment. I did better with the next one, as Anik began a series of poses with her hair across her face. These worked pretty well I think.

Zoom in a little tighter and you get a rather appealing expression. I asked most of the models at some point or other to give me their "Angelina Jolie" look, which amounts to pursing or puckering the lips. Anik did a pretty nice job here.

I then wandered to the trees again, but got nothing from that shoot. I later wandered over to the fountain (not far from the gazebo), where Anik was in the water. They got her to go and sit inside the falls, which really made for some interesting expressions. I nailed a big laugh at one point and am thrilled at how this one looks.

But it is *nothing* when compared to this next one. This is my favorite of the shoot, bar none.

Wow ... and did I say wow? This is like golf ... it takes exactly one such image to get you completely hooked :-)

But I have a few others coming up, so don't assume that this is the whole shoot in a nutshell.

Back to the gazebo, and I spent some time with Jason and Amanda. I asked them to pose together, which is incredibly awkward when you don't understand the protocols around models touching etc. But they were game and we slowly came up with a few poses. In the end, though, I did not see any chemistry and the images did not work. Except for this one, where Amanda comes through beautifully.

One could see this as a "breakup" image or something like that. A sister image to this one took me three hours and three tries to finally give up on. I have to thank Crombie for finally calling time and suggesting I let it go. This image is better in every possible way anyway ... what was I thinking? That's inexperience.

And again, I zoom in tight and get another wonderful expression. Amanda specializes in somewhat sad, neutral or even quizzical expressions. Makes for some really nice shots. (My opinion of course.)

I thanked Amanda and Jason and wandered over to the trees again, where the fellas had the reflector set up and were working with Betsy again. I captured a few of Betsy that I found nice. Not quite the spectacular lighting of the balcony, but still pretty nice.

This one appears to have had the reflector on it ... another nice glow from her lovely skin.

In case you are wondering, I process every pair of eyes and lips, the hair and the skin. This is a given if you want something glamorous. Crombie later informed me that this was a lifestyle shoot :-), so I changed my style a bit and then later hybridized the two. You'll notice when that comes up, trust me.
We packed up the equipment and wandered back to the fountain, where Charlotte had put on Jason's white shirt. Now that was a smokin' outfit, so I shot a lot of images. The clouds were out by now, and it was getting dark. So I shot myself in the foot, er, I started shooting fill flash again. Without a proper diffuser ... DUH.

Still, I was able to rescue a few nice shots ...

Now that's a *fashion* model. By this point in the processing, I had gone back and looked up some old tutorials for working the eyes, and I got a lot better fast ...

The shooting wrapped up pretty soon and we went in for a break. There was a band playing in my head ... sorry, I love that song (After the Gold Rush) but in fact, there was a female band of three playing rather loud music. And they were really good!

I shot a video on the G10 of a cute little girl dancing, but I'll have to upload that another time. I shot it in portrait orientation and will have to rotate the film when I get a chance.

Edit: and here it is ...

But the brain farts were not quite finished yet ... I shot at least 50 images following this at 1600 ISO, because I forgot to change ISO back as I left the staging area for the breakwater! What a moron, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Once on the breakwater, I starting shooting Julia. She is very experienced, changing expressions every single time she hears a shutter click. And sometimes you get three images in a row with only the direction in which her *eyeballs* are pointing as the difference. And it is *amazing* how much difference that makes to your visceral reaction to an image.

What a smile!

This series faces west along the breakwater, towards the beach. I have a few shots with a sailboard in the background, but alas, the expressions on Julia did not work in those images. Too bad. Here, she plays with her necklace for a while, and I caught one I like.

And the classic jaunty hand on hip works well with her style.

I thanked her after about a hundred images and walked back towards the boats, stopping briefly to shoot Amanda. I got a few decent images, with one that one isolated her face very nicely.

With the right processing, her skin simply glows. Wait until you see her beach shot :-)

My final scene on the breakwater was a bench with the boats in back with Charlotte.

I like the boats in the background there ... she looks like the idle rich :-) But I always go hunting for head shots, and Charlotte *never* disappoints ...

And, here it is folks, the other image that competes with the Anik image for my favorite of the shoot. The hair, the face, I just marvel whenever I look at this one.

And that ends the session at the breakwater. While the models adjourn to the marina main building to change to beach wear, Crombie takes us over to the beach and explains a shot he wants to capture from the edge of the breakwater (i.e. above tje beach.) This is the classic walking in the water idly looking out to sea image.

He explained the shot to Olivia, who was the first to arrive. We shot her walking the beach at least a dozen times. I have lots of nice images, but I had to trim mercilessly, as I was threatening to end up with far too many of her. So this one won out.

Ok ... who noticed the switch from glamor to wistful processing? :-) It looks like mist, and it works. Thanks for another one, Crombie.

Olivia is another that knows how to pose and pose and pose ... she's the Energizer Bunny of models. And I captured a whole slue of images of her.

This is a misty girl-next-door image, although I think it might be a bit too misty. No matter, easy to change if I want to later.

A quick moment when Amanda came walking down the beach for her turn in the scope of all the photographers. But I got a superb angle on her and her skin is *glowing* here .... I *love* this shot.

Back to the Olivia-fest. This next one departs from the wistful look, as it is simply too sultry a pose for that. I processed it with a touch of glam.

*That's* the girl you want next door. At least, that's what I was going for with this image.

Olivia popped out to the beach and sat down for some pondering of life. These shots are also among my faves (let's face it, every shot I put up here I really like, and these models are all smokin'.)

This next is a big winner though ... stands above many.

You can see above that I have now created my hybrid style ... wistful, but with a touch of glam for the face. I like it ... especially this specific instance. But here is another good one.

And then I shot Julia a bit before Betsy arrived and we did some doubles. This is another soft look with a hint of glam in the face, but no real mist.

Then we get into the water. Betsy and Olivia pose together. I asked for a play fight and we got a few neat shots from that.

And this one, which has perhaps to much of both wistful and glam ... but maybe it works. Not quite sure.

A tight crop (not a closeup) of Betsy works well in my book.

And then a great shot of a hair flip with Olivia. She did this really well. I have some interesting shots of Betsy doing the flip, but her hair was so long that I ended up cutting it at the edge of the frame. That's a no no ... again, lesson learned.

This would be in my top five of the shoot I think ...

You have no idea how much work went into this processing ... try 3+ hours. But I really like it and it was totally worth it.

Perhaps it is fitting that Olivia gets the last shot of the day ... she was really prolific, always coming up with sultry, sweet, switching quickly, and just pouring it on all the time. Here, she spends a last few moments in the rain and in the water, and I fill with flash (no background this time to screw up the shot with a shadow) and the water just glistens on her face ... the light is almost perfect! And I love this expression ...

So there you have it. Crombie's workshop was a smashing success in my book. I plan on going to the next one, coincidentally on my birthday later this month. They'll be posing in and among old cars and other country paraphernalia. Should be very different from this one. I think I may bring an umbrella or two and my flashes with stands. That would help improve some of the shots I missed this time. Of course, one has to shoot less images but higher quality in order to avoid interfering with the other attendees.

So here is my advice. Get yourself to a workshop. Watch a pro. Get some experience. Have some fun. Meet other photographers. Join a local club (I certainly will.)


Anonymous said...
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Sue W said...

Wow...there are a lot of really nice shots here!
Although you said you like Charlotte's images (and her face is really striking) I think your shots of Betsy are really beautiful.

IMO a lot of the high fashion world and "photos that sell" are ugly/peculiar to the average person (I consider myself to be low-brow in the visual arts). Presumably why art is a source of interminable arguments :-)

BTW, Chloe's friend in TO:

Get back to your spec!