New York

Capture Sharp, Blur Later

            Digital has introduced so many new opportunities for photographers that did not exist with film, like the ability to have people in clean interior photographs.  Prior to digital, photographers had to deal with slow speed films while using small apertures and filters, all leading to very long exposures.  Having people within interior images was not practical.  Now, with faster speed sensors, smaller formats (with greater DOF), and the ability to correct color, and such, in computer, exposures have gotten much shorter, allowing for people to enter the image.

            Using people in our images can be very advantageous.  It gives a sense of scale, and shows how people use and interact with the design.  However, the big question always is, should they be sharp or blurry. 

            A sharp person can be distracting, whereas blurry not so much.  So many architects choose to have all or most people blurry in the images.  The problem here is how to do it? 

           Many photographers are trying to accomplish this through the lens on location.  Doing so is a noble effort, however very limited and nearly impossible to perfect.  To start with, when your exposure is a second or two, or even a ½ or a ¼, a person needs to move much slower then you would think to get a nice blur.  Trying to perfect this with a novice “model” on location is going to waste time.  Additionally, if you are using strobes, the flash is going to freeze the person initially.  You will end up with a ghostly sharp image of your subject over a blurry one (see right).  

            The better option is to have your “models” remain still, capture a (somewhat) sharp image, and blur them later in Photoshop.  Photoshop has an effective motion blur filter, which can be adjusted in strength and direction, providing much creative freedom.  

            The only caveat here is you need capture an image people free and layer your models overtop that image.  Blurring a person in Photoshop will also blur the architecture, which will not look natural.  However, cutting out and dropping in your models will ensure your backgrounds are not blurry.  And last, don’t forget to layer in the shadows and/or reflections of your subjects too.  

            Here is a selection of images from a recent photo shoot with JKR Partners Architects showing before and after editing. 

A Trappist Experience

            Chimay, a beer that sparks the taste buds, is one of the most celebrated ales in this world and probably the most well known of the 11 Trappist breweries.  Their dominance over dubbels, triples, and quadruples dates back to the 1850s, which, by most standards, is a damn good run.  So when I shot their Grand Reserve, the “blue” version, my goal was to spark a feeling of being in an old world drinking hall with the Chimay bottle gleaming in the darkness. 

            Unfortunately there was no budget to rent out a murky drinking hall, not to mention trying to find one in the “new world” would have been tough.  I had to settle with producing and lighting a set to simulate the experience.  This may sound difficult, but with a little creativity it is very achievable, especially with a dark image.  Here’s how. 

            The front of the set needed the most attention and, to keep it rustic, we choose two rough-cut planks of cocobolo for a table.  Unfortunately this was the only cocobolo we had, so for another table and step behind we used walnut stained pine and old slate roofing shingles.  For the backdrop, a cross bar supported two planes of plywood painted with chalkboard paint.  Not exactly perfect, but these background elements would be of focus and dark that no one would notice.  Now it was time for the lighting. 

            I can’t go into detail in what we did, because that would make this post far too long, but here’s a quick run down.  Five strobes were used; two side lights with soft boxes, one bare bulb with a deep red gel (to simulate glowing fire), another with the Profoto Narrow Beam Reflector with a blue gel (for soft moonlight), and a standard reflector cross polarized to the lens.  Additionally, one tungsten Fresnel was illuminating the bottle with another lighting up the background.  Last, three candles were added on set for depth, and five more used just out of frame to create flame reflections on the bottle.  There were plenty of bounce/black cards and gold foil used, as well as compositing of different captures to make the steamed beer glass perfect. 

            With a little ingenuity, you should be able to simulate most experiences in studio.  Here are some test captures, and the final, showing how we “built” the image.