Monday, July 12, 2010

Opposites As Backgrounds

The background is almost as important as the subject is most images. Everyone’s heard of (or taken) shots with some unfortunate object coming out of the subject ruining what would otherwise be a great shot. The classic one is a tree/ telephone pole/ sign coming out of a person’s head. Today, with things like Adobe Photoshop CS5’s Content Aware Fill it’s not anywhere near the tragedy it was in the film days. It’s not that removing some offending object couldn’t be removed it the capture was done with film. It’s just that some serious skills were needed to do the job realistically. That and, if you were having it done professionally, it was prohibitively expensive for us common folk. Magazines and the Russian government were the only two who did it routinely. I have a couple older brothers and we all spent most summers in our youth outside. The only time we saw the inside of the house was at breakfast, lunch, dinner and bed time. As a consequence of our Irish heritage and the sun we all had freckles galore. Mom got a call about my oldest brother’s high school senior portrait. The person on the other end asked her if she wanted to have his freckles retouched out. I’d guess it was a fairly standard offer, with the typical response being “oh, no, no, that’s the way he(she) looks and we wouldn’t think of altering it”. Mom’s response was “yes please”. There was a moment of silence and the person on the other end mustered up the courage to say “all of them”. Removing freckles, blemishes and phone poles is not a problem these days, but getting backgrounds properly out of focus (bokeh), in the camera, is a bigger issue today than in the past. In the days of prime lenses there was typically a fairly low maximum F Stop. You’d grab the lens you needed and shoot. Crank it open and you had all the bokeh you needed. Today, with everybody using zoom lenses and the vast majority being low end or kit lenses, it is harder to get a good, out of focus background. Why? When you rack the lens out you have a “high enough” maximum aperture (low F Stop) to create a reasonably sharp image further into the shot. Today’s image suffers from just such a problem (and others). To see what was done to work with what we had, hit the “read more”.
Issue #one. We don’t have a whole bird. I’ve used Content Aware fill to extend a fence (worked amazingly well) or add clouds, waves, tree lines and horizons to image to correct for straightening, but adding a tail to a bird is probably beyond its capability. So, we’re stuck with a partial bird. Nothing to do about problem one.

The second glitch is that the darn bird moved his head just a little bit as the shutter was firing. The result is the wing and leg being tack sharp and the head being ever so slightly soft. Before the next click of the shutter it was gone (or on the way to being gone), so this was the shot. There’s a couple of fake focusing techniques that can be used, but those are beyond this post. So, we’re stuck with a soft head. Strike two.

That leaves question number three. The close in background. The far background was fine, but the leaf right over the bird’s back was much too sharp and provided a distraction. Using the Quick Selection Tool (W) the leaf can be pick out of the image easily. Throw a little Gaussian Blur on it and you’re done.

Usually we like to have the background a stop or maybe two darker than the main subject. If that was used in today’s image we would have lost the bird completely. A good “rule of thumb” would be: if the subject is light, go two stops darker. If the subject is dark, go one to two stops brighter. The big thing you’re trying to done is to create separation between the subject and the background.