ProShow Producer 6

Unfortunately my old version 4 of Photodex ProShow Producer stopped working with one of the latest updates of Windows 8. I couldn’t get it back working, and didn’t want to waste more time, so I decided to buy the upgrade to ProShow Producer version 6. While I was at it, I bought their 2 additional transition packs and a vintage style pack.


I wrote about ProShow Producer a couple of years back, and my opinion hasn’t changed. For those of us that want a lot more than what can be done in Movie Maker, and don’t want to use the rest of our life learning how to use Adobe Premiere, ProShow Producer is an excellent choice. Really, really easy to use and yet most things can be customized and adjusted just the way you want it to be, if you’re not satisfied with the result that you can get from the creation wizard.

Tons of slide styles and transitions organized into themes (also very simple and elegent themes) and the ability to combine them into your own themes if you want. And if you can’t get enough you can buy even more of both or create your own. It handles both photos and videos, has all necessary tools for video editing, can do all sorts of captions and animated titles, and works smoothly in editing mode, so you can actually see a full size preview of what you’re doing right away. And – just as important – you can render it to many different video formats, either ready for different devices or web services, or as high quality files suitable for additional processing elsewhere.

Over the years I’ve been using ProShow Producer for both presentations at my customer conferences, for small commercials and for private projects like videos from scout camps, small movies and of course photo slideshows for my own pleasure.

Let me say it right away: All professional slideshow tools can be abused. Using the full spectrum of transitions is a common mistake that easily ruins any presentation. Personally I really hate any kind of geometrical transitions (you know, spinning cubes, rolling images etc). When I usually use ProShow Producer I only use discrete transitions like disolve and dip to black, and almost no slide styles at all – only full size photos and videos with a gentle zooming and panning. But I have to admit that their 2 transition packs contain some really amazing transitions, and combined with their vintage style pack, I think it actually does a pretty neat job.

I’ve been wanting to make a slideshow with photos of my son for a long time, so this time I thought: Bring it on! Give me the whole package – well, at least a decent selection from the vintage style pack and the 2 additional transition packs. So I picked 197 photos of my son (most of them unedited snapshots from over the years) and 4 small movie clips, picked 2 sound tracks to go along, and let the creation wizard do it’s job. It takes only a few minutes for it to finish. I only added the 2 credit title slides at the end and removed the sound from the 4 movie clips. I even let a couple of minor flaws go unfixed, so you can see, what the program can do right out of the box. A few photos got either a little blown out in the highlights or too grey by their built-in photo filters, but I’ve seen worse than that elsewhere. It would only have taken a few minutes to fix the minor flaws I found. Here’s the result, so you can judge for yourself.

 

High-key photography

I have promised several times (not least to myself) that I would get better at describing the different techniques and systems in the studio. Frankly, I’m not very good at that, and I mostly end up blogging about the commercial and philosophic aspects of photography. Probably partly due to the fact that I have never been the type to run around with a light meter and ruler, but depend mostly on feel and a good eye. However, perhaps it’s not a bad idea to occasionally brush up on theory, and just check the eye calibration. So let’s start out gently with one of the – in my opinion – very basic principles, namely the creation of high-key photos, which forms the basis of many of my black and white portraits.

The picture below shows the layout of the area in my studio where I take high-key photos. To the right of the subject is the main light (this is called key light) – a softbox about 45 degrees to the right and also angled vertically about 45 degrees. In the background I use a whitewall. It’s basically a softbox in giant format, which is internally lit by two studio flashes – one on each side. This creates the totally white, burnt-out light. The whitewall could easily be replaced by a plain white background which is directly lit up by a flash from the front. The advantage of the whitewall is that the light is spread much wider inwardly, and it is therefore much easier to get an even burnout over a larger area. A background illuminated from the front can be quite difficult to manage.

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That’s not really all. To avoid ugly shadows on the subject on the opposite side of the key light, we also have to control “the broad light” – the room light. In my case, this comes from a large umbrella softbox placed at the opposite end of the room. In the picture below, taken from the subject’s viewpoint, you see the umbrella soft box at the far end.

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The secret of successful high-key photos is the weighting between the 3 light sources. In the beginning I learnt that there should be 2 stops’ difference between the key light and the burned out light, and the equivalent of 2 stops between the key light and the room lighting. This means that if the key light is set at f8, then the illuminated background should give a light equal to f16 and the room light the equivalent of f4 – all of them measured at the point of the subject. For the highlight background, however, I believe that this is on the high side – I usually have highlight background set to about 1 ½ stops higher than the key light, ie.in the vicinity of f12 tof14 when the photo is taken at f8.

If the highlight background is too strong, then detail at the edge of the subject is burnt out. For portraits, this means particularly that the details of the hair are “drowned” in the strong light, whereby the subject will seem “clipped out”. Similarly, the ears have a tendency to become transparent. Especially with light-haired people one must be very careful with the strength of the highlight background, since light hair can be even more likely to disappear in the light. And you can’t correct this afterwards!

Another problem with strong backlight is spilt light around your subject – i.e. when the backlight increases the lighting around the sides of the subject, such as the cheeks, in a portrait. This can be avoided by placing black shields on each side of the person, which can further help to highlight the subject against the bright background.  I will illustrate the effects of this in a future article.

Finally, let me conclude by showing the resultant picture from the above set-up:

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and the subsequent conversion to black and white:

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Manic-depressive photographers

The life of a photographer is an aimless wandering along a path consisting of equal parts of enthusiasm and despair. One moment excitement about the ridge that provides a perfect panoramic image. The next a desperate sorting of 100 confusing images resembling crap (not to put too fine a point on it). Hours editing the picture that you are convinced will be photo of the year and times where you feel like setting fire to the camera or stick your head in the oven when you’ve seen some pictures made by an obscure Russian peasant who makes yours look like schoolboy snapshots. Days when you are high reading letters from unknown fans on the other side of the planet, and days where you stare up at the ceiling wondering just exactly what the hell you actually do. Times when you shake your head over images from “photographers” who obviously lack any self-criticism or technical aptitude, but perhaps own a good camera. Other times when you flip through your own portfolio and wonder whether you are crazy about it or that you actually don’t have anything to contribute other than bad taste and colour blindness. And there are times when you wonder whether your time and money would have been better spent on a vegetable garden or Icelandic banks.

Thankfully the phase passes. Every time. But only till next time.

Over the years I have discovered that I am not the only one with these concerns, thank goodness. Mike Johnston puts it very succinctly:

“To be honest, must of my pictures suck. The saving grace of that admission is that most of your pictures suck, too. How could I possibly know such a thing? Because most of everybody’s pictures suck, that’s how. I’ve seen Cartier-Bresson’s contact sheets, and most of his pictures sucked. ”

If this is creeping insanity, then at least we’re not alone 😉

But what is this phenomenon? In my opinion it is two things: Gratification and exploration. Gratification to gaze over the style, whatever it is, that has kept you busy recently. And constant exploration to uncover the gut feeling which a photographer and a beholder experience when they see something that is just amazing – and which yet has to be achieved. When this is finally achieved, the gratification from this style already begins to happen again, and you can revert back to your exploration. And this includes the equipment’s technical specifications, recording method, finishing, design, faces and stories. That’s why we are constantly searching for even better equipment, the perfect face, looking for the narrative that can justify the images to ourselves. Hauling hardware up and down stairs, and constantly crawling around in mud and knee-high grass to find EXACTLY the right angle that is the answer to our prayers. To pinpoint that special technique that will forever give the adrenalin kick we are constantly searching for. But every time the pleasure is all too brief, and we have to hump on until we experience it once again. And this is precisely what I have discovered – that it is quite simply a necessary evil. If you are not exposed to this alternating enthusiasm and frustration, then you have simply stalled or are unable to assess your own work with a certain amount of self-criticism. If you think you will find the perfect image among your 100 perfect shots then you have not understood anything. Because in essence, that is what it’s all about: 20% equipment and creative capabilities and 80% self-criticism, so that you can find one fairly good image among 100 misses, and then just get back on the horse and try one more time !

Ah well – I’m off to burn my camera!

Beauty Clinic

Makeup and cosmetic retouching are issues which can often lead to heated debate in photographic discussion forums. Some see portrait photos as documentary images, designed to portray the person exactly as he or she is now. Others create pictures where the models appear with skin as sleek and smooth as silk. What is beautiful to one person can be repulsive to another.

I think it’s important to form your own opinion on these issues, an opinion you can personally stand for. My own views are quite clear:

In traditional portrait photography I obviously do not decide what people have already done to their faces. If their appearance is normal, that’s obviously how they want to be photographed. Or perhaps they would like to give the portraits a little extra glamour and have given their face the film star treatment. That‘s their own personal decision. Unless they wish otherwise, I am content merely to reduce any negative effects of the studio lighting, with for example a little face powder to remove the glare from oily skin or hide spots.

As regards retouching portraits I make a clear distinction: Transient flaws are removed. This includes for example sores, bruises and obvious pimples. Permanent features such as moles, scars and birthmarks are not removed. The latter may well be disguised a little, especially when high-contrast black and white images would make them more prominent than they really are. Teeth normally need a little whitening in the retouching, since studio lights and especially bright backgrounds can make teeth appear more yellow than normal. People don’t necessarily want to look like the Queen on their portrait, when that is not exactly what they see in the bathroom mirror. Finally, the eyes usually get some extra clarity, where details of the iris are highlighted and reflections from the studio lighting heightened, while the whites of the eyes are lightened slightly.

With model pictures the situation regarding cosmetic retouching is quite different. Model pictures are depictions of beauty, and products that I sell on to a third party. And buyers demand perfection. For model pictures all cosmetic defects are removed, permanent or otherwise, unless the flaw is a part of the design. Teeth are whitened to the limit, and if necessary the skin is smoothed out slightly and eyebrows adjusted.

I ensure that my models know that this should not be taken personally. That, even though I correct some blemishes, they still have far fewer than many others. Don’t go getting any complexes that I adjust them a little on the final pictures.
With child models I use no makeup – except of course where makeup is used for effect or to tell the story. Neither with those a little older where I do little more than apply a powder puff to dampen any glare from oily skin, and only very rarely foundation. The use of skin retouching plugins and other miscellaneous silky techniques in Photoshop is total anathema in my studio!

The Wardrobe

_MG_3823So, it’s time to renew the model wardrobe again. This time it is the branded product section with a few new and colourful items from Jack’s, Lindbergh and Shine. Not the most expensive, but it can still dent the year’s clothing budget :-/

The model wardrobe is an important (and maybe often neglected) part of photography. In the fashion and the traditional model industry it goes without saying that your wardrobe is almost as important as the model and the photographer themselves. In other areas of photography, such as stock photos, it is also significant. And even in portrait photography, I use my wardrobe and extensive collection of props when I create the slightly more unconventional portraits. Here a dressing gown, straw hat or loose-fitting shirt could be just what it takes to produce a striking portrait.

My own clothes do not exactly convey the image of a fashion icon. And rightly so – though this does not mean that I don’t know what looks good on others. It’s also not necessary to be God’s gift to haute couture in order to be a photographer. However, it does no harm to have a feeling for which colours go well together, which clothes look smart and whether they fit properly. Even if I do not decide what people wear when I take portraits, it is important that I know which wallpaper, furniture and props blend together. And if the clothes totally defy photography which is appealing, I am certainly not afraid to offer a few alternatives.

Clothing is all-important for stock photos. For several reasons:

Firstly, it provides contrast – so that the model stands out clearly from the background. The selection of colourful clothing also helps create a vivid picture, of course.

Clothing also tells a story. It is especially essential for stock photos that the picture is close to iconic. Even in miniature, one should clearly be able to see, at first glance, what the model is supposed to represent. That the viewer is in no doubt that this is a business woman, a schoolboy or a building contractor. Although a Bluetooth headset, a satchel and a hard hat are the most important elements here, the clothing contributes to the image’s credibility. The businesswoman’s headset would not be convincing if she were wearing a hoodie, for example.

The clothing and hair are exactly what help to establish the period. Looking at clothes and hair you can usually date the picture to within an accuracy of at least 5 years from the period the picture depicts – or is supposed to depict. This can also be a disadvantage, since this is obviously also the aspect that gives images a limited lifespan – but that’s life. To try to circumvent this by depicting models wearing timeless clothes will only result in an inferior, less saleable picture with reduced, if any, iconic value.

Last but certainly not least, I should also mention the psychological impact that smart clothes from a fashion outlet has on models. To dress the model in the newest outfit that has just come off the racks of the very latest fashion boutique can make them feel like a million dollars. Especially with new and hesitant models this has a marked effect which infects their entire radiance. And therefore the aura surrounding the resultant images.

Clothing naturally includes many other aspects. Clothes and their colours are to a large extent instrumental in strengthening the atmosphere of the image and the feelings of the model, but naturally there are far more subjective aspects than the abovementioned.

The wardrobe of a stock photographer should of course have a lot more than just clothes from the fashion boutique. I also buy clothes at the supermarket, online and in charity shops and I happily welcome any of your various castoffs that you may no longer need. A charity shop can be a gold mine where you can find the most incredible items which could sometimes better be classified as disguises. I even buy clothes wholesale, when I for example need a load of plain T-shirts which I know are going to be subjected to paint-, makeup- and/or food-stains 🙂

The choice is made more challenging when I photograph children of all ages. I need to cater for clothing sizes from child size 8-9 to adult medium, and because it includes everything from socks, summer shorts and bras to suits, hoodies and evening dresses, it goes without saying that this a significant item on the budget. Add to this all the accessories like shoes, belts, caps, hats, scarves, bow ties, chains, bracelets and rings. And a lot more. To organise the wardrobe, so that clothes can be found when you need them, is quite a task. I have so much that it cannot all hang on racks in the wardrobe room, but is separated into large storage boxes, so it is easy to find when you need it. In fact organising the props is just as important as planning the next photo shoot. Not to mention that it needs to be easy to find when you suddenly get a great idea or have some time left to improvise during a photo session.

Photographic taboos

Right! I reckon that picture got your attention. I’ll get back to it shortly.

I would be the first to admit that the best known examples of my photography can probably be considered pretty strange to outsiders. That’s not really a mistake, nor is it a sign of a blown fuse at the back of my head somewhere. I do love happy and fun pictures, and my private collection of holiday pictures, family reunions and scouting trips is tangible evidence that I can use the camera for more normal pictures and that my own world is filled with fun, colour and romance. The slightly sinister and bizarre has however become an ingrained part of my world of images, and I sometimes find it almost too easy to get a landscape or celebration photo to take on a little more obscure twist.

The world is full of thousands of stunningly brilliant photographers. Among whom a great many whose skill I deeply admire and respect and which I can in no way imitate. And why should I? Then there would be more people doing the same thing and, quite frankly, this makes no sense at all.

The reason my image production turned toward the darker side of life was initially just a series of coincidences. Only later did it become based on reason, when I discovered that there was indeed a need and a demand for such images for articles, brochures and so on. Because nobody else makes them. At least not to the extent I do. And if you don’t want to be just another random photographer among thousands of at least equally good photographers, then you have to offer something unique. That’s the main reason that I am still in business creating stock photos today.

Perhaps it is not entirely true about it being a coincidence, because there are two factors which have played an important part. One is that I dare. Because I really do not care what others think about what I do. If some think that I’m way out, a “pompous fool” or “sick in the head” then they obviously don’t know me, so I’m so indifferent that you can’t even imagine how indifferent I am. The second factor is that I like to provoke. Not only for the sake of provocation. If that were the case I could just say stupid things regardless of whether they fit or not. No, more like provocation to challenge some people’s somewhat staid opinion of what is right and wrong – because I think that is interesting to explore.

The photo above is a really good example of the latter.

Everywhere this has been exhibited it has led to vigorous comment. The great majority positive and appreciative, but also some negative. And it is the negative that interests me most, because I think it’s intriguing to explore the kind of mechanisms that cause people to react so strongly to such an image. For that is exactly what it is: An image – no more, no less. And it is patently obvious that it is staged and not taken a split second before the youngster left this world. This produced reactions like for example being told that I am “sick in the head” and “should be thrown in jail” and I “make a mockery of death”. Pretty serious inferences when all I did was illustrate something that actually happens all too often. In reality.

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There could be many reasons. People might be reminded of tragic experiences in the family. Perhaps it is rooted in religion. It might also be that they belong to the type of people who believe that graphic depiction of violence and death drives certain people to carry out such deeds, and therefore their protests are misguided concern. Then obviously there is a very small minority who do not understand that it is fabricated and even ask how it went for the boy. Whatever the reason, I find it very strange when people react negatively. Do they not read newspapers? Or is it simply that they’re tired of reading these reports in newspapers? But why do they not tackle the problem instead of attacking the photographer who portrays it?

I have wondered for years and I can’t claim to have discovered the Philosopher’s stone yet. All those who over the years have reacted negatively to any of my pictures have, where possible, received a personal response from me. A reply where I am probably surprisingly hospitable and grateful for their time and opinions, and which probably takes the wind out of their sails. Then I ask whether their reaction is due to what the picture depicts, or the fact that I’ve created the image. The answer is almost always the former, but then I have not yet received any sensible response when I ask why I should not be able to create an image of something which is part of our reality, in the same way as birds in trees or cows in a meadow.

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To illustrate, let me tell you about the guy who thought I deserved to be thrown into jail for the picture at the beginning of this article. He was American – surprise! 😉 When I explained to him that it was in fact simply theatre in single images, and basically no different than for example film, his answer was that all filmmakers should also be thrown into jail. The discussion ended there …
My only conclusion to date is simply that there is a classification of images that for some people just are taboo. Something you do not touch – without there being any rational explanation for the reasons why. Nothing other than that “it is wrong.” But, realistically, is it not remaining silent about reality that is wrong?

I make it sound as if it is just a few individuals who have strayed. A small group of people with a blinkered view of reality. Unfortunately this is not the case. It is very much culturally based. I do not have the knowledge to embark on either anthropological aspects or speculations about group dynamics and political correctness. However, I can clearly see that the picture at the top of the article is unsaleable on American soil. Or rather: there is no American photo agency that would offer it for sale. Despite this, it has sold well one way or the other and graces the cover of at least one psychology manual.

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The adjacent picture is another example of something that is too audacious for some photo agencies. For a short while, I discovered that my products had begun to tend towards what agencies would accept. When this dawned on me, and it had transformed my pictures into a more generic and bland category, I stopped it immediately, and divided my products into pictures for photo agencies and images for direct sale.

I think it’s exciting to photograph subjects which are unusual. A long-term on-going project is to portray the 25 most common mental disorders, behavioural disorders and phobias with 20 photos each. This will broaden my collection of unique themes considerably, but I am hardly doing it because of wretched greed. Nor to make fun of those serious issues. It is because somehow it makes sense for me to do so. It is a challenge at the creativity level and gives me the opportunity to consider problems and issues that interest me.

I am well aware that my current series with titles like “Moments from the Morgue”, “School shooting” and “Suicidal children” make some people choke on their insipid cup of coffee. When I create these pictures with children and young people, they choke yet again, since it significantly increases the impact. So be it. If the titles were “Birds,” “Sunset” and “Happy People”, I would not have very many customers, because there are many others who do things like that way better than I can. And I would have been bored to death. So I can choose to make what customers will buy or make what already exists in the thousands.

To me there are no taboos in photography. I respect that some people don’t want to look at my images, so be it. But I will never allow it to limit me. I want photos with impact – real or staged, studio or street, color or monochrome. Bring it on.

Finally let me point out that the kids in the images wasn’t harmed in any way. They are still very happy and healthy young people that actually think the photos are quite cool. And so do I.

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