Creating a lo-fi photograph for Zero Fox
Blog post – making the Cora Zero Fox image – lo-fi photography.
Some good friends of ours here at Havelock Photography have recently started a kids clothing label. If you haven’t already heard of them, head over to the Zero Fox website and take a look at their awesome t-shirts and hoodies for babies, toddler and kids.
I bought a couple of t-shirts for my daughter Cora on their launch day, and of course the plan was to help them out by taking a few photos of her wearing the t-shirts which they could post on their Zero Fox Instagram, facebook etc.
No problem, I thought. But it’s actually quite a tricky brief! Havelock Photography are going to be doing a proper series for Zero Fox in the studio really soon (watch out on our Facebook page and Instagram, and on the Zero Fox FB and Insta, for those pics), but in the meantime I wanted to get a photo to them to post quickly.
Zero Fox have asked their customers to send them photos of their kids wearing the Zero Fox clothes, and they’ve already been posting those photos. So I wanted to create an image which encapsulated the brand, made my little girl look awesome, but which also didn’t look out of place in their Instagram feed. When we do the proper studio series I’ll be going all out to make some spectacular pics, but for now, I wanted to create an image which looked home made and almost accidental, as if it could have been done on an iphone. But awesome.
Now those photographers amongst you will spot the difficulty here straight away… when you spend your life doing everything in your power to make your photographs looks amazing, spending hours thinking about lighting and shadows and composition etc.. it actually becomes quite difficult to make things look intentionally crap.
I could have just gone ahead and used my iphone to take the photo, but I wanted the depth of colour and detail, and therefore the ability to manipulate in post, which I would get from shooting full res RAW on my Canon 5D4. Which was going to make it even harder to get a slightly lo-fi image.
First thing to do to downgrade my photography was to lose the lights… no flash! Natural light photographers won’t bat an eyelid at this, but the rest of you will wince a bit.
I didn’t want to make too much of the background in this, so short depth of field needed. I went for the Sigma 50mm 1.4 lens, shooting fully wide open at 1.4. The advantage of this for my lo-fi plans was that you’re already going to lose a little bit of sharpness with the aperture at its max.
We had a sunny day, so that helped as well – I set up with my daughter in front of a sunny window, with no fill light. Strong backlight + no fill flash + f1.4 = fuzzy image! Perfect!
Lighting all set up, next to composition. On this one I actually couldn’t, and don’t think I needed to, go too crap. Most people with an iphone these days can get some of the basics of composition right. I kept it super simple, the most basic compositional formula – portrait aspect, centred horizontally, face on the upper third vertically. Super simple but not a disastrous photo!
All that’s left now is the subject – posing and expression. The Zero Fox brand is all about attitude, independence, gender equality, that kind of thing. So I wanted a strong pose, ideally my daughter self supporting and not being held, with a bit of a look on her face.
We tried a few sitting down, but that scrunched up the t-shirt and you couldn’t see the logo or the design.
So she needed to be standing. Slight problem there, Cora is eight months old and can’t stand on her own!! The answer, as is so often the case, was photoshop… the plan was to shoot her standing, with hands held by mum, then shoot her hands separately and replace the held hands with free hands later.
Shooting lo-fi comes with advantages and drawbacks for photoshopping. The slight blur allows a bit of leeway for image manipulation, but it also causes some real problems. You would naturally presume that a less detailed image means you can get away with a lot more, but in fact smooth transitions of colours and shadows in the blurry bits is incredibly unforgiving! Where you have detail, like sharp lines etc., you make sure the lines line up and you’re all good. Also, where there is a lot of intricate detail such as in a lace pattern, or a tree’s leaves, your eye doesn’t attempt to follow all the details, so you can hide inconsistencies in the melee.
When you’re shooting with a blurred image, and really short depth of field, any inconsistency in the blurs becomes painfully obvious.
But that’s ok, we like difficult. Life would be boring if everything was just easy right?
Here’s the shot of Cora standing, with some help.
Then we shot her left hand.
And then her right hand.
I was careful to shoot her hands in the right place, with the right background behind them. When shooting wide open like this and with a super bright backlight, as you can see from the main image, the light really bleeds across the subject. Edges get blurred, light gets everywhere. So if I shot her hands against the window, then tried to cut them in with the curtain behind them, it would look completely off.
Left hand was shot against the curtain, right hand against the window. Look at the image of the right hand…
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what’s called chromatic aberration. Essentially the massively overpowered backlight is refracting around Cora’s hand, and the light is separating into colours, just as it would through a prism, or through a water droplet to give you a rainbow. This happens a lot in photography, and it’s something photographers, and kit manufacturers, try their hardest to stop. But for this one – lo-fi, crappy image – it’s great. It works for me. BUT, if I’d tried to cut that out and put it on the other side, with the curtain behind it, any viewer would have spotted the fake a mile off, even if you've never heard the term "chromatic aberration" before!
Hands photographed, standing pose photographed, now to put them together. The key here is not to try to cut out the hands. The edges are blurry, you’ll struggle to isolate them. The solution is to cut a good area of background out with the hands - and this is another reason the backgrounds were so important.
We then take the hand and a portion of background, paste it into the pic of her standing, and then blend the backgrounds together.
I had to do a bit more work to get rid of all of Cora’s mum from the image, as you can see, but it works! Let me know what you think!
A lot of effort to get a photo which I could have just taken on my iphone to start with? Perhaps, but the iphone image wouldn’t have had enough detail to do any work in photoshop… And that’s the key to all this – to manipulate an image you have to start with the highest possible quality, because everything you do to that image will gradually degrade it.
Keywords: 5d, 5dmkiv, advertising, brand, camera, canon, canon 5d mkiv, chromatic aberration, clothing, composite, compositing, fashion, flash, havelock photography, kids fashion, marketing, nick davis, photo, photography, photoshop, zero fox
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