We love doing passport photos – precisely because they are a challenge.
And I do not mean the taking of the photo. Yes, that too needs to be done well: pure white background, neutral expression, looking straight at the camera, no shiny skin refections, no shadows, well lit, good colour, veils must not cover eyebrows, glasses discouraged but if used no refections – and so on.
But the really fun challenge is to get the format right. Here, for example is China’s required format:
Take a good look at that – the specificity of all the different dimensions. And if you get them wrong, your photos are rejected.
What if the person has an afro? Or if the hair is wild? The top means “where the skull is”. It can be hard to tell…
And what if a person has a very wide face – like a small child? Then it may be almost impossible to get the picture to meet those requirements. So this needs care and attention and, dare I say kit, some artistic feeling as well as mathematical insight.
And then there’s digital. “354 x 472 pixels” – specific much?
And of course most countries’ specifications differ from most other countries’… and they can change over time – as well as per embassy!
And this is why we love doing passport photos: because others do NOT do them well. We virtually never get them rejected. And it’s always fun too do a good job.
Today, a repeat of a 2015 post that is particularly useful for travel photographers.
With the camera on a tripod and exposure set to manual, I can take pictures like these, one by one:
…and on on. As said, I am using a tripod, so the only thing that varies is me (I used a self timer).
And then I can use Photoshop or the GIMP (the latter is a free equivalent) to do things like this very easily:
Or even this:
OK.. so a cool trick. You do this with layers and masks. Hellishly complicated user interface, but once you know the silly UI, the process itself is very simple. It’s the only thing I have the GIMP for.
So. Why would I think this is useful, other than for fun?
Well…. think. You can also use it the other way. Instead of replacing the wall by me, replace me by the wall. And now you can perhaps see a benefit looming.
No? Think on. You are at the Eiffel Tower. Or the Grand Canyon lookout point. Or whatever tourist attraction you can think of. What do you see? Tourists. Right. It attracts them: that’s why it is a tourist attraction.
But not in the same spot all the time. So all you need to do is the same I did here: take a bunch of pictures. Say 10-20 of them. So that you have each spot of attraction at least once without a covering tourist. Then you put them into layers—one each—in PS. And then you manually remove tourists. One by one, poof.. they disappear.
Or you go one further: depending on your version, you can use function File > Scripts > Statistics. Now choose “median” and select the photos. And you end up automatically with an Eiffel tower without tourists, a Grand Canyone without other onlookers, and so on.
Photos are the way we time-travel. And more and more people, fortunately, are discovering it. I do a lot of restoration and the subsequent printing and cropping.
Here I am doing the latter, cropping a just-printed photo, just now in the store:
Restoring old photos may involve a lot more than you perhaps imagine.
There’s the obvious (but not always easy) improving of contrast, colour, white balance, saturation, sharpness, shadow areas, and so on. And the time-consuming but very effective removal of specks, scratches, tears, fingerprints, and so on. It can easily take an hour per photo and involve literally hundreds of imperfections that one by one get removed.
But there’s also local adjustments. For example, often a photo is much better if the sky is slightly less white and more blue. And if we think the sky was actually blue at the time, we will bring some of that back.
Faces have often shifted colour, or lost colour, too – they need to be brought back to real skin tones, which is a tricky but essential local adjustment.
Then there’s removal of items. I remember a bride whose favourite picture was one of her and her new husband – but the photographer had taken it with the couple standing very close to a giant “STOP – NO ENTRY” sign. That was not what she wanted, for obvious reasons, so I removed it. And there was the Muslim bride photographed close to a prominent “Jesus Saves” sign – also removed!
Perspective fixes are also very important. Often, when a picture was taken the camera was pointed upward or downward. When this is distracting or when it leads to unacceptable distortion, I fix that too.
But there’s also artistic insight. What shadow would look best in this area of the image? What colour would work best here? And when we replace an area that is missing from a print, we often need to interpret what the person would have had in that part of the picture. Especially when it involved a photo made in, say, 1844, this means research.
And research comes in in other areas, too. For example, in this picture I spent a lot of time researching the exact colour of the copper roof in 1961. Copper changes colour constantly over the years, so it was important to get it right.
Uniforms too—which I see quite a lot of in the photos that people bring to me in Ottawa—need to be right, and it can be a challenge to find out exactly what this regiment’s daily uniform or or that police outfit’s mess dress uniform looked like in a given year in the past.
We use a variety of tools, from software like Photoshop and Lightroom, and specialized software that carries out math operations, to physically retouching with carefully chosen inks. For most restorations a combination fo at least a few of these is required for best results.
But in spite of all the work required, bringing a worn photo back to good quality is one of the most satisfying things I do. Because it really is a form of time travel: as I work, I imagine myself taking the picture, however many years ago it was. And the owner’s reaction, when they see the restored photo, is a reward in itself.
As you will know, I do quick tips – until the store reopens, I am passionate about helping you all get the best out of photography. So… do not forget to check out the new videos on the YouTube channel! But here, for your convenience, are the last two–and there will be more in the coming days and weeks.
In my continuing series of interpretive self-portrait, Day 33: “Much Of The Day”. These portraits are staged, but real: they reflect both what I am doing on the day, and the mood—not just my mood, but the way I think the world’s mood is developing as we all realize that the world we know will not return for a long time, if ever.
Apart from cropping plus some desaturation and an increase in presence, I do minimal editing. Doing self-portraits is not easy, both in technical terms and in terms of subject and composition, but with some training and some equipment, it can be done.
If you are interested in honing your skills, do it now, while you are stuck at home. I now teach my courses online, live, interactively, in very small classes: just like at the store, really. Contact me if you are interested: details on http://www.michaelwillemsphoto.com.