Wednesday, May 23, 2007
On The Set With Douglas Dubler
Creating a cover image for a major magazine, Douglas Dubler accepts no compromises
While all of this hair, makeup and styling was going on, my studio staff was hard at work constructing my lighting for the shot. I decided to try a new piece of lighting equipment from Broncolor, the Ringflash C, which is fan-cooled, has built-in modeling lamps and accepts an optional set of grids. Rather than use it as a main light, I decided to employ it as a fill and positioned it below one of my Lightbar 120s just over the camera. The intensity was adjusted on the Broncolor Grafit A4 power packs to allow the main light to be two stops higher than the fill light (ringflash). I lit the background with two Broncolor HMIs and adjusted their exposure to allow me to drag the shutter and create my signature drop shadow and blurred periphery. By the time the model emerged from her cocoon, transformed into a beautiful exotic creature, we were ready to roll.
The Leaf Aptus 75 back attaches like the previous model, the Valeo 22Wi, so we were quite familiar with the mechanics of the camera. The new version of Leaf Capture 10 was again close enough to 8.4 that we didn't feel like we were adrift at sea. One of the nice features about Version 10 is the large preview window that enables me to see the end product from the camera position and not have to approach the computer monitor. The differences between the version 8.4 and 10 software is enough that one would be well-advised to spend some time with the manual or enroll in one of the seminars offered by Leaf America. (The Leaf people informed me that there will be improvements or features enabled via software updates on a monthly basis for the next six to seven months. This is good news because I've felt that in the past Leaf's software hasn't been state-of the-art.) On the computer side, we were powered by an Apple Dual 2.7 G5 with 8 GB of RAM. Viewing was done on Eizo CG210 LCD and Sony Artisan CRT displays. The captures went quite smoothly. As far as speed goes, I found myself waiting for my strobes to recycle instead of the camera, so the promised speed of one frame every 1.8 seconds seemed to be accurate.
After developing a few of the files, I began to look more critically at the final files in Photoshop CS2. One of the first things to strike my eye was the improved skin tone rendition. Using Leaf's default “portrait even” setting, I gray-balanced a shot of a gray card and was amazed at the difference. In the past, I haven't been a great fan of the Leaf profiles, but now I am. My initial observations were supported by my digital retoucher, Willie Williamson. We were prepared to do a custom camera profile, but decided that the default was so good, it wasn't worth the time. All of the images I shot were in the tethered mode, so I didn't capture to a CompactFlash card and work with the LCD screen on the back itself. I always use the lowest ISO for maximum quality but, again, I was told that some of the more significant improvements were made at higher ISO values and that this was a function of the new version 10 software rather than the back. Nevertheless, this is of significant value to those photographers who work on location or use available light.
After an initial editing, we developed the files for final editing and sent them to Willie via the Internet for his digital magic. The final files were around 190 MB in 16-bit. When I enlarged the files to 100% on the Eizo CG210 monitor, I was struck by the film-like quality of the images. The detail in the black feathers definitely exceeded what I'd have achieved with film, and there was no visible noise in any of the channels. As I switched from one channel to another, the tonal transitions hardly changed at all.
The next step was to make some prints of the retouched images on my Epson Stylus Pro 4800. My workflow on the 4800 is through the ColorBurst X-Proof RIP with my own custom profiles. I printed several 17x22-inch prints and put them on my GTI VRV-1e for viewing. It was as if I was looking at a print made from a scanned film image, only minus the film grain. The skin had that creamy continuous tone that one would normally see only with film. It was absolutely impossible to tell that this was a digital image!
It was a long day in the studio, but when you're shooting for a magazine cover, absolute attention to detail and visual perfection make the difference between getting that cover or getting a call from the editor to tell you it didn't make it. I have absolute confidence in my gear and my workflow, so if my images don't make the cut, the only one to blame is myself and my execution. There are no acceptable excuses in this business, and I don't settle for anything that isn't at the very highest quality. That philosophy has worked well for me thus far, and along with a little luck, I hope to get my share of covers in the future.
To see more of Douglas Dubler's photography, visit www.douglasdubler3.com.