Behind the Scenes with Sachi

My brother and his wife have an adorable purebred Shiba Inu puppy named Sachi. Shiba's are a Japanese breed so her name, Sachi, is a Japanese name that means "girl child of joy, bliss, happiness or good fortune". At 16 weeks old, Sachi lives up to her name in a big way! Although capturing video of her is pretty easy, getting portrait photos of her can be a bit challenging.

I wanted to show how I worked my "magic" using Photoshop (PS) to take a run-of-the-mill chance shot of Sachi sitting still, and turned it into multiple versions of one of her first portraits.

To begin, I'll show you the shot SOOC ("straight out of the camera")...

Sachi (SOOC)

Taking photos in indirect sunlight is good, but it can cause color issues. You can see there is a blue tint to the photo. This is caused by inappropriate white balance. Don't be scared off at this point... the term "white balance" describes something very basic. It simply means what the camera sees as true white. For a realistic photo, the goal is to get the camera to see white things in the shot as true white, because it uses that as the baseline for color balance throughout the other colors in the shot. Most digital cameras have auto white balance settings, but still they can be off (as seen above).

But never fear...

Clicking the shutter to take the shot with a digital camera is really only half the work. The other half happens once the shot is brought back to my computer and downloaded for me to do post-processing. Since I shoot in RAW format, the camera doesn't process any of the data it records when I click the shutter. It just records it so I can download the RAW data into my computer and tweak to my heart's content within a post-processing program (I use Camera RAW because it came with PS, but most pro's use Adobe Lightroom). I can do post-processing on images I shoot in jpg format but I get the most flexibility with RAW.

So with a bit of tweaking with the color balance, I can bring the colors out of the blue range and back to what it looked like in person...

Sachi (original)

You probably noticed that there's something else different in the shot above from the original. Sachi isn't wearing her harness or leash anymore. It really is the same shot... I promise. I used the patch tool in PS CS5 to carefully remove the harness and leash. Normally, I use PS CS3 for everything because the user interface is more friendly to my needs. But PS CS5 has a powerful "content aware" ability to patch things like this. So in this case, I pulled the image into PS CS5 temporarily to do the patch work, and then brought it back into PS CS3 to play and finish up. For less complex patching, I just stay in PS CS3.

The next step is what I call "playing" with PS actions. Actions are a way for a PS user to record a long list of steps they've performed so they can use them later or share them with others. I've collected a few actions from various users that share via their blogs or websites. I often will take a shot and run action after action on it to see the results I get--hence the term "playing". As long as I've saved the file up to the point that I start running actions, nothing is permanent and I can undo anything I don't like. It's really fun to watch the image as it goes through the action script and wonder how it will look when it's done.

Sachi (with Autumn Glow action)

For the shot above, I used the PS action "Soft Autumn Glow" by Rita at Coffee Shop Photography. I really like Rita's actions because Rita writes her actions so that the layers aren't merged once the script is done. That way I can go back and tweak any layer and customize for the specific image I'm working with.

Sachi (with Lomo action)

For the shot above, I used Omar the Radwan's "Lomo Effect" action (another fave resource of mine). His lomo effect action always produces a cool, dramatic, and edgy look. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I never know until I run the action. [If you're wondering what the "lomo effect" is, click here for a great wikipedia write-up.]

Sometimes, I decide that I really want to get in there and be creative with a shot. That's when I break out my Wacom Cintiq digital tablet, my textures, and my drawing skills.

Sachi (formal portrait)

In PS, I can stack layers on top of the original image much like I'd put tissue paper over the top of a real print to trace it. My Cintiq lets me draw or erase directly on the image just like I'm holding a sketchbook. So I use my stylus like a pencil to "draw" and "paint" the image as I erase away textures that I've put on top of the original image.

I used a number of textures for the piece above--working one layer completely before adding another. I have my own library of textures but I also use the textures of others creatives that generously share through flickr. I used textures from playingwithbrushes and swimmingintheether.

I also used the burn and dodge tools on the original image layer to brighten up whites or darken shadows to get the painted or pastel effect.

Finally, I cropped the final "formal" portrait so that it would print at 11x14. Digital cameras shoot in non-standard sizes, so I think about that if I'm doing something for someone else that will possibly need a standard size for framing.
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Dark pink hydrangea

Dark pink hydrangea

This hedge of dark pink hydrangea is in Golden Gate Park. I made sure not to change the color of the blossoms in post-processing because they were so beautiful.
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Finding my own Tuscany

Green leaves and red laquer

I'm a little bit embarrassed to admit that until today I had not ever been to the Japanese Tea Gardens in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Despite being a native of the Bay Area and having gone to the museum adjacent to the gardens, I had never gone in until Hubby took me there today. Today was a typical summer day in San Francisco--overcast and cool... perfect conditions for shooting photographs.

Hubby and I like to listen to podcasts in the car whenever we take a road trip and today's short drive into the city was no exception. One podcast featured an interview with one of my favorite writers, Frances Mayes (author of Under the Tuscan Sun). I rarely read a book more than once but this is one book that I've read multiple times because of the way I'm drawn into Frances' memoirs of restoring an old villa in the Tuscan countryside. As I listened to the podcast interview today, I realized that it was the first time I'd heard her voice audibly. As she described her love of Tuscany with a hint of a soft southern accent, I had a few epiphanies. One epiphany that struck deeply is one that has tried to resound ever-so-softly in my inner core for some time now.

And it is this...

I live in an area that many non-locals see as a vacation destination. For some, a trip to San Francisco may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Just as I've dreamed of visiting Tuscany for the past 13 or so years since I first read Frances Mayes' book, there are others living around the globe that dream of visiting the San Francisco Bay Area. The land of my birth; the place I often take for granted and consider to be so ordinary; the horizon I've spent a lot of my life looking beyond... this is the very place that others dream of visiting in person.

My next thought was, "Why am I looking beyond the horizon then?" Yes, indeed... why am I?

Then a wave of wonderful epiphanies came as I realized if I was in Tuscany there is so much that I would miss.

I would have missed the first flight of the fledgling sparrows this past weekend as the little birds flapped their wings and took off from their nest under the eaves right outside my studio window--a wonderful small miracle I was blessed to witness just by chance.

I would miss the screech of barn owls soaring overhead in the midnight sky, their ghostly white silhouettes dancing against the backdrop of August's Perseid meteor shower.

I would miss the soft hoarse meows of a little feral garden kitty calling to me from the back garden as I return from an afternoon away. She doesn't need to trust me, but she does. And her meows are her way of asking me to sit with her in the garden just to pet her for a few minutes before she goes off on her way to do whatever it is she does when the sun sinks low in the sky.

The final epiphany then came... what am I waiting for? I need to embrace the reality that I am here. My roots have begun to take hold, and they're going deeper than they ever have in any place I've ever lived. So why not embrace it and live every day as fully as I live each day that I'm on vacation somewhere else?

Yes, indeed... why not?

So I'm on the precipice of starting a journey that isn't really a journey. I still don't know if it is worthy of writing about here. I know I will be toting my camera with me (that's just what I do). I may just share photos and not so many words. I don't know. Any thoughts?

Orange flowers reflected
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The colors of August

August night

I've written before about the different colors I associate with the seasons and months of the year (like the color of January). August is one of those months that doesn't really have any American holiday attached to it that serves as a good iconic representation of the month the way one can draw a cute little jack-o-lantern in orange and black to represent the month of October. As a child I decided that the perfect representation of August was a big yellow sunshine wearing sunglasses with a smile. Any iconic representation of the beach seemed fitting too. Then I expanded to include sunflowers and black-eyed susan's as well. Over the years bright yellows and oranges have become the colors of August for me--not the more muted russet tones of autumn, but bright glowing oranges that seem to radiate heat. Yes, those are the colors of August for me.

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The light was perfect and the horses were such good models. :-)
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