Cityscape Smoker

Cityscape, Give Me Some Answers

On a regular day, I walk almost two miles to work, and almost two miles home again. Most women carry a purse, I carry my camera. The street is unpredictable and I only ever regret not having the tools to capture what might come up in front of me.

Last night, as I neared the end of my walk home, I came across a beautiful sight. Traveling north on 32nd street, I looked over at the skyline to see a lone man, smoking and staring out at the cityscape in front of us. Just a few moments before, I’d seen him walk up to this spot from further down the street, before coming to a rest.

I tried to imagine what was going through his mind at that moment and how he’d been drawn to that spot. He’d take a drag, pace, stop and take another, looking up to the skyline each time as if something were troubling him, as if he were looking for answers in life.

With no traffic or other people around, it was a peaceful moment in the chaos of urban life. I don’t know if he found the answers he was looking for, but he chose to search in the serenity of midnight.

Cityscape Smoker

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Hello, Old Friend – Introducing Retouching

Yes, I’m still alive! I know it’s been a long time since my last update to this blog but rest assured, I haven’t fallen into a volcano. I recently picked up a day job to cover my bills and it’s kept me pretty busy, too busy to really shoot in fact.

However, I have been getting more and more focused on retouching. What’s retouching? Basically, it’s the professional term for editing photos in fine detail. That Cosmo cover model? She’s been retouched. Your aunt’s photos that she ran through the Kodak print machine at CVS? Not so much. Retouching goes beyond simple global adjustments for contrast and color – it gets into the fine details of skin smoothing, dodging & burning, cloning and reshaping etc.

Although I’m not going HAM on my edits to the degree of most major print magazine studios, a bit of retouching here and there doesn’t hurt. There is a fine line between making a person look good and making them look artificial. Sometimes I straddle that line, but I do my best not to cross it.

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In this shot of Kevin, I removed the distracting imperfections, smoothed his skin, evened the tone and took the shadow out from under his chin.

 

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For Meredith, I worked primarily to dodge her face, lightening the shadow areas and smoothing transitions between light and dark. 

Retouching isn’t just done on people though. It’s heavily used in product and advert photography as well. If you’ve seen a full-page ad for a watch or a bottle of perfume, chances are that image has been gone over with meticulous detail. A single image can take hours or even days to finish and even then, there’s always more to do.

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For this VW shot, I removed the car from the background, removed distracting highlights, dodged & burned the leading edges, painted in artificial highlights and shadows and added a gradient to the background for some depth.

 

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I used a similar workflow for the Audi, but managed to keep the floor shadows from the original image.

Retouching takes a certain understanding of the image; where the light is coming from, what kind of highlights is a surface going to produce? It’s important to be accurate but also freely artistic.

If you want to get into retouching, there are a few good places out there that are a huge help. This fstoppers article on frequency separation is invaluable.  I also highly recommend Jonas W’s youtube channel, there’s a lot of great videos that go through retouching techniques in real time with great narration.

Best of luck in your retouching and photography journey!

~James

Eight hours later, I had everything masked and a composition I was happy with. Adding some motion blur and a few global layers to make everything feel uniform, it was done.

How I Learned To Levitate

Living in Philadelphia, I’m one of many finding themselves getting snowed in more than usual this time of year.

Combine that with project365 and I’ve been thinking quite outside the box lately, which is how I’ve gotten here.

My initial idea for the shot was to make things levitate around me, and then I figured, why not make it look like I’m levitating too? I only had found objects in my house to work with but the more I found, the more my ideas grew.

The first step was to shoot a background plate. This is a base for me to add layers on top of.
The first step was to shoot a background plate. This is a base for me to add layers on top of.
Next was the self-portrait. I used a fan to billow my shirt and make look lighter than air.
Next was the self-portrait. I used a fan to billow my shirt and make it look lighter than air. I shot two plates – one legs down to get my upper body, one legs up to get just my lower body. This would make it easier to manipulate everything in post and give me more poses to work with.
I remembered sorting prints and images of Holy Men in India while interning for Steve McCurry. Their posing was the first thing I thought of when trying to articulate deep concentration visually.
I remembered sorting prints and images of Holy Men in India while interning for Steve McCurry Studios. Their posing was the first thing I thought of when trying to articulate deep concentration visually.
After I finished photographing myself, it was time for the cloth. Using a fan and some of my girlfriend's scarves, I got some solid images to use later on. I shot at 1/100th of a second to make sure there was a small amount of motion blur. I didn't want the final image to look too frozen, it needed movement.
After I finished photographing myself, it was time for the cloth. Using a fan and some of my girlfriend’s scarves, I got some frames to use later on. I shot at 1/100th of a second to make sure there was a small amount of motion blur. I didn’t want the final image to look too frozen, it needed movement.
I attracted the attention of Daisy and got another idea...
I attracted the attention of Daisy and got another idea…
Using a scarf to hide my hands, I held Daisy up and got a few frames with the scarf blowing in the fan.
Using a scarf to hide my hands, I held Daisy up and got a few frames with the scarf blowing in the fan.
Now it was time for the most risky part - throwing my camera. Extremely carefully, I tossed my 7D up in the air, trying to get a good frame that made the strap look suspended in mid-air.
Now it was time for the most risky part – throwing my camera. Extremely carefully, I tossed my 7D up in the air, trying to get a good frame that made the strap look suspended in mid-air.
Finally, I shredded a frozen pizza box and tossed the confetti to get some frames of the particulate. I figured that if I could float and so could everything else, there's going to be some bits and pieces of whatever is on the floor.
Finally, I shredded a frozen pizza box and tossed the confetti to get some frames of the particulate. I figured that if I could float and so could everything else, there’s going to be some bits and pieces of whatever is on the floor.
After downloading all the RAWs from my camera, I processed them through ACR and loaded them into photoshop. I manually stacked the images into one document and began the painstaking process of masking.
After downloading all the RAWs from my camera, I processed them through ACR and loaded them into photoshop. I manually stacked the images into one document and began the painstaking process of masking.
Eight hours later, I had everything masked and a composition I was happy with. Adding some motion blur and a few global layers to make everything feel uniform, it was done.
Eight hours later, I had everything masked and a composition I was happy with. Adding some motion blur and a few global layers to make everything feel uniform, it was done.

This was a fun afternoon project. It only took some found items, a camera, a tripod and some basic photoshop knowledge. I encourage everyone to see how far you can go with the stuff around your house. You’ll be surprised what you can do.

~James

 

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Pier 18 With the Philly Photo Co-Op

Pier 18 is part of a coal transportation network formerly used by the Reading Railroad. Since its abandonment decades ago, the concrete remains of a once prosperous industry have attracted graffiti artists, off-road enthusiasts, paintball players and photographers among others. I recently participated in a photo walk organized by the Philly Photo Co-op to explore Pier 18.

Although the standing structure is relatively simple, it reveals something new from every angle. The ground level has become a living art gallery employing paint, wood, glass, metal and stone.

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Class, Cars & Casinos – Drexel’s 2014 Crystal Ball

This year, Drexel University celebrated its annual Crystal Ball by putting on a suit, taking the Aston for a spin and putting it all on black, while drinking a Martini (shaken, not stirred). The James Bond-themed event, held at the Simeon Automotive Museum and organized by Drexel’s Campus Activities Board (cab for short), sold out quickly and attracted a huge crowd of rambunctious students, staff members and their +1s.

The full album will be available here on Friday afternoon. For now, check out this preview.

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The venue, as viewed from a second-floor balcony.

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The event was fully catered….
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…with lots of pie.
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No Bond event is complete without gambling.

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Simeon contains a racing pedigree that spans the globe, going back as far as the first world war.2014-01-29_0006

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Neuro Drinks was on site, providing a lounge space and free beverages.

 

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Members of Drexel CAB and some of their close friends.

If you know anyone who helped organize this event, be sure to thank them! If you’ve never been to the museum, I definitely recommend it.

The full album of my photos from Crystal Ball will be available here on Friday afternoon.  Photos will be available for purchase in digital or print format.

Want to keep up with the latest from me? Like the Facebook page and be sure to ask me about discounts for first time clients, I’d love to hear from you!

~James

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Inundated

Philly is getting hit hard by the snowfall. I went out anyway, it looked harmless enough from my spot on the couch.

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By the time I’d walked to JFK Boulevard, it was very much a different story. The wind blowing between buildings turned snow into stinging sand on my face.

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Still, it could be worse. My car could have died on Market St, slowing traffic for blocks, in the middle of a blizzard.

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Some people ignored the cold entirely.

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Others just accepted that for the next few days, there’s going to be a lot of snow on the ground.

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As I crossed the Market St bridge, I could see others making the same struggle down river.

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I made it home in one piece. There’s no beard like snow beard.

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Stay warm out there friends.

www.jamesgravesphoto.com

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