How Did He Do It?

Bob Lansdale makes portraits on the fly!

You may have noticed we often have professional portraits of our guest speakers in our journals and on the web. If you happen to stay a few minutes after our meetings you may see a bit of activity with a few members surrounding the guest and holding strange objects under the direction of our editor, Bob Lansdale (click on any image to see a larger version in a separate window).

Bob creates a small studio space in a corner of the hall using unsuspecting hangers-on as makeshift supports to hold white reflecting materials and props. Using his experience as a professional photographer, Bob sets up the scene and subject, adds props and arranges white plastic bags or white jackets as “reflectors” to give fill lighting to the subject.

shooting the shooter

Here you see Bob setting up a shot of George Hunter. The white object is one of the makeshift light reflectors. Bob uses a low-end Kodak digital camera (DC 4800). Since consumer digital cameras have underpowered built-in flash with one direction lighting, Bob uses a more powerful hand-held strobe, bouncing the light off the nearby wall (at left) for a softer “character” illumination.

Photoshopping an image

From the raw image Bob uses his digital darkroom to clean-up the image, improve its contrast and sharpness, and emphasize the subject: The “snapshot” is copied to his computer and opened in Adobe Photoshop, the industry standard for working up digital images. With Photoshop, and drawing upon past darkroom experience, Bob transforms the “snapshot” original into a fine portrait -- just like manipulating a colour print in a traditional darkroom -- but in a fraction of the time with instant feedback!

Look carefully at the final version of the portrait (below, right), you can see that Bob has cleaned the background. The subject and camera were selectively isolated while using the Clone Stamp and Airbrush tools to blend the background into the foreground table.The intruding reflector has disappeared and the image gently darkened at the outer edges.

As you can see, making a portrait even with an auto-focus digital camera that works hard to make a technically correct image, still requires the traditional skills and judgement that have been the hallmark of successful photographers for over 150 years.

before and after comparisons



The left hand image is the raw image from the camera; on the right is the finished product used in a recent PHSC E-Mail newsletter. The distracting background and intruding “reflector” have disappeared. The image has more contrast and sharpness and a soft spot of illumination behind the head sets off George. His shirt has detail and more saturated colour. With soft dimensional lighting–his face almost leaps out of the picture.

Well that's it for this article. If you want more information on Bob Lansdale or his techniques, send an email to first image was taken with a Nikon 990 digital camera and adjusted in Photoshop, the second is a screen grab, while the third image was taken with a Kodak DC4800 and the fourth image shows the result of professional touchup in Photoshop. Please note that all the above images are ©2003 by Robert Lansdale or the Photographic Historical Society of Canada and may be used if the source is mentioned.

Bob Carter

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