When I first started creating portraits for karate schools, the only backgrounds available were white, black, and a custom-painted muslin, which took me days to paint. After capturing images against available backgrounds, I dropped them into a template I designed for a specific school event, such as school pictures and karate tournaments.
Not wanting to give the same background to different schools or to custom-paint another muslin, I needed a cost-effective way to provide different backgrounds for each school.
I had seen movie and television companies use blue/green screen technology to place their subjects in outer space or atop the Chicago skyline, so I figured I could do something similar with my student portraits. Searching the Internet for blue/screen technology, I found links to background suppliers. I bought 30 hi-res and 30 medium-res backgrounds for about $100.
To avoid having to change my workflow for an entire karate school, I tested my chroma key and digital backgrounds on individual clients. It worked like a charm. I could illuminate the background with two lights bouncing off the ceiling, pose my clients about 10 feet in front of the background, and light them with a key and fill light. Once they chose the poses they wanted as final prints, I showed them a printout of the digital backgrounds I could use to replace the white background. I used Photoshop to select the white background and a layer mask to block the unwanted color and allow my digital background to show through.
If I could figure out how to use the process for my karate portrait work, I could really separate myself from other photographers. I didnít mind spending a couple of hours digitally editing three to five pictures for each client. Iíd charge a little more and market it as a value-added service. But I didnít relish spending a week editing 40 to 60 final print images per school. I needed a more effective workflow.
Having read Katrin Eismannís book, Photoshop Masking and Compositing, I recalled a product that removed the chroma background more easily. I visited Digital Anarchyís website and discovered I could download a trial version and actually work along side online tutorials. I was able to follow them without installing the Primatte plug-in. I downloaded the sample files to see how Primatte would perform with hair, sheer clothing, smoke, and clear glass, in front of a chroma screen. Within seconds, the samples were downloaded, the plug-in installed, and I was working with them in Photoshop.
I removed my first chroma screen background and was able to see the digital background I had dropped into place. After a bit of detail retouching, using the tutorials, I was amazed and convinced this product was for me.
Digital backgrounds are great because if I donít like a particular color, I can change it in Photoshop. If I want that particular pattern in a black-and-white or sepia background, Iím only clicks away from creating a more appropriate background. Primatte gives me with the power to control the context. Once I remove the background from the first photo, subsequent photos go much faster, since I can apply the same settings. Integrating Primatte into my custom actions further streamlines my workflow.
With Primatte, I can give my clients a custom look that integrates the background, subject, and supporting icons into a cohesive graphic layout, easily and efficiently. Without Primatte, it would be much more difficult to differentiate my work from photographers who drop their pictures into memory mates or framed digital templates.
Cameras, lenses, computer equipment, and studio lighting are all just tools to help me create the images I have in my head. Without planning, creativity, and flexibility, all the megapixels and modern technology in the world canít help create a piece of artwork that a client will love and cherish for years to come.