Thursday, March 31, 2011

Making Friends The Hard Way


Being a fan of the unusual often wins me the chance to take photos that no one else would probably approach.  Around the end of last year we had a body painting extravaganza and one of the suggested themes was the Frankenstein type of stitched-together person.

Out of the camera this image is pretty decent, but it really lacks depth and storytelling, as as it is now it makes for a somewhat disturbing glamor shot.





Lighting The Image
This image was lit by two lights:

A 22" beauty dish with a 30 degree grid on it.  This was positioned directly over her face.

A strip softbox with a cloth grid  was camera left and a little behind her.  This is the "boob" light as it will cast the desirable shadow in the cleavage as well as add a rim light to help her be more three dimensional.

The goal of the grids is to keep the background from being overly illuminated and control fall-off of the light.  I much prefer to shoot on a gray background than on white because of the "splash" of light that bounces back onto the model from a white sweep.  Because I often composite my images with others, that annoying splash can make the transition quite noticeable.

The image was shot at ƒ5.6, 250th at ISO 200, which is very typical for much of my studio work.  The recycle time on my lights at ƒ5.6 is very quick and the depth of field is plenty deep to keep the model in focus.  I shoot my Nikkor 70-200mm ƒ2.8 for most of my work.  I LOVE this lens because it is super sharp and allows me to work from a distance to keep distortion to a minimum as well as shoot on a relatively small background because of perspective compression.  I can explain that in depth if there are those that don't understand what I mean by all that gibberish.  Ask questions in comments and I can address them.

For those interested I use Paul C. Buff Einstein's for my studio lights and modifiers.  Occasionally there will be a rogue Norman or a Speedlight in there as we have some around the studio, but since I much prefer the Einsteins.

Posing The Model
As far as the story should go, we have a woman that has been sewn together from the parts of others.  Having her be cheery and happy would be out of character.  The sad and forlorn look is much more in character.  Also, we need to sexy this lady up a bit, so I dropped the shoulder straps to show off her chest and paint job therein.  Not much more to say here as the pose will work with the story we need to complete.  I do have a ton of other shots from this brief session that are awesome, but the pose here really made it work over the others.  I prefer this one because she was not looking at the camera.  I find that engaging the camera is often nice, but just as often I don't desire this.  I suggest you balance your session and be sure to get some of each as you will kick yourself if what you really needed you didn't bother to shoot.

Note that I made sure to show off as much of the body-painters work as possible as they will probably want this for their portfolio.  Always keep in mind the make-up, hair, wardrobe, etc and the needs they have  when you are shooting.  I often shoot closeups of make-up just to be sure those people can walk away with something at the end of the day.  I find it rude when someone is only shooting full body shots of a model and isn't concerned about the fact the details added by make-up will be to small to be appreciated.

Post Production In Photoshop
Well, we have quite a bit of work to do, so lets get to it.

First thing we need to do is to correct any issues with the model.  This might include liquification of arms, abs and so on.  Kristen does not have any issues there, so we can skip by this step.  I did adjust her hair position a bit but not much.  While we are focused on the model, take this time to fix any complexion issues weird wrinkles and so on.  One of the main things I use liquify on is armpits.  The folds of skin there can often lead to the dreaded "armpit vagina", so posing is important or you will have to deal with it later.  Liquify allows you to fix that area, but it is a ton of work.

The next thing I needed was a room that worked with the lighting I used during the shoot.  I was able to find this shot of a hospital bed on the web.  Please note that if you use images they either need to be under the Creative Common's License or ones you have purchased or have permission to use.  Don't go stealing work, as I am sure you will be upset if someone did the same to you.

The photo of the room had some wacky light thing hanging from the ceiling, so I had to clone that out (using the aptly named clone stamp) and correct some of the drapes over the windows.  Once I had the background working I created a mask of Kristen so I could drop her into the image.  I use a lot of tools for extraction, but I don't use the Photoshop extraction tool as it makes me want to throw things.  I much prefer the masking tools and the new "refine edge" commands in CS5.

Now that I have the model in place over the background I make a copy of Kristen so I don't screw her up.  I then proceed to dodge and burn her image to match the lighting.  A great example here is the stool in the shot.  It should not be illuminated if the light from the window is to be believed.  Using the burn tools I darken this until it looks proper and believable.  It does not need to be perfect, as this is art dammit :-)  Note that I also used the dodge and burn tools above and below a few of the stitches on her body.  I did this because I figured the skin tones of the people used to assemble her would be unique.  I decided not to go overboard on this so it is subtle, but I feel it helps sell the idea and story.  In the end I also added shading around the perimeter of the room to bring the focus to the middle.  This is known as a "vignette" and is actually undesirable in the optical world, but it can help with focusing the eye in specific areas of the scene.

My final step is to get the colors of the two images to be somewhat similar.  At this time I also decided on the final tone of the image and greenish was the winner.  I selected it because of the somber feeling and almost sickly/solemn feeling it might give to the viewer.  Using a curves layer I adjusted the colors of both images independently until they were close.  I then added an adjustment layer of "photo filter" or whatever it is called (looks like a little camera).  That was used to add a tone to the entire image and resolve any minor differences that might have been present after my tone curves.

For the final touch I added a hue/saturation adjustment layer and dropped the saturation of the entire image.  The happy red of her dress needed to be not-so-damn-happy.

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