Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Waiting For Morpheus

final image

This image was shot on location in Edgerton, Wisconsin, which I mentioned before is very close to the edge of the Earth (pun intended) or at least that is how it seems.  The fourth floor of this old building had an interesting attic as well as a few pieces of furniture that had been lovingly abused and left to die next to an old freight elevator. This image is a few years old, and like much of my older work I really don't care for it much these days.  I had also written about this image in the past, but took more time to explain myself this go-around.  Some great lighting and posing lessons can be learned from it, so here we go.

I found this old couch that had some amazingly ugly pattern adorning its aged form.  It squatted in the corner of the room and I decided it would really complete the image that was slowly taking shape in my head.
One of the places I dream I could someday shoot is in the hotel from The Matrix where Neo goes to meet Morpheus for the first time.  The grunge and textures of that place were simply amazing, and a wall in this room, combined with this decrepit Davenport really brought that place to the forefront of my mind.  Yes, I actually just used the word "Davenport" and I am not over 50.  Do I get points for that?

Posing The Model
I asked Victoria to relax and sit as if waiting for her visitor to arrive.  The cigarette was added to give the image a bit more interest than just making this a shot of a pretty woman in a grungy space.  I didn't have her look at the camera, as this image assumes she is alone and engaging the viewer would ruin the mood.  When you are posing your model, consider if you feel the image would be stronger with a direct connection to the viewer, or more of a voyeuristic feel if they are not looking at the camera.  I do have one major regret with this image, and that is the whites of her eyes are owning me here.  I should have had her look more to her right, but oh well.  This is an image long since past, and some lessons can still be learned from it.

Lighting The Scene
image straight out of the camera
I wanted to focus the light on the model of course so we need a key that can show off her lovely form, but not illuminate the entire ugly space.  The wall behind this couch is perfect, but the rest of the room is far from ideal, so we really want some aggressive falloff which mean the lights need to be close to the subject.  The further your light is from the subject the longer it will take for the light to fall off (inverse square law).

To achieve this I used a 22" beauty dish with a 30 degree grid.  It was just above the model and just out of the frame.  The grid restricted the beam of light perfectly so the entire sofa was lit, but not much beyond that.  This single light looked pretty good on its own, but I felt we could really pop the texture on the wall with another light.  Unfortunately all of the lights were to large to fit into the small space, so I grabbed one of my trusty Nikon SB-800 speedlights and placed it behind the couch pointing up at the wall.  I did have to grid this strobe as well, otherwise it would have illuminated the entire wall, and I was wanting more of a "halo" type of lighting just behind Victoria.  After fiddling with the speedlight I decided to add a blue gel to work in a bit of color and interest to the wall that could juxtapose her skin color.  In the end we ended up with these two lights for the scene, and I was very happy with the image right out of the camera.

Post Production In Photoshop
Photoshop didn't break much of a sweat with this image.  Her skin is already looking great, and aside from the removal of a few shiny spots on her cheek and nose, I didn't have much correction on her to do.  To remove the shine, I used the clone stamp tool set to "darken" and just sampled from another area that was not shiny.  I did this on another layer, and lowered the opacity until it was believable and didn't appear to be retouched, yet accomplished the intended goal of glare removal.  Note that you don't have to sample from the same area of the body.  I use her chest as the sample as there was a lot more skin available for sampling there and the blending mode with eventual fade won't make this detectable.  Don't get caught in the trap of thinking you must always sample from around the area needing help.  However, be aware that pores in different areas are unique, and forehead is not the same as cheek, so due check for texture issues if you do collection the sample from an alien location.

The cigarette in the shot was interesting for sure, but was not really making the scene happen as intended.  I spliced in a photo of a burnt cigarette to the business end of the carcinogen-stick and then added some smoke.  I set the layer of smoke to "screen" and lowered the opacity a bit.  I didn't really intend for the smoke to be super realistic as much as I wanted it to help set a mood.  I am quite happy with the end product even if some consider it very fake looking.  Sure, I could have had the cigarette lit when I took the shot, but I can't stand the smell, and it would also have been another variable to add to the complexity of lighting the scene.  If I didn't like the smoke shape, but loved everything else, I would have to do a lot more work.  This way I can do whatever I want with the image I selected.

After my small adjustments to the composition and a bit of dodging and burning the wall behind her to bring out the texture, I played with the black point and added a curve to help contrast.  I also desaturated the image quite a bit, as again color in this scene would look odd to me.

Total time in Photoshop was around 20 minutes.

Camera Settings
As requested by one of the readers the camera settings are as follows:
Shutter was 250th (Nikon Max sync speed), and ƒ5.6.  ISO was 200 which is the Nikon default. 
You will find these settings are fairly common with my work.