Monday, May 3, 2010

Dear In Headlights

In several of my previous posts I have shown shots from the "Heavy Metal" shoot I did in the Green Bay area.  Today I want to cover another shot from this event and discuss the particulars that might be of interest to readers of this blog.

At the event they had this big yellow car (showing off my car knowledge here).  It was unique in that the color was this matte-metallic-yellow and it was pretty bulbous.  You car junkies can feel free to comment as to the car type if you would like.  My goal was to produce a CD type of album cover image and realism was not really in play so going over the top was encouraged.  First thing I needed was to find someone with shiny pants, and given the event, this was not difficult.  I also needed someone with a nice behind, which was also not difficult.  I totally lucked out with the addition of the fish-nets as I think the texture adds even more interest.

Lighting and Ambient Conditions
This factory had awful florescent lights all over the place, and they were not going to be useful.  So, in order to have a predicable color of lighting, we need to eliminate this awful greenish hue coming from above.  This is fairly simple as we just push our shutter speed to 250th (Nikon D300), and call it good.  Sure, we might see a bit in the background, but we are going to overpower whatever is left with our speedlights on the subject matter.

I lit this image with 3 SB-800 Nikon speedlights and a camera mounted Nikon SB-900 using the Nikon CLS system for triggering.  A very symmetrical layout with 2 on either side of the car (in-line with the model as you can tell by the shadow), and one in front on a boom over her head and in front of the camera.  The two speedlights on the sides have my trusty Lumiquest III softboxes attached to them.  I actually have permanent Velcro on 2 of the speedlights at all times because I use these so often.  The center speedlight had this nifty no-name 28" softbox on a boom arm.  This was to get her cheeks and the front of the car properly exposed as there won't be any ambient to speak of to help here (we eliminated that with the shutter speed).

Posing & Capturing The Image
Posing the model here was pretty simple but also subtle.  We need to be sure her hips are not square to the camera, as that will add pounds to anyone, and we all know how women love images that add weight.  Secondly we need to get her stance and arms wide to add power and impact to the image. If she didn't have her arms in such a wide gesture, the image would not have the same impact.  Her legs could have been together, but that would have a completely different look, and although very sexy, it isn't really what we need here.  I had her twist one ankle to help with the shifting of the hips and also had her push her toes into the floor to activate her calf muscles.  This normally happens when women wear heels, but if the are comfortable in them they might not be on their toes as much as they could be.  Doing this will add some nice tone to her great legs.

Post Production & Photoshop Work
First thing I need to do is mask out the boring background garage ceiling.  It isn't interesting and has that nasty glow remaining from the overhead lights.  Once this was done, now we can work on making things pop.  One of the first things I will do is add a curve adjustment layer and set it to "screen" blending mode.  This will instantly add a ton of brightness to the image and possible take it over the top.  You can lower the opacity or try "soft light" to dampen the effect.  I also played with the curve to add some additional contrast while being careful not to lose details in the pants.  Often I will add a curve adjustment layer and change the blending mode and not really play with the curve.  This is the equivalent of making a copy of the image to add a blending mode, but takes a lot less drive space and keeps the image manageable RAM wise.  However, if you have a curve, you might as well play with it and see if you can improve the image somehow.  Experiment with things, as you aren't going to break it but you might discover something new.

Once I had her nice and bright/contrasty I decided to work on the floor.  In this case I love the dodge and burn tools as they really pop the gritty feeling of the floor while adding the brightness I want here.  I also took a moment to add some lights to the celing.  This was just an image of a garage with copies of the lights and use of the perspective warp to get them to look realistic.  We don't really anticipate people looking at them with those cute buns on the page, but just in case we want to be sure the lights look real.  I also added a photo filter adjustment layer to the image to help tie the tonal range of the garage lights to the car and model.  This keeps things from looking weird and unbelievable.

For the final step I really thought the headlights being off looked pretty dead.  I fiddled with a lot of ideas here and even ventured to the should be avoided at all costs overused lens-flare tool at one point.  However, I regained my sanity and went with something a bit more comic-book in appearance since realism was not one of the goals.  This was a quick brush I created and applied.  I made the first pass with the brush quite large and then several more passes on new layers while decreasing the brush size and changing the blending modes to screen or hard-light.  In the end I feel I accomplished the goal of an over-the-top CD type of album cover and am pretty pleased with the image.

Feel free to be one of the RARE people that takes a moment to comment on what you thought of the article and the image.


  1. The painting of the light in the photo really makes the shot. I like how it reflects off her arms and ankles.

  2. Really enjoyed the posing tips -- that's not something you hear as much about on photography blogs

  3. Agreed, thanks for the posing tips, very useful.

  4. Those head lights make it pop. Creating an illusion of natural light on the model.
    Thanks for all the tips.

  5. I always like to hear the "why" and not just the "how" a technique was used. The car looks like an early 50's Chevy (sorry, I'm a car guy). Thanks!


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