Monday, May 10, 2010

I Dig Chicks With Swords

I can't really think of anyone outside of maybe those being eviscerated by Joan of Ark that don't dig a chick with a sword.  So, in celebration of the wicked combination I thought I would produce an image to commemorate this sexy duo.

Our model for today is the lovey Lacey and we will shooting in the dark recesses of the basement under my studio.  I have 12,000 sq/ft of dark spaces in which to play, even thought I often don't really illuminate this space, I love to use it for the mood it gives the model and myself while shooting.

Portrait Lighting Setup
This image is lit by two unique sources, an AlienBee AB1600 with a 22" white beauty-dish and a 15 degree grid as well as a Nikon SB800 Speedlight with a cardboard snoot.  These snoots are easy to make from either a spaghetti box or a cereal box.  If you cover them with gaffers tape they can be very durable and a cheap alternative to some of the other options on the market.

The AB1600 was placed directly overhead on a boom (3' above her cause I only have a 7' ceiling down here) and metered at ƒ/8.  The SB800 was placed camera left and was actually behind me quite a bit.  This was because I wanted the spread of the light to hit her face and illuminate the upper body and I was just not in the mood to cut the snoot down to size, so I moved it back for the same effect at the expense of power.  This was metered at somewhere just over ƒ/5.6 and was to be insurance we had light in the models eyes as well as a touch of ambient to bring her black outfit out of the darkness of the basement.

Posing The Model
I wanted to do something that was interesting and yet sexy.  I felt this partial draw and a unique stance would make for an interesting portrait.  We shot about 30 takes or so and was quite pleased with the results on the back of the camera, but was only able to keep 8 or so because of a trigger issue.

Cyber Commander Issue
I was having one hell of a time getting the speedlight to fire.  The basement was around 40 degrees and I am sure the model was getting cold.  So, I was replacing batteries as well as cords in an attempt to figure out why this thing would work just fine one minute, and then fail afterward.  I finally tracked this down to having another lighting setup upstairs and realized two of the receivers were on the same frequency.  Rather than fire both of them as one would surmise, the system becomes confused and fires 1 unit or none of the units based on the position of Mars or something magical.  So, a word to the wise, if you get this strange behavior happening you should check the channels of this awesome trigger.  I love these things, so these little surprises are not going to dissuade me from using them in the least.

Post Production / Photoshop Magic
As you can see from the unmodified image, this entire scene is a bit on the dark side.  In retrospect I should have probably moved the beauty-dish a bit forward and angled it in towards her face so I could illuminate more leg.  However, all is not lost as I think there is a lot of merit to the mistake in the great shadows and contrast here and we can easily bring back any lost details with some magic.

First thing I did was create a curve adjustment layer and set the blending mode to "soft light".  Even if you don't touch the curve at all, you will find the image a lot more exposed.  I use this trick over a duplication of the entire image because it keeps the file size small and we still get the benefits of the curve.  I did fiddle with the curve a bit to bring up some of the shadow while avoiding a blowout on the lighter parts of the image.

Next I created another curve adjustment layer and masked in her outfit and the sword.  I also set the mode of this layer to "soft-light" and ended up duplicating it to double the effect.

Returning to the base layer of the image I used the dodge tool to increase the exposure of the ground around her.  I am not at all concerned about how fake this might look, as I am not going for realistic here in the least.  I also love the gritty feeling the dodge and burn tools give to concrete, so I was all for this texture increase.

To finally round out the playful nature of the image I added the glimmer to the blade of the sword.  This was just a simple X shape with two layers set to different blending modes to make the light pop.  Sure it looks totally fake, but I love the hero/villain look and this was mandatory to that feeling in my opinion. 

As always, please take a moment to comment (even thought I know most of you won't). :-)


  1. Although I am using Lightroom more, I did play in Photoshop quite a bit. Looking at the before & after pictures and guessing how it was done. I get close enough to realize that I haven't forgotten too much yet.

    Nice postings. If you do different levels of complexity every day for a year, you will have a nice collection of material for a book.

  2. lol i've barely any idea what's going on but you sound really professional and the pictures + editing come out really good. gonna read through your entire blog lol:D


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