Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sum of All Fears

Sometimes an idea just pops into your head that makes you think you should probably seek medical attention, and today we look at one of those images.

Seth here was asking to do some sort of shoot with me, and I wanted to work with him on something in this last hour Halloween bash.  His make-up was an inspiration for this idea, and all we needed was a cup of fake blood, which was not difficult to obtain.

Posing The Model
Sharon was my victim of choice here and we spotted a nice area of green grass directly next to a parking lot.  In fact the pavement is so close to his left knee, it was in a few of the other shots.  The premise here was simple, create an image that an raise those little hairs on the back of your neck by making something so surreal and yet *possible* as to concern the viewer.  I had Seth put some of the fake blood in his mouth and when he did his *hiss of death* it would come running out.

Lighting The Scene
Because it is pretty much dusk at this point in the day,  had complete control over the light and didn't have to argue with the sun with my tiny speedlights.  I probably could have used 2 flashes for more light volume, but I also think the mood required some nightfall to add to the creepy factor.

I used two Nikon SB-800 speedlights on this one triggered by my SB-900 using the magical Nikon CLS system.  The key light was placed camera right on a stand about standing height beside me.  The light it would throw on Sharon needed to be one that went into her eyes, so the "thousand mile gaze" would feign the look of death.  The gaze can be accomplished simply by looking through the photographer and not at them directly.  I think she was focusing on one of the drunk people watching us the parking lot behind me.  In this case I also felt we needed to pull the models out of the darkness with more than just a key light, so I put a bare SB-800 on a stand behind and to camera left of Seth.  I put a blue gel over it thinking that this was probably moon light if the scene was to be realistic.  There would not be light there for random reasons, so making it a moon in post would be simple enough.

Post Production In Photoshop
Post production on this image was not terribly complex but more is involved here than initially meets the eyes.  As you can see his face is underexposed, and I think this is mostly because the batteries were about done playing with me for the day and I didn't have any more spares.  I hate doing it, but in this case I needed to increase the exposure in post, so I added curve adjustment layer set to screen mode.  This is more efficient than making a copy of the image and then setting it to screen, plus you get the added bonus of a curve you can fiddle with if the mood strikes you.  Of course I did fiddle with it a tad, but not to much as I didn't want anything wacky here.

I also had to fix some of the missing white make-up so the skin tone with be less obvious.  Using the clone stamp tool, this was pretty easy to correct in a few minutes.

Next I decided to handle the moon issue.  This was super simple as I just tossed in a circle with a neutral gray (with a few splotches of darker values), added a Gaussian blur and then set it to screen as well.  That handled the color cast and it looks real enough for this image.  Photo realism is not required all of the time, and learning when you don't need it can save a lot of frustration and wasted time.  I could have used a stock image of the moon, but the blur would have made that a useless purchase, and the blur was really needed for the mood in my humble opinion.

For Seth I needed to add a little more creepy factor, so I lowered his jaw to an unreasonble span by using the Liquify command.  I also added another curve with a black mask and went in and painted in a few of the highlights (white on the mask) to be sure the blood streams were obvious.

In the end I am quite pleased with the shock factor of the image and the overall mood.

As always comments are appreciated.


  1. I love this blog.

    I've been a photographer for a long time (started with film) but have only done it seriously for a couple of years and I definitely still feel like a farce when it comes to using Ps. Very, very instructional . . . seeing the initial image and the step-by-step transformation teaches me a lot!

    And the fact that I know how to execute all these steps, well, maybe that means I'm not such a Ps farce afterall.

    Keep it up! I love seeing new posts.

  2. What lens did you use? Was it a 50mm? The DOF is nice, what settings did you shoot on? Great shot btw!

  3. I believe this was my 24-70 ƒ2.8, but will have to look-up the image at some point to verify.

  4. The lighting discussion is invaluable. Thanks, Scott.


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