Monday, March 28, 2011

Floating Orbs

Today we will be looking at the last of the three images I shot with Playboy model Victoria.  As mentioned in my previous posts Waiting for Morpheus, and Precious Cargo, this image was shot in Edgerton, Wisconsin which is just outside of Madison.  As a side note and shameless plug; I do have a Photoshop workshop coming up in a few weeks in Waukesha.  You can sign-up for that here.

Based on the suggestions I have received I will be adding more model interaction details as well as lighting details.  Thanks to all that took a moment to stop ogling and leave me feedback as I much appreciate you taking the time to do so.

Interacting With Models
Normally I discuss ideas with the model before we shoot, but in this case I met Victoria the same day and we did these shots with no preparation.  In an ideal universe I would meet the model in a nice public place (like a coffee shop) and we can discuss her goals and the goals of the shoot (they might be different).  Topics of discussion might include things like wardrobe, poses, and considerations for hair & make-up.  This also gives the model an idea of who I am and can review my portfolio and increase trust.

There are super creepy photographers out there, and also a few models that wig me out as well so you have to make sure you concrete the fact you don't fall into this category before the shoot.  So, meeting like this before hand is huge for trust as well as comfort level for everyone involved.  The model will have confidence in you as you have already set a very professional foot forward with a meeting.  Even if you can't meet, but suggesting it, can add a lot of value and professionalism to your persona in the model's mind.

Timid or uncomfortable models take crappy pictures, and since they also want nice work from the shoot, you have to get them relaxed.  Here are a few things I think help with that:
  • Meet before you shoot and have a solid idea or two
  • Don't shoot nudes or even suggest it the first time you work together
  • Be confident and sure of your self, even if you are guessing.  Panic in your mind only.
  • Be fun and interactive with the model.  Getting them to laugh helps a ton
  • Don't be a "guy with a camera", learn to control your male drive
  • Have a plan and treat the shoot like any other business transaction
  • Don't try and seduce or hit on the model, that is not why you are there
  • Compliment the model and show them the shots you love as you take them
If you can't meet with the model before the shoot, you can still use a lot of those tips.  However, there are a few others skills you have to learn to shoot impromptu.  The biggest one I can think of is the "wardrobe sorting" skill.

When shooting at group events or with a model I have never met, you have to be prepared to comfortably  rifle through a suitcase of undies, bras and other unmentionables to build an outfit that works.  If you have a wardrobe person, this is a step you can gleefully skip, but if you don't then you will have to learn to think like a photographer and less like a man.  Female photographers can do this so much easier of course, as a male will often get shy at this point if you are thinking with your unit and not with your brain.

You need to relax and work with the model and discuss which outfits she likes and then take her ideas and work with colors you think look good as well as the outfit that will flatter or obscure the model properly.  You want her to look sexy, so you can probably figure out what looks nice, but you can't be shy about it.  You can compliment the model, but don't get weird about it.  Models don't like to be treated like strippers but they do like to be told specifically what is sexy and how you plan to use that to the best of your ability. You have a job to make the model look and feel sexy, so keep that in mind and compile an outfit that works as a professional and keep your mind on the job.

For example, if the model has great legs, you might skip stockings completely and tell her your reasoning.  If they have some "cottage cheese" going on, you might want to pick out the fish-nets with a small pattern and tell her how sexy these would be.  In both cases you are building confidence and you will take a stellar photo, but at the same time you are not getting weird about it and drooling on yourself.  Remember, your job is a fun one, but your interaction and resulting photos can have a profound impact on the model (see my previous article on model psychology).

Learning to keep your libido out of the equation will make your interaction with the model so much easier and enjoyable for everyone.  If you want to hit on the model, do it after the shoot at dinner or something.  Keep a clear line between business and pleasure.

Posing the Model
In this specific case we had a pool table to play with, and of course I think her on the table would be a fun shoot.  I often let the model dream up ideas as well, and if you can make your idea their idea, you can really hit one out of the park. That was what happened in this case, as she suggested climbing onto the table and from there we played with different angles and ideas.

As you can tell from the finished photo, she was not wearing much in the way of clothing.  As a Playboy model she is already confident with her body so wearing a revealing outfits was not a concern for her.  In fact, as a funny side note her breasts keeps popping out of her jacket (and even out of the dress in the elevator shot), so we starting laughing about it that they "needed to come up for air" and things like that.  It was a great source of laughter and confidence building between us as I didn't take photos when I noticed she had a wardrobe malfunction.  That was a huge plus in her mind to my professionalism and it made the shoots so much easier and enjoyable as she knew I was not taking the images for the wrong reasons and she didn't have to worry about showing what she didn't want to show.

Lighting The Scene
Because I was traveling to another floor in this four story building I didn't want to bring my big lights with me, so I brought three of my Nikon SB-900 speedlights.  I was using one of them on camera for a trigger but it was not going to show in the shot.  The other two were outfitted with a Lumiquest Softbox III and have Velcro permanently mounted around them for just such an occasion.

The speedlight positioned camera right also had a CTO gel on it to warm up the scene.  Normally I would have put this on the key, but I was looking for something out of the ordinary.  I had an idea in my mind for this shot once I saw her on the table, so the gel was going to help me with a bit of realism later (I will get to that in a bit).  In the room was also a large window letting in WAY to much sunlight, so I used a reflector to cover the window as much as possible.  The sun would have added a weird color temperature as well as a new level of harshness to the image.  On top of that, the speedlights can't complete with the sun and the room was already pretty dark so it had to go and I was shooting at ƒ5.6 @ 250th - ISO 200.  The speedlights were mounted on Manfrotto 5-Section stands and were just out of the shot.  If you look at the shadows, you can figure out the exact angle.  Looking at things like the shadows and even catch-lights in the eyes can help you immensely in reverse engineering the lighting on an image.

Photoshop Post Production
As discussed in my previous article her skin was really glossy and was causing some overly exposed areas on her face and body.  Using the clone stamp set to darken I sampled from other areas and created a "patch" on a new layer.  I could then drop the opacity back on the finished clone layer until things looked much better.

The biggest challenge with this image was the distracting background.  The room was not something I wanted in the shot, and at the time of the shooting I knew it would be problematic.

As a side note I think it is a valuable skill to learn to look at the background almost as much as the foreground.  You can avoid the "pole sticking out of the head" and other dumb mistakes if you take a moment to check it out before you press the shutter.

To remove the background I created a solid adjustment layer and started on masking her out.  Using the pen tool as well as the background eraser it was a bit time consuming but looks so much better with those distractions out of the image.

Now, to really play with this image I had another photographer at the event climb onto the table after the shoot and toss some of the balls into the air.  Because we have one of the lights gelled, the balls look very real because they are matching the exact lighting conditions!  The balls were masked out using the pen tool and then added to layers above the model.  I created a curve adjustment layer and added some shadows in places where I felt the balls needed to be anchored to the background or the model.  I use this method quite often when I need shadows.  to do this I create the adjustment layer (normally levels), and then darkened the entire image.  I then invert the mask and can use a white brush to "paint" back the darker areas where needed.

I hope you found this article interesting and my tips on model interaction were helpful.  As always a "Like" or a comment is much appreciated.  I also added a "share via email" ability to this blog, so can send an email to you when a new article is posted.


  1. This is a great article, Scott. Many thanks for answering some of the questions I asked. Definitely something to refer back to when I'm preparing my next (and first for a year or so!) model shoot. I'll have another read this evening after work and will probably have a few questions for you.

    Thanks again!

  2. Feel free to ask away! I can only tell you what I know, and I surely don't know it all. However, if I can help you in even the smallest way, I will be quite pleased.


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