Today we deconstuct an image from Michael & Andrea’s dress editorial session.
We tend to get a lot of questions from other photographers in regards to what goes on both in the setup/execution of a shot, but also seeing the ‘untouched’ image prior to it going through editing to help give some direction as to tweaks in post-processing. This will be the first in hopefully a long series of posts meant more for other photographers which takes a look at what goes on in creating some of our final images.
Michael & Andrea were a great couple that I’d worked with 2 times prior – both for their engagement session as well as their actual wedding both shot last year. We were booked in for one more session, an ‘after session’, which allowed us a bit more creative freedom for photography which you just can’t get on an actual wedding day – full set of photos to come later this month.
CONCEPT: Our shoot was scheduled for approximately 2 hours in length, carrying on amidst the more unexplored areas of downtown Toronto, starting from Front & Yonge and carrying out the rest of the shoot moving eastbound. Multiple concepts for our final story included a back alley, large pillars, some abstract Rene Magritte-esque shots, and having the session wrap up in a fountain. Outside of the watery ending, we wanted to do our best to strive for a different take on editorializing a dress aftershoot. Given the impulsive nature in how I work, the above frame is one that was outside of what I had conceptualized for our day; sometimes, the best shots are those we simply couldn’t have dreamed up ahead of time, and that was the case here. Upon seeing the street cleaning truck, I pitched the idea of a bitter newlywed couple trying to get out of the city; the storyline involving many of our locations to come and showing the highs and lows of our couple. Luckily for me, the city crew nearby were also on board, and granted us access to their rig for ’5 minutes’.
Selling the story.
THE GEAR: First, I will say this up front now – there are about a million different ways to ‘get the shot’, and none of them are the ‘right’ way; in my case, I go with the tools I know will get the job done for what I have in mind and overcoming obstacles I may encounter on the way. Knowing that we would be shooting on location in the city, it was a given that there would be many times when a more wide frame of the scene would be necessary to really give some mood to the shots; though I prefer to travel as lightly as possible (less gear = less assistants required = less distractions for me and my clients), when illuminating large scenes a simple 1 light Softlighter wouldn’t do; especially as it was just past high noon shoot time, we utilizied a Paul C Buff AB1600 and large, double-diffused softbox. The strobe gave me the power I needed, and could be easily gridded down for more control (not used in the final shot).
a look at the light rig – 1 strobe, 1 modifier. Simple works more often then it doesn’t.
VISUAL FEEL: I’m always seeking a more unique way to shoot “normal” people; though Mike & Andrea are certainly awesome, a more ‘classic’ wedding portrait may have them in a loving embrace, or mugging for the camera, smiling big smiles. Not at all the idea here – I wanted to feel the grit of the streets, really make the shots organic; have the viewer feel the humidity of the day, the heat of the pavement underfoot.
For color, the obvious yellow of the truck is going to dominate, so I seek to pull back the exposure of the surroundings to a cooler blue, giving it a very classic ‘royal’ tone.
GETTING THE SHOT: As we start shooting, it’s approached from a few angles – first, a concept from the back of the truck, with one of the workers’ walking through frame. After a minute or so, I’m just not buying it. We switch to a broader, side angle of the truck, which has a lot more to offer from a visual perspective…but there’s a giant hydro pole in frame, and the guy with the keys is MIA. Then it hits – if we want to feel the heat, the grit…time to get in tighter. I ask one of the gents to pop the hood and I put Mike in as a pseudo-repairman, which Andrea looks gorgeous, awaiting her chariot’s rebirth. Though the context is there in the wider frame, getting in close you can see the grease spray, the inner-workings…it just feels so much more substantial. I click a few frames, and we get our shot.
This one is close, but not enough impact yet.
IN POST PRODUCTION: Get back and make the appropriate file backups. The set of images is culled, and a few make it into Lightroom. Editing is crucial to really nailing the look I want for many of my sessions, and this is no exception. Given the range of what gels and light can do naturally, color balances will need to be tweaked, as will curves.
Here is a shot straight from the 5DIII:
Shooting RAW keeps everything nice and flat, as I often need to push details as far as the file will let me. I evaluate firs the work that will need to be done to my subjects – as we’ve had the makeup done prior by the excellent Carla Naylor, some minor tweaks to Andrea’s underarm are made, and some lines on Michael’s face are emphasized. The truck has a ditracting antenna which had to go as well; light post is left in but I could go either way on it.
With the modifications done, it’s time to tone our image. I deepen the black level with curves, manually drop the exposure of the background, as well as enhance the blue levels. The subjects themselves are given a warmer treatment to really make them come alive and contrast the background. After compressing to a more managable size, all that’s left is a few passes of sharpening, and we have our final shot:
That’s it! Let me know what you guys think of this post, or others you’d like to seen taken apart.
Here’s how things look straight out of camera: