Behind the Scenes of the Snow Angel Diptychs

snowAngelBTSeranSome people have asked me how I shot the snow angel diptychs from yesterday, so I thought it'd be easier to show you. Don't worry, it'll be a short post as it wasn't a fancy setup at all. Basically I had to find a way to get the camera up above the subjects. So either I had to go up with the camera on a platform or ladder of some kind, or I had to have a way to remote control it from below. Setting up ladders and platforms is generally frowned upon in NYC parks and I had to do this on the down-low anyway, so I settled on the second option.

First step was to find some sort of arm to stick the 5D Mark III camera and 28mm/1.8 lens at the end of. I opted to use my carbon tripod and ball head with the legs together but fully extended. This gave me about 4 or 5 feet of distance. If I anchored the feet of the tripod in my stomach, I could then use my arm to control the angles. Then the question became how to fire the shutter. My last ditch option would be to use the built-in timer and then have to get the camera in position before the camera fired. This would suck. Next up was a little cheap IR remote I bought on eBay, but I found that I couldn't control the camera angles enough to get an accurate framing. It worked, but it didn't work very well. Luckily I had a trick up my sleeve.

A couple months ago I was sent a CamRanger from the manufacturer to try out. I've been meaning to send it back to them, but I had yet to find a real life portrait shooting situation for which it was suited. Something to actually run it through it's paces on a real shoot. Well I found one today. So the Cam Ranger plugs into the camera body (I taped it to the tripod toward the top of one of the legs) and connects via wifi to your iPad or in my case iPhone (The iPad would have been too heavy). It allows you to not only fire the shutter and change exposure settings from afar, it also lets you stream liveview images from the camera to the phone. Basically full remote control. So I could have the camera up at the end of the tripod over the people and still see everything the camera saw. Firing the shutter when I had things framed just right. I have to admit that it worked flawlessly, and I have not generally had a trouble-free experience with Canon remote control even using their own software and an actual computer with a hardwired cable. Color me impressed.

As for lighting I had planned and brought some pocketWizards and a strobe with a little softbox to use, but ended up just using the hard sun as it was. It made the whole thing feel more real.

Below is a very rough video of the whole thing in action.

Video courtesy of my friend Patrick DiJusto whom you should follow on twitter. Photo courtesy of the lovely Eran Jones.

[youtube 7l2iBxrX9NU Snow Angel BTS]

Underneath by Jes Young Book Cover - Behind the Scenes

About a year ago I wrote a post for the cover of the first book in this series entitled "Tab Bennett and the Inbetween". That cover was a serious composite too, and because I never did get around to writing it up for the blog I thought I'd take the time to let you all behind the curtain for the making of the second one.

I should point out that Underneath, Princess of Twilight & Dawn will be out in the Amazon Kindle book store on December 30. I'll be sure to update the post and let people know where they can get it.

The author Jes Young and I sat down and talked through some ideas for the second book. Just to get you up to speed in case you haven't read the first book (which you should, here's the ebook on amazon), the main character Tab was a young woman whose sister had died and is just learning the truth about who she was, which happened to be an elf princess with a destiny. On the first cover we visualized a scene out of the book where she's walking from her house toward toward an apparition in the woods at twilight, and starlings are flying around over her head.

For the second, somewhat darker book (think The Empire Strikes Back), Tab is journeying down into an underworld to confront her evil father. We thought that a downward spiral staircase would be a great visual since it is a significant part of the story line. Tab would be dressed a big sexier, be a bit more badass, and be holding a bladed weapon of some kind. I liked the idea of making her pose similar to the first cover, with Tab walking down the steps, but looking back over her shoulder for danger. It would bring some continuity to the series.

The first challenge for this project was to find a spiral staircase.  It's a surprisingly difficult thing to do. But Jes (or course) has a friend who happens to own a castle, Osborn Castle at Cat Rock up on the Hudson to be specific. So in the fall,  I took the train up with camera to shoot scenes and elements which I could later mix together for a background plate on which to build the composite. I'd like to take this moment to say that this place is BEAUTIFUL and a special thanks goes out to Fred for being so gracious and letting us use his property.. So if you’re fancy and looking for a place to have your wedding or similar gala party, then Cat Rock should be on your short list. Fred was kind enough to give us a tour of the grounds and the house. When we mentioned staircases, we were told there was one off limits to the public up on the third floor. As it happened, it turned out to be perfect for what we needed. I set up my tripod at the top and took this picture. It’s severely wide-angled (28mm) and I know that the perspective is going to be exaggerated,  but I’m ok with that because it will just add to the intensity of the final result.

Pretty boring right?  Too bright, cheery, and far too clean for what we needed. That’s ok, I can deal with that in post. The important part is to capture the crazy meandering stairs. What I needed was a way to grunge it up a bit. Sometimes, taking pictures of uninteresting things can be a real lifesaver, case in point: I had a picture in my library of an old plaster wall whose paint was cracking and flaking off. It looks like this.

I used this detail stretched across the original stair shot in overlay blending mode, which made the two appear to merge into one foreboding stairway into the unknown. Here’s what that looked like.

Simple, right? Well it kind of is. It may not be perfect, but because we’re going to do so much more to this composite before we’re finished, it's ok for the moment. The next step is to make scene darker and creepier, and make the lighting far more blue than the original shot. In addition, I wanted to sculpt the light a bit to give the impression of a final window with dusk or moonlight coming in from left to right.Jes had also requested that we bring in the birds from the cover of book one, so I added that detail in. That leaves us with this:

Notice that there are some lighter areas in the middle, that’s where I am planning to add the model. Thenext step was to get my friend Mary to model as Tab. I pulled out some blue paper to make it easier to mask her out, set up a couple lights (one for fill and another to mimic the light coming in the window), and set up a box to act as the step for Mary to stand on so that her feet and positioning matched as much as possible.

You can see that I didn’t have a sword for Mary to hold. I couldn’t get it in time, so we had to make due with a small umbrella as mock sword hilt. I was happy with her expression and the angle of her body, but we added some later shots which had much more dynamic hair, so that it would look like she was whipping her head around because she heard something behind her. So-(delete) I looked through the shots and composited the hair from a later shot onto this one. Here’s a crop of the hair shot.

Now it was time to bring Mary into the background. I actually-delete had pretty-delete decent luck using a mask and the built-in refine edges commands in CS6, which surprised me because they have rarely worked for me in the past. So-delete Here’s Mary against the plate, with and without the shadows. Look around her feet on the shot on the left and you’ll see how pasted in it looks. Matching shadows and light are the key to making shots like this work.

The next challenge of course, was the issue of the sword. I had a prop sword which I shot and masked out and placed into the scene, but it didn't quite jibe. Rather it was fine, but it didn’t have enough pizazz or magic or something. So I gave it a bit of a glow and a little specular/spectrum?? highlight to bring more attention to it. Here’s the before/after:

Much better. The only thing left to do was to add a bit of vignetting to make Mary stand out and make the whole shot look more claustrophobic. I also added the grunge border I used on book one; yet another element of consistency between the two to give them continuity. Oh and last but not least istype/font, again I used the same style I developed for the first book.  So, without further ado, the final cover for Underneath by Jes Young looks like this:


New Quasi Self-Portrait

I needed some new photos of myself. So I setup some lights and had my friend Claude come and man the camera. As you can see, he did a great job as photographer. Mostly I'm sharing this so that you can how easy it is to end up rocking a 5 light setup.  (1) head pointing toward the back wall for overall fill, (1) head with a gridded beauty dish for key camera right, (1) head with gridded softbox camera left for rim, (1) head with 20 degree grid on the background, and (1) speedlight with a makeshift snoot as a little hair light from behind and above.

Oh ya, and a 35mm prime lens. Long lenses for portraits can suck it. Process shot below as well.

One Raw File, Two Visions

Geoff Greene was one of the photographers at my lighting workshop a couple of weeks ago where he took a picture of our model Mary sitting on the bar in the back of the room.  A couple of lights, not a whole lot of set design as you can tell.  Anyway, Geoff sent over his version of the image along with some post-processing comments and I thought it would be interesting to show what two different photographers would do with the same RAW image from the camera. So I had his send it along and here are the results. So here's the original exported straight from Lightroom:


Then here's the version Geoff sent me. High-contrast, high saturation, and very 'fashion' to my eye:


And finally, what I would have done with it if it were my picture. Not as drastic, closer to the original, but still trying to pull something more out of the RAW data by highlighting Mary a bit. In comparison, mine looks really boring and conservative.


I'm sure if we gave it to 10 photographers we'd get 10 varying versions of the image.  Just goes to show how much post-processing is part of the process.  We may have gotten rid of the chemicals, but you're still not done when you press the shutter release.