I have long admired the surreal, fine art works of photo artists Brooke Shaden and Rob Woodcox. Way before I fell in love with photography I painted and studied the masters at school. My favourites were the classic Baroque period painters Rubens and Caravaggio, as well as the surreal works of Salvador Dali. I always wondered how these incredibly talented painters created such evocative scenes with glorious detail and exquisite lighting, without so much as a polaroid to refer to let alone an LCD screen or histogram?! ;-)
In the spirit of demystifying fine art I thought to share a behind the scenes look at an image I photographed over the weekend. I joined a group of friends and fellow photographers at the local community gardens to photograph flowers. I couldn't remember the last time I had just wandered through a garden getting up close and personal with nature. Of course non of that mattered when unexpectedly we had a fun, vivacious model complete with period costume for the morning. Talk about game changer!
So with no planning, preparation or pre visualisation of a concept/period costume shoot we just went with it and had fun. It was hard not to get inspired once Nicole got into her fabulous wardrobe complete with cool props. I stepped through the usual scouting process of looking for good light and setting the scene in terms of where the character will be, angles, lens choice and camera framing. I always do this by firing off frames and literally seeing how it looks on the back of the camera. It gives me a sense of what the light's doing and how to start working the scene. The images below are the handful of frames I fired off in scouting mode, these are straight out of camera.
It was largely an over cast morning with the sun popping in and out. Even though the sun stayed mostly behind the clouds for this series of images, the light was non the less very bright and given it was now around 11am it was pretty much overhead - not good. I persevered knowing I was going to manipulate the image in post to create something more conceptual.
Wanting a more dynamic feel to my character I asked one of the members of the group to flick her skirt which allowed me to capture the frames below in rapid fire mode. The idea was that I would composite the various stages of her wafting skirt in post. This technique requires a tripod and as luck would have it, I had forgotten mine that morning! I decided to gun it and see what I could hack in photoshop later.
The skirt is the only composited element of this image. Most of the work is in the colour grading and dodging and burning. Once the image hit 2GB and my iMAC struggled saving I had to merge the first 5 layers which were 5 of the images above, each masked to blend her skirt into one large piece. I also deleted all the photoshop merge layers (command + option + shift +E) which were no longer needed.
The snapshot below shows all the photoshop layers for this image, minus the deleted layers. Unlike post processing of beauty, portrait or commercial work, there is no real structure or process in my conceptual work. I always start with the big structural work first i.e. compositing, warping, liquifying, cloning and then play with colour and light.
I find colour the least explored characteristic in digital workflows and also the most difficult to get right. My favourite colour adjustments are Hue/Saturation, Curves and Selective Colour. Alien Skin's Exposure is also an incredible plugin to experiment with. It's available as a plugin in Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop.
Conceptual work is challenging but also incredible rewarding. The shoot planning and execution aside, it will requires a more advanced level of photoshop skill set relative to basic photo retouching techniques. But don't let that discourage you, YouTube is full of great video tutorials on just about any creative technique your heart desires.
For me conceptual work is incredibly liberating, pure creative indulgence. I love sitting down with a glass of wine, my favourite playlist blaring and getting lost in the process. Working, playing and exploring layer by layer, creating simply for the joy of creating.
If you have any specific questions, more than happy to tackle them in the comments section below.