Do you ever look at a shot and think “I wonder what went on behind the scenes to make that happen?” I do it all the time. I wonder what the setup was. I wonder what challenges the artist faced. I wonder what they did post-process. I wonder if they had a plan or they just tossed their gear in their car and went to see what they could do.
I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit some previous projects and go into detail about the planning, setup, and post-process. Sometimes, there really isn’t a lot of magic behind the curtain. I can accomplish what I need to quickly within Lightroom. For some projects, I find myself spending hours in Photoshop.
This shoot was done for a model, Ashley, who was vying to have her image included in the Pinups for Pitbulls calendar. Fairly certain we did this back in 2009. The goal was to recreate a famous pinup “Hold Everything” by Gil Elvgren, which was an oil painting he did back in 1962.
The painting looks innocent enough and might seem simple to recreate. But Gil did that with a paintbrush, not a camera. Easier to command control of the scenery when you can paint in what you want rather than reconstruct it.
First, Ashley did an outstanding job of researching the painting, paying attention to just about every little detail possible. On top of everything else, she brought her awesome pitbull, which was a rescue and also the star of the shoot. She had the chair, newspaper, and accessories we needed to match the painting.
With all of the props in place, it was time to shoot. This was done on 2 different dates. The first attempt, the lighting and some of the setup just wasn’t right. While we could have made it work, it wasn’t our very best attempt. So we setup a second day and my brother-in-law brought his knowledge along which truly helped.
- Lighting: AB1600 high camera left into softbox, AB1600 camera right into an umbrella, powered with a Vagabond and triggered with Pocket Wizards
- Dog: The dog was super sweet and never even barked. However, we still had to be careful because we were shooting in front of an old building in Locust Grove that had been converted into a Parks & Recreation center. There were people coming in and out of the area and having a pitbull running around loose wasn’t the best idea. Ashley had a small bag of treats in the chair with her that were tucked away, just out of sight.
- We also needed a big fan, something I didn’t have during the first pass. In the original painting, the models dress was blowing up so we had to recreate that.
The shoot itself went awesome. We ran into a pending storm and got out of there before the bottom fell out, but everything went great. Ashley was so patient and her awesome puppy never once seemed bothered by being in the spotlight.
It is great looking back at this and seeing my own workflow. Well, maybe not great, because I look back and see so many flaws. Thankfully I can compare what I used to do with what I do now and see a great deal of improvement in terms of efficiency. By that I mean, I was not using Lightroom then. I was not cataloging any of my work. Some of the Photoshop work was far more manual than it would have been today. Adobe’s Content Aware was a welcomed addition to the application, but not something available when I created this.
Everyone wants to get the shot right the first time through and not have to spend time on the back end with a lot of editing. Work smarter not harder, right? Well, that isn’t always the case. Here are some challenges I encountered, all of which were addressed within Photoshop:
- No lead on the dog: For the calendar, they did not want photos of dogs wearing leads. During the shoot, we didn’t feel comfortable having him not wear a leash. Not because of the dog, but more because of other people that might be around. Dogs are better than people. The lead was something that had to be removed post-process.
- Environment: The ground we shot on was covered with dirt and leaves. It wasn’t as clean as the ground in the original painting. The ground in the painting was also tiled, where as we shot on a sidewalk. The entire ground was cleaned and a new tiled pattern was placed on top.
- Bracelet: In the painting the model was wearing a red bracelet. In our first run through, Ashley wore a bracelet, but forget it during the second shoot. So that was added back digitally.
- Newspaper aging: We had a newspaper prop, but it was a recent newspaper. Something in 1962 would surely be aged, so a subtle sepia tone was added to give the newspaper a bit more of an aged feel. It is difficult to see in any web sized version, but I also replaced the headline to say “Pitbulls Banned”, something that some might not notice, but in a printed calendar it would have been a nice little detail.
- Background & color: We shot up against a dark green shrub, which was really not the same color as the painting. Some color adjustments were done to make the background more closely match the painting without going too far over the top.
One of the arguments I have had to listen to for years is from the photography purist who will profess to the mountain tops and back that everything has to be done in the camera. I have even heard some go so far to say that anything done within Photoshop is just cheating and used as a crutch for not knowing how to do it in camera.
In the 10+ years of delivering work to a client, I have yet to hear “Did you do all of this in the camera or did you have to do it in Photoshop?”
The client cares about the quality of the work delivered and how much they are paying for it. If you can address those two concerns, I promise you they don’t care that you had to adjust colors, add a sky, or remove blemishes.
Some work absolutely has to be done within Photoshop. This image is a great example. I spent considerable amount of time in Photoshop. We also spent considerable amount of time planning the actual photo, setting it up, and taking it. They were all pieces to the puzzle. The final image was what I had to create, and the planning, photography, and post-processing were all just tools used to make that happen.