Collaboration is a team effort
Sometimes, when shooting everything fall apart and you have to rebuild it all. And sometimes, like this past Sunday, the stars just... Align. A few months ago I was assisting on a shoot and met the super-talented Make-Up Artist Brianna Bisson here in Toronto and wanted to work with her ever since. Recently she posted that she had some time free for some creative work and I jumped on that chance and pitched her an idea that had been swirling in my mind for awhile. A person sort of getting ready for the day, holding angelic and devilish masks with the idea behind it being sort of deciding how to attack the day, choosing how to portray yourself.
Looking through some of the models that had contacted her as well I noticed Rachel Romu – She seemed perfect. Expressive, talented, beautiful, and just overall exactly the look I was going for. However, before I could pitch Rachel to Brianna – Brianna pitched Rachel to me! Almost eerie how well it worked out! It wasn't long until the day came, so I packed up my studio, and we headed out.
for this shoot I brought basically my whole 'studio' with me, thankfully my studio is very very compact. The fuji system really helps keeps things small, as do the Cactus RF60 flashes, lots of power in a small package. In the long bag I have three lightstands, boom arm, tripod, and a host of umbrella's, in the middle bag I have a Fuji XT-1 + battery grip + Mitakon Turbo Booster II, Two Cactus RF-60's (With a Neweer NW670 as a backup), a Cactus V6ii, and three lenses (Helios 44-2, Vivitar 28mm 1.9, Jupiter 9). I also have a sandbag and, just for fun, a Mamiya 645 with 80mm 1.9 because I had room in the backpack. We actually ended up using the Mamiya for a couple of other shots that day.
First thing I did was scope out the house a little and try to find the perfect background. I wanted something neutral, with lots of texture and something pretty unique. We actually shot inside of Brianna's residence and it turns out that the master bedroom's shower had the PERFECT look for this shoot. We got Rachel into makeup for our first look, this would be the basis for the shoot and have some neutral makeup with a messy bun.
For the shoot we had a simple... overcoat? Nightie? I'm not really sure what to call it. Our lighting setup was pretty basic beauty lighting – a gridded softbox above Rachel pointed at her and then a second light firing through and umbrella and bouncing off of the floor. My backpack is there without anything in it for just a little bit of extra weight to keep things stable. I shot using the Helios 44-2 and triggered the flashes with the Cactus V6ii. As you can see – I wanted to hit Rachel with just the edge of the light so that I could hit her body with it as well, while still keeping the background pretty dark.
Now, since this is a composite shot, I couldn't change the lighting or move the camera, or even change settings without totally borking it all up. So I was sure that the lighting was exactly what I wanted and started getting some test shots. I shot around F5.6 at ISO200 and 1/250th of a second – I had to use high speed sync since the to get the lighting ratio between the two speedlights correct (Bottom light had to be about half or less than the key above) I couldn't get the flashes to be low enough in power otherwise.
I have done a shoot like this before as a self portrait so I knew some of the pitfalls to avoid, I had Rachel move her hands into different positions, being sure that her arms were more or less square to camera. I ended up using a blend of a couple of shots to get JUST the right arm and hand positions. Some people look down on compositing but... If it results in a shot you're happy with, who cares? This photo, at its base, is a composite shot which I felt gave me even more leeway to blend exposures.
Once I was sure that I had what I needed it was time to head downstairs and change looks.
We got Rachel back into Brianna's makeup chair and went totally glitter-heavenly look. When we went back upstairs, here is where some things had to change posing-wise.
To be sure that I had realistic shadows, I was sure to have Rachel physically put her hand on her face, this way the skin will dip in a little and really tie the 'mask' to the scene so it looks like she is really holding her face – those subtle shadows really tie things together – like a nice rug.
I got a few frames of this, and moved onto the final look – this last look is one of the more successful in my opinion, the dark ruby lips, the wig, everything about it was perfect. Thanks to Brianna's makeup and Rachel's modeling our 'dark' look was totally badass and exactly what I had envisioned for this shoot.
Lastly – it came time to composite. I brought everything into Lightroom and choose my photos. I did my normal culling procedure, followed by some basic colour correction
I brought everything into Photoshop – first thing I did was align the 'masks' and star comping out the bodies and merging the arms. I did some cleanup – I lightened the hair on the left-most face, etc. so make it seem more angelic. Below is a short video showing all of the layers, final colour correction included, that I used to make the image. The reason I had Rachel physically hold her face instead of just futzing with how she held her hands is simple – shadows and depressed skin.
As you can see – her skin is dimpled in a little bit – small shadows along her face – things that would be incredibly difficult to replicate in photoshop.
Overall – the image we produced as a team turned out fantastic – Rachel and Brianna totally knocked it out of the park and I can;t wait to shoot together with them again!