Laura and I are continuing to shoot our series of photos depicting scenes from her inner world, like the ones we exhibited at the Birth Your Dreams exhibition in August. We work well as a team. She comes up with these brilliant and beautiful concepts and I refine those concepts to their visual essence. By the time we take the photo, the vision is clear and more powerful than anything we could have come up with on our own.
This time, we shot Laura as a red tree growing in a forest. The concept illustrates Laura’s mission of growing spirit on Earth. There was some setup involved. First, we had to find the perfect stand of trees. Laura had located a spot out in the country where there was forest on both sides of the street. Then, we had to wait for the weather. The vision was to have fresh snow on the ground. When the day finally came, we packed up the car and headed out to that little forest. We drove along this stretch of road slowly a few times, scanning the woods for the right spot for the photo. I wanted to find a spot with mostly vertical trees, with few fallen trunks and distracting diagonal branches. I also wanted the right sized clearing for Laura to stand in, as I wanted her to appear to be part of the continuous forest, rather than feeling like she was wedged in, or was surrounded by too much space. Finally we spotted the right place. Here’s what it looked like from the road.
Next, we had to unpack all our stuff, including camera, tripod, lenses, costume, chair, mirror, props, etc. We had to tread carefully, approaching the scene from the side and back so as not to disturb the beautiful fresh snowy landscape in the foreground. We set Laura up on a chair to give her the extra height required by her tree costume. I tested the composition and exposure while she was still wearing her winter clothes, because we wouldn’t have much time to shoot with her in the costume before she turned into an icicle. It was cold!
When we got the composition we wanted, I locked the camera down on the tripod, and we got Laura into her costume. The long skirt and red top were held together by fabric ties and plastic clamps. It’s not exactly comfortable or easy to wear! In fact, after we got her all strapped in, Laura was pretty much immobile.
I worked pretty quickly to get the exposures I needed. I took three bracketed exposures of each shot: regular, 1.5 stops above, and 1.5 stops below. I used continuous drive and a shutter release cable so that as little as possible would move in between the exposures. In contrasty scenes like this, I think it’s a good idea to bracket because it will allow you to merge the details from the various exposures to end up with something with wider dynamic range. It’s not exactly HDR photography, but more like the techniques that film photographers like Karsh used to use when sandwiching bracketed negatives to create richly tonal scenes under difficult lighting conditions.
I also shot at f2.8 and at f9.0. Normally, I love shooting f2.8 because I like to isolate my subject. But, in this case, the forest was as much the subject as the trees, and I had a feeling I’d want to make use of the extra depth provided by the smaller aperture.
Shooting done, we got Laura out of that costume and bundled up again in her winter jacket. I’m sure that was quite a relief. When I got the images back to the studio and into the computer, I was glad that I’d shot all those bracketed exposures as well as the f9.0 shots. There was very little work to be done on the photo to make it “perfect.” I emphasized the brightness and misty atmosphere of the forest by using a low-contrast process of the over-exposed bracketed shot. This also gave Laura’s skin a lovely translucent quality. I brought detail into the costume by masking in the regular exposure. I didn’t need the under-exposed version. I cloned out some of the excess branches and debris to keep everything as vertical as possible. Light sharpening brought out the detail in the bark of the trees.
The photo looks amazing at high resolution. I can’t wait to present it in an exhibition in some huge format.