And now, the exciting conclusion…
In the first part of this entry, I wrote a little bit about the lighting of the photo you see below (as always, you can click on it to view it larger). As I said I would, this time I’ll share everything that occurs to me about each of the seven individual shots that went into the image—why they were necessary, how they were done, and/or what I think they add to the overall photo.
Those shots are:
1. Female model (Lindsey) on the workbench and the workshop itself.
2. Male model (Alan) and the electronic parts on the table.
3. Lindsey’s right hand.
4. Lindsey’s leg, in the background on the left edge of the frame.
5. The wires coming out of the leg.
6. The grass and trees visible through the window.
7. The robot’s insides.
Canon EOS 5D Mk II
f/9 @ 1/160, ISO 100
Shots 1, 2, and 3: So, first of all, look at the photo and try to imagine the rest of Lindsey’s body—hips and legs in sweatpants, carrying on past the left edge of the frame. If I had only shot her with Alan, and didn’t get any shots of Alan by himself, I’d have had a pretty significant problem in post. Lindsey’s lower half covered up Alan’s waist and forearm, which meant there’d be quite the hole in the photo once I turned her into a torso. So Alan had to be captured in a different frame and dropped in later. It’s the same problem with Lindsey’s right hand. It’s out of sight when her whole body is there, but once she’s a torso, you expect it to be right there opposite her left hand, and it would look very strange (yes, “strange” is relative) if you didn’t see it. So I had to shoot it separately and add it later.
Shots 4 and 5: The leg was shot with Lindsey sitting on the workbench. The bouquet of wires was photographed in my studio after the principal shoot, lit and Gaussian blurred in Photoshop to match the rest of the scene. Personally, I think the leg is a nice touch. It reinforces the idea that the robot is a work in progress, and that development of different body parts is happening concurrently. Where possible, I really try to add little details to photos that might go unnoticed at first glance, because I think those are the things that make people want to keep looking.
Shot 6: As I said in the previous entry, the workshop was on the third floor of the building. The view out the window was of the concrete framework of Seattle’s Alaskan Way viaduct—unattractive, distracting, and not even really discernible. So after the principal shoot, I took a stroll through one of Seattle’s many parks and found an area of grass with a treeline I liked very much. Again, I think it’s a nice touch. The wooded background suggests of a rural location and implies remoteness, maybe even suggests loneliness as the motivation for building the robot. It’s a relatively small detail, but I think it explains a lot about the image and as I just said, I do love details.
Shot 7: Constructing the insides of the robot was really the most challenging problem of the entire shoot. I decided the best approach would be to build a little wall shaped like the cross-section of a human torso, and then attach little robotic-looking things to it. The trouble is, you really have to make the wall exactly the size of the cross-section of your model’s torso—width, height, and shape. All the pieces you attach to the thing have to fit within the walls of the robot’s body. If they extended out, I would’ve had to cut them off in post, and odds are that would look…odd. But how do you know you’re making the wall the right size and shape to correspond to your model’s torso at the point you’re cutting her in half?
Well, the first thing to do is figure out where that end point for her torso would be. I thought it should be right at the start of her hips, where her waist widens and her lower back would meet the table. Look at the photo again and imagine her top half were cut off any higher—say, just below her bellybutton. Her back wouldn’t be touching the table at the point, and wouldn’t that look weird with a levitating stomach?
Once I decided on how much of her body to use in the photo, I met with her to build a cast of her body, out of plaster, from upper back to the cutoff point. At art supply stores you can buy inexpensive rolls of mesh fabric coated in plaster (Rigid Wrap, it’s called). Just cut a length of it, wet it, and apply it—easy, easy, lemon squeezy. Then, once I had a cast, I could see exactly the size and shape of the space I had to fill with robot parts, and I could build a wall that would fit inside.
I made the wall out of silver paper mounted onto foamcore. The silver paper looks like a sheet of metal, especially when viewing the image at full size. The robot parts are from a couple $3 VCRs from Goodwill. I liked the idea of using recognizable parts—the kinds of things your average person might have on hand and make use of. I’m particularly in love with the shiny rotating head in the center, and its resemblance to a spinal column. Details!
When it came time to shoot, after Lindsey had left, I photographed the wall of robot parts sitting at the base of the plaster cast, which had been placed (as best I could tell) in the same spot she had been lying. It wasn’t exact, of course, but it was close enough that the Photoshop work was a breeze.
(Like Steve Buscemi, it may not look like much, but it performs wonderfully.)
Now, there are a number of things I could say about the post work itself—about layer masks and selections, blending modes and healing brushes—but I’m not sure how interesting that would be to read. So before I close, I’ll just mention a few last post production items I think might be of interest:
· It’s absolutely necessary to get your shadows right. If the lighting looks off, you’ve really screwed the pooch, and it’s common to have to massage the photo a bit when you’re doing composites. For example, I had to add shadows to the right hand (cast by the torso) as well as the table (cast by the robot). It might take a couple tries, but the time spent is a small price to pay for getting it right.
· The lip of the shell housing the robot parts was made by darkening a thin selection of Lindsey’s skin. The inside of the robot’s shell was made by copying parts of Lindsey’s stomach.
· I made Lindsey’s skin incredibly smooth in Photoshop. There was a fair amount of cloning and healing brush use, as well as dodging and burning. Now hold on—before you get excited and call me a hypocrite given my previous blog entry about unnecessary post work, let me just say that no, there was absolutely nothing wrong with her appearance at the outset. But for this to work, she really needed to look as though she were plastic, fresh out of the box.
· I barely did a thing to retouch Alan’s face. His expression, to me, is absolutely perfect (caring, proud, and content all at the same time), and I couldn’t have been happier with the way the lighting picks up the lines in his face when smiles. It’s very real, very genuine, and I didn’t mess with that at all.
· There’s a lot of composite work, yes, and I did plasticate (that should be a word) Lindsey, but otherwise, the photo is pretty much as it was shot. I made minor global corrections to adjust contrast, gave the photo a very slight overall glow, and tweaked a couple colors a little. Not much, really.