The original intent had been to take three photographs that could be merged into a single image in post processing but by the end of the shoot it was obvious that at least four and perhaps five separate photographs would be needed to achieve a satisfactory final product.
The main reason for this change in tactics was the decision to bring the start time of the shoot forward to 14:00; I had originally intended to start shooting at 15:30 and to be working as the light faded to allow the flashguns to have a greater effect and to achieve an aesthetic, best described as, halfway between Crewdson’s Twilight (1) photographs and the nighttime sets in Tom Hunter’s Living in Hell and Other Stories (2). However, after sharing the shoot plan with my tutor and taking his comments into account, I recognised that this was a high risk strategy for, what had to be, a once off shoot. At a practical rather than artistic level I am glad to have made this decision as by the time the shoot finished at 16:00 it was already becoming too cold for the models to sit on the ancient stonework in the middle of a windy field.
As a result of working in afternoon light the flashlights had less effect and needed to be used at two thirds or full power most of the time and for the stage 3 shot, where the models were backlit by natural light, I needed two flashguns on the models and one on the ceiling to achieve the desired result. This resulted in more evenly lit images than I had originally intended.
As a second consequence of the afternoon light the soft boxes I had planned to use as diffusers further over reduced the effect of the flashguns so most of the shots were taken with bare flashguns giving a hard light that had also not been the original intent.
Having reviewed the raw photographs no single photograph offered itself as the whole background. This was not wholly surprising as the detail lights used for each stage were set up to achieve the desired lighting of the models.
The main issue in fig. 02 was the over exposure of the lower part of the ceiling. The stone in this area is much whiter than the rest of the ceiling and this was amplified by the flashlight being used to light the pillar. The burn tool tended to make the highlights too grey so I painted this area with a light wash of the stone colour from higher in the ceiling.
One of my main disappointments with the overall end result is the white sky to the right of the image. I tried several different strategies to either darken the sky or to add some clouds but it was important to maintain a realistic relationship between the sky, trees and grass and none of my adjustments improved the image. The sky was therefore unadjusted in the final image.
Scene 1 – Trepidation
The main decision for this shot was whether to include the light on the stonework in the window to left but I wanted at least one example of unexplained light in the final image and this was that opportunity. This was the most simply lit shot with just a single handheld flashlight in the window to the left throwing strong contrasting and dramatic shadows.
Scene 2 Supplication
The main issue with this image was the scale of the black figure, a combination of the available costume and the young female model led to this “authority figure” being too small. After a peer review of the first draft of the final image I also decided to address the lack of contrast between the black figure’s head and the background foliage. These two factors demanded that this image was spilt and processed as two pictures; the two models to the left and the floor as one layer and the black figure as a separate layer.
In regards to the floor I removed the furthest to the right skull to create a better balance of the props.
To address my issues with the black figure I cut it out from the background, increased its size and then painted it with a light grey wash with the brush tool set to retain the underlying texture.
Scene 3 Sanctuary
The whole shoot was undertaken with a 14mm lens and the inevitable lens distortion is most evident with this shot. As mentioned later I removed some of the lens distortion in final processing but the right hand model in particular remains distorted in the final image.
The back light on the subjects made this the hardest scene to light and in hindsight it was a mistake to attempt to get detail into the ceiling and light the models in the same shot. I suspect I would have had a better raw image if I had concentrated solely on lighting the models whom by this point were at risk of hyperthermia so I was rushing to close down the shoot.
- Applied lens distortion correction filter
- Each layer was “assembled” and cut out edges refined
- Applied dodge and burn to balance detail points of light and shade
- Removed the distracting fence in the field behind the models
- Cropped to 16:9 to enhance the narrative element
- Balanced the contrast using Color Efex Pro, Pro Contrast
- Applied a hint of skylight filter to warm the stone colour
- Applied unsharp mask
- Post processing time approximately ten hours
The Completed Scenes
(1) Crewdson, Gregory (2002) Twilight. New York: Abrams
(2) Chandler, David and Henneman, Inge (2009) Theatres of the Real. Published to coincide with the exhibition Theatres of the Real devised and curated by Joanna Lowry and David Green and first exhibited at the FotoMusuem Provincie Antwerpen. Co-published by London: Photoworks, Antwerpen: FotoMusuem.