From Soup to Nuts-vampire diaries

I recently was reading a blog posting from a fellow photographer friend of mine in which he was talking about student photographers staying motivated. Having been out of school now for the past six months, staying motivated and shooting new material can often times be problematic. When your in school or when you have a steady gig, there are assignments to be done, deadlines to be met, and peers to bounce your ideas off of. Out in the real world these situations are not as forth coming and it’s easy to start falling into bad habits. To combat this, I’ve decided to focus on one creative self assignment a month. This will become a monthly post entitled “Inspiration Station” and we will go over everything from concept to casting, production to processing, and everything in between. My hope is to show you how I work, why I do what I do, and how that work is perceived. Everybody ready? OK then, on with the show!

For my first post in this endeavour we will discuss a photoshoot I completed over the weekend. The inspiration for the shoot came from two places: the first being from a series of books that my wife has been reading (the Twilight series for all of those who are interested) and from a posting on a model website from a model wanting to shoot a vampire themed photograph. I ended up reading the Twilight series and it produced a strong visual narrative for me to work from. I visualized a dark, edgy world where everything was cold and moody. I wanted the photograph to portray a sense of danger but at the same time I wanted it to have a neo punk style to it a well.


Once I had the intial visual picture in my head I contacted the model who posted the original inquiry (the fabulous Lori D) to see if she was interested in my personal style and the vision I had for the final product. I think it’s essential to have everybody on the same page when your trying to produce a stylized production; this way everybody knows what the expectations are and they strive to put their best foot forward in meeting that goal. Lori’s ideas for the shoot fell pretty much in line with what I was thinking. She added the concept of a second model playing the role of the victim to add another dimension to the production. Since Lori has such a unique look, we needed a male model to compliment both her and the overall production. I came up with a list of potential models who I thought could fit the profile, ranging from a conservative look to the more extreme end of the spectrum. I showed Lori the list and we both agreed on two of the models who’s looks, age, and location fit in with our production parameters. We ended up going with Sean based on availability and interest in the project.


With the casting out of the way we moved on to production. First up was location. Originally we thought shooting it on a decrepit broken down brick wall would work (in fact I went out and photographed a background plate for just such a thing) but upon thinking about later I decided that keeping the background simple and clean lent more to the edginess of the look. We ended up just photographing it on a plain grey wall in my studio ,with a splash of colored light (I will speak more on that later). Once the location was set we needed to decide on the wardrobe. We both love the work of local fashion designer Ali Pace and we thought her look would be appropriate for this shoot. We relayed to Ali the look and feel of what we were after and Ali ran with it. When I saw the final costume I knew Ali had nailed it on the head. Lori added to the look with some realistic looking vampire fangs, crosses, and other accouterments. Sean’s outfit was simple in contrast, we really wanted to keep his look clean and uncluttered so I decided he would just wear a solid dark color shirt and pants.

In order to achieve the mood of the photograph, the lighting had to be definitive. It was very important to keep it controlled and be very selective as to where and how it was falling on the subjects. I decided to use a 22″ beauty dish with a 20 degree grid over top both models and angled slightly to fall on their faces. This would give their faces just enough light to suggest that they were standing under a streetlight or some other light source. With a few simple posing directions I could get Lori’s face to be half in shadow which lent authenticity to the feel. After that, I added another light head at a higher power setting behind both Sean and Lori with a 20 degree grid and a light blue gel. This give a wonderful rim light that highlighted both Sean’s hair and Lori’s cheek, adding separation from the dark background. This light also splashed a narrow beam down the side of the wall which added to the look. All that was left was to give the overall scene a bit of fill light from a third light head (this head was set at very low power with a set of barn doors to control the spill).

Once the lighting was set, I directed Lori to lean against the wall with Sean leaning in on her. Often times when you are working with multiple models at the same time, there can be a comfort factor in terms of personal space that you need to work into gradually. Since Sean and Lori had never even met before, let alone worked together, we started slowly and eventually decreased the distance between the two of them. Both models were very professional and worked well together. They took direction well, were aware of their poses and environment, and added their own unique style to the look. There were quite a few good poses to choose from!


Once the shoot was completed, I loaded up the images into my digital asset management software of choice, lightroom. I work with Canon products (a Canon 5d to be exact) which produce a wonderfully detailed image. I shoot only in RAW which produces a file size around 10 mb. Originally I intended to shoot tethered to a Powerbook G4 laptop but the logistics of the shoot coupled with the transfer speed of the files really made this option less than ideal. I ended up shooting to CF cards and then uploading them to my desktop machine, which is a dual quad-core mac pro. Since I shoot RAW I have the luxury of setting the white balance to whatever I choose. For this particular project I wanted to have a colder, darker feeling so I manually adjusted the color temperature in lightroom until I got something that I was happy with- somewhere around 3900. This was a good start, but I wanted it even a bit bluer so I boosted the saturation and luminance sliders for the blue channel. This worked out much better and kept the overall feel cool. From here I imported the image into photoshop where I did my usual post processing techniques of various filtering and layer styles. I increased the luminosity of Lori’s eye and added in a partial fang from another frame to complete the look.


Everyone involved in the project has loved the final product so far. Once the initial image was completed, it went up on various social networking and model sites such as model mayhem, flickr, and my own website The overall response has been positive- I have had a couple people ask about the lighting setup and a few people say they love the overall feel of the work.

Hope you enjoyed this dissection of my photograph- if you have any questions, just drop me a line!