From Soup to Nuts- Merry Christmas!

In this month’s installment we are going to take a look at the creation of a specialized image designed for the use of a promotional mailer. Since it’s Christmas time, I wanted something that would be fun and quirky and still match the feel of the holiday season. But where to look for inspiration?
I love, love, love the classic holiday movie “A Christmas Story”. Something about Ralphie’s plight to obtain the coveted Red Rider Beebee gun tugs at my heartstrings every year. My only problem was how do I relay the feel of this movie visually into my own style and personality. The answer came while strolling through a local department store last month. As I was pondering whether or not to even do a mailer, I noticed an all too familiar lamp towards the back of the display. It was the infamous “leg” lamp ! My mind feverishly worked up a visual that would both pay homage to this delightly tacky symbol of one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made, as well as maintaining a consistent visual presence with my clients. I thought a humorous approach would be best, leaving a lasting impression (hopefully) with the viewer. How to do this? Include myself of course (being that I am one of the most ridiculous looking people that I know!)

As I just mentioned, casting was pretty much taken care of. All I needed was the perfect foil to my character so it wouldn’t look like I was just a creepy guy staring at an illuminated leg! I enlisted the help of my wife, who was al
l to willing to make me look all the more foolish. We set the shoot date, bought the props, and set off for the studio.
Not a whole lot of production for this one. I put a slab of formica countertop that we had at the studio on two sawhorses and that pretty m
uch created my work surface for the shoot. I placed the lamp in the middle and blacked out the background with felt to control any ambient light. The hardest part was making sure that I was in the right portion of the frame given the composition and angle. In order to do this, it was essential that I have immediate visual feedback of where I was. I ended up shooting tethered into my powerbook laptop, with the images popping up instantenously through lightroom. The camera was set to timer mode and within 15 minutes I had the compostion and angle nailed down.


Lighting wasn’t even that big a deal for this one in terms of complexity. I wanted a really warm, glowy, Christmasy feel to the whole thing, so I relied mainly on the illumination from the lamp itself. The exposure ended up being somewhere around .8 sec, so I was able to hold still long enough to light up my face. To add some separation from the background I used a speedotron strobe with a small bowl reflector about 4′ up and aimed down, with a yellow gel to simulate the incandescent light. The light itself added a nice rimming effect and would aid me later for compositing. I shot myself, my wife, the lamp, and the background all separately. This allowed me to light each component appropriately and alloted for more creative control. My wife I lit very similar to myself. When I photographed the background plate, I used whatever ambient was in the room minus 1 stop exposure. This gave me enough detail in the scene without completely destroying the christmas lights. It also added to the overall falloff of light from the lamp.


The posing was pretty critical in that I was trying to portray a humorous setting. I photographed myself until I got something that I was happy with both in the pose and in the expression. My wife took a bit longer in that she normally isn’t in front of the lens and isn’t , ahem, all that fond of being there :). After a few attempts and many laughs we finally got something that I thought would work out really well. She was a really great sport about the whole thing and I thank her for that!

Once I had all the components photographed, it was time to start compositing them in Photoshop. I use Photoshop CS3 and as a generall rule I like to work nondestructively as much as possible. What I mean by that is I make duplicate layers of everything and any changes that are made are easily reverted by going back to the original layer. For this type of work, selections need to be critically accurate in order to get that believability factor. I find the best way to do that is to use the pen tool and draw out each individual path on a separate path layer. For example, I made separate pen paths for the light, myself, and my wife. This way if I need to move something or shade something, I just call up the needed path and change it into a feathered selection. Believe me, it makes my life so much easier doing it this way rather than relying on individual selections. Once all the elements were in place, it was time to start matching up the lighting levels. Since I was particular about the lighting in the first place, there wasn’t a whole lot of adjustment that was needed. A few curve layers to blend in the foreground to the background was about it. After this it was just a matter of some blending modes mixed with some select sharpening and we were set.

I had the final image sent out to be printed as a postcard with the intention of sending them out to current and future clients. My hope is that it will generate some buzz about my photography and keep my name fresh in everybody’s mind. As of right now, the response has been minimal but good. My wife sent one to her sister and she called the next day to let me know that she didn’t even realize that it was Julie and I in the picture! She thought it was wonderful and very well done, which is the conclusion I’m hoping everybody comes to as well. Check back after the New Year, I will post more responses as they come in.

Merry Christmas everybody!!