Category Archives: Concept Images

Melissa and the flowers

A couple of days before I was to shoot with Melissa she asked me if it was okay if the second photographer (Clara) could join us at the shoot. Clara had an idea that they wanted to use but had no lighting gear. I had no problem in helping another photographer out so I said it was fine and I would show Clara how to use my lights.

Clara’s idea was to shoot Melissa topless with a bunch of flowers strategically hiding her breasts. However when she arrived the small bunch of fake flowers she had were not gonna be sufficient, so while I was doing the skater shoot with Melissa she went off to the supermarket bought a bigger bunch.

There was no need to alter the lighting setup with two lights on the backdrop and a main on Melissa. Although Clara was shooting with a Canon, the trigger I have worked seemlessly.

When I am shooting away from the studio I always take a back up camera which in this case was my Nikon d600. I also had my Lensbaby in the bag as well. I therefore decided to fit it and take some shots as I didn’t need to use the studio lights. The Lensbaby is quite tricky to focus it does produce an awesome result.

After Clara had finished I decided to take the trigger back and shoot some images of my own back on the Panasonic G9.

However in these I got Melissa to pose in completely different ways to what Clara had done so that she would have some alternative images. As it turned out these were the only images that Melissa got from the session.

I never actually saw the images that Clara shot so I’m not sure whether she actually got what she was wanting or not. Nor why she never gave any images to Melissa.

Marianne’s Water Shoot

When Marianne and I started discussing options for her shot she said that she wanted to have a water look and showed me some examples that had clearly been shot in a shower. I agreed that we could do something similar and set to work figuring out how to do it.

Now the simple solution would be to shoot in an actual bathroom. Have done this is the past but one of the main issues you run into with such a shoot is having enough room to position the subject and lighting to the way that you want.

Fortunately I had an easy solution. When our main bathroom has been renovated, after a burst pipe, we had completely changed the shower. I had kept the door panel from the old shower as a possible prop for exactly this circumstances. So by using some upright supports and clamps, I was actually able to replicate a shower.

I chose an area under a large tree because this minimised the amount of natural light and let me have better control over the overall light. Generally speaking I will set the camera to remove all ambient light for only flash is used. When shooting outside this becomes more difficult and therefore any technique to limit the amount of natural light helps.

The main lighting was provided by two speed lights that were positioned on either side of Marianne and aimed so that they did not spill onto the glass. In order to avoid reflections on the front of the glass I positioned a large black backdrop behind the camera. As it turned out the light provided from the flash eliminated any reflections on the side of the glass facing the camera.

As we were not planning to shoot full body we positioned a stool and Maryann set on that. That gave the advantage that the lights and focus could be pretty much locked into place.

It was now a matter of applying the water. We used a spray bottle to apply water to both the glass and to Marianne and started shooting.

The glass worked really well and it is was a relatively simple setup so I am sure that I will use it again.

I then changed the setup to see if we could use it to replicate a model being under water. I had shot Megan a number of years before but that was in an actual bath.

I placed a tarpaulin on the ground and set the door on top of two boxes that made it high enough for Marianne to go under. I then positioned the camera on a boom and lights on either side of her. We then filled the top of the glass with about 1cm of water.

To try to mimic the water effect we placed a rolled up towel under Marianne’s neck so that her head was at the right angle. We then started to do a series of images before the local insect population decided were were on their dinner menu, and we were forced to call it quits.

While I ended up with some usable images I would have to say that work is still needed before I would be really happy with the technique. There were two main issues one of which is easier to solve than the other.

The first was that there was two much distance between the water and Marianne. By the time I had focused on her, the water essentially disappeared as it was completely out of focus. The result was an image that just looked soft. The answer would be to close the distance between the glass and subject.

The second issue in not so easy to fix. That is that the body changes shape when it is lying on the ground as opposed to being supported in water. Not sure what we do with that one.

Even though I didn’t come out with images exactly as I had hoped it was still a fun experiment to do.

Marianne Levitation Shoot

One of the things that I am very mindful of when working with models on my personal projects is that the images produced from them may not be what the models would necessarily put in their portfolios. For this reason I always offer them a second shoot where we will photograph their concepts. This was the case with Marianne who was my model for Pisces in the Zodiac series.

Marianne requested that we do a levitation shoot, as well as one involving a water look. Close to us is a disused scientific complex that I could get access to so I decided this would be a perfect location for the shoot.

Levitating a person is a relatively simply process and much easier than the food mentioned in my previous post. In its simplest form you take an image of the empty area and then have your model lie across a chair or stool. You them blend the two images together in Photoshop and mask out the support.

We used the dress from the Aquarius and Cancer shoot as it was quite flowy. This makes hiding the stool a lot easier and also makes the shot more believable if fabric is falling down.

The issue that we ran into was that Marianne could not balance herself far enough out. The solution was then to set the camera on a timer and I would support her. Her hair did present a problem so we ended up shooting with me in two locations and bringing those together in post.

I generally shoot my blank image at the end of the shoot so that I can be sure that the light falling on it is the same as for the other images. As can be seen in the images we were using two lights, in addition to the small amount of light coming in from the windows. The large light was in a 1.5m octabox to provide fill and the main light was a bare flash at a low power aimed at Marianne’s hair.

To make the job easier I also took a second blank with the light stands pulled back as you see they are not present in the final image.

We then turned around to produce another shot. Unlike the first this area was getting a lot of light from outside and I wanted to incorporate that in the finished result. So I set my camera at 1/100s f8 so that it would not completely overpower the light. I then positioned the Octabox camera left but had it on a very low power to only lift the shadows and not remove them completely.

The concept behind this shot was to be a lot darker and spooky so I had Marianne stand on the stool with her arms stretched out and head down.

To get her feet dangling we then moved the stool out and had her sit on the top of a ladder. While this was not in exactly the same height as the stool, it was reasonable close.

Back at the computer the three images were merged together. As she was in a long dress this make blending the feet and the rest of her much easier. I decided to exclude the lace at the back of the dress.

I used Nik Software to really darken down the image and in the process made it look like it was shot at night with the light of the moon.

Levitating Food

Each year I like to enter an image into the Wellington Interclub that has been specifically created for the event. One of the topics in 2020 was levitation. So I expected to see lots of images of models floating in the year, and decided to go with something different. That was creating an image where there was a reason for items to float, and no better reason than magic.

For the 2020 Interclub we had decided to do things a little different and some concepts were shot by a number of members working together. I had a reasonably clear idea of what I wanted and so I went online. grabbed some clip art and created a concept image. Everyone agreed that it was a great idea.

The first task was to assemble the props. The levitation of the food is done by building a frame and placing the individual levels on wire.

While not shown in the initial layout I decided that I wanted to add some floating candles to the screen. I managed to locate some cheap in the thrift shop and using nylon I tied them onto paper clips. This meant that they could be transported with tangling.

I found a silver teapot that came from my mother-in-law. I was then trying to work out how we could position it to get the angles right. While l was looking in a thrift shop I found a wire stand, and realised that if it was turned upside down, it would hold the pot at exactly the right angle and height.

For the shoot we had hired the camera club clubrooms as this gave us plenty of space to work in. The negative was that it meant that all of the lighting gear had to be taken down there. As I was not certain how much we would need, plenty much all of the lights were packed.

As it turned out three lights were used in the shoot. The main light was in a octabox camera right, with a fill light behind the camera shooting into a seven foot umbrella. A third light, with a snoot attachment was positioned between the camera and the main light, however this did not really add much to the screen.

The key to a good composite is ensuring that the lighting is consistent across the whole image. To ensure that we knew what the lighting on a finished image was we placed all of the individual elements on the table and took the photo with them. A long tube was used to substitute where the food would be.

We were shooting tethered and I had brought my 27″ iMac so we had a decent size computer to work on. One of the great features of the tether software I use is that you can place a previous image as an overlay. This means you can accurate position other elements.

Therefore the image we had taken of the whole table became the overlay for the next series of shots, starting with the food. Most items stayed on the wires apart from the cheese that did droop a little.

We knew that the trickiest element of the image was going to be pouring the tea, but in the end it was not that difficult. In fact the hardest part turned out to be getting the angles right on the cup.

If you are observant you will note that in the shots above there is a goats skull and human skull. These were placed on the table as ideas, however in the end we decided that the scene was becoming too cluttered. Fortunately I had taken a completely blank image so removing them later was not that difficult. The blank was also used to remove the stand on the cup and teapot.

After getting all of the elements on the table we then moved to the candles. I mounted the food frame on its side between two stands and the candles were placed around the scene. Again we had the overlay in place so that we could get an idea of how the candles would interact with the other elements. We then took a photo of this placement, which then was used for the next series of shots.

Now it would have been possible to use a single candle and move it around, however we did not do that. I wanted it to look authentic by using individual candles. Once we had the floating shot the candles were placed on the table and lit. Then we used a set of prongs to lift each candle in position.

We now had all of the images we wanted and it was now time to go into Photoshop. This was not all that difficult and simply involving opening the layers and masking out what we didn’t want. Using the overlay in shooting made this process even easier as the make did not not have to that precise in most case.

As I mentioned above the cup did cause some problems mainly because the angle when it was shot off the stand was slightly out.

The video below takes you through all of the layers that make up the Photoshop file.

At the end it was great to produce an image that was ver close to what had been planned. I would have liked to be able to tell you how it did in the competition. Unfortunately the second COVID outbreak resulted in the event being pushed back to March this year.

Zodiac series – Pisces final shoot

In previous posts I have told you how I went about planning for the Pisces shoot which would turn out to be the final shoot in the zodiac series. As it turned out while finding models of the Pisces was relatively easy, getting them to commit to a shoot day proved to more difficult.

A month nearly past between the test shoot and when Marianne arrived to do the final one. In that time I had also managed to acquire a fishbowl that better resembled what I had envisaged.

The bowl was actually larger than the one that I had tested and therefore heavier. I therefore decided against getting Marianne to lift it even though that is what we have practised. The goldfish had also become better at avoiding me so I ended up not being able to catch the large gold one that I was after, and instead had to settle with a much smaller one.

In my test shots there were two lights aimed solely at the background. However when I started to shoot I realised that if I pulled them further away that the scene was much more evenly lit. To get light on the front of both the bowl and Marianne I positioned my strobe camera right with it being bare bulbed and pointed at the ceiling. Essentially this created a large light source above her.

Although the light positions did result in reflections in the glass I was not worried about that as it did add dimension to the image.

Although I knew fundamentally how this image would fit into the set I wanted to ensure that I had a variety of images with different focal lengths and angles.

This included having Marianne holding the fish, as well as ones where she was sitting on the ground. Ultimately it was one of her lying on the ground that was selected to be the chosen image.

With Pisces finally shot I now had a complete set of the twelve signs, even though if I was to submit them both Cancer and Virgo needed to be reshot to fit with how the set was now looking.

The level that I am going for the Photographic Society of New Zealand honours has a very low success rate and part of that is the Honours Board’s desire to see a level of diversity in the images submitted. I started to think that the set was not diverse enough and this was confirmed when I took it to one of the members of the board who had just stepped down.

While it did not end up being a submitted set, the process of shooting the twelve image was very enjoyable and worthwhile.

The Tarot Reader

Generally speaking if I go to the effort to build a set and arrange a model, I will try to get more than one look out of the shoot. So when Neena came out for the Fortune Teller we decided to not only do a series with the crystal ball, but also ones with tarot cards. These I had borrowed from my daughter.

The lighting for the shoot was very similar to the first part, with the large octobox providing Rembrant lighting.

The difference with these sets of images was that I was free to move around and try different angles rather than being locked onto the tripod.

I have placed quite a number of candles on the table and so to replicate a glow that would come from them I positioned a gridded speed light that was gelled orange on the floor on a very low power and aimed at Neena’s face.

Although a lot of the candles were that there is very little light actually coming from them. I now realise that I should have added some flame in post.

I made one really big mistake with this shoot, and tat was not checking my camera setting properly before starting. For some reason the camera was set to JPG and not RAW so the amount of adjustments I would do in post was considerable less than what I would have normally done.

The Fortune Teller

One of the topics in the 2020 Wellington interclub print competition was “illusion”. When I started to think about it the notion of a fortune teller came to mind especially one using a crystal ball.

Neena is a fashion/costume designer who I had met through the Fashion Collective. When I took part in the shot at Staglands in 2019, Neena had arrived in a gypsy style outfit which was exactly the look I was going for. So I reached out to her to see if she would recreate it for me. She agreed and we set up a date for the shoot.

I built a set in my studio so that we could cover any angles that I wanted.

I had decided to use a simple Rembrandt lighting for the main character. The studio is not wide enough to do this effectively however the room has a window in the right location. So i simply fitted a large October to my strobe and shot in from outside.

In addition to the main light I wanted the crystal ball to be omitting light and therefore I decided to position a speed light below it.

I wanted to have a circular table, which we didn’t have so I cut a sheet of plywood into a circle. This then let me drill some holes in the middle under which I then placed to lengths of timber below so that the speed light could fit between them.

I tested this will the stand I had for the ball and it seemed to work okay, although it was not as strong as I would have liked. The advantage of having the light hidden would have been that I could have produced the images in a single take and not had to composite anything.

As it turned out when Neena arrived she had a brass stand with her that looked perfect. The only problem was that the triangular base was solid. This mean that the light had to be positioned on the table rather than below it.

When I am working with multiple lights I always introduce them in the scene one at a time.

I then brought in the main light and played around with the staging of the set.

While originally there was quite a lot of items in the background I decided to simplify them as I would be coming in much tighter on my main character.

To get some extra impact from the candles on the rear table, I positioned another speedlight behind them which was gelled orange.

It was then a matter of taking a series of images with the light on the table aimed at the ball, and then a series where the speed light was removed.

Then in Photoshop the two images were brought together and the speedlight was masked out. Although the candles were lit the glow from them was a little dull so i gave it a little boost.

I then went into Nik software and added a old film simulation to it.

I was quite happy with the results but when I showed the image to some other people, the comment came back that the red candles on the right of the image were distracting. So in the final version they have been removed.

As it turned out it did not get selected for the category but I have no regrets as it was a fun shoot.

Zodiac series – Pisces Test shoot

In a previous post I told you how I realised that I had an image that could work for Pisces, and that post centered around embellishing the image.

However as the set developed it became obvious that the image didn’t fit in with the others and that I needed to reshoot it. I therefore decided that I would have a model holding a bowl containing the fish.

My wife found a rather elaborate bowl and when she brought it home I decided to see how we would go about lighting it.

Shooting very reflective surfaces aways presents a challenge especially when you want to avoid the lights appearing in the image. When the surface is flat you can work out the angle of refraction and position the camera or light in such a way that it does not come into the lens. When the surface is curved it becomes a lot more difficult.

As I didn’t want to be mucking around when the model was there I set out to try various lighting patterns and see how they would work. I managed to get my wife to assist me which was a very rare occurrence.

My initial thought was to use the largest possible light source that I could so I put up the seven foot umbrella and boomed it out over top.

While this sort of worked, you could clearly see the inside of the umbrella shape in the glass, which was more dominant when the post process treatment was run over it. This arrangement was clearly not going to work.

Then later in the evening I had an idea and headed into the studio to try it out. By this stage I could not convince my wife to help so it was up to me with the camera on a tripod and a self timer. To ensure that I was going to the same position each time I placed a stool on the set. The glass bowl was placed on the stool and I lifted straight up from it.

I took the umbrella off and replaced with a speedlight in a gridded reflector aiming straight down into the glass. I initially tried it with just the single light and was reasonable happy that there was no reflection on the glass.

I then brought in two soft boxes to light the background. While this produced a good look I felt that there was not enough light on me.

To solve that problem I brought in another light in a gridded softbox and aimed it directly at me making sure that is did not fall on the glass.

The background light did catch in the edge of the bowl but I decided that I was ok with that as it added dimension to the image.

It was no time to find my new Pisces model, which turned out to be more difficult that I thought it would.

Zodiac series – Aquarius

Aquarius is a somewhat unusual Starsign and that it is normally depicted as the water carrier despite the fact that it is one of the air signs along with Gemini and Libra.

As I have simplified the backgrounds significantly it made perfect sense to shoot it as most people would visualise it. I had purchased the dress for the shoot over 12 months before when I saw it on thrift shop and instantly said it fitted Aquarius. I actually used it in the Cancer shoot as well however I changed the colours of it slightly in post.

When I started casting two years ago Manuella approached me to take part of Aquarius so it was natural that I reached out for her again. The only uncertainly was whether the dress would fit. Fortunately, she does not live too far from me so I called around and as it turned out the dress fitting perfectly.

The final piece to the image was the water pitcher that I found in a thrift shop in Petone.

We tried various shots of Manuella holding the bottle but I was also determined to get a shot of water pouring out of it. I wanted to ensure that we would make as little mess as possible so the floor was covered with a tarpaulin and then I placed a towel across the top of a large tub. This meant that she had a large area to pour into and the towel would present any splashes.

I knew that the lighting would freeze the water and that is exactly what it did.

The lighting for the shoot was the same as for both Aries & Capricorn. The Westcott Seven foot umbrella to Manuella’s side and a small softbox lighting the background on the other side.

The shoot ran very smoothly and we got a series of looks to work on very quickly. Each was then taken through the Photoshop recipe to see which one I like. In the end I flipped the image to make the final one for the set as it was felt that the direction better worked in its position.

Zodiac series – Capricorn

As I mentioned in my previous post finding male models for subjects is a lot harder than female models. Therefore I was delighted when Slaine approached me to be part of the Zodiac series has Capricorn.

By the time we arranged the shoot, I settled on simple backgrounds for all of the zodiac elements. In the order of the Zodiac, Capricorn is one of the earth elements along with Taurus, so it made sense to have it consistent with the way that Taurus had been shot.


On the trip to Glenburn station earlier in the year I had found a goat skull on the beach and had brought it home to use. It did have a number of sharp edges on the underside so prior to the shoot I had smoothed them off.

Slaine is an actor so it was a simple matter of handing him the prop, and letting him go.

I really enjoy this sort of free flow photography as it produces quite dramatic images. It also meant that Slaine could use the images in his acting portfolio.

We then attached some foam to the bottom of the skull and using bands attached it to Slaine’s head. This enabled us to create a shot very similar to the Taurus on.

I ran this one through the full post process to see what it will look at. The backdrop was not extended onto the floor and the detail enhancer in the post process picked up all of the creases in it. You will see from the original image below that they are not all that prominent.

The lighting for the shoot was very simple with the Westcott Seven foot umbrella to Slaine’s side and a small softbox lighting the background on the other side. This is same lighting as used in the Aries shoot however the camera angle was different.

With a clear idea, and an able model, this was a very simple and quick shoot, which produced exactly what I wanted. In the end I decided to go with the image of Slaine holding the skull, as it added a variety to the set. It also reminded me of the “poor Yorick” scene from William Shakespeares Hamlet.