Tag Archives: levitation

Melissa – the ice skater

The majority of my shoots generally involve me coming up with a concept and then recruiting a model to take part. However, I’m more than happy to work the other way round and for the model to suggest something that I then shoot.

This was the case with Melissa when I answered a message she posted on the Facebook group seeking a photographer. Melissa is a Wellington based model and actress, and she was looking for some updated photos to go into her portfolio. We had a brief discussion about what we would do and then set up a time for me to go to her place and do the shoot. We ended up doing three very different looks so I have split the shoot into three posts.

While I enjoy the challenge of working in a new environment it does mean that the car gets loaded with a lot of gear because he never actually know what he will actually use. Melissa had indicated that she wanted some photos shot against a white background. My seamless paper was actually too wide to transport so I settled on a white sheet.

The key to having a clean white background is to ensure that it is well lit and so I decided to position two lights on it. When shooting in my home studio my lights are in 1 m² soft boxes however there was not sufficient width in the space for me to position the two of them. I therefore removed the soft box from one light and shot with it in a small reflector. As this meant that the light was emitting more light, it was set at a slightly lower power than the other one so that the light was roughly even. The main light was positioned camera lift using the 65 cm soft box with double diffusion.

Melissa wanted to portray her versatility as an actor and so she created a character with some of the props that she owned. She turned into a former Russian Olympic ice skater who was now slightly past the prime of her career.

I have shot with actors a couple of times and they are really great as they can bring lots of different expressions to the images. Furthermore they will actually go with a concept rather than a model that you may have to direct.

Part of Melissa’s costume was a long scarf and so I could not resist using it as a mass that lets you focus solely on the eyes. I have shot such images on a number of occasions and I really enjoy the look and power that comes with them.

While not part of the original concept with Melissa as I was processing the images I realised that as they were shot against a clean background they were perfect candidates to be used in composite.

I generally try to use my own images for composite is that an April sent to be entered into competitions in this case I did not have any images of snow ice or ice drinks. So I went onto unsplash.com to search for some images. This is a site where photographers upload images and allow them to be downloaded without charge royalty free. I found a number of images that I though might work and after clear cutting Melissa out I added as the background.

While I like the image above I found that the image worked better in an interior location such as the ice rink.

I was really pleased with the way the images came out.

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.