NY to Paris Compositing Locations

In my section called the Studio Location I go into details about the practicality, cost effectiveness, and gained control or shooting in studio (indoor or outdoor) and matching it to background plates already shot from the "location".  This entry will focus more on the "process" from inception to completion.  I will explain why it is important if you want to composite successfully why you need to be BOTH the shooter and the compositor.

The biggest obstacle facing any image composite has do deal with "believability".  The mind/brain has had a lifetime of "registering" what its perception of the "real world" is.  In an interesting experiment, subjects were made to wear glasses the inverted the world so the perceived world was turned upside down.  In less then a week the brain flipped the image returning perception right side up again.  In composting, the trick is to match lighting, perspective and tones to blend the two worlds believably.  

I have found that it is easier to first shoot the backgrounds and to match the subject.  However, you can shoot subjects and then find backgrounds to match.  It is important in these situations to "pre-think" compositions, because hair-light and fall-off-light are the most important/difficult to match, I have learned very specific strategies for shooting these elements (see my blog's Making of Manga entry).  

But as I was saying earlier, it is easier to shoot backdrops first.   Below I show you a screen shot of a proof sheet that I posted to Stephen at Genlux showing some backdrops I shot when in Paris at Versailles.  I was there on a rainy/foggy day and was able to shoot beautiful "mood" images.  I composed images for my "personal" work, and simultaneously composed "backdrops" that with intention, would place a subject/model in for a future "editorial" that I knew one day I would pitch.  Over a year had passed from the time I shot these backdrops till the day I showed them to Genlux for the story pitch.

Here is a little glimpse into how I shot this Genlux story in NY at Versailles.

I made a proof sheet of backdrops to show the magazine as well as the "team" and model agencies what I was planning one creating. Lock in the team of Wardrobe Stylist, Hair, Makeup, assistants, and prop master.




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Analyzing the images I put together 12 pages of potential "story" images that I felt world work for this issue of Genlux.

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At this point I show the Stylist, hair, makeup, and casting agent the inspiration images and articulate the concept so all can "do their homework/prep".

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While the drama begins with what fashion is available and what is in Paris or in LA for award season... casting is going on...  I have my casting agent send out the specification of what we are doing and what "type" of girl we need.  The agencies send girls based on this information who they are willing to submit.

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after I narrow it down to a handfull of potential girls, I submit my top choices to Genlux for final 1st and 2nd choice.  My casting agent books out our main girl and now we can move forward with Hair and Makeup knowing who they will be working with, and the sylist can know size and shoe size for any needed adjustments.

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Now that we have our GIRL locked in, we step up the creative talk with Hair and Makeup.  I send them more specific inspiration and have discussions with them as to where they feel we need to go and make sure we are on the same page for what elements(extensions, feathers, tool,etc), skin glow, trend and season colors techniques, forecasting and creative.  I show the Stylist the "final" backdrops and explain to them my "vision" of how i see the girl moving and positioned in the shot, so they can find dresses that will work best with the mood and spotlight key features based on composition.   

Production variables such as props, Fed Ex last minuet wardrobe, accessories, nail color request, Kraft service, equipment checklist, rentals, charging, etc.. etc..

And then .. it begins




I have anaylized my backdrops and have decided to split the day between indoor and outdoor shots.  We start with the indoor.  I match the "back light".. I use a very simple low light bounce and tripod with long exposure to match digital grain, and put in a couple fill LEDs to help with definition.  Each shot requires an adjustment and visual cues to help the model understand where she is in relation to the backdrop.  We add props to "place" her in the moment... and voila.   


Now we were able to shoot 10 looks with 8 cover tries and finish in less then 9 hours from start to wrap, with lunch break.  This would be IMPOSSIBLE if we were on location.  On location I have no control of the "elements"... Light changes dramatically and most of our problem solving and shot order depends on the logic of getting the "best" light for the location and we are always racing the clock.  This pressure will create compromise.  The Studio Location resolves these issues.   However, I cannot emphasize enough that you NEED to be both the compositor and the Photographer to truly understand ALL the little elements that are at play to effectively and consistently shoot good "live" images to match your background plate.  In most post production composites the images and backgrounds let alone subjects rarely have matching light, and the compositing always looks "off" ... and this has caused "fear" amongst art directors from truly unleashing the creative possibilites of the digital location in editorial imagery.  I hope the practicality, the cost savings, and the gained control will the technology of the day will prove the digital studio and a new generation of photographers will make this type of imagery more common place.

And here ... the finished product!