Last weekend I got together with model Becky Franklin who was home from college for Spring Break along with make-up artist Maddie Rose. The three of us have worked together several times, and each time it’s been magic. This time we decided to do something a bit darker. We decided to start a series of Elementals, starting with wind.
Several people have asked me how I shot this, so I’ve decided to do a tutorial on it for you all.
Another thing that I found highly successful with this image is the color tones I was able to achieve in post-processing. I’ve admired this kind of tobacco-stained tones for a while, but was never able to achieve it to a satisfactory level until now, and I figured I’d share that experiment with you too.
First up is the planning. Maddie wanted to do some body-painting. She applied both black and white make-up to Becky’s arms, legs, and face as well as over her hair, painting it on with a wide painter’s brush gave it that fantastic texture, and she did a wonderful job blending it all together. I told Becky to bring a white flowy dress to the shoot and we also bought a length of white chiffon fabric that would catch the breeze really well which we wrapped around her in such a way that it looked like it was part of the other dress. Maddie does a wonderful job of making wrapped clothing on the fly and I love her creative energy on shoots.
Next is the shooting process. I wanted to keep the lighting very simple, so it looked like some newly-abandoned room with hard-wood floors. I pulled out my 60″ silver PLM umbrella with the white diffusion fabric that I love for these kinds of shots. The light is nice and smooth and soft but still directional and easy to control. I set it up at about 8 o’clock to my subject and brought out a stool for Becky to sit on. Next, for the wind effect, I had Maddie wave a large 5-in-1 reflector at the draping part of the fabric. I wanted to try having Becky in several poses, but I really liked this sort of fetal position. It played really well with the creepy makeup and floating effect. That got me here:
Step 1: Clean-up
The walls of my racquetball-court-studio-space have these horribly distracting marks on the walls as well as years worth of scuff marks, so I went through and removed all of those as well as the stool and the corner of the reflector that Maddie is waving around. Having a nice clean background for this definitely made life easy. The challenging part was removing the stool from behind the translucent fabric, so that was a slow and arduous task, but it was manageable. This becomes my Base Layer.
Step 2: Black & White
To get that desaturated look I love so much I create a black and white version of the image. The easiest way to do this for me is with a Black & White Adjustment Layer. I prefer to do things with Adjustment Layers because they’re fully editable, maskable, and easy to tweak later as-needed. I try to play with the tool until I get the tones as good as I can so that I would be happy to present it as just a black and white image.
Then I changed the Blending Mode of my Black & White layer to Soft Light. This ups the contrast in the image while also creating a really cool desaturated tone. It does block up the shadows and blow out the highlights. You can also adjust the opacity of the Black & White layer adjustment to control the effect. I like to leave it at full blast though and control the shadows and highlights in the next step.
Step 3: Taming the Contrast
I duplicate my Base Layer and then go into Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights and bring up the Shadow detail and bring down the Highlight detail until I get the levels I’m looking for.
Step 4: More Clean-up
At this point the discrepancy in skin-tone between the arms and legs and the face was bugging me. I selected a nice medium skin-tone color from the face and created a new layer with a Blending Mode of Color, which I painted onto the shoulders, arms, and legs. There was also some more clean-up that needed to be done to the background, so I took care of that during this stage.
Step 5: A Bit More Contrast
I decided I wanted just a bit more contrast, so I created a new Curves adjustment layer and created a very slight S-curve. I didn’t want this contrast on the areas of black body-paint, so I simply grabbed a black brush and painted on the layer mask to hide those areas from the Curves adjustment layer. I also changed the Blending Mode of the Curves layer to Luminosity so that the colors would not be affected by the added contrast (which under normal conditions boosts saturation).
Step 6: Dodging & Burning
Next up was some finishing touches to my Elemental to bring out details and hide others. I do my dodging and burning on a separate layer. I create a new layer with a blending mode of Soft Light. I then grab a brush with a very low opacity. Painting white dodges (or lightens) the layers below it while painting black burns (or darkens) the layers below it. I like to use dodging and burning to bring out the cheekbones, to bring out details in the black body-painted areas, clean up the eyes, and to bring out details in the dress.
Step 7: The Tobacco Stain
I was so close, but I wasn’t fully happy with it. I wanted to try to get that tobacco stained look that I’ve admired for a long time, but I had no idea where to start. I decided to go with a Gradient Map effect. Gradient Maps are difficult to explain, but essentially you are mapping the tones in the image to colors in the Gradient Map from Black (on the left) to White (on the right). A simple Black-to-White gradient map will make the image black and white. If you reverse the Map you get a negative image. I tried a dark bronze-to-light-tan which created a sepia-tone effect.
This is, of course, not the look we’re going for, but simply changing the blending mode from Normal to Hue got me very close. Now, however, the skin-tones are a little TOO yellow, but I simply grabbed a brush with a low opacity and began slowly painted out the effect until I had the skin-tones I was looking for.