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Creating the Photograph: Ian Arneson’s “Black Heart Bride”

by Julius Motal on 09/04/2013

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Editor’s Note: Creating the Photograph is an original series where we interview photographers about a photo that they shot and how it was achieved. The results are some knowledge passed on to you. Want to be featured? Email chrisgampat[at]thephoblographer[dot]com

Ian Arneson is a photographer based in northern Virginia who has an eye for the fantastical. Skilled in the art of photo manipulation, Ian takes concepts that would normally live in the pages of a fantasy novel and gives them life in photographs. We came across his photograph “Black Heart Bride” and we had to know how he did it.

More than anything, learn how Ian totally tricked his own camera.

The Concept

The concept for the shoot was to create a fantasy-like character who was dark, beautiful, & mysterious. The idea was more or less inspired by the movie, “The Woman In Black,” Which, if you’ve seen it has nothing to do with what I was trying to get across in the actual image. However, I did like the idea of a mysterious woman all in black, but instead of what I saw in the movie, I would make my own little spin on it. First, she had to be portrayed as beautiful and evil. I wanted to show this black beauty was something of a “soul stealer,” a vixen of darkness.

The Gear

  • Nikon D90 with MBD80 Battery Grip
  • (2) Pocketwizard PL Plus II Transcievers
  • Nikon SB700 Flash @ 1/64 Gelled Green
  • Manfrotto Tripod
  • 5 in 1 Reflector
  • Sekonic L-358 Light Meter

The Shoot

The shoot was held at this lovely public garden in Leesburg, Virginia. Perfect place for the vision I had, however, they close at 5pm and I want this shot to be at night, very dark, almost eerie looking. So I had to utilize all the tools I had. Everything from camera settings, diffusion, and flash. Using a light meter also helped dramatically. Setting everything up, the meter showed me a “proper” exposure for the given ambient light. But I wanted to trick the camera into thinking it was darker than what the meter was reading. After several test shots, I wasn’t getting the result I wanted so I had to rely solely on post production to create the illusion of darkness and enhance the flash effect produced in the actual RAW image.
When the time came for post production, I had already a clear focus as to what I wanted to accomplish. Workflow for me always startes with building the image. As you can see with the “before” photo, I wanted to combine two images to expand the canvas itself, revealing more of the surrounding she was in. After combining the two images, it was all a matter of blending them together using curves, getting the lights and the darks to balance. Then comes the basic skin retouching which for this image wasn’t meant to be too in depth or precise since it was going to be in the dark.
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So after all that was completed, then came the challenge, turning this extremely bright sunny day into darkness. I probably used every kind of adjustment layer possible from curves, to levels, and even color lookup presets for toning the image. Then after all that, I finally came to a result I liked and from there came the fun part–effects & magic.
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The green was enhanced in Photoshop, giving the photo the look that it is glowing. When adding color in Photoshop it is important to keep highlight and shadow color balanced or the image will look unnatural. Adding the glow to this was all done in Photoshop, as well as the lighting effects surround it. When enhancing your light source, you can make it more believable by adding atmospheric elements such as dust or debris to make it appear a lot more realistic. Lastly, I wanted the feel of the image to not only be dark, but cold as well. The icing on the cake was adding a snow texture which brought the image to a whole new place, making it something more then I had in mind, something better.
Check out Ian’s photography on his website and his 500PX page.

Before and After

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