All images by Matt Baker. Used with permission
Matt Baker has been a photographer for many years and first got his start in photojournalism at a small newspaper when he was still a senior in high school. “I sat down in front of a Power Mac 7100 with Photoshop 3 (layers! woohoo!) and learned how to make compositions with images scanned from the paper’s Nikon F3HP camera. My first assignment was designing a cover for the 1997 high school graduation special edition.”
For this edition of Creating the Photograph, Matt tried to show us a brand new theme for his Senior Portrait photos–and this one in particular was quite a production.
So how did he do it?
I’ve created a graduation cover every year since, each with a unique theme. I was watching Austin Powers: Goldmember a few months ago and it hit me: Let’s do a “secret agent” theme. I wanted it to have a mid 70’s feel without being too campy or retro (no bell-bottoms or disco balls allowed!)
We shot five students, each playing a role in their own James Bond-like scene. Watch a video behind the scenes of the shoot below.
Nikon D600 with dual SanDisk Extreme 32GB cards
Rokinon 35mm f1.4
I got it because f1.4. And the price was right. Screw autofocus.
FlashWave III remote trigger and 3 receivers.
Speedotron 2400 and two strobe heads
Nikon SB25 flash with homemade beauty dish.
We built it the night before using instructions from Todd Owyoung.
Stephanie (in the picture above) was one of our secret agent heroes. I decided she would escape from some off-camera villains in her million-dollar speedboat. We were fortunate to know someone in town who loaned his speedboat to us for a weekend. We took it on the White River and took photos of the boat in action, as well as closeups of water spray and images of the riverside.
Stephanie arrived for the shoot the next morning. We put her in the speedboat and had her pretend to drive it. We had a wind machine for her hair, and a green backdrop borrowed from a church down the street. One of the awesome things about shooting for a small town newspaper is that people love to lend you props and equipment.
Shots straight from the D600
We asked Stephanie to come dressed like she was going to prom, which turned out perfectly. The style of her dress and earrings perfectly matched the 70’s spy movie look I was going for. I even got a nice sparkle off of her dress in camera.. no “Lens Flare” needed!
After the shoot, I went to work in Photoshop. First I removed dust from the image with the healing brush. Then I began combining images of her face from different shots, using a smile from one shot, the blowing hair from another. I used the liquify tool to tilt her earrings to make them look like they were blowing in the wind.
Once I’m done with cosmetic changes, I begin to mask the foreground. In this image I wanted clean lines in my mask, so I drew paths around the foreground subjects instead of relying solely on masking by color (cutting out hair sucks. I normally mask the green background and tinker with Photoshop’s “Refine Edges” function until the hair looks okay).
I accidentally shot JPEG only during the shoot! The range of RAW on the D600 is amazing, and I really wish I had the extra data to work with when I was done. I was lucky that the lighting was mostly spot-on, with only small changes to exposure and curves after the shoot.
Nikon D600. The D stands for “Dust”. It’s a known issue, and it was very noticable in my shots, and I spent a lot of time with the rubber stamp and healing tools. Right after this shoot I had the sensor cleaned.
Plan ahead! Yeah, I put this after “I forgot to shoot RAW.” Planning is important. If you know the shots you want, you have time to figure out how to get them (I had NO idea how to get this shot before the subject got there). Which brings me to..
Keep shooting. If your models can only give you 20-30 minutes of their time, you may not be able to get them back for a reshoot. If you’re unsure about a shot, don’t hesitate to take a lot of photos. Different poses, slightly different angles, etc. After a while, you’ll learn what poses work, and how to get a shot you want, and you can take fewer photos. But hey, unless you’re shooting film, keep shooting!
Never show unfinished work. This is just a personal preference, but I never let a client see unprocessed images. EVER. Once I had a client insist we live-preview her portraits on a 60” HDTV so she could see what she looked like. She ended up cancelling the shoot and left in tears.
I’m shy. Music helps. I have a few Spotify playlists, one for each shooting “mood”, that I like to use to help both me and my clients relax a little.
Before and After
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