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
Today, Sandeep Murali shares with us the details behind the making of his conceptual shot “The Devil and the Succubus.” As the title gives away, it depicts your’s truly with the Succubus–a female demon that seduces men in their dreams–engaged in a game of chess. The photograph took over six months in the making, from early conceptualization to the final edit in Photoshop CC. Here’s Sandeep’s story of how this photograph came to be.
…and so whispered the Succubus to the slithering snake,
If you want to play games with the Devil my friend, you best be a move or two ahead.
An idea in the making for over six months, this is the most complex shoot I have undertaken to date. The concept came to my mind one morning out of nowhere. Basically, I wanted to depict Evil playing mind games with itself, and the Devil and the Succubus engaging in a game of chess seemed like the best way to go about it. I’ve always wanted to shoot images that looked like a painting with carefully crafted lighting, showing a moment frozen in time, and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity for it.
The next few weeks were spent researching on the characters and putting the scene together in my head. Once the basic idea was in place, I contacted an amazing cosplayer named Kelton to work on the art direction. Kelton is quite accomplished when it comes to makeup and props, and I knew that he’s more than capable of bringing my vision to reality. Next, we brought an excellent makeup artist named Hana into the fold. Lastly, the super talented Khym joined the team to play the role of the Succubus. Srikeerthi was the second photographer on location.
Once the team was finalized, we spent time shortlisting the props and other items we would need to complete the scene. The items were bought from the local stores or the internet. I also spent time shortlisting a location for the shoot. Based on the idea I had in my head, I wanted a location with a lot of warm tones in it (a “cozy hell”, if you will) as the Devil’s lair. Fortunately, we managed to find a hotel room that fit the bill.
On the day of the shoot, we arrived around noon at the location. The artists and the MUA started working on the makeup and wardrobe, while the camera crew and I engaged in setting up the scene. The location immediately posed some challenges for us in terms of usable space. After some experimentation, we figured out an ideal placement for the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra, firing through a 70mm deep octa softbox. I decided to use a golden reflector inside to add some warmth to the light. I also used only the inner baffle in the octa softbox to preserve some bite to the light.
After the first few test shots, it was clear that the basic lighting was okay, but there was a little something that was lacking. I’ve been looking at a lot of Joe McNally and Frank Doorhof images lately, and I decided to have fun with something that they are fond of: using color to add mood to the scene.
While the warm tones in the light, location and makeup worked nicely with the Devil’s theme, the Succubus is considered to be a cold and calculating creature. You can see this in her makeup, wardrobe, as well as the blue chess pieces she is playing with. Hence, I decided to add a Nikon SB-900 to the scene to throw some accent light on her. I put a green gel on this and turned the power down quite low to just add a hint of light to the scene without being too overwhelming. When I used a bare flash for this, there was too much spill into the background. Hence, I tamed it with a DIY snoot made of newspaper.
The lighting diagram looked roughly like this:
I shot the scene with my Nikon D800 and the Nikon 16-35mm f4 VR at the wide end (and still had my back against the wall). I dragged the shutter a bit to get the warm ambient light in the shot as well.
The shot was post processed quite extensively in Capture One Pro (with a few localized edits to accentuate specific areas) and finished in Photoshop CC.
Here is the shot straight out of the camera:
Here’s a screenshot showing the number of layers I was working on to achieve the final result:
Here is the final result:
I hope you liked this image. If you have any comments or questions, do feel free to drop a comment.
– Sandeep Murali –
Thanks Sandeep for sharing the story behind your photograph with us! Below is a behind-the-scenes video of the shoot. You can find more of Sandeep’s work on his website here.
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