Creating the Photograph: John Thorpe’s “The Renaissance of Heather”


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

When we found John Thorpe’s “The Renaissance of Heather” we were immediately smitten by it and the inspiration by where it came from. Thorpe started shooting in 2009 and got his start when his first images were published in a three page spread. In addition to his photo work, Jonathan is also part-owner of a “Skyhaq Agency” an advertising firm based out of Northern VA, where he has produced and shot several television commercials. In addition to commercials, Jonathan has also directed several music videos. He is currently represented by Wonderful Machine and in addition to Tamron, is also sponsored by Calumet photo and Holdfast Gear.

But the story behind this image is an even more fascinating one than John’s quick rise up.

The Concept

The Renaissance of Heather photo started as a simple beauty shot, but quickly changed into a much more thought provoking and emotional image.

Heather and I are friends on Facebook, not quite sure how we know each other, but we do share mutual friends. A few weeks ago I happened to notice a picture of her on my Facebook wall, where she was simply looking at the camera, hair gone from chemo. I immediately was drawn to the idea of doing a beauty shot, and reached out to her. After she agreed to do it, I started to think more about it. Beauty wasn’t really my thing, and it didn’t excite me, so I started to think more about concepts. I reached out to my art director Andi, and she mentioned the birth of venus painting. It sounded good to me, and I started to develop the idea further. I once again reached back out to Heather, and thankfully she was on board too.

I had some friends show up to play the roles of doctors, and we got everything ready to go. I kept the lighting pretty simple, as opposed to my usual highly lit, “hyper realistic” images. This photo had to tell a story, and lighting was going to be key.

The Gear

Screen Shot 2014-02-09 at 12.17.07 PM

Alien bee 1600

White Lightning X3200

Canon 6D

Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC

The Shoot

To start, I put a 8 foot parabolic reflector on a white lighting x3200 head way up in the ceiling aimed at the cast. This one large light source would light the entire room in a very flat way, the same kind of flatness you would feel in a cold hospital room. This was underexposing the entire scene by 1 full stop and was nearly at the lowest setting possible. The next light would a large beauty dish by calumet, with diffusion fabric on the front. This light was boomed over her head and slightly to her left. This was also a white lighting x3200 set to 1/16th power. I had modified the internal reflector disc on the beauty dish, and replaced it wish a piece of plastic with a CTO gel. Doing that warmed the light just a bit, to help give her skin some color in the drab colored room. The third and final light was directly behind Heather, to give her a glow, and separate her from the background a bit. We used a fog machine to help achieve the glow from behind. This light was an alien bee 1600 at 1/8th power, and also helped rim the other actors and gave them some dimension.

My camera was a Canon 6D. The photograph was exposed at 1/160th of a second, at f/7.1 ISO160. The lens used was a Tamron 24-70VC 2.8, and was zoomed into 36mm. I mentioned earlier the size of the room, again, it was small. So small in fact that I had to have my camera on a tripod directly against the opposite wall, and used the 6D’s built in wifi to take the picture triggering with my iPhone.



In post, there wasn’t really too much to do. I imported everything into lightroom, I added a tiny bit of clarity, and pulled the photo into photoshop. Once in photoshop all I did next was cool the colors off a bit more, and played with the overall tint of the image, added a vignette, and extended the back wall a bit higher for composition purposes.

Overall this picture is easily one of the most important ones I’ve ever taken. It shows that beauty can only exist in the soul of a person, not in what they wear, or how their makeup or hair is. This photo is honest, and knowing I made a photo that people can relate to has changed the way I look at photography forever.


Initial Edit

Initial Edit

Final Image

Final Image


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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.