Creating the Photograph: Sandro Miller’s “Boi”

Creating the Photograph is an original series where photographers teach you about how they concepted an image, shot it, and edited it. The series has a heavy emphasis on teaching readers how to light. Want to be featured? Email chrisgampat[at]thephoblographer[dot]com.

Photographer Sandro Miller is a Chicago based creative that does lots of advertising campaigns, and recently travelled to Papua New Guinea to do a portrait project. Sandro has always been fascinated by these people and wanted to photograph them before Western Civilization changes them too much. “I feel like it’s a dying population and something that in a couple of years will no longer be here.” says Sandro.

Here’s his story.

For even more on this shoot, check out this RGG EDU tutorial.

The Concept

Lighting Diagram 3

The idea to published a book on Papua New Guinea first came about at a gallery showing of my last project: The Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich Series. This came from my long time collaborations with long time muse, John Malkovich, and is part of my new book called The Malkovich Session from Glitterati Incorporated.

At an exhibition for my Malkovich project in Australia, I met a local editorial photographer Torsten Blackwood. After a few minutes of conversation the topic of Papua New Guinea came up where he informed me that the 40th anniversary of PNG’s independence from Australia was the following summer. This would prove to be an opportune time to photograph the indigenous tribes in a central location. That conversation sparked a planning session to travel to PNG and capture as many portraits as we could during the festival in Goroka. We also wanted to make an educational step-by-step documentary on the entire process to show how we plan, execute, retouch, print, and publish a project like this. For this I teamed up with RGG EDU to create a documentary based tutorial on this entire process.

Lighting Diagram 1

I was inspired by Irving Penn in my earlier days and even had an on-going pen pal correspondence with him about all things in the world of photography. In many ways, he was my biggest mentor and source of inspiration. Irving also photographed Papua New Guinea and his series, in many ways, motivated me to create a project there from my personal point of view.

I wanted to create a project where we I completely controlled the lighting in what seems to be an uncontrollable land. In post production we would combine backplates of the country with my subject portraits to give the images a surreal look. My goal was not to blend the background into the image to make it seem as if the person was in the environment, but rather to create a surreal and painterly look that really draws in the viewer.

The Gear

The Shoot

Easily Move The Diffusion Diagram

There were so many logistical challenges to a project of this scope. One of the biggest challenges for me was to control my lighting and creating a studio on-location in a county with few resources. To do so, I turned to my digi-tech, Shad Wilson, to help me create a mobile studio everywhere.

Because of the logistical challenges I had to use a one light setup to create a very soft, diffused light. I used a standard Profoto head powered by a Profoto Power-pack coupled with a small 2’x3’ Chimera soft box. Adding another layer of diffusion in front gave the lighting a very directional, yet soft and diffused look. The lighting is intentionally simple, yet elegant.

lighting-diagram-Sadnro

Posing was also a challenge for me because of the obvious language barrier. To compound the problem, the majority of the subjects were not accustomed to, or had never had, their portrait taken. I’ve been in plenty of situations like this before, so I was able to rely on my experience and use non-verbal communication and a gentle approach to make my subjects feel comfortable from the start.

Post Production

In the tutorial we worked with Pratik Naik, from Solstice Retouch to teach the entire process of subject extraction and various blending methods that go into composite portraits. I think this is a very powerful tool today because it allows photographers to work in a studio to truly craft their light, and then in post-production, work to blend various interesting backgrounds that match their style.

Before and After

Before

Before

After

After

The tutorial from Sandro Miller “The Complete Guide To Portraiture & Creating A Body Of Work For Print & Publication” is available now at RGGEDU.com In addition, Sandro and RGG EDU have just launched a $50,000 portrait photo contest available to all students of the course. Details can be seen at the tutorial page.