Photographer Bae O’Wulf isn’t a stranger to this website. We’ve photographed her for several reviews before; and like many other burlesque performers, she’s taken to life behind the camera too. In fact, she gets really creative making conceptual images that harken back to her cosplay background. So we talked with her about how she photographed this self-portrait, which she calls The Last Unicorn.
This is not the first time I’ve photographed this character. During the height of quarantine — the beginning of my self-portraiture journey — I was transitioning from Patreon to Onlyfans.
Even though Onlyfans had a far more casual timeline and less strict schedule on when (and what) content needed to be released, I still found myself eager to create specific photosets each month, similar to Patreon; each month, I would try something new. As my cosplay roots run deep, it was no surprise I was drawn to creating colorful, cosplay-esque, characters.
As a fan of the animation based on the classic Peter S. Beagle fantasy novel, I wanted to try my hand at a concept heavily inspired by The Last Unicorn. I didn’t cosplay as Lady Amalthea directly, but it was my main reference. All in all, the 2020 Unicorn made for a cute and dreamy photoset that featured simple lighting alongside a background of purple wisteria intertwined with vines and green twinkly lights draped over a dark turquoise fabric backdrop. I was quite happy with the results (especially with my skillset at the time).
Fast forward to 2023, where I have had an itch to properly explore fantasy photography and a desire to revisit some old concepts. Perhaps, there was also a part of me who wanted to prove to herself how far she had come with photography and her Photoshop skills — with art creation in general.
- Neewer Advanced 18-inch LED Ring Light as my key light
- Two LUXCEO LED Video Light Wands set to a dark blue at my sides to create an ethereal glow.
- Fujifilm X-T4 paired with the 16-55mm f2.8 lens.
My settings: ISO 400, 16mm, f2.8, 1/60.
For The Last Unicorn 2023, I had a specific vision. Now, for most of my portraits, honestly, I just wing it; however, character portraits often require a bit more pre-planning. Do I storyboard? I do not. Should I? Probably, to make things flow more smoothly. Frankly, my pre-planning simply involves injecting more effort into the whole process (and for some concepts, I would construct items specifically for the project. Ex: the paper mâché Unicorn horn used in both iterations of this concept).
I knew I wanted an aerial shot looking down because I specifically wanted to incorporate a large sword prop. I was envisioning a divine being —this Unicorn-inspired character —lying in a bed of flowers holding a sword in a regal way. I wanted her to look directly into the camera with a solemn, but also soft expression. Think: how they often portray the Gods of Old lying on their tombs (although my character would still be very much alive).
I was interested in reusing almost every element from the 2020 photoshoot, save for the new lighting setup and post-production process. I wanted to further drive the point of my skill improvement and have a proper comparison of the two Unicorns. Thus, I used the same wig, make-up look, horn, jewelry, same purple fabric. I added new elf ears, a ring, and the sword to upgrade the character design a wee bit, but otherwise, she remained the same. I also incorporated the same turquoise backdrop, vines, and fake purple wisteria as my environment.
As I was a still, unmoving [to the best of my ability] subject and my camera was strung up on its makeshift aerial “tripod”, the slow shutter speed posed no issue. Unfortunately, fiddling with my settings constantly was not an easy once I was in the midst of this photoshoot; once I landed on something that kind of worked I was compelled to just leave the settings as is (even if they weren’t perfect). The difficulty existed because of my extremely “Macgyver” camera setup itself — how it was strung up above me. With my backdrop stands on either side of my bed of flowers, the crossbars above held my camera and ring-light (see photos and diagram). With no proper aerial setup within my resources, I resorted to using the neck strap, my leather photography harness and a lot of grips to secure the camera in portrait mode above me. The ring-light, held up by another strap, was directly under the camera in attempt to have it shine directly overtop.
With this precarious setup and my cumbersome outfit — not to mention the heavy sword — I was unable to get up from my position to adjust settings without exerting immense physical energy and without fear of bumping the camera ever so slightly which would throw off its framing — don’t get me started on the ring-light falling out of place too. Overall, the production itself became something more complex than I originally intended, the whole process taking roughly 4 hours from pre-production to teardown. With this being the case, I was eager to just get ONE decent shot knowing my Photoshop skills would take the image to the next level.
For Post-Production, my main programs of choice are Lightroom and Photoshop. My process began with importing the RAWS into Lightroom, doing a quick cull down to my favorites, and then the final selection of THE CHOSEN ONE ( which is technically two images blended into one as I preferred my face in one image and my body and sword position in another).
Within Lightroom, I focused on increasing and amplifying the blues and cyans in the highlights and shadows to push a fantasy aesthetic. Once I landed on a happy color grade, I imported my selections into Photoshop, where the detailing began. This was also when I officially blended the two images into one. Additionally, I took this time to straighten the crooked jewelry on my forehead, pull down the wig that was very clearly falling off, and fill in the larger flower gaps.
As I have a visual arts background, I was interested in incorporating some digital painting. An integral step of my process for Unicorn 2.0 was importing my composite image into Procreate on my iPad from where I further blended my rough masking and cloning done in Photoshop. I painted in flowers, smoothed my skin, painted fabric; overall, there was a lot of back and forth between Photoshop and Procreate. Painting, photoshopping for effects, back to painting, back to adding more effects and mood — A LOT of burning and dodging was done for deep contrast. My main goal was to reach an ethereal, painterly end result. The time it took to achieve the final image was a rough work day; perhaps just under — 6 hours? I took my time; the painting process, specifically, I ensured I was slow and meaningful (I am also just a perfectionist).
I am extremely proud of the final image and of my efforts (despite the hurdles). I took my softer, more innocent Unicorn of 2020 and transformed her into a more divine creature that showcases strength whilst maintaining a level of softness. I absolutely want to continue my trend of revamping old concepts as these projects push me to play with new techniques while seeing what I can do differently with one character design. Although the big take-away I received from this project is I need to buy C-Stand or some other proper means to suspend my camera for aerial shots HAHA! I’d like to make my job just a LITTLE easier, you know?
About Bae O’Wulf
I go by the persona “Bae” on the internet —short for Bae O’Wulf, my burlesque stage name— and have incorporated the name still as I share my self-portrait explorations on social media. It has also migrated into my multimedia business: Baevocative Photography — Bae + the term Evocative. While I have dabbled in and plan to re-enter the world of eroticism and art, I will likely continue to go by the persona Bae for my photography ventures for safety reasons.
As for who I am. In summary, I am an artist and story-telling enthusiast with a visual arts background, specializing in digital media and illustration. I discovered burlesque in 2015 which drastically shaped who I am today in addition to have greatly influenced my direction in life and career. Since my introduction to burlesque, I began to exercise my creativity through live performance on stage and through dance on a pole or aerial apparatus. Another big chapter of mine was when I was exploring the realm of boudoir and creative photoshoots (this interest, of course, starting through cosplay prior to all of this). Although, I was not in the photographer seat at this time, but rather I participated as the model and collaborator of concepts.
When the pandemic shook civilization on a global scale, my own path in life shifted dramatically. During quarantine, now no longer in a position to model for photographers (in addition to questioning my life choices and desires deeply) I rediscovered my love of photography and began taking my own photos — the snowball before the avalanche.
Since 2020, I have thrown myself back into the photography and videography world, focusing my attention on live events and creative one-on-one sessions. I love photographing and filming my friends up on stage as they perform burlesque; it makes me feel involved in the community, still, despite my own break from performing. Self-portraits, currently, scratch my itch of putting myself under the spotlight. Lately, I have been throughly enjoying sharing my process on social media — sharing before and afters with written notes of my process. I find the transparency not only elevates the experience of the viewer when they see the end result, but I think it conveys the message that end results like mine are attainable by anyone that puts in the effort. I’d like to expand on behind-the-scenes content, through whichever site best suits the format, so the long-term goal is to build a sustainable business alongside nourishing a space to share my own work and my process.
While I am currently based in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, I make frequent trips out east so stay tuned to my social media handles for those notifications.