Shooting Winter Coats in a Tropical Country. Outdoors.
So of course I said we could do it.
It wasnâ€™t exactly a textbook caseâ€”the client wanted fur coats in a setting that would generically look cold, and we were shooting the coats in Thailand.
Someone asked me today how it happened, and I decided to tell the story of how we conceptualized the shoot, how it developed, and how I processed some of the shots.
The concept of course, was hot babes in cold weather kept warm by their winter coatsâ€”plush, luxurious deals slated to warm wealthy clients from Europe and Russia.
Choosing the models
The client wanted European looking models, so I scrolled through some photos of models who work out of Bangkok for the look the client wanted. We wanted coolness, legginess, and the ability to contort in somewhat high fashion ways.
I emailed my choices. â€œGet your yoga poses ready,â€ I told the girls.
The makeup and styling
We thought the makeup should be bold, purples instead of outright reds, and pale blush to add to the cold effect of the images.
I was quite proud of the stylist, my friend Hilde, who thought to tell the girls to bring leggings and tank tops to wear under the heavy clothing, some accessories and shoes that fit our style, a kind of breaking out of the stereotypical wearing of winter coats. We didnâ€™t want closed shoes. We certainly didnâ€™t want the sunglasses. Our girls were going to wear these coats in ways they felt like, unconventional, adventurous, spunky.
I frantically called a friend in the Eastern Seaboard. Help! I yelped, I need a location that could look like a winter scene. Trees. Water. Earth. Stuff like that.
In an hour, Gilbert sends me an email with around 30 photos he took of two locations. I liked the one with the eucalyptus trees. â€œGreat,â€ he emailed back, â€œthatâ€™s close to the city.â€
He gives me directions, I email it to everyone. One less headache.
Now that I had the logistics out of the way, and a great team to work with, I sat down to figure out the results I wanted.
I knew that the client wanted to get away from the studio-catalog kind of image, so I wanted something different, something that would make the market say they never thought about that before but thatâ€™s a good idea. So I sketched out the colors that would dominate the shots. The coats were brown, black and other drabbish colors, so I thought I would add a little punch by processing the photos like it was either burning autumn or cool winter. Lots of oranges and
cyans would dominate the finished shots.
But I had to light the scenes in ways that would simulate the cool atmosphere we wanted; I also needed to shoot as if it was cold.
So I chose to use Automatic White Balance. In the Nikon system, Automatic white balance gives Caucasian skin a translucent paleness with a touch of pink. If I had chosen my favorite Cloudy WB instead, the modelsâ€™ tans would have shown up a lot warmer in tone, and we would not end up with cold looking people wearing winter coats.
I also thought about the lighting setups I needed. I knew that the forest my assistant found had the Eastern shore to the right, so if we shot in the late morning we would have directional light coming in that way. If the shoot lasted all day (which it did), what I had to do was remove shadows or wait until the light was coming from the other direction, and then shoot. So I opted to bring a large softbox and an umbrella along with five SB-900s with lightstands. I figure even if the ground was uneven, my assistant could be the â€˜boomâ€™ and tilt the softbox where I needed it.
I didnâ€™t bring any snoots. With coats that big that had to be shot in detail, I didnâ€™t need to limit the spread of light; the umbrella or the softbox or both could help me create the highlights I wanted in the right places.
When I shoot on assignment, I always make a checklist days before. The list grows, as it should, until I feel that every single item on it is necessary. Then I pack and tick of the items as I place them in the bags or cases. I bring it with me in the bag, to tick off the inventory as I pack up after the gig. That way, I keep track of the equipment.
I wanted to go through one of the shots and look at how it was done.
First of all, I shoot in RAW. I know some photographers prefer JPGâ€”it saves space, they feel confident about their skills, etcetera. Thatâ€™s a choice. For me, I like to retrieve as much color and detail from a RAW file as possible. And I treat skin with RAW, a little before the detail work begins.
When I open a file in RAW, I always check it at 100% magnification. Check the detail in the hair, check the detail in the clothes. I adjust the sharpness and luminosity, and always also check the edges to see if there is discoloration. If there is, I will remove it as much as I can before opening the file.
Usually, if I use luminosity, I can smoothen the skin a bit. Then my next step is adjusting levels. What I want is the blacks to be black, the whites to be white, and the middle values to look the way I want them to look. Sometimes, I just click on â€œAutoâ€ and it works. Other times, I play it by visual taste and adjust opacity to get the balance I want in the values.
The next step is working on the skin. These photos were going to be blown up to around 10 meters high, so I need the skin to look fabulous. In a layer, I use the healing brush and clone stamp at opacity 21% to adjust discoloration and remove blemishes. I zoom in and out a lot while doing this. It helps to see what youâ€™re doing in relation to the big picture, so to speak.
When I have the skin tones I need, I work on the background.
For these shots, I wanted to bring some orange into some shots and some cyan into others, to create the concept of changing seasons and the reason for wearing the winter coats.
Using a new adjustment layer for â€œsolid color,â€ I chose the tint I wanted. Then, I used the Multiply blending mode to blend it onto the image. I tweaked the image by brushing back the skin and clothes with a layer mask and a very soft brush, until I had the person and clothes standing out from the background.
Lastly, I selectively sharpened some areas, mostly the clothing and sometimes the textured areas of the shot, and I was finished.
And thatâ€™s how I shot winter coats in a tropical country.
What I learned from this shoot was to be resourceful, to trust my vision and my team, and to abandon all fear that we simply were limited by geography and climate.
The client is happy, and so am I.