Winged Defender, the making of

How I shot the Winged Defender fantasy photo



I absolutely love shooting fantasy photos, being able to expose a person's inner self through the art of photography and Photoshop. But I also love the challenge, requiring careful planning up front, ensuring the right lighting and set are used so that backgrounds, props, and other features can be added seamlessly in post-processing. After all, a fantasy photo has to look real to convey its story, otherwise, with just one simple mistake, hours of work can turn into a horrible hack job.


The Winged Defender, with Dina Enggaard, was a fantasy shot I'm proud of. Dina is in great shape, and can hold poses for extended periods, over, and over again for countless takes without tiring. With a desire to do some cosplay, Dina had a great idea of wearing this dress that looked modern yet Medieval with the bottom fringe and decorative patterns, posing with a sword in an angular form. To light this became a challenge, requiring 4 separate strobes to make sure the important details weren't overlooked, and ensuring that proper blending could be accomplished in post processing. It took many takes and trial-and-error to get the lighting right, but that is the most important element of making a shot like this: Patience. Don't settle for the first shot, strive for perfection, and keep trying. It took about 30 minutes of trying various lights, as well as minor tweaks in the placement of each light to get the effects we wanted. NEVER GIVE UP! Be patient.


Below is an original, unedited take from this shoot showing the 4 lights that were used:

If you look closely you'll notice four lights:

  1. Key light to camera left, an Einstein strobe in a softbox. This was angled perpendicular to Dina inline with her leading arm and leg.
  2. A fill light at the very top on the right, which is another Einstein strobe in a softbox (you can see only a small portion of this in the top right corner). This was facing the key light, sandwiching Dina in the middle, used just to soften shadows cast from the key light (#1).
  3. A small strobe, also an Einstein, with a 30-degree grid about 2' off the ground, almost out of frame on the bottom right. This worked as a rim light to separate Dina (from the waist up) from the background. I used a grid on this strobe to make it more of a spotlight and avoid spill onto the backdrop. I could have used barndoors, but popping in a grid is a simple "one and done", no fiddling with the paddles/doors (there was enough tweaking to do for this shot).
  4. A small speedlight (an inexpensive Yongnuo) at the bottom right of the backdrop. This was used to get some shadows in front of Dina of that cool fringe on the bottom of her skirt. The rim light (#3) just wasn't quite enough, and the speedlight added a bit more angled shadow.


All lights were trigger with Cactus wireless radio triggers (I live on these puppies!).


Unlike the old days of green-screening, I like to use a backdrop that can easily blend with other digital images. In this case I used my favorite, the Thunder Gray by Savage. This paper, which comes in a 12-yard roll, has hints of blue, and is minimally reflective. I then like to layer images in Photoshop using Soft Light or Overlay blending, which allows me to easily blend edges of the subject without having to cut them out (as would be the case when using a green screen), and allow shadows to remain. The background image, btw, was from the Grunge Collection by I added other layers, including a gradient fill overlay centered on the window to create light ray effects, another layer for wispy smoke, another with a lens flare effect on the sword, and various adjustment layers (contrast, brightness and levels, each using masks so as to highlight only certain portions of the picture). And of course I used a layer for each wing as well, but the trick is in having a front layer portion of Dina, allowing the wings to be behind her (literally, in the layer ordering), and not look like hacked cut-outs.


Below is the final shot after post processing:

And here's another shot from this same shoot, same lighting, just different backgrounds:


In this second shot, I used a variety of background images, but the main one is from the Goth Collection by Photo Coach.


And there you have it! It took a variety of lights, modifiers, and time with Photoshop. But the biggest and most important thing that made this shot happen is patience. No matter what you are shooting, try to always make it better, don't settle for the first shot, be critical of your work, and realize it may take a while with many takes to get the right shot.


And don't forget to follow me on Facebook to stay updated on shots like this and blogs of how they were done.





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