Almost three years ago the Retouching Academy Founder, Julia Kuzmenko McKim invited me to contribute an article to theRetouched Magazine. She wanted something a little different from what she would typically publish, which would usually be in the beauty photography and retouching field of the industry.
Back then I was doing creative photography and digital manipulation for commercial and personal projects. This meant that my photographic work was always different, changing with every new project that came into my hands. So Julia asking me to do something different had to be not only different for what she and her audience were used to seeing, but also had to be different from what I was usually doing.
Why?... Because if I was going to talk about doing something creative, something different, then I felt I had to apply that concept to myself.
Doing something new is always a challenge and even more so if it was going to be published by one of the most well-known beauty photographers in the world. But I have always loved that feeling of taking a leap of faith mixed with a little bit of courage and just seeing what would come out of it.
So for that project I wanted to tell a story through an image while documenting the process with a “BTS” video, of me doing things I have never done before.
I challenged myself to do something simple, something that could be within reach of everyone, yet be compelling enough for the eye and imagination of the viewers. So I thought that a cool way to tell a story would be doing it without having to spend too much, and not even going out to a location. Something that you could do in a small studio or even in a room in your home. In the end, creativity has a lot to do with doing the most that you can with very little.
I looked at my surroundings, searching for something: an object, an idea, a concept I could use for the task. And there it was on one of my office’s shelves. This little red car, a scale model of a Fiat Cinquecento that caught my attention and imagination. The car by itself was an amazing character; it had a great personality and a melancholic feeling. It had enough appealing characteristics to tell a story, a simple tale of what could happen inside that car.
“The Love Car” That Changed My Life
So having the general concept resolved, I gave myself the task of creating as much as I could in-camera and trying to transform that tiny car into a real one, at least for the viewer’s eyes.
Through the process of creation, I learned a ton of new techniques, and that’s the cool thing about doing something you have never done before. For instance, understanding how our brain perceives scale, and with that knowledge, how you can fool the eye! But, long story short, I created just one image and a “BTS” video. When it was published, it exceeded my wildest expectations. Soon, just 2 or 3 days after the publication, my Facebook feed, inbox, e-mail, phone, etc. went crazy with all kinds of media requests wanting to know more about this kind of work.
Not only the media but also potential clients, big clients, that wanted projects for their brands. Remember that it was the first project I had done of that kind. I surely was not the first one doing something like that, but it was the first one for me and done my way.
Three years ago my whole life changed, almost in every aspect: my work changed, my clients changed, and my income changed. Suddenly, I was traveling to Copenhagen, Colombia, New York, Chicago, Dubai, Italy, Bermuda, China, etc. I was giving conferences, workshops, judging big contests, interviews, productions, you name it!
Meeting fantastic people, hanging out with amazing and talented artists, some of them were (and still are) people that I had followed and admired for so many years! Telling you that my dream came true sounds worn-out, but it is nothing but the truth. But here is the thing, after all, I look back at that image (the original “Love Car”), and it doesn’t satisfy me at all. It never did. And I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it pushes me every day to improve in every way I can.
Whether it’s in the pre-production side, or the photographic aspect, or the post-production, I’m always trying to take things a little further, trying new things, new ways and not worrying about failure or what others may think or say. In the end, it’s what took me to this point in my life.
A few days ago Julia contacted me again, and just as it was three years ago, she asked me if I wanted to do a new project. So I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to redeem myself and I produced a new “Love Car.” Applying some of the new stuff I have learned through these years, and the results, once again, did not leave me satisfied and I think they never will. But, I see evolution in my work, and that’s okay with me. I’m hoping that in three more years, I will try it again and see that my work is still evolving.
I know many things will change, but what will not, is the passion for creating, and that’s what “The Love Car” represents to me.
When I started out, I would just use the scale models right out of the box, and that was fine, but if I wanted to do something a little bit different and tell my own stories, I had to personalize my characters in the way I wanted them to be captured for a portrait. I’m far from being an expert, but two years ago I started to customize my models and to build more complex scenes. I learned some basic modeling techniques and tried things on my own. Now I find myself dedicating more and more time to the pre-production stage than any other area: creating landscapes, weathering and customizing the models, adding electronics, etc.
I have learned some new things about optics and how we can play with the perception of scale. Through the years I have experimented with different lenses, figuring out which one would give me the best features of what I wanted to achieve. Examples were a mix of minimal focus distance to be close enough to the scale models, but wide enough to have them completely in-frame, but also being aware of the distortion that could imply, etc.
These days, I find myself doing this kind of photography with a lens that is normally used for landscape and architecture photography: a 24mm Tilt-Shift lens has all of the characteristics that I was looking for. Of course my lighting setups and in-camera composition have improved throughout the years, and now, I normally just take 3 to 5 shots for compositing the final image, regardless of where it was photographed – at the studio or on-location. Two shots are of the model and the scene, focusing on two different focal planes to achieve great depth of field. For example:
One shot highlights the headlights of the scale cars, and this shot will depend on what I am using to imitate them: studio flashes, light painting, natural light or in this case, Real lights inside the car (a LED light circuit I built inside the scale car).
One more shot will be the background if I’m not on-location, (like in this project), I will use part of a stock image. and a last shot is for some in-camera effects, or, again, a stock image if it’s something I can find, such as the handprint on the window.
My post-production has become easier and more straightforward. I do the most that I can in-camera so that it leaves me with little work in-post, but not because it is less enjoyable or not important.
Basic Camera Raw adjustments, placing backgrounds, color matching and color grading are some of the tasks that follow. I think I have been getting better with simplifying the steps of a composite.
Photoshop is my way to go, and I just love and enjoy using it as part of my creative process.
I always say that photography is not portraying what exists in front of you, but portraying what exists inside of you. So for me photography, digital manipulation, crafts, etc. are only disciplines, techniques at the service of creation which allows me to bring my ideas, thoughts, and dreams to life.
Who would have thought that doing that one photo of a little red car would have unleashed all of the great things that have happened in my life! Never underestimate the power of your dreams, but to make them happen, you will need to take risks and take that leap of faith.
Gear & Software:
• Canon 5D MIII
• Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Ultra-Wide Tilt-Shift Manual Focus Lens
• Manfrotto Tripod / Ball Head
• 2 Einstein Studio Flashes with Westcott 7’ Parabolic Umbrellas / with diffusers
• 1 Bowens Studio Flash with a Bowens Strip Softbox.
• Photoshop CC
• Nik Software Collection / Color Effects