The PhotoPlus Expo, held annually at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City, is one of the biggest photo events in the country every year. Thousands of photographers, professional and aspiring, come to learn from fellow photographers, to shop around the biggest vendors and to immerse themselves in all things photography. I began attending this conference as a teenager, and saw PhotoPlus as a photographic Disney world… entering a fun playground for photographers each and every year!
For PhotoPlus 2013, Sigma decided to focus on a “Sigma Safari” theme. Around their booth they would have images from fellow Sigma Pro Roman Kurywczak who had recently photographed an African wildlife safari and created some stunning images. Sigma asked me to help coordinate the models at the booth with a Safari theme, but also help take it to the next level with some of my portraiture imagery around that Safari theme.
To help create strong promotional images and also further enhance the theme of the booth, I was hired to shoot a series of ‘Sigma Safari’ themed images using my own fashion flair. These are the jobs a photographer always hopes for; being hired to shoot for your style, being urged to embrace your creativity, and knowing the images will result in beautiful prints to share with all your peers!
I was asked to create 3 different animal looks to adorn the booth walls and for images to promote the event. After some discussions with Sigma, we decided to create a balance between high fashion and costume. We didn’t want to just do full body paint or make up the subjects to literally look like animals, but instead chose creative fashion interpretations of different animals. Because the images would eventually be enlarged to nearly 60 inch prints, we chose to utilize the Sigma SD1 (46 megapixel camera) to provide as huge file sizes as possible and stunning color.
I began planning the shoot by researching online for various inspiration. I scrolled a wide range of shoots of animals and fashion, but typically everything I found was either tribal or very costume and body paint. I also began looking at images of animals, seeking to draw inspiration from pronounced features on the animals that may be easy to translate into a fashion story. I also looked at the images that would be featured by the other photographer at the Sigma booth, Roman Kurywczak and the safari shots he had created. I would love to have some semblance between the two!
After looking at a wide range of images and what else would be featured, I decided up a lion, bird, and cheetah. The next step was to build a mood board for my creative team. A mood board is a collection of images that helps provide the direction of the shoot. Typically there will be an image for hair, makeup, wardrobe or any other key elements of the shoot, include the model. I emailed the shoot inspiration to my creative team of Griselle Rosario (hair and makeup) and Lisa Smith Craig (wardrobe). Once they have a chance to check out the mood board, they then give me feedback on their thoughts, other inspiration images they may have, or any limitation I may need to consider. Once we are all on the same page, we begin the finalize the shoot!
On the day of the shoot, it is all about bringing it all together. There are so many different elements to consider, that it is the photographers task to orchestrate it all and help create a unified vision. We began to build the looks and photograph them one by one.
While hair and makeup was getting started, I organized the Sigma lenses I would be utilizing:
- Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG HSM
- Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM
- Sigma 50-150mm F2.8 DC OS HSM
- Sigma 150mm F2.8 DG OS Macro
- Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG HSM
With the SD1 and this selection of lenses, I was prepared to grab any focal length I needed for whatever struck my creativity!
For the lion, we chose to exaggerate the hair and subtle makeup that accentuated the lion-like features. The hair would be reminiscent of a mane, and while planning the makeup we placed Kurywczak’s lion shot beside our model to help mimic the eyes and facial structure. We tried to keep a careful balance between costume and high fashion. To really bring the shot into the fashion reel, my wardrobe stylist used couture jewelry ‘claws’ that would help drive the point home.
I lit the lion with a single beauty dish and a large white v-flat to soften the shadows. I selected a nude-colored background the help complement the tones of the velvet suit that my wardrobe stylist had provided. In the beauty shots I used a beauty dish at a higher angle and a silver bounce reflector beneath her chest to help bounce a bit of light and catchlights into her eyes. The beauty shot really draws you into the lion concept with the highly visible claws and distinctive eye makeup. The Sigma SD1’s Foveon sensor allowed us to capture the subtle gradients and variety of colors within that nude/brown tonal range. In the beauty shot I am able to see every single detail and pore of the model’s face.
For the cheetah, we decided on something a bit sexier (as cheetah print fabric is often featured this way), and we worked with the model for alluring posing and high energy, as if the cheetah were pouncing. We kept the makeup more as an accent on the face to help unify the dress and the model. This model had a lot of expression and energy, so we were able to get some interesting shots from the scene.
I shot this image image on a black background to help keep the image a bit more dark and mysterious. I used a beauty dish to shape the face, and silver bounce reflector to help fill the shadows. I also used two barn doors as back rim lights to help give separation between the model, her hair and the background. The shot where the model appears to shout really communicates energy and also the ‘attack mode’ of this look.
The bird, for me, was the clear champion of the shoot! Griselle (my makeup artist) airbrushed these stunning colors onto the model’s face and Lisa Smith Craig custom crafted the headpiece. Lisa had purchased the feathers and a base head pieces, and constructed the entire piece by hand. My team did an incredible job and the images JUMP off the page. Sometimes everything comes together just right– the model (who was bird-like herself), the stunning colors of the makeup, and the incredible size and impact of the headpiece all worked beautifully!
To help give drama to the shot, I had the beauty dish at a relatively high angle, often almost being obscured by the feathers in here headdress. I then used a large silver reflector to bounce light back into the eyes, give mysterious bottom catch-lights. Her alluring expression and the rich colors help pull you right into the photograph.
The Sigma SD1 is known for its ability to capture a great deal of detail, but also its ability to capture true color. The colors in this scene were so rich, vibrant and saturated that it was essential to have a camera that could really capture true color tones. In many situations these super saturated colors could have cause a problem for many sensors, yet the SD1 handled these colors beautifully.
This look, the “Firebird” as we called it, became a signature image and look of the show for Sigma. We loved it so much that we actually recreated this look each day at the Sigma Booth (as part of the Sigma Safari Experience) for attendees to actually be able to photograph themselves. We felt that the colors and impressive size of the headdress makes for high impact images that would look great in anyone’s portfolios!
The entire process of creating these images was captured by Jeff Rojas in a great behind the scenes video you can see here. You can see where the models started and how they were transformed into these beautiful creatures! You can also see out on-set antics as well as our lighting setups! If you liked the photographs, you should definitely check it out!
It was definitely a challenge to balance fashion and costume, but ultimately not only did we have a great time, but we made some eye-catching images. I can’t wait to do something like this again!