What is SteamPunk portraiture? According to Wikipedia “SteamPunk is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.” It also refers to any of the artistic styles, clothing fashions or Victorian-era fiction and films from the mid-20th century. That, being said, there are apparently no boundaries as far as how to portray a SteamPunk person or fashion: it is a wildly creative form of CosPlay that lends itself perfectly to photo portraiture!
Photographically speaking, how fun to have that kind of freedom—and with that in mind, I have pretty much gone crazy with my styling of SteamPunk design imagery!
This doesn’t have to be a difficult thing to do. With very little costuming and a lot of imagination, you can take a simple outfit and with a pair of goggles, a SteamPunk inspired hat and/or a leather corset and you’re ready to go. The location or backdrop also can help to create an illusion of another world of sorts adding to the fantasy of it all as I have demonstrated with the image above.
I like to use a variety of lenses in my work. It all depends on what perspective I need for the job I’m doing. My first step to any project is to create a storyboard and pre-visualize how I want my images to look. It also depends on whether I’m inside or outside, how large a space I’m working in and whether or not I’m using natural light, which I do most of the time, or studio lighting.
What are the Best Lenses?
For this project, one of the lenses I used was Sigma’s new 105mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art lens, nicknamed “The Bokeh Master” for that exact reason. An amazing lens that is so unbelievably sharp, even at F/1.4—I can shoot anywhere with enough depth of field to soften the background. I can also hand hold the lens even with the weight of it at 3.63 lbs. (1645g). For me that is a plus, to have this kind of power behind the lens and still have the flexibility to move around without needing a tripod. This lens assisted in my ability to create a very dreamy look to the images, almost otherworldly, a SteamPunk fantasy set in an idyllic garden.
This image of my SteamPunk subject demonstrates the beauty of shooting wide open at F/1.4 with this lens. You can see here all the different levels of sharpness and softness based on my distance to each element in the image. Andrea is perfectly sharp because her distance to the lens is even or the same. The grass and trees surrounding her are all at different distances, which are why some are out of focus, and some are sharp. This is a style choice when shooting wide open and for me, only adds to the presentation of the image. The viewer’s eye will always go to the sharpest part of the image. The softer elements act as a framework.
Another great demonstration of this wide-open effect is this image of Andrea changing her position to my lens. Her waist, hands and skirt have moved away from me causing a “falloff” of sharpness while her face and hair, still very sharp, have remained in place putting the emphasis on her gorgeous face.
Still shooting at F/1.4 with the 105mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art 018 lens, I moved Andrea underneath an awning using only available light to create a different kind of contrast in my image to showcase this beautiful subject. There is minor “fall off” of sharpness on her right eye even at about 6 feet from lens to face, a tribute to this wonderful lens.
As stated earlier, I do use a variety of lenses in my work. The 24-105mm F4.0 Art lens is a great all around lens when working in the field. Here, my subjects are both dancers making it very easy for me to have them pose in strange positions that really make no sense. It’s part of the fun of photographing SteamPunk and allowing yourself to “look outside the box for creativity.” This image was then enhanced in Photoshop using Adobe Paper Textures. Their clothing included a pair of black jeans on Keith along with a Halloween mask and Alexis who is wearing a long scarf which we have wrapped around her and a pair of boots. The location is an old paper mill and I’ve added textures to the image in Photoshop to add to the SteamPunk look.
Not everything I create for Steampunk is photographed outside in natural light. This image of Nick was created at a convention in Nashville a few years ago using Westcott lighting and a Denny’s background. I was lucky enough to be working with a model that collected all sorts of SteamPunk inspired props and I happily used them to create the look I wanted. Nick is holding a plastic gun with an artificial arm brace and shoulder piece we fashioned to look like something out of Terminator. The lighting was angled to mimic the lighting on the background and once again using Sigma’s 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM | A lens to give me the perspective I needed to make it look like he was actually in that room.
I get a lot of questions about my usage of textures and graphics in Photoshop. I am without a doubt, a Photoshop junkie. I have been using textures and graphics in my work for many years and spent a lot of time on tour teaching them to my peers through a company called Graphic Authority. These days, I use Adobe Paper Textures, which is a free download from Adobe, and a process they have made extremely easy to use. The hard part is always trying to find the right combination of textures to enhance the image without making it all about the process.
This image above with Susan, my SteamPunk model, I wanted you to see how I actually captured the image and then enhanced it with the textures. It really can make a huge difference when you’re trying to create something very different. This image took three different textures all combined into the image using different opacities and masking out what I didn’t want. I also used Sigma’s APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens and used an open aperture to soften my background and help me to frame the image the way I wanted. This was created during a workshop and I was demonstrating how to make a difficult background work. This was outside of the ladies room at the Sonesta Resort in Hilton Head.
This studio session with Jennie as my SteamPunk subject, was created using Sigma’s 50mm F1.4 DG HSM | A lens. The setup we had for this convention was quite small. Using the 50mm lens give me the extra space I needed to capture this image and make it feel like we were in a very large area. The wide-open aperture at F/1.4 softened the background even with studio lights and again helped to create the illusion of a larger space. The background and floor were provided by Denny’s and the lighting by Westcott.
The image above was captured with Sigma’s 24-35mm F2 DG HSM | A lens and is a good example of lens usage. I was able to capture an aerial view from upstairs giving me a wide-angle perspective. My subject, another SteamPunk fan, supplied the costume for these images.
I placed my subjects against a graffiti painted wall out in the middle of an old abandoned paper mill. Still one of my favorite lenses, Sigma’s 24-105mm F4 DG (OS) HSM | A lens is always with me in the field and is usually my first choice for a straight on perspective. When I’m not looking to create a super wide-angle look or get close up images with a lot of compression, I will always reach for the 24-105mm lens. If I’m out on location and searching for the perfect angle to shoot, I find that I have a lot of options and can be very flexible with this lens.
Costumes for anyone who is interested are found on Esty, Ebay and Amazon along with a variety of thrift stores and a lot of imagination.