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USA, Oregon, Springfield, Belly dancer performing, Digital Composite, MR (Rick A. Brown)This image was very important to my recent updates to my portrait portfolio and I’ll begin this entry with an explanation of why.

I have been trying to find a model for the “George Hurrell inspired glam shots” that I have been envisioning for a very long time (I’ll tell you more about these images in the next blog post.) It has been quite the challenge since I’ve been working with friends on a TFP basis because of limited budget. I’ve had models cancel on me, potential models go from friends to certainly not friends before I asked them, etc. Thus, I have been constantly on the lookout for someone to ask to do this.

So along came this event that a friend of mine asked me to photograph for the Emerald City Rollergirls, the flat track rollerderby league of Eugene, Oregon. The event photography consisted of photographing the various people as they came through the room where I was setup to get an image of themselves in their cool costumes. When Jenny (the girl in the photo) came through, she made an effort to introduce herself and when I found out she was a belly dancer, this image popped into my mind and I got very excited about making the image. Furthermore, there were some women who had the look I felt was right for my aforementioned, George Hurrell inspired shot, so I went about setting up a shoot with several of the women from the group.

For this particular image, I was looking for a light and airy feel. I picked an old image I had of the Warner Wetlands at the base of Hart Mountain in Eastern Oregon. I was playing around with many different ways to prepare the background image and all of the came close, but none were exactly what I was looking for. That’s when my Google+ friend Monico Havier suggested I try the blending a black and white image with the color for the B-17 image that I have written about here recently. Now, this is a method I knew how to do already, but it wasn’t dawning on me to try it on the B-17, until Monico mentioned it. Well, I loved it and so did a lot of other folks. That got me to thinking that maybe this was the proper approach to this background image.

I opened the background image in Photoshop and opened the Silver Efex Pro2 plugin. I ran the Fine Art – High Key preset and turned off the border and brought the blacks down. This gave me a good black anchor, while still giving me that creamy look I wanted through the water, etc. Then I double clicked on the background to convert it to a regular layer and moved it above the Silver Efex Pro2 layer and changed the blend mode to soft light. At this point I saved the background for when I made the portrait. (I was overly excited about this composite and was messing with the background long before the portrait shoot was scheduled.)

For the actual shoot, I was looking for a little softer look than I usually do for my composites. So, I positioned a strip bank directly to one side and a speedlight in a softbox to the other. Above and in front of the blocked spot was a beauty dish with a diffusion sock. My Dad was there as an assistant, so I had him step in and we established our lighting ratios. The two lights to the side I intended to illuminate the model just slightly darker than pure white. The fill light in front would be just slightly less than that. This is where the setup differed significantly from my normal as I usually set the front light to considerably darker. When Jenny arrived we readjusted the lights a bit as she is considerably shorter than my Dad, but the power settings were already dialed in. After that, the shooting was pretty easy, at least from the photographer’s perspective; told Jenny I wanted eye contact in the shot and she did her dance poses.

Then came post processing. I started with some basic Lightroom stuff with a slight darkening of highlights, slight brightening of shadows. After this I opened both this image and the intended background as separate documents in Photoshop. Then I selected the dancer using quick select and then refine edge, exporting the result as new layer with layer mask. This selection actually worked unusually easily and only required use of the refine edge brush along some of the fuzzy costume accessories. Then, even if there was a mistake there, no one would probably be able to tell unless it was pretty major. Next I dropped in the background and moved it in the layer stack until it was beneath our dancer. After this, I duplicated the dancer layer and opened the bottom one in Silver Efex Pro2. This time I did not run the High Key preset, but instead made it a contrasty image. My aim was to make the skin tones look like they received the High Key treatment, while still keeping the darker tones nice and rich. Once this was done I changed the blend mode of the top layer to soft light. Then it was time to unify the two elements. The color saturation was now low enough that there was no apparent mismatch in the color. Thus, I went to the background layer and opened it in Color Efex Pro4. I ran the Fog filter here and made the fog pretty intense. I then brushed it in just behind her and along the horizon but fading away as I got further from her. Next I stamped all the visible layers on top, the old [shift] [ctrl] [alt] [E] shortcut and opened that in Color Efex Pro4. I ran Tonal Contrast on balanced mode and then ran Glamour Glow on it. This pretty much finished the post.

Please take a closer look at this image and my portrait portfolio.