Wow. Its been quite a while since I’ve written a blog. Excuse the absence, I had a lot of things changing in my personal life, to deal with, and been quite busy doing photo and video work. However the photo I took yesterday, deserves a blog post, because I never thought it would make such an impact.
First off a little back story. Heather Byrd and I are friends on Facebook, basically through the photo community with her being a model. We hadn’t really spoken until a couple weeks ago. I reached out to her to do a beauty shoot after I saw she was going through chemo treatments from leukemia. I thought this would be an awesome opportunity to showcase such beauty through a troubling time. She agreed to the shoot, and we set up a date for a few weeks out. Over that time, I kept thinking about the shoot. If you know anything about me or my style of photography, its that I like to tell a story. While I do like beauty work, and can appreciate how much goes into it, for me, it just doesn’t inspire me as much as making a visually thought provoking image. Im also known for doing things that are more on the comedic side of photography, so tackling such a serious topic was difficult for me.
I reached out to my team and told them I didn’t wanna do the standard beauty shot, that there was more to this story. We all brainstormed ideas, and with the help of my creative director Andi, we came up with out own version of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” seen below:
The painting shows Venus being born from the sea, and there are a few different interpretations of it, but one fact is commonly found in each one, that Venus was the epitome of beauty and intelligence. It would be a perfect concept, but would need a modern and thought provoking twist. Instead of the beauty of the forest and water behind her, it would be replaced with the coldness and drab colors of an old hospital room and bed. Instead of a woman draping Venus in beautiful cloth, a nurse would be covering her with a hospital gown. Instead of the two wrapped in love to her side, two doctors would be there, one with oxygen mask, the other with syringes and a chart. And finally, instead of her being presented on a shell where she is born, she would be standing on a pile of her own clothes, and wig.
Perfect. I called heather immediately asking how she would feel about doing the scene, and how she would feel about doing it nude. Thankfully she said yes.
I already knew a perfect location for the shoot and had the wheels in motion. I reached out to some friends to play the roles of the doctors and nurses. A huge thanks to Jessie, and Allister for letting us use some medical equipment and to Lamont for agreeing to play another role as doctor last minute.
As with any shoot comes challenges. First off the room we were shooting in was much smaller than I thought it would be, not much bigger than a jail cell, which actually added to the feel of the photo, but made lighting difficult. Second one of our props fell though last minute, the hospital bed. Andi improvisd and got one together using items we found in a nearby dumpster.
Finally the biggest challenge. Satisfaction. I always say its one thing to let down a client, its another to let down yourself. This photo HAD to be perfect, and to be 100% honest. I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous on a shoot. The idea was such a “big” concept, people took time out of their days, Heather drove nearly 3 hours for this. There was no room, for guessing lighting, or hours of setup and shoot. This had to work.
For lighting, I wanted to room to look very flat and bland. i put a 8 foot parabolic reflector way up in the ceiling with a white lightning x3200 head powered nearly all the way down. This was set to underexpose the room by about a full stop, just so I could get a base exposure. The surrounding white walls, would also help me keep light bouncing back on the subjects. The next light to set up was the light behind Heather, to show her glowing. This was an alien bee (simply due to the size of the light) 1600 at 1/8th power, and we would put just a bit of fog in between her and the light to make sure we got the glow we wanted. This light was also a great rim for the doctors and nurses too to draw them off the background. The final light was a large diffused beauty dish just left of Heather, to light her individually from the rest of the lights and to have her stand up properly. This lighting setup basically give me a natural vignette to the entire photo, meaning there was actually very little to do in post, other than to cool the color down a bit. I shot this with my Canon 6D, settings were 1/160, f/7.1, ISO160 and used my Tamron 24-70 VC/2.8 zoomed into 36mm. Another thing I didn’t touch on, was my camera was tripoded directly against the opposite wall of the room, meaning I used the 6D’s built in wi-fi and my iPhone to take the picture. I really love shooting this way, as it gets me from behind the camera, and allows me to direct the scene better.
We only shot for a total of 20 minutes. Thats all it took, and thats all that was needed. The picture we used was actually the last frame we took. Why was it the last frame? because as soon as I saw it, I knew THAT was the one.
I knew we had created something beautiful and special. I never could’ve guess what would happen next…
Mere minutes after posting the photo on Facebook, it received amazing praises. People related to it, and it brought something out in them. I recieveced so many wonderful and beautiful comments it was overwhelming. Things like this:
In addition two of my favorite photographers Zack Arias, and Jeremy Cowart took the time to say something about it:
Its amazing. For the first time in my professional photo career I knew what it felt to make a picture that actually moved people, to feel. It really is an unmatched feeling. It wasn’t about how much money I was going to make, or how many magazines the photo ended up in, what mattered was making a compelling image that people can relate to, understand, and learn from. What mattered was showing that in any situation, any at all, beauty can be found not in fancy clothes, or makeup, but in simply the strength in determination of an individual with zero desire of giving up.
A huge thank you to Heather Byrd for being so brave and courageous enough to do this photo with me. I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you for allowing me into your world for only a brief second. Another Huge thanks to the actors in this photo, Jessie, Allister, and Lamont. Without you guys this wouldn’t have been possible. Last but not least thank you to my team, my makeup artist Jessie Campbell, and Andi Bridges for all their help with pulling this shoot together and for donating your time to Heather and I. Lighting Diagram below: