Before the Coffee

January 28, 2009

Take the High Road

Filed under: HDR — beforethecoffee @ 8:58 pm

Hello everyone, I hope all is well. I’ve been absent for awhile, my dad passed away in November and this economy is so horrible I’m being careful about booking travel. But spring is around the corner and I look forward to emerging from hibernation.

Here is a recent shoot that I finished and I wanted to share my approach to getting the final image. I hope you enjoy.

UPDATE: The image you see now is updated from the original. I moved the guy closer to the edge, his right foot is now in front of the beam, I added some blur effects along his arm, leg and hair for added drama. I trimmed a little off the front corner of the train to make it narrower.


The Concept
When a band contacted me for their new CD cover they only knew they wanted to title the CD “Take the High Road.” Ideas started stirring, and after some brain storming we settled on a theme “a guy saving a girl falling off a building or a bridge.” I visualized the guy holding her by one arm in an industrial setting, lots of steel with a dark gloomy mood.

The Search
I went with the idea of a girl falling off a bridge and began a local search for a highway bridge with big I-beam supports. I used local maps to scout for bridges that might fit the theme and I drove to each one and sized it up as a potential subject. I didn’t find what I was looking for and decided to try railroad bridges. The one I picked spanned a large river and had some rusty I-beams.

The Railroad Bridge
I had to walk a mile to the bridge and as I arrived a train whisked past and sparked a new idea. If I could shoot the scene with the train going past it would create a sense of urgency and provide the one element I always love in a shot – motion. I set up and took some HDR image sets, some cloud compositions and a pic of myself to scale the models into the scene later.


After a couple hours a train came rumbling past and with camera on tripod and ready to go, I shot 5 images @ 1EV spacing. The camera was set on continuous shooting so the 5 images were done in rapid fire. Here you can see the order of the images 0EV, -2EV, -1EV, +1EV, +2EV.


The Models
I found Chelsea and Kevin on Model Mayhem and they were very interested in doing the mock up shoot at the studio. The big challenge was to get Kevin elevated enough so Chelsea could hang with her arm extended and not touch the floor. I estimated he would need to be 9 feet off the floor. I also wanted to support Chelsea’s weight so Kevin wasn’t exhausted after 5 shots and he wouldn’t get pulled off the platform. Chelsea has her left bum on a high stool (behind the sheet).

The Set
When you are adding people to a scene it’s easier to place the colors behind them that approximate the scene colors. This is essential when the person has wispy hair and you want to avoid that cut-out look. Also, keep in mind, the tonality of the studio scene behind the model can transfer or wrap around their skin and clothing. For this set I attached fabric that approximated the color scheme of the railroad picture.

Here are few shots taken during the session. There were two flash setups, one for him and one for her. He was lit from above and slightly behind to simulate light reflecting off the train and then from his left front. She was lit with a softbox to her right and a beauty dish to her front and directed toward her face. That would allow some dropoff of light along her legs and simulate the darkening valley below the bridge.


As a photographer you want all the tools at your disposal and it’s important to learn which tools are needed to achieve the qualities in the final image you are seeking. With all images from the train shoot I tried a variety of approaches from full on HDR to single image tone mapping to adding tonal contrast in PS or Nik Color Efex. In time you’ll be able to stand behind the camera and realize the type of processing as you view the scene.

For the train scene I prepared the HDR image and single tone mapped images. I got the best results from tone mapping the +2EV single image and adding the sky in a separate layer. I used the Nik filter midnight to darken the image then a mask to brush the darkness selectively.

That about covers this shooting project. Thanks for dropping by.

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