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Backdrops for Photoshoots Tutorial

Studio Backdrop: Charcoal Gray

What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.”

-Karl Lagerfeld
Andrea looks luminous in a grayscale palette.

For the studio’s backdrop project I created four gray backdrops in shades from light to dark. The light gray and charcoal gray are roughly the same dimension, perfect for individuals, couples and smaller groups. The two smaller gray drops are ideal for individuals, or for layering with larger backdrops.

My general rule for backdrops is to photograph lighter colors on lighter backdrops and darker colors on darker backdrops. When selecting a backdrop the main goal is to complement the model’s wardrobe. On an interesting note, gray isn’t a color at all because it does not exist on the color wheel.

According to Wikipedia: “Gray is produced either by using black and white, or by combining equal amounts of cyan, magenta, and yellow. Most grays have a cool or warm cast to them, as the human eye can detect even a minute amount of color saturation. Yellow, orange and red create a “warm gray”. Green, blue, and violet create a “cool gray”.”

This color wheel is an indispensable tool that helps me choose complementary colors for photographs.

The charcoal gray backdrop is a neutral color and looks just as good with a pop of color as it does with a monochrome palette (as an example see Andrea’s cover image above). The texture in the charcoal backdrop was created by incorporating other neutral tones including light gray, black and white.

This backdrop was one of the last that I painted, so I was “unintentionally intentional” with the random painting technique opting to unleash my inner Jackson Pollock on to the canvas. I dipped a paint brush about a quarter inch into the can and then made slapping gestures with downward force to splatter the paint randomly across the surface. I had to continually remind myself to be careful with my gestures to avoid inadvertently spraying paint on the living room walls or the surrounding furniture (that had been pushed to the perimeter of the room).

This backdrop has lots of interesting texture thanks to my splattering paint haphazardly across the canvas.
When I felt as if a backdrop might be finished, I had to hang it and photograph it. Backdrops can look very different in a photograph than what the canvas looks like laying on the floor. Compare this image to the cover photo. I tested the backdrops using a mermaid crown from the studio’s collection.

Link to the studio’s portfolio.

Link to the studio’s Free Magazine and Style Guide.

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Backdrops for Photoshoots Tutorial

Studio Backdrop: Old Masters Brown

There is a vast difference between taking a picture and making a photograph.

-Robert Heinecken
Andrea captured in a chiaroscuro-style photograph featuring the studio’s new textured brown backdrop.

Old Masters refers to a group of renowned European painters that spanned the time period of roughly 1300 to 1800, from the early Renaissance through the Romantic movement. Some instantly recognizable names of Old Masters are Rembrandt van Rijn, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio, to name only a few.

When perusing through a collection of Old Masters’ paintings, frequently the backgrounds are deep brown and textured giving an overall warmth to the scene. Brown and helps colors such as white, ivory, orange red and gold to pop on the canvas. Brown does not have a spot on the color spectrum. The color is made by mixing red (or orange), yellow and black (or blue).

The color brown is reportedly the least favorite color of the general public and yet a section of the Old Masters’ portraitists found that earthy brown enabled brighter colors to pop on a canvas. As for me, brown is the color of a few of my favorite things: chocolate, coffee, oak barrels (especially when aging red wine), yummy carbolicious russet potatoes, the beautiful Sonoran desert and raptors, in particular owls.

Top Row Left to Right: Rembrandt (1606-1669), Van Dyke (1599-1641) , Rembrandt Bottom Row left to Right: Bagilone (1566-1643), Rembrandt, Velázquez (1599-1660)

Rembrandt, Caravaggio and van Dyck, among others, employed a style of painting called chiaroscuro. This effect has a monochrome look where the subject’s wardrobe matches the background so that the subject’s features illuminate out of the darkness. The most popular color for creating this effect is brown.

The most difficult part of painting for me is selecting the colors for the project. Without a plan in place the paint sample display at a retail store will look like a big confusing grid of color. To hone in on the best colors for your project it is really helpful to have a color reference in hand to either make a match to the free color samples, or have the paint retailer run a color match.

When I initially thought I was painting one double-sided backdrop I agonized over the colors. The painterly style photographs I make generate the biggest buzz. Many of those images were photographed on textured gold and red backdrops. I wanted a darker option that was not too black and not too brown, but just right.

Black V-flats are featured as a backdrop in nearly every photoshoot. It’s a versatile background that has a gradient look to it with tones of white and gray where the light is prominent. Model: Chrisie Ballard.

I like photographing clients against a black V-Flat, which is a polystyrene board. In a photograph it looks like more of a charcoal gray gradient than solid black. My sister, Juliette advised that the best way to compare colors is to take the reference material into the sun and compare it to the paint sample cards to identify the best match. So that’s what we did. After viewing the polystyrene board in the sun, the paint we selected had a blue cast to the black, which I did not anticipate. The color brown that we chose is a Behr flat interior paint called espresso bean. It is definitely a rich brown that has a black undertone to it.

Performing the sun test with the black polystyrene board and various paint samples.

My big mistake right from the get go is that I inadvertently purchased an oil based primer. I didn’t know that oil-based primers were still available to purchase. I was a little confused when I tried to thin the primer with water and the primer wouldn’t mix with the water. This was a bit of a head scratcher for me. And I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t figure it out until after I completed painting both sides of the backdrop using a whopping two gallons of primer on the 12×15 canvas. This also means that the primer alone on the canvas weighs in at a little less than 20 pounds.

I woke up one morning and the first thing that popped into my brain was that I had somehow purchased an oil-based primer instead of latex. And that’s why the oil and water weren’t mixing together into a smooth emulsion. Plus the oil primer has a strong aroma, much more so than latex paint. Doh! Sure enough, when I checked the empty can it clearly read oil based primer on the label.

Painting the base color of Espresso Bean by Behr with an inexpensive roller. Thinning the paint with water and then applying it randomly creates texture.

The problem is that over the long haul latex paint may not adhere to an oil-based primer. I couldn’t get a clear answer from multiple sources on whether the paint will indeed peel over time. Unfortunately, the part of the backdrop that flows onto the floor is peeling a bit already from normal wear and tear of furniture movement during photoshoots. So while the oil primer was a mistake, perhaps even a regrettable one over the long haul, I do think the oil primer lent a richness to the finish that is clearly different from the acrylic over acrylic backdrops that I painted.

Despite my whopper of a mistake, I am really happy with how this backdrop turned out. The rich brown is a neutral color, which means all warm colors look great against it as do most of the cool colors, especially the lighter hues.

A little air in the hair is one of my favorite things for longer tresses.

Link to the studio’s portfolio.

Link to the studio’s Free Magazine and Style Guide.

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Tutorial

Mermaid Crowns

Mermaids have more fun. Just ask Isabel.

I’m a California girl born and raised. The Pacific ocean was a quick twenty minute drive from my childhood home on the central coast. The first coffee table book I purchased was a tome on the lore of mermaids. Nearly everyday I wear a hand carved mermaid that hangs from a cord around my neck. She is my taliswoman. So it is of little wonder that when I began planning a creative photography project during my first year in business that I set my sights on capturing mermaids.

My sister, Juliette made this crown with a shell pendant and strands of beads purchased during an annual excursion to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. She also incorporated sea shells, natural pearls, metal seahorse ornaments and artificial sea branches. Due to its flexible construction this crown can be worn by a child or an adult. The mermaid themed necklace was found in a thrift store by my keen-eyed niece Avalon, who learned successful thrifting from the master, her mother, Juliette.

Recently I have been surprised to hear more than one person say that they think the mermaid crowns are added to the images in Photoshop. Nope, not true. Folks are also surprised to discover that the mermaids are actually lounging in shallow water. Yup, true story. These conversations have compelled me to give a “behind the scenes” glimpse into how the crowns are made and how the images were captured in my backyard. I am a proponent of capturing images “in camera” and doing as little work in Photoshop as possible. The less time I sit in front of my computer the better.

Style 1: The base of the crown is formed by twisting and shaping 12-gauge floral wire by hand. Rough spots and cuts are covered with gaffer tape. The floral wire is wrapped with decorative pipe cleaners.

I found very little information on the internet to help me design the crowns. As Marie Forleo says, “Everything is figureoutable”, so I proceeded with figuring it out. Inspiration came from how some fascinators are made. I determined a strong base was necessary and that it should fit over the head—from ear to ear—for stability. I also needed a material that could withstand hot glue to hold the various decorative elements securely. The gluing conundrum was solved by wrapping the floral wire with bushy, metallic pipe cleaners. As a bonus the pipe cleaners are available in a variety of colors.

Style 2: The base of the crown is formed with 12-gauge floral wire with rough spots and cut ends wrapped in gaffer tape. An inexpensive metal tiara is attached to the base by wrapping the ends on to the wire frame. For a uniform look and easy gluing of decorations all parts of the base and attached tiara are wrapped with pipe cleaners.
Get your glue gun ready. Both styles of crowns are now ready for decorative embellishment. This is the fun part of the project for my fellow crafters.

My sister, Juliette is an accomplished artist and I enlisted her help with decorating the crowns and assisting with the first photoshoot with Lindsey and Campbell. Juliette was dismayed to discover that I had not purchased high heat glue sticks (for its strong bonding capabilities and durableness in all weather conditions, including exposure to water). Well, that would have been nice to know. Unfortunately, it was too late to buy more, the stores were closed, so we used what was on hand. Ignorance is not always bliss. I also discovered that these types of projects use a lot of glue and that it is smart to buy extra long glue sticks. #lessonlearned

Upper right image: Our mom watches the decision making process as Juliette deliberates over what materials to use to decorate a crown. To add a floral accent to the “pink” crown, I selected artificial succulent flowers and then applied glitter to add a lovely shimmer. The crowns are decorated on all sides so I could photograph the mermaids from any angle. Juliette’s favorite glue for glitter is Mod Podge. When applying the glitter, do so over a paper plate so you can easily save leftover glitter and pour it back into the container. It pays to be a thrifty crafter.

It was extremely helpful to have separate folding table set up that contained all the decorative elements: shells, abalone, sequins, glitter, artificial flowers, faux seaweed, strands of beads, buttons, pearls, rhinestones, costume jewelry, blingy broaches, charms, filigree connectors, broken jewelry, thrift store jewelry, hat pins, assorted chains, and a mish mash of miscellaneous decorative items. As you can see in the image below, everything got pretty messy, but there was, thankfully, some semblance of a system in place.

We covered our work areas with heavy duty aluminum foil, which is especially helpful to protect the table from leaking hot glue guns. Juliette is detail oriented and applied glitter to the crevices of the sea shells by thinly “painting” Mod Podge with a toothpick.
The brooch was an inexpensive purchase from a craft store.

The styrofoam heads are really helpful with decorating and displaying the crowns. Because the frame is floral wire, the crowns can be adjusted a little by delicately pushing inward on the sides to fit a child’s head, or gently pulling outward to fit an adult’s head. The wire at the base of the neck helps the crown stay in place.

Refrain from gluing until you are satisfied with how the more prominent decorative elements are fitting together. Once you have the larger “anchoring pieces” selected and glued in place, then it is much easier to find smaller items to accentuate the design and fill in gaps. Use Popsicle sticks, toothpicks and tweezers to help press items into the hot glue. These tools will also help to protect your fingers. Regardless of how careful you are, the odds are against you experiencing at least one hot glue burn. Ouch! With that being said, to quote The Hunger Games, may the odds be ever in your favor.
The mermaid project was a family affair. While Juliette and I decorated crowns, my husband set-up the seasonal pool in the backyard. I lined the pool with netting decorated with sequins. We sisters were like parakeets with this project. Everything shiny and sparkly thrilled us. Juliette brought sea shells from her personal collection to add to the water and place around the happy mother and daughter mermaids, Lindsey and Campbell.
The studio has a plethora of costume jewelry to complement the showy crowns. At one point in my life, before I opened the photography studio, I was wondering why in the world I was keeping all this jewelry that I didn’t wear. Now I know the answer. My mermaids have so much fun draping themselves in “jewels”. It doesn’t matter your age; playing dress-up never gets old.
Lauren asked if she could decorate her own crown and I was happy to comply with her request, so we scheduled an art day, which was a blast. Art, music, snacks, conversation… what could be better? I made the base of the crown ahead of time and Lauren embellished it with pieces of jewelry, faux fauna and shells. After the photoshoot, Lauren generously donated the crown to the studio’s collection so you have the opportunity to wear it, too, if you like. Yay!

Just in case you are wondering, the bubbles in Lauren’s mermaid portrait are not added in Photoshop. My daughter was wielding the battery-powered bubble machine during the photoshoot. It was pretty funny seeing Maddie run around trying to master the best way to surround Lauren with oodles of bubbles. Lauren kept cracking up and a good time was had by all.

I am dreaming of using these necklaces made of Roman glass in a mermaid photoshoot. The beads are artifacts that are made from salvaged glass that is ~2,000 years old. Will you be the one to wear these beautiful antiquities?

I have plans for more mermaid photoshoots during the hot weather months, as well as creating other creative fine art images utilizing the shallow pool, think maternity and boudoir.

Would you like to explore your options? Contact me for more information: (833)277-8721 or artifactps@gmail.com.

Please leave a comment if you have any questions, or please let me know if you have suggestions to improve my crown making process.

Link to the studio’s portfolio.

Link to the studio’s Free Magazine and Style Guide.

“Always be yourself unless you can be a mermaid then always be a mermaid.”