I am a wide angle fanatic, especially when it comes to prime wide angles. I carry four lenses in my camera bag: two of them are prime wide angles, one prime nifty fifty, and one telephoto. Out of all these four, I found myself reaching just for one particular lens: the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. This came to substitute my old Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM lens which I adored, but it used to struggle a bit with chromatic aberrations and at times I craved for a wider view.
In a recent discussion with my old best friend and colleague, we realized this wide angle perspective is one of the major parts which shapes my work style recent years. The choice was made and my love story with Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art began almost a year ago. When things happen naturally we don’t often realize the impact of it until we discuss it with someone.
Besides being a photographer, I am also a mom of my three year old daughter who I take to kindergarten five days a week. I take a taxi, drop her to her class, and then take walks around the surroundings, which is the area I grew up. This might be so inspiring and eye opening: walking the road you used to go to school, riding a bicycle where you used to play as a child, or just looking at things and buildings which seemed to be so big a while ago. Some music in your headphones might make things even more exciting and dramatic.
Inspiration and Mood
This was the initial inspiration of the shoot named unLimited I recently did - the location was the inspiration. As usual, I was walking back to my parent’s house, and because of the music and the wet gray floor after the rain, this alley of garages appeared in a new light to me, I instantly knew "I am going to make something here, no questions!" I walked around and took couple of pictures of the area with my mobile, which is the usual thing I do being enchanted by some location. This, later on, serves me as a base to build a concept, deign the set, style the model, and plan the lighting in advance. Tracking the sun movement direction is another crucial detail when you have one or no assistant at all.
I am not a fan of cute looks and poses, so I always aim to capture confidence and some power behind any model I shoot, this affects the styling as well. Mixing elegant styles with some badass elements, such as the leather jacket and the boots, makes a picture very contrasting, thus making it memorable and interesting. Adding some reflecting elements like the sparkly particles of the dress, makes the picture more structured and multi-dimensional. The contrasting jade necklace and the red lips made the color statement in the composition, bringing attention to the facial expression of the model, although a wide angle was used from below. The rest of the makeup had to be subtle with some contouring to complete the velvet red lips. The final touch was the braided hair with some metal chain; another badass addition instead of glamorous waves.
Team and Preparations
I have been looking for a proper model to fit in the theme. Anahit, who does some part-time modeling, is a pianist; this means she has extra beautiful long fingers, which was another addition to the composition. There is also Nane, who happened to be my best model ever, my perfect assistant, and my brother’s wife - no way to escape from me.
We all gathered together in our garage at around noon to dress up, make-up, and setup all. The day was dull, and I hoped it would stay that way, but had all the equipment for any weather changes. I had three nearby locations and three looks to shoot. The garage scene was the final shot I wanted to get during the day, that was the imagery in my head I came to get, but I left it to the end. It was a bit awkward walking all dressed up in a calm area full of students, heavily loaded with equipment for any weather changes.
The first scene was a pretty easy setup, with the help of two teenage boys, holding a scrim from the right garage rooftop (visible in above BTS photo) as a bright sun appeared in the sky. I asked my assistant to hold a 110cm silver reflector instead of any artificial light. Again, a nice oversized dress paired with a crop top and leather accessories made a good style statement on the foreground of square blocks.
Afterwards we moved the next location – literally side by side, an old playground, which is unusable now. Here I wanted some really moody pictures still with some blocks in the frame to keep up with the theme. The texture of the ground was very inspiring, after a pose guidance we stated the shoot.
It was a time for a total wardrobe change. The choice stopped on a sheer and fully embroidered dress by Lionnet Couture from Mauritius, which has been sewn and sent to me to be used in my shoots per my initial design. Again, to keep a connection with other pictures, I left the leather boots on and was looking for the perfect pose; not a cute pose. At the moment when we were taking a minute long break, the model came to almost this pose as you see below, I was thrilled! We worked couple of more minutes to polish the pose giving it a more complete and rounded shape.
Star Picture of the Set
This frame was the lead image in my head when I was still planning the shoot. The whole set, although being shot in other locations, was born because of this one photo. By coincidence or strange circumstance, it also turned to be the most popular in social media. I have been asked many times how this was done, how it was lit, and color graded. Here I am going to go step by step showing what and how everything was done. This is exclusive, I have never done a demonstration like this before.
Here is the before and after of the picture: before being the initial RAW file with some minor adjustments in Lightroom and the after being the final retouched version.
The lighting setup was very simple: one Canon 580EX II speedlite in a Walimex Pro Umbrella reflector diffuser 91cm camera left at around 45 degrees over model’s face, and a silver reflector on right for the fill and details.
I custom color grade every shoot I do, and the 90% of the color I do via curves. This was not an exception. I haven’t kept all the layers for this particular image, as the layers are all the same in other pictures of the set with the only masking difference. Here you can see all done in a single list:
The extra steps were smoothing the skin a little bit, emphasizing red lip color via a luminosity mask, and using liquify tool make some distortions smoother, such as the hands and the hair.
The most important choice was the lens, the above mentioned love partner Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art. This might not be a popular option when it comes to portraiture, but I am all into it. I shot the entire set with this one lens, and basically do so on 90% of my other shoots, when I don’t need a specific narrower view. The prime wide angle creates delicate subject separation, along with a fantastic scenic view which can totally make the story of your picture. This might not be the easiest lens to use in portraits (not only headshots are considered as a portrait), but when used properly it will take you to a total new world of photography.
The whole set was shot in about three hours, taking into account the wardrobe changes, makeup, and different locations. Just at the right time to pick my little one from the kindergarten and look for new inspirations around the forgotten blocks of my childhood.