The Art of Sigma Art: from Inspiration to Implementation of the unLimited

The Art of Sigma Art: from Inspiration to Implementation of the unLimited

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.

backyard and the road to school

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.

Preparations and light tests

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.

 

Scenes

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.

Daylight

     

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. 

Ambient light and the same silver reflector

 

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. 

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32 Comments

Stephen Kampff's picture

Absolutely in love with the Sigma Art range! My 18-35mm f/1.8 is such a trooper, but would love to try the 20mm f/1.4 on a full frame.

Emma Grigoryan's picture

I am also looking forward to try some more from the range, the 20mm came out right after I got the 24, so I was a bit hesitant, but I felt in love. I would love to try the 35, that's my next one in the wishlist

Jason Vinson's picture

i love my 35 ART

Emma Grigoryan's picture

I bet I will as well )

Chris Adval's picture

I was about to say, I'd love to know what you think about the 20mm ART Emma. You mentioned you didn't get it but did you try it? I saw it at photoplus '15 but wasn't allowed to try it :-(

Emma Grigoryan's picture

Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to touch it either. I am from Armenia and along with being an amazing country will all the kind of things there is no tipically specialized photo/equipment shop here, so either you get the well known lenses at general electronic shops, try a lens one of your colleagues owns or buy something online without trying it and praying to have a well functioning copy, as you can sent it back for replacement :) got my Sigma from BH , and luckily I just had to do a minor lens calibration on it to work properly. If you try it, let me what you think of it

Chris Adval's picture

Yea plan to rent it. I don't see many or any fashion photos being done with it which is where I want to apply it into, or at least general environmental portraits.

Emma Grigoryan's picture

lucky you to have that kind of rental opportunity :) the fashion was one of the main reasons I bought my 1st prime wide angle, I love walking around, you can get a lot of wide angle fashion inspirations all around the world, even fisheye

David Moore's picture

Because I am silly I have the 50 and the 35, they're amazing. I am trying to figure out if I want the 20 or 24 now.

Emma Grigoryan's picture

if you are prime maniac like me - you will end up eventually having both ) I used to grab my 50 for majority of the shoots many years ago when on crop-frame, but once I got into this wide angle world the 50 is having a long vacation. You might like 24 a lot, but all depends what you specialize on

Very cool! Thanks for the post

Emma Grigoryan's picture

Thank you as well )

Edwin A. Hernández-Caraballo's picture

Hi. Thanks for sharing your experience on a photoshoot. Am looking forward to your next walk around. Just one technical question: how do you manage to use the speedlite in conjunction with that particular umbrella, considering that, from the looks of it, it has been designed for studio lights? Thanks in advance.

Emma Grigoryan's picture

thanks for the time you spent reading, as for the Walimex, you can basically put any light inside it and fix the tie around your studio or speedlite, I have been using it for almost a year now with great results. I love the indirect light it is supposed to give and the versatility of use. here is the look from amazon:

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/61NHKdwSouL._SL1200_.jpg

Jason Lorette's picture

I love my ART 18-35 1.8 it's hardly off my camera any more, these pictures are fantastic, adore the one with the model on her knees with the embroidered dress.

Emma Grigoryan's picture

Thank you, it happened to be my personal favorite as well and the range of 18-35 must be so flexible. I have used Canon 17-40 f/4 L before, but the f/4 was not a winner ;)

Jason Lorette's picture

It definetly is, I use it for concerts, portraits, landscape, even some macro styled shots, it's incredibly versatile. I truly hope they come out with and 85mm ART or perhaps a 50-100.

Michael Spawn's picture

amazing :D I like it ;D

Emma Grigoryan's picture

thanks

Aziz Garuba's picture

These are absolutely gorgeous photos. I love the work and the style. Very inspirational.

Emma Grigoryan's picture

thanks for appreciating all the work done

Zach Alan's picture

Truly a fantastic article! In depth articles that describe not only the circumstance but the gear and methods are what keep me coming back to Fstoppers. You rock, Emma!

Emma Grigoryan's picture

thank you too for an inspirational comment, I will try to make more post like this in future

Nissor Abdourazakov's picture

I love my Nikon 24 1,4G for portraiture together with Nikon 200 F2.0 and 85 1,4G

Emma Grigoryan's picture

killer collection !

Khatleen Minerve's picture

I've been using the 18-35mm 1.8 and my 35mm 1.4 from Sigma Art range too! And it is phenomenal what they can do for portraits !

Emma Grigoryan's picture

your street portraits are terrific !

Khatleen Minerve's picture

Thanks :)

Ryan Cooper's picture

Emma! These shots are on point! Hats off to you! Well done.

PS: Id love to see you do an article with more in depth detail on your grading technique. The use of a skin ton layer to converge all the tones to be uniform is fascinating to me. I'd never considered that before.

Emma Grigoryan's picture

thank you for the lovely feedback

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