Awakening – Creating the Judges Choice Image

Awakening - Judge's Choice Award in the recent PPOC National Print competition

This image of Brody is one of my favourites. Being a studio guy, it’s always a thrill to get out in the fresh air and create something I don’t normally get to do.

Our location was a field just off a feeder road on the edge of Calgary. We were ready to go, just before the sun was going down. This and the morning light, just as the sun comes up, is the sweetest, softest light. You can actually start your photography just before the light comes up and into the hour after the sun goes down. That light is often referred to as the golden light. It is nearly shadowless with an open sky and, when processed right, it is golden, but you can tweak the tones in nearly any direction.

You will need a tripod, which I used in this image. From my film days, I prefer to work with the lowest ISO I can get so this image was shot at 100 ISO, the Canon Mark3 native ISO. In really low light, the best approach is to get a remote trigger to further reduce any camera shake.

Part of the reason for the low is ISO is that I can use a very wide-open aperture or shallow F-stop to get a narrow depth of field. You can see the F4.5 used gave a depth of field width that she barely fit into. I also used a telephoto zoom, set at 96mm. The telephoto lens works the optics differently than a normal lens that if you moved in would give you the same coverage.

It compresses the background while the shallow depth of field falls off very rapidly. This creates fantastic separation from the background, gives the image a 3D depth look, and makes her pop in the image. The low ISO, combined with the shallow depth of field needed, means I had to work with slow shutter speed, in this case 1/50th.

The advantage of a slow shutter speed outdoors is the possibility of the background getting wind movement. I was lucky in this image; there was a slight wind, barely more than a breeze, that was missing her but moving the background grass, giving the image some slight dynamics. 

Brody was turned to face the setting sun. This light is giving her that soft, gentle, warm light. You can see the open sky is giving her hair a framing light that is slightly cool at the top. When you work this setup, you need to adjust the head carefully so that the skylight is not hitting her face causing a colour mix and eye socket shadows. A downward tilt of the head looks after this. You will enjoy the reduced amount of image editing this light creates. For Brody, I just did a slight skin softening in the face to fit the mood better. Beyond that it’s pretty much a straight image.

Her mood, of course, is the element that will take the image over the top. This was Brody’s first time as a model in front of the camera, so I could not rely on a depth of experience. In sessions like that you need to gently guide and encourage your subject. For this mood the conversation needs to be quiet and reflective.

She was so great in this session that I booked her for the model on my upcoming England seminar circuit.

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