Creating fantasy in non-fantastical surroundings is part of the challenge and excitement of photography! Finding a single flowering bush and posing a model or yourself in a billowing gown and creating art with it, despite a large and rumbling garbage truck being parked a few feet ahead, is sometimes the reality for many fantasy photographers. Unfortunately, I don’t know the way to Middle Earth, and I lost my keys to Avalon, so here I am trying to make otherworldly magic in ordinary surroundings.
The Shooting Process:
Probably the most ordinary of surroundings in which I have created art, was on July 23rd, 2017 in my dear friends’ garage. I had an image that I wanted to create, and some of the things that I wanted to use in the image would not have been appropriate to bring into nature (I’ll explain later), so I got my hands on a $5 kiddy pool, some spray paint, and pulled some vines from the walls of the outside of my home. My “watery surroundings” were all gathered and ready to go.
My model, Jude Ann, is always on board for some of my even crazier concepts. I had the birch bark corset from a past photoshoot and I wanted to use it one more time before it would be ruined by time and inadequate storage. Most of my costumes are made of natural materials and are not made to last. Since I worked for so long on the corset, I fashioned the concept around the garment itself and imagined an earthy woman sinking down into oil. The concept, stemming from the world's current dialogue about environmentalism, was meant to symbolize earth being swallowed by the needs of humans. To create this oil, I would need to use some weird materials. So, I bought myself a package of chocolate pudding to cloud the water, as well as to leave a brownish residue on my model, as oil would.
The idea of sinking into pudding water would make most people's stomachs turn, but not Jude's! She was totally game for my concept. On the day of the shoot, during a rainstorm, she, my boyfriend, and myself unloaded my car and put the pool into the rain on the driveway in order to begin quickly filling it with water. She and I grabbed pitchers and made trip after trip into her home to fill the pitchers with warm water and pour it into the pool. After about 30 minutes, we had enough water in the pool and we 3 dragged it back into the garage, keeping the garage door open for light.
I got Jude dressed into the birch corset and we slowly sank her down into the kiddy pool. I positioned the ivy around her, framing her face in the plants, as well as coiling a few across her chest for added drama and interest. I love a lot of texture in images, and these tiny details are, what I think, make the biggest impact. I began wiping some chocolate pudding in the water and near her face and neck and eventually decided that I did not love the look. In fact, I loved the fantastical image of her simply sinking down among the vines. I decided to ditch the concept, and shoot for a more otherworldly look instead of a statement piece. When our shoot was finished, we pulled Jude up from pool, dumped the water down the driveway, and went back home to begin editing.
The Editing Process:
All of my images go through post processing in Photoshop, so I dumped all of the images into a folder and began making a list of the images that I would use in the final piece. In many of my pictures, the final image is a composite of about 5-6 different images. I may like an arm from one image, a hair wisp from another, a grouping of leaves from another... so they become stitched together until they form one final full image with all of the pieces that I loved from the whole shoot. Therefore, one image can take hours, days, and even sometimes months to complete.
I composited all of Jude's photos together, blending in the layers where leaves were pasted on top of other leaves, hiding the borders of the pink pool under layers of floating greenery.
When compositing images like this, I learned it is always important to get at least one image with everything in the frame that you ultimately want to be there, so that you can lay the layers on top of it in order to see where to resize the new layer or how the angle of it should be.
After everything was composited together, I began cooling down all of the greenery with Selective Color, turning the greens to a cooler bluish. I toned her skin to match the new coolness of the greens around her, and brought the attention to the center of the image by darkening the borders with gradient. Additionally, I used curves to darken the water, and clone stamped out any textures from the bottom of the kiddy pool.
The last thing I did is brighten and sharpen eyes, soften skin, add dramatic shadows and highlights and add my watermark. The entire editing process took around 4 hours.
The Final Image:
"The Ivy Coil"
Photography and Costume Design: Meghan Walker Photography
Model/ HMUA: Jude Ann Artistry
Behind the Scenes Photographer: Eric Panico