Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Erik Almás: A Maker Not A Taker
Erik Almás, renowned for his immaculately composited advertising and fine-art images, answers the question “How’d he do that?”
The techniques by which Almás achieves these effects have been the subject of speculation in online newsgroups and chat rooms. “This guy works with great location, lighting, etc.,” one web surfer comments on a photography forum. “Is the majority of this ‘tweaked’ in Photoshop?” Although Almás no longer has the time to respond to the “How do you do it?” e-mails he receives nearly every day, he’s far from proprietary when it comes to the nitty-gritty of his techniques. “I have no secrets,” he asserts. “Every semester, I go into the university where I studied and talk to my old professor James Wood’s class. The first thing I say is, ‘I don’t have a planned lecture; I’m just going to share with you everything you want to know.’”
What is the crux of that knowledge? He offers this tantalizing summation: “You want to know my recipe? It’s very simple. Low morning light, slightly from the back. A foreground element. A background piece that helps tell the story. Then add clouds in Photoshop.”
Achieving what Almás achieves, of course, is hardly as simple as a four-step recipe. The first of the many decisions it subsumes is choosing the right location, which for Almás, hinges on whether a locale is better suited to sunrise or sunset shooting. He gravitates to a sidelit or slightly backlit look that recalls the painted landscapes of the Old Masters and the shadow-filled crags and crannies of Maxfield Parrish’s illustrations. The day before a shoot, he or his tech scout takes compass readings to determine when the sun will ascend and descend, when the lighting will be sharpest or most diffused. Using the Wide Screen Software program sunPATH to aid in these measurements, he considers how the light will enable him to best tell the story the client seeks to communicate: Where will the narrative actors be placed? In what way will the foreground support the background, and vice versa? What will be the parameters of the composition, for both horizontal and vertical layouts?
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