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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Michael Chevalier: Dynamism

After leaving a life as a tree-climbing landscaper, Michael Chevalier is creating high-impact, high-concept fashion and beauty photography that shows he’s still striving for new heights


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Michigan photographer Chevalier is using a distinctive style for achieving success in the local arena. He has found himself in demand in the Midwest thanks to a uniquely conceptual approach to photography in markets that are used to more conventional work. Though he may not be based out of the cutthroat areas of New York or Los Angeles, his work is gaining him nationwide interest. Still, Chevalier is sure to point out that, at heart, he’s still just a country boy.
DPP: How did you learn to use the equipment?

Chevalier: I taught myself. When my now-wife was trying to model, she worked with other photographers, and I would watch what they did and between shots would bend their ears. I also got a few books and started experimenting with cameras and lighting equipment. In college, I studied electronics way before I thought about photography. Maybe that helped a little. After college I got into underground utility work before I got into trees.

DPP: When you got out of the trees, you got into the fields of high grass to do a very surreal shot of a model seemingly being blown across it. How did you create that shot?

Chevalier: I built a little stool for her to balance herself on so she got some great abdominal exercise from the shoot. I like to mold the models into interesting positions. There’s a lot of ways to get the animated look that I got in that shot. I tend to use the shadows and highlights tools in Photoshop, playing around with the sliders to get the desired effect. I do my skin work first. I clean up all the skin first because that has to be done and then I do things step by step. Brushing out the skin is the tedious work that takes a couple of hours. I convert my Canon raw files to TIFF and that’s what I work on. I shoot with the Canon EOS 5D and Canon EOS 30D.

DPP: Another technique that you seem to often apply is to shoot not only backlit, but directly into the sun. You play a sophisticated balancing act between the ambient light of a location and what you add to it.
 
I’m using the healing tool and the paintbrush a lot for skin. My technique for lighting and darkening areas is with curves and not with the burn and dodge tools. I feel I have much better control over the areas I select to work on.
 
Chevalier: I really like that look. You need the power in your strobes to overpower the sun so you can dim it down to where you want it. Even when I’m not including the sun itself in a shot, I like the look of an intense sky. For example, I photographed this Britney Spears-looking model in a burned-out building in Cleveland as part of a campaign I did with a fashion designer. The building was across the street from a studio I was partnered with at the time. By underexposing the sky, I was able to bring out the clouds that were actually like that. Don’t get me wrong. If I’m shooting on a gray day or with a sky with no clouds, I’ll go into my folder with a bunch of cool skies stashed in it and put them in the image for the effect I’m looking for. My wife did the makeup for me on this series.

DPP: Did she end up being a professional model, as well?

Chevalier: No, but in addition to ending up being a really good professional makeup artist working with me on my shoots, she has become a great mother to our children.

You can see more of Michael Chevalier’s work at his website, www.christael.com.


 

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