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Dean Bradshaw: The Digital Ninja

Bradshaw is a master of retouching, a talent that made the young Australian photographer highly sought after as a commercial and editorial photographer within a few short months of moving to the United States. "The U.S. is the pinnacle of the creative world to me," he explains about the move. "It has the biggest markets commercially and attracts creative talent from all over the world. One can make it here with a very specific style, something that can be impossible in a market like Australia where creative budgets are much smaller. In the U.S., photographers can afford to specialize."

"Developing rapport with people is an art in itself," he continues. "Many of the talent and subjects I work with are often not professional models—many have never been professionally photographed before. I like to create a positive, energetic atmosphere, where people can feel at ease and enjoy themselves. At the end of the day, we’re making pictures, and although we’re doing it commercially, making the experience fun for our subjects and the client is one of the best ways I know how to make successful images. Having a great team and running a tight set where the technical issues are attended to smoothly is also very important—it means I can focus more on people than on technique. Finally, I really enjoy people—it’s a big part of why I do what I do."

Bradshaw’s work may be heavily processed, but the images themselves are firmly grounded in the real world, a careful juxtaposition of fantastical effects in semirealistic scenarios and over-the-top character-driven portraiture that belies his unique sense of visual humor. Bradshaw’s human subjects often find themselves comped into dynamic backgrounds of nature or cityscapes, as well, and though he uses elaborate lighting to build these scenes, his stunning abilities with a computer seem to glue it all together effortlessly. Bradshaw is quite proud of his sense of humor and rightly so. Just as with comedy filmmaking, producing a commercial image that’s able to capture spontaneity and levity is no easy trick. He prefers to act as director on set, infusing a shoot with energy and fun while carefully guiding his talent into the character that he’s looking for. He says that a really strong idea of the final image is tantamount to his methods prior to shooting, for character direction and also technically to be able to accomplish the complex postproduction that his composites can require.

Bradshaw says that "light is light," and it will only be as good or as bad as you direct it to be, so he’s comfortable working with a number of systems and light-modification tools. For smaller commercial work and shoots that involve a lot of travel, Bradshaw will rely on Paul C. Buff Einsteins as his principal lighting source, and he’ll supplement his
arsenal with Profoto power packs for larger projects and studio work.


"Using big modifiers like octabanks consumes a lot of light," he says. "Couple that with a medium-format back shooting at ISO 50, ƒ/16—I need every watt-second I can get."

For a project in Africa involving the infamous Kony and the group Invisible Children, on the other hand, Bradshaw relied on three Einsteins and three miniature lithium battery packs that gave him about 400 full-power flashes each, "the best option I had available to keep weight down," he says. "It’s not what lights you have; it’s how you use them."

Bradshaw’s very first step to any of his workflows is to start with the most sculpted image that he can produce in-camera "with highlights and shadows falling where I want them and microcontrast maximized through careful attention to lighting ratios," he continues. "Starting with a great file is crucial, it makes my adjustments in post fewer and not as heavy-handed so that the file maintains maximum pixel quality. I like to shape contrast by selectively using curves adjustment layers and shifting colors where needed by using curves or the hue/saturation command and then sharpening to enhance detail and depth."

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