Bradshaw says that bringing along a workstation will give him a continuous workflow as he can perform edits and make needed adjustments during the shoot. "Seeing your images on a 27-inch screen makes it far easier to make adjustments on the fly," he explains. "When I’m compositing, I like to use environmentally driven lighting. I like to start with my background images, or at least an idea of what they will be, and look to see what the sources of light are in the scene. To create believable composites, I want to mimic those sources as best I can—often enhancing them beyond what might be natural. For example, if the subject is set against a city at night as the background, I’ll use hard light sources to act as rim lights."
Because lighting is so technical, I like to have the opportunity to establish it before engaging with the subject so my subject gets my full attention.
After that, he says it’s simply a matter of reduction—removing any obstacles to his imagined final image while allowing a certain degree of spontaneity to work its way into the shooting process. "The three most important things to keep in mind when shooting for composites are to maintain correct perspective, consistent lighting and realistic shadows," Bradshaw explains, "so that the elements that you combine fit together cohesively. Consistent color and contrast between elements is important, but that’s addressed more in postproduction as long as the lighting is consistent. I feel like a composite is effective when most viewers don’t realize that it’s a composite. I can’t afford to be fixing things in post. It takes up too much time, especially in a commercial workflow, so I start with a great file and then enhance the contrast in Photoshop.
"I like rich, detailed images with strong contrast while at the same time maximizing depth and dynamic range," he continues. "Achieving this look means throwing lots of light around in a very controlled manner. There’s an art to using almost every light modifier around, so I’ve come up with a particular style to using most of them. Only by breaking the classical rules with lighting can you make something interesting—something different. As I mentioned before, I then enhance this contrast in postproduction, so the results are part analog, part digital."
Adds Bradshaw, "It all depends on the project and what we’re trying to achieve. For example, I just finished shooting a campaign for an athletic brand where we were shooting high-performance athletes. They wanted a very hyperrealistic look so I used about eight lights per scene, each light sculpting the scene in a different way. We used the Einsteins at low power for their superfast flash durations. When I’m shooting a portrait, however—where the image is more about the subject than the lighting—then I may use only one or two lights. I’m really passionate about story-driven lighting—lighting for the particular mood that you’re trying to create, as well as using lights to sculpt the scene to make it as three-dimensional as possible. I like to use a lot of rim and backlights to shape and build depth. As far as light modifiers go, I’m relatively partial to parabolic light modifiers and beauty dishes due to their sculptural quality and versatility. That said, it all depends on the goal."
"I think more than anything it’s my vision, from lighting to postproduction, that sets me apart. There are so many amazing photographers out there, but in the commercial world, many of them work with dedicated retouchers who you often never hear about, they’re the guys behind the curtain, and they often have a huge role in the ‘look’ or visual style of an image. I suppose the difference is that I like to control the pixels all the way from intake and lighting to the final postproduction and delivery. My lighting and postproduction techniques are important, but more important is my sense of taste, how I like my images to look. Without vision, my techniques are just a bag of tricks. Even if someone knows the techniques, there are so many micro-decisions in the image-making process that no two photographers will ever create the same image. I think this means that my images will always stand apart as my own—at least I hope. That’s not to say that my way of doing things is any better—it’s just different, it’s just me. Everyone’s vision is unique."
You can see more of Dean Bradshaw’s high-impact, narrative imagery at www.deanbradshaw.com.au.