On Assignment: How to Turn an Image from a Dream into a Real-Life Portrait

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Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered how your favorite photographers capture the images they take? Digital Photo Pro has launched a new monthly column called “On Assignment” where Canon Explorers of Light, past and present, will share a backstage look at one of their favorite assignments and how they delivered the goods. This month we go On Assignment with Regis and Kahran Bethencourt of CreativeSoul Photography.

The Challenge

We ask a single question of each child that we photograph: “If you could have the shoot of your dreams, what would it be?” This question alone has sparked some of our most creative shoots.

Kids have vivid imaginations and have no limits when it comes to their dreams. It allows us to really get creative while allowing them to live out their childhood dreams. Our client Christopher is an aspiring astronaut who calls himself a “spacepreneur” because he loves all things space related and aspires to be an astronaut doctor one day so that he can “fix hearts on earth and in space.”

When asked about the shoot of his dreams, Chris said “I would like to have a space themed photoshoot on another planet, but I prefer the moon because I can travel back and forth to earth.” Since we were going to be shooting in studio, we knew we’d have to figure out a lighting setup that would give us the futuristic space type feel that we wanted. 

Shoot Preparation/Planning

To prepare for this shoot, we knew that a normal space suit wouldn’t fit with our style. We decided to grab an inexpensive space suit from an online retailer and use it as a starting point for our wardrobe. Reg often utilizes his artistic skills to paint on wardrobe pieces, so I knew that it would work well for this. Our concept for this shoot was an Afrofuturistic Astronaut so we wanted to incorporate cultural elements along with futuristic pieces. 

Reg was also inspired by one of his favorite childhood cartoons and got the idea to incorporate silver wings into the shoot for a whimsical element. 

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For the space boots, we found some used ski boots and revamped them to make them a bit more futuristic.  We used paint pens and glued on wire covers to give it a futuristic feel. 

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Styling

One major component of our signature images is the styling. Hair, makeup and wardrobe is a huge part of what we do because we feel that the details help tell the story.

We have an amazing team that helps to bring the vision together. We typically start with a mood board which gives the team the overall mood and vision we’re going for in the shoot. One piece of advice we’d suggest to new photographers is to give creatives room to be creative and allow them to show off their talents.

We certainly don’t claim to be makeup artists or hairstylists, so we allow our team members room to let their creative talents flourish. The mood board helps keep everyone on the same page so that we’re not going in different directions, but we enjoy seeing each team member add on their own creative elements. 

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For this shoot, our makeup artist Keya added some futuristic elements to Christopher’s face to give us the Afrofuturistic feel.

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Lighting/Setup

One of the benefits of shooting in studio is having total control over your lighting. We knew that for this shoot we wanted a dramatic lighting setup that would mimic a futuristic space scene.

We recently ran across a virtual studio thanks to our fellow Canon Explorer of Light, Lindsay Adler. As soon as we saw the applications capabilities, we knew that it would be the perfect tool for us when planning our shoots. This app allows us to get a preview of lighting setups before getting to set. It makes our lives so much easier because we are now able to go into a shoot with a better idea of what we want our initial lighting setup to be instead of having to figure it all out while we’re with a client. We’ve found that it actually gives us a little extra time at the end of a shoot to experiment because we’re able to nail our lighting setups much quicker then move to other ideas we might have.

We decided to use a three light setup so that we could add color into the scene using gels. Our main light was a parabolic umbrella angled slightly above our model (camera right). We added two fill lights with gels (camera left) – one with a teal green gel and the other with an orange gel.  We felt that these two complimentary colors would work well for our futuristic space scene and reflect nicely on the model’s silver suit. 

In terms of equipment, we use a Canon EOS R5 and almost always start with our Canon RF 28-70mm f/2 because it gives us the ability to capture a variety of angles without having to switch out our lens too much. When we want to get a few closer portraits we’re typically using our Canon EF 85mm 1.8 using our Canon Control Ring Adapter Mount. 

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The Shoot

This was one of those shoots that seemed like everything just came together naturally. We had several “happy accidents” that turned out to be amazing in the end. For instance, after a few initial shots we decided to add atmospheric spray to the scene to give us a foggy/moody feel.

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Reg decided to experiment with a few different lighting positions and ended up moving the light with the orange gel to the other side of our model.  As the fog started to settle, we noticed that the light started to show what looked like sun rays behind our model. We absolutely loved the end result and decided to run with it for a few frames. 

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Another example of things coming together was when we were switching out some of the accessories on our model. We noticed there were a few random pieces on the ground that looked like “space junk.” We decided to move it into the frame so that it looked more intentional.

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When it comes to shooting, we always try to plan as much as possible to make the shoot run smoothly, but we leave lots of room for experimentation and just figuring some things out on set. For us, that’s typically where the “magic” happens and usually the shots we like the most. 

Post Processing

For most of our shots, we try to get the look we want as close as possible in camera. During the post processing phase, we are mostly doing a lot of color toning and some minor adjustments such as removing skin blemishes, background cleanup, etc. We use the frequency separation method to smooth out the skin a little, but we’re usually dialing back the smoothing a good bit since most of our subjects are children. Here’s an example below of the SOOC shot vs. the Final Edit.

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The Results

Both Christopher and his mom were over-the-moon (pun intended) excited about the results of the shoot even as we were sharing unedited sneaks from our camera. We were thrilled to be able to capture some amazing shots of Christopher to help this young “spacepreneur” pursue his dreams and tell his story. 

About CreativeSoul Photography

Photo of CreativeSoul Photography

World renowned child photographers, Regis and Kahran Bethencourt are a husband-and-wife duo and the imaginative forces behind CreativeSoul Photography. The pair gained global recognition with their AfroArt series. The collection, which showcases the beauty and versatility of afro hair, was conceived as a way to empower kids of color around the world. The couple recently authored their New York Times best-selling coffee table book, “Glory” which brings to life past, present, and future visions of black culture. With more than eleven years of working with hundreds of children, families and brands, they specialize in child and lifestyle photography while incorporating authentic visual storytelling.

Glory Book: http://www.creativesoulphoto.com/glory

Website: http://www.creativesoulphoto.com

IG: http://www.instagram.com/creativesoulphoto

FB: http://www.facebook.com/creativesoulphoto

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/csphoto_atl

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