Oops! … I Dropped the Eggs!!!
The Behind-the-Scenes of How a Conceptual Image Is Made
The idea for a “Norman Rockwell” style of image was a fun concept that I had in my head and I wanted to explore whether or not I could pull off. As a boy growing up in Mississippi, I absolutely adored Norman Rockwell and his take on ordinary, everyday life, with his fabulous sense of humor and a very recognizable style.
Rockwell is best known for his creations for the cover of Saturday Evening Post magazine and for his yearly calendars. In the following series of images, I explain the progression of my own CONCEPTUAL IMAGE CREATION, and how we worked through various issues and with a young model (little Miss Melody) to get to a final result that was what I was going for. Conceptual Imagery is pretty much just that… it begins with a “concept” or idea… a vision, if you will, of a photograph, a painting, a sculpture… and then the artist works through all the necessary things to bring that concept into being.
Of course, there can be changes and adaptations along the way, as the artist may “morph” his idea into an even stronger one as he or she goes. Or, in some instances, runs into a roadblock that simply can’t be overcome, so a compromise or workaround has to be made. In any case, this “glimpse” I’m providing is called BTS in the photography industry, which stands for “Behind the Scenes.” I’m providing only a partial glimpse, because a full BTS would include photos of my lighting and camera setup, and even photos of hair, makeup and wardrobe (HMU). But, that would have been virtually impossible because I was backed up against the far kitchen wall to begin with.
As for the HMU and wardrobe, I simply was too busy and didn’t get photos of that, which was being done by Melody’s mom and grandmother in the direction I had provided them. So, I hope this glimpse into image progression from start to finish is interesting for you. Of course I didn’t include everything, but it gives you a good idea in just 8 photographs.
In Image 1 above, I have decided upon a basic camera angle to start out with, and then will tweak as we go. The Phase of Image making that I am in here – in fact this entire process of shooting the images – is called the PRODUCTION PHASE – where the photos are actually taken. This is actually Phase 2 of 3. Phase 1 has already been accomplished, which is PRE-PRODUCTION.
In that earlier phase, I had put out a Talent Call looking for a young, female model and had discovered Melody. I had also found a kitchen that was suitable (I didn’t want a modern kitchen because that wouldn’t have fit with the Rockwell style). I had ordered a bunch of egg props that looked like real eggs and weren’t all shiny, and had glued them together using a glue gun. You will see that cluster of eggs in upcoming photos.
Subsequently, I purchased several dozen real eggs to use in the setting. Working with Melody’s grandmother and mother, we had found some additional props for the background, such as a stack of wooden egg crates, several baskets, and other such things. The 3rd Phase, called POST-PRODUCTION, is where I will take the best image into editing and retouching for final processing. So, we “staged” the scene and removed things from the countertop and arranged things in a preliminary way.
A couple of problematic issues that I identified in this “scene” are: 1) the window is a distraction, as it is letting in far too much light and will draw the viewer’s eyes away from my subject, which of course is Melody, so that will need to be addressed; 2) The color temperature of the lighting is way too bluish, and will need to be warmed up – or made more amber. That is done in camera settings. Nevertheless, this is a very good foundational starting point for what will come.
In Image 2, Melody has been in Hair, Makeup and Wardrobe by her Mom and Grandmother. We had talked before this day about the clothing she had available that would fit the concept. I had provided a photo of the hairstyle I wanted, which was a couple of “Mickey-Mouse” hair balls on each side of her head. They did a fantastic job with this.
At first, the two little balls were too far forward, and I had them moved further back on Melody’s head. Fortunately, these fantastic assistants, Lissa and Jennifer, were patient with me and readily fixed that issue. It’s the little things that if paid attention to, can make an image so much better. She didn’t need any makeup. In this test photo, we have moved Melody onto a small stool to raise her up higher.
Without the stool raising her up, she was far too low in the frame of the photo. I didn’t want to lower the camera because that would have completely changed the angle of view. We have also added more real eggs and an additional basket. We wanted a ton of eggs in the shot, because that’s part of the issue in the concept: there are just too many eggs!!! The window brightness and the blue color temperature have not yet been addressed.
In Image 3, Melody is starting to practice the expression I want her to have for the image. I wanted a really surprised look that bespoke a shocked “OH-NO!!!”. She had actually been working on this at home with her Mom before Production day. While it’s not quite there yet, I can tell at this point she will be able to nail it when we actually get going. The hair ball on the right is a bit too far back and needs to be brought forward as it’s a bit difficult to see. However, I love the fact that if placed correctly, both hair balls will stand out in contrast to the white background of the cabinets.
With Image 4, we are now half-way through the process! While Melody is getting the hair issue tweaked to perfection, we address the window brightness by bringing in a blind to cover the window. I also have addressed the color temperature issue, and know that this will not be a problem. You can see how much better this will look as a “warmer” image and fits the Rockwell style a bit better. You will also notice that the background props on the countertop have been changed as well.
Every single thing within the frame of the image is considered and evaluated. Why is this here?… Should that be left in or taken out? These are questions I constantly have to ask in such images. I’ve have been taught that every single thing within my frame should be evaluated. As to camera and lighting: my camera is on a tripod simply for convenience and so that there’s no chance of changing any angles. I have a huge soft-box for diffused light next to me on my left and is raised up as high as the ceiling will allow. Thus, I am using a single strobe, and working with some natural light that is filtering throughout the house and is bouncing off all of the white and off-white walls and ceilings. The overhead light in the kitchen has been turned off.
In Image 5, Melody is back on the stool, and is handed the cluster of eggs that have been glued together. I give her direction on how to hold them and we move her arms and hands into the proper location. Yes, the egg props are whiter and bluer than the real eggs, so that will have to be “fixed” in post-production retouching. She’s like, “Whoah, this is a hoot!” So, we are getting closer to shooting for real and moving beyond these test shots! For a young child, Melody was a trooper and was very easy to work with.
In Image 6 above, we are nearing the point where we go for final images so the last props are brought in, which are broken and smashed real eggs. Do you also notice how I have rotated the camera very slightly to the left to move just a bit away from that window, and to bring in more of the stacked egg crates in the background? In other words, final tweaks are being applied in an effort to make the image the best it can possibly be.
I learned attention to detail while in the U.S. Army as a Tank Commander. That same important principle applies aptly in conceptual image making, and really in all of photography and videography.
In Image 7, she has nailed the expression after about a dozen or so “takes.” It really didn’t take that long for her to get it. In the image provided above, I have taken the photo into Post-Production and have cropped in a little tighter, and added some falling eggs with some blur and shadow on them to depict that they are in motion.