Shortcut – Social Satire Photo Project about Shortsightedness
It seems that man today is willing to stop at nothing, trying to take shortcuts to reach personal goals and “success”. Everything today needs to go faster, be cheaper, made with minimal effort with the expectation of high results. What happened to long-term thinking? What happened to working hard? I wanted to create an image that conveys the short-sightedness and greed of this mentality. Paradoxically, the image has taken almost 6 months from idea to finished image.
Behind the scenes film
I wanted to create an image that conveys the modern mentality of reaching success. The human being is stretching the boundaries of what they will do in the pursuit of “success and happiness“, sometimes it gets really dirty. So I created the character “The Greedy Man”, a middle aged man who haven’t lifted a finger during his lifetime. He often thinks “If they can, so can I”, but without the willingness to do any long-term effort. This man personifies greediness.
The other part of this image are athletes who spent most of their time trying to reach their goals, to become champions. In this image two world collide. In one end egoism, shortsightedness, greediness and in the other end humbleness, long-sightedness and fighting spirit.
The Greedy Man built himself a catapult chair, he makes a small effort to win over these athletes. He have rigged traps, glued shoes to the ground and placed banana skin on the track, he cheats and he is willing to do everything to win.
I started to do some research on what I practically needed to create this image. I wanted the image to be imaginary and at the same time realistic in it’s details. There are a lot of details in this image that could reveal this image as fake, specially for those who are sprinters. But it is always a balancing act trying to make everyone satisfied, somewhere I have to motivate how much time I’m willing to spend on research for a very small percentage of the audience. A sprinter in this case could reveal details as not being realistic when 99% of the audience won’t notice the anything. But of course I wanted to do as good research as I could.
After research was done I contacted Mattias Käll who is an illustrator. He got the assignment to visualise my idéas and thoughts. I wish I was better at illustrating, but my two year old son does it better than me ;). This way I could see what perspectives to shoot in, where to put elements in background but also see if my idéas will look good in reality. The sketch also works as support during the photoshoot. Super-professional work by Mattias Käll.
Creating the catapult armchair
I wanted a special style of armchair. I found this used beige colored armchair which I bought, but the color of the chair was to light and the skin of The Greedy Man would have blended in with the chair. So I bought some brown paint and painted the chair in a darker brown color, that way more of the attention is directed on the model instead of on the chair. I also bought four wheels that I mounted underneath the sofa.
Me building a catapult armchair for this photography project. I found a used armchair that I painted brown to get the the color I first visualised, I also mounted four wheels under the chair.
Arena, track and backgrounds
To photograph outside for a whole day, specially in Sweden where the wether is unpredictable, is risky. It would be taking a huge risk photographing this outside, spending time on anchoring gear with sand bags, having more assistants and in the end risking to cancel the shoot because of rain etc.
For that reason I choose to photograph on an indoor track. To give more of a “competition” and outdoor feeling i choose to place a arena in the bakground that I had in my own stock archive. I also used some mountains i photographed during a trio to Jordan/middle east. I really like the red “deserdish” feeling to the mountains.
Styling and make-up
The stylist Carina Lundgren helped me with clothes and styling for this photo-shoot. The athletes had their own clothes with them since they compete in the sport. But the stylist found some great clothes for The Greedy Man and for the referee. She also styled The Greedy Mans hair, since I wanted the feeling that he is being launched from his catapult chair she made his hair stand up with spray. The stylist found green shorts that made his legs/thighs more visible and a white mail shirt that made the skin visible trough the shirt.
She also applied make-up to all models and athletes, make-up is a must when photographing with studio strobes, other wise the skin looks to glossy.
The Greedy Man
The main character in the image was of super important to get right. I needed a model who had a beer belly and who had some growth of beard, that could be portrayed the way I visualised. Another consideration was finding a model that feels comfortable to be portrayed like this and be comfortable with his body. I dont think I could find a better model and he was really engaged and helpful during the project.
A problem that I often encounter when shooting commercial images, specially when working with people that’s not used to being photographed is that they want to look good on the image rather then entering a character. When creating images like this with storytelling it’s all about acting, not necessary looking the best you can.
I photographed the beer that splashes out of the can, the ropes and the flying snacks separately so that we could focus on the facial expression instead of having to care about composition of these elements.
The Evil Cat
I wanted to get the feeling that The Greedy Man is sitting at home in front of the TV, so I decided to add a cat to the composure. But I wanted a cat with character, not just som ordinary cat. I found a siamese cat which was perfect for the job. The cat was young and a little bit too cute and I wanted make her appear more angry and evil.
So I photographed the cat in my studio in a calm and non-stressful environment. I placed the armchair in the exact same angle as when I photographed it on location. After that I had the owner play with the cat in the armchair with diffrent toys, the cat was running around in the chair, climbing and jumping. That way I got images where the cat was showing teeth and claws from diffrent angles.
I also added extra hair flying of the cat to get the feeling that the chair, cat and man is moving forward. This way I made him look more evil.
The biggest challenge of this project was to find athletes. Finding athletes that actually compete or have competed in sprint was crucial because it would make the image more believable if they could do a explosive start. They also have access to shoes, clothes and gear and they could help me with details at the shoot, details that makes the image more realistic. I found five sprinters in my home town but needed a sixth one, so I had to find a model that physically could be a sprinter. I found one and the sixth model was instructed by the sprinters how to do a relatively good start.
I wanted the referees character to be sick and tired of beeing a referee. So i choose a an older woman since there was so many men in the image.
It turned out that sprint referees have special equipment and it varies between referees and diffrent competitions. Today most of the referees use electronic starter guns, but I wanted to use an “old school” starter gun because I thought it would look better visually. To find a starter gun was hard so I bought a toy gun, since the referee is so far back in the image I knew that few would notice the difference.
Some referees also have protection cover of their arms and that was a detail that I wanted to have in the image. I also added some earmuffs and protective goggles.
Direction of light in composites
Sometimes I photograph background specific for a project, sometimes I use my own stock images as background images. When I photograph advanced composite images like this I need to have the same direction of light. It’s also important to have as similar character of light as possible so that the images blend together.
Realistic vs interesting light
In this case I was not looking for a realistic light scenario, most people who know lighting know that this back lit image would be very dark, but I wanted to create something that looks interesting and attractive to the eye. Again it’s all a balance act between what looks good in the image and whats realistic.
I photographed all models with the same light setup in you can see in this diagram below. I moved the light setup between the diffrent images to get the exact same light on all models.
Freezing fast motion
Since there is a lot of motion in this image I had to photograph with flashes that have fast flash duration. For that I used Broncolor move 1200 pack and MobiLed heads. I also had to exclude all surrounding light because it gives motion trails and makes the models look unsharp, so I shot at F8 which was a good aperture where most surrounding light was excluded.
Since there are so many elements that needs to be photographed in this image I did a lot of preparations, that way I eliminate most of the problems that can occur at the photoshoot. If there is a problem during the shoot I have a plan B most of the time. I write checklists where all the diffrent elements that needs to be photographed is included. I measure the hight and angle of the camera, but also distance to models if I need to shoot more elements later on in the studio. This way I can get correct perspective on all images.
Photography technique when shooting composites
When I do composites with a lot of elements it’s important that the camera is standing still, it makes everything much easier when retouching and putting the images together in Photoshop. That’s why I almost always use a remote shutter release and put some attach some heavy weight to the cameras tripod. If I or someone else accidentally touches the camera it won’t move as much. I alson use barrier tape around the camera, even if I tell people not to get close to the camera they forget and might accidentally move it. If there is tape around it they stay outside of barrier.
Photograph the element separately
I almost always photograph elements in diffrent images because that way I can get perfect lightning by moving the light setup between models and objects. It takes more time but is worth it in the end. It also gives me the flexibility to move objects around, with some limitations, in the image. If I would photograph two of the athletes at the same time they would overlap and that “locks” me in a position I can’t get out of, I can’t move them around.
Another advantage is that if I photograph everything separately I can re focus on each model and object which makes everything much more sharper in the image. The background is shot either with focus stacking to get maximum depth of field or with a small aperture.
Retouching and compositing
Retouching images is basically all the work that is being done after the image is transfered to the computer. Briefly it’s making the image look better with diffrent digital techniques.
I transfer all images to my computer to a more powerful retouching computer where I can work with hundreds of photoshop layers without problem. I always do a basic sorting of images and rate the images that are best.
After that I place all the elements in one image to see if the composure are ok and that they look good together, or if I need to move things around. If I need to do adjustments to the image I can move around things. After that I do a raw conversion of the images and adjust exposure, I sharpening the images and adjust colors if needed.
Isolating models and objects from backgrounds
I extract all objects and models from their background and I also extract the drop shadows, it’s hard to construct good looking shadows so I try to use the shadows I get from shooting. As isolate all images so that I can move things around but also because I can adjust shadows, colors and light separately (isolated) to make them blend in with the background. I put everything in folders, sort and name them.
Dodge & burn, color correction and effects
When all images are in placed the fun part begins, time to make the image look more dynamic and alive. With the help of “Dodge & Burn (with curve layers), which basically means that you “paint with light” in selected parts of the image. You add/remove light/shadow to give objects and models more depth making the whole image more dynamic.
After this I do some color correction on skin, i adjust the color of the models clothes to give the clothes more uniform and balanced color tone. I add color tones to the image and diffrent add diffrent effects to make the image more alive and cinemati. I use Adobe Color CC which is a great tool to find complementary colors with, very useful. After this I add some sharpness.
Gear used for production
Lens: Nikkor 24mm tilt/shift
Strobes: Broncolor Move 1200 pack with 2 MobiLED heads
Diffusion: Lastolite scrim jim 2×2 meter
Light meter: Sekonic L-758
Computer for tethered shooting: Macbook Pro
Computer used for retouching: MacPro late 2013, 3.5GHz 6-core 16gb. dual FirePro
Retouching board: Wacom Intous 4
Software: Adobe Lightroom CC for tethered shooting, Adobe Bridge CC for image sorting/tagging and Adobe Photoshop for retouching.
Are you a journalist?
Are you a journalist and want to write about this project? As long as you’re a magazine or blog not containing sensitive content, then you have my permission to publish this story with images. Contact me if you need more information or high-res images. Please send me a copy after publishing.
Always credit my creative team
Photography and retouch: Andreas Varro
Styling and Makeup: Carina Lundgren
Assistants: Nalle Martinsson
Always link to these sites when publishing
Link to this blogpost: http://www.itsvarro.com/en/blog/shortcut-social-satire-photo-project
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Contact: Andreas@itsvarro.com, +46 (0)723 289 510
High-res images: https://adobe.ly/2qi4Ygi