In olden days these Naga warriors in the far north-eastern reaches of India collected heads from fallen opponents and they proudly displayed their trophies above the entrance doors of their bamboo huts.
I’m extremely grateful I wasn’t part of their collection.
I could have asked these guys to smile . . . but that would have been out of character. So I gestured for one to tip his head up and the other to turn his expression down. (Up gives you proud. Down gives you ferocity.) Perhaps both expressions pay tribute to Naga legacy.
I decided not to mess with these guys. I’d get my photos and get outta there fast.
The above image was my strobe lighting setup shot.
My trusty Indian assistant, Pintu, seemed not to be scared.
He nonchalantly held a Manfrotto 680B Monopod onto which was dangling a LumiQuest LTp softbox that was strapped around a Canon 580EX II Speedlite set to normal exposure with no compensation. I triggered this unit with a Pocket Wizard TT5 radio receiver. Though my perseverance was being tested and my neck hairs were standing erect in fear, I tried to exude calmness when choosing manual mode for my Canon 5D Mark II and when placing the overcast sky’s ambient reading at minus two or three f/stops. I wanted deep saturation and a moody effect. On camera I used a Ray Ring Flash for fill that was set to minus 3 stops via my AC3 Zone Controller mounted in the hot shoe of my camera.
To be honest, the difference you see between this setup shot and the final two images above was created by using the magic features of my GASP Photoshop 3-D Workflow Action, which quickly enabled me to add drama to various parts of the image using built-in vignetting masks and other features that helped me pump tonal values to my liking and to desaturate various colors in localized parts of the image according to my whims of the moment.
These photo effects aren’t accomplished with just contrast boost and vignetting. My Photoshop action isolates highlights and shadows separately with blend mode changes and High Pass Filter effects. Look at the warrior’s face in the righthand image below. My action also creates layers for quickly desaturating the reds in skin tones or to isolate other color changes with saturation boost or decrease in different tonal ranges of the image. (There’s even a skin softening layer when I don’t want my characters to look overly rustic.) The result is a more sculptural effect accomplished in just a few minutes with an organized and intuitive workflow that keeps me from forgetting anything. Currently this action has 227 steps that generate 30 Photoshop layers incorporating almost infinite manipulation bliss. Depending on the image, many of these layers can be deleted if not used so the final file size can be reduced before saving.
When you read my Photoshop workflow tutorial, you’ll see I threw in the kitchen sink.
Observe the differences in the three images below. The left photo was shot only with overcast light; the middle image has strobe lighting with underexposed ambient; the righthand photo has the addition of effects generated by my GASP 3-D Action. I’ve punched this image a bit for comparison . . . but you get the idea.
Notice how the warrior now jumps out and grabs you . . . ready for an easy head.
(Mouse-over the righthand image to see before the 3-D effect.)
Drama can be created with simple lighting and few quick 3-D Photoshop tricks.
The “Holy Grail of Composition” (according to my Bible) is that backgrounds are as important as the subject. Of course, you must work with what you’ve got–and quickly in this case–if you don’t want your head taken.
In front of me were horizontal boards on one side of my shooting venue that I used for the first subject and behind me was a vertical stack of logs for the other guy. Perfect! My shooting time for these two warriors was about ten minutes. Post-production took a bit longer.
At least, I kept my head.
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