Forever Online – Satire about Online Society

Modern technology has changed our lives dramatically, sometimes I might overreact but the way smartphones and social media have changed us makes me a little scared. We talk less with each other and many of us spend more time online than in the real world. Call me retrogressive but I’m not sure I like that progress.

Looking forward, I believe this is one of the biggest challenges we have in today’s society. I believe that this is a problem that needs more attention so I created this artwork Forever Online.

This image was awarded “Image of the Year” in the category Digital Illustration during the Swedish Masters in portrait photography. 

Behind-the-scenes film

 

Story and background

I decided to create an image trying to convey how I sometimes feel when the phone wants to drag me into the digital world. Even if I’m having a great time with friends and family I can get this urge to check my feed or my e-mail with the “just one last time” in my mind.

The idea behind this image is that this man is away on vacation, he is sitting comfortably in his chair in the hotel lounge drinking his coffee, eating a sandwich or reading some books. He is soul-searching trying to find himself again. Because at times if he is on vacation to get time away from his work and stress he receives a message from his boss reading that he forgot to finish some work before he went on vacation.

Suddenly the digital powers start sucking him into his phone; he is panicking and unable to control the urge and evade the digital world.

 

Sketching

I had a basic idea of how I wanted the image to look like so I did a simple and basic sketch just to get a feeling about what elements would fit into the image to construct a great story. I needed a character, a lot of hands and some props to convey that he is actually in a state where he desperately needs to relax but something is stopping him. I felt that books, coffee and a sandwich would convey that feeling. I also needed a room with big windows with a really calm and relaxing view outside.

 

My initial sketch for the Forever Online project which I used as a reference when planning the shoot.

Location scouting

I had some ideas for locations, but I and my friend Magnus James had a lunch some weeks ago. He owns

Kinnarps Interior in my hometown Örebro, Kinnarps and designs interiors, sells furniture and the likes.

When I was there on lunch he offered to lend me props and furniture for future shoots, so I asked him if I could shoot my upcoming project in their show room and he agreed. They have all sorts of cool design furniture so I had a lot of options for building up a scene. I would save a lot of time scouting for furniture, transporting them to another location etc.

One of the features I wanted in the environment was the huge windows which is an important part of the image and the Kinnarps show room had just that.

 

Kinnarps showroom has big windows which was a must for my project so as to create an environment on the outside.
They also have a lot of cool design furniture which was great for my image.

 

Light

Most of the time I mix ambient and strobe light in my composite images, but I usually don’t mix them in the same exposure.

I shoot exposures with ambient light separately so I don’t have to deal with mixed color temperatures, but also because my productions are time consuming which means that the ambient light changes a lot in character from start to the end of the shoot. Since I blend a lot of exposures together, I need consistent light, shadows and color temperature and I get just that with strobes.

 

One of the exposures I shot of the models lit with strobes lights.

 

One of the Exposures shot to get ambient light through the window. This was later blended in Photoshop with exposures of the models..

When it comes to strobes I used one big main light and a second rim light which replicates the light from the windows to get some edges on the model, without this the composite would look strange. I also used a white reflector behind the main character so it would be easier to extract his hair – this also filled in some shadows.

Used a big 150cm octabox as my main light and a big white screen in the front to get more light wrap around the subject. Camera is weighted down so all exposures are aligned. Bts photo: Sarah Karlsson

 

I used my Nikon D810 with a 24mm tilt/shift tethered to a MacBook Pro. Bts photo: Sarah Karlsson

 

A 60×100 softball with grid as a rim light to get some edges on the model. Bts photo: Sarah Karlsson

Props and furniture

Since I could use Kinnarps showroom as my location, I had so much furniture to choose from. First, I tried a big red armchair but later on decided not to use that chair, the red armchair was too “happy” in both colors and shape so I decided to run for the… *bom-bom-bom* – “prison chair”, the chair had bars all across. It was really cool and reminded me of a prison cell with the bars, which would add to the “panic” feeling. The models could put their arms between the bars by using this chair which would not have been possible with the red chair.

This was the first chair I tried but I found it to be too “happy” in color and shapes.

 

The prison chair with the bars around it. I chose this chair for the shoot.

 

Model reaching her arm through one of the bars on the chair.

 

Model holding one of the bars during the shoot.

Models

The place I prefer to start looking for models is Facebook. I have some amazing contacts that share my content and I always end up finding some great models and props. I was looking for a specific type of model and got some really good suggestions but no one was “spot on”.

But when I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, one of my friends’ post appeared. The model I saw had a great characteristic face withhigh cheek bones and I felt straight away that he would fit this project “like a glove”. He accepted the challenge.

I also needed a lot of hands in my picture so I did another search on Facebook and ended up with a bunch of happy people that wanted to participate in my project.

Main character David relaxing before the photoshoot. Bts photo: Sarah Karlsson

I wanted a wide variety of hands for my shoot. Male, female, big and small. Bts photo: Sarah Karlsson

 

Models during photo shoot. Bts photo: Sarah Karlsson

 

Photoshoot

Main charachterI started photographing the main character to get a good base image to work on so that I could build up the image gradually with hands and phones around him. I wanted him to have a panicked expression in his face, so I asked one of the models to grab his head and pull it backwards and the main character resisting her hand, that way I got a great expression in his face.

The main character was instructed to sit with his hands still and not moving from the arm chair, but also keeping his feet on the same spot on the ground. When blending exposures in Photoshop it makes life easier when everything is as aligned as possible.

Model is pulling main characters head backwards while he is resisting, to get a panicked facial expression.

 

Hand models

When I had a good base image of the main character, I started to shoot hands and phones around him. I shot around 10-20 exposures of each model in different areas around the main character. That way I could pick and choose hands later in post without limiting myself to one composition.

 

I photographed 10-20 exposures for each model and hands.

 

Background and props

Lastly, I shot separate exposures of the room and props both with strobes and with ambient light in separate exposures.

Having different exposures shot at different f-stops, I get to know that if something changes on the way and I want to make the room interior much lighter for some reason, I know I can do that without destroying pixels. If I want to remove furniture, I can do it without having to clone it away.

I shot several exposures of the background with strobes but also with ambient light separately.

Retouching and compositing

 

Sorting, raw conversion and masking of objects

I did a basic raw conversion and inserted all the exposures and placed them altogether into the same working space in Photoshop. I placed them as smart objects so that I could go back to the raw file later to adjust exposure, color, white balance, sharpness etc. without destroying unnecessary pixels.

I do this because as soon as I start to adjust the exposure, sharpness, color etc. with filters or curves, the images start to get artifacts, banding and things like that. It might look nice on a small resolution image on a wide gamut monitor but in the printed work, all flaws will be visible.

After that I made a fast composite, moving around the images and aligning them until I was satisfied with my composition. I created layer masks and masked out all details in the image. This includes the windows, ceiling, chair, table, phones, hands, sofa, lamp, main character, arm chair etc. It’s easier to work isolated when retouching, dodging and burning.

I created a selection mask around all objects so that I could retouch everything separately.

 

Basic masking of main character, models and background.

 

Dodging and burning

Next step is to blend all exposures together with dodge and burning. Since all hands and objects are shot separately they do not cast shadows on each other as they would have had otherwise, so I had to create shadows for some of the hands. I also strengthened the highlights and made shadows darker with dodge & burn technique to create more depth in the image.

I used dodge and burn technique to create more depth in the image.

Background and effects

I tried out some different backgrounds (outside the window) and I choose a sunset over a Swedish water landscape. I adjusted the image so that it would match the incoming light from the windows. I also retouched the lamp so it looks like it’s on whereas it was actually off when I shot the image.

After that I added some light to the cell phones with brushes and different layer modes. My first idea was to try to add some kind of small strobe to the phone so it would light up the face, but I realized that it would be too complicated todo that since the phone-holding hands would be moved around in post.

The final image: Forever Online.

 

Props in the scene. Note the text on the books.

 

Hands grabbing main characters legs.

 

Phones and hands around main character. Note the screens on the phones and the light coming from them.

Gear used for production

Camera: Nikon D810
Lens: Nikkor 24mm tilt/shift
Strobes: Profoto d1 500 x 2
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.

Fun facts

Production time: 30-40 hours
Retouching time: 15 hours
Time from ideas to finished product: 6 months
Photoshop layers: XX
Photoshop file size: 12,56GB

 

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
Assistants: Sarah Karlsson and Christian Swidén
Behind the scenes images: Sarah Karlsson
Behind the scenes video footage: Emil Nordhammer

Always link to these sites when publishing
Link to this blogpost: http://www.itsvarro.com/en/forever-online/
Link to Facebook: www.facebook.com/itsvarrophoto
Link to Instagram: www.intstagram.com/itsvarro

Contact: Andreas@itsvarro.com, +46 (0)723 289 510

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

 

Story

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.

 

Research

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.

 

Sketching

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.

Illustrator Mattias Käll helped me to realise my idéas. We worked together to find a good composition of models, elements and background. The sketch also works as support during the photoshoot.

 

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.

 

Local soccer arena that I photographed some years ago. Most of the time I shoot images specifically for each project, but sometimes it’s handy with images that I already have in my photo archive.

 

All elements are photographed separately, this way I can move around objects if I want to change the composure later.

 

One element in the background is this chain of mountains that I shot in Jordan/Wadi-Rum before. The mountains are back-lit and have the same direction of light as other elements in the image.

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.

 

Stylist Carina Lundgren applying make-up to The Greedy Man while he enjoys some snacks and beer 😉

 

The stylist is styling the models hair and making it stand up, this is so that I would get the feeling of him being launched from the catapult chair.

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 Greedy Man sits in his home built catapult armchair. To make him feel more greedy he is holding a bowl of snacks in one hand and a beer in the other. He also have his evil cat with him. I use a lot of elements to convey the right character.

I use leaf blower to get the skin and the lips of the model to flutter and the hair to stand up and back. Really funny!

 

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 evil cat is holding on to the couch and to it’s owner.

 

To get the right angle and position of the cat I photographed several images of it while the owner played with it. That way I got several shots of the cat from diffrent angles, showing the teeth, with claws out, laying down etc. After that I combined diffrent images to get the correct angle of the cat.

 

Sprinters

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 worked with facial expressions with the sprinter closes to the camera. I wanted him to look shocked with his eyes on The Greedy Man.

 

All sprinters were shot separately so that I could work on each model separately in the retouching process.

 

One of the sprinters have his feet tied together and the other one lost his shoes because they where glued to the track.

 

I used real sprinters to get explosive good looking starts.

 

Here I am taking some test images to check if placement of models looks good.

 

Explosive start from one of the sprinters. I have used reflectors around the model to get fill the shadows with light, i also used a white reflector as background to make it easier to extract the models later in photoshop.

 

The Referee

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.

 

Me preparing electronics to the starter gun. Small details that makes the image more realistic.

 

Double starter guns, one for the start and the other one if someone makes a false start. The referee have earmuffs and protective goggles but also arm protection.

Light setup

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.

 

 

The light setup I used for this photoshoot. I used the same setup when I photographed the cat in the studio.

I used big 150cm Broncolor octabox as main light from 45 degrees above and behind the model. The light source is angled from the same direction from where the sun is located. I also used a Wescott Scrim Jim bouncer to get soften the light and get more wrap.

 

I use a Broncolor 1200-pack to freeze fast motion because it have really short flash duration. That makes the models sharper without motion trails.

 

From the front/side I used a 60x100cm softbox that was turned horizontally to get wider spread of the light. This flash fills the shadow with light and was mesured around one-two stops lower than the main light source.

Photoshoot

Preparations

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.

 

Me instructing the model during the photoshoot. I use a remote shutter releaser to get less vibration in the camera. Another advantage is  I can stand up shooting without having to crouch for a whole day which is bad for my already bad back.

 

I shoot tethered to my computer so that I can review and zoom the images to a larger size, this way I can control that the images are sharp and light looks good. I can also do a fast composite in photoshop and see how objects in the image align.

 

Me taking test images tethering to my computer. Beside the computer is my sketch and my checklist.

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.

Sorting

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.

 

I always extract and isolate my subjects from the background. After I apply Dodge & Burn techniques to give the image depth.

Gear used for production

Camera: Nikon D810
Lens: Nikkor 24mm tilt/shift
Strobes: Broncolor Move 1200 pack with 2 MobiLED heads
Diffusion: Lastolite scrim jim 2×2 meter
Fill light: Broncolor 60x100cm and reflectors to fill shadows
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
Link to Facebook: www.facebook.com/itsvarrophoto
Link to Instagram: www.intstagram.com/itsvarro

Contact: Andreas@itsvarro.com, +46 (0)723 289 510

High-res images: https://adobe.ly/2qi4Ygi

 

Are you interested in co-branding?

Are you looking to expand your brand in the photography industry? E-mail me to discuss blog and social media collaboration. My commercial and personal projects have been published world wide several hundred times, projects as Underwater Restaurant and Condom Challenge

Unbelievable underwater restaurant image

I recently had the opportunity to create an advertising image for one of Sweden’s most exclusive restaurants Katrinelund Gästgiveri & Sjökrog, which I will refer to as “Sjökrogen” from now on. The name basically means “Lake restaurant” in Swedish, which is important to know for this image.

 The mission: CONVEY that “You can’t get any closer to nature and fine dining, than Sjökrogen.”. Four models and props were shot separately. Over 20 images with over 170 photoshop adjustment layers were separately retouched together into one final image. The end result is a creative advertising image that gives you a unique feeling of what Sjökrogen is.

Behind the scenes video

Underwater image for exclusive Swedish restaurant

Sjökrogen is located about 200 km from Stockholm, Sweden’s capital. It’s a restaurant which serves only exclusively prepared food, with only the very best of ingredients, most of which are organic and locally produced. A genuine lakeside restaurant, so close to the water that, if you wanted to, you could open the door and jump right in. Quite simply a fantastic location, where you can arrive by car, by BOAT or if you have enough money Sjökrogen can pick you up with a SEAPLANE. The truly adventurous can even get their appetizers served on the plane. How cool is that?

When you’ve finished eating your fantastic meal, you can enjoy the sunset over the lake Hjälmaren, and stay the night at their inn. Sjökrogen has a VISION to put their restaurant on the world map, to be a gastronomic center that everyone talks about and wants to visit. Trust me, you can’t get any closer to nature and fine dining, than Sjökrogen. And that’s where I come into the picture, to help them feel more exclusive with images.

 

The mission

Roger Hjälm is one of the owners of Sjökrogen, a true entrepreneur and visionary. Sjökrogen wanted to create a CONCEPTUAL image that delivers the message, “You can’t get any closer to nature and fine dining, than Sjökrogen.” Together with my creative team, I crafted an image that I believe has never been done before, well at least not in the restaurant business: an underwater restaurant with dining guests.

The story behind the image

One of my goals with this image was that I wanted people to look at it for a very long time, to try and figure out the STORY behind it. That’s why I created several main elements in the image. The story behind this image is a couple about to order food inside this WATER FILLED “lakeside restaurant”. A woman is returning from the restroom and a man is calling a waitress, who is swimming towards the table to take their order. At the same time the chef is PREPARING food behind the bar, chopping vegetables and chasing away a fish with his knife.

Challenges we faced before the photoshoot

The biggest challenge might perhaps be quite obvious, FILLING the restaurant with water, which naturally is impossible. So we had to make the models look and appear as if they were under water. These are the challenges we faced:

• Clothes and props FLOATING in water

• Hair floating in random directions in water

• People appearing weightless under water

• Visibility under water is exponentially restricted, as opposed to photographing on land, where visibility is virtually infinite.

• Colors are saturated under water.

We were challenged with creating a scene where the models in the image APPEAR to be under water. People and objects under water must behave as if weightless, independent of one another, a feeling which is extremely challenging to reproduce when shooting on land. Therefore, the image required careful planning in terms of composition (where objects are placed in the image), clothing and hairstyling.

Styling and Makeup

To my rescue I had the fantastic STYLIST and Makeup Artist, Carina Lundgren. We have worked a lot together over the years and she came up with the idea how to style the models to LOOK like they were under water.

Styling is super important when photographing people.
Styling is super important when photographing people.

Stylist Carina Lundgren adding makeup to female model.
Stylist Carina Lundgren adding makeup to female model.

 

Making the clothes look like they are floating

An EXCLUSIVE feel in the image was desired, so Carina came up with the idea that one of the female models would wear a thin, long coral colored ball dress. This way we could BLOW on and under the dress, to add an “underwater feeling”.

The male model would have a blue tiger suit and a handkerchief in his breast pocket. He would also have a Porsche key and credit card FLOATING beside him. Together, these effects help create the feeling that the models are actually under water. We also attached FISHING LINE to the male model’s suit to make it look like the fabric is floating.

The chef and waitress would be dressed as usual, in working clothes in the kitchen and serving guests in the restaurant.

Female model's dress is blowing, making it look like she's under water
Female model’s dress is blowing, making it look like she’s under water

 

The male model's suit is tied with a fishing line to a tripod make it look like it's floating
The male model’s suit is tied with a fishing line to a tripod make it look like it’s floating.

Making the clothes look like they are floating

The stylist brought some METAL wire to the shoot, which she used to style the female models’ hair, by EMBEDDING the wire in their hair, to make it appear to stand up and which she anchored with fishing line to the ceiling for some support. That way it would look like the hair was floating in water.

Stylist Carina Lundgren is also preparing the female model’s hair with an “underwater look”.
Stylist Carina Lundgren is also preparing the female model’s hair with an “underwater look”.

Stylist Carina Lundgren is also preparing the female model’s hair with an “underwater look”
Stylist Carina Lundgren is also preparing the female model’s hair with an “underwater look”.

Stylist is preparing hair before shoot.
Stylist is preparing hair before shoot.

 

Photograph a fish swimming realistically – on land

To add MORE underwater feeling” to the image, we decided to have a FISH swimming in the image, we thought it would be fun if the chef Anders chased the fish with his knife, while holding a frying pan in the other hand. We also added chopped vegetables floating next to the chef, as if he was preparing a meal. The fish is in fact a real Pike Perch  – which is otherwise served at the restaurant – hanging with fishing line from a tripod, to look like it was swimming. The fish was not alive, of course.

A fresh Pike Perch that was used as prop for the photoshoot.
A fresh Pike Perch that was used as prop for the photoshoot.

Roger and Andreas preparing the fish with fishing lines for the shoot.
Roger and Andreas preparing the fish with fishing lines for the shoot.

The fish hanging from the background tripod.
The fish hanging from the background tripod.

As some last adjustments, we had to make the fish’s fins look more realistic by standing up and sticking out.
As some last adjustments, we had to make the fish’s fins look more realistic by standing up and sticking out.

 

Making the waitress look like she is swimming

Since everything in this image is added to produce an image with an “underwater feeling”, Roger had an idea that someone should actually be SWIMMING in the picture. So we decided to have the waitress swim. We used some crates to get her about one meter up and had her fake swim. It took a while to get the right shot since the body behaves differently on land than in water.

The stylist is preparing the “swimming” model’s hair so that it stands up. Model lying on crates on the photoshoot.
The stylist is preparing the “swimming” model’s hair so that it stands up. Model lying on crates on the photoshoot.

We used crates to get the model higher up in the air. They were removed during post processing.
We used crates to get the model higher up in the air. They were removed during post processing.

 

Composite image, with some 20 images with over 170 layers

This image consists of some 20 DIFFERENT images with over 170 Photoshop layers, with each model consisting of different images put together like their arms, legs, dresses and clothes. The background is also shot separately from the models. The main difference is that the background is shot with NATURAL and soft light, because we wanted soft light coming in from the windows.

The models however were shot with Broncolor strobes, the strobes are good at freezing fast MOTION, such as floating dresses, props and other stuff. I could not shoot fast motion with the same settings I wanted to shoot the background. All models are extracted from their backgrounds and retouched into the background image (as if not complicated enough?)

The models were shot with a BIG light source (soft box) coming from the left, as this would be the same direction as the natural light coming from the window. When creating composites such as this, it’s important to think about light DIRECTION and light source size. A smaller light source was used from the right of all models to FILL in the shadows

A selection from the images used in the composite image.
A selection from the images used in the composite image.

composite2composite3composite4

 

Styling the table and the room

The first thing done was STYLING the table and room. We moved tables around, trying different table cloths and different placements on the table. We moved props around to see how they were best fitted in the image

Employee preparing the table before the photoshoot. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson
Employee preparing the table before the photoshoot. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson

Stylist preparing some flowers for the table. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson
Stylist preparing some flowers for the table. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson

A glass bottle of sparkling water. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson
A glass bottle of sparkling water. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson

Ironing a table cloth before the shoot. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson
Ironing a table cloth before the shoot. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson

Photographing the background without models

When we were satisfied with the styling and the props, I PHOTOGRAPHED different images of the INTERIOR without the models present in the room. These images were taken with natural light coming through large windows on the left. It was a cloudy day so the light was very soft.

I shot this image with a tilt-shift lens. As you can see in the image, it is quite wide, as in a panorama image. This lens was used to take several images in a row, creating the resulting panorama image. In this way we would be sure to have all the models fit, without having to “stuff” them all together, so that the composition would look better and more natural.

Background image
Background image

 

Photographing the female model

Before photographing the female model with the dress, my stylist ANCHORED her hair to the ceiling, making itSTAND up. We also used a regular leaf blower to make the dress of the model blow in different directions. At first we didn’t get it right. It was too obvious that it was air moving the dress around, not random movements like water.

So we decided to hook the dress up to FISHING LINE, while my assistant Sarah pulled the fishing line and DROPPED it on my command. This way we got a natural drop of the dress, like that under water. The models held her arms out like they were floating in water. I had to put together five different images in Photoshop, one image of her head, one image of each arm, and two different images of her dress.

Photo model looks into camera, stylist preparing hair. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson
Photo model looks into camera, stylist preparing hair. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson

Stylist is anchoring the hair with fishing line to the ceiling. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson
Stylist is anchoring the hair with fishing line to the ceiling. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson

Photographing the male model

Next up was the male model sitting at the table. It was a challenge to make him look WEIGHTLESS while sitting down. The female’s dress was rather easy compared to him, since it’s harder to get the same effect with a suit. So we taped FISHING lines to the inside of his suit and attached the ends to tripods, this way parts of the suit would STAND up. I photographed some props separately and added them to the image later in Photoshop. I used about five different images for the male model and merged them together.

Male model's suit is attached with fishing line to a tripod, making the suit “float”. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson
Male model’s suit is attached with fishing line to a tripod, making the suit “float”. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson

The chef, fish and vegetables

The chef was pretty straight forward. I only needed one image for him. He was holding the frying pan in one hand and the KNIFE in the other. We had him staring in the same direction as where the fish would be swimming.

Since the restaurant serves FISH, we simply used a Pike Perch that they had in the fridge. We HUNG it from a background tripod with fishing line. Even the fish’s fins would need to stick out to make it look like it was swimming REALISTICALLY, so we stretched out the fins using fishing line. The vegetables were also pretty simple. We chopped up leek and shot it the same way as the fish, hanging with fishing line.

Chef is preparing to be photographed. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson
Chef is preparing to be photographed. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson

Chef aiming knife in the direction of where the fish will be. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson
Chef aiming knife in the direction of where the fish will be. Behind-the-scenes photo: Sarah Karlsson

Creating the water surface, bubbles and plants

Effects like the water SURFACE at the restaurant’s ceiling, bubbles and plants were shot separately in my studio. I used a fish tank and used the SAME lighting setup as when I shot the models; big soft light from the left and a smaller fill light from the right. I also shot different kinds of plants in the fish tank from different angles, so that I had a little variety, since I wasn’t sure where I’d later put them in the image. Later on I chose to put them in the lower right CORNER to give the image more depth, and also to fill empty floor space, which would have otherwise been unattractive.

Here I’m photographing plants in my studio, added to the corner of the final image.
Here I’m photographing plants in my studio, added to the corner of the final image.

I used a long drinking straw to blow air bubbles in a fish tank, which I photographed and later added in Photoshop.
I used a long drinking straw to blow air bubbles in a fish tank, which I photographed and later added in Photoshop.

Another set of plants which I photographed.
Another set of plants which I photographed.

Fun facts about the image

Photography time: 8 hours
Retouch time: 25 hours
Total Photoshop layers: over 170
Total images used for composite: around 20

Gear used for prouction

Camera: Nikon D810
Lens: Nikkor 24mm tilt/shift
Strobes:Broncolor Move 1200 pack with 2 MobiLED heads
Diffusion: Main light: Broncolor 150cm box. Fill light: 35x60cm
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 Photoshop, Adobe Bridge & Adobe Lightroom CC.

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. Contact me if you need more information or high-res images.

Always credit my creative team

Photography and retouch: Andreas Varro
Styling and Makeup: Carina Lundgren
Assistants: Sarah Karlsson & Fabian Stenström
Client: Katrinelund Gästgiveri & Sjökrog.

Also attach these links:
www.itsvarro.com
www.facebook.com/itsvarrophoto
www.intstagram.com/itsvarro

Are you interested in co-branding?

Are you looking to expand your brand in the photography industry? E-mail me to discuss blog and social media collaboration.

My personal photography project “Condom Challenge Photography Project” was published on over 50 blogs and magazines across the world with around 5,000 shares in social media. Published by Fstoppers and DigitalRev.

Condom Challenge – personal photographic project

Humor and art have always been a thing for me, trying to combine these to grab people’s attention and making them laugh is what makes me love my job. My name is Andreas Varro and I’m a commercial photographer and digital artist and this is one of my personal photography projectsHave you missed the viral thing calledCondom Challenge? It’s a challenge where you’re supposed to drop a condom filled with water on people’s head and make it stay there. Why? Because you can! I decided to do a humor art project based on this challenge, here’s the end result. If you found this just slightly funny, please share that joy with your friends! If you want to see behind the scenes from the project, Opt-In further down.

Edit: The first week from release date this project received over 3000 shares and over 50 online magazines from all over the world (China, USA, UK, Russia, Europe) published the images and wrote about the project, amongst magazines big names like Fstoppers and DigitalRev have published the project.

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