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.