Brad Trent's Ocean Master Session, Pt. 2

ED. NOTE: This is the final in a series of guest posts, which were so helpful during a very hectic spring. Many thanks to Miller Mobley, Finn O'Hara, John Keatley, Chris Crisman and Brad Trent for the assist. -DH

When last we left Brad, he was waiting patiently for the pool to fill up. Today, he'll walk through that part of the shoot and the post processing he used to get the final image, seen above.

Sortaa cool, IMO, as this is frequently the "black box" part of these kinds of shoots that usually goes unexplained...

Remember the kiddie pool? Well, it was almost 4:00PM and after about 7 hours of filling, it was finally reaching a depth where we could start thinking of throwing Nadia in for a swim.

The idea was to have her floating in ominous, dark, inky water. But it still had to have enough detail so that it wouldn’t come across as just an oily black mess. I had done a shot years ago where I had to do something similar. So using the tricks I learned back then, we went about creating the ocean in a kid’s pool.

First, we had to line the pool with the heavy black plastic vapor barrier sheeting I got from Home Depot. Next was building a Bargain Basement shooting platform so that I could shoot from directly above where Nadia would be floating. If we had a the money, a real scaffold would be where those two ladders and that board are standing!

Once we had everything heavily sandbagged and tied off (live electricity and water?!!) It was now time for Nadia to get wet and for us to see how the lighting was looking. Initially I thought that keeping it simple with the Beauty Dish as a main light and a 6’ Chimera to act as both fill and create highlights on the water would work.

But the highlights were to subtle, so we swapped out the 6’ bank and went with a couple of smaller strip lights and a third bare head to really get the water sparkling.

The look on my face says a lot…

We still weren’t getting the kind of highlights on the water I was hoping for. But the simple fact was we were already running way overtime, so I made the decision that a lot of this shot was going to be made in post. I processed a couple of files in Photoshop to make sure I had the detail I needed. Then we shot some frames with Nadia out of the pool so that I would have good water effects.

All that was left to do was empty almost 2,000 gallons of water into the street … on one of the coldest nights of the year!

Of course the drain hose wasn’t any help, so we had to resort to bailing the water into the street ourselves.

It took three of us over an hour and a half to get the pool emptied and West 12th street was a skating rink for days.

All that was left to do now was to take this admittedly unremarkable image...

… and through some Photoshop magic make it into the cover. Without getting too technical, here is the Cliff's Notes breakdown of the steps I used to do just that.

1. The canvas size was widened to a 300dpi, 22" x 30" horizontal, and the water was cloned to fill in all that new empty space. Next I added layers of more waves and highlights (over 20 layers in total) from the separate water shots we did at the end of the shoot. I used the ‘skew,' ‘distort’ and ‘warp’ tools to give the wave layers a realistic appearance.

2. With the waves and highlights looking more or less the way they should, I could now concentrate on retouching skin details and pulling up more shadow detail out of Nadia’s hair. For her hair, I copied the area, applied a good dose of shadow detail, then merged it back down to the base image layer.

I then applied even more shadow detail to the entire image area to bring up the shine on the black plastic sheeting at the bottom of the pool. (Remember I said I had processed a few files during the shoot to check for detail? This was the detail I was looking for.) The wrinkles and puckers in the plastic actually helps give the water its rolling, wave-like appearance.

While the overall image looks extremely flat now, I knew that further down the road the increased contrast I planned to add would balance out nicely…

3. The image layer is duplicated, then set to ‘overlay’ mode at 100% opacity, and the High Pass filter set at 150 pixels is applied. This layer is then desaturated.

4. To give the water some color, above the High Pass layer I add an overlay layer with 50% grey added, then I color correct this layer to give it an overall blue tint. I then erase the areas where Nadia is to reveal the correct color below the blue layer so only the water is affected.

5. Adjustment Layers for color correction, selective color, curves and levels are added.

6. I could have stopped with the previous step, but I still wanted to heighten the overall ghostly feel of the shot, so I once again duplicated the base image layer, then moved it above all of the other layers. I then applied a Gaussian Blur (30 pixels) to this layer and set its opacity at 30%. This gave the skin a glowing, opalescent look and also increased the overall contrast even more.

A final color correction adjustment layer is added with a clipping mask to the Gaussian Blur layer and I shifted the overall color further into the blue/green spectrum. Here again is the final image…..

There…simple! 33 layers and a final file size of only 1.32gb(!) And after a more than 15-hour day, 6 different shots, 800 exposures and 2,000 gallons of water left freezing up West 12th Street, we were done!

Nadia’s album, ‘The Ocean Master’ is set to be released any minute. Head over to her website and give her a look!

Indeed. And if you want links to Brad's various channels, they are listed at the bottom of Part 1.

Thanks, Brad!


Next: Concert Pianist


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Blogger Brute said...

Seems the Lady in the Water shot is my new goal. Much thanks to brent for the near neurotic-scale detail that he provided. Deep down i was hoping it wasnt fake, but a glorious image overall. Thanks :)

May 04, 2011 2:09 AM  
OpenID njm said...

This is pretty amazing. Longtime lurker, but this is the first time I've wanted to post a comment just to say thanks for listing the details that went into creating the final image - it's great for giving ideas for things we can do with accessories that are lying around the house!

May 04, 2011 8:49 AM  
Blogger Glenn Harris said...

This has been a very informative series of posts, as have all the guest posts, and show that being a commercial photographer is about more than just taking great photos. The vision of what you want the final image to be and all the steps, processes, logistics, whatever that is required to deliver on that vision is so important. I was surprised by the amount of post-processing that went into John Keatley's images but these detailed explanations put the whole process in context. Perhaps part of being a pro is knowing you can't do everything with lighting and a camera.

May 04, 2011 9:02 AM  
Blogger Frank Petronio photographer said...

You took us this far along to get that cheese?

May 04, 2011 9:37 AM  
Blogger Ralph said...

If you had to do this again, knowing what you do about the amount of post required, could you have just shot her against a white or chroma-key background and merged the water effects in? It seems to me you would have been able to get by with a much smaller pool in that case, cutting down the time. However, I've never done this, so I'm very interested in your thoughts.

May 04, 2011 10:10 AM  
Blogger Sankey Photography said...

33 layers, 1.32gb, 15 hours, 6 shots, 800 exposures, 2000 gallons...

IS THAT ALL?!? Sheesh... ;-)

May 04, 2011 10:13 AM  
Blogger SJCT said...

Very cool to see the "behind the scenes" on shots like this. Especially with the thorough description of how the shot was accomplished.

May 04, 2011 10:37 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Ease up, Mr. Judgy McJudgypants. Not everyone does straight garden variety portraiture, and photography is a better thing for it. We try to be a little more Big Tent around here than that.

May 04, 2011 11:24 AM  
Blogger amanda said...

The pic of you lying across the board propped on the ladders nearly gave me a panic Thanks for sharing the process! Good stuff.

May 04, 2011 11:53 AM  
Blogger amanda said...

The pic of you lying across the board propped on the ladder nearly gave me a panic attack. lol. Thanks for sharing the process! Good stuff.

May 04, 2011 11:55 AM  
Blogger Obi-Wan said...

I'm also curious to see a response to Ralph's suggestion. I've never attempted anything of this magnitude, but since Brad hadn't done anything like this in some time, either, I wonder if he now wishes he'd done things differently. We can all learn from his experience.

I've loved reading from all of these guest posters the last few weeks, but I can't wait to have you back in the driver's seat, DH.

May 04, 2011 12:06 PM  
OpenID kurtwerks said...

Very cool indeed. I continue to be inspired and awed by what one can do with no budget and ample creativity. Most interesting, though, was the decision to cut your losses and make the final image in post. Shows me that even (or especially?) the pros have to make less-than-optimal compromises from time to time.

May 04, 2011 12:22 PM  
Blogger DaveRe said...

Excellent 2 part series. Would love to see more from these guests in the future along these lines ;-)

May 04, 2011 12:35 PM  
Blogger Puggle said...

I'm very impressed with your creativity, attention to detail and dedication to deliver such unique, compelling images.

Love it, and thank you for sharing your process.

May 04, 2011 12:49 PM  
Blogger Peter Karlsson said...

Good reading and info. A little over-processed for my taste, but opinions divide.

May 04, 2011 1:10 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

as others have said above...
Brad, now that you know how hard it was to get the pool filled, and to do the elaborate post work, what will you do differently next time?
Different light strategy for easier post? Different set strategy to skip to post faster?

May 04, 2011 1:21 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

as others have said above...
Brad, now that you know how hard it was to get the pool filled, and to do the elaborate post work, what will you do differently next time?
Different light strategy for easier post? Different set strategy to skip to post faster?

May 04, 2011 1:21 PM  
Blogger KlauSquare said...

As a young man, nearly 40 years ago, I worked in a professional color lab, doing all sorts of post processing on duplicate film. In those days, 30 layers would be absolutely impossible. I'm impressed by your creativity, but the tools are also much better now.

May 04, 2011 3:52 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Excellent post. Laying it all out like that really helps me understand that there is no black magic or rocket science going behind the curtain.

May 04, 2011 4:41 PM  
Blogger stan chung said...

Anything with water is a pain er challenge to do.

This illustrates the decision making involved. Being a business, pushing budget boundaries is common.

I wonder if some lights in the water and a deeper pool would help create more atmosphere/outline subject. [would probably only work if the bg is 'clean'.

May 04, 2011 4:42 PM  
OpenID kurtwerks said...


You complained about the lack of backward-compatibility in your post about the YN-565EX. The complaint was spot on. The newly released Cactus V5 does not work with V4, V2s or V2.

Grumble. Maybe I should just pop for the PWs and avoid the constant "upgrade" cycle.


May 04, 2011 6:16 PM  
Blogger RexGRP said...

With all the computer and software work is it still considered photography or does it become another art form ?

May 05, 2011 1:02 AM  
Blogger PrePhoto said...

Working in the news branch of the tree where this kind of stuff isn't done, I've gotta ask: Where does one learn this kind of stuff? Masks, hi-pass and layers like this are just Cap'n Beyond stuff....

May 05, 2011 1:47 AM  
Blogger Simon J said...

Might as well have painted it...

May 05, 2011 6:54 AM  
OpenID damnuglyphotography said...

I'm gonna quickly answer a few questions...

Ralph wondered: "...could you have just shot her against a white or chroma-key background and merged the water effects in?"

I suppose you could do that any time for any photo, but I'm not typically the kind of photographer who thinks in terms of what I'm gonna do in Photoshop to make the photo. I much prefer to make a compelling portrait and leave it at that. I have never wanted to be known in the business as a CGI guy.

Amanda worried: "...The pic of you lying across the board propped on the ladder nearly gave me a panic attack..."

If you only knew! Not once, but twice I nearly got as wet as Nadia...and while holding the Hasselblad with an Aptus 75!

Obi-Wan asked: "...I wonder if he now wishes he'd done things differently..." and Peter wondered: "...Different light strategy for easier post? Different set strategy to skip to post faster?"

Hindsight will usually allow you to second guess decisions like this, but given the budget...of lack thereof...and what we knew we were trying to achieve, I really don't believe I would have done too much differently. Ideally, shooting in a real swimming pool would have certainly been easier, but because we had no money that wasn't an option. The only thing I wish we had been able to do differently was have more time. I always knew there would be a certain amount of Photoshop post work needed to make the photo work, but when we were running up against the clock, it meant I had to forego trying to make the shot look 'right' in camera and really just grab the elements I needed to put it all together later. Most of this related to how the water looked...we were having a much harder time getting the reflections and highlights I wanted on the water surface and that could have been fixed with more lights, but it would have taken way too long...every new light we added had to be super-nailed down because of the electrical hazards of shooting in the water. It just made much more sense to get the shots where Nadia's pose and expression was what we needed, then after she exited to pool shoot a bunch of wave shots that I used in post.

I hafta thank Dave for giving this so much play over here on Strobist. Having the much larger audience and hearing the feedback on a post like this is always gratifying. I'm gonna repost the entire story on my blog later, with a few of the details and photos that Dave edited for expediency added back in.....BT

May 05, 2011 9:21 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

DH thanks so much for opening up the blog to guest posters so that those of us who couldn't make to a TFB venue so we had something to learn from in the meantime. I've enjoyed all the guest posts!

Brad, long time follower on Twitter and confess to have more than a couple of your portraits stored in my "inspirations" bookmarks folder. Thanks for taking time out to provide the insight on how you pulled all this together. Only one thing is I now know for sure that I know nowt about photoshop in any real sense. Wouldn't even know where to at start to pull that together!

May 05, 2011 2:16 PM  
Blogger Blurvisions said...

Many thanks for the post. It's really interesting to see how strong of a vision of the final picture you must have had. Not only taking the shots, but going through 33 layers to finally get the image from your head on print is very impressive.

May 05, 2011 3:59 PM  
Blogger Blurvisions said...

Thanks for sharing this detail. I believe in a heart beat you typically don't do that much post processing. I find it interesting how strong your vision of the picture must have been to put that amount of effort into actually getting it on print. Very impressive.

May 05, 2011 4:01 PM  
Blogger Roman said...

I think this was a huge waste of time. I'm sure you could have done this with a lot less effort with two shots, one of the model and another one of water. I have seen people with photoshop skills do a lot more with a lot less. Please skip these posts next time as this has nothing to do with lighting. It is lame and not worthy of strobist.

May 11, 2011 10:46 AM  
Blogger ImplementPM said...

Can I just disagree with the last poster (Roman)? Hindsight is always 20/20 - and you're assuming the benefit of it. You might say this can be done easier with photoshop, Mr. Hobby would have used portable flashes instead of profotos, but in the end it's not what matters.
I think that the lesson to learn from this post is not how to do it best, but rather the decision making process in a real life, with real constraints. Getting an image is a balancing act - on how to use tools and props to get what you want, and it's the train of thought of experienced togs that interests me, not the most efficient way to get a 'look'.

June 09, 2011 4:05 PM  

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