Through the Layers Looking Glass with Dave Hill

LA-based photographer Dave Hill is known for lighting and shooting each segment of his photos separately, then later combining them with mad Photoshop skills to create the final image. That also gives him the ability to do something you have probably never seen before -- expand the layers after-the-fact for a 3-D trip through his 2-D images with the video above.

Created for the launch of the redesign of his website, this video is made from images in his "Adventure Girl" series. If you follow Dave you'll definitely want to head over for more, including new images and plenty of behind-the-scenes footage from his shoots.

As you'll see in the BTS vids, Dave lights the crap out of everything. How he keeps track of the lighting continuity is completely beyond me.

For those interested in knowing how someone goes from shooting local skateboarders in Nashville to doing this kinda of stuff, check out this interview from 2008.



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Blogger Perry A. Powers said...

Geez. This guy is seriously talented...

July 14, 2011 10:01 AM  
Blogger Nullset said...

I saw this the other day and loved the details that I never caught.

I'm curious as to everyone's thoughts on the hair: He seems to add sort of a "hair cap" on each subject, especially the females ones. I assume he does this because it's hard to mask hair, but I'm curious what everyone else thinks. Also, if that is the case, how does he "build" the hair cap to put on the subject.

July 14, 2011 10:13 AM  
Blogger CWDaly said...

What a beauty

July 14, 2011 10:29 AM  
Blogger James Quantz Jr. said...

@Nullset The hair is always tricky when masking. Also depending on the background in the composite there are several things you can do to enhance or mask out flaws in the selection. I personally smudge or paint with a very fine brush on a separate layer that can be adjusted. This can be used to add highlights, paint in gaps, or add hair to enhance the image. The overall purpose is to add to the illusion of realism in the composited image.

July 14, 2011 11:32 AM  
Blogger Kerry said...

I watch this and I think to myself..."Myself, what a hack you are".

It goes without saying, Dave is a real master of the medium.

July 14, 2011 11:33 AM  
Blogger Huijari said...

I'm going to post this to everyone asking about "the Dave Hill effect" from now on! As for Mr. Hobby, the Lighting in Layers link in the footer seems ever so conveniently placed after an article like this ;)

July 14, 2011 1:01 PM  
Blogger someone (not) famous said...

totally amazing, but i wouldn't really describe david hill as a photographer. he's more like a digital artist or something.

July 14, 2011 1:53 PM  
Blogger Parabola said...

ummm . . . yeah. i'm gonna go back to my two speedlites, which now feel like i'm using a pair of sticks to fight ww three. on the good side, it is inspiring work. thanks for sharing the bts process, that was cool to see!

July 14, 2011 4:32 PM  
Blogger CC said...

I have watched this carefully and am starting to suspect that the "Dave Hill Look" is more than a matter of the fill light, clarity and vibrance sliders.

Love the "to be continued" part.

July 14, 2011 5:53 PM  
Blogger rstone said...

Geez, HD, Full Screen, New monitor, Headphones, broadband and this video just caused me to miss Pawn Wars (Was worth it though). Chumlee had the night off anyhow ;)

July 14, 2011 10:58 PM  
Blogger gretsch said...

Frikkin' wow.

July 15, 2011 10:34 AM  
Blogger Nullset said...



The look has so many parts to it. Coming from the film (as in moving pictures, not the medium, necessarily) world, I equate it to the CGI process, where you have to be conscious of your end product every step of the way.

There's no question in my mind that lighting places such a big part in the end effect. Every one of his BTS videos shows at least 3 of the same lights: 2 big (not big, huge) softboxes plus a beauty-dish-ring-light-thingy ($$$). Without fail if his end result is something akin to the post-process of the "Adventure Series", then he'll be using at least those lights.

July 15, 2011 6:22 PM  
OpenID willmcgphoto said...

Man, Everytime I see Dave's images I think how much work that must have went in. But its crazy the amount of detail there is and amount of pre planning that goes into each final image, this just shows that in bucket loads.

Reminds me of Bert Monroys stuff in terms of time put in to come up with one final image.

Awesome work.

July 16, 2011 9:24 AM  
Blogger keatonandrew said...

Love this video


of course it's much more... heck, it's not even the things you named in the first place at all.

Well, more so with his more recent work, I suppose.

Either way, without proper lighting it can't be faked with post.

July 16, 2011 11:36 AM  
OpenID modifiedphoto said...

That is nothing short of incredible.

July 16, 2011 11:57 PM  
Blogger Cesar Chavez Photography said...

Great Job !!

Does anybody knows what program he used to make the slide-show (video) ????

I guess he edited first in Photoshop and then exported by layers to the program he used to make the zoom in & zoom out effect.

Probably premiere or final cut....but the way the layers looks in HD are amazing !!!

July 17, 2011 1:59 PM  
Blogger Cesar Chavez Photography said...

Great Job !!

Does anybody knows what program he used to make the slide-show (video) ????

I guess he edited first in Photoshop and then exported by layers to the program he used to make the zoom in & zoom out effect.

Probably premiere or final cut....but the way the layers looks in HD are amazing !!!

July 17, 2011 1:59 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Awesome work and an incredible talent BUT it was WAY TOO LONG and SLOW.... I get the idea and what he trying to sell to us, but really, after the first two images I was falling asleep... If he had split it up and talked about the images and how he worked,I might not have got bored so quickly... his work is brilliant but I think he could have showed it off so much better, if he had broken each image down and explained his inspiration behind each image it would have justified the length of the video...

July 18, 2011 5:55 AM  
Blogger Nullset said...


He probably used After Effects. Start with your .psd, then export to AE, then create a 3d camera. From here you can convert each layer of the .psd into a 3d object and make it as close or as far away one another as possible. You can even keyframe them, so that they start together and "burst" apart, widening the gap between each one.

July 18, 2011 10:47 AM  
Blogger Robertv said...

Very pretty, but is this anything to do with his photography?

We all work in layers but this is far beyond layers for a photoshop flat image. The amount of work layering each of the elements is more designed to be a Rotoscope type operation and has nothing to do with fixing flaws, colour grading or cloning.

I don't believe for a minute that this is the result of a standard shoot for Dave. This has been a special production for this particular purpose.

July 19, 2011 1:58 AM  
Blogger udijw said...

congrats on the new slick (and white) mobile theme for the site. looks great on the iPhone.

July 19, 2011 2:40 AM  
Blogger DP said...

I saw this recently:
Old photographs and a healthy dash of jiggery-pokery to produce similarly beautiful results.

July 19, 2011 11:56 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Its all so beautiful, I cant stop looking, mezmorized!!!

July 20, 2011 12:36 PM  
Blogger Richard Kimbrough Photography said...

When someone says "That looks photoshopped", that should be what they are talking about, in a good way. That is using the tools to bring an image to the next level.

I've seen something somewhat similar used on old photographs in documentaries to give some life to still images, but it was also a great way to show how he constructs those images.

July 20, 2011 8:46 PM  
Blogger wchild said...

Dave Hill is truly a master of photographic Art.

Yesterday while mowing the lawn I decided to try something too. This is what I came up with:

Thanks for the inspiration Dave! :)

July 21, 2011 4:07 AM  
Blogger wchild said...

What an inspiring article! I've been a fan of Mr Hill for some time now.

I also would like to thank THIS site for all the information it has given to all of us non-pros.

Here's my contribution on off-camera lighting:

With best regards,

July 22, 2011 3:53 PM  
Blogger Lee Love said...

I have to laugh every time I see people talk about duplicating "The Dave Hill Look". Ninety nine percent of the people miss the REAL secret to his work.

I don't understand why so many "so called photographers" miss the fact that photography is about VISUAL Communication.

Dave's talent stands out regardless of the post processing technique he uses. What makes his work unique and gets him hired is his ability to tell a story.

Dave is a master story teller and he skillfully orchestrates every element in the frame in order to convey that story.

Listen to any interview, read any book, and you learn great photography is judged by what a photographer eliminates or includes in the frame.

If you want to learn from Dave's work then forget hair masking techniques, ring lights and Photoshop sliders.

Take one of of his images, convert it to B&W and then study every element in the frame. Pick "Find the Key" for example. Look at the tiny birds in the background, the lightning, the bones in the sand. Every element is intentional and used to "sell the story".

These are pre-visualized stories in his head that he turns into reality. That is the real "Dave Hill Look" and focusing on anything else means you are missing what makes Dave Hill unique !

July 24, 2011 11:45 PM  
Blogger said...

This is really cool, it would be cool to see on an IPad or while surfing the internet. Another cool thing would be when you see the 3d there are hidden images or codes. Cool stuff!

July 31, 2011 10:51 AM  
Blogger Savard said...

There's actually a feature film coming out soon with this idea:

August 03, 2011 5:12 PM  
Blogger Marco Vedana said...

I recommend you Natalia Taffarels tutorial about high end retouching. It's about 12 h and she shows every damn single step of blowing hair, masking hair, drawing hair etc.

June 05, 2012 5:17 AM  

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