This year, Mav and I created a photo-based calendar as a Christmas gift for my mother. I decided to do everything from shooting to printing out of my little 12x12’ office, spread out over the course of about a month and a half. It seemed like a pretty simple idea at the beginning.
Create one finished calendar.
“So let’s see… That will be 12 months. 13 photos. 15 people. 2 babies. 3 dogs. 1 bunny. 4 backdrops. Editing. Retouching. Wide-format printer. Specialty ink. Specialty paper. Paper cutter. Edge binding. No problem, right? I do this for a living. Walk in the park.”
From a logistics standpoint, it was an eye-opener, to say the least. Trying to organize 15 people’s schedules to do 13 different photo shoots during the middle of an all-out Christmas Plague turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than either of us had anticipated.
BUT WE DID IT. And here’s how:
January (Brian, AKA: Super Dad)
Dad’s photo was one of the more exciting and intensive shots. He’d probably freak out if he knew this was on the internet too, so “Shhhhhh”. He wears this ridiculous apron all the time with the body of some half-naked dude printed on it. He even wore it to this year’s Christmas party so we thought it would be hilarious to immortalize it here. The whole thing was shot in my office on a green screen in about 10 minutes. I had it set up the day before and did a few test shots with Mav and the pupper.
I had the image I wanted to use as the background before setting up the lighting for the green screen. I mimicked the sun on the left with an orange-yellow gel over a Speedlite shot through a beauty dish as a rim light. Then I used a 4ft softbox (camera right) pointed up and away from him towards the corner of the room to act as a fill like the sky would in real life. Then I had two strip lights with grids on either side of him lighting the backdrop. Add in some Lightroom color correction and Photoshop chromakey goodness and boom! Super Dad.
Febuary: James + Sini / March: Corey + Mav / April: Aubrey + JD
These shots were definitely the easiest. We went for a “Photo Booth” look on these ones. Plain white 107” seamless backdrop. 7’ Westcott silver parabolic umbrella (no diffusion). 18mm lens, slightly cropped in for each. We shot tethered into Lightroom, using an iPad as a monitor with these ones so we could see the final full-size images while shooting. If you’re confident in your lighting, using a monitor for image review is a great way to help your subject bring down their guard. When they can see that they look good in the middle of the creative process, it usually gives them a boost of confidence to be a little more outgoing in front of the camera. These images are straight out of the camera with minor curve adjustments. Sometimes you just can’t beat the magic of a single light source on a solid backdrop.
May: Christian / June: Joseph
If you know my brothers at all, you get it… Crappy 80’s style portraits for days. They were over at our place and I tossed up a makeshift black backdrop in the corner and used a ring light. Quick and dirty. Put some 80’s film grain and a few clicks in Photoshop on it and voilà!
July: Grace / Aug: Gabby
Super simple shots of the twins. White backdrop. Projector. Mad hops. Hair flips. Done. For Grace, it was one speedlite about a foot and a half above the camera, pointed straight at her with no modifier. Shot at f/8 using the Fujifilm shutter speed max shutter sync of 1/180th of a second to freeze the motion. For Gabby, I used the same white backdrop and projected that crazy texture onto her while she flipped her hair (works every time). Used a slightly slower shutter speed of 1/100th of a second to give it a bit of motion blur.
September: Baby George + Maria
Same setup as the “Photo Booth” look, but sometimes it’s hard to get two kids to look good at the same time for 1/180th of a second ;) Pro Tip: lock your camera on a tripod and shoot the kids individually from the same angle, then merge them in Photoshop so the depth and angle are cohesive and you’ll end up with the best expressions.
Grandpa is quite the photo-elusive creature. Weird enough, this was probably the hardest and most technical photo to take. For this one, I knew I had to get a shot at some kind of dinner or family event since he’s unable to make it up the stairs to our place. We had a dinner party on Christmas Eve at my parent’s house and I brought along a single speedlite mounted on the camera’s hot shoe. Their house is pretty busy so I knew it would be difficult to get a shot without a bunch of distracting stuff in the background. To fix that, I wanted to blur out the background as much as possible by using a super low aperture (f/1.4) with a shallow depth of field. But I wanted the background to be dark as well. If you know anything about lighting, you’ll know that low apertures and dark backgrounds are pretty much the polar opposite. Low apertures let in *tons* of light. Photographers usually use low apertures for bright, backlit, lifestyle photos with blurred out backgrounds (think typical Pinterest bride with super bright daylight flaring in from behind her). I wanted to do the opposite. So I brought along a neutral density filter (basically a black piece of glass that goes over your lens to let less light in). Because there was less light being let into the lens, I would be able to bounce a super bright speedlite off the ceiling, essentially making the ceiling a massive softer light source (like an overcast sky on a cloudy day) while still retaining a shallow depth of field. There was still one problem. If you light the ceiling, that creates massive overhead light for everything else in the room and background. BUT… There is one spot in my parent’s house where the ceiling hangs about a foot lower than the rest of the room, creating a sort of partition between two rooms. Since I was shooting light straight up towards the ceiling, that partition would stop the spread of light from spilling into the background which meeaaanns: dark background with a bright subject in a busy room. That partitioned spot is right next to the chair that he likes to sit in. So all I had to do was wait for him to stand up, get his attention, and *click.*
November: Brad + Farley / December: Brad + Finley
If you’ve ever tried to get dogs to sit still on a paper backdrop (don’t lie, you know you have)… Hot dang it’s difficult. Golden Doodles don’t sit still. Finley (our Corgi) was an angel. I might be a bit biased. Farley, the one with his privates facetiously censored, used to be a beautifully fluffy doggo. We had him “lightly trimmed” for this shoot by Heather at PetCo. Heather trimmed… and trimmed… and just kind of kept on trimming. Fast forward a few hours, and Heather made Farley naked. Like super awkwardly naked. Like we-should-probably-censor-that-stuff naked.
White seamless backdrop. Big ol’ parabolic modifier. A couple of dog treats. Shot at f/8, 1/180th of a second. I guess you could say I now have my first boudoir shoot on the books. Thanks Heather.
And thank YOU for reading this to the end. I won’t bore you with how long it took us to try and bind it after printing. Mom really like it! The fam had fun. I’m going to go have lunch. Leave a comment if want to know more about any particular picture :) Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
- Corey & Mav Robinson