Christian Carroll Photography » Christian Carroll is a creative portrait and head shot photographer based out of Redmond Washington in the greater Seattle area of the Northwest. Specializing in headshot, surrealistic, creative portraiture and artistic composites for actors, actresses, dancers, performers, musicians, bands and singers.

Using Ugliness To Your Advantage

It’s true, some of us just weren’t born pretty.  Exibit A: the doofis in the photo.  But in this case I’m not talking about my mug, but rather the walls in my house.  My house was built by it’s original owner in 1942 using scrap wood from a local ship yard at the time.  In fact it was a homestead and was the first built on our hill here in Redmond.  So yes, there are many charming aspects to the house and there’s a lot of history here which I love!  However, one thing I don’t love about this house are the old, gnarly, striped panel boards on the walls.  Ugh…they’re hideous!  In fact, every time I take a photo in my living room or kitchen I deliberately try to avoid getting the ugly walls in the shot.  But they’re everywhere!  They’re surrounding me!  I…just…can’t…ESCAPE!

So what is one to do when surrounded by hideous, soul-sucking walls from the 1940s?  Well, if you can’t escape them…join them!  Use them to add interest to a portrait.  Here is how I embraced the inner beauty of my ugly walls in this week’s photo assignment.

This was a two light setup.  I started by getting my key light (with reflector & 20 degree grid) positioned high over the subject.  As always, I took several test shots with just this light.  While doing so I made sure that 1) the shadow under the nose didn’t hit the lip and look weird and 2) there was a catch-light in the eyes.  I also tried to minimize how much of this light fell on the wall.

Once I had the key light set, I positioned the “hat light”.  This was just a second light with a reflector and 10 degree grid placed at almost a 90 degree angle to the wall and hat.  Positioning this light proved to be more daunting than I originally thought.  Seriously, how hard can it be to light a hat on a freakin’ wall?  Well, as I found out it can be HARD!  The hat light would either be a bit too low, spilling onto the subject and causing weird shadows or it would illuminate too much of the wall around the hat resulting in general ugliness.  I was finally able to achieve the look I wanted by feathering the light off the hat and wall just a bit.  In effect “skimming” the hat and missing most of the wall altogether.

So why the 90 degree angle with the hat light?  Well, as I’ve learned from shooting many stock photo textures in the past the best way to accentuate texture detail is to place a small light source far off to the side.  This placement results in deep shadows and bright highlights which really add a 3-dimensional sense to the texture/object being lit.  So in this case the striped grooves in the wall become very visible and the hat takes on a dramatic, 3-D look.

This is one of those portrait concepts which I thought would be fairly easy when I first imagined it.  But in reality it was really tricky and occasionally frustrating.  However, I was very happy with the end result. :)

Photoshop/Lightroom Stuff: Okay, as you can see in the above pictures my walls are not blue as seen in the final picture.  I made them blue by 1) shooting in RAW and 2) adjusting the white balance slider over to the cooler side in Lightroom.  That’s it!  RAW is awesome!  I also boosted the vibrance/saturation of the blue & red tones a bit and desaturated my skin tones.  The final step was some selective dodging and burning in Photoshop to add drama and bring out detail.

Note:  It’s really hard to look bad-ass while wearing a tiny red hat.

Thanks for reading!


John Karwoski - April 5, 2011 - 4:37 pm

I like the “tiny red hat” and the walls! 😉

Christian - April 5, 2011 - 7:25 pm

Thanks John! Yea, the hat actually belongs to Amber. I stole it from her collection for this shoot. :)

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