Creative portraiture is one of my favorite niches of photography. It’s different, in my mind at least, from your typical portraits because you’re purposefully trying to do something off the wall and out there. I love the engagement, senior, and family portrait sessions I do with my clients, but I’m shooting with their end goal in mind. It takes most of the session with them before I ask if I can do “something stupid”. And yes, that’s exactly what I ask. So long as they have all the images they want and we have time, this isn’t an issue. But there’s a limited framework because it’s not always the location or look that’s been gnawing at my mind saying, “FEED ME! Let’s do THIS!” It’s fun to try and do something atypical with my clients, but there’s something to be said for coming up with a concept that’s already atypical and making it a reality.
Such was the case for a photography scavenger hunt I participated in earlier this year. We were given a list of words and had to take a picture that fit some form or interpretation of each given word. I wasn’t thrilled with this list at first; sometimes the words are really difficult to visualize, but one word in particular got me excited: Popcorn. Beyond the obvious love for popcorn as a food, I was excited because my mind immediately translated it into a form of precipitate. I contacted my friend Laura, my go-to model as of late, and talked the idea over with her. She loved the concept I had in my head and also tweaked it to make it even better.
The concept was simple - we were going to recreate that classic bathtub Pin-Up shot, but use popcorn instead of soap bubbles. Now, I say simple because it seemed pretty straight-forward, but I like to push myself and try new things and the execution had some challenges. I had never done a Pin-Up style shoot prior to this; we were going to be using my small apartment bathtub because I couldn’t find a studio with the bathtub I wanted; and I didn’t have a microwave to make the popcorn. If it’s easy, it’s not worth it, right?
Well, Laura did a fantastic job with her hair and makeup to get that classic Pin-Up look, and her boyfriend wore out their microwave over the course of 2 hours, making 2 garbage bags worth of popcorn. To make the tub appear full, and to double as a lounge chair for Laura, I lined and filled the bottom of the tub with bath towels to take up space. She wouldn’t be moving much once we poured in the popcorn.
Here’s a quick BTS video of me burying Laura with the first bag of popcorn (there’s a moment of language for those of you with sensitive ears).
Now the lighting. I knew that for Pin-Up it needed to be very bright and high keyed. I decided to throw one speedlite onto my trusty Westcott Rapidbox 20”, and figured I would need another bare speedlite in the corner of the tub for an accent light. In good practice, I started with my main light (the Rapidbox) to get a baseline exposure. The other speedlite went back into my bag immediately after the first image; I wasn’t going to need it. All of the images were taken with 1 light source. You’ll notice that the light itself is pretty soft with an even distribution around the the tub. Without realizing it, I created a giant reflective box. The walls of my bathroom are white, thus the flash was bouncing all over the place. I couldn’t have done it better even if I planned it. Talk about a major learning moment!
From there it was just a matter of posing Laura, and manipulating myself around the tub to get the angles I wanted. I had to use a 16-35mm lens for these images to get all of Laura in the frame. My feet were photoshopped out of numerous images as a result.
Also of note, wet popcorn smells awful. After taking this image, I accidently kicked the knob for the spigot and not only got a blast of water to the back of my head, but sprinkled Laura a bit as well. Funny moments on set make the images so much better. I love this image because of the shouts of terror that accompanied immediately after.
And like all small, poured particulates, it gets everywhere.
These photos have become some of my absolute favorites to date. It was so rewarding going from concept & planning, all the way through execution, to processing and delivery. I learned a tremendous amount by doing this shoot, got killer images, and had a blast hanging out with friends. You can’t ask for better.
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