Behind the Scenes - A Merry Little Christmas

Garbo’s Grill (great burritos by the way) signed onto the project late in the game. We bounced ideas back and forth but nothing really clicked. Then out of nowhere, which is how these things usually happen, a strange image of a burrito cart being attacked by hungry elves popped in my brain. 

Garbos Head Image.jpg

 I quickly sketched it out an sent it to Garbo’s, they liked it, I liked. Good enough.

Garbos Sketch.jpg

The plan was to shoot the cart and owners chunking burritos in a master plate. Then I would shoot a couple of dozen different poses of the elf and composite them into the master plate. As long as I matched the lighting it shouldn’t be to bad.

I tend to follow the David Hobby philosophy of lighting, which is to start with your background and then layer your lights in. Simple and effective. If you haven’t yet check out his blog it is a must for any inspiring photographer.

I had a lighting sketch worked out but as soon as I got on site it had to be tossed out. My plan was to use a couple of umbrellas and a ring for fill. However I had the following challenges -

1. A bright silver aluminum cart in full Key West sun. I tried my ring flash but the reflections were unusable. It looked like someone was shining a flashlight at the middle of the cart.

2. It was blowing 30+ mph so the umbrellas may have well been sails.

3. Although it was sunny it was about to piss down rain (20 minutes top) so I was going to have to recreate the lighting and shoot my elf model on a separate day in the studio.

I cranked down my exposure until the aluminum reflections came under control and I had some shadow detail.   Given the time factor and the fact I didn’t want to chase my umbrellas down the street I opted for a quick two light source (three if count the ambient exposure). The key was a beauty dish high and camera left to avoid excessive reflections. The other was scooped strobe shooting through the side window of the cart to add a little definition. I managed to get off about 12 shots before the rain came. I quickly jotted down the lighting set up and camera setting and got the hell out of there.

It was about two weeks later before I managed to shoot my elf model. At that point all you can do is recreate your lighting setup and hope to hell your notes are accurate.


Once in photoshop it was a matter of cutting out each elf and laying them into master plate. Time consuming but I am happy with the results. Not to mention surprised that my note taking skills held up.


Behind the Scenes - Christmas is Cancelled!

Today I start running down my Happy Effin’ Holiday photos and supplying a little behind the scenes info on how they were created. Before  I begin I would like to state that I have never had so much fun executing a project. Not often in your life do you get to kill Santa (in multiple ways no less). My previous post supplies the details of the project as a whole. In simple terms, we wanted to create a series of fucked up Christmas images. This being Key West I had no difficulties getting business sponsorships.


First up is Phantom Press owned by David L. Sloan and Christopher Shultz. They are the writers of a series of great Key West titles that you can find here and on

Originally they wanted to do a western scene, complete with dogs playing poker, a dead Santa and Dave holding a smoking gun. Great idea but the thought of photoshopping multiple dogs playing poker scared the hell out of me. We went back and forth a bit and settled on a russian roulette “Deerhunter-ish” concept featuring, of course, a dead Santa. It was Dave’s idea to throw in the sexy prison guards.

I always like to work with a strong concept before hand ad have it planned out as much as possible. I find this allows for more improvisation once you are on site. Once I have the concept my next step is always to draw out a sketch. It doesn’t matter if it is in a sketch book or on a napkin, having a visual representation of your idea helps in many ways. It is especially handy to show the subject what you are thinking. Below is my initial sketch and lighting setup, which I ended up paring down.


This was a very basic setup as I wanted it to be kept simple and stark. I wanted it to feel like it was lit from a single hanging bulb. I created this with a beauty dish flown directly overhead and cheated slightly toward Dave (the man holding the gun). Originally I was going to grid the beauty dish and use a ring flash an on-camera fill but the results were lacking the harshness I was looking for. The bounce was provided by the table and I used a flagged Einstein Strobe gelled green for the rim light. It gave just enough light to separate the prison guards from the background and add a little dimension. I choose a green gel because well… it felt jungle like.

As far as direction it pretty much consisted of “go bat-shit crazy”. Worked well enough. I actually ended up using one of the out takes as a key promotional piece. I think it pretty much sums up how a lot of people feel during the holidays.