Making of “Beauty in Beijing”

Final imaged edited in Adobe Lightroom and in Photoshop

Light set up and placement

Scott Robert Image Show #1

The Making of “Beauty in Beijing”

This photo was taken in a hotel room in Beijing at around 3 am in the morning during the last day of our amazing China workshop. The three Asian beauties were not models for our workshop but rather my students! As a frequent tradition at my international workshops, the last day turns into a time for us to let it loose, relax, party and take some amazing pictures of ourselves, a nice time for especially our female friends to get all dressed up and take some incredible profile pics. I’m not sure why I’m so fortunate to have great looking students all the time but I’m not complaining! Tara, our workshop model currently living in Shanghai was kind enough to stick around after hours and have fun with us, she quickly became one of the gang. I had this sense that we all wanted to savor every moment of our time together so we wouldn’t let the night end without a fight.

The Concept
To be honest, this idea was not even mine, it was Michelle’s. She had the initial idea for this image and we all loved the idea so we all contributed into perfecting it. It is hard to describe the feeling of synergy that was going on. We turned up the hip-hop and just started dancing, laughing and creating- close friends trying to whip up something special as a reminder of our amazing time together in China- we wanted to create a masterpiece, we didn’t care how long it was going to take us but we wanted something we could be proud of. Yes, we were dead tired but when we are allowed to work on our passion, somehow our energy becomes endless. Positive energy filled the room and we had so much fun, doing what we love with people we truly care about- from a creative view, life doesn’t get much better than pursuing your passion with great friends.

So as the girls showed me how they wanted to pose, an idea came to me. We quickly moved some furniture around so we could get a clean view of our hotel room wall that was nicely decorated with some nice wallpaper. This included moving a huge 8 x 4 foot picture and some furniture. In order to take a great photo, sometimes we have to take a few minutes to set it up right, move or arrange a few elements to rid distracting objects. Early in my career I rarely did this but now I guess I’ve had enough Photoshop editing to realize it is best to get it right in your camera from the get go and not rely on post processing to remove unwanted objects all the time. As a rule, when I know there is great potential for an amazing photo, I take the time to set it up right.

Now that we had our clean background- our hotel room wall, I had to think about our lighting. Since it was 3am in the morning there was no sunlight available so all the light had to generated. I had this idea of backlighting the ladies. I used four of my Strobie 130 flashes- small portable flash heads triggered by my inexpensive radio trigger system. This created a large “wall” of light firing behind the girls and letting the light reflect around them to create some soft, somewhat even lighting on their faces and on their beautiful dresses. I had the Strobies #1 & #4 positioned at the ends on light stands creating some side lighting and then two more flashes on the ground firing up on the backs of the girls. See diagram for flash placement. I moved as far away from the subjects as I could because I wanted to zoom in as much as possible to narrow my field of view.

Camera and Strobe Settings
My setting was ISO 200, F4 at 1/40th. I shot with my Canon 5DmkII with my 24-105 at 58mm. I used a slower shutter speed to let some ambient light in. I knew the Strobies would freeze my image so I wasn’t too concerned with shutter speed. I don’t really remember but I think I had my Strobies set to 1/8 to 1/4 power. I underexposed image in camera to keep highlights from blowing out. I had to blow a fair amount of light around, especially because I used no light in front of the subjects just an overflow of backlight to create a glowing effect. If you want to create glow around a subject, use a lot of backlight.

Post Processing

Overexposed virtual copy in LR to be mashed with Underexposed image

Underexposed virtual copy in LR to be mashed with Overexposed image

In Lightroom I used one of my LR presets to give me a golden tone.  I created another virtual image to give me two identical images that I could manipulate- one photo I under exposed and another image I made sure the faces were correctly exposed and then I smashed the two images together in Photoshop. This way I could maximize my dynamic range of this image. Of course I had hot spots but I corrected that in Photoshop by filling in all blown out highlights with a light yellow tone. To even out the tone of the entire image I created a yellow layer that I overlayed over the entire image- this gave the image an overall warm tone because it filled in all the highlights with a light yellow.

I’m really happy how the final image turned out and for all those who helped create this image (Jenny, Michelle, Tara and Zabrina) we left a little of our heart and soul into this image. Sometimes an image is great not because of anything technical we do but how much we are invested in the photo, how much emotion we put into it. These to me are the best images, images that give us a glimpse into our inner beauty and character. Thanks to Zabrina, Tara, Michelle and Jenny for allowing me to capture one of my all time favorite images, it was a great way to end an incredible week of inspiration, discovery and community.

Do you want to learn more about my lighting techniques?

Come to my one day workshop in San Francisco on January 3, 2011! I will go into detail on how I use my gear, what are my lighting techniques and how to create amazing results with small portable lighting. A great night to not only an opportunity to learn about photography but to network with some really great photographers! EVERY registration includes a FREE download of my revolutionary Master Learning Guide to Flash Photography a $95 value!

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December 15, 2010 - 2:50 pm

estherjulee - love this photo! 🙂

December 15, 2010 - 10:29 pm

Jenny - Thanks for sharing how you post processed this image. Great tip!!!! Miss you guys, would re-live that moment in a heart beat if I could!!!

December 16, 2010 - 9:19 am

Michelle Ng - Scott!!!! I still can’t express how much I love this photo for a MILLION reasons. I still remember how dark it was outside, how much energy we had to get this right, how much fun we were all having, what music was playing on my iPod (my ghetto hip hop + trance, haha), Riz and David sitting on each side of you on top of the couch looking at your viewfinder at every shot you took, all the crap we pushed aside to get this one open spot, how ecstatic we all were to spend time together after an amazing week of learning, and the foot massage after!!! LOL! The time spent to watch your thought process and be there when it happened, and then to read your blog post weeks after – is PRICELESS. THANK YOU for executing my vision, thank you to my FAVORITE girls for being a part of this, and THANK YOU SCOTT for being YOU!!!

December 17, 2010 - 12:35 pm

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words | Behind the Scenes of Scott Robert’s “Beauty in Beijing” » Michelle Nicole Photography - […] my Mentor, Scott Robert Lim, posted his blog post about the “Making of ‘Beauty in Beijing’“, I wanted to share the joy with the world.  So here I am, reaching past the AM’s of […]

December 18, 2010 - 8:02 am

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