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Joshua Orellana Portrait – “Photo-Graphic” Style

by George Murphy on November 11, 2011

Joshua Orellana Click on the image to see a larger version

About the time things were drawing to a close last year at ImageMovers Digital–the digital feature film studio where I worked–Joshua Orellana, the assistant production  manager for our fx & crowd simulation department, seemed to be on a mission to keep growing his hair out until the final days when the studio would close its doors. One day, though, he decided that he’d had enough (possible due to constantly being mistaken for a more well know religious figure) and announced plans to get it cut. I couldn’t let his hard-won look end up on the barber’s floor undocumented, so I arranged to make a photograph of Josh. His long locks and “saintly” commitment to supporting the studio during those last days, when our staff was dwindling off to their next jobs, prompted me to photograph him in our screening room, using the projected, winged logo of our company as a conveniently halo-like backdrop…but, of course, thrown suitable out of focus to avoid any perception of corporate impropriety.

That original photograph (see farther below) became the foundation for this photo-based illustration, or “Photo-Graphic” as I call it–entitled, “State of Grace”–depicting Josh and the iconic hangars at Hamilton field where we worked. While the juxtaposition is definitely intended as humorous and over the top, there’s still something very real about this unique moment in Josh’s life at the studio that I was striving to capture in the portrait at the heart of this image. So, despite the humor, the homage to both Josh and the spirit at the studio is sincere; and hopefully the first of several I will make that recall some of the great people I had the privilege of working with at ImageMovers Digital.

Close-up crop detail –>> Click to Enlarge

In exploring this particular style of imagery, the portrait of Josh was especially suitable to begin working with, as I continue to experiment and strive to get my head around where I want to take this “photo-graphic” look. Some of the most wonderfully lush things about this style, though, can only be appreciated in a large view, especially in the form of a fine photographic print. Sadly, a lot of this is lost in the small format of this blog; so you’re encouraged to click the crop-view image on the left to get a hint of what you can’t see in the image above.



What ties this kind of imagery back to my more traditional photography work, is that it is still about starting with strong photography of a subject that you care about. It is as much about the craft of making a great image at the time you release the shutter as it’s ever been. The “photo-graphic” style, though, is then about jumping off from there to further refine the subject down to a more essential and emotional focus, and to enhance that effort in rich and complex ways that might not be possible with a more traditional photographic presentation of the subject.

Speaking of original photography: The photograph of Josh was made with a tripod mounted Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III camera using a Canon EF 85mm ƒ/1.2 L II lens. The exposure was 1 second at ƒ/1.2 to capture the theater lighting and projected logo, with the main light on Josh coming from a Canon 580ex II speed light flash, set to manual mode and mounted onto a handheld Lastolight softbox rig. The short flash duration kept Josh sharp, despite the long ambient room exposure. The wide ƒ/1.2 aperture made for extremely shallow depth of field and was challenging to focus in the dim theater, as even subtle shifts in Josh’s position would throw his eyes out of focus.

While I was able to compose the image to position the projected logo as I wanted behind Josh’s head, the depth-of-field was so shallow on the ƒ/1.2 lens that it lost too much of it’s structure and made the halo concept less obvious than I’d hoped. In the end I used a separate photograph I shot at the same session, of the logo with more detail. The original too-blurry logo was then swapped for this less out-of-focus version to create the optimized base portrait seen below.

The other image elements of the hangar, tower and clouds were from photographs I actually shot around the studio complex. I wanted everything in the image to have a real basis in the studio and its location.

The image was further stylized by weaving a number of textures into the final surface of the image. I photographed many types of papers and surfaces, discarding several initial choices as too complex and distracting to the layout. Those that were finally selected were applied in combinations and through various layers of masks to achieve the right contribution of detail and color. Despite working in stages, my Photoshop image files still reached over 8GB for some steps. Throughout the process, the challenge was to bring in these other elements without losing the essential simplicity of the original photography’s composition.

Here is the optimized base portrait of Josh Orellana (with modified background logo) that became the jump-off point for the final “photo-graphic.” As a traditional photograph (not counting the logo mod!) it’s actually quite nice–though still begging for a bit more color and tone adjustment. It just lacks, as a more literal image, the emotional appeal that I was really looking to achieve here.

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