I had the privilege of shooting Jina D yesterday. She approached me with a concept that came to hear after listening to Paper Walls by Yellowcard. Her concept was to model in front of a wall full of hateful words, showing herself as vulnerable.
Technically, this was a fairly simple shoot. I shoot in a studio with a white cyc wall, but I didn’t want to write on the wall and then have to paint it afterwords – the wall already has a fresh coat on it. I bought a couple rolls of white backdrop paper, and Jina and I rolled out the paper on the floor, cut it to size, and began writing.
It was a learning experience for both of us. We’d come up with a list of words and phrases we wanted to use before the shoot began, but we had a lot of real estate to cover. As a recovering alcoholic, I’m intimately aware of the phrases I learned growing up that affect my self esteem, and I made sure they made the list. But putting these words down, it seems like there weren’t very many – it was easy for me to remember the theme of what I heard all the time, but specific instances seemed always just out of the grasp of my memory.
I think Jina had the same issue. We splattered the paper with our wounds, and then turned to the internet for more inspiration. We had no trouble locating more shaming words, and we got the paper taped up on the wall with hardly any papercuts or creases.
My lovely wife did Jina’s makeup. We went for a subtle, nearly nude, tired and almost sickly look. The makeup was impeccable; it was unglamorous but didn’t take away from Jina’s natural beauty in the least.
I went for a broad, bright lighting scheme because I wanted a sense of Jina floating and trapped inside these words inside her head, conveying a sense of frustration, anxiety and depression. For the background fill lights, I put two Bowens Gemini 500s pointed at the top outside corners. I placed them well away from the wall pointing up with 45° reflectors. These lights made sure I the outside vertical surfaces were lit, and by pointing them up I got a lot of diffuse bounce across the whole set. My secondary light was an Einstein fitted with a 60″ octadome, stage left and pointed across the set and aimed at the center of the wall. It was about 8′ up, and this light brought illumination to the center of the wall, down the curve of the cyc and just onto the floor. My main light was another Einstein with a 7′ diffused umbrella, about 12′ high, boomed out to just off of center on stage right and aimed at the center of the floor. This light provided a very soft, diffused light. Finally, I added a third Einstein with a 10° grid stage right about 6′ high and a deep red gel. This light provided just a touch of accent color on Jina’s shadow side, but I kept it low enough that it was washed out by the white lights everywhere else.
After a few test shots, I had the lights balanced to f8 with no hotspots. Normally, when shooting against a white wall, I overexpose the background by around 1.5 stops for the pure white effect, but since the background was a crucial part of this shoot, I wanted the exposure correct. At f8, with my 35mm, I have a deep enough depth of field to be able to focus on Jina and still read the words on the wall.
Once we were setup, the shoot went very fast – we all knew exactly what were were trying to do, and Jina is one of those fantastic models that can switch it on and project her emotion directly into the camera at a moment’s notice. Not only is she gorgeous, but she really comes alive in front of the camera and fearlessly does what she needs to do to get the shot. We shot several perspectives and poses, including posing Jina on the floor while I shot down from a ladder at the same height as my key light – those are my favorite shots, as the perspective really drives the point home.
We’re all really happy with the results of the shoot. As soon as I’m done processesing photos I’ll update this post with links to the photos, but in the meantime here’s a couple of BTS shots that show the set. I would like to continue this series with Jina. I’d like to do a “victorious” shoot, where we create images that show Jina succeeding and thriving with words of encouragement and positive self-esteem.