Deconstruct This Photo: Revealed

It was fun reading all the great attempts to deconstruct the photo from Monday’s post. As you might imagine, many of you got close or even nailed some of the components, and many of you were way in left field. And that’s exactly what I expected, especially since this image has some tricky, unexpected stuff going on.

At any rate, here’s the debrief:

Concept: this image is really a snapshot. I confess to liking it quite a bit, but at it’s root, it’s a lighting test for a campaign image that’s just about to happen moments after this image was snapped. I was taking pictures every 30 seconds or so as the sun was bouncing in an out of the clouds low on the horizon. I was looking at how the light was falling on the ground, creating the dramatic shadows behind her, and examining the difference between full sun and the partially diffused sun to make a choice with the AD and the CD as to which would be better for our shot. When Chloe faced the sun, I saw this cool shot, and so I snagged it. It’s a “just” lighting test outtake, and there are 30 others that look really similar to it, but it’s a wonderful little moment here with her arms behind her head, facing the sun.

Location: we’re pretty high in the mountains on the big island of Hawaii. The smokey looking stuff in the background is…[click the ‘continue reading’ link below]

…just a cloud bank, settling between the hills. During our scout, we’d noticed this phenomenon and we’re hoping we’d get it again on the shoot day. We got it. As is said in some circles: location, location, location.

Lighting: all natural. Sun is near the horizon in the evening, just poking out from behind a substantial bank of clouds. The fact that there seems to be no shadow can be explained either by the our altitude relative to the setting sun, or due to the camera angle and the rough grass behind her and we’re just not seeing it.

Tech specs: Camera is Nikon D3. f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 400. Lens is Nikkor 70-200. Focal length of this shot is 190mm.

Post processing: Aperture only. No Photoshop. No composites. We tweaked exposure, contrast, blacks, clarity, cooled down the temp, and vignetted the corners just a touch to enhance the in-camera vignette that the 70-200 lens creates when it’s at its upper range. Total post processing time: 1 minute.

My direction: none. Well, almost none. I’d asked model Chloe to merely stand in her shot while I chimped away at the back of my camera with some lighting tests. She’s waiting for the “real” action to get started when we determine that the light is doing what we want.

And voila. There you have it. A high 5 to everyone who contributed. Since there was over 100 comments less than a day, seems like this is something we’ll do again at some point.

There’s a million things to take away from this exercise, some obvious, others not so obvious. Love to hear some of what you’re taking away if you care to share.

[Revisit the original post, Deconstruct This Photo]

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Neil Corman says:

Just got an e-mail from a company and noticed the picture use which brought me right back to this post. Not the one we deconstructed but same spot and model, granted she is wearing a jacket in the e-mail ad.

Justin Trapp says:

This shot is really cool. Did the client end up using this one?

Charles Waldorf says:

I'm just happy I was able to determine which direction the light source was coming from,jk. I think the bigger point here is like Chase said there is a thousand ways to skin a cat. By looking at this image I was able to think of a few new ways to try lighting something. I think thats the moral of the exercise.

Eric says:

Well I certainly had a bigger set-up in my head, but can see how this would work as an ambient shot. And clearly, location and time of day were key to getting it.

Great post Chase

jeremy says:

i knew it! light tests rule….

in the end, all that matters is the image, not how you got it or what you did, weather it took 2 hours of happened becuase you accidently put your hand on the shutter realease….

in the end all that matters is the image.

Mr. Cross says:

It was great fun!

What I take from this lesson though is that the name of the photographer carries some weight. It could even have been an accident shot., but here's everyone talking of how fancy it was and composite of 30 images and bla bla…

This must mean you've really made it! :D Doesn't matter what you do, to your fans you could do no wrong! Lol

It wasn't that great a picture, actually… :P

Andy M says:

" Andy M said…
My guess:
Composite of 3-4 shots

All natural light (maybe a reflector was used), no strobes whatsoever.
can't tell if it was around sunrise or sunset.

you're too far away from the model to give her instructions"

got 1 out of 3 right.

Haha, so it appears me and a lot of other folks were wrong about the composite. lesson learned.

I'm happy that I was able to RE it correctly in terms of the ambient lighting (and lack of strobes).

i think there's a huge misconception that people automatically associate everything you (commercial photog) shoot with strobes, lighting gear and over-lighting location shots, this is a great example of the contrary. the fact that you were debating the effects of clouds/sun bounce on your shadows/tonal range is a great lesson for me.

That was a fun and educating challenge.

Funny to see how many people (myself included) over thought this. I really enjoy your blog, keep up the good work!

paul says:


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Adam says:

I was way off! Fun to analyze though:)
I give my high school students similar assignments, generally a bit more focused on a couple of concepts and more basic. In general the kids are into it. Me too!

Car Blog says:

This is quite an eye opener. So many things to consider!

James says:

Chase, I've been spending a lot of time lately studying images from various photographers, attempting to deconstruct the image and figure out the nuts and bolts behind the photo. I didn't submit a response to this deconstruction, but I definitely did deconstruct it to see how close I was. I was way off. Lot's of ways to skin a cat for sure. Just thought I'd say thanks…I think I was getting caught up in technical studying, and was beginning to lose sight of conceptual aspects. Thanks for the eye opener :)

chris_brec says:

Chase's blog is always a great source of inspiration. Sometimes it's very much targeted to his audience. This is one of these times. so what? Some people might feel that they've need to reset and shoot something great at available light. I guess that appeals to many of the tech dudes who read this blog

brandt abner says:

A lovely photo, with no post…
Such a "natural" way to shoot.
A sort of Martin Parr-right place/right time- good light.

I think this has been a great exercise and emphasizes that its what happens between your ears and not so much the gear that makes the photographer.

I'm J is someone who spends thousands of $ on expensive equipment and is frustrated when they find they still produce very mediocre work.

And to be honest i think the fact that this a "snap shot" is degrading the scouting and research done before the camera was even out of the bag!

6 P's people! (prior preparation prevents piss poor performance(for those that don't know).

WOW….I was way off (I'm a man, I can admit it). I am most surprised by the fact you got that much bokeh at f7.1 and 190mm. The rest of the real story makes sense. Not too surprised there.

Thanks for the exercise and please do it again.

Photoguy23 says:

I love this concept of deconstructing photos to what makes them up. I usually do this anyway when I look at a great photo. I think ok, what aperature would give me that bokah effect, or what time of day would give me that kind of lighting. Keep these up, I didnt get to guess in time before you posted the results, I would love to try next time.

Chris Pike says:

At least I was close on the focal length and a stop off the aperture. Sure it was fun trying to figure this one out, but it was tough from looking at smaller picture. Chase, I dare you to offer a larger picture next time (if logistics allow)!

I have learned a lot with this exercise while learning photography, first deconstructing then trying to recreate. Now, I can't not stop by a descent picture and try to figure it out.
The only problem is knowing if you were close or not.

Well I guess one of my old school teachers would have best summarized my attempt by saying, "Good effort, but lots of room for improvement". It's true to say that the majority of us were over analyzing the photo.

Lisa P. in FL says:

This was interesting. I'm an amateur with a capital A and what was actually most interesting to me was that you use Aperture. I hear so much about Lightroom and Photoshop I was beginning to wonder if any of the pros used the Apple product. I've used the free trial of all 3 and am still trying to figure it out.

P.S. Love your work.

Jon Tiffin says:

This is great and would like to see more of these from you. If you'd be so kind, for another posting topic, please elaborate your preference to Aperture as your tethered captures or beginning post vehicle.
Love your show!

Plumchutney says:

Yes – great idea Chase, please do more- its appreciated! I got a lot from the exercise, even though I got it completely wrong! (fell into the over-complicating it trap)

Ryan says:

Nice, feeling alright that I nailed the focal length, lighting
and processing. This was a pretty cool idea.

But why 1/1000th and ISO 400? Wouldn't there be still be shutter speed to spare if you were shooting at ISO 200 for the cleanest file? I'm guessing you were probably up and down with these settings as you adjusted for cloud coverage though.

Chase, can you show us the a "final" from this shoot?

I like the "deconstruct" concept. Do it again, do it again!

Jonny says:

""I looked at this and though it was natural light, and then thought "nah, that'd be too easy…"

So what I've taken away from this, is that I just never know what Chase is going to do.""

That's exactly what I thought too lol.

Wesley Hort says:

I think this is a lovely shot and whether it is a snap or not doesn't matter. Some of my favourite work is what you could call a snap… just that little bit off kilter that gets you to think.. I think often with digital you can miss some of the happy accidents that you used to get with film but if you are shooting natural light then that is often what gives you that winning image. Sure you can construct any image artificially but those happy accidents are what keep me creatively alive

Chase Jarvis says:

@ J (et al): the cool thing about photography is that it is about ALL these things in play here. My point in selecting this image it to highlight a bunch of stuff. Certainly there is tons of merit in discussing all tech stuff (this is s no-brainer since technical mastery of the craft is important/helpful), but there's also an entire, wonderful layer of conceptual stuff worth examining. Is the image somehow "devalued" because this isn't the "final" image goal of the day? I certainly noticed the moment amidst doing something else and decided to press the shutter. Does that knowing that change something for the viewer? Does the backstory add or subtract from the simple visual? The exercise of deconstructing images is a really useful endeavor. And this particular post underscores that from both a technical AND a conceptual standpoint. It begs many questions worth considering.

There's a million ways to skin a cat – so let's celebrate that about creating and viewing art. And lets take away all that we can.

Anonymous says:

Bit too smartypants from you for my taste, Chase, but a potentially worthwhile and interesting blog post concept. More lighting deconstruction in future please!

jjpare says:

J – for me, part of the fun of the 'reveal' was to show just how much one can over think these things. as someone who occasionally gets a bit too caught up in the technical side of shooting, it's a nice reminder that a quick snap can be as good (if not better) than the shot you plan for weeks and need a dozen assistants to execute.

anyway, loved the exercise, and yes, you should definitely do more of them.

I suppose David Hobby's idium should have been applied
K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple stupid) ;o)

What I take away from it is that I had pretty much nailed the lense and aperture/DOF.

Although I was fooled by the angle of the ambient light (I'd expect low horizon to be darker/warmer – I didn't factor for subject altitude), but I know I could recreate that lighting setup by following my theory.

The fact it was a snap was a timesaving bonus, but it could be reproduced if needbe in alternate locations.

Callum Winton

J says:

rosebud, maybe I did miss the point, when I had read some of the comments initially on the post people were looking for artistic meaning in the photo so I presumed this is what was being looked for. If it was about lighting and technical things then that's fair enough.

Doc says:

Just shows you dont need lots of gear to get a great image. You just need a good eye. Well done chase hope the client uses your snap as part of the campaign

Mick Lerlop says:

All natural light? I was expecting to see a lighting diagram drawn on a napkin like McNally's. Thanks for sharing.

Ernest says:

J, photos are not only done with a ton of studio lights. Logic being what it is, it was to be expected that this was a highly thought out and a highly posed shot. It's nice if you can deconstruct a photo like this, too.

J says:

chasingphotography, no, I was more disappointed that there wasn't a 'meaning' to the photo, he was just snapping before a big shoot, it's just a snap, he hadn't gone out with an idea of what feeling or emotion or anything he wanted to create, he just got a good shot which has no hidden meaning at all. I think I would have liked it to be more than just a snap, when I initially looked at it I thought maybe chase was trying to achieve some sense of emotion behind the model or a sense of space and maybe something more esoteric but he wasn't, it's just a photo of a person waiting on a photo shoot with some good natural lighting etc.

Rosebud says:

J- I think you missed the point of the exercise. It was to get you to look and think about lighting, mood, exposures, location, etc. The real purpose was to make you think and analyze regardless of the actual circumstances in which the photo was taken.

mooreclick says:

I looked at this and though it was natural light, and then thought "nah, that'd be too easy…"

So what I've taken away from this, is that I just never know what Chase is going to do.

Marshall says:

Headed for…

Well I thought it was a great idea, it got my brain working and I obviously over thought the whole think.
Just goes to show no matter how much lighting gear you may lug up a hillside for a shoot, you could put it down, turn round and for a moment everything may come together for a few seconds and look so amazing you don't even need to unpack it.
I load up a car full of gear everytime I go on a shoot hoping that I might find some magic and not have to use it, doesn't happen very often.
Great stuff Chase, look forward to the next one… many people suggested it that I actually started to think there WAS a Iphone 3Gs involved at one point :o)

ian sheh says:

it's awesome that everything was natural. everything came together without having to take out a light stand or a smoke machine. love those kinda shots!!!

ChasingPhotography says:

J – I will let Jarvis defend himself, but I thought of about 3 to 4 ways to produce this shot from simple lighting to compositing.

The simple fact that he shoots commercial/editorial worldwide led me to think this mostly a natural shot.

Are you disappointed that through some thought and scouting he nailed it? Are about setups over thought or quantity over quality?

You sound a little jaded that it was some big setup that some photo guru was supposed to use?

I think the key component is the lack of a shadow behind her. With a shadow visible there is no question, but without it, there is the appearance of two light sources. I am guessing there are undulations in the terrain which are hiding it. Either way an interesting experiment whether it was a snap or not.

J says:

Is it really a deconstruct the photo when you just took it on a spur of the moment as a test shot? to me there doesn't seem to have been much thought put into it for you at all here. I don't understand why you would have people try and deconstruct a 'snap' it would be more worthy surely for you to have thought about some sort of abstract concept then had people guess about it.

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