The concept behind this series of images was to showcase the model, the fashion, and the makeup in an omnipresent 360-degree view. The idea evolved from trying to manipulate certain angles with mirrors. Joseph Cartright explains the work that went into the creation of these images.
It took many attempts to get it right! We initially placed two flat-on, two-way mirrors in front of and behind the model, but this created reflection problems; me, my staff, and the studio were visible in the shots. Lighting was also difficult; obviously, shooting directly into a mirror creates many specular highlights. Finally, we decided to enclose the model in a room made entirely out of mirrors.Infinite repeat is best achieved when the "real" model connects with the reflection.
MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL First we used 1/4" glass mirrors, but I felt glass was unsafe; I wasn't comfortable with the idea of a glass panel falling or breaking on the set. We could get almost the same effect by using 1/4" mirrored Plexiglas panels, which are considerably less hazardous. Once the concept was perfected, we hired a set designer to construct the set and contacted a plastic supply store. Comparing samples for thickness and reflective property, we chose to use 1/4"-thick panels.
We wanted to construct the room as a perfect square, but that created leaks and cracks when the edges were butted together. Propping up and securing the 1/4"-thick, four-feet-wide-by-eight-feet-high panels also proved difficult. Drilling fasteners into the panels or using any form of clamping device wasn't an option, as they'd be visible in the shot. We devised an invisible fastening mechanism and glued 22x42 studs to the back of the panels, making them rigid. Once glued and dried, the panels were screwed together. Just one major problemhow to get the model in and out of the set, not to mention the hairstylist, makeup artist, and fashion stylist. We installed hinges on one of the panels to act as a door. The set, which was completed the day before the shoot, was perfect.
AN ISSUE OF LIGHTING Because the model and the repetitive nature of the concept were the main focus of the image, our lighting objective was to create a neutral, flat light that wouldn't distract from that. Direct light would have created lens flare, glare, hot spots, and omnipresent specular highlights.
We were afraid that lighting the set would be a nightmare and set out to resolve a problem that wasn't as complicated as we originally perceived. We needed a lighting environment that showcased everythingthe concept, the model, and the fashioneffortlessly, and finally realized it was best to let the room light itself. Instead of fighting the reflective property of the mirrors, we'd let it work for us.
Our studio is all whitethe floors, the walls, and the ceilingand we bathed it with enough light to have the overflow actually fill the mirrored room. The trick was to create enough light to provide an acceptable exposure. We set up four strobes, one in each corner, and covered each with a medium size softbox.
The mirrored room was moved into the middle of the studio. We pointed the soft-boxed strobes at the ceiling, making sure all four strobes fired at the center of the ceiling at around 45 degrees. The ceiling is 25 feet high; accomplishing this required a lot of light. Had the ceiling been a standard height, however, the light wouldn't have been as soft. The bounced ceiling light that then reflected off the mirrors was soft, clean, full, and perfect. Broncolor lighting equipment was used exclusively and each strobe was connected to a dedicated power pack. Finally, the set was ready.
FIRE AWAY Ready, but not really. A lot of production value goes into these shoots; it's no different than any other major fashion shoot except the concept is different. The set, which is four feet square by eight feet high, easily towers over me. In order to capture the image, a scaffold was erected around the set. To accommodate enough coverage of the set and various depths of field, the scaffold was erected with multiple tiers, the highest being 20 feet. The angle of attack and the lens used have a tremendous impact on the effect, which is a kaleidoscope of endlessly repeating models. I was able to adjust the intensity of the effect by selecting to focus on the real model, a reflection of the real model, a reflection of the reflection, and so on.
DIGITAL VS. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE When you see the infinite repeat in the images, that's when you really understand the complexity of what's happening. To achieve this, I had to find an angle that worked, place the model in that angle, and then, work that space. If the model or I moved a few inches in any direction or angle, even slightly, it would change the depth of the effect dramatically. A shoot this complicated would have been excruciatingly painful to shoot on film. I would have consumed a garbage can full of Polaroids, not to mention it would have taken forever to execute. So, needless to say, all the images were captured digitally. I used a Phase One digital back on a Contax 645 camera with a 45mm, 80mm, and 120mm lens.
CLEANING UP Because Plexiglas panels bow and bend, the edge where the panels met bowed out a bit and let anything visible leak through, reflecting everywhere. We cleaned up the edges and straightened out the bowed corners and lines. It was important to un-distort the model but not to un-distort straight lines. Because lines provide an important reference, we cleaned up any bowed lines that should have been perceived as straight. Then, we did the basic post-production cleanup (model, clothing, etc.) and a fair bit of color management and color proofing on some of the articles of clothing. All of the post-production was performed using Photoshop.
CARTRIGHT CREATIVITY Our ability to provide creative development and direction is a big part of why we can deliver images like these. We can take a creative concept and run with it from cradle to grave. The ability to conceive a concept and then produce it is one of our strong points. This concept and its production process is a good indication of our abilities; it's difficult to execute but very effective. Also, we have an excellent grasp of the digital domain. We're highly technical and highly artistic. Melding these two disciplines gives us a pretty good edge. DI
The set was originally placed on the white studio floor, but the image didn't come across as strong as we wanted it to and the white floor washed out the image. We lifted the box up and replaced the white floor with different colored, seamless paper. After installing the colored floor, we realized that it actually lent to the image. What's happening in the image is that the paper is being reflected by the mirror. That mirror, in turn, reflects onto another mirror, that mirror is then reflecting back to another mirror, and so on, eventually washing the image with the floor's color. We initially chose against a colored floor for exactly the opposite reason we finally decided to use it. We thought it would overpower the image. It then became a question of choosing the right color for the model, the fashion and the make-up. Another concern for fashion and beauty is making sure whatever you're using as a background or foreground color plays in with the tone and hues of what you're trying to convey. You can use color in two ways. As a negative, it forces you to look at a certain place. As a positive, it gives you an environment where it reinforces certain tones. From a technical color perspective, everything was color-managedthe digital camera back, the monitors, and the output devices used were also color-managed.
Joseph Cartright is a member of Digital Imaging's Creative Minds Society and has been a professional photographer for more than 10 years. His client list includes Victoria's Secret, Ralph Lauren, and Halston. His images have appeared in Elle, Allure, and Marie Claire. He can be reached via his Web site www.cartright.com, or at 212-262-9100.