Upon first glance at the images of Toronto photographer Dan Lim, viewers might speculate that there are actually two creators. His work spans an emotional spectrum, one minute sauntering in a light and carefree fashion format, the next minute brooding in moody mode for a close-up beauty shot. But it's all Lim, and it's all in the lighting.
"These images represent the different sides of me," he explains. "I'm all about the concept, the lighting, and the aesthetics. Some photographers are very good in the studio; some are very good on location using only natural light. I happen to be in the category of photographers who really know how to use and manipulate light, whether I'm shooting in the studio or on location."
Take the image shown on this page. "This was particularly hard to light," he says. "The room was dark, and the shot was lit with strobes. I wanted to still show the ambient and detail of the room in the furniture and wall, but still make the model pop out from the background. I also wanted the light fixture to be an integral graphic element of the composition. Since I used strobe, the power output even at the most minimal setting would have overpowered the 150W bulb in the light fixture. I used a Morris Mini Slave strobe light inside the round light fixture and balanced it with my Profoto strip box just to the right of the model."
Because it's so critical that his lighting is spot-on, Lim has enthusiastically embraced digital photography, making his first leap into the medium with a Silicon Graphics workstation in 1995.
"In early 2002, when Phase One came out with the 16-megapixel H 20 back, I knew the time had come to switch completely to digital," he says. "Today we're shooting with Phase One's 22-megapixel P 25 back. Since the switch, clients have been quick to adopt digital: There's shorter turnaround from shooting to printing, you save the client money by eliminating expensive scanning costs—although we do charge for capture fees in lieu of film, processing, and Polaroid costs, you achieve better pre-press results with cleaner digital files (especially with the Phase One Capture One software), and there's instant gratification on set when shooting—you know when you've got the shot in the can."
Lim also takes advantage of digital's post-production wonders—and the ability to retouch is a definite asset. "We handle most of the retouching in-house," he says. "If it's really finicky stuff like beauty, I'll do the retouching personally. Otherwise, others in my studio do it. When time and scheduling don't allow, we outsource our post-work."
In the opening image of this article, done for the fall issue of glow magazine, Lim photographed the model straight-on, the model's symmetrical hair cut juxtaposed against her asymmetric white coat. "With any kind of beauty close-up shoot, there's always retouching involved," he says. "When a face is photographed head-on, the unevenness is exaggerated in the photo. In this case, I had to retouch and even out her face."
Lim cautions against relying on digital post too heavily. "My images are mostly created in-camera," he says. "You have to capture a great shot when you're shooting it. Then, if you can enhance it in post, great! But a shot that's horribly lit, horribly composed, and horribly styled is exactly that. You shouldn't need to 'save' the shot in Photoshop."
Lim's professionalism is natural. What he does with ease would be challenging to most. "While my clients expect me to deliver the goods on time and on budget, to me that's a given," he says. "I need to live up to my own expectations and I strive to go beyond that at every opportunity. Running a fun, relaxed set doesn't hurt, either!"
Using his expertise and an open mind helps him transform a client's vision into compelling images. "I try to really understand what it is that they want to achieve and say to their customers," he says. "There's also a lot of careful planning and outstanding production standards."
An example of the creative collaboration that characterizes a Lim photo shoot is his image of a model leaning against a sleek white Jaguar. "The concept called for a '60s retro look, with the Union Jack icon in every shot to go with the tagline of 'I Like London,'" he says. "It was the client's concept for the '60s fashion look and tagline. I elaborated by coming up with the Union Jack icon on white fashion."
After a shoot, Lim supplies TIF files, RGB or CMYK, depending on client request, to the client, and backs up of the job on LaCie external hard drives.
"Those are our working files while the job docket is open," he says. "Then we back up our RAW captures and final selects onto DVD. Finally, we do a backup of all final files onto CD, which we store in CD sleeves and lock in cabinets."
To ensure that Lim and the client are protected against photo pilferers, every digital image is delivered with the proper copyright notification attached, including copyright insignia and year, contact info, and name.