The making of Queen Bitch / by Gidi Meir Morris

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Within commercial portraiture you’ll find many different subcategories.

When using this term different photographers may actually be referring to a multitude of different fields of work - celebrity portraiture, advertising, high school seniors, budoár etc. Put simply, anything which deals with the art of creating portraits of people which can be sold to a client could be referred to as Commercial portraiture.

There is a term used in Israel for photographers who deal with a handful of these subcategories, specifically portraiture of celebrities and people from the entertainment industry - Image photographers.

An Image photographer deals with a person’s public image, not to be confused with graphic image itself as portrayed by the photographic product, as it is seen by that person’s audience.

Each person’s audience is different - for a musician, for example, this would be both his fans (or target audience to convert into a fan base) and the people in the industry he wishes to work with, such as agents, producers and other musicians.

The Image photographer’s job is to identify what the person’s image should be and reinforce that using imagery.

In some form this subfield of photography deals with lying, but in a very deep sense, it can deal with showing the truth about a person, that very truth which that person’s audience simply hasn’t yet seen and the person needs them to finally take notice of.

This is where photographer Ronen Akerman comes in. Ronen has been in the industry for 25 years, can be credited for being one of the reasons for how well the Israeli photography industry is doing and I recently had the pleasure of taking part in a five session course with him in Image photography.

After an introductory session, in which we discussed the role of commercial portraiture in the entertainment industry, Ronen gave as the task of coming up with a concept that we would then have to produce and shoot in time to present at our final session.

The concept we had to each pursue was this- invent a character, for whom Ronen will then give us the task of producing a photoshoot, from concept to realization, where the goal of this photoshop is to create a “Public Image” for the character.

The idea is to simulate a real scenario in the career of an Image photographer.

Concept.

The character I invented was a make believe queen, of a make believe Israeli monarchy, within the context of the very real, and very topical, social protest which began three years ago and is still playing a big role in the public debate.

This queen, the daughter of the former king’s Hound Master, chosen by the then prince and now king of the Israeli monarchy, is in desperate need of a public relations boost, following some remarks she made regarding the people’s cry for help from the monarchy due to their financial plight.

To provide this boost, the crown historian, has been charged with the task of writing a biography of the queen, in which he defends the queen from the public criticism she has faced.

A small cherry I decided to add to the top of my cupcake of a character is the small fact that being the daughter of the Hound Master, she has two of her very own Great Danes who follow her around and act as her bodyguards.

Task.

My task was simple enough - photograph a cover for this book and a portrait of the author for the book’s in-sleeve.

Approach.

I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to shoot - an image which portrays the queen as a very regal character, who knows her place in society and reflect that, yet I also wanted to show how important her two Danes are in her public image. I came to the conclusion that to create this image I’d need to photograph her in a very dramatic light, something which made her stand out of her surroundings and decided to go with a gridded beauty dish with jelled CTO (= Color Temperature Orange), creating a soft but direct light to bring out her features.

As you can see in the following BTS photograph, I lit my model Jasmin, with the help of my two assistants, with a very close light from above,creating sharp dramtic shadows but still lighting her face in such a way that her beauty would strike at the viewer and her character more so.

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I realized very quickly that finding two Great Danes in Tel Aviv would be no easy task, let alone the logistics of organizing a day where the whole crew (assistants, make up artist and model) and both dogs would be available for shooting. That led me to the decision of shooting a single Great Dane in the studio and then composite her into the queen’s photograph separately, duplicating her to create two bodyguards, instead of one.

The problem with such an approach is that once you shoot more than one location you are going to have to tackle the problem of different lighting characteristics falling on your subjects which make the composite unbelievable and non-convincing.

To tackle this problem I took great care to reproduce the same kind of lighting in-studio as I’d encountered in the field when shooting the model.

As you can see in the following image, I shot the Great Dane, named Julia, on a white background which I overexposed using two boxed flashes to help with her compositing and lit her directly with a similar setup to Jasmin - a beauty dish, jelled CTO, just above eye level (which is lower for a dog than for a person… even for a Great Dane).

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Once I had Jasmin and Julia photographed the way I wanted, it was a simple enough task to composite the three characters (one of Jasmin and two of Julia) into the final book cover.

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As an additional option for my theoretical book publisher I photographed several more images which served as additional  art for the in-sleeve and back of the book.

In-Sleeve image

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Back image

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For the author I wanted someone who I could portray as a kind of Ernest Hemmingway, respectable bearded type, and though he insisted he saw himself more as a sort of Terry Pratchett, I decided to shoot yet another portrait of my father for this role.

In his case I wanted less of an even light than the beauty dish would provide and photographed him using an octagonal softbox made by Elinchrom which has a very deep build (hence the name- Deep Octa) which creates a dramatic light falloff which I feel adds more dramatic light than a normal softbox.

Knowing that I only have one light to work with, as I had to make it to my parents’ house in the country side with one backpack containing the flash head and battery, camera and lens slang over my shoulder, traveling by bus and train, I opted to use the setting sun as a second light - which provided a lovely backlight which seperated my father’s head from the background.

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Result.

Once all the imagery was ready, and a mock book cover designed in photoshop, I printed the cover on two large sheets of 25x30cm photo paper and used my skills using ruler and super glue to put together a nice book cover to give Ronen at the final class.

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