Behind the Scenes – Creating Butterfly Girl

When Chris showed our team the landscapes he shot in the redwood forests of northern California, we knew that beyond a beautiful photograph, we had an incredible open-ended canvas to work with for a composite image. After lots of brainstorming sessions, we realized the otherworldly space needed to be filled with some type of magical scene.

Lots of phone calls and shipments of butterflies later, all of the pieces to Chris’s vision were finally coming together. All the image needed now was the input and creativity from our talented digital artist. Keep reading for some insight and explanation into how we created our latest conceptual portrait…

Although Butterfly Girl was a true team effort for our studio, the person with the best understanding of creating this photo is our digital artist Taisya Kuzmenko. The rest of this post is in Taisya’s words, with my questions and prompts in italics.

(Our intern Alex working with a butterfly to shoot one of the many, many pieces of the final image)

How did this final image come together?

The final image came together through countless cups of coffee and cans of Rockstar energy drink, a few bags of pistachios and a many, many hours of collaborative work between Chris, Robert and I.

How did you work with the individual pieces (landscape, butterflies, model)?

Chris first showed me the background landscape a few months ago. We worked on the landscape together and through that process, the idea of a girl in the scene with butterflies all around her came about.

When we were set on the idea for the final composite, the girl and butterflies were shot separately in the studio. Once i got to work with the files, i started working with each image one at a time (yes all of those butterflies were individual photos). This process involved toning, cleaning and cutting out each of the pieces.

(We spent most of an afternoon in the studio working with the butterflies)

What was the most challenging aspect?

The most challenging aspect of a composite of this sort is the amount of elements that have to be put together seamlessly. The large number of butterflies makes it difficult to keep track of details. Every butterfly has to be taken into consideration when working with lighting the scene, blending, blurring or sharpening the image. Its a constant process of zooming in and out, rethinking and reworking.

(shooting our female model in the studio, reaching out to an imaginary butterfly)

What was your process for creating this final composite?

The first stage of putting this composite together began with placing all the elements within one frame. The right placement takes a long time and even when we were 90% finished we still had to move/resize/remove some of the butterflies.

When everything is placed in the photo, i start with blending the edges and thats when all the selecting and masking becomes critical. After blending, I like to work with modifying and sculpting the main source of light, since it will determine the shadows and the tones of all the various pieces of the photo.

At this point, it is also critical to consider how this will match the general light and shadows of the background plate. Once that is done i work with the color, contrast and overall depth of field. To give the image its finishing touches i listen to heavy metal, bang my head and summon the evil spirits, hehehe [editorial comment: yes, this is true… we don’t mess with Taisya when she’s blasting the heavy metal].

(Chris directing our model… little did we know she was afraid of bugs)

What inspired you for this image?

The amount of time and work Chris and Robert put into the development of the concept, shooting of the different elements and constant feedback really inspires me to do the best job in making it all come together. Its a team work from beginning to end. And thats is how we rocked those butts (butterflies).

Last but certainly not least, where do you find your inspiration?

I think my biggest inspiration will always be my good friend and mentor Emily Von Fange. Witnessing this girl work her retouching magic for almost a year changed my attitude and perspective on how things should be done in order to get awesome results.

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