Untouchable. Aka: Paul Caponigro’s Bride

Paul Caponigros BrideI’ve had an overwhelming response to my last post about my entry in the latest PPSDC print competition. Some of it was very supportive and some was very critical about my comments and unprofessional attitude towards losing the print competition. I believe both ends have very valid messages. I will admit, I was very frustrated and upset over losing, but I hope that I did not take away the other photographer’s achievements in the competition.

What I did notice is that I had a number of people very interested in the thought process and the technical process of achieving the photograph.
So I thought I would take the time to put together a post that explored the inspiration and the technical side.
First and foremost, I owe my entire inspiration to Paul Caponigro. He was in that generation of Art Photographers after Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Paul Strand that really continued to define photography as an art. His image “Running White Deer” was the inspiration for the photograph I created.

I feel very deeply that photographers should have an education in Photographic History. We as the “new breed” of artists can only do what we do because we have seen what the “masters” have created before us. I hope that doesn’t come across as an arrogant statement. I myself will be the first to admit that even with 18 years of photographic experience, I know very little. In fact I feel like I’m just starting to develop my own voice.
But I do know that if it weren’t for the Caponigro’s, the Strand’s, the Weston’s and Adam’s I would still be years away from where I am now. So if you pick up anything from this blog post, please let it be that history is important for our growth.

OK… Let’s have a look at the image and where I started.

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The original subject of Running White Deer was obviously White Deer. We don’t really have that great of an access to White Deer in the States. But while I was living in Austin and taking my afternoon walks on Town Lake, I noticed a few white dogs running along the limestone one day at Auditorium Shores right before dark.
It made me think, “Maybe there is something here…”  And so the idea formed that I would use white dogs instead of white deer. And Austin is weird anyway, so it all made sense… (or none at all – which was probably better).

I’d like to say that there was a lot of forethought put into the image, but when I came to Austin, I had yet to hear from anyone with a white dog to put in this image, or even book a model. And I was so thankful to have the dress on loan from La Chatuise and Elle Couture Designs for the shoot (which only came to me about 5 days before leaving as well!!!). And as the week progressed and more rain began to fall on Austin, it looked like the shoot was not going to happen. In fact the morning of the shoot I was very close to calling the whole thing off.

But, I knew that if I didn’t at least try, nothing would happen for sure, and I would be flying back to San Diego a couple days later even more depressed for lack of trying.

I met my assistant Chris Lin at Auditorium Shores and we quickly went through how the shoot would progress. It had been raining, so we needed to keep painter’s plastic down to keep the dress clean, I knew I would obviously have to remove it in Photoshop later.
We got the camera set-up on a ladder and gorilla pod (thanks to Nathan Johns). Chris Lin also grabbed that shot of me lining up the shot above and right.

So in the first shot, you can see it was very straightforward. Because I had to remove the plastic in post, that gave me some freedom to do some things I normally wouldn’t do, like have Chris Lin be in the photo holding the strobe to make our model Kareena stand out more than with natural lighting.
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Chris Lin, the plastic and the additional strobe were easily removed by using an additional photograph that was taken after all the elements were removed, by using a Layer Mask and brushing them out. If you are unfamiliar with Layer Masks in Photoshop, I highly encourage you to learn about them. It is a very important skill to know, even if you consider yourself a “purist.”
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Now with a clean slate I can focus on finishing off the theme of the image. Obviously we need the dogs to represent Paul Caponigro’s White Deer. Unfortunately due to rain, all the Craigslist ads, and flyers I handed out didn’t really result in any turnouts. So I waited and waited. And hoped and hoped that a cool dog would show up. Fortunately we had the most amazing White German Shepard walk up with her owner, at just the right time, with the right light. And the owner hadn’t seen any of our ads, and had no idea what we were doing! It was truly a blessing.
The Shepard had the most beautiful wolf-like appearance and fit perfectly with the haunting, and moody feel I wanted. Her owner must have thrown the ball 15 times while I just sat up on my ladder and snapped away in Burst Mode. Originally Caponigro used a 1 second exposure. But I found that dogs run faster than deer, and had to shorten my exposure to 1/20th of a second to get the right amount of blur in the camera.
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The Palmer Event Center is a very cool building, however, I felt that a very stormy and grand sky would more fit the mood of the image. I was fortunate enough to have been in Telluride a month before and got a great panorama of the local mountains and passing storm that would fit perfectly into the picture.
The dogs were brought in one at a time, and placed exactly where they were in the original photographs. I wanted to try to stay as true to the original location and moment as possible, rather than just grabbing dogs and placing them where ever I felt was best. So when you look at the position of the dogs, it is actually where she was when the camera fired.
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The next thing was to convert to Black and White and do tonal corrections with Curves and Levels to make the image really sing, as well as cleaning up some bare spots in the grass and getting rid of any signs of “Photoshopping.” (A paradox if there ever was one – using Photoshop to make it look like it wasn’t Photoshopped).
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And this is the final image.

While this is not my typical style, I do believe that this is some of the finest work I’ve ever done. From a technical standpoint it really challenged me to think about how to accomplish such a complex image and make it simple for the viewer.

I may have sounded like a sore loser because I didn’t place in the PPSDC Print Competition the other night.
But I am so proud of this photo nonetheless. It represents something that I planned and really thought out for many months and it still took a lot of good luck and faith, I believe I achieved very close to what was in my head when the idea came to me.

Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please feel free to use the comment form below.

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10 thoughts on “Untouchable. Aka: Paul Caponigro’s Bride

  1. Thanks for sharing William – it’s a cracking image that you should indeed be totally proud of. Don’t worry about the judges – art is subjective – just keep sticking it into competitions. I have a piece that has won a few awards, but has also been extremely low scored on occasions as well. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – not everyone likes the same thing 😉

    Very inspirational – you’ve made me think about how we need to stretch our imagination when planning an image.

  2. I have to say that while I was not impressed with the rant however justified you think you were, this article makes up for it. To myself, one of the core tenets of photography is the sharing of knowledge and with this post, you have done it with an excellent piece. The image is awesome no matter what others say.

  3. Awesome recap of how it all came together, and a very amazing shot! I hope you’ll enter it in more events this year so you can rack up the winning prizes with it. You deserve it!

  4. I’m so happy for you that it all came together. Your need for white dogs caught my attention on fb and I really wanted this to work out, it seemed like such an amazing idea.

    You surpassed my expectations of what the idea could become. I would love to see some more work like this so don’t get discouraged, you will win the next round.

  5. Thanks for sharing William. I love the concept of the image, and you’ve executed it beautifully! Sucks about getting robbed, though. Hopefully you’ll have better luck at your next comp. Bravo!

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