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by Christoph Hessel


Nikon D700  .  Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8  .  200mm  .  1/125s  .  f/7.1  .  ISO200
The idea behind this image was to show my model in a nighttime environment. Night, to me, is a time for insight, reflection and loneliness. Like fog, the night fascinates me, as it too can simultaneously illustrate contradictory elements of isolation and connection. Music also is a very important theme to me; it symbolizes a form of communication with the world and with ourselves.
This work is part of a series that I planned and staged. My model is my wonderful wife, Marei. She also works as a photographer, and she is a very patient model. To her belong my thanks and gratitude. 

My aim was to combine music with a quiet surrounding in order to convey isolation and solitude. The location is a bridge that crosses a beautiful, often foggy river in a wonderful forest. The place seemed to fit perfectly with the mood and story I wanted to portray. The iron gate and the dark forest were added bonuses.

"So I decided to shoot in daylight and use flashes, illuminating the important areas in the composition while darkening the surroundings."

Deciding exactly how I wanted to capture the light was my challenge here. I wanted to include a hint of the forest, but the details needed to remain subtle so the bridge would vanish into darkness. And, of course, I wanted Marei to be in interesting light. So I decided to shoot in daylight and use flashes, illuminating the important areas in the composition while darkening the surroundings. This seemed to be the best solution for me to control the light. We made the photos in this series over several sessions — some were shot in the summer, like this one, and others, like the image "Fiddler" shown below, were taken later in the winter when it was very cold.

"Fiddler" - Nikon D3  .  80–200mm f/2.8  .   200 mm  .  1/160s  .  f/9  .  ISO 200

"Combined with the strobes, the sunlight created a more intense impact of the dark mood I wanted to show."

It was important for the intended mood to include some sunlight. In all cases the sun was positioned over the forest, straight toward the camera, shining through the woods and producing reflections on the ground. For this image we decided to take the shots near sunset, around 9:30 p.m., when the sun was gleaming through the forest, directly in front of the camera. Combined with the strobes, the sunlight created a more intense impact of the dark mood I wanted to show. 

I used a Nikon D700 and a Nikkor AF-D 80–200 f/2.8 lens. I set the focal length to 200 mm, the aperture to f/7.1, the shutter speed to 1/125 second and the ISO to 200. For the artificial lighting I used a Yongnuo Speedlite 460-II flash with a shoot-through umbrella, and I triggered the flash with a Yongnuo RF-602 wireless remote.

"Adjusting my exposure for the bright light of the flash created the illusion of complete darkness and the overall impact of a night atmosphere."

For the rest of the images in the series I used the D700's built-in flash to trigger a Metz AF 48 flash that I used off-camera. The advantage of using the off-camera flash was the high sync option that it provided. I positioned the flash about 6.5 feet (2 meters) in front of Marei, a bit off to her right side and facing downward at about a 45-degree angle. The flash was set to 1/1 (full) power. Adjusting my exposure for the bright light of the flash created the illusion of complete darkness and the overall impact of a night atmosphere. I was positioned about 45 feet (14 meters) away from Marei, so I had about 6.5 feet (2 meters) sharp in the frame. This worked well since it allowed my subject and her immediate surroundings to be sharp while there was significant falloff of sharpness in the distance, creating a suitably blurred backdrop.
To process this image I used a PC with Windows 7 and a calibrated Eizo monitor, Adobe Camera Raw, Photoshop CS5 and Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro 2 plugin.

1) In Camera Raw I did not alter much; I only adjusted White Balance and Clarity.

2) The main task was the black and white conversion to emphasize the night mood. I did this in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 plugin, and I increased the Contrast a bit too. 

3) In Photoshop, I darkened the image by applying a Curves adjustment layer and adjusting the Midtones slider. 

4) I then emphasized the contrast with what is essentially a Dodge and Burn layer. To do this I created a new layer (Layer > New Layer), and in the dialog box I set the (blending) Mode to Soft Light and selected Fill with Soft-Light-neutral color (50% gray). I then painted with a soft Brush set to different Opacities, alternating between a white (dodge) Brush and a black (burn) Brush, accentuating specific areas to create more contrast. 

5) I also used the Dodge and Burn tools, Range set to Midtones in the Options bar.

6) At the end, I wanted to sharpen only parts of her hair. So I applied the Unsharp Mask filter (Amount 125, Radius 10 and Threshold 1), added a layer mask and painted over the hair that needed sharpening.
1) It's important to be organized when you're doing portrait work. Before I start shooting, I have to know what I want to shoot, why and how I plan to illustrate my ideas, and what feelings and mood I want to convey. If done properly, that allows me to work in a specific direction, it gives me freedom while I'm shooting to concentrate on the details, and it often results in surprising but welcome changes to my original idea. 

2) The action in your photo must be realistic and convincing to successfully convey emotion. Without really playing the violin in "Fiddler," for instance, the impact would not have been the same. 

3) The model's pose, expression and mood must also be convincing and genuine. For me, interacting with my models is a very important part of capturing the image I have in mind. My rule is to guide by being close but unobtrusive.
I'm from Germany, 48 years old and married to the wonderful photographer, Marei. Working as a self-employed lawyer, photography is one of my favorite pastimes as I do not create lasting things of tangible value in my day job. Photography helps me to relieve stress, and hopefully my work does the same for my viewers. To me, photography is a choice I make in order to relate to my surroundings in an empathetic and open-minded way.

Photography doesn't so much depict reality; instead, it describes and creates an impression of it. It is a metaphorical, figurative language. I find that fascinating.
Hope, Christoph will return with his excellent images from time to time. This image which shows Christoph's wife Marei belongs to my favorites since a long time.