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She's got the Black

by Petko Petkov
Published the 16th of September 2021

I wanted to create something provocative, different and unusual. The image had to be simple but memorable. This is how I got the idea to paint my girlfriend's skin black.

Nikon D90  .  Nikkor 80-200mmf/2.8  .  f/11

I created my work for the KOSHMART exhibition, featuring young digital artists. It was staged by the advertising agency I work for as a graphic designer. You might think that as a member of a team I had more time to prepare my work, but it wasn't like that. I was busy with other projects and I didn't have much time for this one at all. My girlfriend  is the one person who always understands exactly what my idea is and what I am trying to accomplish. This is why I used her as a model for this particular work.

I called my friend, a makeup artist, to help me out. Armed with black and red carnival paint, we went to the studio. The makeup artist painted my girlfriend's skin. I wanted everything to be perfectly and completely covered, so we decided to even paint her hair. The paint is absolutely safe and easy to remove. Some areas of black paint were wiped away using cotton. This was done because I wanted these areas to be painted red, and the red had to be as bright as possible.

"I instructed my model to bow her head, and then suddenly look up as if she was thinking about something, but got distracted."

My idea was to make a low key photo, so I chose a black background as well. The lighting was very simple. I put two 36—24" (90—60 cm) softboxes directly in front of the model and slightly overhead. I wanted to achieve a natural look and maximum symmetry. I instructed my model to bow her head, and then suddenly look up as if she was thinking about something, but got distracted. The session was easy for both of us. It didn't take much time, and I was very pleased with the results.

The name of the photo came up spontaneously. Someone asked me about the image, but I didn't have a name for it at that point. So I just said the first thing that popped into my head. I think I got it right. To be honest, I didn't expect to do so much or to make something so memorable in such a rush. I am very pleased, not only with the results, but also with the way my work was appreciated.

Adobe Camera Raw was used to export the image to Photoshop where all of the post-processing adjustments were made. To smooth the skin, the Topaz Clean 3 plugin was applied.

I considered post-processing would be the easiest part for me, but I came across a problem that I didn't expect. The paint made my girlfriend's skin appear unusually rough, as if I could see every pore on her face.

1) First, I converted the file from RAW format to a 16-bit TIFF file with an embedded Adobe RGB color profile.

2) Then I tried to make the skin look smoother, but it wasn't turning out the way I wanted it. At one point, I even thought that I would not be able to achieve what I had in mind and all my effort would have been in vain. Then I tried the Topaz Clean 3 plugin, using the DeGrunge preset, and the result was stunning. The image began to look like the one I had imagined: the face looked nice and soft.

3) Another concern for me was that the black paint made some color highlights look unattractive. I made a new Hue/Saturation layer, added a Layer Mask to it and decreased Saturation to 100 except for the red line, which I had masked and excluded from desaturation.

1) Choose the paint very carefully and always read the instructions. The paint I used is especially made for skin.

2) Be very careful with the eye area in particular. Make sure you have fresh water at hand in case you need to flush the eyes quickly.

3) Work with a patient model if possible, painting the head is time consuming and not very pleasant!

I live in Bulgaria and I've been working as a graphic designer and a photographer for six years. I try to make photos that will remain in peoples' minds. I believe that in photography, quantity has nothing to do with quality, and every photograph speaks for itself. So I try to give my best to each and every one of my photographs, hoping they will be appreciated for what they are.

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Great article and some great tips, thanks very much and congratulations on such a fabulous image Petko