I recently won the prestigious 2017 APA Award in the Student/Emerging category. This was such a surprise to me and an incredible honor to be recognized alongside so many great photographers. Because of this award, I decided to create a breakdown of how I made the winning photograph.
CONCEPT | The image Italian Stray Dog is a portrait of a wonderful friend of mine, Andrea Calvetti. The photograph was made in December of 2016 in a northern neighborhood of Chicago. Andrea is an insanely talented photographer and cinematographer born and raised in Italy. A few years ago he moved to Chicago and has just been captivated by American culture. Which led him to purchase a beautiful 1960s, Buick Electra to drive around the country. That thing is his baby and it was only appropriate to get a portrait of him inside of the car with the striking red interior. As you can see, Andrea is a character and I admire his outgoing and adventurous personality.
LIGHTING | The lighting setup was so simple. The light was setup outside of the back window of the car. I used a speedlight on a low power setting with a 47in diffused octa. I wanted to invite in as much ambient light as I could to create a more natural, yet moody feel to the image. I used the artificial light to create dimension on Andrea's face.
SHOOTING | We were there with Andrea for 30min trying to start his car and get it out of his garage, once we got set up for the actual shoot it took maybe 15min. This was one of my first experiences in knowing 100% that I got the shot I was looking for. We played around with a couple ways of sitting in the car. We started with Andrea sitting in the front driver's seat but felt that it just wasn't strong enough. I knew I wanted to get more of the car in the shot so I moved him to the back seat and played around with various angles, compositions, and focal lengths there. I chose to shoot at 24mm for a wider, more cinematic look.
POST PRODUCTION | To continue the cinematic look that I got in camera I wanted to create a cinematic color grade. I wanted the overall color to be cyan/yellow to compliment the prominent reds and blues in the image. I neutralized and did a slight color grade in camera raw but I brought it into Photoshop to really make the color pop.
Raise your hand if you think I photographed this in the middle of a snowy field? Well... I'm going to let you in on a little secret... the location is totally fake. Because it was a snowy afternoon in Chicago, Andrea didn't feel comfortable driving his car anywhere. We ended up just pulling it out into the alley outside of his garage and shot there. So originally, outside that window was the side of a cream-colored house. Blah... I then searched Google for an image of a snowy scene that had the same gloomy feeling as the weather that day. I was given permission to use this image by the photographer himself. I spent a decent amount of time color-matching the scene to the color originally outdoors so there wasn't a huge disconnect from the window to the highlights inside the car. I also wanted to keep the snow that was already on the window so I basically blended the cream-colored house to the background image. To keep it looking real I gave the background image a slight blur to mimic depth of field. Considering this was one of my first composites, I was pretty proud of how well it turned out. Finally, a little bit of dodge and burn, curves, and sharpening and it's complete!
I can honestly say that this is the image that has put my work and I on the map. It has gained so much attention from my professors, followers, as well as the photographers and artists I look up to. It is proof that an interesting person photographed in an interesting "location" makes for a really intriguing photograph. I am so proud of this photo I made and I am so thankful for everyone who helps me make these images; everyone from my inspirations to the people in my life.