JEL­LY­FISH SOUP

BRETT STAN­LEY COL­LAB­O­RATES WITH AC­TIVIST AND FILM­MAKER CHRIS­TINE REN ON AN OCEAN CON­SER­VA­TION PROJECT — BUT NOT WITH­OUT SOME UNIQUE PHO­TO­GRAPHIC CHAL­LENGES

The Photographer's Mail - - Column - BRETT STAN­LEY

Be­ing slightly ob­sessed with wa­ter and the oceans, I’m drawn to any project that in­volves ei­ther — and es­pe­cially so if the project is about con­serv­ing it. So, when Chris­tine Ren ap­proached me to help cre­ate a series of images high­light­ing the dan­gers of over­fish­ing the oceans, I was in, hook, line, and … oh, you know.

Chris­tine lives in San Fran­cisco, but, hap­pily, I was on my way to Van­cou­ver, Canada, driv­ing with my dog, Buddy — so we stopped in on the way and chat­ted about the con­cept. She re­counted a the­ory I’d heard be­fore: that if the rate of over­fish­ing the oceans con­tin­ues, all that may be left would be jel­ly­fish, and a com­mon name for this re­sult is ‘Jel­ly­fish Soup’. Chris­tine wanted to bring at­ten­tion to this through her im­agery and ed­u­cate peo­ple to think about whether their seafood sup­ply is sus­tain­able.

The vi­sion for the shoot was Chris­tine float­ing in the ocean, sur­rounded by jel­ly­fish and long-line fish­ing hooks. She would be an ac­tive char­ac­ter in the shot, snap­ping the long lines with her out­stretched foot. As we spoke, it be­came clear that we would need some prop jel­ly­fish, since shoot­ing with the real kind couldn’t be an op­tion with­out trav­el­ling. We’d also shoot it as a com­pos­ite, re­duc­ing the num­ber of props we’d need and mak­ing it much eas­ier to pho­to­graph, as get­ting float­ing things to work to­gether in a pool is very hard — some­times im­pos­si­ble.

Hav­ing fleshed out our plans, we or­ga­nized a date to re­turn to San Fran­cisco and shoot in a lo­cal dive pool. Chris­tine was to get in touch with a prop maker I knew in LA, and Buddy led the way to the clos­est dog park be­fore we con­tin­ued our first road trip to­gether — to visit my wife Jaime in Van­cou­ver.

Flash for­ward a month, and we were back in the car again — Buddy, Jaime, and my­self — head­ing for San Fran from LA to spend the week­end work­ing un­der­wa­ter. Jaime is a hair and makeup artist and Buddy a great as­sis­tant — so we had the per­fect team. Af­ter a five-hour drive, we got to the pool and started to set up. I had two as­sis­tants, Bri­anna and Alexan­dre, who made the set-up fairly quick and easy, as we only had lim­ited time at the lo­ca­tion. It was also Buddy’s first un­der­wa­ter shoot, and he was fairly freaked out by it all, but he did try to save me when I went un­der by en­deav­our­ing to drink the pool … bless his heart.

The plan was to shoot Chris­tine sep­a­rate from the props, and then com­pos­ite it all to­gether in Pho­to­shop. In the­ory, this was fine. It made the shoot faster, we didn’t have to wait for ev­ery­thing to be in just the right spot to take the shot, and Chris­tine wasn’t un­der a time pres­sure from the con­stantly mov­ing props. Once we had our model shots, I spent time cap­tur­ing the prop jel­ly­fish from as many an­gles as I could, hop­ing for loads of op­tions when it came to post-pro­duc­tion. This was when the prob­lems arose. Well, ac­tu­ally, the first prob­lem had oc­curred be­fore this — it was the clar­ity of the pool, which was ter­ri­ble. All the images had a hazy blue cast to them due to the par­ti­cles float­ing in the wa­ter. I’ve dealt with this be­fore in pools and the ocean, but there’s noth­ing to be done at the time, un­for­tu­nately. And, al­though I have many tools to help bring back the clar­ity, it was made harder by the num­ber of el­e­ments I had to com­pos­ite to­gether.

The main is­sue, though, was cut­ting out all the jel­ly­fish from their back­grounds. I stupidly thought that it would be fine to pho­to­graph them with the same back­drop, but, as the jel­lies had quite long ten­drils, and fac­tor­ing in the haze, it was a very la­bo­ri­ous task mask­ing them! I’d hoped that I’d be able to drop quite a few of them onto the back­ground and use a va­ri­ety of blend­ing modes to set them into the scene, but it wasn’t to be. I ended up cut­ting out about four jel­ly­fish, and then used Pup­pet Warp to give them some in­di­vid­u­al­ity. It mostly worked, and then, by adding some light rays and shad­ow­ing, it all seemed to come to­gether.

It was cer­tainly a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I would def­i­nitely shoot the sep­a­rate pieces dif­fer­ently next time to make the com­posit­ing eas­ier, and the qual­ity of the wa­ter af­fected the over­all qual­ity of the im­age, un­for­tu­nately, mak­ing it very noisy and grainy. But the client was happy, and I think we got the mes­sage across.

To see more be­hind the scenes of this project, in­clud­ing a pho­to­shoot break­down, go to brettstan­leyphoto.com.

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