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