Bringing dreams to life through retouching

By on May 15, 2013

In the final episode of my Von Wong does Europe tour, Erwan and I bring you the story of master retoucher Chester van Bommel all the way in Belgium.

This final video means that Print/DVD Supporters can now select any image in this album to receive your 8×10″ (or equivalent) premium Kodak Metallic print. If you missed the opportunity to support us the first time around and you’d like to grab a print, you can do so by sending me an email ([email protected]). I’m still ironing out details but I’m trying to work something out with the awesome folks at The Print Space!

As for the DVD, we’ve been hard at work and hope to get that wrapped up soon too so stay tuned!

Amazing cinematography by Erwan – be sure to like his fan page

How it all came together

I saw Chester’s work over on deviantart about 3-4 years back when I was stalking a fellow photographer by the name of Viona-Art. As most of you know, I’m really into the whole fantasy world of things so when I stumbled in on Viona’s stuff and noticed that she collaborated with a retoucher to bring her images to life… I immediately hit him up with a message and an invitation to collaborate and do something together not truly expecting anything to happen.

Turns out that despite his intimidating dutch name, he was a very friendly fellow and told me to send him something over and he’d see what he could come up with. After much back and forth, this image came up. Curious to see how it was made? Click here to see the layer deconstruction that Chester was kind enough to send our way.

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See larger on 500px.

This success led to yet another collaboration in my Epic Medieval Photoshoot and finally culminated in me asking him if he would like to be part of the upcoming Von Wong does Europe tour. He agreed.

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The Concept

Retouchers, much like photographers always lurk in the background. They never quite get the chance to shine so I wanted to build and capture an image that would feature Chester… but not just any image, a portrait that could show what happens in the mind of a retoucher.

On the flip side, we thought it would be interesting for Chester on his end to build a portrait that would illustrate his vision of Erwan and myself tackling this crazy Von Wong does Europe adventure.

We pulled our resources together – on my end finding Urban exploring photographer Thomas Riguelle to introduce us to the most epic location ever, and on Chester’s end finding Mark Vleminck
from Valkerij Ardanwen… a wild bird raising “farm”.

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See full size Panoramic on Photosynth (awesome app… and it’s free!)

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Check out Mark’s awesome bird place – Valkerij Ardanwen

The Shot

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See larger on 500px.

Chester’s shoot was actually the first photoshoot of our Von Wong does Europe tour… Ironically it’s the last one we actually published but also the image that required the most amount of work to actually bring to life.

To begin with, this image was shot as a panoramic. I wanted to capture the vastness of the space without the traditional wide-angle distortion that you normally get from using a 14-24mm. To do that we shot on a tripod with a Nikkor 50 f1.8 – the only prime lens I had with me at the time. The camera was also tethered onto my laptop which in turn was plugged into an Innovatronix Explorer XT that we had with us at the time so that we could instantly see the results. While I initially wanted to make a HDR panoramic, during the post process I realized that finally… my D700 provided me with all the dynamic range I needed.

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& what things looked like @ 14mm

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Lighting was relatively simple – with only speed lights and a couple modifiers at our disposal we used a soft box as a backlight and an umbrella as front fill.

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At this point in time we had a pretty nicely lit Chester but the background looked flat and was lacking so UMPH. I figured that I’d probably be lighting those nifty lights back up in post-production so to recreate that glow I slapped the remaining speed lights down on the floor at regular light intervals, put on the diffuser panels to get maximum spread and threw on some Pixel Pawn
triggers so that they would all fire properly in sequence.

The result? Depth!

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And voila – this gave the base for my edit to begin…

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The Retouch

Retouching was a painful painful process. Over 60 hours of work went into putting this image together. Chester helped me by acting as a fabulous consultant/client, and did a fantastic job of pointing out when things weren’t good enough. Let me tell you… retouching a portrait for a retoucher is NOT something you want to get into unless you’re down for the challenge!

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Sketch proposal by Chester

To begin with, I needed to get some stock footage to create my bird. Thankfully, my parents were doing some renovations so I had ample woodstock lying around the house. This entire bird was literally created out of segments of wood like these:

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Hours of careful masking, transforming and warping ensued. My file sizes got gradually larger and larger until eventually I had to continuously export separate PSB files. I was exceeding the 8Gb limit.

Eventually though, I worked through things and the image finally began to shape up. Having Chester around to give me pointers and tips when needed was amazing help and simple things… such as paying attention to certain shadows or rules of composition made a huge difference in the final image.

I’m actually quite curious to figure out how I’m going to include this part into my upcoming DVD. To be continued…

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On Chester’s end of things…

Not to be outdone, the second half of the project was for Chester to capture an image of Erwan and Me in the midst of our crazy Von Wong does Europe tour.

Chester was significantly faster than me at my edit and actually threw it together a good 6 months earlier than I despite the fact that he had to individually cut out and mask each bird individually. For those of you who want to see the deconstruction, watch the video… it’s quite impressive to see all the work that went into it! Check out his fan page for a higher rez image: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Artsome/447711835248060

Chester

In Conclusion:

Creating this image for was a massive undertaking but a very gratifying experience. I can definitely say that I’ve never done anything quite like this in the past and without Chester behind pushing me to make things perfect I don’t think that I would have ever managed to push things that far.

For those of you who watched the video, I would love to hear what you think about his vision of the retouching industry – do people truly want a retoucher, or are they just looking for a photoshopper? Which category do you fall into?

On my end, I quit my job so that I could pursue my passion… and if photography ever becomes a job to me, I hope that I will have the courage to quit that too and move on too.

Thanks for reading guys.

Announcements:

  • K.Mitchell

    …… so for me, maybe my reaction to this picture and the video will be completely different to your typical hardcore Von Wong fans. This is hands down my most favourite image you have produced. Obviously my own personal taste and ideas of what is ‘beautiful effect this, but its also to do with the fact I know you in real life. In all honesty this feels like the real you, its not about flames, latex and steam punk …. its is quieter, more emotional, and despite the fantasy elements, its feels more natural than the big show stopper shoots you do. You are always surrounded by big groups of excited people, having others effect the styling of what the models wear etc. But for me this feels like the truest picture I have seen, and your words seem to hint at that in the video too…. the part where you were shooting the eagle and you said this felt more rewarding/creative. The elements of this picture don’t fight each other, the light, the location, the colours, they blend and are completely believable (and such an amazing place) . The excitement of walking into that venue in the early morning must have been thrilling . Maybe I have it all wrong, but this feels like the direction that maybe you talk about when you say you long to invest into something special for a project. This is what I was saying about slowing down, laboring over something magical and precious, and it not being about anyone other than you and your subject. I loved the fact it was a tiny little set up and it was just about your time together in this place. It was my favourite video too and really nice to listen to Chester speak very openly about his work and peoples attitudes. Its grown-up Von Wong and i really love it. PS – Chesters picture of your guys is hilarious, It makes me think of ghost busters for some reason (in a brilliant way)

    • http://www.vonwong.com/ Benjamin Von Wong

      Thanks Kirsty for taking the time to watch and comment <3
      I do hope to fine tune the craft some day :)

    • http://www.grisneutrestudio.com/ Antoine Willaeys

      I’m totally agree with you and Ben knows that.
      Perfect words to explain, nothing to add :)

  • Neil

    Woot! Can’t wait to see you in Toronto.

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  • http://www.ronniechanphoto.com/ Ronnie

    That is amazing Von.I wish have the opportunity to learn from you.