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Some of you have asked how I went about creating the shots I shared in last week’s post from my shoot for Reconnect Float House, a sensory deprivation spa.  I couldn’t be happier about how the images turned out, so I’d love to share a bit about how they were made.  And for all of you photographers on a budget thinking that this was an expensive production, think again.  The entire effect was created for $750 including studio rental.

First, the concept.  After some discussion with client we decided that the goal would be to create the illusion of infinite space and of neutral buoyancy.  This meant eliminating anything that would distract in the image and creating a reflective pool without apparent borders.  Here’s what it took to do so.

1.  Creating an all-black environment.  I found a small and affordable, but inviting studio here in Seattle called Lightbank Studio, which is equipped with a cyclorama, or cyc wall.  This is a corner of the room built in such a way that all lines are curving and there are no hard corners at the floor or in the turn of the wall.  These are available at many studios and are generally paintable (as long as you return them to their standard white color when finished).  I painted this cyc wall black which gave me a background of pure blackness in two directions of shooting.

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The primary elements: black wall, pool and backlight.

2.  Creating a borderless pool.  For the pool, we needed something shallow enough to create the illusion of neutral buoyancy, as the highly salinated tank in a sensory deprivation chamber lets you float far more shallowly than freshwater.  After some measuring and experimenting I settled on a 6″ deep pool at 8′ by 10′, which was assembled using 2×6 lumber from the Home Depot.  The hardware store also supplied the black plastic pond liner that would keep the water in the pool.  This pool was large enough to allow for a fairly wide composition when shooting, but small enough to be manageable in terms of water usage.  The black of the pond liner contributed to the all-black environment mentioned above.  Perhaps the greatest challenge of the shoot was keeping the water in the shallow pool warm enough to keep the models comfortable.  This was done with a combination of the hot water tank at the studio, boiling water on the stove in the studio’s kitchen, and the use of a portable propane hot water heater found on Amazon.com.

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Testing the setup of the black cyc wall, the shallow pool and the two primary lighting setups.

 Lighting the scene.  There were two primary lighting effects used in this shoot.  Each were created using the Broncolor Scoro pack with Pulso Heads and fired with a Pocket Wizard Transceiver.  The first scenario is a strong rim light which was created by firing one head with a Broncolor Strip Softbox from behind the model and just above the frame of the camera.  The second scenario was lit with a medium Chimera Softbox at about head height shooting down from the front corner of the pool creating a soft and smooth key-light.  This was augmented with the Strip Softbox to add some additional dimension.

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The two lighting effects, Rim Light with Strip Softbox and Key Light with Medium Softbox.

Post Production.  The post-production on the images was fairly straightforward.  The images were converted to black and white via a black/white adjustment layer in Photoshop.  I made the BW conversion with the red or yellow filter effect which created very smooth, white almost porcelain skintones.  There was minor retouching of small blemishes, and anything that had snuck into the background of the image was eliminated by painting black on a new layer.  On the whole, the images looked quite good right of the camera, so the retouching phase was a quick one.

Questions and Comments.  If there is anything else you’re dying to know about these shots or about any of the photography you’ve found here, drop a note in the comments section and we’ll keep the discussion going.

As always, you can fine me online at: Facebook, Google+, 500px and Twitter

9 thoughts on “The How – Behind the Scenes of the Float Shoot

  1. Congrats on a really amazing looking shoot. I just found this post while searching for info on black cyc video, and I was wondering if you think this effect with the water would work on video, possibly with dancers moving in the water, or is it more suited to still photography?

  2. You share interesting things here. I think that your blog can go viral easily, but you
    must give it initial boost and i know how to do it, just type in google for – wcnu traffic increase

  3. Hey Scott first off I want to say great work, I’m a big admirer of your work, and secondly I just wanted to ask what camera you used for this shoot.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Tristan. I shot this project with a Sony Alpha A77, I was testing the Sony platform while waiting for the A99 to come out. I’ll be sharing a review of the A99 in the near future. Stay tuned!

  4. Love these how-to’s, thanks for putting it together. Just goes to show how important it is to have a vision, and little time to put it all together… but you don’t necessarily need a lot of complicated photo equipment.

    1. Ramon, thanks! In some of the scenarios not pictured here, the key light is slightly less powerful than the strip softbox, which creates a highlighted rim on the model’s profile.

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