We’ve been invited behind the scenes on a really special Marvel Heroes shoot by photographer and Issue 3 photographer Michal Skrzypczyk where he shines the light on everything from his pre-shot planning and post-shot editing and a whole lot more.
Thinking about a photo shoot in the same way as shooting a movie scene can make a lot of difference to the final work. This small mental change can turn you from regular toy photographer into an action photographer. I always try to make my shots as lively as possible, in order to do so I incorporate a lot of practical effects that are filling the frame making the scene more vibrant and dynamic.
My absolute favourite effect is fire and here I’m gonna show you how to set your scene in flames, hopefully, without any damage to your gear or yourself.
The shot I had in mind depicted Captain America and Spider-Man running through an old corridor chased by a huge fireball.
In order to shoot it live with fire I needed a couple of essentials:
- Water bottle – Having enough water is crucial when dealing with fire. Also, I spray the whole scene before I shoot just to make sure nothing catches in flames.
- Compressed air duster – which isn’t actually air at all – it’s difluoroethane, highly flammable in liquid form.
- A handful of potted soil – gets airborn when sprayed onto with air duster which makes very nice debris effect.
- Old newspaper and lighter – serves as initial fire source.
The shooting part is the trickiest cause you need to take care of multiple things at a time. I usually ask my girlfriend to help me out with camera, she also keeps water in case it gets out of control.
When the scene is ready and camera is mounted on a tripod, I put a piece of paper on the ground out of the frame and make a small pile of soil on top of it and set it on fire. I shake the duster can, turn it upside down and spray the set through the soil causing an explosion with flying debris. I take multiple exposures in series mode so I can capture the fireball as it’s gradually expanding.
My camera settings are: 1/100s at F/4.5, ISO 500 with 50mm prime lens.
When toying with fire it’s crucial to remember a couple of safety tips, some of them I learned to follow “the hard way”.
- Always have enough water to put out an entire thing when necessary
- Spray the whole set with water, just in case it gets too hot
- DO NOT ever shoot with fire in closed space or near flammable objects
- Concrete floor or gravel/sand surfaces are the best option to set your scene
- When using air duster DO NOT hold the valve for more than split of a second, shoot multiple short bursts rather than a long one
- When you hold your can upside down, the propellant comes out in liquid form – DO NOT spray it onto your face or skin, it’s extremely cold
- DO NOT breath in the fumes caused by explosion, always shoot in well ventilated places
- For all the pretty faces: If you model your hair with hairspray brush it off before the shoot, you won’t even notice when your head catches on fire
First thing I do after the shoot is color correction in Lightroom. For this shot, I knew I wanted a lots of reds and oranges to contrast with blues on Spideys and Caps uniforms. Thankfully, the red brick helped a lot with natural toning, I just had to enhance what was already in the shot. For more in depth tutorial about Lightroom please see a great piece written by Andrew Mitchel right over here in Behind The Scenes section at Exclu.
Fire is unpredictable, it’s very unlikely to achieve the look I have in mind in just one take. Most often I blend a couple of exposures in Photoshop. This way I can “save” part of the image and use it on another.
First I organize my exposures in stack by opening up Photoshop and going to file>scripts>load files into stack
After I pick my shots, I tick the box Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images so Photoshop would fix any misalignment caused by fire duster or any other accidental movements.
When I have my pics in stack I go to Layer>layer mask> show all to create white layer masks on layers I want to blend. Then I draw with black soft brush onto the layer mask which hides certain parts of images revealing the contents of layer below.
Here’s how it works in practice
To finish up my image I use Clone Stamp Tool to remove all the wires, add missing wall parts and fix any noticeable flaws on figures. You can read more about clone stamp tool in article by Azwan Kabar @toyfloxin at Exclu Issue 3 or look it up on YouTube.
Next, I add wall texture I found online and blend it with existing walls using screen blending mode with opacity set to about 60%. I made sure that my walls in shot are pretty closely matching witch colors of the texture so I saved myself a ton of work in post.
After adding some motion blur and small lens flare I’m pretty much done.
A huge thank you to Michal for taking us behind the scenes on this explosive shoot and for taking the time and effort to curate the full body of work. You can catch more of his work over in Issue 3 and also over on Instagram @misiekmistrz.