Ella – a transformation

On Sundays I go swimming. It is a small pool and there is only one other person typically. It is Ella from Sweden and she is 12 years old. She is there for her swimming lessons. So I see her every Sunday. Swimming the lanes up and down is quite boring so as a photographer I started thinking about what kind of person she might be and how I would photograph her. I had many Sundays to think and, in my phantasy, I created one scene after the other and already elaborated mood boards in my head, until one Sunday she did not show up for her lesson any more. She also did not show the next Sunday and the following Sunday. I got angry with myself, not having taken the chance already to talk to her mother offering the shooting. But luckily the following Sunday she was back again and I managed to talk to her mother,  and she agreed to the shooting.

The scenes, which I developed are quite different from each other. I noticed that Ella seemed to be very focused during her swimming lessons. But she also has this kind of innocent look, reminding me of Johannes Vermeer’s girl with the pearl earring. So I got excited and started preparing for the shooting.

For the first set-up I wanted to make use of that very focused view, she has, which is almost like x-raying. Her blond hair asks for a high key arrangement. The hair and the tone of her face results in an almost monochrome yellowish-blond appearance.  In preparation of the shooting I got her a white blouse with a lace collar from a vintage store, supporting that look. For the shooting I asked her to frontally face the camera and look straight into it, trying to detect the electronics behind the lens. Overexposing the photo a bit, brought me the desired result. I did not photoshop too much, just cleaning the skin a bit softening the forehead and sharpening the iris to exaggerate this focused view.

The second scene is building on that same facial expression, but showing it in a different context. I wanted the photo supporting a more vintage like look. While the high key set-up is more modern, I decided for something which would pronounce the vintage stile, I wanted to achieve. I chose a structured green fabric as back ground, which would provide a perfect contrast for her blond hair, but also showing the vintage blouse more prominently.

Moving further creating the old master painting style images, I decided to use a low key scene with Rembrand lighting. I wanted hard shadows and a very exaggerated dark environment.

In a first setup, we changed her hair to chignon style and let her wear a dark gray pullover with lace cuffs. I also wanted to give the image some ascending diagonal direction for the contrasting lights. For this I decided to let her hold a white Calla lily. To support a more aristocratic overall impression, I arranged a tapestry background and kept it very much in the dark, so that just the structure is visible. To reduce it’s dominance further, I also ensured it being placed out of the focus area.

A further development of that image is giving her a kind of dog collar, made out of white lace. It adds another contrasting element and strengthens the old master painting style impression.

I could not decide, which of the arrangements I would actually prefer, so we did ¾ portraits with one setup showing more of her face and another one closer to profile.