I am writing today to share some notes on some editing I have had to do on portrait photography. Working with commercial images would seem to be easy. Often the pictures taken in a given photo shoot are merely fodder for later retouching. But rarely does published photo work need micro editor resampling and re-editing.
This means whatever photo grab takes place on a given day is what the photo editors for the rest of creation have to work with. The stylists and makeup artists should keep in mind the end sum is not just that day’s effects. Bland image fodder can be fixed. Mistakes take work. But all too often people forget that.
The challenge came when one of the images was of Mirando Otto from an Elle photo shoot shot some months or years after the movie’s tremendous success. Press photos for the films colored collector cards, games, costume collectibles packaging, figurines and websites.
The stylists had obvious realized that Otto’s coloring had not benefited from the washed out platinum hair and all pale makeup in the film. They may not have realized thatÂ asymmetric characteristics of Otto’s face were even out in the film, rendering her face flat and uninteresting in many scenes. The fantasy hair and plain bodice dresses that looked stunning on Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler didn’t work on Otto.
As a Tolkien fan, I can say that a lot of the Eowyn photography was unsuccessful in part because the actress was bleached of the reddish strawberry color that made her so attractive. The reddish hair and strawberry saturation clashed with the other images, but I tried to see what I could do. See her comparatively brilliant styling in the abc Tv show Cashmere Mafia.
As I worked with the image from the Elle shoot, I was frustrated by some of attempts at “photography” the stylists and others had attempted. The relationship between the art of photography and the makeup and art direction was missing, But I knew I was looking at the best shots available.
For a beauty magazine, the makeup was too harsh for the fantasy theme. Otto’s eyes look so puffy and unrecessed she looks like a dead ringer for Jennifer Ehle, another actress best known for the classic “Pride and Prejudice” with Colin Firth. This picture is reversed, not Otto’s best side.
The back shadow that would have made Otto look better had been robbed by strange dead on colored lighting, which was wasted on the props. Any examination of the LOTR craft, which the shoot was so obviously trying to mimic, would have yielded a less 20th century seamed dress, a less dead-on physical stance, and a lighting effect more in keeping with the epic dread of the piece.
The Elle shoot of Otto simply pointed out her physical flaws. But the blurred flyaway hair on one side of her face, when the other side and top of her head was carefully arranged, looks horrible.
And a weirder attempt to arrange her hair so one side of her face was exposed to light missed its mark. This might have been an attempt to highlight Otto’s cheekbones, but the flattering shadow created by a fall of hair was missing. Instead, a weird pocket of unrelieved bright light shone directly downward and from the back, making Otto’s face more moonish and less distinct.
Bright light shining against the side of her face was pointed directly at the camera, which reflected the shine and did not flatter the actress.
Furthermore, Otto’s defining hair was overly tinted orange bronze. The poufs of hair were styled in perfect “mice” from a period far removed from the fantasy era depicted. This emphasized her square jaw, an even more unflattering style. Worse, the utter absence of a neckline from the dress was the worst possible choice, from a fashion magazine that presumably knew how to dress women!!
This is a lesson in what to avoid when doing up close portrait or fashion photography. The bounce of light off her cheekbone hollow directs lights in the one place an actress longs for dramatic shadow!!!
Otto’s best look from the LOTR movies is the dark green dress and also the battle suit of armor that gives a constructed collar and detail to her chest and square shoulders that flatters her square jaw instead of drawing attention to it. Even a rich purple dress in the Two Towers has a shoulder collar that gives an elegance to this character not seen in other scenes.
But not here. Round swirls of hair only make her face look square, flat, and pale, and undefined in a picture full of tinted bright color. What an error and what a waste of an opportunity. The lighting flattened her face and her brow bones had no definition at all, creating an undefined facial dimensionality to a formal portrait!
And what a strange echo of the drabbing down mistakes in styling and art direction for Otto in LOTR that resulted in a lot of Otto’s scenes being cut. The extended Lord of the Rings Return of the King version shows many scenes with Otto that might have been successful, but the dramatic effect was robbed by her colorless net effect. The brown dress and pale blue underdress rob her in every scene of color, with platinum hair making her skin look even worse. This character, Eowyn, is supposed to be stunningly beautiful! Not washed out and indistinct.
The color choice for the Elle shoot dress is strange. The bright white dress that throws light into Otto’s face from all the LOTR publicity should have been a good example, not a lustrous dead oyster satin that detracts from skin. Otto’s features get lost in the lighting where the stark colors get exaggerated.
Â In contrast, Liv Tyler was clothed almost all the LOTR movies long in faded blue and dark red and pink velvet and velours which made her skin alive with flattering tones and comparatively smooth texture.
The clothes of the Elle shoot were not a help. The flat oyster satin cut low with no relief against the white skin of Otto’s midriff made the same mistake the pale silk of the LOTR film did, it robbed the skin of any flesh tone. Next to the brilliant bronze of the hair and dark eyed effect of the shot, this was a mistake. Necklace, people. Necklace.
Worse, a patterned graphic overlay on top of the tree Otto was posed against made a further remove from an awkward reality. Dressing up a flawed shot with an exterior graphic is a complete error in this case. Is the in Otto’s eyes patience, or merely suppressed fury?
I did what I could, coloring the shadows into the eyelid. You know you are in trouble when the mid shadows from the eye crease are the same hue as the mid shadows and the dark lid pocket of the other eye crease. One eye is always a darker tone due to natural shadow cast. This is beginning portrait lighting 101, people.
Otto, a character actress with a square face and strong jaw, is lit like Angelina Jolie or Megan Fox. Otto doesn’t need the light infill, and the emphasis on the props is distracting and a wasted effort. The photo editor owes Otto a drink.
I killed the sidelight and the bright rearward light coming off Otto’s neck. Why a fashion magazine would highlight the very feature an actress grows long hair to hide is unclear. I shudder to think what photos got lost in the bin.
The dead area on the other side of head from the brilliant poufs got filled in by a copy and flip of the top of her head section rounds reduced in size. Highlighting the neck and jawbone while leaving the roots of hair flat on one side and brilliant orange on the other is just weird. I left the mirror image so blog readers can see what changes were made.