A Chair-Raising Tale

I promise that title will make sense in a minute, but let me start by saying I pulled off a photo on Tuesday (when we were off due to inclement weather) that has to be one of my few all-time favorites. It’s true that of the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the years, only a handful are in that ‘favorite’ category – and it’s been awhile since I’ve taken one I can label as such. But as I mentioned yesterday, after reading Natalie Dybisz‘s book on portraiture, I had some ideas to break me out of my outfit-shot rut and back into more interesting images, and while trying things out I managed to pull off what I consider to be one hell of terrific shot. I was torn about whether to share the other photos from this set first and save the best for last, but decided against it. It’s going to be a while before I upload this to Flickr, and I am excited about it so I’m going to share the best one first this time, then talk about the others I took later. I also have some editing steps to show, so we’ll start with those.

This set from Tuesday has no relation to yesterday’s self-portraits at all aside from being taken the same day, but the idea for both did come from the same book. Dybisz has a chapter dedicated to her popular levitation shots (which, once again, she pulls off masterfully using way more technical photoediting skill than I have at my disposal) and she did mention that she often sits her subject on a chair or stool for the levitation poses, then edits the chair legs out later. I’ve done this once before, but not intentionally – I just realized when editing the shot that it would be easy to edit the chair legs out and make it look like I was floating – so I’ve never actually taken shots while planning to use a chair to contribute to the levitation effect. Dybisz mentioned using a simple chair or stool with skinny legs to make the editing process easier. so I yanked one of our kitchen chairs from under the table and brought it into the studio to use for the shots,

The original – I flung the fabric up to get movement, which is why my hand is up in the air

The fabric I’m wearing is the same backdrop Simon was wrapped up in during a shoot last week – no, I still have not managed to hang the thing on the wall. But it was a TON of fabric (I believe it’s 10 x 20 feet) so I thought it would work for my purposes this way, which was to cover enough of the chair to only leave those skinny little chair legs exposed, but also cover enough of me to make me appear entirely clothed by it. I considered some sort of outfit to go with the fabric, but in the end there was just too much of it, and having to worry about an outfit underneath it to keep straight and untwisted was overwhelming (so was wearing a wig – just way too much to manage, so I didn’t cover my real hair). I don’t mind telling you it was a real bitch to do this; turned out to be about twice as much material as I really needed, and the space I was shooting in was quite small so that I had to scrunch everything into the frame while also trying to be sure everything I wanted to be covered was covered, AND that the fabric was moving in an interesting way. Very frustrating, and I only took about ten shots total, which is incredibly unusual for me as I generally like to take as many shots as I can so I have a lot to choose from later.

I’m going to show you the super-edited version first, because after I altered one completely to share over on Facebook, I noticed an unanticipated problem with using a cloth backdrop for something like this: the chair legs make indentations in the cloth that can be pretty noticeable, and I realized I needed to go back to the original and do a better job of concealing the wrinkles that indicated (at least to me) that a chair had been sitting underneath me. The reason I’m sharing this extra-edited one first is because it actually shows that flaw; the reason I’m calling it extra-edited is because I added a swath of fabric across my shoulder to appease my sense of modesty; I am friends with some people from work on Facebook, and even though all that’s showing here is a shoulder, it hints strongly at nudity underneath the fabric and I’m just a big enough prude to feel uncomfortable with that. Perhaps that’s because I actually was nude underneath the backdrop in these shots; it was never my intention to show nudity, but the fact is clothing of any kind would have gotten in the way and ruined the shot. I like it much better without the added fabric, but for Facebook I just didn’t want to come off as trying to be sexy or something. I know, I’m weird. Anyway, here’s the Facebook version of this shot, with added “modesty swath” and the rather suspect-looking floor wrinkles:

Art, now 100% more modest!

But enough about my nudity (because I’ve probably said too much already. Again, there was no attempt to be titillating here, just trying to preserve the integrity of the shot. I do not now, nor have I ever done, nudes. Just saying). If you look on the floor you can see a pretty distinct dent in the cloth from where that chair leg was, and once I spied this on Facebook where the Modesty Shot was uploaded, I decided to go back to the drawing board and do the whole thing over – I had to do this, because I stupidly forgot to save a .tif file of the final shot and I liked the shot too much to go editing it as a .jpg (I didn’t bother uploading a new shot to Facebook though, no one there would notice such a thing).

So without further ado, here is the final shot, which I LOVE:


That chair wrinkle still isn’t perfect, and the shadows on the floor are a little wonky, but for now I’m satisfied. The framing of this shot was a happy accident, as it always is when self-shooting as you can’t actually view yourself in the frame and are always guessing to an extent – but the movement of my body and the fabric create nice balance to my off-centered legs which are almost poking out of the frame; that balance looks intentional but it wasn’t at all. As I mentioned already, that was just me hoping to get my entire body and the fabric into the frame – something I still didn’t accomplish as there was a lot of fabric still draped across the floor. But this was a test run for the chair/levitation process more than anything, so I’m happy to settle here. For now. That damn wrinkle and those shadows might bug me so much I eventually re-edit the whole thing, but for now I’m good.

More from this set tomorrow, but I wanted my favorite shot to have its own post!


7 thoughts on “A Chair-Raising Tale

  1. This is very pretty and a great shot. The fabric is beautiful and voluminous, so that contributes of course. But, also the way you posed and the fact that you skillfully removed the chair. No one except a very experienced photo editor is going to identify the dent in the cloth on the floor as being a ghost stool or whatever, imho. I think these shots could also look magical Pixlr’d.

    One of the people I follow on Flickr does incredible things to his photographs in post-editing that I have not yet figured out (like what program and process he uses). Each one is a work of art. He said I could ask him and I will get around to it, eventually, but not likely use them on Flickr since I like taking true to life photographs. But I might use them on pictures of me for my blog, lol.

    Great set. Love this. 🙂

    • I just realized this morning that what I could have done is take a shot of the set, without me or the chair in the frame, then used that shot as a layer over this one. That would have eliminated the wrinkled floor entirely. Not sure why I never thought of that until now.

  2. Wow. That is really cool. I wish I had 3x the time I do because I would love to learn more about photography and try some of the stuff you do so well. Sigh.

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