Intro by Mark Weber
One of the great benefits of my job is I get to see a lot of beautiful images in the work I do at Marathon. I also get to meet a lot of award-winning photographers at the events I attend. Once in a while, I get an image stuck in my head that won’t go away. It’s just so beautiful that it’s the equivalent of what an earworm is to a song, only it’s the visual version in your brain.
That is what the Image called “Ready to Bloom” by Joeseph Giitter of Bohemian Photoworks of Omaha, Nebraska was for me. It was not only a merit image, it was selected as an Image Excellence AND was a Grand Imaging Award finalist! I had seen it appear in different places and then it immediatiely caught my eye when I saw it in the Image Excellence book.
When I discovered who the maker was I was delighted as I know Joe personally. He’s not only a customer and a member of the Professional Photographers of Nebraska Board, but a friend to everyone. So I reached out to him and asked him if he would share how he created this award winning image. Enjoy!
The Making of “Ready to Bloom.”
The seeds for ideas that germinate are sometimes planted deep into the ground. The seed for “Ready to Bloom” was planted many years ago when a retired radiochemist from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, named Don Becker, showed me his technique for lighting ballet dancers. The technique was called hatchet lighting because it looked as though the subject was split in two. Don, a fellow instructor at the Washington (DC) School of photography, has been a huge influence on my style of fine art portrait photography.
I was so intrigued by Don’s “Hatchet” lighting that I began to experiment with it on my own. First with fine art nudes, then with long-bearded guys, and eventually with dancers. Many images that I initially created using this lighting technique went on to merit in the Maryland Professional Photographers of America (MDPPA) print competition and later in the International Print Competition.
All along the way, I kept refining the technique and trying new approaches. In the fall of 2018, I retired from my first career and, like Don Becker, started a full-time career as a photographer. I opened a portrait studio in a former furniture factory in downtown Omaha to be closer to family and I tried to start a small business. My focus was on creating portraits that brought in revenue, not on creating art. Then the pandemic hit.
It was less than a year into the pandemic when I had the opportunity to photograph Katie—the ballerina. Like a lot of photographers, my workload had slowed down considerably, so I kept myself busy by doing more personal projects to refresh my portfolio and advance my skills. When Katie showed up at my studio with her mom, I tried some lighting techniques that hadn’t been taken out of the toolbox for a long time, such as stroboscopic shutter drag. However, it was the modified hatchet lighting images that really stood out.
For the “Ready to Bloom” image, I showed Katie the pose that I was looking for and asked her to recreate it as she stood perpendicular to the camera. My goal was to create an image that evoked a sense of energy, confidence, and joy.
Two 48” strip soft boxes were placed behind Katie and pointed slightly toward the camera to create the classic hatchet light pattern. I placed a small rectangular soft box on a boom and positioned it to light the mask of Katie’s face as she flung her head back. V-flats were used to help bring out shadow details on her body. A fan was used to blow Katie’s gown to reinforce a sense of movement.
Before clicking the shutter, I measured each of the light sources separately. I wanted her face to be the primary focus, so I ensured that the light on her face was approximately one step brighter than the light on her body created by the hatchet lighting. In post-production, I created dodge and burn curves layers to obtain the desired result. In coming up with a title, I thought about how Katie’s outstretched hand resembled a young shoot and served as a metaphor for a young woman who was also ready to bloom.
In 2021, I entered three images created with hatchet lighting into the IPC and they all did well–but the “Ready to Bloom” image was a Grand Imaging Award finalist. In 2022, “Ready to Bloom” was accepted into a regional photography exhibition where it sold within a week. An additional copy was also purchased by an art gallery for their permanent collection.
To see More of Joseph Giitter’s work check out his website here – https://www.bohemianphotoworks.com