Sunday, January 11, 2015

The NANA WOLKE Playboy shoot or How to get the most out of confined spaces

I was commissioned to photograph a young and talented artist and painter Nana Wolke for Playboy Celebrity Pages. These four pages in the magazine have been on my shooting agenda for the past 10 years and I have exclusively lensed more than 100 celebrities, actresses, singers, athletes, models and fresh faces for them. 

The idea behind the shoot with Nana Wolke was to keep everything as simple as possible - no big sets, no complicated lighting, no massive production design. After scouting several locations and testing various available light scenarios we have decided to opt for the amazing ambiance of Hotel NOX in Ljubljana. NOX is a designer hotel with a creative twist - each of its 24 rooms has a different theme, a different character and a different layout. Some of the most brilliant architects in the country have put their thinking caps on and created an exquisite habitable experience for both travelers and those of us on the look for stunning interiors.

The room we chose was bright and spacious and offered all the shooting potential a hotel room with immense floor-to-ceiling windows can. I brought LED fresnels and panels with me to use as a fill light, but following initial tests with our model Nana the lights (all but one, read on) quickly went back to the bag. The best choice for creating the right atmosphere was a 120cm/47'' silver-and-white Profoto collapsible reflector with handles, so the assistant could actually fine-tune the reflection of daylight from the window and position it precisely at the right angle. I shot with a Canon 5D Mark III and 24-70/2.8L zoom wide open, mostly staying at 50mm which is by far my favorite focal length and the ISO setting varied from 800 to 1600. To check for focus and for ferocious clipping of the whites I tethered the camera to my MacBook pro.

The diagram shows the position of the model (reddish dot) and the shooting direction of the camera. During the shoot I changed four different positions in the 16m2/172 sq. feet room to capture four different photographs, making each scene as different from the previous one as possible. 


This is the perilous "contre-jour" shot straight into the light. Here a 50/1.2L lens was used for its immaculate light distribution and bokeh capabilities. I have chosen a cooler white balance for Nana's piercing looks and let the light from window in the back flood the background. The final shot looks like it has been made in the studio.


The hot "argyle overknees" look was done with just the window light falling onto our model. We actually used the Profoto reflector to cut some light coming from below that was creating distracting villainous shadows on her face. The only time we used a constant light on this shoot was for this scene - a LED panel with diffuser positioned behind the bed on the floor camera left and set to daylight color temperature added a little dimension and depth to the background.


A designer couch is a superb tool for posing your subjects. We changed the styling and used the same technique as in Scene 1 (reflector angled from above), but this time I pushed my Canon to the limits of its dynamic range and was able to retain all the detail in the window light. The lilac hues of grading create a slight retro atmosphere.


Putting away the reflector I positioned Nana against the plain wall and let the window light hit her from the side. The light was very soft because the light source was bigger than the photographed subject. Leaning against the wall with my zoom set to 50mm I was able to get the full figure in frame and my monopod helped to stabilize the camera for a pin-sharp result. Orange and green neon hues were added to the photograph in post for warmth and for that modern fashion magazine look.

Confined spaces pose no problem for an accomplished photographer who knows how to turn a difficult situation to his advantage and gets the most out of it. In the era of low-cost, low-budget productions you simply can't let the quality of your product diminish. The good news is, in most cases, you don't have to.

The editor was satisfied with the results and the photos were published in Playboy Slovenia (February 2015 edition). Nana really loved the photos. Here is both of us saying "hi".

(BTS photos + make-up by Tina Modlic.)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

How a small restaurant in Santorini, Greece uses photography to attract its customers

There is a tavern on a beautiful Greek island of Santorini that uses simple snapshot photography as a very interesting marketing tool. It is called “Santorini Mou” (My Santorini) and is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike due to owner Mihalis Hionas’ efforts to make one’s dining experience as cozy and warmhearted as possible. 

When you enter this place you feel as if you walked into a Greek home, to somebody’s back yard, and the welcome is on par with the atmosphere. The big sign in front of the cantina says “Thanks for your smile” and it is not until you walk through the airy inner rooms of the restaurant that you understand the greeting slogan outside.

It is the infinite kaleidoscope of smiling photos of satisfied customers on display all over the eatery that tell you this is a very happy place. Everybody’s smiles are preserved in the most classical way possible – with thousands and thousands of snapshots hanging from the walls and from the ceiling. Most of the pictures have stamped dates and show couples or groups just after lunch or dinner, snapped by the eager staff who take some photos at your table when you are happy AND full after a tasty meal. 

A lot of pictures show people partying, dancing or in a friendly embrace with the white bearded owner himself (some sitting on his lap) after he pulls out a bouzouki and plays live music with a small band in the evening. The picture Mihalis is probably most proud of is the one of him and Jennifer Aniston hugging. He even put that snapshot on his business cards.

Of course the staff asks your permission to photograph you after they bring out a flag of your country (they have lots!) and fix it to your table. You also get a huge album of current month's worth of photographs to browse - and when I say huge I mean HUGE! The one saying “Month of July“ in Greek was more than 4 inches thick and it wasn't even end of the month yet. The albums are updated daily with fresh pictures from previous days.

The food in Santorini Mou is traditional, fresh, tasty, cooked with love and (unusual for Santorini) priced very, very fairly. Everybody loves eating here and this must be the reason the place is always packed. But the big lure of coming back must surely be the photographs. People want to see their snapshots from the previous visit that are now hanging from the ceiling in neat wooden frames and to write a comment or two next to the duplicates glued into that big fat monthly album.

The old school snapshot approach of Mihalis and his family shows that the power of photography still brings people from all over the world together… and to the colorful tables of his joyful tavern.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Understanding and being able to manage reflections, one of nature's splendorous gifts, is the path towards capitalizing on them. The brain uses tonal variation to perceive depth so with proper reflected lighting we can add dimension to the subject on our photographs and avoid it being flat. When we are satisfied with the ratio of highlights and shadows, we are likely to be pleased with the overall lighting results as well.

I see far too many location photos made with reflectors that suffer from two major faults: light that is too hard (mostly bounced from below) and/or subjects that are illuminated unevenly due to the wrong size or false position of the reflector. The zen for successful use of reflectors is determined by the following five factors:

Angle. A reflector illuminates the subject most when the incident light angle is the same as the reflected angle. Finding the right angle always represents the biggest challenge!

Surface. Different reflector surfaces reflect light differently. White, silver, gold, zebra and black all have their specific characteristics.

Size. Bigger reflectors bounce light that feels softer with less fall-off. They also offer a broader tolerance when the subject or the reflector moves slightly. One of greatest errors most photographers do is using a reflector that is too small.

Distance. The closer the reflector is to the subject, the brighter the fill light becomes. It also softens up the shadows.

Position. A lot of photographers use reflectors from below (I do that as well), but my favorite recipe for obtaining great light from a reflector is bouncing the light from above at approximately 6 feet, simulating a softbox tilted 30 to 45 degrees towards the subject.

When setting up your shot do not forget that the subject has a major influence on lighting as well. This means that on location the subject position along with the movement of the sun/clouds and time of day are all the factors to consider. The main recipe for great lighting though is being able to anticipate what the light is doing and what it is going to do in relation to the subject you are photographing. The latter is crucial for nailing that perfect shot you are after.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Inja Zalta in a Playboy hommage to LUI - "Très chic, très hip, très sexy!"

I have known Inja Zalta since she became Miss Teen Smrklja at the tender age of 14. I photographed her first editorial back then and we have been shooting together ever since. Five years later, all grown up and incredibly sexy, Inja Zalta is a firm part of Slovenian model mainstream with several TV ads, advertising campaigns and big jobs already behind her. This Playboy shoot was something I wanted to do with her ever since she turned 18, but we just never found the time to do it.

The French magazine Lui and its legendary covers were my inspiration for the shoot. Back then Lui had it all - the skanky, the precious soft porn Dov Charney's American Apparel is so famous for today (albeit with a touch of hipster spice) and the subtle, underlying fetish implications, all done in a sagacious way during a revolutionary sexual renaissance period between the sixties and eighties. At that time you could either choose Playboy for its polished photographic perfection, or grab Penthouse and Hustler for the vivaciously squalid sex scenes. Lui filled the missing gap by offering something only the naughty French could pull off at the time - a sense of humor laced with a mischievous style.

Lui is back on newsstands since September 2013 under the creative lead of Frédéric Beigbeder, author of "99 francs" (retitled "14,99 euros" later). As the new captain at Lui's helm he believes that the magazine's original, yet slightly revamped formula is what’s missing on newsstands today. His signature house blend of major model names (like Edita Vilkevičiūtė, Enikő Mihalik and Małgosia Bela) baring it all and big photographer talents like Terry Richardson lensing them is again bringing joy to households this side of Atlantic.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

ENDLESS SUMMER - The Creative Approach to Shooting a Playboy Pictorial

Glamour photography is as subjective as fashion photography - there is no clear definition of what is right and what is not, but he picture must work when you look at it. It is as simple as that. The average "consumers" of these pictures will not spend more than a couple of seconds looking at them before moving forward, so the picture has to grab attention instantly.

The visual approach I chose for this photoshoot with Slovenian dancer and model Ula Šemole in Miami is a modern twist on mixing strobes with sunlight. It is a dynamic style, nowadays endorsed and embraced by many male-oriented publications all over the globe. Editors always want something fresh and new and there is nothing better than pleasing them – it is a virtual guarantee you will get commissioned over and over again.

The key lighting challenge of the pictorial was matching the power of a single strobe with the strong light of the scorching Caribbean sun. The power pack had to be strong enough to match the sunlight and overpower it, so I chose the 2400 Ws and a deep Tele Zoom reflector to make the light beam even super harsh and intense. The shutter speed was mostly set at 1/200 at f/7.1 and ISO 200, so the pack was adjusted to be a little hot – maybe half to one stop over our measured ambiance setting. That got rid of most of the shadows on the model and made her stand out.

The poses she did are all playful and slightly naughty because I wanted my entire pictorial to be going in a very positive, joyous direction. A classic glamour pose or a typical fashion one would not work so well with this lighting scenario. The use of vivid, strong colors in styling and the right choice of location all contributed to the feeling being emphasized even further.

The strobe with a big Tele Zoom reflector was always stationed anywhere between one to three feet from the camera, just enough to give the model a slight shadow separation and make her look three-dimensional. If no shadows were desired I would have used a ringflash, but after several tests it turned out to be too flat for the feel I wanted to achieve.

The power pack we used had an extremely fast recycling time, so the strobe could keep up with the pace of the model changing poses. It is imperative not to lose good poses because of equipment limitations and this is one of the reasons why professional photographers choose sturdy, reliable professional equipment with no compromise.

We stumbled upon several unpredictable variables during the shoot, such as the water from the hose in one of the pictures which was not the easiest for the model to master - she had to stay beautiful and work it at the same time. Occasional clouds covered the sun and we had to wait for them to clear to get the sunlight back, but when looking back at the final images I can only say it was well worth the wait despite the fact that because of the unpredictable summer weather our Florida shoot got extended over three days.

The Ula Šemole pictorial was first published in January 2014 issue of Playboy Slovenia and will be featured in several international Playboy editions in the near future. You can check some of "behind the scenes" footage here and an older shoot of mine with Ula Šemole posing as a page three Playboy model here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

FROM BOLLYWOOD TO HOLLYWOOD - The story of a Playboy photograph

Model Natalija Osolnik is no stranger to fame. She splits her time between partying in the clubs of Milan, Munich and Miami with the likes of Felipe Massa, Erick Morillo or Mel Gibson, and shooting international campaigns from Barcelona to Boston for clients like Lexus, Guess and Gilette – the latter with none other than Oblivion superstar Olga Kurylenko.

I called Natalija (who is a dear friend of mine) one day with a proposal - I wanted her to appear on the pages of Playboy. She agreed and we traveled to India with our crew where we shot the pictorial in the shelter of private locations, away from the public eye, assisted only by a handful of locals. There I was able to focus on shooting without the curious crownds India is so famous for and Natalija was able to concentrate on posing. Her years of experience in the fashion industry helped enormously. 

My India pictorial has been published in eight international editions of Playboy (Slovenia, Poland, Croatia, Italy, Mexico, Czech Republic, Serbia and Greece) with more to follow in the near future.

Natalija's photographs caught the eye of Boštjan Vidmar, a pioneer embroidery master and owner of Ercigoj Embroidery, a family-run private company that recently celebrated 90 years of existence. He approached me to explain his revolutionary and unique invention - a method of making embroidery from photographs via a sophisticated computerized method called e-stitch.

The technique involves weeks of work, millions of stitches and miles of yarn, but the end product is so fantastic that it adds a virtual third dimension to any photograph reproduced this way. Many photographers entrusted their work to Boštjan and he keeps turning their pictures into timeless work of art. The latest big name to collaborate with Ercigoj Embroidery is no other than National Geographic's master photographer Steve McCurry.

Boštjan Vidmar turned the opening picture of my India pictorial into two very special embroideries. One was presented to Natalija (she loved it so much she hung on in her bedroom wall) and the other went to Playboy Slovenia where the editor already had big plans for it. The embroidery was soon bound for LA, heading straight to the Playboy Mansion on 10236 Charing Cross Road, the iconic home of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. 

We received a photograph of Mr. Hefner in front of my picture-turned-embroidery (Credits: (C) Elayne Lodge/Playboy) as a proof that all of us did a great job. I am thrilled to have my photograph hanging at the Playboy Mansion and look forward to see it in person on those legendary walls again soon.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Goddess of the Aegean - Anatomy of a Playboy pictorial

As a Playboy photographer I travel a lot. Sometimes it is impractical or even impossible for me to use heavy-duty studio lighting gear on location. Luckily, no matter where I am, inside the studio or outside in the field, light follows the same laws of physics.

Learning about lighting is a process that lasts a lifetime. Very few people can confidently say that they know all about it. The key to great lighting is not to accurately simulate reality, but to create the right environment for visual storytelling. Using daylight and continuous lighting in photography is a consistent and predictable affair. But no job can be done without a proper understanding of your equipment and knowing how the light performs.

For this pictorial of Katarina Benček, just published in Playboy Slovenia, we used nature's greatest gift, the sunlight. Large white surfaces that make those Greek houses look so sexy were used to reflect the light in a very natural way. Good lighting should be like good plastic surgery -you never can tell it is there. All the light that was not provided from the environment was brought in with the reflectors. Sometimes four feet of reflective surface was enough, other times we used 8x6' for the desired effect. 

Shooting a pictorial like this would be impossible without a great team of people that helped on the way. They were all skilled photographers yet always ready to give a hand, eagerly grabbing the reflector or carrying heavy equipment across steep staircases of tiny boutique hotels. It was a true team effort and many thanks go out to STC for making it an amazing experience. It is a perfect case of turning ideas into actions and bringing home results that can speak for themselves. Regardless of what happens, you have to deliver. The editors cannot publish your excuses.

Photographers of today are challenged as they never have been before. The imaging industry increasingly requires them to have a wide-ranging skill set, combining technical proficiency and creativity. The value of an aesthetically pleasing product is bigger than it ever was because there is a virtual flood of average images out there filling our everyday lives. There always has been and always will be high demand for great photographs. Great, not “less average”. So remember to always add sparkle to your pictures. And a touch of your soul.

Check out the "Making Of" video here!