We're Helping Hands! - Using 3D to Bring 2D Photography to Life with Zbrush and Keyshot

I often encourage my clients to capture as many real world elements as possible during photography. This is often the most believable method of achieving realism but every now and then, this can limit creative possibilities. This proved to be the case in a recent job for Mike Carroll photography and Trinity Real Estate.

The concept centered around two images - one of Raleigh NC Triangle and another of Charlotte NC - featuring a pair of hands with a map of the area applied to the back of them. Trinity wanted their customers to know that they knew these areas like the backs of their hands. One idea was to have a tattoo artist draw the line art on the model's hands, but I was worried that this would prohibit us from easily making changes in post. Thankfully Trinity allowed us to approach this project from a 3D perspective. 

Doing it this way allowed Mike the freedom to focus on getting great shots with the hand model sans line art and only have to think about lighting and gesture. Once the client had chosen the hero shot, I used the selected image as reference and sculpted (by... hand!) a simplified 3D version in Zbrush by Pixologic. This would serve as a 3D scaffold and allow me to wrap the map around the hands in a realistic fashion, rather than trying to use any of Photoshop's tools in two dimensions. 

A basic rough sketch of the hero hands in Zbrush. 

Now that I had a 3D model of the hands I was able to bring it into Keyshot, which is a wonderfully accessible rendering application by Luxion. Keyshot uses image based lighting derived from high dynamic range photography to create incredibly realistic imagery. This would allow me to use a similar lighting setup to Mike's photo shoot to create accurate highlights and shadows, that would add depth to the map effect. 

An early draft showing two options - with and without color. 

One of the great benefits of working in 3D was that I was able to freely adjust each element - the hands, the map, the lighting, all independently. As I moved the map artwork around, it would realistically wrap around the hands. This allowed me to show the options to the client and after several tries we landed on the best placement. 

The final ad for the Triangle region. 

GutterGirl - Cinematic Lighting, HDR and a Very Bloody Knee


There is a parking deck uptown that I was kicked out of while back  for taking pictures of clouds..... yes clouds. As much as Mr. Rent-a-cop Droopyface would have liked to have scared me away, I was not detered. Next time I came on foot, tripod in hand, with the intention of getting a cool HDR background plate of a dingy sodium-vapor lamp illuminating a dirty wall and some sort of ominous looking water valve reminiscent of an 80's horror movie   ... and well, that is what I did.

For those of you who do not know about HDRi or High Dynamic Range imaging , it is a photographic technique used to render images that encompass a larger range of luminosity, similar to what our eyes do effortlessly. By combining a group or bracket of images captured at different exposures which encompass the entire range of the scene, we can put together a High Dynamic Range image that looks truer to the physical world. If you would like to try this out for yourself, check out Photomatix.  For more information, and some really awesome HDR tutorials, check out Trey Ratcliff's blog.  He's kinda the go-to-guy for this sort of thing, has the most visited travel photography site on the internet, and on top of all that he wears cool looking glasses.

After putting the background plate together I realized that I needed an epic hero to be the subject of the image, after all it's basically an empty spotlight without one. I racked my brain for while as to who that hero could be - a hip hop artist? (Nope, I don't know any.),  a hot chick wrapped in caution tape and wearing a gas mask? (Nope, ModelMayhem has that covered.), Banksy? (Yeah, then I could just leave it empty!).... I couldn't get my mind around it and I don't believe in forcing ideas to completion so alas, with a lack of realistic ideas, I sat on this one for well over a year and explored other pursuits.

Many long months later I had an upcoming test shoot with my friend Danielle. We were tossing ideas back and forth and she mentioned that she was a skater... and finally I had my first good idea for a hero shot - shoot a hot model who also looks like a real person showing some true to life character - cooler than a gas mask indeed. On the day of the shoot we met up at my studio. Danielle brought her skate board, her silly jokes, and a tiny girlfriend of hers who could do a flawless imitation of Ms. Swan from Mad TV. In order to fit Danielle into the background image I had her pose up against the studio wall with her board. I lit her from directly overhead using a 36 inch strip bank with a grid and also from the front high above the camera with a beauty dish. This allowed me to recreate the original environment as well as bringing some exposure to her face and a nice catch light to her eyes.

The final way in which we created a mood was to add a bit more authenticity... also known as blood. I thought that having her appear a bit worse for wear would sell the idea better. For legal reasons I can't describe the technique we employed to achieve this effect, but I can say that it involved a lead pipe and two consenting adults... Danielle was quite the trooper and you can hardly tell that she walks with a slight limp... I'm horrible - I did it all in Photoshop.


Software used:

Capture One Pro

Adobe Creative Cloud





Mike Carroll and HeavyTheory for ScanSource


Once again HeavyTheory has teamed up with Mike Carroll Photography -  this time to create a dramatic series of images for ScanSource, a POS and barcoding company.  The common visual theme of this series is a bright orange source of light emanating from a number of devices such as smart phones and speaker phones. Click the image above to see the final effect complete with the client's copy and dark vignette.

HeavyTheory and ActionSports Collaboration

Aaaaaaannnnddd We're Back!.... Whew.  Apologies for my long absence, but I've been kept very busy by many new ventures - not least of which is an exciting collaboration with ActionSports Photography. ASP is a leader in sports related stock photography, but is also a big player in our local NASCAR culture.  ASP and HeavyTheory have created many vibrant images in this past year including the image in this post. I think it is a great statement for jump starting this site back into action. It displays a great feeling of self improvement and following through. I hope you will check back often as their will be much in the way of new images, testimonials,  and retouching tutorials. Stay tuned!

Slappa Catalog Retouched by HeavyTheory

New Slappa Catalog and Image Campaign Retouched by HeavyTheory Full

When Slappa, an internationally trusted brand for specialty custom gear for active gamers and jet setting dj's was set to release their new line of high end gear, they called on Peter Taylor Photography, Moss Creative, and HeavyTheory to create a stunning new catalog to highlight all the new gear. Slappa needed five dynamic concepts to appeal to a wide variety of customers. Planning for such a comprehensive release required extensive pre-visualization which Moss Creative worked tirelessly to produce. Since such a high level of detailed planning was achieved before initial photography began, each shot went without a snag. Five very different locations were chosen and high dynamic range images were captured by Peter Taylor Photography and served as backdrops for our final images. In some instances every shot of the scene, product, and models took place on location. In others we chose to capture several components in a studio setting and match them to our backgrounds. HeavyTheory was tasked with the responsibilities of maintaining continuity of lighting and accurate positioning of our models and products as well as compiling every image together. In some cases as many as thirty separate shots went into achieving a final image. When the dust had cleared and every pixel pushed into place, Slappa released it's new catalog which is now being shipped all over the states as well as Europe and China.