The Making of “Mary Jane” – a Grow Room Painted Portrait

This was a fun opportunity that I just couldn’t turn down.  A friend of mine operates a legal marijuana grow room in Washington State. He knows that I photograph pin-ups and said I could use his room as the background for a themed pin-up set.

The space wasn’t huge and had huge grow lights all over it. They produced a yellow/magenta type light that was really bright and not very flattering.  The walls were also bright white. This was going to be a challenge to get a compelling image in these conditions. So we set a shoot date and I started planning.

The Grow Room with Lights on.

The Grow Room with Lights on.

We got a bit of a shock when the plants matured early.  I got a call that we needed to shoot that night or we wouldn’t be able to do it. The plants were being harvested in the morning.  Yikes!  Luckily, we were able to pull off the quick deadline.

The goal was to do a Light Painted portrait, creating a composite of a bunch of different images into one final product.  By doing this, I could turn off the grow lights and use a 24″ gridded softbox and a wireless flash to “paint” the crops and the model – each in separate shots.  This image is a composite of 39 separate images, combined in photoshop. Each one highlighted a different plant, with light coming from a different direction. The goal was twofold: I needed it to look magical AND I needed to make it look big.  Light painting solved this problem.

Marijuana Light Painting 4 Marijuana Light Painting 3 Marijuana Light Painting 2 Marijuana Ligh Painting

With the images combined, I added the model into the mix.  She was shot “live” where she was standing – and this shot was added to the light painted composite.  I used the same 24″ gridded softbox as the key light and a smaller gridded flash as an accent light. We selected a red corset top for two reasons: it complimented the green of the plants and the room – and as a bonus, it matched the color of her dreadlocks perfectly.  The color harmony was amazing!

Once everything was combined into a single image, I was really able to check out the detail. By using so many lights from so many different angles, all the detail was really striking.  Infact, it was a bit too powerful as it distracted from the impact of the model. I decided I needed to digitally paint the plants to add the surreal look. I kept the colors from the light painting, which were striking, and used the outlines as inspiration for the painted look.  Afterwards, I combined the two layers – the painted and the photo – and came up with a hybrid look.  This is what you see in the final image.

I didn’t like having the back wall fall off into a dark black, so I made it a green to compliment the green tones of the plants. A vignette was also added to the image to pull attention into the model.

Overall, this was a fun experience.