How You Shot It is a series where you show us how you shot an image. Many who use our presets love to share their special processing recipes. You can join the SLR Lounge Textures and Presets group on Facebook and share your favorite images and recipes as well! For our wedding and portrait photographers, please join the SLR Lounge Wedding and Portrait Photographers group.

Today’s post comes from Jimmy Bui a professional wedding and conceptual portrait photographer based in the Riverside area of Southern California. This image is from his Music to Life series. If you’re curious about checking it out, visit his website at  and lookout for him on Facebook and Instagram!

Fear - Sarah Mclachlan - Music to Life Conceptual Photography Series


I love music, plain and simple, and I doubt there’s person out there that doesn’t share that same sentiment.  Last year, I wanted to start a photography project that I could really sink my teeth into. So I thought it would be a great idea to create a photography series that is solely inspired by music. Since August of 2013, I’ve been creating a new image almost every week for the series, and the inspiration for each image came from whatever song I was listening to at the time. I call this project the Music to Life Conceptual Series. 

This is the latest picture from my series and it’s based on the song “Fear” by Sarah Mclachlan. It’s not a literal interpretation, as is the case with many of my images, but it’s more of an emotional representation. “Fear” is a dark song about someone’s inability to move forward and who is slowly slipping away deep into depression. When I listen to this song, this is the image I see in my head.

How I Shot It

I knew that this was obviously going to be a composite shot, so there were two subjects I needed to shoot: the model and the water. The model shoot was a tad bit more complicated since I needed to do a bit of levitation photography. I shot the background without her first so that I could do a proper composite later in Photoshop. I then photographed her in the scene and did several poses to get the look and expression just right. I used a 3′ octa softbox as the key light and there was a window light to the left of her to help fill in some of the shadows. 

For the water, I used an old aquarium and shot it in front of a white background (white foam core from an art store). I setup two speedlights on both sides of the aquarium, and I also boomed one above it. I added a little blue food coloring to the water just to be sure the texture of the water can be seen. To get movement in the water, I just stuck my hand in and swooshed the water around. 

Gear and Settings Used (model)

Camera: 5D Mark III
Lens: Canon 16-35 f2.8 II (focal length 25mm)
Light Source: 2 Canon 580 EX II’s mounted on a Profoto RFi speedlight speedring
Trigger: Yongnuo Yn-622
Light Modifier: 3′ Profoto RFi Octa
Camera Settings: f5.6; 1/160 sec; iso 400

Gear and Settings Used (water)

Camera: 5D Mark II
Lens: Sigma 50mm f1.4
Light Source: (3) Canon 580 EX II’s (bare)
Trigger: Yongnuo Yn-622
Camera Settings: f9; 1/160 sec; iso 200

How I Processed It

This is the stage where I felt a bit nervous and hope that I did everything right during the shooting process so that editing would be a breeze. Fortunately, I planned out the shoot pretty well and I shot both subjects correctly in camera. 

The first thing I did was the compositing. I imported a few of the images from the model shoot into Photoshop as layers, and then I simply used the mask tool to get rid of anything I didn’t want, (eg. furniture she was standing on). 

photo A

After that, I placed one of the water images onto the layers and made some adjustments. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t use any of the blend modes and just kept it at the “normal” setting.  I only wanted the water texture to show, so I masked out the white and got rid of the blue by adjusting the saturation and curves. 

Photo B Photo C

Once I got the composite the way I wanted, I imported it into Lightroom so that I could do all my color grading and processing. I could have just kept it in Photoshop and done all my color editing, the dodging and burning, and all that good stuff, but I feel it’s so much easier to do in Lightroom.

To process the image, I used the following Lightroom Presets v5.1 Mixology from SLR Lounge:

Import -> 41 VF Neutral Fade
Special Effect -> 14 Heavy Radial Vignette

Photo D

This gave me a great starting point to where I wanted the picture to be. I did some dodging and burning using the brush presets and made several adjustments for saturation, clarity, exposure, contrast, highlights, etc. 

After I did all that, I brought the image back into Photoshop and I used one of the textures from the SLR Lounge Texture pack to give it some extra oomph.

05 Blends -> Texture 0013

The texture was set to the blend “overlay” mode and I masked out a little bit off the model. Overall, I loved how it came out and it was exactly what I envisioned.

Fear - Sarah Mclachlan - Music to Life Conceptual Photography Series


Before I come up with the concept, I would literally listen to the song the picture will be based on about a hundred times. Then after the picture is finished, I would listen to the song a hundred more while looking at the picture just to make sure my concept fits. Some, of course, work better than others, but I am proud of my work and I look forward to creating many more images for my Music to Life Series. 

[Special thanks to my friend, Caslin, for being my model!]

About the “How to Shoot It” Series

This educational series highlights amazing images from our writers as well as our community. The goal is to not only feature inspirational work but to provide valuable education for our photography community. If you would like to submit your work, please click here for more info on writing for SLR Lounge.