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‘The Bluff’ – Dogs Playing Poker Photo Shoot | How You Shot it

By Guest Contributor on March 13th 2015

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 is from Darcy Evans. Darcy is a professional pet portrait artist from Edmonton, Alberta Canada. He specializes in capturing and printing large artwork of his clients’ pets for their homes. He also donates several hours a week to doing images for local rescue organizations. See more of his work at www.darcyevansphotography.com 

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Background and Vision

A little over a year ago, I was having drinks with some fellow photographers and one of my friends said to me “Hey, you know that painting of the dogs playing poker? You should do that!”  Well that, as they say, was that. I spent the next couple months mulling over in my head logistics, set design, lighting, cast and post production.

I knew I wanted to shoot this as a single image. I wanted the challenge of accomplishing this in one single shot, rather than a composite of several images. I spent hours looking at the famous painting by artist Cassius Marcellus Coolidge.

First order of business was casting – I have a client who has a large pack of dogs who are very well trained. I pitched her the idea and she was thrilled to be involved. She set to work training her dogs to sit on chairs and place their paws up on the table.

I spent days scouring online classified ads looking for a suitable poker table. I searched several hardware stores looking for the right wallpaper. Once all the props were gathered, I cleared a spot in the studio and built the set you see in the image. Overall, I spent approximately $500 and 30 hours in preparation for the shoot.

Lighting Setup

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I knew I wanted to have the main light from directly above as in the painting so I used a beauty dish on a boom stand directly above the table. I knew I would enhance the light fall off in post production. The detail in the shadows were disappearing more than I wanted, so I added a Shoot Through Umbrella just left of the camera for fill. I shot tethered to my laptop just in case I did need to composite.

The Shoot

The time had finally come to do the actual shoot! The dogs arrived and everything was set. In my plan, I had included more props such as drinks on the table, a couple alcohol bottles a cigar, etc. Working with live animals as much as I do I know that not everything can go exactly as planned. There were too many moving parts to the images to include some of those things. Safety of the animals is ALWAYS my first priority. I simply adapted and managed to still get images I am very happy with.

Watch the Behind the Scenes Video of ‘The Bluff’ – Dogs Playing Poker Photo Shoot

Post Processing

I imported the RAW file into Lightroom using an import preset with mild sharpening and color calibration for my camera. I cleaned up some stray hairs and such, adjusted exposure and brought up the shadows. I then used NIK Color Efex Pro 4’s “detail extractor” tool to get the sort of HDR look I knew I wanted.  Lastly, I added two exposure gradients to mimic the light fall off in the original painting.

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Before

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After

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Gear Used and Camera Settings

Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: Canon EF 24-105 f/4 L IS USM Zoom Lens
Light Sources: Lightrein LR4 and Lightrein LR8 Strobes
Light Modifiers: StrobePro Beauty Dish and Shoot Through Umbrella
Aperture: f/11
Shutter Speed: 1/160th
ISO: 100<
Focal Length: 32mm

 Conclusion

I love doing creative work. I love the problem solving and the planning stages. I also love the challenge of doing things on location or in camera. I hope in some way this might inspire you to get out and challenge yourself!

I’m currently selling a limited run of this image as part of an Indiegogo campaign, to help pay for an emergency surgery for my dog, who got a toy lodged in her intestine. If you’re interested, please check it out here.

About the “How to Shoot It” Series

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14 Comments

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  1. Thomas Horton

    Nicely done! And thank you for your work with rescue dogs.

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  2. David Crewe

    I was really wondering about your light setup after you showed me this image at WPPI! Thanks for the post Darcy!

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    • Darcy Evans

      No problem my friend – if you watch the video you can pretty much see the setup. Nothing terribly elaborate. I only added the fill after the first couple test images were a tad too dark for the look I wanted..

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  3. robert garfinkle

    now, if you could only get one of the dogs to pass a card to another, pop a dealer hat on one, even create a muzzle with a cigar protruding out of it…

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  4. Ralph Hightower

    Love it! That was a classic blast from the past!

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  5. Graham Curran

    Love it!

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  6. robert garfinkle

    We have these prints in our family – my grandfather had them…

    so fascinated with them as a child… still fascinated.

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    • Darcy Evans

      I agree. Hence the tribute! It gave me a lot of insight to how painters are able to take certain liberties with reality that is not possible in a photograph!

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    • Peter Nord

      Painters get to create reality that doesn’t exist in really life. And people criticize photographers for using Photoshop to put something in or take something out. Very cool tribute.

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    • Darcy Evans

      Well put Peter. When putting this together I noticed several liberties that painters are allowed to take. Lighting fall off and ratios, perspective, anatomy etc…

      Very interesting from my perspective trying to put it together for sure!

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  7. Daniel Thullen

    Boy . . .photography has really gone to the dogs! lol Darcy, love your approach and final product.

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  8. Vince Arredondo

    Very good! In one shot? Wow!

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