Aug 28, 2014

Sin City Inspired Photoshoot (Behind the Scenes)

The City: Photography Tutorial

In this Photography tutorial we focus on three key elements necessary to produce this image. You will learn about lighting, styling and props and shooting for a composite.


In terms of creating the “Sin City Style” lighting is the most important element. The look developed for the film was adapted from the original comic series and involves high contrast black and white images with harsh lighting. For the film they achieved this look through the use of “rim lighting”. Rim lighting basically means placing lights behind your subject pointed towards the subject. This lighting creates a glow or “rim” of light around the subject, separating them from the background.

In this video we explain how we set up our rim lighting to achieve the “Sin City Style”.

Styling and Props

The styling for this image is relatively simple but remains important in the production of the final image. Because the move was produced mostly in black and white, the wardrobe had to mimic those colors. We see a lot of contrast in the clothing worn by the subjects – large black jackets with white our black shirts worn underneath.

We also shoot with a prop gun to make the final image a bit more true to the original. These details may seem like a no-brainer but they are important in producing a final image that looks like the original.

Shooting for a Composite

You will learn what to do on set when shooting for a composite to make sure your process in Photoshop is quick and seamless. Much of the image was composited together in Photoshop without requiring a photo shoot. These details include the sky, the city, the snow and the text. The only thing we photographed for the image was the subject.

When shooting for a composite it is important to keep your background as clean and consistent as possible. For this shoot that meant shooting on a green screen and lighting the background so that it was evenly colored from one side to another.

Another great tip when shooting for a composite is to keep your lighting close to your subject as needed. When shooting an image on a regular background it is important to keep lighting and grip out of the shot, as they will interfere with the concept. That is not the case when shooting for a composite. Everything will be cut out of its background, so you can have all of these elements in frame if needed.



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  • user image

    So weird! I’ve had this on my “to do” list for a long time, but just never got to it! So great to see it done…with style!!

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    So loving this. Any chance for a Pro showing how to do various looks from Sin City?

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    aaron – crazy to see how different you look compared to when you started phlearn with avery many moons ago. love the transformation!

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    Don C

    Very Impressive! Thanks for sharing as you continue to be a source of inspiration.

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    Nel Nieves

    Great Job PHLEARN… You never disappoint!!! When will you do Q&A videos again? You haven’t done them in a while!!! I love seeing the rest of the PHLEARN team as well….

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    I’m making my homepage πŸ˜‰
    I’m curious how you show the composite in that parallax way at 7:46 in the video- very cool.

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    Gabriel Ortiz

    Just what I asked for.
    Thanx Aaron!
    Looking forward to see the tutorials.

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    Devon Budd

    Do you ever get a problem with color casting when using a green screen?

  • user image

    YAY FINALLY PHOTOGRAPHY TUTORIAL. I hope to see a few more in the future maybe once a week would be a good idea

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    Hi, Great episode!! I tried to shoot on a green key a few years ago and the problem I had was that the green should be lit very evenly. We (I) struggled with that and thought I could fix it later in PS but that was not so obvious. Can you give tips how to lit it evenly? regards, Pat

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    Tom Mueller

    Really enjoyed the video. I would love to know what the components of your boom arm and stand are. They look so much more sturdy and useful than mine.

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      I must say, that boom arm is a first for me. It actually looks like a jib which, if you aren’t familiar, is used with a video camera for moving shots. The camera goes on the end where the light is and on the other end for counter balance is usually barbell weights. I’ve never seen one mounted on a light stand (jr. roller) before either. They typically mount on a heavy duty tripod for stability. Definitely a curious combination but hey, whatever works.

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        After looking again, it looks much too light weight to be a camera jib unless its something made just for dslr or its homemade. Same design as a jib though. Like to hear Aaron chime in.

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    Ameet S Pawar

    It was really a great video on composite shoot, I am really looking forward to shoot composite photo session as early as possible. Need some assistance after the shoot in Photoshop. In the video u said that for the composite shoot either we need a green screen or develop a contrast between the subject and the background by using either dark or light color as per the subject been lit but is it possible for the outdoor ambient light to light the background?. Looking for the second part of this video in Photoshop. Thanks Aaron for this excellent video on composite photo shoot.

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    Great tutorial, I love the BTS videos. I was just wondering why shoot at 1/60? Are you trying to let some of the ambient light in? I’m relatively inexperienced with studio lighting, but I would have thought you could have used a faster shutter speed with the strobes.

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      I believe he said he’s shooting at 1/160. Using strobes & speedlights the shutter speed has to be low enough to pick up the light. This is called the sync speed. On Canon, the sync speed is 1/200 or lower. Any faster and the shutter is too fast for the lights.

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    Fantastic leap in production work. I think the quality of the videography has taken your episodes to a completely new level.

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    Aaron, great video as always. I was looking at the final image and kept thinking to myself that something was wrong with it. That’s when I noticed your holding a right handed gun in your left hand. The exhaust port is on the right side of the gun, shooting it from your left hand, the hot brass will shoot out the exhaust port and into your face. In the Sin City poster, he is holding a revolver. A revolver does not eject the spent brass so it can be shot with either the left or right hand. πŸ™‚

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    Man Aaron, I recon I have seen every vid etc you have made and you are pretty much my go to man for photoshop and photography learning. Always a laugh but man I gotta say. You look like a serious bad arse in this shoot lol. Keep up the great work. Great vid by the way.

    Mike, Australia

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    Wow, Aaron…… Awesome tutorial…. I am glad you talked about the lighting….
    you have inspired me to try this…… Wow…. I can’t wait…..
    On a personal note, Aaron you look like one badass…. but you are sexy as ever dressed like this….. Wow. Very nice….. Thank you for this lesson….

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    Hey Aaron!

    I loooove phlearn. And Phlearn always seems to ignore me (@#$*(@&#$@#*) here’s an image I created inspired from the Sin City tutorial. Created my very first custom rain brush! Added some mist and fooled around with the colors.

    I’d love some constructive criticism. Actually any kinda criticism will be appreciated :)))

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    Vishal Diwan

    *** Happy Teacher’s Day *** Aaron.
    I love your Photography sessions.
    You are so inspiring.
    Thank You.
    May God Bless you always…

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    I’ve seen 3 of your tutorials now and they are excellent. I’m very impressed. One comment: basically you use the word basically almost as much as you use the word basically. Basically, that’s about it. Well, basically.

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    Great tutorial Aaron! What brand is that boom stand you are using here?
    I have a very small studio space and most boom stands don’t usually fit, but this one looks like it might based on its (very cool) design.

    Thank you!

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        I did go crazy trying to find one all day yesterday. ALAS!!

        Thank you for the reply πŸ™‚

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    i want to ask you something in photoshop can we create lighting on portraits. like we use strobe things around subject to avoid these thing can we do these on photoshop kindly feedback

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    Just curious what it costs to get involved in that level of photography/ film making.. The cameras, the lighting, the kind of software used etc. Thanks.

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    sam pro

    Hey Arron! you are a Genius,i have never seen photoshop tutorials like yours and they are absolutely Awsome. i like your work a lot.keep up the good work Arron. Good luck…..

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    Hello from Afghanistan Sir u are super excellent love you all can you make this photo for me plz

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    Gordon B.

    Aron, you look unbelievable. Because of your personality and your constant smile, this is a side of you that blows my mind. You look butch as nails.


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    Angel G.

    Aaron thanks so much for all you do. You guys at Phlearn make me wish I could work there every day! All of your useful videos have helped curve & shape my craft. Most recently I dove into compositing and wow thank goodness I found your tutorials. Especially one that shows how to make your composites look real with some blending techniques. I’m very grateful and again I can’t stress enough that you all ROCK @ Phlearn!

    I hope to meet you and your team one day. Let me know if you’re ever in the Orlando, FL area doing a convention or something, would love to go. Thanks again and keep up the great work!