The first question people ask when they see the results of my Boxed In portrait sessions is,
“How do you DO that?!?”
Well, can you keep a secret?? It took me a bit of time and trial & error, but ultimately my Boxed In secret is all about effort and the magic of Photoshop!
Boxed In sessions involve PLANNING. At the very beginning I talk with my clients to get an understanding of what they’d like to accomplish with their box image(s). “What will it be used for? What do you want to convey?” Then I set to work creating a (crude) stick figure draft of how the boxes will be laid out and how the interactions between the boxes will work. Working with the client, the mock-up goes through a couple of iterations and can evolve up until the actual session. During the session, the plan might go out the window due to posing difficulties. That’s totally okay!! Since we already have a clear idea of the end result we’re going for, we just tweak positioning as necessary on the fly.
Let me back up a second… I only have one box. You didn’t think I have a whole wall filled with boxes did you? 😉 The usual reaction when people see the box is, “Oh, it’s smaller than I thought it would be!” At just over 3’x3’x2’, it’s plenty big enough to house the people who have thus far ventured into it, although I’m not gonna lie, it feels a little cramped while you are in it! I think it’s because the “ceiling” of the box makes the subject feel mildly squished. The final images are slightly deceptive in that they make it look like there is plenty of room, but trust me, you’ll feel a wee bit confined when you’re in it.
During the session, I take a few images of each planned pose. After a few frames, I can usually tell which image/pose will be used for the final composite. I keep track of the items that flow between frames by marking the box with white gaffer’s tape at the point of the crossover. For example, if someone is in the box passing something to the person in the box below them, I mark the bottom of the box of where that “breach” happened. I then copy the positioning of the tape to the top of the box, so when the person in the lower box gets in to be photographed, they have a target above them to reach to. Does that makes sense? That little detail helps with the feeling of the “more than one box” concept.
The tech setup: I have one box, as stated above. The box is elevated on a surface so that any “dangly bits” truly are dangling. 😊 My camera is on a tripod, positioned vertically and levelled to be square with the box. It is tethered to my laptop, so I can immediately review each frame and make pose adjustments as necessary. I use one strobe positioned directly above and behind the camera. Using camera settings, I eliminate the ambient light and rely solely on the strobe to illuminate the box. Since my strobe is directly behind the camera, there is no room for me, so I use a remote trigger to fire the shutter.
After the session, I transfer the images onto my computer and sprinkle a little pixie dust and magically out pops the final result. 😂 Oh how I wish it were that easy!! LOL. Here’s how it REALLY goes down…
After the images are on my computer I take my time and select the best image(s) of each pose, sometimes having to rely on taking bits and pieces from multiple frames to get THE shot. And then I quickly process the digital negatives to my standard “Boxed In” look, which is the fastest part of the process. Then I open up Photoshop where the real heavy lifting happens. I choose the appropriately sized template from my arsenal (4 box, 9 box, etc), and import each of the selected images into it on its own layer. I roughly size and arrange each of the individual images, sort them into the appropriate top/middle/bottom row groups in my template, and then clamp them into place with clipping masks. Then I add roughly a zillion grid lines and get to work “transforming” each of the individual images into a square shape. You see, the physical box looks square, but the digital images don’t reflect a PERFECT square, so I have to stretch and pull each image so the corners align to my template, so that the horizontal and vertical lines are plumb. It’s tedious! Once all of the images are placed and are truly SQUARE, I set to work addressing the “dangly bits”. Anything that crosses the plane of the box has to be masked back in. Sometimes this can be fairly straightforward, like with a leg or a foot. And sometimes it’s much more challenging, like with hair or glass. You see, hair is wispy and requires extremely careful masking to be realistic, and glass is both reflective and see through so I need to make sure the right scene is presented behind the glass. It’s these little details that make the illusion so effective!
I’ve put together a little slideshow to show the magic, I mean the process 😜, from beginning to end. It includes the mock up, revision, behind the scenes, the images selected for the final composite, a screenshot after I have beaten the images into squares, and the final result. I hope you enjoy watching it come together!