One of my favorite masters of story telling via image is Bryan Niven. He’s a local photographer and master light-man who turns ordinary images into colorful, cartoon-like pictures. I was lucky enough to take a photography class from Mr. Niven as well as a photoshop class. He’s a genius and I want to be him when I grow up.
Bryan Niven’s modus operandi is to take a normal every day family or situation, delve into their details and display them in vibrant and explosive Technicolor. He usually starts with a drawing to get the basic idea for how he wants the photo to look. After the master plan has been established, he’ll photograph each person individually in front of a white backdrop. After each person is photographed he’ll put them together as a composite. The white background allows him to remove the person from the original image and place them just about anywhere.
While taking the photoshop class from him I asked him about this method. He said that he chose to photograph each person individually because it was the only way that he could get the lighting right. He says it is possible to take the picture with all of the characters together, but it would take “a billion lights.” Why all the lights? Because Niven turns his images into cartoon-esque masterpieces and perfect lighting is the key to making that happen.
The composite approach also provides more flexibility for the backdrop and details of the image. For example, this image was not taken at sea. Rather, each person was photographed and added to a backdrop that Niven had already doctored. Additional details and coloring were added later to create an image that’s “impossibly… real.”
This Bryan Niven’s self portrait, which I think tells a terrific story as well.