ONE FRAME: Waverly


ONE FRAME is post series in which I break down a single image to give you a bit of insight on how I shot it, what I was inspired by, and why I made the decisions I did. I love hearing photographers talk about why they do what they do and I always end up learning little bits of information from those conversations. ONE FRAME is my way sharing my behind-the-scenes with the photo community. Make sure to hover over the icons on the image below to reveal the breakdown.

In addition to the grain that I added into this image, I also shot through pieces of broken glass to give a bit of texture imperfection to the image. Shooting through broken glass is one of my absolute favorite ways to kick some life and variety into an image. In shots like this I use it for the texture but at weddings I often use it to blur out certain parts of the frame that might not be as appealing. It's an easy way to control the look of a not-so-amazing location. In this shot, the glass was right to the side of my lens and barely peaking into the frame.

This was actually a homemade backdrop made from a painted 6x9 painter's canvas from Home Depot. If you want to make one you will need a canvas, paint, a roller, and an hour or two. I tend to paint on the main color first, and then add in the secondary color as little splotches that get mixed in. The backdrop looks pretty minimal here but you can click through the link to the full set of images to see what it actually looked like.

This was shot in all natural light (indirect light coming from above andin front her) with a black cloth on the ground to stop any of the light that might have bounced back up to fill in the shadows. That gave me richer contrast which helped define Waverly's bone structure a bit more.

As I have said before, I LOVE variation when I pose and direct models. While there is a lot to be said for perfect symmetry (Wes Anderson is one of my favorite directors and makes the best case for symmetry that I've ever seen), I love having little variations in posture and composition that give a bit of quirk to my images. In this frame, the shoulders are at different heights, the head is tilted off to the side and the compositional weight is off center at the top and the bottom (the bottom has more weight on the left and the top has more weight on the right).

This image is a bit darker than some of my other work so I wanted to make sure that it still had some life (light) in the eyes in order to not stand out as too moody (a.k.a. inconsistent). If I chose a shot where she was facing down, her eyes would have been in shadow and the image as a whole would have taken on a much darker feel. Eyes are almost always the first thing that people will look at in an image because it is how humans connect to each other. Call it habit or call it instinct, but if you aren't able to see the eyes some of the connection with the frame is instantly lost.

I normally never add grain into my images but lately I have been really liking the subtle texture and grit that it adds. I add in my grain through Exposure 6 (Google will help you find it) instead of in Lightroom because Lightroom's grain tends to look pretty fake. In Exposure 6 you have much more control over how the grain looks and where it gets added in. Make it strong, make it subtle, go insane.

When I shoot shots composed like this where the focus is on the face, I almost always have my subject lean just a little bit forward or push their face ever so slightly towards my camera. Since I shoot with a pretty shallow depth of field that leaves their face in focus but leaves the rest of their body in blur. That separation is what makes her face pop in the frame. Bringing her face forward also stretches out her neck and creates more definition in her jaw and facial structure. Win win!

Tones like this are easier to achieve than you might think. If you don't know how to use the tone curve (either in PS or LR), LEARN IT. I promise that it will push your editing forward. For these tones, I brought the highlight point down and the blacks point up. That takes it from being an actual black and actual white to being a mix of greys. Those faded tones in combination with the grain I added and the texture from the glass (talked about in another one of these points) brings in a bit of grit and mood to the image.

HECK YES! You just came across a secret. I know you were wondering what I was going to say about Waverly's shoulder but instead, I wanted to let you know that the next FOSTER Workshop is live! Come join Benj Haisch and I in the Malibu Mountains for a few days full of awesome! There are only 15 spots available and we will be announcing it everywhere in the next few days. Learn more and book your spot at

Canon 5d III + 50mm 1.2L

Whenever I get an email from someone who is asking how they can work out of whatever rut they are in, I almost always recommend that they shoot something simple (among other things). Shooting simple portraits allows you to really hone in on each specific aspect of your image and can make it easier to figure out what you need to improve and how you can. Once you know what it is (lighting, posing, composition, etc), you can start working those improvements into your regular work. Simplify, learn, improve. Easy enough, right?

I put this shoot together after what felt like a never-ending busy season. After going nonstop for so long I was craving simplicity. I wanted to remove all of the normal things that I put into a shoot (wardrobe, location, etc) so I could focus on the heart of the image, Waverly. Sometimes it’s important to step back and take out the distractions for the sake of reminding yourself how powerful simplicity can be. Feel free to check out the rest of the set here.

  1. Reply

    Awesome Ben. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Reply

    Amazing info, gorgeous image, and… foster!!!

  3. Reply

    I love this image! I really like how you are so willing to share how you do things. it means a lot to someone like me who is still learning and is in the early stages of the business.

  4. Reply

    Nice photo but I find it very hard to believe you asked the model to do exactly what she’s doing in the photo, but rather, she did it herself. surely you’re just writing after the fact as if you told her to do all those things?

    • Hey Sally! I actually do direct my models pretty heavily. Obviously they are free to move around within the poses I direct but I do give direction like “Can you raise your face towards the light?”, “Can you bring your face just a little closer to the lens?”, “Lean forward a little bit for me”, or “Can you raise your right shoulder a bit?”. All of those little suggestions are put together to create a pose like this. With those directions, the model moves around in it but little directions like that can guide your model into the pose that you are looking for. Hope that helps!

  5. Reply

    I cannot get over the broken glass! That is the coolest thing i have ever seen and it will become an oh so handy ACCESSORY to my shoots!

  6. Reply

    Awesome work ben. love the breakdown! just wondering what kind of glass you use etc and if you have any tips on shooting through glass. love the look of it! Thanks!

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