Looking around, you’d think the only spot to take photos in Orange County is at the beach. Fortunately I’d heard through the grapevine about California Scenario/Noguchi Museum/Noguchi Gardens, a tiny postage stamp of a sculpture park with way too many names located in the courtyard between office towers in Costa Mesa. Rachel’s been embarking on an Instagram journey, so we figured we’d go out and grab a few shots for the ‘gram.

Rachel likes to include how many shots she took to get one postable photo. We shot for about an hour and I went through a 32GB SD card and a compact flash card that’s too old for me to remember what the storage size is. Sadly the hard drive on my computer isn’t robust enough to handle storing all these photos on top of my usual files (plus, because I’m a cheapskate and am still running Lightroom 4 with a newer Canon 7D Mark II, I have to convert all the RAW files to DNG – so it takes up twice the space). So I don’t have an exact number.

I can tell you we shot somewhere around 1700 frames and came out with about 50 usable ones. It only took an hour, so I’ll call that a success!

I’m going to do a bit of a post-mortem on the post-processing (man, there’s a portmanteau pun in there but I’m too tired to figure it out), but the gallery of the final selections is here (or scroll down).

Before/After 1

Most post-processing is fairly simple. One of the interesting but frustrating things about California Scenario is that its bleak desert style combined with a concrete perimeter wall creates a lot of shadows. These are fun to play with but they also make it ripe for underexposing my photos, which is something I do all the time anyway because I’m an idiot.

This was also warmed up to play with the desert style. I had hoped to attempt a longer exposure in other poses to give the water a smoother effect, but it turns out this tiny stream doesn’t have much flow at all. Also, ND filters are expensive and I’m poor.

Before/After 2

Those two shots are literally three steps away from each other. Noguchi Gardens is tiiiiiiiny. The sculptures make cool backdrops but this grassy slope is more of a play with perspective. Later we saw two girls shooting headshots using the shadows of the tree branches. That fact combined with the composition of this photo should remind you that I’m boring.

Before/After 3

Missing the shoes is the cardinal sin of fashion photography, but this was ultimately part of a multi-shot spread (which I called a quadtych even though I’m not sure that’s really a word?) so I wanted to focus more on the movement of Rachel’s hair. Plus, her blonde ends trick you into thinking there’s a nice halo light, when in reality it was like 11am with direct sunlight overhead.

Before/After 4

For this shot, we begin with Adventures in Cropping! Many earlier shots were cropped too, but Lightroom didn’t want to cooperate in showing the crop so I’m only including this one. This was kind of a pain in the ass to crop, because I struggled to figure out what exactly made the horizon look straight. I wanted to play with the three (relatively) even stripes across the width of the photo – the sky, the wall, and the stone floor – so I fought this stupid crop tool to get the angle I wanted. Of course, with the grid overlay in this screenshot, the damn thing looks crooked anyway.

Before/After 5

A big part of the editing on this was trying to pull out the color and detail in the sky without blowing out the rest of the image. Rachel also needed to be dodged to pull her to the foreground a bit.

Before/After 6

Is this too much? Is it too overblown Instagram filter? Yes. Yes it is. But later into the shoot of this outfit, Rachel realized how short her dress was and was more interested in seeing the photos of this outfit cropped. This meant that after the fact, lots of these photos needed to go from full body fashion shots to something closer to a headshot portrait. These were shot in front of a white stucco wall, which isn’t the most exciting portrait background. I needed to blow out the background to get rid of that ugly stucco look so I relied on Rachel’s animal print to give enough contrast to be visually interesting. Split toning the highlights a vintage golden yellow adds to the washed out aesthetic but a magenta red shadow tone pulls out her lip color.

Before/After 7

This is the only photo with any kind of skin retouching. Rachel’s Instagram is about fashion and body positivity, so it didn’t seem right to airbrush her skin. But here I really wanted to crank up the shadows in order to play with the contrast between her coat and dress. That meant it also messed with the way her skin looked – black and white is usually very forgiving on skin tones, but nobody looks normal with the contrast slider on high. So I airbrushed her face and legs to try and return them to some semblance of normal.

Before/After 9

Last fall I was in the backseat as my mom was driving us to a wedding. She saw me in the rear view mirror, in dark lipstick and sunglasses, and said “all I can see are glasses and a pair of lips.” That was probably my life’s peak, aesthetically, so I just tried to replicate that. I went with black and white to add contrast to the sunglasses & lips combo, but also to allow this shot to be more about the texture of the stained glass than the color. It has a kind of rainy day vibe to it, which I always dig.


Behold, the rest of the photos and your newfound freedom from my abuse of commas: