When Shisha, the bodypaint artist for this photoshoot, told me about her makeup concept of shooting a sad but beautiful wax model, it was not long before I made the sketch below of wispy smoke and a dress drifting in the wind. Yet translating the sketch into a photograph proved to have more stumbling blocks than I expected. When planning a concept that is so specific, it can be hard finding resources that tell you exactly how to accomplish the effects you are going for. So here are some key-take aways that I learnt from trial and error, in case you are planning to incorporate some of these elements in your photo shoots:
Working with candles and candle wax on skin
Can you pour candle wax on skin? Contrary to what I originally thought; yes you can. Using normal candles on skin is not painful as long as you do it from a reasonable distance.
When the model’s skin is covered in wax and paint, their skin will not be able to breathe properly and they will also have been standing for long periods of time in preparation, so make sure to shoot quickly.
There are limits to how graceful a model can be when she is covered in stiff wax and holding a giant candle, after standing for 3 hours…Just one of those things that a painter might be able to get away with but unfortunately photographers are limited in what they can do by the rules of physics
Sculpting the candle was very satisfying. There is something fulfilling about crafting something with your hands for a photo shoot. The candle was enlarged in Photoshop because the candle wasn't quite as fat as I would have liked it to be.
Candle flames can be easily added in post-production so long as you are shooting in front of a plain, dark background. A good place for find them is the Wikimedia Commons.
Capturing flowing fabric
Make sure you use very light fabric! The one I had was not quite light enough. I think it should almost be light enough that it floats its way to the ground when you drop it.
Either that, or be prepared to use more than one wind machine because one is not going to cut it.
If you get very light fabric, I think you can skip the wind machine and fan a reflector instead. (Unless perhaps, if the model’s hair is down, then it might make sense to have a steady flow of air).
Most of the flowing dress effect can be done in Photoshop, it is not too hard to stitch multiple images of the fabric together, like in this tutorial.
Creating a smoke effect
While it is easy to find license-free smoke overlays online, I think it is much better to make your own if you have access to a studio. It is very simple, takes less than 5 minutes and having your own RAW file gives you much more flexibility than using a JPEG stock photo that you find online.
Incense sticks are a great and easy way to create smoke patterns.