Often we come across photographers busy with projects driven by financial gain, the need to expand experience or express passion, but sometimes we discover some that are driven purely from the heart.
While photographer Rich Johnson and his family watched ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, something struck him: the lead character, Rey, stood out as a woman whose gender didn’t determine her capabilities. Throughout the film, her character was not limited by presumptions of her gender.
Inspired by this strong female role model, Rich was inspired to encourage his own daughter to focus on being the best she can be. It was with this motive that Rich decided to create a Star Wars photo shoot with his three-year old as the formidable Rey.
The results? Well, they’re pretty special…
Making time for projects you’re passionate about
As with most creative fields, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut when working solely on client projects. Photographer and creative designer Rich Johnson explains how in his studio, Spectacle Photo, they challenge themselves to do a personal project per quarter.
“Sometimes they are awesome, sometimes they just don’t come out well! Regardless, this exercise opens the mind, refills the creative tank, and blows the dust of self-doubt off the real reason I fell in love with photography. It was to tell stories.”
Putting this in to action, this personal project was an opportunity for Rich to celebrate a strong female lead character.
“Rarely do I watch a movie where the writers and filmmakers just let the female characters be themselves.”
Watching Rey in J.J. Abram’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rich realised she was going to be one of those characters who didn’t conform to gender-based stereotypes – the perfect role and inspiration for his 3-year-old daughter.
So, how did the shoot happen?
Rich spent a month organising the costume (it was a challenge finding a Rey costume to fit a 3-year-old, so he made a lot of it himself!), but the biggest delay was “self-doubt”.
After putting it off for months, Rich finally packed up his gear (and his BB-8 droid), and headed to a part of central Florida he knew would offer the right desert landscape to recreate Rey’s home: planet Jakku.
It’s all in the preparation and equipment
To create a scene that felt and looked like what we see in the movies, Rich had to create a very light set up.
“I knew the sun would be high and going in and out of the clouds, so I kept the power of the light on full and asked my assistants (my wife and son) to move the light closer or further away to create the perfect state.”
With the concept, landscape and lighting all in place, all that was left was the camera…
“The Nikon D810 is by far my favourite camera! It’s flexible and the results are always consistent. Plus, the 36.3-megapixel, full-frame FX-format gives me all the quality I need to really dig into the files in post-production and colour grade the images to match the movie.”
For this shoot, Rich used the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens which was flexible enough for both a portrait and landscape shoot. The sand also meant he didn’t want to change lenses for fear of getting sand on his sensor.
“I shot most of it at f/1.8 to make sure the background was out of focus. Although the location was the best I could find, it was still a construction site. I had to make sure that some of the objects in the background didn’t look like tractors or office buildings, but instead, part of the market in the movie.”
Rich’s post-production was mostly colour correction and removing the little pegs that held up the BB-8 toy. Adjustment layers helped with the continuity between images.
Overcoming challenges both big and small
Rich says there are always challenges with a shoot, but the best thing to do is “stay calm, fix it and move on”. For this project, the problems with location were rectified in lens-choice and editing, but naturally, working with a 3-year-old comes with its own hurdles.
“For her, this was just time to play dress up and become her hero. That’s awesome because she was true to the character. But my direction and commands did tend to get in her way.
“To make this as easy as possible, I made sure I included my daughter in the pre-production of the project a few months before the shoot. This helped her understand what we were trying to do, giving her ownership in the project and pride in the outcome.”
Telling a story that matters
The photos from this shoot capture the magic of a child embodying her female role model. Plus, for Rich, this has been an opportunity to not only work with his family, but share his passion for story-telling.
“I fell in love with film making when I was very young, and this has had a huge influence on my photography. I find myself framing my images as if they were in a movie. All of the tools filmmakers use to tell their stories in twenty-four frames a second, I use to tell my stories, one image at a time.
Focusing on family and the future
For Rich, these projects are fun because it’s no different than spending an afternoon doing crafts with your kids.
“The key is to collaborate with them. It’s only then that your images contain that special quality you never achieve by yourself.
“These projects are an opportunity for me to grow as a photographer, as a father, a teacher, and most of all a friend to my children. Saying that, my kids are either going to be proud that their father was a photographer, or they will grow to hate it!”
And for those budding photographers looking to create similar images, Rich’s advice is simple:
“Just do it! Stop coming up with excuses on why you can’t do it and get out there! Photography has become such a gear driven industry, and although gear is awesome, nothing – and I mean nothing – beats a good idea. The important part is to actually put the time and confidence into creating them.”
Based in Orlando, Florida, Rich Johnson offers photography services through his company, Spectacle Photography. You can find out more by following them on Instagram and Twitter: @spectaclephoto