Find out how Allan Davey creates realistic dragons photographically, without the use of 3D models.
It isn’t easy to categorize the broad range of work created by photographer and digital artist Allan Davey. His eclectic style of photography ranges from fast and loose, with a complete disregard for rules, all the way to meticulous and methodical, providing precisely executed results. His photomontages can appear devoid of digital manipulation and his in-camera RAW captures can appear to be painted illustrations. The bulk of his work lands somewhere in between, with a unique photo-illustration feel.
Originally he had started out on the path to become a photojournalist, always playing it straight. While studying photography however, he was introduced to Photoshop and digital manipulation.
“From an early age I have enjoyed photography and I have also enjoyed drawing as well as painting; when I was introduced to Photoshop I realized I could bring these two worlds together in a way I didn’t previously know was possible.”
“This project entailed creating some images for the German lighting manufacturer, Hensel. The goal was to explore the abilities of some of their unique strobe systems and was completely open ended, as far as what I could photograph and how. I decided to create some visual storyboards with a cinematic feel. Each image is created from multiple photo shoots in numerous locations. Each of them provided their own unique challenges.
During the production of these photographs we used a 3 million volt tesla coil and set off two explosions that produced fireballs 10m across. I had a flame-thrower shot directly at me and we had a guy set on fire (in a burn suit). Everything was of course executed under the safe and careful direction of the professional special effects team at Danger-boy. These are the kinds of extreme situations that the IQ260 digital back really excels at.
With little chance of reshooting, minimal ability to test and exposures all over the map, the 13 f-stops of dynamic range gave me the confidence that I would get the shot. For a pro photographer, that can’t be underestimated, especially in situations that are not entirely under your control.
Capture 1 – The Last Battle:
The first shot was of a battle between a man and a dragon. A dragon typically seems to lose these battles so I wanted to turn the tables for a change. One of the obvious challenges was creating a dragon without the use of a 3D CG model. I wanted to create it photographically. I started exploring macro photography hoping I would find some textures and pieces I could use to create this mythical creature. I used a computer-controlled rail, my Phase One 645DF+ camera, the 120mm macro lens and a set of extension tubes. With this set up I was able to shoot small objects slice by slice and edit the sharp bits together, using a stacking program to get extreme depth of field. This opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me. With the extreme resolution things start to lose scale. The micro world starts to mimic the massive, and I was able to mix shots of red cabbage, maple keys and insect parts with images of an elephant, hippo, rhino and alligator. The file was so enormous with all the layers I had to create different sections in separate files, just to keep each file under 20 GB so it was manageable. I had one working file for the front wing, one for the torso and head, one for the environment and, one for the guy and fire. I used fiber-optic lighting for the macro shots so the lighting would have a similar scale to the final scene. The environment and warrior was lit with an omni-directional light stick.
Capture 2 – The Lightning Collector:
I used the same light setup for the second shot; “The Lightning Collector”, the omni-directional light stick and the fiber-optic lights. The small omni-directional light stick worked perfectly to create the effect of the tree being lit by the lightning. The lightning in the tree was actually from the 3 million volt tesla coil, which is a very scary thing to shoot with a sensitive electronic camera system. The real lightning in the sky I captured in Kansas when following a storm for hours and witnessing it produce a tornado; an epic event I won’t soon forget.
Creating these images was a whole new experience for me and has opened up new avenues for me to explore photographically. I will definitely spend more time in the future exploring macro photography, lighting with fiber-optics and being consistently engrossed by the very small, exemplified in extreme resolution.”
Allan worked with his Phase One camera system and the IQ260 digital back when capturing the layers for these extraordinary final images. The IQ260 digital back is Allan’s third trade-in upgrade.
Why did you choose to upgrade, and how was it made possible?
“I have been shooting with Phase One digital backs for many years and my current acquisition, the Phase One 645DF+ body, the IQ260 digital back and several lenses, was the result of my third trade-in upgrade. I have always looked at it like this; I never invest in equipment that costs me money, I only acquire equipment that makes me money. Each time I have upgraded I have been significantly impressed with the results. However, this time the upgrade had the most significant impact on how and what I photograph. The photography industry has changed radically in the past few years. As cameras become better and cheaper they end up in the hands of more and more people, the resulting torrent of “good enough” images have made it harder for a working pro-photographer to navigate a profitable business. I feel a pro has to live in the difference. By that I mean, what special access do I have? What experience and network can I utilize and what does my high-end equipment do that prosumer equipment doesn’t? The answers to those questions are the differences in which I have to focus my creative energy.”
In what way does the IQ2 digital back optimize your workflow?
“When I first experienced the new IQ260 digital back I was drawn by the ability to remotely control the camera and view images using an iPad. I could see myself benefit from this feature for remotely located cameras in car shoots and making things a lot more tolerable when jammed in a tight space, photographing the interior of an airplane for example.
But when my Phase One partner of choice, B3K, showed me what the IQ260 could do, I was swept off my feet. They showed me an overexposed photograph of a model, her face was almost completely gone, and you couldn’t tell where her face ended and the background started. Using Capture One Pro, they where able to access so much information that the image became completely usable... not just there... but actually useable. I was blown away. I immediately started thinking about what and how I could take advantage of these features. I can honestly say that I haven’t been this excited about photographing in years. I am learning all kinds of new techniques and after more than 20 years shooting professionally I find it impressive that I can still pull up a RAW image and my first reaction is ...wow.”
What is photography to you?
“For me, the experience of photography lives in two very different and separate worlds. On one hand I have this innate curiosity and desire to capture the world as I see it. I thrive on experiencing the combination of beautiful light, an incredible location, and an intriguing story all colliding in a single moment in time; All of it unfolding in a beautiful composition that seems miraculously aligned for my vantage point. It is a rare event and the chance of this rare occurrence keeps me constantly interested in my surroundings. On the other hand I create the world as I imagine it. For this I photograph various elements of my surroundings in a way that allows me to use them, building larger and more controlled compositions.”
Allan’s Fine art photography has won awards internationally and has been sold worldwide. His commercial work has garnered many international awards and has been reproduced in PDN, PRINT, Graphics, Applied Arts and Luerzer’s Archive. The product brochures created for the Cessna airplane company have won best of division nationally in the USA BMA awards a total of 6 times. His work can be seen on the cover of more than 1200 novels. Many of them for New York Times best selling authors.