Monthly Archives: February 2012

Composite Portraits

The team at Corduroy Media specializes in producing powerful photography from concept to completion – for commercial, editorial, corporate, or non-profit projects.

We don’t like to tell all our secrets, but we’ll loosen up a little bit to illustrate what we mean when we say we take projects “from concept to completion.”

For one recent project, we started with the idea of the power electricity. It’s a big idea, and an old one, too. Some of the standard images (of televisions, computers, appliances) could have worked if we weren’t so obsessed with providing new perspectives on old ideas.

We decided to focus on how electricity has the power to connect people everywhere and to bring newer technologies and educational tools to the far reaches of the world.

While on a shoot in San Francisco, we took a shot of Pier 5, exposing the lights for 13 seconds.  As the center focus of the shot, and bright from the exposure, we thought the pier lights would provide exactly the emphasis we needed for our concept.

But we knew that wouldn’t be enough.  We’d decided a woman with a lit bulb in her hands would provide the element of human connection that would pull the whole thing together.  On our casting search, we came across Kellie McLennan, a local model.  Her expressive face was just what we were looking for.

Curious about the technical aspects?  Here they are, represented as a mathematical equation (just for fun):

Octabox (high key light) + ringflash (fill) + octabox (edge light) + 1/8 second shutter speed (for bright bulb and soft orange glow on Kellie’s face) = Beautiful Image of Woman Holding Bulb.

And then it was time for compositing.

Magnetic lasso (to select Kellie’s image) + quickmask mode (to refine the selection) + cut and paste (to place Kellie on the pier) + blur tool and feather (to soften the edges) = Beautiful Image of Woman Holding Bulb on Pier.

Now you know one of our secrets…

It’s Called Story Arc

Before you read this post, take a second to think about a television commercial, or a “This American Life” podcast, or an HBO documentary film that’s stuck with you for weeks, months, or even years.

Even if it was just a commercial, a lot of thought went into telling that story.  Advertisers get paid a lot of money to grab and keep your attention. We can bet Ira Glass spends hours arranging his content in a way that will best grab and keep your attention.  Documentary filmmakers do the same.  And we’d consider it a fair guess to say you’ve cried and laughed and held on to those stories without thinking too much about how they were told.

At Corduroy Media, we’ve laughed and cried over stories, too, but it’s our job to understand how it’s done so we can provide our clients with the stories that best grab and keep the attention of their chosen audience.

Before we get into that further, we invite you to view the following video:

In the video, we used a handful of common and effective storytelling techniques that are used in both radio and film:


This is the sequence of events in its purest form. By beginning our story with an emotional sequence of events we attempt to draw in viewers instantly. The anecdote also brings momentum to a story, so the viewer feels they are on a moving train that has specific stops (or moments in time) and an ultimate destination.


Without moments of reflection, our anecdote means nothing. Throughout major turning points of the story, we ask our subjects how they felt, and what they thought at these moments in time. This technique essentially allows the viewer to connect emotionally with the subjects, which always helps to keep the him/her engaged and eager to see what happens next.


Throughout our piece we plant a series of questions and answers into the viewer’s mind. By withholding information thoughtfully, we create a story that has a journey.

If you have the time, we invite you to watch the video once more with these techniques in mind and see if you can get a sense of specifically how we used them to help Rusty Carter of Season 1 Racing tell his story.

- Sean Donnelly