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When i first saw this i thought Sleeping Beauty when i saw the birds

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Aug, 2017
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Mourning Dove



​​© Sarah Allegra

I frequently mourn the health I once had, the life I once had, everything ME has taken away from me. I mourn for those who I wish I could have gotten to know in this life and not just in the next. I still mourn the loss of our previous home with our incredible neighbors, even though this place is finally feeling more like home and we have great new neighbors here. Mourning is a universal human experience; I'm sure every one of you can think of things you mourn.

My new city has a lovely, tiny, serene, old little cemetery within what would be walking distance for most people from my home. I wanted to shoot there when I had the excellent Teri Wyble over (quite a while ago now, I'm terribly behind on editing). I didn't know exactly why I wanted to shoot there, or what I was trying to say at the time. This sometimes happens. I've learned by now to just go with it, that its reason will become clear to me later. That was the case with this image. I asked Teri to imagine this was the grave of someone she loved and missed horribly; someone whose loss she still mourned. I don't know if she was tapping into a loss in her own life or if she's just very good at imagining, but she portrayed exactly what I wanted:

Loss. An inability to move on from the blow of death.

But I didn't want it to be completely bleak. The birds swooping in to comfort her speaks to me of the healing that comes after we let ourselves grieve. Yes, you have to pass through the darkness first, but there is eventually light. Sometimes it comes to you on feathered wings when you least expect it.

Whether the viewer has recently experienced this themselves or not, it's such a common part of just being human, I wanted to create this. Not to wallow in the mud of despair, but to remind myself that the heaviness will someday lift. The pain will ease. The grief will lessen. Maybe even, a treatment will eventually work.

Thank you so very much, Teri, for your beautiful, emotive modeling! You are a wonderful human being and model. :) You can view more of Teri's work here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3582715/

Enjoy, my friends! If this speaks to you, I'd love to hear what it brings up if you'd like to share that in the comments!

Read more about this image and recent life/heath adventures on my blog: sarahallegra.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/mourning-dove/

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Behind The Lens

Location
I shot this in a small cemetery near my home in Los Angeles, CA. It's a relatively old cemetery for southern California with graves marking back into the early and mid 1800's. My model, Teri, and I asked permission from any spirits to shoot on the graves just to be on the safe side. :)
Time
I had to shoot this later in the day than I usually prefer; I'm more of a golden/blue hour girl. This was shot at 11 in the morning and the sun was pretty harsh, but I planned on adjusting that in post-processing.
Lighting
This is fully natural light. As I mentioned in the previous answer, this is more harsh, direct light than I prefer to shoot in, but sometimes schedules force you out of your comfort zone! Having the dappled shade from the trees overhead helped, as did shooting in raw format. I knew it was going to be sunnier than I really wanted, so I planned to shoot in raw so I'd have more ability to tweak the lighting later. I still would have preferred to shoot this during the blue or golden hour or on an overcast day, but being able to adjust the lighting in post production helped a lot!
Equipment
I shot this with a Nikon D5100 and a Nikkor prime 50mm 1.8 lens.
Inspiration
I had visited this cemetery a few months before and was taken by how peaceful and beautiful it was. It's a very small location, but well maintained, with beautiful, old trees and lots of flowers. I wanted to capture the feeling I got from being at this place in person, a quiet sadness, but peaceful and content. There's a surprising feeling of life within the cemetery, partly from how well kept it is; all the bright, happy flowers, and partly because it's situated inside a much larger park full of people and families having picnics, playing games, walking their dogs. It actually feels inviting, like it's asking you to take a seat and stop for a moment of thoughtful contemplation in the midst of the bustling city. I also wanted this to reflect my personal views on life and death. I believe that death is not the end, simply a transition from one state of existence to another. While it's of course tragic to lose contact with our loved ones, I know that I will see them again and that can be a great comfort. The girl in the image is mourning, but shining sun and happy birds lend a feeling of continuation and hope to it.
Editing
Yes, probably more post-processing than it looks like! I adjusting the levels quite a lot to bring up detail previously lost in the shadows and brought down some of the over-blown highlights. I added in all the birds from images I shot of birds snacking at my birdfeeder. That took several months of having my camera set up on a tripod and pointed at the feeder to get enough shots of them taking off, landing and being mid-flight. I have more images of them eating birdseed than I could ever go through! Each bird was shot on a different day under completely different lighting conditions, so each of them required subtle adjustments to make them blend into the main image. Shadows had to be added for each bird as well. Once all the individual elements were in place, I used selective color to bring up the blues and cyans and suppress the red and yellow tones. There was some dodging and burning to bring light and shadow to the specific places I wanted them to be. Lastly, I added some subtle bokeh color layers, which I shot previously using my family's Christmas tree lights, to create interesting patterns of color. They add just a tiny bit of extra something, mostly visible when you see the layers turned on and off, but I enjoy the quiet color and light they bring to the image.
In my camera bag
I usually use my Nikon D810, but I still have my D5100 as a backup. I generally still use the same prime 50mm 1.8 lens, but I also frequently use a 55mm-200mm lens as well as a 35mm prime. I also always keep an external flash as well as my remote trigger control. There's a 70mm-300mm lens in case I come across some wildlife I want to photograph. Extra memory cards, batteries, some gels, a couple iridescent plastic Christmas ornament (which make for interestingly colored blur), wires to connect my camera to a laptop, a flash bouncer and a foldable pocket reflector round things out. On the non-technical side, I keep a handful of my cards in case people ask what I'm doing, then I can direct them to my site, a small notebook and pens for any concepts I think of and lens-cleaning supplies. It's a pretty full bag, but it's got virtually everything I could need!
Feedback
Take a walk through your city and pretend you're a tourist. What do you find interesting? What attracts you? This cemetery is so small, you'd drive by it in a second if you weren't on the lookout for it. Don't be afraid to google the city you live in for interesting and historical sites as well! I live almost within walking distance of the location in this image, so I kept passing it and eventually decided to stop and see what it was like. Don't be afraid to stop in random locations to check them out! You won't always find anything spectacular, but it makes those gems you find even more special. Having a model who is very experienced and enthusiastic about working with you cannot be underestimated. A great model can bring even the most bland concepts to life. Teri, my model here, has years of experience under her young belt and it shows. I had to give her very little direction and I came out with far more great images than I could ever work up. Think about what it is that you want to convey before you start shooting (unless inspiration grabs you in the moment, in which case, go for it!). What emotion would you like your audience to feel when they view your image? Are you telling a story? Is it a portrait? Do you want the person to seem approachable, tough, happy, angry? If you're shooting conceptual work, I find that the more planning I put in beforehand, the better the image turns out in the end. Don't be afraid to demonstrate what you'd like your model to do; don't hesitate to lay down against that tombstone to actually show her what you mean. Sketching your concepts out can help you figure out all the details your excited brain might gloss over and also help convey your idea to your model, even if it's just stick figures! Plan as much as you can, but always leave room for inspiration. Sometimes your model will do something all on her own and it's more perfect than anything you could have imagined. Make sure you get your shot as close to how you envisioned it as possible, then give your model some room to play and riff. Sometimes I end up loving those images more than the ones I had so carefully planned out!

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