Another No-Editing Challenge

As mentioned in the previous blog post, I recently I took part in a photographic scavenger hunt challenge which specified NO EDITING AT ALL. The way the hunt usually works is that entrants are given 10 words or phrases to photograph and edit in whatever creative way they choose. However this time (the 29th round of the competition) we were instructed that photoshop, lightroom, and any kind of editing or digital filtering was banned. 


I saw an image online, allegedly created by the glorious and slightly egg-obsessed eccentric fashion photographer Tim Walker, which inspired me with a still life idea. I created a sketch of what I had in mind.

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Let's talk  about creativity and ideation, which for some people (me included), often flow easily. The real challenge always arises when the idea doesn’t come (like writer’s block), or when it turns out later that the idea either isn’t as good as we thought it was, or that we aren't able to express or articulate it as we'd hoped to. I am not immune to these problems. In particular I love looking at beautiful, artistic still life images, or even food photography. In my mind I fantasize about  creating something in that vein myself.  And believe me,  I've tried. But my attempts have always lacked the magic I feel when I photograph a human and they seem to fall flat.  This is exactly what happened to me when creating a photographic concept for the word EGG which I based on a still life  composition.  If this had been a commission with a distinct brief, then I would have persisted, bought more eggs and kept on working on the idea. In this instance, I was my own client, so my only commitment was to myself and creating something, anything in the spirit of egg.  At the stage where I realised I wasn't feeling joy or satisfaction from my still life attempt I gave myself permission to clean my slate and switch direction. This post is a journey through my process from the initial, original  idea, via some pivoting, to the final rendition.

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My sketch was in pencil, but I had strong color in mind. I envisioned a mound of cracked-open white eggs stuffed with blue and yellow feathers and some little blue and yellow-plumed birds waiting for their look-a-likies to materialize from their shells.

I bought 36 white-shelled eggs  and got to work on building an egg sculpture. I spent an evening blowing out their contents to leave me with a pile of empty shells from which to create the piece. I ordered blue and yellow feathers but when they arrived the yellow wasn’t warm enough and the blue wasn’t green enough. As this photo challenge doesn't allow for editing I knew I had to get the colors right before I clicked the shutter,  so I soaked the feathers in food dye (and a tea bag) since that was all I had to hand. It actually worked. The feathers dried out and their color was greatly improved.

proof of concept - egg


I set up a white seamless backdrop so that its base landed on a large table instead of the floor. This would allow me to stand and shoot rather than kneeling at ground level.   The first thing I did was to pop a bird . some feathers and and a couple of eggs into the scene to see how they looked in natural light. The color and the softness felt right and was on par with my vision.   So far so good.

proof of concept - egg


You will remember that my original sketch included a couple of arms in the scene. Not only did having a piece of me in the composition meet with my goal of every entry being a self portrait, I also have always wanted to try the technique of body parts through a seamless. It may be a bit of a product photography cliche, but sometimes you just have to have a go at these things for yourself. Lesson #1 – cutting arm holes in seamless paper is not easy, patience is a virtue.

proof of concept - egg


My concept included two arms, so the next thing I did was to consider whether a horizontal compositions would work better than a vertical one. "No", I determined was the answer to this question. 

proof of concept - egg


It was time to drop the egg sculpture into the scene for the first time. The first thing I noticed was that I wasn't thrilled with its shape. The eggs had been glued together so the only way to fix that would be to buy more eggs and add to the sculpture. I should have realised right then, that it was a necessity to get the basics right. Instead I foolishly chose to ignore the little nagging voice in my head and continue on, hoping that by adding all the birds and feathers and colors and action into the shot it would somehow magically improve. The phrase "You can't put lipstick on a pig" was coined exactly for situations such as these.

Another potential problem to note here is that natural light  changes over time. The later it gets in the day, the less light there is. You have to remember to keep adjusting the camera settings. Something to bear in mind!

So. Off I went to try and add some lipstick to that proverbial pig.

  • proof of concept - egg
  • proof of concept - egg
  • proof of concept - egg
  • proof of concept - egg

These eggs - they had me beat - It was time to take a whisk and try things that weren’t eggsactly my original vision.

And this is absolutely OK. Sometimes we just need to explore and play to kick start the discovery of a better direction to head in. So the next day I scrapped the white seamless idea and started exploring holding the egg sculpture in my arms instead.

proof of concept - egg


I wondered if a darker, richer approach to my sculpture might work better. I switched to a blue dress and I installed some egg yolk colored fingernails on my usually unpolished hands.

Picking up these two colors from the birds and the feathers in the surrounding elements really helped to tie everything together in a painterly way and holding the egg sculpture in my arms helped hide what I didn't like about its shape.

I tried a few different poses, and although I was into the color, I still wasn't thrilled with my overall interpretation of egg. I wasn’t feeling any kind of emotional connection, nor any thrill or satisfaction. I felt like there was visual beauty in the separate elements, but that the overall  'story'  was lacking focus and intention. It's what I would describe as style over substance. It was time to drop this idea completely and try a different tack. 

proof of concept - egg


Another idea had been forming in the back of my mind, was inspired by a giant yellow wig I’d noticed when looking for something else in my prop closet. The reason for owning such a bizarre item was  a colorful dreamy portrait shoot with a model a few years earlier. It suddenly struck me that  this same wig could almost be mistaken for a giant egg yolk. And that, my friends,  is when the idea of dressing up as  a giant fried egg suddenly hit me. I dug out a frilly white dress from my collection of fancy frocks and began to explore self as egg.

I popped the camera high up on a stand with a boom and lay down on the floor with my ipad controlling the camera via a camranger, whilst dressed in my newly conceived fried egg costume.

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The first thing I realised  was that the natural color of my flooring was distracting from my story and it was not going to give me good color contrast. So I rolled out a carpet of neutral grey seamless paper to be my background instead. I utilized a sheet to form a fried egg-white shape surface on which to lie. 

proof of concept - egg


Initially I thought it would be funny to be dressed as an egg reading a book about eggs. So I tried that. It was mildly amusing, but I wasn’t feeling the aesthetics of the composition. Shooting these aerial view portraits where the subject is lying on the floor is kind of tricky because there can’t be any depth or backlight or shade behind the subject and this leads to lighting limitations.

proof of concept - egg


At first I set my camera so everything was brightly exposed and the camera angle was directly overhead. But  wasn’t feeling the angle nor the lighting, it didn’t feel mysterious enough and my egg yolk wig did not come across as golden enough, the yellow didn’t have enough warmth. My smile felt too sunny – being an egg is more serious business. The camera angle also felt too flat, too square on to the subject. I could see I needed to make some adjustments to my egg impersonation the camera angle and the lighting.

Behind the Scenes of the Egg Shoot


I tweaked my camera to be on a slight angle and added a low-to-the ground light with an orange gel and a snoot which I pointed directly at the area where the wig was designed to be.

Untitled photo


With my egg costume set out on the floor in the same position I planned to occupy it for the shoot, I ran some lighting and white balance tests to see which result I would feel most intune with. Remember - for this challenge we were not permitted any post processing at all, not even white balance correction, so I needed to get my white balance as I wanted it to be from the outset.

The warmer, almost sepia tones were really speaking to me for the egg costume –  I liked the way it felt almost like a painting. Adding the orange gel to the strobe light pointed at the wig/yolk area worked to make the egg yolk feel more golden yellow. These results were eggsactly what I was looking for.

WIth all these elements in place, all I had to do was lie down on the floor and pretend to be an egg for quite a number of poses until the result was something I was happy with. 



I was taught by art mentor Robin Griggs Wood that hiding a surprise in an image strengthens potential engagement with the viewer. If looking at the photograph at small size or on a phone it may have escaped your notice. Paying attention to small details is always worth the effort from my artist perspective. 

So how many of you  noticed the nail art?


I’m pretty happy with my quirky fried egg self portrait, which was rather different to all the other equally eggsciting entries in the EGG round of the Scavenger Hunt. Check them all  out at this link!

Would I change anything by editing? Not much. I think all I would do is increase the contrast a smidgen and brighten the whites a little. Other than that, I'm happy with the results of traveling on this creative journey that unfolded in an unexpected direction. By being playful and experimental from time to time, sometimes we discover eggsactly where we are meant to be. (Even if we end up with egg (yolk) on our face (or head).)





I hope you enjoyed this blog post. 

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments below!

Thank you for reading...

  • Sam Breach

    on November 11, 2020

    Ha ha Maayan - that's exactly it! It's all part of the learning process on the journey to gradual improvement.

  • Maayan Windmuller

    on October 23, 2020

    Isn’t it funny how sometimes you put so much energy into an intricate concept and in the end have a genius spark to go with something much simpler yet much more impactful? Love your sunny side up Sam :-)

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