This is the image:
Some parts of this shoot were planned and some were improvised. I knew I wanted to have a mysterious, etherial look and that the model would be wearing a red veil of sorts that would be see through. I also wanted her to hold an hourglass because this fit well with the symbology of the initial topic.
I bought the hourglass on ebay (10€) and got some red organza curtains from a local shop (mömax, about 6€).
I went for a mysterious atmosphere and therefore wanted to have some smoke in the image. One good way to make your own smoke is by adding some glycerol to water (I added about 1 part to 8 parts water) and make that mixture evaporate. The easyest way to achieve that was by mis-using my humidifier for this purpose.
The lighting had to be dramatic and spooky so I decided to have one speedlight mounted right above my model shooting through a white umbrella (about 10€ on amazon) mounted on a lightstand (dynasun) connected to a weighted arm, holding the umbrella (wallimex).
The other speedlight below the model was first wrapped with some paper to prevent light spilling out too much and to only light up the background behind the hourglass and the model's chin.
This speedlight was put inside of the curtain.
Both were triggered by the on-camera flash from my Nikon D610 set to the lowest flash power (Slave mode 1 for the Yoguno's. Both were set to 1/16 power).
This is the photo that we got. Notice that there was too little smoke in the background. I later went back and just shot some smoke on black background to later composite into the image. The model came up with this really great looking pose. Getting the curtain to fall in a way that looks nice was some work. We used some clamps to give it a bit of shape. The rest of the steps were done in Photoshop.
Next the main character was separated from the background. This was done by adding a layer mask and painting with black on that layermask where the background was. To be faster you can also use the magic wand tool first to select the black background and then do a second pass with the paintbrush to remove all the background. I knew up front that I wanted to replace the background with something else so this step, although somewhat cumbersome, was necessary.
Next I made a new layer behind my character and filled it with a desaturated and dark color, creating a new background.
Leaving a solid color would have been possible but I wanted to give the scene a little bit more of a setting so I chose an image that I had shot on a photowalk the day before and put it between the character layer and the background layer at low opacity. I placed it such that the arc would form a "halo" around her head, leading the eye to look down.
Now I lightened up the face and the hourglass by using a curves adjustment layer (click for an explanation) and the paintbrush.
I added smoke by taking a couple of different smoke images and carefully overlaying them over my character. I used the "Blend If" function to only blend the bright parts and leave the dark ones out. You can use layer modes like "Lighten" for a similar effect.
Last but no least: color. I chose a color that was opposite (click for a color wheel) of my light red (green) using a curves layer and colored that background and some areas around the hourglass with that color to bring out a stronger contrast between the character and the background. Eventually I shifted the whole picture from red-green more towards magenta-cyan using a hue-saturation layer. I did this because I found the green looked a bit too harsh while the blue had a bit more of a natural/pleasing look.
I hope you found this little rundown useful. If you would like to see future posts like this or things were unclear, please make sure to drop me a comment.
All the best and have fun!