Persephone

"Persephone is the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, as well as wife of Hades. The myth of her abduction represents her function as the personification of vegetation, which comes up in the spring and retires to the earth after the harvest. She is also known by the names Kore, Cora or Proserpina. The pomegranate is the fruit whose seeds have tied her to the underworld, but it is also a symbol of fertility. "

Almost four months ago began the idea of creating a project that was a bit special, that had a common thread that would link multiple shooting, and that would push me as much as possible.

It took me a while, but these two are the photos with which I would like to open this crazy project that probably will take me years to be completed, but I'm very happy to have started! 😁

If you want to support me in this project, you can find prints in my small shop

Credits

Photography: You Chen
Model: Sara Marziali
Styling: Cristina Elanor Biella
Makeup: Camilla Cantini
Assistant: Riccardo Parkour Alessi

Greotan

It all started when my friend and colleague,  Marcella Fava, called me out of nowhere and invited me to exhibit at Fotografia Europea.

“An Exhibition?! Me?! Are you sure?!”

Keep in mind that I'm a fashion photographer. I mainly shoot clothes, shoes, bags and jewelry… not exactly exhibitions stuff. Sure, my style is very romantic and evocative, but nothing to do with true artistic photography.
But Marcella did not think so, and who am I to say no? If she asks me to do something, I just answer yes.

At that point I found myself with a shooting to organize and a theme that was extremely ample: Maps of the time. Memory, archives, future. But as any creative will tell you, flexible themes are the most feared: having no limitation paralyses you. You could do everything: so many possibilities, so many options that you eventually end up failing to do anything.

After some thought, I decided to auto-limit the theme a bit. Since I was a child, "time" fascinated me, but of all the facets of time the theme of past is my favorite. I could spend hours and hours immersed in memories, fantasising lost in my memory and thinking about all the experiences I have experienced so far. The emotional discharge that it gives me are always very strong. A mixture of melancholy, happiness and sadness pervades me and this, inspires me to create.

Grēotan [02] Chen You.jpg

It was decided: the central theme of my shooting would have been Past.

I started moving relatively early: once I patched up the moodboard I asked two fantastic girls with whom I had already collaborated, Susanna and Camilla, to deal with the styling and makeup respectively.

The idea was to organize the project as if it was a fashion editorial: a model, six or seven different looks and a pair of locations.

That is roughly where I ran aground. The new season had just began, work overwhelmed me and I completely lost the project.

Let’s jump forward to a month to the show. All the other photographers were ready with their projects and I was still without a model and without a location… it seems a pretty inconsiderate/desperate situation, but reality is I was quite calm. The fashion world often has crazy turnarounds and I am used to working quickly.

The search for the model was perhaps the most difficult phase because I was looking for a girl who had reddish hair and very delicate features. These characteristics are already pretty rare in themselves, but the period of time I wanted coincided precisely with the various fashion weeks… no luck with agencies.

Fortunately, after looking everywhere and asking everyone, I found Giorgia! I liked here immediately. Also: freckles!

Regarding the location I would have liked to split the shooting in two parts: one part outdoors and one part interior. My ideal for the outdoors part would have been a decadent park, a bit out of the world… almost abandoned. After some scouting, I chose the Stibbert Park.

The search for the interior location - which I thought would prove to be very difficult - ended instead almost immediately thanks to the kindness of Gherardo, the manager of the antiques shop Gallori Turchi. Just before entering I looked through the glass front and said aloud "they‘re going to laugh me in the face, it’s such a beautiful store, look at all that stuff"… Gherardo instead accepted immediately. (Among other things, his store is the only one in Italy to specialize in vintage weapons! If you are even vaguely interested, I highly recommend it!)

The actual day of shooting went quite easily. Giorgia managed to come to Florence from Bolzano the day before, so we could start early. After an hour and half for hair and makeup, we moved to the Stibbert Park. We scheduled three look changes, going back to the studio and having lunch, changing the makeup and set off on time for our appointment with Gherardo.

Needless to say, we were late despite our good intentions and we had to run for our lives. After some ups and downs to find parking (have you ever tried to find a parking spot in the center of Florence’s traffic?), we arrived, set up and started shooting.

We had to do five changes in less than two hours… with very little space to moveand surrounded by many delicate and very, very expensive objects. It was no easy task.

“You, why do you always put yourself in such situations?”

Yeah, sometimes I ask myself the same question..

No, truth is that I am one of those old geezers that rant all the time but are happy inside. I love to push over my limits, try my best and come up with something more. To continue to get better is the only way to remain competitive and be able to offer a bigger pool of competences to your clients.



Credits

Photography: Chen You
Models: Giorgia Dallago
Styling: Susanna Fabbrini
Make-up: Camilla Cantini
Assistant: Antonia Visone
Location: Gallori Turchi

Garden Blaze

Garden Blaze is a fashion editorial published in the October issue of Elegant Magazine, available in digital or print.

And here are a few behind the scenes shots! This was before I got my own studio: we rented the excellent Primo Terzo.

Thanks to my amazing team, this was by far the most challenging shooting I’ve ever done!

The crazy ones! ❤️

Credits

Photography: You Chen
Models: Martina @Casting Firenze & Giulia Renzi
Styling: Marta Biagini & Cristina Bozzi @Hylozoic*A
Make-up: Kizui Louze
Hair: Cristina Bertini
Graphics: Denise Paoli & Martina Volandri @Le Dame
Assistant: Andrea David


Gone

Gone is a fashion editorial published in the October issue of Superior Magazine, available in digital or print.

 
I wanted to celebrate the beauty that you can find in the ends. A night that nears the dawn, a love that ends, the innocence of the youth are all incredibly beautiful, so frail and feeble in time. The decadence of autumn and the nature that constantly reminds us of the passing of time are so powerful that I wanted to celebrate them.
 

Gone is an editorial that matured with time. Born as a simple and easy floral shooting for the SS season, we had to change plans and postpone it a bit… a month or six. But that was time well spent, because I got the chance to evolve the idea and change it in something more elaborate, something with more depth.

As you can see from the moodboard, the original name of the editorial was Halcyon. Its an archaic word that denotes a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy (we ended a bit further). When I envisioned this shooting I had just came back from assisting Lara Jade’s Workshop in Milan and I was heavily influenced/inspired by her style. I wanted to make something similar. Looking back now, it was way too similar.

Luckily, as I kept adding and deleting pins, the moodboard shifted and in the end we kept the floral elements, but with a darker mood…

Once we settled on a mood, it really sank with us. Working together with Cristina and Rachele we decided on a very simple but effective styling and makeup. Cristina’s taste tends towards all things ethereal and romantic, so it was a perfect fit for the mood. Rachele adapted very well to the mood and even if her makeup was very subtle, she continued to correct and perfect between each look. I tend to be a perfectionist in post, and with their meticulous work they really saved me a lot of time!

Choosing the location was pretty easy: I had already worked at CROSS+STUDIO during Lara Jades workshop, and I literally fell in love with their selection of studios (unlike the typical aseptic studio, theirs are fully furnished and designed in different styles: Factory and Industrial have a metropolitan look, Classic is a gigantic full white studio, Bridge has a modern taste and so on…). At this point of the production I already had in mind what kind of color grading I wanted to make, so I chose Liberty, which had brownish/warm colors combined with grey/colder colors.

Interestingly, even if I varied a lot with angles and poses, the shots I “saw” during the shooting closely reflected the final ones.
(Also: I definitely dont know how to use an instant camera).

I knew that makeup would take around an hour, so I had two hours to shoot six looks: twenty minutes per look. So, during the first hour, I quickly decided and tested the “sets”: six different spots where to shoot, and what kind of lighting each spot needed. I already studied the space from the photos of the studio, but seeing a location in person is different. I had to make some quick adjustments at the beginning of each look, but the obvious key was preparation.

Shooting day was an extremely hot and humid (and hot) day. The short trip from the metro station to the studio nearly killed my team. But as I booked only three hours for the studio, we had to get ready as fast as possible.

Luckily Rachele is a great professional and switched to full makeup mode in a very short time, and Elaine, our beautiful model, was from Texas, so she wasn’t really affected by the heat.

Honestly, the shooting part all a blur, but we manage to follow the schedule and Im extremely happy with how it turned out! This was definitely the fastest editorial Ive ever done (coincidentally also one of my favourites so far). And I can say for sure that without my team it wouldnt have been possible.

Credits

Model: Elaine @Boom Models Management
Styling: Cristina Biella
Makeup: Rachele Leoni


Grimilde

Everything began with a simple idea: “let’s make something together!”

That’s how my collaboration with Lu began. We have already shot together a few times before, but it was always cosplay photography. This time our mutual passion for the fashion world led us to work in a more serious and more thought project.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f1.8, 1/60 sec, ISO 200

The Collection

What I didn’t know yet was that Lu already had a collection. Not in her mind. Not just sketched. Ready. It was the collection that she prepared for her thesis, when she graduated in Fashion. She showed me the collection’s sketches and they were in a style and genre that I adored.

The collection was named Grimilde, by the Italian name of Snow White’s Evil Queen. I really liked it, so we immediately inaugurated the project code name GRIMILDE.

Mood

The first thing that had to be decided was a mood for the photos. In the beginning we weren’t really sure of what we were be going to do. Moreover, between our previous commitments and the fact that we live quite far from each other, it wasn’t possible to meet and discuss the shooting in person. We had to think about many things well in advance.

Collaborations are a good opportunity to grow artistically and create something that we wouldn’t be able to do alone; but communicating remotely is not easy, especially when you have to exchange ideas. That’s why even if some aspects of the shooting could be decided beforehand; for others like make-up or posing we exchanged some ideas before, but in the end we ended deciding on the spot.

That doesn’t mean that you have to take me as an example: pre-production is a very important phase and shouldn’t be overlooked. Having a clear goal is far more efficient and safer than going ahead blindly. Creating a mood allows you to have a common vision that can be transmitted to the whole team.

Model

Another important thing is the choice of the model, and Lu already had someone in mind: Roberta. A choice that turned out to be perfect: not only her features are just right for the look of the collection, but her great experience was crucial.

When you are shooting against the time, with the light that drops more and more, to have someone in front of you that not only follows your instructions perfectly but often anticipates you is priceless!

Shooting | Day 1

The main body of the shots had to be in a wild setting, so we decided for Villa Ada’s garden (which with its 180 acres, is more like a woodland than a simple garden).

Being so large, we lost some time before finding a point that offered the possibility to achieve a few different shots. That’s why we found ourselves short of time: we had to realise three different looks in three hours, but we ended up doing them in two.

Consequently the location and the lack of time, my choice of focal fell on the XF 35 mm, which is equivalent to a 50mm Full Frame. This means that I could easily switch from a wide framing to a narrow one simply by taking a few steps forwards or backwards, while also keeping a good control of the depth of field.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f2.0, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f2.0, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

Talking about lighting, the setup was quite easy: with ambient light underexposed by a stop, the main light consisted in a speedlight diffused by a white umbrella.

However simple, this setting had to be corrected constantly anyway: the sun was quickly setting (under the trees the light falls even faster) and the flash had to be moved constantly… in a sloping terrain. With low branches. With tall brushes just outside the framing.

But in these situations the best thing to do is to take advantage of the problems: it might be more difficult to keep the stand and the open umbrella outside of the frame, but if the light of the speedlight has to pass through the branches and is partly blocked by the leaves, when it falls it will also look more realistic. The only real difficulty was to keep the interaction between the ambient and the flash balanced, but I’m really satisfied with the results!

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f2.0, 1/30 sec, ISO 500

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f2.0, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

Shooting | Day 2

The second part of the day was my “fault”. I always wanted to do something with water, and this looked like the perfect occasion!

It might seem obvious, but working with liquids involves a considerable quantity of problems. First of all, you need a big enough tank. You also have to cover of mask the bottom of the tank in order to adapt it to your needs, and obviously you have to use hot water and heat the room in order to not freeze the model. But above all… you have to fill the tank. And empty it. All that water… my muscles hurt just by thinking about it.

Regarding the tank, my solution was to use an inflatable pool. It can’t substitute a real pool, but it’s a lot more accessible: once you’re done you can just deflate it and bring with you. It’s not a beauty, but as long as you don’t frame the edges, it’s a good solution.

For the water I wanted to get an effect that was really unusual. I searched and tried with various colorants, but none gave me the effect I was looking for. After a while I found the perfect solution: starch! It gave this slightly heavenly effect, as if it was liquid fog and not just the usual colored water. Furthermore it isn’t expensive, it’s easily available, and above all it doesn’t stain fabrics.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f5.6, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

We were indoors, so I just needed to close the aperture and increase the shutter speed to completely nullify the environmental light and control the light.

The main light was a flash diffused by an umbrella positioned on a side of the pool, slightly above the edge. In this way the light wouldn’t be reflected on the surface of the water but it would have stayed directional while diffusing the light.

For the fill light I had to deal with the same problems, but from a different point: I had to diffuse the fill as much as possible without making anything reflect on the water. The ceiling wasn’t perfectly flat, so the first thing I did was to point the flash towards a lateral wall. In this way the lateral light would reflect and diffuse enough to create an effective fill even without causing reflections.

After deciding the lights, it was just a matter of studying various poses and framings.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f5.6, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f5.6, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

Color Grading

Lately there has been a lot of talk about the importance of color, especially in video. In movies, color has always been used as an additional way to convey emotions and moods. Although it may seem obvious, the colors we find in front of us really condition how we perceive things. At some level, all fields exploit this thing: cinematography, advertising, graphics… in the same way, in photography it’s very important to use color not only to make a picture “beautiful” aesthetically, but also to help you communicate something.

One of the basic rules in any field that has to deal with the color is to never use pure white or pure black. That’s why often the more extreme highlights and shadows in my pictures "veer" towards one color or another, but never become monochromatic.

Being this a a very dark shooting, I had to pay a lot of attention to the shadows. I explored a few different options: in the beginning I pointed towards a purplish palette, then I experimented with blue and finally I settled with green.

Another choice I did was to almost completely desaturate the green leaves: as there was a mix of evergreen and seasonal plants, the vegetation in the background too often was a distraction than anything.

Simultaneously, I dialed down the luminosity of the less important elements and dialed it up on the most important parts, but always making sure that the lighting does’t become unbelievable. One of the worst things that can happen is to have the viewer distracted by an unrealistic lighting instead of watching your photo.

Lastly, one of the most important things that needs your attention, especially in heavily graded photos like these, is consistency. In the same way every scene in a movie works perfectly side by side and follows the same theme, a set of photos has to work well as a whole.

Fashion Retouching

Following the cut of the shooting, also the retouching techniques are drawn from the world of fashion.

The step on which I spent more time is definitely the Frequency Separation. I always begin with the low frequencies in order to eliminate the non-uniformity problems first and then work on the high frequencies to fix the skin texture problems.

Another technique I use a lot is the Dodge & Burn, which can be used in a lot of different ways. Personally I often use it coupled with Frequency Separation and sometimes to brighten and darken specific areas.

Anyway, having done most of the grading work first (especially with good makeup and a good model) the retouching step is not technically complicated. The problem is that it requires a large amount of time and attention anyway: even if the changes are very small and are not easily identifiable most of the times, as a whole they contribute to make a picture more harmonious.

As for color grading, it is much better to try not to overdo it: that way the post-production doesn’t become a potential distraction, but instead can be that little bit of extra spark that makes a photo special.


I hope you enjoyed this Behind the Scenes! I received a lot of questions regarding this shooting, and since I wanted to write something about the experience anyway, I took the opportunity to combine the two. If you have questions don’t hesitate to ask me!

I again thank Lu and Roberta, without their help it would have been absolutely impossible to pull off something so beautiful!

If you happen to be in Rome and you need a model or a stylist… you know who to call!

Credits

Model: Roberta Dalloway
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Stylist: Kizui Louze
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