What’s the craziest photography challenge you’ve ever encountered? I just got tossed mine: To shoot and edit an insane image involving two orcs, a witch king, warrior, villager and a cinema theatre… all in 4 hours without having any information ahead of time.

TLDR: Scroll down and check out the full size images & check out my new article on 7 tips to succeed in an unplanned photoshoot!

Back story:

While at a conference in Paris, a buddy of mine pointed out that a curious fellow by the name of Sebastien Roignant was surrounded by a small army of fans was going to be one of the attendants of an upcoming workshop I was going to be giving. Curious to see if he would recognize me, I snuck up on him pretending to be just another awestruck fan… unfortunately, I was immediately recognized. Maybe it was the hair.

We chatted briefly and it turned out he was a fellow v-logging photographer. One thing led to another and before I knew it he agreed to feature me on his vlog: f/1.4 – A pleine ouverture.

The challenge?

He would choose and set up location, theme, models and styling and I would have to shoot and edit the entire thing within 4 hours. Oh. And he wasn’t going to give me any hints of what the shoot was going to be about until D-day.

Shoot day

It’s a funny feeling to be tossed into unexpected situations… imagine that you were covering a wedding and the bride cries out “hell no” instead of saying “I do”, what do you do? That’s kind of how I felt when Sebastien drove me up to a cinema theatre next to a bunch of people unloading these massive Warhammer orc costumes.

In general, people tend to be relatively predictable and given the fact that Sebastien only had two weeks to toss the entire challenge together, I figured that it couldn’t be anything too complicated. In my mind, I’d have a decent location… two… maaaybe three models and that it would be up to me to make something happen with the limited resources available. Since I only had a few bare speedlights with me I knew that lighting wasn’t going to be anything too fancy so I was going to rely on some fancy compositing to make things exciting.

I was wrong.

No worries, I told myself. I’ve dealt with unexpected situations before and was confident that I’d figure things out sooner or later.

The minute the car was unloaded, I started poking around at the costumes and getting to know the cast. While I probably looked carefree and mildly insane (as the video seems to suggest), my mind was racing at a 110 miles per hour. If I had a device plugged into my brain, this is more or less what it would sound like:

How many models did I have? What did the costumes look like on them? Where could I shoot? What was the story that I could tell? Where was I going to be shooting? What could I do for special effects? WHAT I only have 3.5 hours remaining?!? Get the models to dress up right away. Unpack lightstands. Prepare triggers. Prepare speedlights. Take out tripod. Switch on camera. Check on model, how much longer left? Good. Hi. You’re my assistant? What’s your name? Nice to meet you Anais. Know how to set up lights? No? Just grab those. Begin framing shots. Theatre. What’s cool about theatres. Maybe 3D? What about a 3D effect. What’s the story. Orcs in Theatre coming to life? Maybe? What’s the entrance of the theatre like? Hm. Reflections. Ambient. I’ll need my flashes. Anais, grab flashes please. Yes. Those things on the three legged thing over there. Oh hey! You guys are part of the shoot too? what’s your character? Witch king? Please get dressed. Flashes here. Need three point lighting, balanced with ambient. Looks like an ISO 100 5.6 about. Get some depth of field. Click. About right. Need flashes, bare, … about 1/4 power here, 1/8th power rear speedlight… Oh hey special effects would be cool. What can I throw around, hm. Leaves! Can you guys grab some leaves from outside please? So where was I. Ah, speedlights. Right need a bit more power, want them to recycle fast. Bump ISO up to 200, f6.3. Click. Looks half decent. Tripod. Framing. K so wide angle should be about right, distortion to make it look like things are popping out. Does this perspective work with the theatre? Run back into theatre. Frame. Click. Hm. Should work. How much longer for makeup orcs? Can you make yourself look a bit bloodier? Great. Thanks. Gah this perspective doesn’t really work! *move* Alright… I think this works. Leaves are here. Ah! Great. Let’s toss them around, I want some movement! Yes lighting is about set. Let’s go. Time check? Good, on schedule.

… and that was the first 30 minutes.

It’s hard to remember specifics of what happened after that as everything blended into a whirlwind of action but to make up for my lack of memory, I’ve written out an article to help you guys out in the event that you end up in a similar situation:

7 tips to succeed in an unplanned photoshoot


So how did I do?

Well, to be very honest I’m not entirely satisfied with what I did as it didn’t actually yield a portfolio-worthy final result. If you pay close attention to the final image in the high rez version you’ll quickly notice all the small details I missed out on and I don’t think the image is as readable as I would have liked. That being said, I am quite proud to have been able to throw something together, make use of the entire set AND toss together a crazy composite with over seven massive d800E files in such a short time frame.

Vonwong orcs cinema de sevigne
Click for High-rez download

The challenge continues!

For those of you who watched the video, at the end of the challenge, I decided to throw a challenge straight back at Sebastien – For us to take the same images from the shoot and take as much time as we wanted with no constraints to create a new final image.

On my end I wanted to do something almost hyper-realistic… believable. Oh his end, something a lot more fantastic. I’d highly invite you guys to download the full-rez versions to compare (link under each photograph) and leave us a vote on which one you think is best!!

Leave a comment at the end of the blog post and have a chance to win a Von Wong Bracelet! Contest closes at midnight next Wednesday!

Sebastien’s Version:
Version seb web
Click for High-rez download

Von Wong’s Version:

Click for High-rez download

[polldaddy poll=”6833294″]

And for the gear heads:

Equipment used:

Lighting Gear:

  • 1x Nikon SB-900: B&H
  • 1x Nikon SB-800
  • 1x NIkon SB-700: B&H
    (*yes… I have one of each… don’t ask -_-‘)
  • 3x Pixel Pawn Triggers sponsored by LOVINPIXCamera Gear:
  • Sirui Tripod T2205X sponsored by LOVINPIX
  • Nikon D800E: B&H | Amazon
  • Nikkor 14-24 f2.8: B&HAudio Gear:
  • Zoom H4N: B&H
  • Seinheiser G3: B&HBag:
  • ThinkTank Airport International V2.0 (best bag ever) B&H

****Are you a long term fan? Do you like what I do? Please tell me about yourself!


  • Wow, tough decision but Ben, on this one I think I prefer Seb’s photos. Reason is that I prefer the way the audience is placed. It’s brighter and the colors are a bit more punchy. Normally I would prefer a darker image but here, punching the color really works out well. I also really like the white and red wave… Kinda cool! 🙂

  • All I have to say is WOW. Both shots are amazing and the tight timescale is just beyond insane. Kudos to you both!

  • For me, I like them both for different reasons, Firstly well done on the challenge as I think you did great on the concept in such a short time.

    To the pictures!… I have no place to critique so I will only offer an opinion if I may.
    I get a greater sense of instant recognition that its a cinema from Sebastien’s.
    The over all comp has the foreground audience member that keeps me in the audience too. It also has a good flow of energy around the frame. Shame the colours weren’t around the other way to make the french flag 😉

    After looking at the small copies both are quite striking but the larger copies do give away some of those shortcuts. I would have to say that Ben’s second go was far better executed and would stand a much better chance at close scrutiny if made in to a poster say.
    For an art piece the more muted colours on Ben’s also would be better, however for poster work then Seb’s really hits home with a punch to the retina!

    Nice work guys on both and I am looking forward to your longer visit to the UK so we can have a go too!

  • Sebastien’s version is amazing! That being said your’s is more realistic which I also really like. Can’t really choose a winner here!

  • Can we vote on facial hair?

  • bryan

    Had to give it to Seb! Von you really win no matter what cause he uses your images anyway and the final outcome is only as good as the images used! But both of them are amazing! Would be great to see the both of you competing in a similar contest where you both take separate photos, with or without a time limit, then make a composite! Thats when you’ll really see your different styles! Great video anyway!

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  • Both are amazing! Seen that I really like strong, vibrant colors, I would have gone for Sebastien’s version on that one. But there is one that that really throws me off. Which is a personal thing. I don’t like the noise in the middle, which should present snow, I think. I really don’t like it. But as I said, it’s a personal preference. I’m really astonished, what you can come up with, in 4 hours!!!!

  • They’re both amazing! But sebastien’s work is just a bit more amazing !

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  • Ok
    We feel Seb’s is a winner
    his use of colour and imagination is outside the spaceship
    without a survival suit…
    as a master cinematographer the Image of Seb’s cinema is breathtaking
    sorry Von
    luv ya wurk
    you rock but Seb got this in the bag
    how about a challenge down under with flying hang gliders over the lighthouse in Byron Bay?
    over to you…
    awesome stuff you guys do
    Mike Middleton DOP
    On Camera