Tag Archives: Farnace

Go Behind the Scenes with the Costume Sketches and Concept Art of Tyson Vick’s Photographic Mozart Illustrations

2 Feb

Whenever I take photos with big concepts, I start with concept art and costume sketches. Usually these aren’t so detailed that someone else can interpret them, but they are detailed enough for me to remember what I feel the need to include in an image. There are three types of art I can potentially do in order to help conceive my vision.

1. Costume Sketches

2. Concept Art

3. Thumbnails 

I use these three types of art to help me develop my ideas into costumes, find models and locations and compose images.


First up is a set of thumbnails I drew up for my illustrations of Ascanio in Alba. Interestingly, while I did photograph these things, I did not use any of these ideas in my final photograph.

Ascanio in Alba concept sketches

Ascanio in Alba concept thumbnails

Next is a sketch for Fiordiligi’s costume from the opera “Cosi Fan Tutte”. This character dresses up in her boyfriends military uniform.

Fiordiligi costume art for Cosi Fan Tutte

Fiordiligi costume art for Cosi Fan Tutte

Der Stein der Weisen was a fun opera to bring to life through illustration. Set in a fantastical Asian world, there was a lot to play with.

Der stein der Weisen concept sketch for Genie

Der stein der Weisen concept sketch for Genie

My genie is based off of Buddha and the maidens vying for his bird’s attention were drawn from Chinese inspiration.

Der Stein der Weisen costume concept for maiden

Der Stein der Weisen costume concept for maiden

The thumbnail below is followed by the image I produced.

Der Stein der Weisen concept sketch

Der Stein der Weisen concept sketch

Compare the thumbnail above to the finished image below to see how closely my concepts are followed.

Der Stein der Weisen Act 1. Photo by Tyson Vick. Hair & Make-up by Lizzie Hatfield. Models: Sierra Rae, Meilyn Saychow, Kolya Cain

Der Stein der Weisen Act 1. Photo by Tyson Vick. Hair & Make-up by Lizzie Hatfield. Models: Sierra Rae, Meilyn Saychow, Kolya Cain

Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots didn’t have such a big concept process, I only needed the thumbnail to get an idea of what I wanted to get out of the final picture.

Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots concept sketch

Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots thumbnail sketch

You can compare the thumbnail above to the finished image below.

Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots, Act 1 by Tyson Vick

Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots, Act 1 by Tyson Vick

Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail was costumed out of clothes found in my friend and fellow costumer Camille’s closest. I thought about all the pieces she had available, and then combined them on paper as seen below.

A costume sketch based on Camille's costumes and set in the yellow void.

A costume sketch based on Camille’s costumes and set in the yellow void.

Below you can see some of these costumes in the finished image.

Mozart Project. Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail. Photo by Tyson Vick.

Mozart Project. Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail. Photo by Tyson Vick.

The Magic Flute is an opera I have extensively illustrated. When I first heard it, I was inspired to fill an entire sketchbook.

Queen of the Night Drawing

An early drawing of mine, illustrating the Act 1 Aria “O zittre Nicht”

But when I decided to use photography to bring these ideas to life, I did not know anything about costuming. So, I started petty small. I would probably go bigger today, especially with the Queen of the Night.

Papageno concept art

Papageno concept art

My costume ideas of Tamino and the Queen of the Night were based on what I could realistically make at the time.

Costume Sketches

Act 1 Costume Sketches for Tamino and The Queen of the Night

Tamino’s outfit is influenced heavily by Japanese history and video game costumes.

Tamino Costume Sketch for  my Magic Flute photos

Tamino Costume Sketch for my Magic Flute photos

Below you can see the outfit created from the above design.


Papageno was always meant to be a sort of bird version of a faun in my final image. I based his tattoos and look of of the Egyptian art of the Ba Spirit. A half-bird/half person creature represent a person’s soul.

Papageno costume sketch for my Magic Flute photos.

Papageno costume sketch for my Magic Flute photos.

Papageno was brought to life by Jon Sollee in the image below.

Die Zauberflote, Act 2 by Tyson Vick

Die Zauberflote, Act 2 by Tyson Vick

My Don Giovanni costume sketches were fairly blank, mostly focusing on shape.

Donna Elvira costume sketch for my Don Giovanni photos

Donna Elvira costume sketch for my Don Giovanni photos

In the end, Don Giovanni got a much more complicated white doublet, but the same cut still applies.

Don Giovanni costume sketch

Don Giovanni costume sketch

My thumbnails for Don Giovanni, below.

Don Giovanni concept art

Don Giovanni concept art

A set of Il Sogno di Scipione thumbnails.

Il Sogno di Scipone concept art

Il Sogno di Scipone concept art

Don Pippo of L’oca del Cairo and Lucio Silla, of Lucio Silla, costume sketches.

Don Pippo costume sketch for L'Oca del Cairo and Lucio Silla costume sketch.

Don Pippo costume sketch for L’Oca del Cairo and Lucio Silla costume sketch.

Compare the Lucio Silla Sketch to the final image.


La Finta Semplice was originally meant to feature five or so models, but they kept dropping out. Below was my last minute attempt to create some costumes that could be pulled from what I already owned.

La Finta Semplice costume sketches

La Finta Semplice costume sketches

The Marriage of Figaro photos were inspired by the image below, something I created after first hearing the opera a decade ago.

The Marriage of Figaro concept art

The Marriage of Figaro concept art

The Marriage of Figaro photos involved so many models and stylists, that I needed a thorough map of thumbnails to keep them straight.

The Marriage of Figaro Concept art

The Marriage of Figaro Concept art

I used the page below to keep track of which photos I had taken on the day.

The Marriage of Figaro concept art

The Marriage of Figaro thumbnail art

Compare the middle sketch above to the final image below.


For Mitridate, I based Aspasia’s outfit’s off of Historically accurate garb.

Aspasia costume sketch for my Mitridate photos

Aspasia costume sketch for my Mitridate photos

Farnace was also based off of History, but with a fantastical tattoo addition.

Farnace costume sketch for Mitridate

Farnace costume sketch for Mitridate

Compare the costume sketch above to the final costume below. I regret selling that cool pirate belt holding his cape up.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

Finally, I end with the costume sketches for Zaide, another set of costumes pulled from my friend Camille’s closet.

Zaide costume sketches

Zaide costume sketches

I hope you enjoyed viewing all this concept artwork! I have much, much more, but none of it is scanned.

If you like following the creation of my illustrations of Mozart’s operas through photography, please feel free to subscribe to the blog! All you have to do is type your email into the box and the blog will be sent directly to your inbox from here on out! You don’t need to provide any information beyond your email!

Thanks for reading!

Mitridate – The Photos

1 May

So, here are my Mitridate photos, at last!

I just love Mitridate, and apparently I love writing about it on my blog! Some of my most popular posts are about Mitridate, including my Craft Foam Armor Tutorial, my History of the real Mithridates and his wives (which explains why my photo of the tyrant king has a female bodyguard!), and my article on Mozart’s Opera.  It is one of my favorite operas, and I listen to it all the time. The music is so fun!

Mitridate Act One by Tyson Vick.

Mitridate Act One by Tyson Vick.

The opera is about the evil King Mitridate who returns from war two find out his two sons have both fallen in love with their father’s new wife while he was away. I photographed this series over the course of many years, always waiting to find the perfect Mitridate. I finally did in Gus Gustuson, and you can read about the shoot in the above photo and how the models showed up to the shoot only for me to discover they were both old family friends!


Mitridate, Act II by Tyson Vick.

I have never mentioned the photo above in my blog, though, and I think it’s about time I did! I first worked with Jordynn as Aspasia at the beginning of my project, about seven years ago, when she was still a teenager. (Hers is the Title Image, which is not shown here, but is on my Facebook!) However, a few years down the line, I realized that I wanted the Act II photo to be romantic, so I asked her to return after approving a boy to kiss. I asked Roman to be the boy, and this was the first summer I met him and this was our third shoot together. We have gone on to shoot and get published in numerous magazines. The two models had to hold completely still, about an inch from each other, Jordynn in a sit-up position, for 20 minutes to get this shot. It was quite the feat of endurance!

The Hair and Make-up in these photos is by Lizzie Hatfield, and I did the body art in Act III.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

These photos are unique in that the backgrounds were created by myself based on the set descriptions in the opera. I wrote five posts about making the photo of Farnace above with the broken tower, including every step from the design, to the photo shoot with Trevor Ivanich, to the photo editing. You can read each part of Illustrating an Opera here: Part 1 – The Design, Part 2 – The Photoshoot, Part 3 – The Composite Elements, Part 4 – Building the Miniatures, Part 5 – Photoshopping the Elements Together.

I hope you enjoy! Until next time!

Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 5

19 Feb

For the past four weeks, I have shared the process that goes into taking a single Mozart Project photo. The picture that I have been describing is the illustration to Mitridate, Act III, which is the most well documented photograph that I have taken.

If you would like to catch up, Part 1 discusses the opera, music and design for the photograph. Part 2 tells about my trip to photograph the model. Part 3 shows various shots which were needed to make a composite image. Part 4 describes how I designed and created a Prison Tower in Miniature for the photograph.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

In this fifth post, I will share with you how I used all these images to make a final composite image.

Final Composite

Now, as a warning to my more sensitive readers, the curtain will be lifted, and all the mystery of this image will disappear once you learn how it is composited. You may die a little on the inside. So, if keeping the mystery alive is important to you, please, go no further.

Beware. Beware!

Trevor Ivanich as Farnace

This is the original image of Trevor Ivanich used in the composition.

Once all of my images are collected, I begin to edit them, and put them together in a digital composite. I use a program called Corel, which is like Photoshop, however where Photoshop is an all-encompassing graphics program, Corel has gradually become more focused on re-creating artistic mediums (Paints, Pencils, Brushes).

Once I have scanned the image, I give it any necessary touch-ups. These can include removing blemishes from the model, removing scratches and dust from the film, adding highlights, correcting colors, etc. Next, I cut the image out of its original background.

Trevor removed from Background

Here is Trevor, revomed from his background to be placed in the composite image.

Now, I am ready to composite.

The first thing I do is create a digital “mock-up” of the image I want to make.

Using crude cutting and pasting methods, I create a little collage with all the elements I am considering. With Mitridate, I made one mock-up with the picture of Trevor, the model, when it was first edited, and I drew solid shapes in roughly where I wanted to place background elements.

After I had photographed the Tower and wall, I made a second mock-up. During this process, I look for a natural and attractive composition of the elements.

Mitridate Mock-ups

Two Mock-up Images. The first has a background drawn in. The second has the photographic elements roughed in. Originally, I was thinking of putting boats in the harbor.

While I do build the background and foreground separately in the computer, I also add them together and adjust the elements after every little change I make. For example, I put Farnace in the picture, then I add the wall behind him. I adjust the wall and the character until they are in a good place. Then, I remove Farnace to edit the wall. These edits can include re-sizing and re-coloring, as well as adding grain.

I do this until all the elements match up, and I am pleased with the result. Sometimes I have to take some time away from the image, not looking at it, to return to it fresh and see where any issues may lie.

Mitridate Act III composite Images.

Composite of Sky and Water
This is the farthest background part of the composite. The sky, the water and the tower have been combined, color matched, matched for grain, blurred, etc.
Tower added to sky and water

The next layer is off the birds flying out of the prison tower. This image has also been matched for light, grain, color, etc. The reason there is a blank spot in the corner is because that part of the image will be covered by the wall, and so there’s no point in putting anything there.

Broken wall added to Background

Next, the Broken Wall in the foreground is added. All these elements are built around each other to yield an attractive composition.

Mitridate Act 3 by Tyson Vick

Finally, Trevor (as Farnace) is situated in the photo. Like the others, he is matched to the light, the grain and the color. Now the photo is complete.

So, now the image has gone from the text of one man’s play, to the operatic setting of another man’s music; From the interpretation of one listener’s imagination, to the execution of this idea in real life. Which, hopefully, will interest somebody else in returning to the original play, and the whole process will start again, as our lives are connected by music, drama, emotional truth, friendship, adventure and life!

Mitridate Libretto, Sketch, Photo

The original title page to the Mitridate Libretto which inspired my Farnace sketch which was brought to life by Trevor Ivanich in my Photograph!

My ultimate goal with this project, when it is finished, is to share the joy I have experienced through the music of Mozart!

Again, here is the song which my photograph illustrates, to complete my post  “Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera”. Thanks for reading!

Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 4

12 Feb

Picking up where I left off last week, I now return to talking about what goes into one single photo. Of all the pictures that I have taken for Mozart Project, the photo for Mitridate, Act 3, is the most well documented and this is the photo that I will be describing.

You can read Part 1 if you want to learn the story, music and design.  Part 2 recounts the full photo shoot. Part 3 talks about the various pictures I took that were needed to make a composite.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

In this fourth post, I will share with you how I made the two prison towers featured in the background of the photo, which is a great deal more technical, and leads us quite a long ways away from Mozart before making its way back.

Conquering The Prison Tower in Miniature

From the get-go I knew that there needed to be a prison tower in the background of the final composite image for Mitridate, Act III. However, I was unable to find a satisfying tower in real life. The largest free standing brick tower in the world does actually exist in Montana.  This structure is the abandoned Anaconda Smelter. My cousin, Elizabeth, and I went out to photograph this tower. We weren’t allowed to get too close (It’s a superfund site), and after I took the pictures and looked at them for a while, I was not convinced it was what I wanted.

Then, one day, I played Final Fantasy XIII on Playstation 3, and everything became clear…

Anaconda Smelter, Taejin's Tower Concept Art

On the left is the Anaconda Smelter, the tallest freestanding brick structure in the world. On the right is concept art for Final Fantasy XIII’s “Taejin’s Tower”.

Final Fantasy XIII is a fantasy role playing game which tells the story of a group of young people who are permanently “possessed” or “compelled” by a monster to do its bidding. However, when it dies and the curse still continues its hold on them, it becomes distressingly uncertain whether the monster’s intentions were good or evil. The characters are forced to decide whether they want to fulfill their “focus” or to make their own choices. Everything is complicated by various forces, including intense racism, genocide and a fear of the outside world – which the characters are eventually expelled to.

In this outside wild world, I came across Taejin’s Tower – perhaps the coolest 3-D modeled landscape I’ve ever encountered. While playing, I would sit for minutes on end just looking at it, making that grumpy old Lightning move here and there to look at it from different angles.

Taejin’s Tower, for my readers who don’t have 80 hours to spare to play Final Fantasy XIII, is an excessively tall tower (miles high) that for some unknown reason, time has caused to fall over across a canyon, making it into an excessively long bridge (now miles long!). The strange thing about it is that the break in the tower is miles skyward, meaning, in order to cross the chasm, you have to fight your way to the top of the tower to slide back down its broken spine.

It was in this location that I found inspiration.

Here was a fantastical tower that was infinitely interesting and quite frankly, awing and inspiring to me.

Taejin's Tower from Final Fantasy XIII

Lightning, Final Fantasy XIII’s main character, looks at Taejin’s Tower, contemplating its awesomeness. It looks even awesomer in HD.

I decided to build a model tower.

When I built the tower, I tried to imitate some of the aspects that I found impressive in Taejin’s Tower (namely the stripped wall where the break occurred.)

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned from the “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” special features, is how the filmmakers utilize tiny models for cityscapes rather than using computer generated cities. If anyone out there is interested in production design, set design, costume design, armor design or prop design, they ought to get the extended “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars III” special edition for the very informative bonus features. (Star Wars III is strangely the only episode with truly engaging and informative documentaries for some reason. The rest do cover a lot of ground, but they seem more like cliff’s notes in comparison.)

Of all the things that I do for Mozart Project, building a model of a tower is the most difficult to explain. The process is mostly intuitive. I can break down what materials were used, though.

Mitridate Act III set sketch

Initially, it is important to have an idea of what I want to make. Because of my initial sketch of the Act III prison set from Mitridate, I knew roughly what I was looking for.

To make the Prison Tower, I used a Post Office mailing Tube which had been damaged. I cut part of the damage away, then ripped the rest, creating a hole. This hole was then partially covered, and partially inset, with balsa wood spires and girders. Next, I took a sheet of white construction foam and wrapped the tower, cutting to my taste, a shape of suitable crumbling and decay, around the hole. I also added some raised areas out of strips of foam as well.

After this, I decided to add a top to the tower, with columns.  This is a paper towel tube with wooden dowels attached with both a thing strip of wood and craft foam. Next. I took the back of an exact-o knife and carved lines into the foam to resemble bricks.

The last step was to paint the tower. I used acrylic paints in Black, Grey, Burnt Sienna, and Taupe. First I laid down a dark color to fill the holes on the tower, then I overlaid a lighter shade over the top, lightly, as to not fill in the gaps completely. This made the bricks stand out more!

Mitridate Prison Tower in Miniature

My uncle helps me light the Prison Tower model for my photograph. The close up will show what I have been describing above.

The tower now complete, it was time to photograph it. There are two things to consider when photographing a model: The First is to consider where the light is coming from in the image that you are compositing together. If you light the tower hard from the left, and the photo shows a man lit softly from the top, there will be a disconnect in the viewer. The composite will remain unconvincing to the eye.

The Second thing to consider is that a small object needs to be lit very strongly in order to appear large. A small object casts small shadows and has very little surface area to catch light. In order to get a convincing result, you have to artificially bump the light to cast longer shadows, so it looks like more surface area is being covered. This requires a thoughtful set-up, just like the main foreground image you have taken. For my tower, I photographed it in broad daylight, and with the help of my uncle, using a reflector board, we bounced the sunlight straight back onto the tower. This makes the reflector board the brightest light, and it can be rotated and moved to find the needed effect. The effect I needed was that of a low sun coming from the back, but registering distinctly on the edge of the tower.

I made and photographed this tower for “Mitridate” while playing Final Fantasy XIII, and after I had finished making my tower, I returned to playing the game. It is interesting to note that upon returning to the game, I shortly thereafter discovered that the villainous monster that haunted Taejin’s Tower was named Mithridates!

Now how’s that for a Spooky coincidence!?

And that brings us all the way back to Mozart!

COMING UP NEXT – The conclusion to this massive blog post!

Trevor gets ready

Trevor gets ready for the final blog post!

Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 3

5 Feb

Proceeding with my super-sized post, I will continue sharing what goes into one single Mozart Project photo. You can catch Part 1 if you want to learn about the design and music or Part 2 if you want to watch my mad photography skillz in action.

Of all the pictures that I have taken for Mozart Project, the photo for Mitridate, Act 3, is the most well documented.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

In this third post, I will share with you my year-long travels to get the right shots to make a composite background for my photograph!

Composite Photography Elements

Accurate theatrical settings (exotic homes, buildings, locations) are almost impossible to secure when illustrating an opera scene through photography, and so I rely mainly on illusion. This either occurs in the actual photography, or in computer graphics which are added in afterward. Many of my photos for this project limit the viewing area to a small space (nothing outside the photo border is seen). This allows the viewer to infer, from props that are strewn about, what the full setting looks like. Other photos, like this photo for Mitridate, Act III,  are actually just taken in front of a blank wall and have various background elements added in after the fact.

That’s not to say it is easier to use computer altered backgrounds. I still have to photograph the elements of the background, as well as the model/actor. In this particular photo, I utilized 8 separate images.

  1. Model – Trevor Ivanich
  2. Sky
  3. Rock wall (2 images)
  4. Sea Cliff
  5. Birds
  6. Tower (2 images)


Montana Sky

Montanan sky, Big Sky country, used for the composite.

I live in Montana which is affectionately known as the Big Sky Country. This is an apt description, as it seems that the sky is at its fullest and most dynamic almost every day of the year, and is constantly changing due to landscape which features large mountains cascading into flat plains.

Every time I see a particularly striking sky, I run out and take pictures of it for my collection. Some days, though, I just sit and look at it and wonder if it could ever accurately be captured on film.

To quote the source, “Standing under the big sky, I feel free”.


During one of my trips to Nebraska, the geese were migrating.

Every year 14 to 16 million geese and ducks fly on through the Grand Island, Nebraska, area.

My mother and I drove out into the countryside to take pictures of these thousands of birds flying through the sky. There were other photographers out and about, as well. We met one on a board walk, where there was a Bald Eagle just sitting out in the water with the geese.

It was a very pleasant day.

Grand Island Nebraska Geese Migration

The migration of the geese near Grand Island Nebraska.

Sea Cliff

Sea Cliff

The Sea Cliff used in the Composite from my parents old slides.

Sometimes instead of taking a picture, I go through my parents old slides. Neither of them, it seems, ever cared to keep them, and so I spirited them away. During their travels my Dad took some landscape photos which work their way into my Mozart Project in the background. One photo of a sea cliff was used in my Mitridate Act 3 photo.

Rock wall (2 images)

Outside of Helena Montana there are numerous large ruins. They are apparently fallen chimneys, ovens and smokestacks, and are made of large stones and bricks. They remind me of the castle ruins of Great Britain. These structures are “Lime Kilns”, or ovens that were used to process Lime into a substance used for mortar. They went out of business in the late 1800s, when another Montanan lime company built their ovens right next to the railroad, cutting out the over-land transportation, and making the Helena lime kilns too costly to keep running.

Because the structures themselves are almost completely toppled, from many angles you can’t tell they are ovens, and they just look like general ruins.

My cousin Elizabeth, her dog, Harley, and I, took a brief trip out to these ruins to photograph these collapsed walls and fallen brickworks. This was something I had in mind even before taking Trevor’s photo as Farnace a year earlier. That’s to say, his photo was taken knowing that one of these walls would eventually be composited behind him, which is why, in his image, the backdrop is half white (sky) and half black (wall).

Ruins in Helena

The ruins in Helena, MT, with Harley and Elizabeth.

Bonus Music Clip

As a bonus, here is one of my favorite singers, Philippe Jaroussky, singing the Act III scene which I illustrated and which I have devoted these last three posts to discussing! I’m not sure if Jaroussky’s voice is quite right for this role, but his bow-tie looks like it exploded, so that’s pretty cool!

I have all of his albums. I hope he makes a Mozart album!

Here are the english lyrics:


I must go… Oh, Heaven, but where
Shall I direct my bold steps?
Ah, I hear you,
O sacred, powerful voices of nature,
O proud remorse of my heart. No, I am not
So callous, and at this price, for this
Throne, Aspasia, Romans, I detest you.

No. 24 Aria

Now from my eyes the veil is lifted,
Base affections, I abandon you:
I have repented and heed
Only the cries of my heart.
It is high time that reason
Returns to rule in me;
Now I retrace the fair path
Of glory and honour.

COMING UP NEXT – Conquering the Prison Tower in Miniature! (What on Earth could that possibly mean? Find out next week!)

Mitridate Act III set sketch

Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 2

29 Jan

Continuing my epic, multi-piece post from last week, I will continue sharing what goes into one single Mozart Project photo. Of all the pictures that I have taken for Mozart Project, the photo for Mitridate, Act 3, is the most well documented.

In this second post, I will share with you my 2009 trip to photograph model Trevor Ivanich as Farnace!

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

Photographing the Model: Trevor Ivanich as Farnace

My concept is complete. I know what I want. What do I do next?

My first step is to find male or female models to portray the characters in the scenes I would like to illustrate. Generally, I look for a model who resembles the character I imagine in my head. I have many different sources for finding models (It’s just like stalking!) but my main two sources are friends, and the website Modelmayhem.com, which is a web community where models, photographers and stylists can meet.

I was traveling to Nebraska in January 2009. This trip was the trip where my mother taught me how to sew. It was dedicated almost exclusively to making costumes for my Mozart Project, but I decided to look for models in the Nebraska area who might fulfill a Mozart Project photo.

I found Trevor Ivanich on the internet through Modelmayhem, and he agreed to work with me on my project, and I agreed to take some photos of him that he could use to start his modeling portfolio.

Trevor Ivanich

Photos of Trevor from our first shoot.

One thing I did not know about Trevor, until I spoke to him, was that he was only 16 years old at the time. Now, I’m generally pretty wary about working with people who are under-aged. It’s hard enough explaining my project to a model, but trying to explain why you’re taking shirtless pictures of a child, dressed like a Roman soldier, in front of what must look like a make-shift light set-up in a corner of a creepy basement is not particularly easy. There’s really no grey area in a situation like that. You’re either above board, or you ain’t. Trevor’s parents were very understanding, of course, but I don’t think anyone can really “get” what a composite picture is all about until the image is entirely finished.

Because the boys in the play “Mitridate” are supposed to be between 16 and 20, I thought Trevor would be a very good choice.

So, I arrived in Omaha, Nebraska at Trevor’s house on a mid-winter morning. I do not eat breakfast, generally, and while I did get up early to drive to Omaha on this day, I chose not to eat breakfast, because it tends to upset me if I am anxious.

Trevor greeted me at the door, but almost immediately after that, dashed off to the shower, and his mother took the time to introduce me to all the people in the household, and then took the time to introduce me to a board game called “Thinkfun Rush Hour”, which we played for the duration of Trevor’s preparation. Trevor’s father was away at work.

When Trevor was ready, we teamed up to do some modeling photos for him. This took us a few hours, and it gave me a chance to know how he worked. It also gave Trevor the proper amount of time it takes to get really comfortable in front of the camera. At this point in his career, his teenage enthusiasm was at its height, and he really wanted to convey that sex-appeal and energy. As a photographer, I have noticed that after two hours of being in front of the camera, there is a change in the subject, and with this comes a new energy, relaxation, comfort, and naturalness.

However, I skipped lunch, and moved straight into the Mozart Project. The first thing that we needed to do was to paint the faux-tattoo from my design sketch on to Trevor’s upper body. This process always takes around an hour. It is absolutely necessary to strike up a conversation while painting somebody (unless the subject is asleep). Trevor, his mother, and I chatted while his mother photographed the proceedings.

Prep for Mitridate Photoshoot

Here are some pictures of me painting Farnace’s tattoo on Trevor.

Sitting out in the open getting painted, Trevor got cold, and had his legs covered in a blanket. So, here we have a half-naked teenager in the middle of the floor, wrapped awkwardly in a blanket, getting painted by a strange man, and being photographed by his mother. Without any prior information, this might seem like some sort of pagan ritual. It is at this point that Trevor’s father walked in on us.

“Well, this looks like fun,” he said, and left it open ended for us to explain what was going on. He then gave us pizza, of which I had one slice.

In my initial design, Farnace had cornrow braids. This was not something that I prepared for, and so, instead, we pulled Trevor’s hair back, and added a group of pre-styled hair extensions which I had brought along.

Trevor prepping for Mitridate Photoshoot

The first shot shows a rare instance when I did the hair for a shoot. The other two shots show Trevor getting dressed for the photoshoot.

Then, the photo shoot began! Trevor is a model who blossoms into any of the poses or emotions you ask from him. He tends to synch himself up the camera quickly. He fell in step with my technique faster than many other models who are trained to change poses every instant, at every click of the button, which has never worked for me, because my photography is based on angles and composition.

Trevor Faux Tattoo

Soon, the photoshoot was over. I had spent around eleven hours working. I am not really a social person normally, and I had been “on” all day without eating.

I packed up, and got in the car, and fell apart.

All of the stress of meeting new people, maintaining an appearance of being friendly and talkative while utilizing my artistic skills, and maintaining a grip on the technical details of what was going on, took its toll. Usually, when I’m being artist or technical, I become very pensive and distant while I disappear into my mind, and on this trip I had to do this at the same time as being social. I felt distracted. I felt like I was burning the candle at both ends. I could feel the flame getting closer. I had not eaten anything of substance.

Photographing Trevor for his portfolio earlier in the day only added to the stress. I was literally photographing all day. I wanted to give him a fair trade, a good set of portfolio photos for a Mozart photo, but I was uncertain of where to draw the line with someone who was under-aged. I have in my arsenal techniques for making a male model look good – it’s what I do – but are any of my ideas or techniques appropriate for a teenager? He was bringing everything to the table, and I was hesitating, and I honestly felt like I both failed at getting any good images of him and failed socially, as if everything that was running through my mind was apparent to everyone around me.

And I felt like a hollow shell, too empty to cry, and wondered if success as a photographer was something I could ever achieve, and if taking pictures was really something I wanted to do.

Then, I drove for two hours to home, and slept forever.

Tyson and Trevor

Trevor and I in front of the backdrop.

Every photoshoot I go on has its own emotional presence. Many times the shoots are relaxing, or filled with laughter, or adventure, where you can find things like four adults hiding from youths, exploring new places together, or literally startling screams out of innocent bystanders (It’s the hair). Other times someone on your team has a nervous breakdown, and your friendship grows and is strengthened by working together on both art and relationships at the same time. Sometimes, Lizzie Webb steals your camera, claiming she didn’t want it to get wet in the flash rainstorm, but doesn’t tell you, and you wander all over re-tracing all of your steps, wondering what you’re going to do with everyone in costume and no camera to photograph them!

However, taking the photo of the models in costume is just the beginning.

COMING UP NEXT – Scoring shots from all around America to build a composite background!

The Photographer

Where in the world will Tyson find himself next?

Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 1

24 Jan

I would like to share my entire process from start to finish for one photo, so you can see what I do. Of all the pictures that I have taken for Mozart Project, the photo for Mitridate, Act 3, is the most well documented. This will take more than one blog post, so I will be breaking this post into pieces for ease of reading.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

In this first post, I will share with you a brief synopsis of “Mitridate”, the music from Act III which my image is based around, some design sketches, and an overview of the equipment I use!


If you were to ask me what my favorite works of Mozart were, I would say, “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Mitridate.” Mitridate is a perfect execution of the Opera Seria style with fantastic music throughout, which reinforces a solid and competent drama. Opera Seria is the older classical style where the play was a framework for showpiece arias that were sung alternating by cast members.

Mozart’s “Mitridate” is about the famous and tyrannical ancient-world tyrant, Mithridates and his two sons, Farnace and Sifare. While Mitridate is out fighting the Romans, his two sons, who are supposed to be protecting their home-land, are busy trying to seduce Mitridate’s young fiancée, Aspasia. Farnace, the wicked brother, is trying to take her by force, when she hires Sifare, the nice brother, to protect her. However, by the time Mitridate returns, Aspasia is in love with Sifare.

Mitridate finds out about all these betrayals, and it’s at this point that he comes up with elaborate executions for everyone involved. Meanwhile, Farnace has impetuously given a Roman envoy access to the city, and the Roman’s attack at the vital moment! The Father and sons have to put their personal lives aside, and are left to prove their mettle.

The album cover to “Mitridate” recorded by Christophe Rousset is the only perfect Mozart recording I’ve listened to. I truly think it is the only flawless opera record I’ve ever heard. I highly recommend it.

Act Three is the part of the play that concerns us for this blog post, because it is a scene in Act Three that I chose to illustrate through photography

Farnace is imprisoned by his father to await execution. The Romans blow up the prison cell and give him a sword in hopes that he will aid them in conquering his father. It is at this moment that the world slows around him, and he realizes he’s been a young, rash, fool. He laments his poor choices, and for letting down his father and country. This scene is set to a long and beautiful aria, full of regret and introspection. Farnace then makes the decision to repent his ways, and sets out to set fire to the Roman fleet.


Take a moment to relax.

Wind down.

And listen to the aria from Act III which I chose to illustrate… “Gia dagli occhi il velo e tolto”.

Here are the lyrics translated:

Now from my eyes the veil is lifted,
Base affections, I abandon you:
I have repented and heed
Only the cries of my heart.
It is high time that reason
Returns to rule in me;
Now I retrace the fair path
Of glory and honour.


My photos of Mitridate are set in period appropriate costuming. I looked up contemporary statues for costume ideas. Mitridate is represented as both a young man and as an older man in art, but because my focus was on his son Farnace, I chose to base the character design off of one particular statue of Diomedes.

Statues of Mitridate and Diomedes

Here are two statues. The one on the left is Mitridate, himself. The one on the right is Diomedes, who was the costume inspiration for Farnace in my photo.

I first designed Farnace after listening to the opera “Mitridate” for the first time back around 2003. This sketch of Farnace utilized a type of tattoo design that is my specialty, and I use it in various place in my artwork: sketches, body paint, fabric art, etc. I call this design “clockwork”, because it reminds me of various shifting gears and other mechanized innards.

Diomedes Statue and Farnace Sketch

On the left is poor Diomedes, who appears to have had both his “human-horn” and his “lower horn” harvested by Omicronians. On the right is my pencil sketch of Farnace.

Upon first listening, I also sketched little images of the sets from various acts just for fun.

When I came to illustrate Act 3 through photography, I chose to mix my Farnace with my set design in the real world.

Mitridate Act III set sketch

My sketch for the prison set of Act III in the opera “Mitridate”


In order to photograph a scene from a Mozart Opera, I need three things: Costumes, Models and Camera Equipment. Here is the Photography Equipment that I use:

I use a camera called a Canon EOS Elan 7, with a 28-90mm Lens. I inherited this from my grandfather, upon his death, after my own Canon camera was stolen under mysterious circumstances.

This is a film camera, and I use a film called Kodak Portra NC (Natural Color). I usually used 400 speed, but sometimes I change it up. I have also used Kodak High Definition film, and Kodak Portra VC (Vivid Color) for the project.

Once my photos are taken, I have the negatives processed, then I use a negative scanner called a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 ED.

When the photos are scanned, I open all the files and narrow it down to the best. I then edit the best photo using Corel Photo Paint 12 (It’s not Photoshop, but I have learned how to use it pretty fully.)

Accurate location settings are almost impossible to secure, and so I rely mainly on illusion, either in the actual photography, or in computer graphics added in afterwards. Many of my photos for this project limit the viewing area to so small a space that the setting can be inferred from props that are strewn about, while other photos are actually just taken in front of a blank wall and have backgrounds added in after the fact. This equipment helps me to create these illusions.

I also carry a reflector board on every shoot.

COMING UP NEXT – Photographing the model Trevor Ivanich as Farnace!

Tyson Vick and Trevor Ivanich