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Carter Baran Makes Dreamlike, Colorful Cinematic Photographs


“It’s lots of fun to see how light interacts,” says young photographer Carter Baran about his vivid, complexly lit conceptual photographs. Being gifted a fog machine some years ago got him more interested in creating photographs that resemble stills from science fiction movies and TV shows. Just 19 years old, he’s creating a significant portfolio of images that is sure to take him places in the future.

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Dual-tone lighting in photographs is a technique that can make your images really stand out from the competition. I first noticed this in landscape images, but it’s equally efficient in portraits too, as Carter Baran shows in this interview. Getting one color for the highlights and a balancing/opposing color for the shadows is one of the ways to try this out. If you’ve got a good understanding of the color wheel theory, this can be quite useful.

The Essential Photo Gear Used by Carter Baran

The Phoblographer: Hi Carter. Please tell us about yourself and how you got into photography.

Carter Baran: I’m a 19 year old photographer from Canada, I love hiking and exploring the outdoors, and I started bringing a camera along to capture some of nature’s beauty. Over time, my style shifted away from the nature/travel aesthetic and I took on a more surreal approach.

The Phoblographer: What camera gear do you use these photos?

Carter Baran: I use a Sony A7iii, and almost exclusively use a Zeiss 35mm f1.4 lens. I’ve always been a fan of prime lenses because of how sharp the images are, and I enjoy the challenge of trying to build a composition within the boundaries of the set field of view. Nanlite has been my primary source for lighting equipment, and my go-to lights would have to be the Pavotube II 15x’s; a versatile and rugged tube light with Bluetooth capabilities, as well as the Litolite 5c; an affordable, small, and powerful light that I can carry in my pocket.

The Phoblographer: There’s a cold, almost nocturnal feel to most of your work. Where does this visual style get its origins from?

Carter Baran: From the very start of my photography career, I knew I wanted to pursue a more minimalistic approach. When shooting at night, I’m able to decide what deserves attention in a scene, and isolate it from whatever else is around using selective lighting.

The Phoblographer: It’s almost always a single subject in these photos. Is this a projection of some inner feelings of solitude? 

Carter Baran: If I’m being honest, up until recently, I was simply using what I had available. I get super excited when I come up with a new concept, and try to capture it as soon as possible! This meant I was alone for a lot of photoshoots, and it became a fun challenge to see how much I could accomplish entirely on my own.

The Phoblographer: I see quite a few images where the subject is unrecognizable (face turned away or hidden by something). What’s the significance of this recurring element in your work?

Carter Baran: I don’t want my work to have a clear meaning. I usually hide facial expressions because it gives people the opportunity to project their own thoughts into the image, and I think that’s super cool.

The Phoblographer: Quite a lot of complex (almost cinematic) lighting seems to be involved. How long does it take to set up and produce these photographs?

Carter Baran: I’d say lighting a scene typically takes me anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours! Especially when I’m alone, and I have to run between the camera and the lights a dozen times to make sure they are where I need them.

The Phoblographer: Regarding one of your more complex images in terms of creation, take us through the process and explain the sense of satisfaction you had once the photo was completed.

Carter Baran: My ‘Pink Floyd: wish you were here‘ inspired shoot with Karl Ndieli was probably one of the most exciting photo shoots I’ve done. We woke up before sunrise, got dressed up in tuxedos, and set ourselves on fire! It took a few takes but the result was so incredible, definitely a memorable experience!

The Phoblographer: Rays of light play a strong part, not just in illuminating the scene but also serving as a visual anchor. Where do you get these ideas to uniquely showcase them across different photos?

Carter Baran: I got a fog machine as a Christmas gift from my mother in 2020, and ever since then, I’ve been obsessed with volumetric lighting! I want light to play as important of a role as my model, and being able to give shape to light has been a game-changer, it’s lots of fun to see how light interacts with different objects, and I plan on doing some more experimental techniques in the future.

The Phoblographer: Do you refer to complementing colors on the color wheel when you style these images, or do you just go with what feels right for the scene (when color grading)?

Carter Baran: Typically I just go with what feels right, but I’ve always gravitated to the complimentary combos of orange and teal, as well as blue and yellow. If I have enough time, I like to do the same shoot with multiple colors and choose my favorite combination when editing.

The Phoblographer: What are some popular movies or TV shows that have inspired your style?

Carter Baran: For TV shows, I’d have to say Stranger Things really influenced my photography. As for movies, films like Interstellar, Dune, Blade Runner 2049, Inception, and anything Marvel are big sources of inspiration.

All images by Carter Baran. Used with permission. Check out his website and his Instagram page to see more of his work.







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