The Shot: Red Sky Mermaid

Red Sky Mermaid - GW Burns
Photographer: GW Burns; Model: Eleazia Korbel; Hair and Makeup: TJ & Carrianna Hutchinson


Some ideas have a way of floating around in your head for years until you finally have the right model and the necessary time to pull it all together. I had this vision of a siren washed up on a beach—dressed in monochromatic white—for the longest time, but I could never find the right girl for the image. But as soon as I saw Eleazia Korbel, I knew she was perfect for this kind of shot. Eleazia has the ability to transcend herself and embody whatever an artist wants her to be. Ideas are one thing, but a model who can mold herself to your vision is vital. So, when Eleazia agreed to shoot it I knew I had to do the image justice on my end.

I’d collected seashells and sea horses on the beach over the years, and I even spray painted the sea horses white to keep with the theme. Those little added touches always take an image to the next level (I never forget the importance of detail). I drew upon the talents of makeup artist TJ Hutchinson and his wife, Carrianna, for the makeup and hair styling. TJ airbrushed Eleazia’s face a pale white to blend in with the theme of the shoot, and I desaturated her natural tan skin tone during post-production to match her makeup. Carrianna styled her hair with a white wig, adding shells here and there, too. It was actually pretty simple to just shred up some sheer white material to serve as her outfit.

My home of Sarasota, FL. has some of the best beaches in the world. So, I figured what better location to shoot my vision than right here on our magnificent beach? I knew I wanted to shoot this at sunset, but had no idea what the Man upstairs had in store for me weather-wise on the day of our shoot. But everything came together better than I could hope for. The sunset was breathtaking, and as I began to shoot, I knew this was a special moment in my life and I was very privileged to share this shot with the world. When it’s right, you know it the very instant your shutter starts to open and close.

The shot

I only used two Alien Bee 1600 lights for the shot. A beauty dish with a 20-degree grid allowed me to channel the light where I wanted it and to let it fall off rather drastically to give the image a surreal feel. My camera settings were rather unusual for me with my ISO 320 and a shutter speed of 125. My F-stop was at 22, as I wanted to close up the aperture to create a dark ominous feel. I powered my lights up to provide enough fill for Eleazia. I used a Canon 5D with a 17-40 L series lens. My 17-40 lens is one that I seldom use, but I wanted to create a “fantasy” image so some distortion would provide an added touch.


In post-production, I desaturated the colors a bit and burnt the edges to further darken the image. I left the color of the sky alone to provide some stark contrast to the subject. All the elements within the image are details that, I hope, tell a story—even if it is a mystery to the viewer. Images with a story are always so much more fun to try to capture.


I love shots that contain elements of dichotomy, e.g., life and death, hope and despair, beginning and end—these are all elements held within this image. Is the subject dead or alive? Is it the end of the day or a new beginning? Does the sky offer hope or give warning of a coming storm? This is what life is like for us every day. That’s why this image is special to me; it summarizes how I view the world at any given moment. I hope you enjoy it.

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