Le Petit Poisson Rouge

July 8, 2011

By Jacqui Palumbo

© Dorit Thies

Dorit Thies sets herself apart from other beauty photographers with her strong vision and her striking color palettes. The German-born, Los Angeles-based photographer is entirely self-taught and spent the first part of her career as a successful makeup artist and hair stylist in Europe and the United States. Now she works for top clientele such as New Beauty, LORAC, Urban Decay, Wet ‘n’ Wild and Elle. At heart she is truly an artist, communicating her vision through color and composition and inspired by all the things that surround her. Her images often contain visual analogies between make up and the organic. She works intuitively, always searching for fresh ideas and trusting her instincts. “I get bored very fast when it comes to colors that fit the usual trend in my personal work,” she explains. “So I go against that.”


Thies was recently approached by Zink Magazine to shoot a beauty spread for their summer 2011 issue. Her concept, titled “Le Petit Poisson Rouge,” was constructed of several ideas and events that impacted her. She was inspired by a layout in W magazine shot by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot titled “Against Nature,” featuring a model wearing bright colors, laying in charcoal covered grass and disturbed in her expressions and body language. Then the earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck in Japan and Thies was deeply affected by the suffering of the country; she wanted to create something that reflected the loss and the pain caused by the destruction. She envisioned a colorful tropical fish washed up on a black beach, surrounded by jewels. Clashing colors represented the imbalance of the world, and once the life was gone from the fish, the colors would fade as well.

To achieve her vision, Thies worked with model Amanda Smith, makeup artist Iris Moreau and hair stylist Mitch Stone. She filled in the team on her concept and they decided not to incorporate clothing or accessories – the story would be built on makeup, hair, body language and light alone. Thies and Moreau, who have collaborated for years, tested the makeup products together before the shoot. Thies directs her vision from all sides and is always heavily involved in the styling. “We tested how the products react on skin, how they blend and what kind of texture they can create. It is always a very playful, intuitive and highly creative process,” she says.

Her equipment consisted of a Canon 5D Mark II camera, a 24-70 mm lens, a 100 mm 2.8 macro lens, a 2400 Profoto pack, three lighting heads with grids and a beauty dish and reflector boards. She set up a black duveteen back-drop and laid out 80 pounds of black sand to invoke the black-beach setting, then scattered in colorful pieces of broken glass.

Smith proved to be the perfect model for the shoot. She executed the painful body language Thies was looking for with ease, giving the photos a raw, bold and theatrical feel. During the shoot, Thies happened to find a large black piece of fishnet laying on a shelf in the studio, enhancing her concept further. Another unexpected moment occurred when Moreau tried out a potent red color on Smith’s leg that was striking, but took a week for her to wash from her skin. The team worked efficiently and produced the strange, sublime images that Thies had imagined when she began the project.

At the core, Dorit Thies simply wants to create memorable images. “I thrive on it,” she says. Her creative process is not a formula, she prefers open communication with other artistic people to shape and refine her ideas. Once an idea is in place, she sketches out the shoot and plays with the lighting in order to visualize it entirely beforehand. She finds balance in planning and improvising and believes that creativity can compensate for any limitations, including a small budget.

Thies eventually wants to publish a book of beauty images, but for now is focusing on upcoming campaigns and a macro beauty story using long exposures due out in the fall. To see more of her work, visit her Web site.