Working With Wilhelmina Pt. 2

Jesiree

Here we are, finally nearing the end of my first trip to LA in 2019 for photography. Needless to say if you look over the past few blog posts, it was an incredibly eventful week full of tons of great shoots and plenty of good times in the evenings and meals that followed. Getting to hang out with all of the amazing models as well as connect with Scottie and Chris made for an incredible week to kick off the year, and the final shoot of the week was absolutely no different.

Through the course of our emails and discussions, I was able to not only set up one day of shooting with various models from Wilhelmina, but two days of shoots. The first day was recapped in my previous blog post, and we were back the following afternoon to shoot in a different location with a few more models. Chris drove back into town to shoot again and we had another amazing space rented off of Peerspace to host the shoot. It was an awesome studio that served as another photographer’s studio and apartment and had beautifully large windows, a loft space, and these awesome floor to ceiling concrete walls. I loved what I saw when I was scouting various locations online, and couldn’t have been happier when we got into the space (I’d be back again later, but that’s another story for another day…).

Things for this shoot didn’t go quite as ‘according to plan’ as they did on day one because of various issues. The first of which being that we had some uncharacteristic rain come in and hang up traffic all over the Hollywood area we were shooting in that lead to travel delays for one of the models. The other being that the address I sent out had the same street address in both Hollywood and Glendale… that’s right, one of our models accidentally showed up in Glendale looking for us! Oops!

Fortunately, I had continued to stay in touch with Jacob and he had a model friend as well that was more than happy to come out and shoot with Chris and I for a bit. Raquel from our shoot the day before was going to stop by as well for some different, more sporty looks, and Jacob was going to try to stop by after a casting too. We had plenty of talent lined up and Chris and I both wanted to try and do a better job of splitting our time with the models too. That proved a little more hectic as I tried to coordinate the traffic, rain, and street address errors, but we did our best to move around and work a little more varied than we had the day before.

The first model to arrive was Jacob’s friend Angeli. She is a beautiful, exotic looking model that Chris and I were both thrilled to get to work with and – fortunately or unfortunately for us – everybody else was delayed about an hour after she arrived so we had plenty of time to do so. Chris took over the reigns first and I shot some behind the scenes photos and videos of him working on my iPhone for Instagram. Paying attention to how Chris worked and his methodology for getting a subject to get comfortable and drop the guarded nature that almost everybody presents to the camera at the beginning of the shoot. He really has a knack for creating quality and authentic portraits and it was a true pleasure to watch him work after listening to him on tutorials for so many years. His approach more conversational than my own and yet both of us effective in our own manner.

Set-up #1 with Angeli. Those tones though…

We had set up another simple lighting set together using both of Chris’s Profoto B10 lights and his Profoto modifiers. Working with studio lights was still fairly new to him at the time as he is clearly so good with natural light, that he wanted me to help guide a some as to what I would do on a set. We used a large, white Profoto umbrella with a diffuser on it as a fill light behind the camera and then set up a medium sized octabox to camera right as the main light. We used a v-flat to camera left to knock down the light on that side of the frame and create some drama as well as block out the muddled, flat window light coming in with the storm clouds outside. Chris had the light a little lower and direct than I would have typically shot for my own style, but he was also shooting much more of a beauty portrait than what I had in mind. Angeli has a gorgeous face and eyes that really draw you in, so I could completely understand how he was shooting and what he was drawn to from behind the lens. I tight crop on the face to capture the eyes and the beauty of the person behind them.

As I watched from my vantage point, I was seeing more of the overall image and I loved how the Gravity Backdrop we had set up was so similar to the concrete behind it yet beautifully different. The other part that caught my eye was this bright orange shirt that Angeli had on and the contrast between it and the rest of the scene. So, when it was finally my turn to jump in and shoot, I bumped the light up about 6 inches and feathered it off of her face just a little bit more. Then, I pulled as far back as I could in the space with my 80mm lens (about 50mm on a typical full-frame 35mm camera) and shot a scene that captured the full setup along with Angeli. I like to shoot from a low vantage point to begin with, but this felt perfect for laying as close to the floor as possible and shooting with the camera just barely off of the floor to increase the drama. I was shooting tethered to the Wacom Mobilestudio Pro so as soon as it came in Chris went nuts and both Angeli and I got a smile out of Chris’s infectious enthusiasm. Seriously, you can’t help but want to smile around Chris. Anyway, both of us were prompted to see what else we could pull from the simple scene by changing her expression and pose. I pulled in for a few closer up shots as well to capture what Chris and I had both seen while he was shooting: her exotic beauty and entrancing eyes.

After shooting some frames and being happy with the results, we jumped upstairs to the loft area of the studio. There was this cool skylight and ladder that lead up to the roof that I wanted to try and use. The sky outside was still overcast so I had to bring one of my little Profoto B2 lights up there with a 4×1’ Strip Box on it to try and simulate some of the light coming in to the scene. It was a really cool scene in theory, but I just could never get it quite how I was envisioning it in my head and I wasn’t nearly as excited about the shots as I had been about what we were capturing earlier in the room downstairs. Just as we were wrapping up, my phone buzzed and both Raquel and Jacob were about to arrive, so we headed back down so I could go out and let them in.

Since I had already worked with Jacob earlier in the week and didn’t get much time with Raquel, I started out shooting with Raquel. I still really loved the portrait frames we had captured the day before and Wilhelmina had said that they were specifically looking for some sports shots to add to her portfolio knowing that I had shot sports in the past. We didn’t have a large space to work in, but she told me about her track background and I figured she could get some air doing some leaps in the small space. I decided to do a simple ‘sandwich’ technique with the lighting. Sandwich lighting means that you set up two lights directly across from one another across the frame. One acts as a rim light and the other as a main light. In this case, I used the Profoto B1 with my 39” Elinchrom Rotalux Octabox without the front diffusion for a little more punch as the main light source to camera left, and one of my Profoto B2 heads with the OCF Beauty Dish as the rim light. The background was the simple concrete wall and I had to make sure I was aiming the beauty dish far enough off of the background that I didn’t get a hard spill onto the concrete and create a weird lighting effect that would show what the light was and where it was coming from.

Raquel changed into some sportswear and came out ready to rock and roll. I had her jump towards the camera some, but mostly from a camera right to camera left orientation so that she was jumping diagonally across the frame. The main focus from there was hand and foot placement and – finally – facial expression. Raquel was an absolute pro at this and she killed it with everything and brought an intensity in her face that I wish I could coach better in my typical athletes I get to work with. We had a blast and I showed Chris a little bit about how I frame, focus, and catch the pinnacle of the action as we went. He, in turn, showed me how awesome the mirrorless Sony cameras were and gave me some ideas on how I could reframe the image to make it even better. Jacob then took a turn jumping in there and hopping through the frame a few times as well.

Right around then Jesiree showed up and I was SOO pumped to get to work with her. Just from her look on her Wilhelmina profile and the personality she had exuded during our communications leading up to the shoot had me stoked. Raquel was also having to head out right around that same time, and I was currently working with Jacob and Angeli. Angeli had just changed into this stunning black dress and Jacob was changing back into the clothes he was wearing when he arrived from the casting session. Chris – being free at the moment – started out shooting with Jesiree on the 3rd setup he and I had pre set and lit before everybody arrived. While I used the first set we had used with Angeli. Same lighting setup and everything with just a slightly different look and dress. The results were stunning and it was actually even more awesome because I had Jacob to put in the picture as well as a 2nd model and focal point in the narrative of the image. We really got some cool shots pretty quickly. Chris was still working with Jesiree as we finished, so Jacob and I got a few different shots from what we had captured earlier in the week.

For this shot, I knew I was going to keep the portrait tight in on his face and I wanted to try and replicate something I had seen in John Russo’s work with Leonardo DiCaprio. I used the black side of the V-Flat World v-flats again to create a tight box around Jacob. I used one that was shaped into an “L” with him standing in front of one side and the other side on the left side of his face. I then snuck the other v-flat in close to the right side of his face and made a little black box around him to knock out all of the available and spill light I was going to introduce. For the lighting itself, I used my Profoto B2 head with a 4×1’ Profoto Strip Softbox with a grid on it. I oriented it horizontally and angled it downward at about a 30-35 degree angle. Then, I cranked it up so that it was high enough to create drama, but not so high that I completely lost it in the iris of Jacob’s eye. Part of this is playing around with the height to get it exactly right, but we found it pretty quickly. We snapped some photos there and around that same time Chris was finishing up with Jesiree and I had the opportunity to jump over and work with her.

Y’all, Jesiree is drop-dead gorgeous and such a professional in front of the camera. Absolutely a photographer’s DREAM. I jumped over to the “3rd” setup that we had created which was very similar in lighting style to the first setup (large umbrella on a light as a direct fill and a main light to camera right with a large Octabox on it). The difference was that I was using my 69” Elinchrom Rotalux Octa as the modifier on the main light and no black v-flat to knock down the light on the left had side of the image. I feathered that light source (aimed it away from the model) back toward myself about 20 degrees to let it spill across her face, and went to work connecting with and capturing some images of the beautiful Jesiree.

Jesiree, for her part, was the complete package. As soon as I was set and ready she was already rocking her pose and the simple black dress she had brought for the shots. The color tone of the green Gravity Backdrop and the black dress with her skin tone and dark hair was beautiful and I really could have continued shooting all day. We only had about 15 minutes together though before we had to pack up for the day, so I shot some pulled back images of her and tighter, beauty images with just a little handheld 2ft reflector in my hand to bounce some additional light back into her eyes and face. After we had those in the can, she through on this really cool green jacket and I think those were some of my favorite captures from the day. It all went by way too quickly, and I’m sure I didn’t do it enough justice in this simple write-up, but I can tell you that we had enough fun that we both said we needed to get together and shoot again the next time I was out in California (and we did!).

All in all, the shoot was awesome. Chris and I had a better plan for working together and around each other in the same space with shared talent, and I would highly recommend doing something like that if you’re trying to do some test shoots for yourself in the future. Splitting the costs is a simple way to justify it, but learning from one another by both talking things through on a philosophical level and just simply watching them work can be incredibly informative for your own work. A huge credit and shout out to Chris for wanting to make this all come together and driving down to make it possible, and another huge thank you to the folks at Wilhelmina for hooking us up with Raquel & Jesiree. Finally, Jacob and Angeli were so amazing for coming out, having some fun, and just being patient with the process. It was an amazing way to end the trip and kick off 2019!

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