I feel like I talk a lot about shooting the work you want to be hired to shoot, but it can never be said too much. People and potential clients just aren’t going to hire you unless they have a good idea that you’re going to be able to deliver for them. It’s all about mitigating risk, and the best way to do that is by shooting test shoots when you have the time and ability to do so. It allows you to experiment with different things you want to try out from a lighting or composition aspect and – if you’re like me – you just love to shoot! So, why not take another opportunity to do so and create some cool images with people you want to work with. No clients involved, just create for the pure sake of creating.
That sentiment is exactly what brought Diana and I together to put together a test shoot last year for ourselves. I loved getting to work with her when we were together on a campaign for DYI about a year prior, and both of us had been trying to find a new way to get together and create some work again. Our schedules just never seemed to line up until May of last year. We finally sat down and talked about creating some images that spanned both some elegant portraits and some sports shots that we could add to our portfolios. With the idea in mind, we asked our friend and amazing Houston based stylist Summar Salah if she would be willing to work as a stylist on the shoot and – to our utter delight – she said yes! Our team was starting to come together. The next aspect was finding a location. I knew we could rent a space in the area, but Diana had a friend that lived in the Memorial area of Houston and had this gorgeous, bright white Yoga studio as an add on to her home. We ended up able to use the space and set the date for the shoot. The final aspect I was hoping to have was a digitech or assistant to come in a help out and I was incredibly fortunate to be able to work with Spencer Young. He is an awesome photographer in his own right, the current president of the ASMP Houston chapter, and a badass digitech and assistant. Literally the best I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. Details were set and it was time to make a shoot!
Pre-production is something I was really trying to push myself to get better at last year and this shoot was no different. Practice how you’re going to play, right? I put together mood boards, lighting setups, and even went out to Academy Sports to grab some weights, bands, hand wraps, and a medicine ball that we could use as props in the shoot. I wanted the colors to really pop in the image and come together with the brands that I want to shoot for. All of us had a plan and schedule in mind for how the day was going to go, and all of that work made for a much easier, smoother, and more productive photoshoot.
The day of was a little bit of chaos leading up to our call time. What was supposed to be a sunny Houston day turned into a little bit of a weather nightmare. It went from sunny to overcast to full on tornado warnings all around the city. Not exactly the nice, sunny day I was hoping for outside to bring some awesome window light into the space. Fortunately, everything subsided by the time we were able to shoot and while it was still gray outside, we didn’t have to worry about anybody getting killed in a random tornado on the way to the shoot. I’ve never had anything like that happen before and I’m glad I got an idea of how to handle it while I was on a test rather than facing serious inclement weather as everybody is traveling to the location for a client shoot. But, onto the shoot itself…
As I had mentioned before, we had two different looks we were wanting to try and capture that day: a portrait look and a sports look. We kicked things off with the portraiture work because I knew I was going to have Diana jumping around and doing different movements for the sports stuff and didn’t want to burn her out and have her flushed or sweaty for the portrait shots. Summar had a few different outfits for each shot sets and we decided to start out with a white top and jeans and do something a little more casual. I loved the stark nature of the space so we kept everything very stripped down and pulled in a white chair and a white bench to use as the props in the shots and keep the focus very much on Diana. I used a two light setup using my Profoto B2 light heads tied to the same battery pack. The main light was my Elinchrom 69” Rotalux Octabox up at about 5-6ft high and angled down and back towards the camera a bit to feather light onto Diana. The second light was back behind me acting as a fill light and a little bit of a catch in the iris. I used the 39” Elinchrom Rotalux Octabox for that modifier and had it up at about 5 feet and backed away from the subject probably 12-15 feet with the power pretty substantial because of the distance to the subject. Finally, I decided to fill in the other side of Diana’s face just a bit because I felt it going dark so I use one of my V-Flat World v-flats with the white side facing Diana to reflect some of the light back into the dark side of the face. You can check it out in the diagram below. We shot two variations of this setup with a white bench that we pulled over and a simple white chair. The credit here goes all to Diana as she had to do some incredibly posing to create the angles and poses necessary to give the images the pop they needed. She is really an incredible model.
After we knocked that out, I wanted to use this window to create a different scene. In my head I was seeing this gorgeous, bright sunlight flooding the frame around or behind Diana, but in reality all I was seeing was the dim, cloudy day outside with no chance of realizing what I had in my head with the help of the natural light available. Fortunately, I love using flash and had a boss assistant with me to help make it happen. We were up on the second story, but I made a guesstimate that if I used my boom on top of my c-stand, I could get a light high enough to have it flash in through the window and create the scene I was looking for. Spencer and I took the light outside and used the Profoto B2 head and pack outdoors because of how light the head itself is. We were already going to have this light up in an incredibly precarious position, so keeping at little weight as possible on it was a must to limit the counter-lever issue. Physics is a bitch. We also made sure to keep it as close as possible to the outside of the house to keep wind sheer down and give it as much shelter from the wind as possible. Here’s where it gets tricky, in order to fill the window, I had to put the 69” Octa on the light which is basically like sticking a giant kite on the end of this long pole. No bueno from a physics standpoint, but we were able to make it work. After firing a few quick test shots from inside to make sure my PhaseOne XF would have the range necessary to trigger the pack outside, we started hoisting the light up and getting it set outside the window. After raising the light to the right height, we loaded it with as much weight at the base of the stand as possible. Every sandbag I had available to me as well as all of the weights I had brought and everything else we could find. There was nothing in the fall radius that could be damaged if it did go down, but I also didn’t want to destroy a perfectly good Profoto B2 head in the process either. With everything set as sturdy as we could get it, ingenuity won out and we were back in business!
Back inside, Diana had made her wardrobe change to this beautiful black dress that perfectly accentuated her elegant frame and the style we had looked at leading up to the shoot. To round out the lighting, I moved my Profoto B1 head onto the stand inside and put the Elinchrom 39” Octa on it to wrap some light around Diana’s face and keep the look and feel of it all being from the window light while giving the overall scene just a little bit more completion and elevating the image a bit.
My goal with this was to try as many different angles as the scene would allow for. I shot straight on out of the window, from down the wall leading in to Diana to give some depth, and from back in the hallway allowing Diana to be backlit by the window light a bit and still show some of the surrounding environment. I just kept the motto in my head, “Be a drone. Go high, go low, go all around and see what stands out.” It helped unlock some angles I might not have tried otherwise and this was one of my favorite outfits/setups of the day. Diana had one more dress to change into for the portrait portion of the shoot and it was this awesome white dress made up with this beautiful woven pattern that showed her skin through it as well. I knew it was going to be a bombshell of a look framed in the window so we kept everything where we were and Spencer – nervous the entire time he was back in behind the computer – ran outside and hung out as another base for the light as the wind had picked up a little bit while we were shooting the first look. Diana jumped back in front of the camera and brought her amazing presence to the images, almost channeling a little Bo Derek. Absolutely unreal!
We wrapped that portion of our shoot and I ran back out to help Spencer pull the light down and drag everything back inside while Diana pulled a wardrobe change and got her hair ready for our sports shots. I had seen a shot with a mode that had her hair almost braided up into a mohawk with a pony tail behind it (that’s probably a terrible description but you can see what I’m talking about better in the images) and Diana was all for it. We didn’t have the budget for a HMU artist to be on set with us, but Diana did a killer job of doing it on her own. Fortunately, it took us all about the same amount of time to get everything switched around for the next set of shots and we came back together right around the same time.
If you don’t recognize Diana from the previous work I’ve done with her, you’ll probably remember this shot and the incredible athletic ability that she brought to making it happen. The woman can jump! So, we kicked things off with some jumping shots. Summar had pulled this awesome maroon bra and pant from Nike and paired with these killer shoes that Diana brought along with her, the outfit and hair were spot on for what I was thinking. With the high key nature of the all white studio, it felt a lot like this shoot from way back so I used a similar light setup. Very similar to what I did in set-up #1 for this shoot with just a few simple differences. I used the 69” octa as a fill with no front diffusion on it, and the main light was the 39” octa with no front diffusion. This gives just a little more punch to the image that it would with the diffusers on the light sources. The point of the fill was to flood the whole scene with light so it would come off nice and white, and the main light puts more of an emphasis on Diana and to lines of her body in the shots. I used the Canon 5D Mark IV to capture the action and had her start sending it. We did some more vertical leaps, some leaps across the frame, and some dancing jumps that Diana could pull from her vast experience as a trained dancer. I will admit it was HUGE to have Spencer on the computer as a Digitech during this part of the shoot. I was having some issues with my Profoto Canon trigger (turns out I hadn’t updated it in a bit) and had to go with my Profoto Universal trigger which doesn’t allow for the HSS to work on the lights. Being limited to 1/200th of a second on the shots meant I was constantly fighting motion blur and trying to move the camera with Diana just enough to limit the blur and capture the awesome jumps and athleticism Diana was bringing to the set. Spencer was calling out misses and doing his best to assist me from what he was seeing on a larger screen compared to what I was seeing on the back of my camera. I hate when I have shoots like this and think I’m all good looking at the camera just to get back in front of the computer and see a ghost of blur on the face. I don’t mind it in a foot or a hand because it adds to the sense of movement, but the face HAS to be crisp and I don’t know if I would have caught it without Spencer looking over my shoulder. Invaluable!
Diana put a good burn into her legs giving me her best jumps before we decided to move to some ‘athlete portraits’ we could use alongside the movement images to create a well rounded athlete shoot. She and Summar went back into the changing room to pull the next outfit and Spencer and I dragged a bench I had brought from my home gym around to act as the next setup. The light had finally crept out a bit, so we tried to put the momentary light to use as best as possible. I positioned the bench so I could make use of the windows and keep the ‘natural’ feel of the lighting in the images. Diana and Summar pulled together another stunning black crop pant and bra combo that kept with the badass look we had with Diana’s hair. I added the gloves I had bought the day before with a little “pop” of pink in the image, and they finished it with this awesome white pullover, hooded sweatshirt, wrap kind of a thing. It was really cool for the photos but I would hate to be the person that has to figure out how to fold that thing and put it away on a weekly basis! I shot with my Canon and opened up the ISO to 400 to let more of the light bleed in through the windows. Just to refine the images a little, I added the 39” Octa as an accent light on Diana with the majority of the light in the images being provided by the natural light coming in through the windows. I also had a white v-flat directly in front of Diana to bound light back into her face.
Everything set, we started shooting as quickly as possible so we didn’t miss the natural light we were being afforded in the moment. We had to start and stop a few times as a cloud would pass through, but Diana killed it again. Hood up, hood down, it all really worked well. Summar was awesome at jumping in to help get the hood placed well for the shots (it’s amazing how difficult it is to make a hoodie look good, natural, and not too overwhelming all at the same time!)
We transitioned immediately into doing some movements in the same position by losing the white wrap and handing Diana a medicine ball. She put in some work doing some crunches and v-ups with the medicine ball and may have wanted to kill me by the end of it lol. Nevertheless and always the pro, she crushed it and made it all look a lot more effortless than I know it was. Again, the stark nature of the space added to the image by emphasizing the mode land the green coming in through the windows for a look I was really digging. But, it is Houston and the light coming in started to fade quickly and we were once again left with a dull light limping in to the space. Fortunately, I had another idea in mind that I thought would look awesome with Diana’s current outfit. The difficulty was, I wanted to shoot it on black and keep it dark in an all white space. Enter the beauty of the v-flat!
As you can see in the diagram above, I used the v-flats to create a mini-studio space we could shoot in. I had this shot idea from my buddy Caleb Kerr and wanted to give it a try because I thought it would look really awesome with Diana as the model and her hair/look she had going on that day. The images were going to be tight head shots on Diana using a colored gel for the rim light and a light with no gel for the main light. To make sure I didn’t get any spill onto the background, I kept the distances to Diana from the lights as small as possible (remember 1/r^2 is the ratio for light fall off). I also employed a grid to keep the spill down even further. I used the B2 heads again for both lights since you can plug the battery pack in and keep shooting which is great for days in the studio when you need to keep power up. I also turned the modeling lights on for this shot to help with focus. Both lights utilized Profoto Beauty Dish modifiers. The main difference was putting a blue gel and a grid on the rim light vs. no other modification on the main light. That kept the blue light focused on the back of the head and shoulder and didn’t let it spill onto the background that it was set up over the top of. Finally, add some “sweat” on Diana’s skin and we were ready to rock and roll. It is a really cool little setup that you can put together fairly quickly and create a nice, dark area to shoot in with minimal space and equipment.
Keeping the same mini-studio setup with the black backdrop, I wanted to get one more look in before we wrapped the shoot and we still had one more outfit to use as well. Diana went and changed into a reflective silver bra/pant combo and I grabbed these pink hand wraps I had bought to get a couple of shots with a boxing theme. I had just started boxing at home myself for a workout and fell in love with the sport from a workout perspective and was definitely being influenced by that passion and wanted to capture it a little on camera. The pink wraps gave that color pop I was wanting, and Diana’s whole mood was perfect for the intense portraits we could capture with them in the dark setting. You can check out the light setup in the fun BTS image we captured before wrapping up, but it was three lights: 1) low fill light with the large octabox, 2) an overhead light with the smaller octabox, and 3) the main light on a boom with a beauty dish and grid on it.
As we finished up, we were able to take advantage of a little more window light that decided to show up as we were tearing down and captured one more image of Diana holding the medicine ball and getting one last athlete portrait/ stylized product image. Overall, in a few hours we were really able to capture a lot of different things and a lot of it comes down to having the right people on set, putting in the pre-work to make it happen, and just shooting stuff for the sake and love of taking pictures!