Working with Wilhelmina Pt. 1

The second part of my week in LA was less about pulling strings with different connections and more with just putting myself out there and hustling my ass off. Connections are only half of the battle. The other half is putting in time, effort, and creative thinking. I knew I was going to be in LA for an entire week and I didn’t want to work with only the models that I had met at John’s workshop. The goal of the entire trip full of personal work was to create new portfolio content and expand the number of faces in my book. I new they also needed to be people that had the ‘look’ I was going to need in my portfolio in order to pursue the Celebrity work I want to secure. So, I reached out to modeling agencies. I pinged the biggest one I knew of – Wilhelmina – and just started making phone calls and sending emails. I didn’t have any connections and was a complete unknown entity to them, but I called them up and blatantly asked for help getting in touch with the people that managed the models. I told them I was going to be in LA and was looking to do some test shooting over the course of 2-3 days. They gave me some names and emails and I shot off emails with essentially the same information along with a couple of examples of my work and what I was wanting to shoot. Forty-eight hours later, I was set up with a couple of different models on different days and had the ability to go through a list and see who I wanted to work with and if their look was what I was needing. In all reality, it felt a lot like the same process I talked about years ago on the blog when I photographed Matt the Bartender after just seeing him and thinking he had a cool look. Put yourself out there and see what you get back!

One of my favorite candids while Sabina and I were talking naturally during our shoot.

Now, there was another aspect of the trip that was happening at the same time as my own individual efforts to put together some shoots. I had been in touch with Chris Orwig since we met at John’s workshop and we had talked a couple of times about how rad it would be to get together and do some shooting. Play off of each other, split some of the production costs, and see how we both work. I loved the idea and had no idea how it would go, but I had listed to Chris’s tutorials on Photoshop for years and was just stoked to get to spend some more time with him and watch him shoot.

Another immediate favorite of Sabina from the shoot

We went back and forth with scheduling multiple times trying to figure out when he could drive into the city and be back out in time for Dad duties, and I was trying to figure out where I needed to be and when. Not to mention I was terrified about the “LA Traffic” we hear so much about in the media. But, being from Houston I can say I’ve seen worse than what I sat in during this trip and any other I’ve taken. But, I digress…

After nailing down dates, times, and models, it was all about locations. This was the first time I had ever been introduced to Peerspace, and I am in love with it. I have used it religiously since this trip. It is essentially an AirBnB for studio rentals and it allows you to see so much more than you might have been able to otherwise. I highly recommend it if you’ve never used it and find yourself looking for shoot locations often. Chris and I used the share function on it to collaborate and nail down some locations. The first one we found was in the LA Fashion District and had a really great, loft vibe to it that allowed us to mix some great window light along with Profoto studio lights. There was also enough space that we could set up 2-3 different sets and really stay out of each other’s way for the most part, and that’s essentially what we ended up doing.

The day of the shoot came and we met up at the studio with all of our combined crap, and lugged it up and down the freight elevator with about an hour for us to get set up before the models arrived. We had worked with Wilhelmina and nailed down the date for Raquel and Sabina. Both girls are gorgeous and have awesome personalities in front of the camera and just in general. I’m pretty sure Sabina could lighten up just about any room with how bright her personality shines. Raquel was a little younger and newer to modeling but when that camera clicked on she was in the zone and a blast to work with. Raquel was also the first one to arrive. Chris and I were already set up with one setup using his Gravity Backdrop and two lights, another using his other Gravity Backdrop and balancing some daylight and 1-2 Profoto lights, and the last setup using this really cool wood wall with 2 more lights. I think we had 5 lights between us, so we moved stuff around as we both needed to.

Raquel is gorgeous! Her skin tone and eyes were just unreal…

We kicked things off with Raquel in front of the darker of the two backdrops and it was really fun to get to watch Chris jump in there and work with Raquel and try to peel the layers back to grab a really authentic portrait. He was also newer – at the time – to studio lighting so I had a blast helping set and dial lights with him as he shot. I guess, in a sense, it was my first time ever assisting even if it was just for a little bit. I jumped in and took some shots as well, moving the lights a bit to achieve the look that I tend to like. We were working with Chris’s B10s, using one as a fill light with a large Profoto White Umbrella with a Diffuser on it. That light was set directly behind us as we shot, and the main light was set to camera right. This was Chris’s other B10 with a 39” (I think) Octabox on it. Again, I had the height about right to have the bottom of the modifier stop at eye-level and aimed just a foot or two in front of the model to get more of the fall off rather than the direct light.

I loved what Sabina was wearing when she showed up so much I had to photograph her just being herself and natural.

Sometime while we were switching back and forth and talking to Raquel about all kinds of things, Sabina arrived and I was immediately drawn to her personality. We didn’t have the budget for a stylist so we asked the models to bring some clothing similar to the looks we showed them and described in the mood boards I created and sent over beforehand. Sabina arrived with this full size suit case stuffed full of all kinds of stuff and it was awesome. She also had this badass hat on that I loved and more red-soled shoes than I’ve ever seen outside of a shoe store. It was a whirlwind and I immediately wanted to photograph her. And, since Chris was in the middle of working on another shot with Raquel, that’s what happened. We paired off a bit – Chris with Raquel and Sabina and I – and I think all of us kind of lost track of time because we rarely got a chance to switch things up and shoot with the other person. It was all good, but it also helps if you’re wondering where more of my photos of Raquel are. Whoops!

A shot of Scottie I captured while we were in transition and setting up the next set. Loved this shot of him and truly appreciate the friendship that has developed from this shoot!

Anyway, I feel like I’m writing a Guy Ritchie film here because we need to rewind one more time to add in the final aspect of what was going on during this shoot. First, I have to say that Instagram is awesome and it’s amazing the friendships you can develop with people that have common interests over social media. I have a couple of great photographer friends that I include in the “Instagram Buddies” category and Scottie Warman is one of those dudes. I honestly don’t remember how I found Scottie’s name, but I think he was tagged in one of Curt Morgan’s post from some work he had done with Titleist. As it turns out, Scottie is the master behind a lot of the amazing imagery and marketing that my favorite golf company put out. I started following his amazing macro work because details are always such a struggle for me to compose and his composition is absolutely money. He followed me back and we started this friendship just talking about one another’s work (I think my initial question was fanboy in nature about Curt asking what it was like getting to work with him). From there I told him I was making my way out to LA again soon for some shoots and he was immediately interested. I knew he lived further South towards San Diego and didn’t think anything would really come of it, but sure enough he made the drive up for the Wilhelmina photoshoot. He decided to just get in his car and come up to LA to say Hi and hang out on a set for a few hours. I was blown away and completely thrilled when he showed up at the studio a few minutes before Sabina did. I had no idea what he was going to do, but I did know I had a GoPro handy for some BTS video and asked him if he was willing to shoot some for me. Scottie took his job seriously and I had an absolute blast with this dude. I LOVE the relationships that come out of storytelling and photography! Can’t say it enough!

Back on track…

So Scottie was following Sabina and I around shooting some video and helping move lights or hold the Phase One when I needed an extra hand. It made the afternoon so much more fun and the three of us really had a blast moving around the studio. We kicked it off shooting right where I had left off with Raquel. She and Chris had moved on to a different part of the studio and I figured I was already dialed in and wanted to get things moving. Sabina was an instant pro and I think we were more worried about what music was playing than we were about trying to get good photos which created even better images. We were relaxed and enjoying the experience.

Next, she made a quick change of her top and I loved the giant, floor to ceiling windows we had on the far side of the room. I wanted to try and play with some depth of field stuff, getting a lot of floor boards in the foreground and shooting long and low across the floor. I had her sit against the windows and adjusted to allow the windows to blow out a bit, then I had Scottie sneak in my Profoto B1 with the 69” Elinchrom Octa on it to create a nice wrap of light that essentially continued to light from the window around Sabina’s face creating a really beautiful portrait. We got some of my favorites of the day with that simple setup before moving on to the next change of clothes. At that point in time, we each traded out a bit and I got to work with Raquel for a little bit of time while Chris worked with Sabina to create some amazing images of his own.

Switching pace a bit, we shot in front of Chris’s beautiful Gravity Backdrop over by the windows. I used V-Flats to knock down the light pouring in beside Raquel so the window light hitting her came more from the front of the image. V-flats are amazing tools y’all! After shaping the existing light how I wanted it, I used the 69” Octa as my main again pulled one of my Profoto B2’s in as well along with a Profoto 4×1 Strip Box on it. This light I used just to try and create some interest in her pupil with a new catch light. After getting the lights set, we rocked and rolled for a little while. I tried to pull back and get some more 2/3 shots of her and then pushed back in for some close ups of her beautiful face and expression. It was really a blast and was over way too quickly.

After shooting for 10 minutes or so Raquel, Scottie, and I moved over to the wooden wall and I basically flipped the light setup I had to the other side of the room. I used the large octabox balanced with the window light as the main light source and had Raquel sit on this awesome chaise that was in the space as well. I loved the look and the intrigue of her sitting on this really cool, leather chaise with all of the wood surrounding her and getting just a little bit of the windows into the frame to make it look like she is sitting and looking out of the window. The light balance was perfect for what I wanted and the outfit and Raquel’s gorgeous skin tone was a definite winner. Since I was wanting to get a variety of pulled back and close shots quickly, I continued using my Canon 5D Mark IV instead of the medium format Phase One, and I had the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on the camera for quick adjustments. We got some awesome shots really quickly and I think that was about the time that Chris and I realized we wanted to photograph the girls in the new outfits they had both changed into while we were working. So, we arranged back to our original groups and Scottie, Sabina, and I continued shooting on the wooden wall we had just been photographing Raquel on.

With Sabina I wanted to change the look up just a bit so I wasn’t photographing both of the models in the same exact position. Plus, I had already photographed Sabina sitting on the floor in front of the windows so sitting on the chaise felt like too similar of a shot. Instead, I moved the chaise out of the way and brought the large Octabox in a little closer for some tight portraits against the wall. I then paired the smaller 39” Elinchrom Rotalux Octa with the 4×1 strip box for the catch lights. I loved the light I was getting mixed in with the nice window light coming in and decided to switch things up a bit. Instead of shooting with my Phase One, I decided to use my Canon with the 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens to get a really great portrait length. I had tried this while I was shooting with Britt back in Houston a few weeks prior and loved the outcome, creating some of my favorite images with her. So, I decided to bust it out again and I even got the chance to work with the “L” version of the lens courtesy of Scottie. Sabina was absolutely killing it and I could have shot the look and light all day long. Her personality was really starting to come out in the images and pairing in the hat she had with her added an element to the whole feel with the wood background that was perfect for the overall aesthetic of the shot.

We were nearing the end of the shoot and I still had a few more ideas for what I wanted to capture while we had the time, space, and awesome models. Sabina had shown me a coat she had brought and I wanted to get a few shots of her that were closer up and had her brining her hands into the image more. I’ve always struggled with hands in close up images and really wanted to try and push myself to get better in that particular area as much as possible. With this as a test shoot, be it a test shoot with slightly larger implications, it was the perfect time to work on myself and my own shooting style.

Sabina grabbed her coat and I flipped the lighting back over to the lighter background that I had been shooting with Raquel on previously. Again, I pulled back and shot close to try and capture something unique and interesting. Different from the shots with Raquel, but with almost identical lighting and positioning. I was satisfied with what I captured, but I wasn’t as “wowed” as I wanted to be. Excellence is always the pursuit and I didn’t feel like we were capturing something excellent.

We were running low on time and as we were starting to break down the sets and the lights I had one last idea using this really cool wall and lights that were built into the studio we were working at. I wanted to shoot down the wall and use the tones in Sabina’s coat and hat to bring forth something that almost felt like a country album cover. Funny enough, Sabina is married to country artist Tyler Rich so she was all on board for going with the idea I had in mind. She tapped into her cowgirl and we captured some really cool shots for the final images of the day. The lighting was a two light setup. I used the main light which was the 39” Octabox modifier as the main light and a kicker light on Sabina’s back to create some interest and separation. The kicker light was a bare bulb and I use the B1 as the kicker in this instance. The positioning of the two light was the main light to camera left and set up so that Sabina was almost directly between the wall and the light to create a nice, deep shadow on the side of the face. The kicker light was about 10 feet behind Sabina and off to the left as well until it was just barely out of the frame. When I say barely, I mean I was fighting it at the edge of the frame the entire time. That gave the best angle for the light without me having to do any photoshop witchery to create the final image.

The last images were a success and the shoot as a whole was another huge step for me at the beginning of last year. I had two amazing shoots in the bag, but both were definitely more geared to the same sports and athletic shoots I had been shooting for years. This was the first shoot completely geared towards portraiture. On top of that, it was my first shoot with a actress. Sabina isn’t just an amazing model and social media presence, she’s also a talented actress who’s been in several big movies. It was an awesome experience to get to work with her in depth and get to know her better as a person. Raquel was amazing as well and I was definitely bummed we didn’t have more time to get to work together and continue expanding on what we had created. Another step in the journey and more content created with amazing people.

Want to see more? Check out the awesome BTS video Scottie shot while he was on set. So pumped he was willing and able to capture this time. Definitely go check out his work on Instagram and give him a follow if you’re interested in amazing content and really graphical macro work. Thanks Scottie!

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  1. February 3rd, 2020

    […] forward to the end of my first day of shooting with Wilhelmina models Sabina and Raquel. We had just finished up and I had been in contact with and setting up a shoot […]