A Portrait Shoot with Actress Isabel Arraiza

Making a pivot in your career at any point always comes with a flurry of excitement, apprehension, and some blind hope and faith in yourself. When I made the jump from full time sales engineer to full time photographer I felt all of those feelings, and, again, when I transitioned from photographing sports to pursuing celebrity photography I was left feeling like I was back at the beginning again. All of those small set backs and struggles to succeed can become overwhelming, but it makes initial successes feel that much better. When I got the call to work with a publicist photographing upcoming actress Isabel Arraiza, it was nothing but pure elation and a sense of progress. Isabel had just graduated from Julliard in New York City and was set to play one of the leading roles in the new Suits spinoff Pearson. Being a HUGE Suits fan I was absolutely pumped by everything coming together with this photoshoot and the fact that I was getting to head back out to New York City was an awesome little bonus.

My INSTANT favorite from this shoot.

Needless to say, as soon as I received the call I started planning. The budget for the shoot was going to be pretty minimal, but I knew I could make it happen and the back end benefit of making the shoot go well was always in the back of my mind. The brief for the shoot was to capture a series of images that could be used across different kinds of media – headshots, portraits, some more casual shots, and a few steamier images that could be used for an interview in a Maxim or GQ article if needed. Isabel’s publicists were setting up the Hair, Make Up Artist , and Stylist for the shoot, so I really just had to find a location, get me and my gear to NYC, and conceptualize the different images as much as possible.

The first thing I’ve started doing when I’m putting together one of these shoots is to go to Pinterest and create a board with different images I like of similar looking actresses, celebrities, and models. From there, I can start to narrow down different image sets and formalize my ideas into their own unique images. For this shoot, I knew that I was wanting to keep things as simple as possible, and thanks to my friend Paul Meyers, I had a great location to work with in Brooklyn. I could use some of the furniture in the space paired with the great window light coming in to create the more casual images and the slightly steamier image, and I knew I wanted to rent an Oliphant backdrop while I was in town for the majority of the work I was going to create. The studio was only a couple of blocks from Oliphant’s studios so I could make the walk with the drop to and from the studio on the day of the shoot.

With a good plan outlined, I pack up my bags and hopped on the flight. When I’m flying with all of this stuff, it’s always hard to figure out what to bring and what to leave at home. The heaviest (and therefore most expensive) stuff to bring are stands and modifiers because they’re just so big! Knowing I had a studio to work in, I could leave the stands, but I like to have my own modifiers because I know how to work with them and can be more effective at my job if I’m not worrying about the small differences in lighting modifiers. So, I put all of my camera gear, computer, batteries, memory cards, and backup drives into my f-stop Tilopa backpack as my main carry-on. This gives me a peace of mind and the beauty of that bag is even if the overhead bins are full and I’m in a tight situation, I can slide the insert out and slide it under the seat in front of me. It’ll be a scrunched flight, but my gear is with me and as safe as it can be! My other carry on is my 69” Octa case. I break down the modifier and put the speed ring into my checked bag, but I can carry on the wire posts and fabric for a couple of modifiers in the carrying case and stuff them in the overhead easy enough. My check bags are always my clothes along with some more modifiers and miscellaneous crap (tether cables, speed rings, etc.), and my ThinkTank Logistics Manager bag with my flash heads in it. This is always a little scary, but that bag is a tank and after 9 years of flying with it I’ve never had a single issue with TSA or any broken/lost items from the luggage (yes, I just knocked on every piece of wood I could find in my vicinity as I typed that…).

A portrait of Paul from our initial setup. Such a help having him around during the setup and acting as a test subject for me!

Flying in a day early always gives me time to get my bearings on where I am in the city and my plan for travel, arrival, and timing for the next day. I checked into the hotel, grabbed some essentials (pizza and bagels because, you know, New York…) and was ready for the shoot.

I woke up before my alarm ever went off and went through my morning routine of getting a quick run or workout in and getting cleaned up. A final check of the gear and all battery levels before everything goes into the bags, and I set out to grab an Uber and head across town for the shoot. I had to stop in at Oliphant first and grab my drop, but that was no problem at all and I was at Paul’s studio well before I had planned to be, giving me plenty of time to set up and feel comfortable before people showed up on set.

As the crew began to arrive and Isabel started through the process of hair and make up, I was feeling really calm and confident in my plan, and as I went through the amazing selection of clothing Eliza had pulled for the shoot, I knew we were all on the same page and ready to create some wonderful work.

My main light source for the day was going to be the 69” Rotalux Octabox from Elinchrom because I knew it was a nice, soft light that could transition well between different setups, and I could easily add lights and V-flats quickly throughout the shoot. I was working without an assistant (thankfully Paul jumped in and helped where he could), so I needed to have a good workflow prepped to focus on Isabel and staying connected with her and the camera. We started in front of the Oliphant drop, using a two-light setup with the fill being the 69” Octa and the main light coming from a 39” Elinchrom Rotalux Octa. Both were on Profoto B1 heads and I had V-flats set up on either side of the set to keep stray ambient light from flowing into the image unexpectedly. I had Isabel start out sitting on a stool and then move to a standing position, constantly moving back and forth between close up and pulled back shots to make sure I was capturing as much variety as possible in such a short amount of time.

After feeling good about those images, Isabel went to change into the casual outfit and I spun my 69” Octa around and used more of the studio with some light coming in from behind Isabel. It was perfect for what we needed to capture and at this point I could tell that Isabel was getting more comfortable with the still camera and my style of working. She immediately moved into the frame and provided all of the fire I could handle. It was a blast and I feel like the 2nd setup is always where everybody relaxes and starts having some fun! The window light streaming in gave an awesome backdrop and pairing it with the large octabox was exactly what I had pictured in my mind. We loved the outfit so much and I thought it would look great against the darker Oliphant drop, so we spun back around and quickly grabbed a few frames back in front of the Oliphant. I decided I wanted to use the same outfit to grab a few frames with my Heroes on White setup, so we finished the set with those images.

After taking a quick break for some lunch, hair and make up retouches, and a wardrobe change, we continued the casual look by changing outfits once again and moving further into the space to use another couch in the studio. Again, it was a nice balance between the window light, a white v-flat, and the 69” octabox to create the lighting for the shot, and a little maneuvering of some pillows to get Isabel comfortable and into the pose I was seeing in my head. She, of course, was amazing again and I barely had to provide much direction at this point as she had taken over and her confidence was the overwhelming presence in the room. That’s EXACTLY what you want in front of the camera. If your subject has confidence in the images they’re creating, you’re going to capture some amazing photos.

 After crushing that set of images, I paused from moving on because I wanted to try and capture an intimate, black and white beauty image I had in my mind. It was a tight close-up of Isabel’s face with just a hint of her hands in the image and a turtle neck sweater to really frame the face out fully. The lighting was key here and even the smallest adjustments had huge implications for how it was going to show up in camera because of how close everything was to Isabel for the image. I pulled out my Canon and used the 100mm Macro lens for the images. It took a little longer than I would like to admit to really dial in the lighting for this setup, but with it being off the cuff and how far ahead of schedule we were, I felt like I had some time to pull it together and capture what I was seeing in my head. The end result was breathtaking and Isabel’s beautiful facial features were so compelling I had to force myself to stop taking more frames even though I knew we had some good ones.

After all of the serious images, it was time for a little bit of fun! Isabel changed into this gorgeous, flowing pink dress and I moved everything out of the way to create some space for her to move around on set. Using a simple two-light setup, I grabbed my Canon and we decided to capture some images where Isabel was dancing and jumping to add some motion to the still portraits we had already created. The stark white background of the cyc-wall was perfect to emphasize all of the color and I loved how infectious the energy in the room was as everybody was having fun and getting into the shoot alongside Isabel. After 20 or 30 frames, I pulled in this big, ornate chair for her to sit in and get another variation of the outfit in case the need for it arose in future press publications.

The final planned set was the more risqué outfit and this was a complete first for me. I’ve always stayed away from shooting images that have more implication because I worry about being pigeonholed as another male photographer who just likes to get pretty young women into scandalous outfits and positions, but with the team pulling it together and making it more tasteful, I felt confident that the images wouldn’t cross any lines or create something I was uncomfortable with. Isabel changed and I set up to use the window as the main backdrop and make the images look more like she was waking up and looking out of the window rather than something more implicative. She felt good about the images too, and I snuck in a white v-flat close to her and the window to provide some bounce, and the rest of the images were shot without any flash whatsoever.

Again, we finished grabbing the images early and had a little more time to play with before we had to head our separate directions, so Isabel changed into one last outfit and I had this image in my head that reminded me of a Vanity Fair shoot or something that Annie would have created. Very dreamy and soft-spoken but still beautiful and powerful. With that in mind, I set up an extremely simple one-light setup with just the 69” Octabox as the only light source and a v-flat opposite it to create some depth or fill as needed. This ended up being my favorite set in the shoot and the ladies had Isabel looking absolutely breathtaking for these shots. Everything came together perfectly and with a little wind added by Virginia and her hairdryer, we captured something that I think even Annie might have been proud of. It was the perfect note to end the shoot on and I was so thankful that my first experience in this realm of photography was so positive. It always helps to have such an amazing team around you, great friends to support you, and a fantastic and fun model in front of the lens.

I hope that y’all will check out the BTS video from the shoot. We had a lot of moving parts and pieces during this, so I didn’t get much behind the scenes footage, but I did think this gave a great glimpse into what it looks like to be on set and creating with a team. I hope y’all enjoy it and get a useful glimpse out of it and if you did, be sure to hit that “like” button and I would be honored if you would Subscribe to the channel! There is sure to be more BTS content coming soon so be sure you get notified as soon as it hits the feed!

Thank you again to the amazing team at Shelter PR for trusting me with this shoot, to Paul for helping me out and allowing me to work in his amazing space, and the lovely ladies that made Isabel perfect for the images: Virginia (hair), Min Min (MUA), and Eliza (stylist). It was a pleasure to get to work with this team and create some amazing images with a dream subject like Isabel.

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