Point Mugu (Family Portrait)


This is my third year making this family’s portraits. I like being able to work with a family over time, because I get a chance to know them, see their kids grow up, and build a relationship. Not to mention, the familiarity makes for a wonderfully relaxed session!

I’ve made all this family’s portraits on the beach (see last year’s here). The mom loves the beach, and the dad really wanted to do something different. And in these sorts of situations I’ve long since learned, mom wins. 🙂 But to make things a little different, we decided to increase the challenge level, and make the images at a rocky beach instead. So we chose a location near Pt. Mugu, with the iconic Mugu Rock in the background. This location is tricky though, and I’ve only shot here once before (several years ago). The tide has to be low, or there’s absolutely no beach. It’s windy. And it helps if the shoot is in winter, so that Mugu Rock is side-lit at sunset rather than a stark silhouette.

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Did I mention it was windy? I knew it was going to be, so I hired an assistant for the day (Heather is an accomplished photographer in her own right, and has helped me before). Since the rocks were precarious for light stands, and the wind would easily knock them over, I needed someone to hold the umbrella in place. And Heather did a great job…she’s fun to work with too.

The lead image above is actually near the end of the session, as the sun in setting. I broke with my standard procedure here. Typically I’ll cross-light, i.e. I’ll use the sun as a hair/edge light behind and to the side of the subject, and will place the key light on the opposite side (like I did in the following image). But above, I decided to place the key on the same side as the edge light. I think this looks a little more gentle and natural, although not quite as dramatic. I flipped the fill light (image above) to the right side so the shadows didn’t get too dark.

While we were still planning the portrait session, I was a little concerned with my clients’ choice of clothing, at least from the description. Especially when I heard dad would be wearing a “hawaiian shirt”. Uh oh! I imagined something orange and green and very busy. Turns out their wardrobe, which is darker than what I would recommend for a typical beach session, was perfect for this rocky beach!

The image below was made nearer the beginning of the session, and you can tell by the sunlight…the light is a little bluer, a little sharper. Also we’re further away from Mugu rock in this image, so the  perspective changes a little. Here the family is perched on a very large, flat rock. One that is probably under water at high tide.


A shot of mom and dad below, same basic lighting set up (key light to camera-left, Metz Mecablitz 60 in 43″ shoot through umbrella), and the fill light is an SB-28 with Lumiquest SoftBox III. The fill is up a little higher here, to give a flatter, smoother transition.


And there’s always time for fun! Below is just a natural-light shot, although I might have used the pop-flash. Sometimes you just gotta run around and shoot (being mindful of where your light is coming from, of course!).


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