Model Shoot: Trail-Running with Laura


You first saw Laura on my blog when she helped out with the lighting seminar I gave last year. Laura and I have been talking for months about getting a shoot going, but scheduling and other things got in the way (as they always do).  I had booked another model to do a fitness/trail-running shoot a couple of weeks ago. But when the other model had to cancel at the last minute, I contacted Laura on the off chance she was available. And as luck would have it, she was! So we headed off to Arroyo Verde Park in Ventura, where my wife and I often go for a lunchtime hike. Some serious hills to climb, plus a wonderful green park at the bottom of the canyon, with lots of great trees. Doesn’t look like Southern California if you frame the picture just right.

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The lead picture was taken using only available light, with harsh mid-afternoon sun. It was about 3:30, and the winter/spring sun is low enough that I can put the sun to her back and not get stray hotspots on her face. That’s the normal way I would shoot, and would light her face with a strobe. But before I set up the lights on the hill, I decided to try something new.

In browsing through fashion magazines (as I do on a regular basis…hey, it’s homework!), I’ve noticed some photographers shooting in bright, harsh sun. The faces of the models were lit by the sunlight, and it should have looked horrible. Deep shadows in the eye sockets etc. But the images looked pretty good. Then I took a closer look…there were no shadows to speak of, none that were unpleasant anyway. And the models’ eyes were closed. Hmm, something’s going on here.

Then I figured it out. If the model points his/her nose directly at the sun, the face is evenly lit. The downside: you’re staring right into the sun!

So for these available-light shots, I told Laura to point her nose at the sun and close her eyes. On the count of three, she would open her eyes for a brief moment, and I would snap the picture. This was short enough time that she wouldn’t have to squint, and I didn’t force her to do too many of these. I’ve worked that lead image in Photoshop pretty heavily to give it a moodier, more dramatic look, which befits the heroic pose.

We started the shoot however down in the parking lot, to get some shots of her running. This park has a tree-lined spot that resembles a Northwest forest, just ten feet from the parking lot. It was pretty dark and shady, and I knew that if I exposed to bring the ambient up, Laura would be blurred as she ran. So first I mounted my camera on a tripod. I then set my shutter speed pretty fast (1/125 probably), and got her properly exposed with strobe, but with the background very dark. After getting some shots of Laura running, I took a series of bracketed exposures with her not in the scene, so that I had the background recorded at different brightnesses. I was then able to paint in areas later so that the background wasn’t completely dark. Since the camera was on a tripod, all these bracketed exposures line up properly.

It turns out I liked the dark background, as the image took on the feel of a running-by-moonlight shot. So rather than bring up the background too much in post-production, I kept the feel and just added some detail in the shadows. I also tweaked the colors to resemble moonlight.

The main light consists of two SB-28s on a homemade bracket, in a 45″ shoot-through umbrella camera left (shooting between the branches of a tree which is out of frame). To camera right is another SB-28, with no modifier. The two strobes were triggered with my Cybersync radio slaves.


After shooting a few different locations down in the canyon, we headed up for the trails. I had pre-planned my equipment for this, since I knew I had two different types of shoots. So I actually had a duplicate of almost everything, so that I could dump one set of gear in the car, and grab the other. The only thing I think I used both times was a single SB-28. Different strobes, different camera, even different radio triggers. It made for a quick change and a pre-planned light load for the hike.

After the available-light shots, I set up my Norman 200B. It has a big battery pack and puts out a lot of light. I knew I’d need it, since I’d be in bright sun. No modifier on the strobe this time, just raw light at max power. Because of the lay of the land, I had to set the strobe about 15 feet away from Laura. Any closer and I couldn’t get the light stand to be straight and stable. The sun is to her back and camera right…you can see the highlight down her left arm (image below). The strobe was also camera right, but mostly in front. I was shooting f/11 if I recall, which allowed me to bring down the sky for a nice deep blue. We had some great clouds that day too, at least for California. I didn’t have to add any of my own!

Oh, and Laura used to be a cheerleader. Can you tell? 🙂 Look at the air she’s getting on that leap! And she’s smiling, no doubt happy that she no longer has to stare into the sun.


And one more shot below, same lighting and location. Here’s Laura, celebrating the fact that she can stop jumping so close to the edge of a steep ravine, and finally go home.


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