Agency Test Shoot: La Piedra Beach (pt 1)


This past Sunday I scheduled a model ‘test shoot’ with two models from LA Models Agency. Booked for the shoot were Eva (this post), and Amanda (in the “part 2” post, coming soon). Originally there was a third model scheduled too, but I’m so glad she went out of town instead! More on that below.

Sunday turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far. It was hot! And it was a weekend! So what is normally the most deserted beach in Southern California (in my opinion), was packed. When I arrived, I couldn’t find a parking spot. Mind you, it’s a very small, dirt parking lot at the top of a cliff, which holds maybe twenty cars. When I went there on Friday to scout it, I was the only one in the parking lot.

Since this was a sunset shoot, I had Eva scheduled to arrive at 4:45pm, and Amanda at 5:30. Eva would get makeup applied and then I’d start shooting her at 5:30. Amanda would get makeup and join us, and I’d shoot her, and then the two of them together. This wasn’t a bikini-fest, this was a “girlfriends having fun at the beach” look. Portfolio shots for the agency, and theme-type shots for my portfolio.

So when I got to the parking lot and couldn’t find a spot, I switched to plan B. There’s a beach in Malibu that is technically a public beach, but the entrances are so well-hidden in a residential area, it might as well be private. I raced over there, ran down the (seemingly) hundreds of steps, found that it wasn’t too crowded, and raced back to the car. On my way back, Eva called; she had arrived at La Prieda, right on time, and had even found a spot! Hmm, looks like back to plan A. People were starting to leave the beach for the day, so it was possible with five or ten minutes of waiting, to get a parking spot.

However I hadn’t planned on beach traffic, including a car accident slowing things down even more. My ‘assistant’ Steve Roosa—a superb photographer and friend, who offered to help me out—made it on time. But the makeup artist Norma and model Amanda both got caught behind an accident on Pacific Coast Highway. My overly tight schedule was falling apart. This is why I’m glad there wasn’t a third model! I would have been shooting her in the dark.

Everyone got makeup (well, the models did), everyone got images, and it worked out just fine. But I should have remembered that potential problems don’t double when you double the number of people involved: they get squared or cubed.

Moving on: lighting throughout was a single light, held by Steve. I used a 45″ shoot-through umbrella throughout as well. I started with my Norman 200B at full blast, f/8 or so, to combat the bright afternoon sun. The lead shot has the light camera right, with Steve perched on the rocks above Eva.

For the headshot below, the light is camera left, and sunlight is to her back. You can see the sun is already starting to warm up compared to the flash.


I have a strange obsession with pointing my camera at the sun. In this case, I placed a beautiful model in a strategic location to block the sun, and then lit her with the strobe (below).


For the below image, I turned things around. I wanted the strobe to mimic the sun’s direction, but to be softer. So I had Steve place the umbrella close, so that it blocked the direct sun (or rather, knocked the light down considerably, since it’s translucent). Only problem was I was getting spill from direct sunlight on her dress at the bottom of the frame. I needed a bigger umbrella! Steve, and not for the first time that evening, saved the shot by suggesting he use his body to block the rest of the light. A quick reposition, and voila! I could even play with knocking down the ambient a little, as in this shot.


Same lighting, but just a nice warm shot. I think I was pretty far back on this too, shooting with a long zoom for that compressed perspective feel.


The image below isn’t going to be useful for Eva’s portfolio, but I love it anyway. She’s slightly silhouetted, with a wonderfully relaxed evening-on-the-beach feel. The umbrella’ed strobe was acting as an edge light, camera right this time. The sun (obviously) is just peeking around the side of her hair.


And here’s my assistant, Steve, holding the light.

Oh wait, that’s not Steve. He handed the light to Eva while he took off his shoes in preparation for a photographic romp in the waves. How many times do I have to tell him, don’t make the models carry stuff??! In this case though, I think we can make an exception.


Coming soon, part 2: where we get to see Amanda and the Attack of the Zombie Crab, and other things…

4 thoughts on “Agency Test Shoot: La Piedra Beach (pt 1)

  1. Ah well, next time. Yes it was fun, stressful, chaotic, satisfying…all those things a photo shoot can be.

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