El Matador Beach: Agency Test Shoot


Back to the beach for another model agency test shoot. Different agency this time, and the model is Christina. Even though El Matador is just one beach over from the shoot of a few weeks ago, it was a very different shoot this time. Way more relaxed, for one thing!

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While El Matador is a popular beach for those ‘in the know’ — I should probably quit mentioning it by name! — it wasn’t crowded at all. It was Friday evening, and a storm was coming in, so not the ideal beach weather. In fact I had been keeping a keen eye on the weather report, because I didn’t want to get there and have to cancel because of rain. Arranging this shoot had involved a lot of false starts, other locations that didn’t work out, and I was determined to have it be a success! As long as no one got wet.

The sun was shining up until the time we were ready to shoot. It seemed like no sooner had the makeup artist Eva uttered the words “she’s ready!”, the sun went behind the clouds. Ah well, I had mentally prepared for that and more. I figured hey, the sky is going to be gray anyway, so I’ll do some blown-out high key shots (like the lead shot). Gray is no fun, but white can be. You’ll notice the bright sunlight on Christina’s face coming from camera left. Well no, that’s not sunlight.It’s a Nikon SB-28 in a Lumiquest SoftBox III, held by my assistant for the day (and fellow photographer), Amber Seat. The sun would have been coming from the opposite direction actually, although it was overcast and we were in the shade of a rock. But a little brightness and warmth added in post give that image a sunnier feel than what reality was prepared to offer.

The two images below were shot while the sky still held some interest. Both are strobe-lit, using my Norman 200B in a 45″ shoot-through umbrella. But with the low-contrast conditions, I was careful to balance my ambient and flash very carefully. It’s a very different mindset from the previous Malibu shoot, which was all about fighting full sun, pinning it to the ground with a powerful strobe and making it say “uncle”. This was more of a polite negotiation with the available light, giving it a little more direction.



The shot below was from the same sequence as the lead shot. Although it had gotten so cold and windy that I took mercy on poor Christina and let her put on a sweater. Hey that storm is rolling in? Let’s do the bikini shots now! Actually I was trying to be considerate…I thought since the weather was changing, we’d better do those before it got too cold.


Remember that rock I mentioned at the beginning? We weren’t in its shade because of the sun. We were actually there because of the wind. It was picking up, and I wanted to keep Christina warm and and her hair not completely wild. It was too much for the umbrella though, so I switched Amber’s lighting rig to the SB-28 mentioned above. Soft light? Hardly, not at this range. But it took some of the shine off the skin that would have been there from a straight strobe. And I used the light to add some direction and depth, rather than as an overpowering strobe. If you go back to the lead shot, you can see how the wind is whipping her scarf around.

Below, the lighting is even more subtle: I just had Christina walk along the beach, while Amber kept a constant distance from her with the strobe. Christina did a great job of modeling here, keeping her expressions genuine. It probably helped that I kept falling over as I walked backwards. Did I exaggerate the stumbling a little for comic effect, to keep her smiling? Sorry, I can’t reveal my most prized fashion-photographer secrets. You’ll have to sign up for my week-long course for that.


And speaking of “comic effect”, here’s a fun shot proving that modeling isn’t all just hard work and long hours.


We did eventually get rained on, just a little bit. So I cut the shoot short, just in case the skies planned to really open up. The climb up the cliff path to the parking lot is pretty substantial, especially with equipment. It’s not something you want to do in a hurry.

I pity the photographers who showed up just as we were leaving though! I don’t know what they were thinking. There was a photographer, an assistant, a swimsuit model, and a lot of equipment (including what looked like an 8-foot octobox!). How they were going to keep that octobox from blowing away in the wind, I have no idea. The model must have been shivering the entire time. And it really started raining in earnest on my way home. I don’t think they got the shot…but I’ll never know for sure.

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