Back in July I had a model portfolio shoot with Hiromi. We had originally planned this back in March, and scheduling got all crazy, so we ended up rescheduling it. I’d seen her portfolio and she had a lot of happy lifestyle images in it—and for good reason, as she’s got a beautiful, warm smile. But I wanted to add some urban grit to her portfolio. So I headed back to downtown Los Angeles for the second time that month (the first is blogged about here). I proposed a guerrilla-style shoot, where we walk around and find locations on the fly. We travel light, shoot for a few minutes in a spot, and then move. No big productions to draw the attention of the authorities, because this was definitely a budget that didn’t allow for permits. Improvisational fashion photography, in other words.
I could tell Hiromi thought the idea was a little dubious.
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But hey, she hadn’t met me before, and wandering around with a stranger in downtown LA with no plan could—to some—seem like a bad idea. So she brought her boyfriend. Excellent! I love when models bring someone for these sorts of shoots, because it means I can leave the lightstands in the car. He agreed to be my human lightstand and away we went.
Mr. Boyfriend had an apartment right downtown, and it was decided we’d head that direction from our meeting place a few blocks away. If we didn’t find anything, we could at least shoot there. We did actually find some cool locations on the way. The lead shot is just a simple street scene. Boyfriend-and-umbrella (with a Metz Mecablitz 60) camera right, and an SB-28 with Lumiquest Softbox III on camera for fill. I intentionally made this dark and contrasty to give it a night time feel, even though it was late afternoon. The street was in shade, so knocking down the ambient even further was a piece of cake.
The picture below was taken within the same hour, but as you can see it’s blasted with light. This is one of my favorite outtakes of all time. The story:
I’m getting Hiromi set up and the lighting worked out, which is a little finicky because of the bright sun and white background. The guy in the middle comes skating up to me and says “are you THE photographer??!!” I didn’t know what he was on about, so I said ‘well, I’m A photographer, don’t know if I’m THE photographer.” “Dude, can I be in the shot? Please??”
Now most people would clamp down and make some excuse about time being money, money being tight, or the light was already fading etc. I said “sure, why not?” Hiromi looked at me like I was crazy. I said to the guy “yes you can be in the shot, but see that guy holding the light? That’s her boyfriend.” Skate-guy got the point and promised not to do anything unseemly. So I pop off a frame. Then from out of nowhere comes skate-guy #2, right into the frame, and I pop this one.
But on to more serious matters. We got to Hiromi’s boyfriend’s apartment building (his name escapes me now). Initially we were going to take a look inside his apartment for possible locations, but then it was suggested we go up to the roof. Jacuzzi, astroturf, gas grill…a nice place for a party. It was hot though in the middle of the afternoon. I wanted to get a sense of the blazing heat, so I shot into the sun with some intentional flare, and got some edgy shots of Hiromi with attitude. Same basic light set up: Metz in an umbrella, and a fill light on camera.
Hiromi had a quick wardrobe change (she’d been carrying her clothes around on the street, just in case) and we moved over to the other side of the roof. I had some trouble at first getting the lighting right, because the location meant she was in full sun. It was a bit harsh though I got the idea of using the umbrella to shield her from the sun, then light her through it with the strobe for softer light. Problem was however that the umbrella wouldn’t shield enough of her, and her legs had bright sun on them that was distracting.
I solved the problem by tipping an eight foot table on its side, long side in the air, supported by two legs that were now horizontal to the ground. Worked perfectly! And to shake the lighting up a little, I placed the SB-28, in a cardboard snoot, on the ledge to the left. I was hoping the wind didn’t blow too much because it was twenty stories down and flash wasn’t attached to anything. Fortunately the flash and wireless trigger (Cybersyncs, natch) stayed put. As we shot, I played around with the relative light ratios until the rim light really became the main light. The umbrella is just adding a soft fill to her camera-right side.
So then I’m told that in the basement of the building there is an old bank vault door—the building was a bank before they gutted it and turned it into residences. Cool, let’s go!
I don’t think I bothered with the umbrella for the shot below. I just had Boyfriend (that’s what I’ll call him) bounce the light off the wall to the right, for a nice soft light. This was a hallway so the wall wasn’t very far away, and didn’t require a lot of power. Did I use a fill? I dunno. Who cares?
As we nosed around in this maze of empty rooms in the basement, we passed this really dark and spooky room. Nothing inside, just a dark box. I was going to frame her in the doorway from the outside, but after going inside I said “ah hah!” The exit sign gave me an idea. I’d ‘drag the shutter’ (i.e. fire the flash but have a long shutter duration to let the ambient in) so the exit sign was visible, but the strobes would light everything else. In the shot below, there are two lights: the main light of course is out in the hallway, camera right. No modifier, just aiming it at Hiromi from a good distance down the hall. I also had the SB-28 in the room, right behind me and facing at theback wall for bounce. I set it so there was just a little bit of ‘read’ on the dark wall and light switches. That way they wouldn’t be completely black, and I could then add or subtract detail in post as I saw fit. The shutter ended up being .6 sec in duration to get the right amount of exit-sign light. And after awhile I started intentionally wiggling the camera during the shot, to get the sign blurry and vibrating like you see here. Of course the flash is lighting the hall and Hiromi, and the ambient hall light doesn’t factor in. So everything but the exit sign remains sharp.
It’s getting late, but we head outside for a few more outdoor shots. Here’s Hiromi in an alley, with me lying on the ground, and Boyfriend holding the umbrella and Metz camera left. I think I had the fill on…pretty sure I did.
Then on the way home I realized…ugh! I was lying down in an alley in downtown Los Angeles! Yuck! I couldn’t wait to get home and change my clothes. What was I thinking?
So Hiromi was pleasantly surprised at my rather unorthodox approach to shooting. And I liked the variety of images we got that day. I’m very pleased in fact! And without Boyfriend and his cool apartment building, it would have been a very different shoot. I really like shooting downtown…and will like it more and more until the day I get nabbed or accosted.
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