Is fashion photography ever going to be a viable career again going forward? And if so, will I ever adapt to the new normal? As with every change, we just do.
Naturally, as states began to reopen, I pounced on the opportunity to shoot an NYC model portfolio update in the backyard of my home state of Montana. It was the perfect opportunity to practice the new recommended safeguards put in place while embracing the ruggedness of shooting with strobes outdoors.
In normal circumstances, most modeling agencies tend to favor test shoots in a more controlled environment. After speaking with some well-known and prominent photographers in the industry, the general consensus is that normal set life and large scale productions as we know them are a thing of the past, at least for now.
Many brands have been shifting to nature over the past years and with safety being of the utmost concern, it appears that this will be heavily sought after for campaigns, editorials, and model test shoots going forward. Naturally, this agency in particular was thrilled with the idea of brand new material in a beautiful, raw environment.
Captured with the Broncolor Siros L at approximately ⅓ power at f/5.6 and 1/640th of a second.
Models that work in major markets are currently “home”, as in this scenario, and agencies are looking for NYC and LA caliber photographers to provide the same high-end quality productions in a safe, rural setting. Being able to check off both of these parameters and having worked with this model previously, I was hired for this job.
Shooting a test shoot outdoors is challenging under normal circumstances. Add shooting at high noon with major wind gusts and variable cloud cover into the mix in the midst of a pandemic and we are in uncharted territory. Not to mention that Montana is notorious for blowing in inclement weather that doesn’t even register on the radar with only a moment’s notice.
To ensure the market quality that these agencies are accustomed to, there were a few key details that were taken into account prior to the shoot. The first was making sure that there were name-brand fashion items that were a season ahead being shot. Hair and makeup were minimal to match the simplicity of the surroundings.
We were taking two separate vehicles and would be far enough apart in the great outdoors that guaranteeing we were at least six feet apart was a non-issue.
Finally, it was making sure that I had the right lighting equipment for the job. Many photographers utilize lighting modifiers and an ND filter when the situation calls for it when shooting this type of work. My go-to setup is a Broncolor Siros L 800WS sans a modifier and an ND filter.
This lighting setup was largely repeated throughout the shoot, adjusting the wattage of the monolight as well as the settings of the camera as we progressed.
It is powerful enough to overpower the sun should the situation necessitate it and it allows my camera to sync at incredibly fast shutter speeds, both of which play a part in capturing the beautifully raw, windy imperfections that Montana is famous for. Additionally, the color fluctuation is very minimal, which is important when it comes to delivering a final, cohesive collection back to the modeling agency.
In the rugged outdoors, a heavy-duty light stand such as an Avenger light stand comes highly recommended. While lighting modifiers can absolutely elevate the overall image quality, they can also make it that much easier to blow over the strobe while shooting.
As an added precaution, bring an assistant if possible to man the light as some of the stronger winds will blow over even the sturdiest of stands, regardless of how many sandbags and extra steps are taken to prevent such a disaster.
This image was captured at approximately ⅓ power with f/5.6 at 1/500th of a second.
Shooting around high noon is like a dance and requires a delicate balance of ambient light with fill flash provided by a strobe. I position my monolight several feet behind me and adjust the power so that it illuminates the model in a pleasing and realistic manner while filling in some of the harsh shadows without overpowering the existing light or creating new shadows that weren’t originally there. This helps maintain the integrity of the original scene.
In order to provide just enough fill flash to highlight details of the shadows while maintaining the mood, I tend to gravitate towards syncing at a shutter speed of at least 1/250th of a second and faster. This is usually dependent on details I wish to be in focus such as the windblown hair and clothing that are essential as well as how much depth of field we want to utilize for our background.
This was captured with the Broncolor Siros L at ¼ power, f/4, and 1/640th of a second.
As we moved closer to town, we stopped at a local bar that was a favorite of many famous food icons and asked to photograph at their patio outside of the establishment if we promised to clean and disinfect any surface that was touched as well as be of minimal distraction to their customers.
Choosing to opt for a very similar feel, I opted to light the model in a similar fashion throughout the test shoot at this location while increasing the overall ISO. This was paramount to provide just enough detail to the shadows of the hair, skin, and clothing.
This was shot at f/4 at 1/400th of a second with the Siros on its lowest setting.
Test shooting in a rural location with a strobe like this one allows a lot of artistic freedom and expression as we alleviate the stress of having to perfect every tedious detail. In fact, imperfections should be embraced as it is what will make the images like this work.
Celebrate the windblown hair, the dappled lighting, and the texture of the surroundings. Let the natural setting inspire the mood of the photography. As long as the scene and the fashion make sense, we can ensure high client satisfaction by creating images that beautifully and authentically reflect the scene at hand while shooting with strobes outdoors.
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