- Publication/Client: Personal Shoot
- Talent/Assignment: Professional Boxer Raquel Miller
- Location: Oakland, California – Boxing for Health Gym
- Photographer: Alexis Cuarezma
- Assistant: Chiara Headrick
- Hair & Make-up Artist: Nicole Perez
It’s been a long time since my last blog post. Approaching the 2-year mark since my last BTS video and write up of Ashley Pfaff’s fitness shoot. I actually enjoy making these blog post and BTS videos. I just need to make more time for them and make them a monthly thing. When I heard Profoto was coming out with new lights, I was excited to try them out and put them use. I reached out to them, and they were kind enough to let me test demo units of their new D2 mono lights. Since the units weren’t released yet, there were only 2 available for me to use. I usually use a lot of lights. Anywhere from 10, down to usually a minimum of 3. In this case, I was down to only 2. Which you can still do plenty with. You can do a lot with just 1 light as well, however, I prefer using multiple lights to fully control my fills to my liking instead of using reflectors if possible. Here’s all the lighting gear I used for this shoot:
- Profoto D2 units x2 (1,000 w/s version)
- Zoom Reflectors
- Grids 5, 20, 30, 40
- Softbox Octa 5ft
- Softbox 3×4
- 2×4 Silver Foam Board Insulation (x2) as reflectors from hardware store
The last item listed above is actually one of my favorite photography tools. It’s not even meant for photography. It’s a silver foam board you can find in any hardware store and it used for insulation. The silver side and does an amazing job of reflecting light back to your subject. In my opinion, it does a more efficient job than most photography reflector and cost only a fraction at about $5! The only downside is you can’t fold up smaller and can take up a lot of room. But for anyone just starting out, who’s never used any reflector or any tool to control lights, it’s a great purchase to start using and testing with to get you looking at how light behaves. I used them on this shoot and also use them when I want a “lifestyle” look.
I recently heard Daymond John say the following quote about money: “Money is a great slave, but a horrible master” which in my opinion, can be directly applied to photography by just changing a few words. Especially when it comes to camera/lens selection. My version of DJ’s quote/analogy is:
“A camera/lens is a great slave, but a horrible master” -Alexis Cuarezma
I can probably write an entire blog post about this, but in short, I always prefer to pre-visualize what I have envisioned and let that dictate what gear I’ll use/need. Too many photographers fall in love with a camera, lens or brand and can often forget what’s out there. There’s certainly pros and cons to using the same gear over & over. I mainly shoot 35mm Canon digital, but I have no problem switching at the drop of a dime to Hasselbald, Leica or anything I see fit for the end results I wish to obtain. For this shoot, I used 3 different cameras:
- Canon 5d Mk2
- Canon Elan 7e + Kodak TriX400 pushed to 6400
- Canon 16-35mm F2.8L II
- Canon 24-70mm F2.8L
- Canon 135mm F2L
- Hasselbald 503cw + Kodak Portra 160 exposed at 100
- Hasselbald 50mm CF
- Hasselbald 80mm CF
Yes, in today’s fast-paced world, digital always wins when you have a tight deadline. Fortunately, with personal shoots you can use anything you like and if you plan/budget things well, you can even use anything you want on a paid shoot. I actually was planning to shoot some 6×6 film with my Hasselblad as well as 8×10 film on a big job I bidded on (along with digital as well of course), and client approved everything. Unfortunately, that job got pushed back and fell through (it happens). But moral of the story is, you can use what you see fit if it works with your deadline & budget.
Whenever I can, I like replacing the frosted glass cover the Profoto mono lights come with, with the frosted dome. It converts the built-in reflector that gives you a slightly focus beam spread to give a much wider spread. Which I prefer when using large softboxes and beauty dishes. It also lets you take full advantage of the zoom reflectors and use standard grids.
The first thing I wanted to do was shoot outside. One of my favorite times to shoot is the afternoon. I love shooting around 1-4pm when the sun is high in the sky. The reason is, because when I have strobes on location, I can get an extremely blue sky and turn the sun into a nice starburst. That requires a lot of power which is why I was excited to put these 1,000w/s D2’s to use. The extra stop they give you over a 500w/s light is extremely helpful when you like modifying the light as much as I do to get the look desired in camera as much as possible. To get a nice blue sky, I like underexposing it. The sunny 16 rule tells us the proper exposure is F16, ISO100 @ 1/100th. Therefore, I like being around @1/200th and stopped down slight more at F18-F22 at times.
To make the sky extra blue, I like setting my white balance anywhere from 2500k to 4500k. Since I only want my sky and background to be extra blue and not my subject, I gel my lights with CTO or CTS gels so my subject pops with warmth. Lately, my personal preferences has been CTS but at times I’ll combine both CTS/CTO gels to get the skin tone I desire in camera. One thing you have to keep in mind is that when you’re placing these gels in front of the light, you lose power. You have a light loss of 2/3’s of stop when you place a 1/2 CTS gel in front of your light. If you add a 1/4 CTO on top that (which I’ve done before), that’s another light loss of 1/3 stop. That combination of gels quickly turns your 1,000w/s strobe at full power to a 500w/s light. Add a light modifier like a 30 degree grid or large soft box (which I often do and did here), and you have even more light loss. For these reasons, is why I love powerful strobes. They give you a greater flexibility to modify your light.
Whenever I shoot outside and I want to over power the ambient light, I always stop down my lens. As I mentioned earlier, I like turning the sun into a nice starburst. In order to do that, I stop down all the way to F22 on my Canon lens and remove my UV filter to get a cleaner starburst/flare. And I maxed out the shutter sync speed which is usually around 1/200 or 1/250th and I’m at ISO 100. This usually works well if your subject isn’t moving fast. Otherwise, you can get slight ghosting since the shutter speed is fairly slow at 1/200th. But the D2’s did a pretty great job. I actually don’t mind the ghosting effect because shows there’s motion to the images.
I know high-speed sync has been around for a while with speed lites. But I never tried it before because I don’t want to carry a rig with 4 speed lights and keeping track of all those AA batteries. However, these lights have that feature when using the air remote. This was my first time trying it and it was pretty easy. You just switch it to high-speed and figure out your exposure.
When you’re not stuck using the same gear over and over, you expose yourself to new possibilities and options. One of my absolute favorite formats is the square format. You don’t have to worry about shooting vertical or horizontal. It sounds like something small but it’s one less thing to worry about. You want all your attention to be on your subject and pulling a good emotion from them, and the less on your plate the better. I know some photographers will say you can just crop a 2×3 image and make it square but that’s not the same at all. 35mm lenses are designed to project a 24mm x 36mm image. Which yields different characteristics than a lens that natively projects a 56mm x 56mm images. Hasselbald lenses and older lenses have a certain look and handle light differently than modern digital lenses. It’s always great to have that option. I love the look and distortion my Hasselbald 50mm CF lens has. Below you can see the results and notice the different aesthetics the images have compared to the ones above.
When I first started shooting, I had no idea how to use lights. So I was one of those “natural light” photographers. Photographers who don’t know how to use strobes like throwing out the word “natural” like it’s better. But lets be honest, what exactly is “natural” light? It comes from a giant gas ball roughly 93million miles away that emits radiation. And if you’re exposed to it for too long you get skin cancer. To me, “natural” light is just another light source. It’s biggest benefit is its convenience when it’s there and can be very beautiful. However, it’s biggest downside is that it’s constantly changing and inconsistent if you need to make similar looking images over a period of time. And if you get a cloudy day, you get “nice” even soft light but to me that gets boring extremely quick! To me as a photographer, light is my best friend regardless where it comes from. I only use available light. And to me, available means using anything I have access to not just the sun 🙂
Once we were done outside, we moved into the boxing gym that was on the 2nd floor. When we started setting up, the sunlight was coming in perfectly through the windows. So I made some images with “natural” light. The light coming through the windows was nice & dramatic. I had Chiara hold the silver reflectors (the isolation foam board) to kick light back and provide a separation light on the opposite side. I shot some in digital color as well as black and white Kodak TriX400. I wanted to make the black and images look extra grainy so I pushed the film to ISO6400. Why did I decide to shoot film? Because I wanted to make some nice grainy black and white images without relying on Lightroom or Photoshop. I love these images, and it’s great that they presented themselves. However, the chances of going back to that gym and getting the same results are a complete gamble. If the day is cloudy, you’re completley screwed. If you’re shooting a different time of year, the sun will set at a different position. If your talent has a limited time schedule, you can’t control where the sun is going to be. All those reasons are downsides to natural light and why I rarely rely on it. But when it’s there, it’s a nice gift.
Once the sunlight quickly moved and changed, we went back to using the strobes and producing images in a style that I love. I love separating my subject with a rim light as well as lighting them with paramount lighting. Slapped on some grids and gels on the D2’s and put them up on booms. I usually shoot with at least 3 lights, since I only had 2, I used the silver foam reflector as a fill to kick light back and provide a little fill.
One of the things I love about the D2’s is that they have fairly strong modeling lights at 300watts. Since I was pushing my TriX400 to 6400, I used the modeling lights as my main lights when shooting film. The above images were made using the strobes, and the ones below with the modeling lights.
One of the reasons why these images look the way they do is because I had a great small team. Nicole did an amazing job with the hair & makeup. She was also responsible for providing the shine on Raquel’s skin. Working with other professionals like hair & makeup artist and stylist takes your work to the next level. Everytime we shot, Nicole was constantly touching up Raquel making sure she looked her best & that I got what I needed.
As I mentioned before, I like to use powerful lights. I look shooting stopped down usually around F11-F22. I don’t mind having everything in focus. In fact, I WANT everything in focus so I can let my subject relax, & have free range to move around. I rarely use a shallow depth of field to give my image visual impact. When I shot natural light I use to shoot fairly wide open all the time, which can give you a nice background blur. But I found that you could slightly miss the focus on the eyes if the subject is moving a lot and then the image doesn’t work. I’ve been on shoots where I only had 30seconds with my subject and HAD to delivery. In situations like that, you don’t want to worry about nailing your focus or it being slightly off. Often, I don’t have the luxury to shoot a lot of frames, so I have to make every single one count. That’s why I choose to use light to give my image visual impact at F11-F22. The image below was exposed at F16 @ ISO 100 and I still had enough power to give her a nuclear rim light. The medium format provided the fairly shallow depth of field even at F16.
I also love using mist to add atmosphere to the image. Every time I use mist it has some kind of blur to it. This time, it was frozen still. The D2’s have a nice short flash duration.
I wanted to make some images with a clean background. So to finish off the set, I used the Octa 5ft as a background. It provides a nice big light source that bleeds onto the subject as rim lights as well provides a nice white background. If you follow my work, you know I love uplighting so I lit her in the front with the 3×4 soft box from underneath. Soft light all the way around for some clean images.
The D2’s are great lights. I love their size and the amount of power they pack. Considering the way I shoot, I would certainly opt for the 1k versions. But I know everyone shoots differently and not everyone needs all that power. If you made this far, hope you enjoyed this blog post and share it on your social media. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see more post like this.