Last week I posted this photo on Flickr and several of you asked for some more background on how I made it. So here goes. I had roughly two minutes with JAMILETTE GAXIOLA. She was the 2009’s Miss Cuba. Jamilette is a wonderful young woman with a big smile and a warm personality. She was hired by Albums Inc to model the new Epoca line of photo albums at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. My job was to document the party and to make a few portraits of her in two minutes with minimal fuss and little setup. Just to make things interesting, I had to do this shoot in a hotel room full of people. And those people were some of the top wedding and portrait shooters in the world. People like Tony Corbell, Matthew Jordan Smith, Lori Nordstrom, Bambi Cantrell and too many other greats to list — were all milling about. No pressure.
The first challenge was finding a decent background. I was working inside an area of about 150 square feet. I don’t like cluttered backgrounds since they often distract from the main subject. I found a spot on the wall I could use as a clean background and positioned her there. Once I found a few feet I could work with I set up a continuous light. I used a Chimera Triolet housed in a large Chimera softbox. See below.
I positioned the light so that it would feather just past the model’s face. This means that instead of pointing the softbox directly at the model, I moved the light past her face so that it just brushed her. The use of a large light source, close to the subject allowed me to create a soft, flattering light. I tried to position the light so that the catch light would be roughly Two o’clock in the model’s eye. I used a Canon 1D MK IV set to Aperture Priority with a Canon 50mm f/1.2 “L” lens. My ISO was 800 and my aperture was set to f/3.2 at 1/80th of a second hand held – with minus one stop of exposure compensation.
I had very limited time so I decided to work two simple poses. The first pose you see above is a slightly high-key shot with the model’s face turned toward the light. It was a safety shot. She was in high demand and she’d be moving on to the party quickly. I didn’t want to miss my chance to get a great image of this lovely lady so looking at her sunny disposition, I kept it light and and easy you see the result. The only thing I had to worry about from this angle was the chin merging with the shoulder. With the looking back over the shoulder pose, I generally like to keep some separation between the chin and shoulder. I would have liked to see a little more of the whites of her eyes in the corner of her eyes, but given the constraints I was working under, I forgave myself for not being 100% perfect.
For my second shot, I had the model look away from the light. This is slightly more dramatic and allows some shadow for definition. This gave me two distinct looks. In the short amount of time I spent with Jamilette I see her as a happy person so I think the first shot better represents her personality.
In both shots, I used the camera’s ability to move the focus point around the frame and made sure that I moved the focus point to the eye closest me. Working with shallow depth-of-field, you don’t want to trust the general autofocus to select the right thing to key on. I also metered off the skin directly under the eye to make my exposure using the camera’s built-in spot meter.
I made the shots in RAW and imported them to Aperture 3. Then I adjusted levels, did some minimal skin smoothing, retouched blemishes and added some edge sharpening. In total, I spent less than two minutes making both photos and less than two minutes in post on each image.
When you’re working under pressure, knowing your gear, thinking through what you’re going to do BEFORE the model arrives, and keeping calm all help improve your chances for a good result. In this case, I had the advantage of a trained, professional model to work with. I had to put out of my mind that I was photographing one of the most beautiful women in the world and focus on representing the model’s lovely disposition. I’m happy to report that the client liked the shots and my mission was accomplished with a modicum of stress.
Id like to thank Adam @adamsilversmith and Yasmin @shalimarstudios who assisted me at this shoot and who provided me with great images as second shooters at the event. I’d also like to thank Albums Inc for not only hiring me to shoot the event but also for allowing me to share this information with all of my readers.