I quickly became jealous. Never-mind the $50,000 budgets or the $10,000 cameras, how did these photographers capture these images?
That is the exact question I asked myself while I breezed through an ELLE magazine and saw an incredible makeup advertisement. I wanted that, I wanted that look, high fashion glamour with some old classic romance. Almost film noir.
With that said, makeup and hair stylist; Micah Severo Ruelas and I decided to take it upon ourselves to create a series of beauty shots that we could potentially use in our portfolio in a hard bound book, much like we did for “GAGA - A Portrait Series”. Roughly 3-4 different shoots with nothing but headshots and close-ups that resemble those commercial advertisements.
After some discussion we decided on a few models, one of them being Iris Hernandez. I had worked with Iris on a recent short film and really liked her presence and care-free attitude. Even though she had never done anything like it, I really felt she had the look we were going for. We wanted to combine both the noir lighting techniques with a Spanish beauty theme.
The day before the shoot, Micah and I went out to both Hobby Lobby and Jo Ann’s fabric store to get some props and pieces for the shoot. After about a 2 hour search we got what we needed, but my night had just started. I had to start experimenting with light. I returned back to my studio and started at square one with some techniques I used in the cinematography world. Putting thin stripes of black duct tape over a light source to create the illusion of large Venetian blinds. After several failed attempts I moved to YouTube tutorials and came up with nothing other then a few people chatting away on their webcams.
I ditched the duct tape idea and just grabbed a set of my plastic blinds that were hanging in my basement window. When I shot an Alien Bee B800 through the blinds, it created the shadows I needed, but they just weren’t direct enough. I needed a harsher light. That’s when I decided to throw a speedlight in the mix. BOOM.. 100 self portraits later, I had my noir light. At this point it was nearly 2am and I needed rest. The experimentation would have to wait until the shoot itself.
This shoot was a lot of “new” for me. It would be the second time shooting in my new studio, the first time tethered to my computer and not to mention the new world of lighting I was experimenting with.
As Iris went into hair and makeup, I started playing around and planning out my sets. I had a decent inclination of what I wanted to do, but I knew that most everything would be off the cuff trails. The first look was spectacular, bold red lips with a up-do and red rose. We jumped into the set and started cracking away shots. I was pretty impressed with the lighting, although it just didn’t get the dramatic lines on her face like it did with mine. After messing around, my assistant Josh Eskridge suggested I simply take away the Alien Bee and just use the SB-800. Once I did that, it was dark, but the dramatic lines were more apparent then ever. After 40 or so shots, we moved onto the next set and Iris hit her stride.
I wanted a less technical setup, but had to keep the noir feel. We decided to move a Alien Bee B800 overhead and camera left with a 20 degree grid. Then I taped a metal wall art frame with some crazy Celtic design to my two stands and shot a SB-800 through it to create the awesome shadows on the background. This setup ended in some of the best out of camera shots of the session.
We blazed through sets and experimented all the way through. I’ve never been apart of a shoot where a felt more clueless on how the outcome was going to be when I snapped the shutter.
One of my favorite sets was shooting an SB-800 speedlight through a 2 inch slit in a cardboard black canvas. It took nearly 20 minutes to nail just one shot I could work with. We finally nailed it. That result and final black & white edit is definitely my favorite of the entire session.
After we wrapped up, I sat down to start the re-touching process. I hit a serious wall. A wall that lasted for more then 4 days. I couldn’t get it out of my head, what was the problem? Why aren’t my images good? I just couldn’t figure it out. I tried everything I had to make my pictures just as good as anything you would see in the magazine. It finally came down to me as a photographer… Simply stop trying to compare and start creating. I heeded my own advice and edited the best I knew how. At that point I had edited nearly 5 images and decided to roll with the 3 seen below.
I want to thank Iris and Micah for being so patient while Josh and I played around with such experimental lighting. It challenged me, broke me down and I believe it has played a role in my progression as a photographer.