Honestly, I thought I would never work with Karah Leigh Cannon. I first saw her in an image published by my friend and photographer Lana Wilson. I was astonished and immediately reached out. A blond bombshell with a fantastic look that could stand in for any Marilyn Monroe piece. At the time, I had zero professional work and I was still in my infancy as a photographer, Karah never corresponded. I finally had the chance to meet her at a Derby Fashion show, it was a quick discussion and we spoke about working together, but nothing came to fruition. It wasn't until Micah and I started the beauty book sessions that we really wanted to pursue Karah as a model and it just so happened that Karah stumbled into Lana’s studio one day while I was assisting on a shoot for Nfocus Magazine. I quickly took advantage of the impromptu rendezvous and discussed our plans for the beauty book. Karah was on board and agreed to shoot, after we wrapped I left with a sense of pride and clapped my hands on the way out. I’m not sure why I was so excited, but perhaps it was some form of pseudo goal to work with Karah and I would soon be accomplishing that.
A month passed and we were finally in the position to schedule a shoot with Karah. At first our ideas were all over the map, but when the time came we had honed our ideas into a solid style and lighting. It would be a extreme modern take on a vintage time line.
The evening before the shoot was spent cleaning my studio and setting up what would be our first set, a true photography challenge. I wanted dramatic flash lighting but also some extreme bokeh which resembled city lights. I bought 150 red Christmas lights and strewn them across a dark cloth background the positioned one Alien Bee about 15 feet away from the backdrop, with enough room to shoot Karah from a long focal length. I still had to bring in the ambient light from the Christmas lights, so I turned my Alien Bee to its lowest setting, opened my aperture to f/4, positioned my test subject a.k.a roommate and took the shot. The results were just OK. I made a few adjustments and saw my “test subject” getting frustrated, so I gave up and decided to test it on the fly in the morning, which is exactly what I did.
We started at 10am on a Thursday morning and dove right into hair and makeup. Karah being a makeup artist herself got along fine with Micah and the two connected on many topics. I took advantage of the time researching light setups and balancing ambient light. I probably switched modifiers maybe 4 times before settling on one strip box set on a overhead boom with a grid. This would be my first attempt.
Micah wrapped up the first look and I was excited to get started. The first look was a “preparatory” stage in which Karah looked as if she was prepping for a evening out, the looks would progress into ultimate beauty. We positioned her in front of the strip box and I asked Micah to hold a silver reflector for bounce. The first attempt was an absolute failure. I wasn't happy. I switched modifiers to a beauty dish. Second attempt, failure. I just couldn’t nail that dramatic look and light with the ambient bokeh in the background. At that point I explained to Karah, that it was purely experimentation, but was confident we could lock it in. Finally, I attached 37" Octobox with a grid and popped off a few shots, way better. The light was full, but gave a sort of mysterious spotlight to Karah’s face. Nevertheless, slightly frustrated, I sent Karah into the second look.
I didn’t browse through those shots, I didn’t want to face the fact that I may have blown that set. Moving on, I broke down the dark background and pulled the Christmas lights to expose a seamless white background. Shockingly enough, this would be my first time shooting on white ever! I had always used fashion gray or some other color, so white was a new venture.
Karah came out of the second look stunning. Glamorous and powerful. She stepped onto the seamless under a 3 light, clam-shell setup. Karah’s expressions were downright flawless, her attitude cast a captivating, foxy beauty, she knew her looks and what her face could ultimately do. 50 frames later, I was upbeat and convinced we had scored the shot.
The next set would be a challenge, I would be shooting a red vinyl backdrop that emitted strange reflections from indentations. So to avoid those reflections being too apparent and distracting, I setup three lights, one on the backdrop and two beauty dishes in the same clam-shell setup about 10 feet out. Within 15 minutes, Karah was ready and I had only started testing. Needless to say, that backdrop proved it was absolutely worthless, but I knew I had to make it work, as I needed that pop of a orange-red. After a few light adjustments I had the setup locked in and we fired away. I had decided to purchase a turquoise old phone as a prop and Micah had the ingenious idea of having her hold it above her head. This was it and we all I knew it.
As I pulled off the last shot, I gave a deep exhale of success and celebrated with high fives all around. 4 shoots and months later we had finally wrapped our beauty look book. I could barley contain the excitement, I had accomplished a goal and worked with models that I had been eyeing since I first started photography. A true triumph indeed.
I decided to really experiment with these shots in post. I did a few things outside of the box and really explored my inner graphic designer. With the help from Google Translate I decided on “Die Heute” as the title. German for “Then Now”, it tells the story of exactly what we wanted to express with these images.
Now, several weeks after the shoot, the response has been beyond anything I have ever posted on Facebook; a growing 439 likes and nearly 40 comments across the three images. A fantastic way to close up a amazing shoot and project. Expect a wrap up blog and video once the book comes to print.