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Tips & Tricks

Simple Natural Light Swimwear Shot | How I Shot It

By Kishore Sawh on January 17th 2016

It’s funny, isn’t it, how it’s so often the simplest of things that draw the most attention, or that we end up loving most. Pictures are no exception. Typically, when we begin a new venture of any sort, it’s the highest degree of technicality I’ve found we’re most attracted to. It’s the motivator, and we crave that rush of adrenaline along with the endorphin highs and the zing of a dopamine hit, and we feel that the only way to break into this internal pharmacy is to get intense.

When I began piano as a child, it was the idea of playing the Top Gun Anthem with all Steve Steven’s twiddly bits and everything that got me through playing whatever the Royal Conservatory made me endure. But as the technical proficiency was attained it was the softer, less clinically demanding pieces I enjoyed most.


Likewise with photography, many of us begin looking, eyes wide with marvel, at the big production shoots with umbrellas that could cover a house (and cost as much), and enough lights to Morse Code the ISS. As we move on, as the technical side becomes more understood and shots executed, it’s been my experience it’s the simpler shoots and shots that we often love. Why?

Well, the A to that Q is probably that it’s more a matter of knowing we are able, and then when we know we can, we are internally satisfied. On the flip side, I’ve noticed that the images I’ve shot that get the most attention are often the utter simplest of them all (or seemingly simplest – sometimes it can take a lot of effort to make it look like it took none). Case in point is the picture herein; It’s a dead simple photo I took ages ago with a DIY reflector, the bright Miami sun as key, and an old 80-200mm f.2.8. I’m continuously asked in person and online about how the look was achieved – so here it is.


Set-Up & Thoughts

This series of images was taken absolutely last minute in October, and because I live in Miami mostly, that’s still pretty much summer. It was around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, with the sun just beginning to droop. As it’s the East coast, the light was very directional coming from the West.

The idea was to shoot facing South down the beach to really take advantage of the space and distance, assisting in providing a creamy blend of color in soft bokeh. As the light was coming from the west and lowering quickly, I knew half the subject would be shaded, and whilst that’s fine, I wanted a bit more of a punchy look, more texture, and for the shot and to illuminate the model’s facial features so as not to end up with:



To achieve that, a simple DIY reflector with foil on one side and plain whiteboard on the other was held about 1 to 2 feet from the subject’s face. The added light from the reflector allowed me to ‘balance’ the light on either side of the frame and subject, generally making her the brightest complete object in the frame. This allowed me to shoot a lower ISO, and meter for the brightest spots in the scene without putting the East facing side of her face in total shadow, and somewhat allows for the surrounding to be a little bit dimmed.

You can get an idea of just how close the reflector was held from this snap:



Gear List & Settings

Camera Body: Nikon D610 (See my D610 Review here)

Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 (70-200 2.8 is, of course, the closest substitute, and a better lens all round, but I’m emotionally attached to the 80-200 and it is a fabulous lens).
DIY reflector – held by assistant 1 to 2 feet from and offset below subject’s face
Headshot: 200mm @ f/2.8 1/3200 ISO 100
Bodyshot: 100mm @ f/2.8 1/2500 ISO 100




Almost all post processing for this image was done in Photoshop since it was mainly just a little frequency separation to tidy up skin, however since then I’ve had much fun and success tweaking it in Lightroom just because the Preset System is so simple.

I think the biggest takeaway I would try to give you, should you like the image, is not to be fearful of the sun, and that you don’t need a whole lot of kit to tame it. Granted, setting sunlight tends to be more forgiving and richer than at noon, but this still easily executable and reliably replicable. There’s another type of more high contrast swimwear look I shoot often we’ll get into soon.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Scott Spellman

    The challenge with swimwear is even exposure and composition flexibility. The use of close reflectors in a fixed position is a start, but works best in this one specific pose with the models position not changing significantly. For model shoots with more movement by the model, more full body shots, and more flexibility with the background scene- assistants with large scrims are a much better choice.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Scott, thanks for taking the time to comment. There is real value to what you’re saying, that is to say, I see where you’re coming from, but I also think that rhetoric can be a bit dated. What I mean is, there’s no denying that even exposure is what’s called for sometimes, but not always, and certainly it’s not the case in the current climate. If you look at leading swimwear lines, models, and shooters, that even-baked Victoria’s Secret Swimwear catalogue look circa early 2000s is not as prevalent.

      If you look at current brands making waves like Acacia, Minimale Animale, Flagpole Swim; looking at publications like Treats Magazine, ItsNowCool and so on, you’ll see that what’s in demand, and where we’re headed is not under a scrim. But hey, it’s all cyclical isn’t it…

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  2. Jayson Rivas

    Cool – I just did a poolside swimwear shoot yesterday – wish I’d seen this post then..great ideas, thank you.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Well hopefully it’ll come in handy in the future. If you’re shooting more poolside swimwear here’s another piece of advice – keep like a one stop diffusion panel the model can hold low to keep some weird water swirl reflections from hitting the face. Those swirls can be cool, but not always wanted. Cheers

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    • Jayson Rivas

      Once again if only i got that a day earlier! LOL but now i know, so its in my bag of tricks! I appreciate it Kishore!

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  3. Stephen Glass

    Love that you’re using an 80-200

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Yeah it’s a lovely lens. I use the 70-200 of course, but don’t find this focus breathes like the 70-200 and it’s built like a bunker, and just all round brilliant value. About 1k less than the 70-200, so why not?

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  4. David Hall

    Beautiful work.

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  5. Lex Arias

    Great shots!!! nice post

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  6. Anthony Thurston

    Great Shots Man! Always love seeing that Miami sun during my hibernation months here on the west coast :P

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