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
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.