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A Brief Photo Shoot in Mexico City

Hey, everyone!!

I’ve been busier than a bee trying to get this portraiture thing jump started, and it appears to finally be taking off. Doing a trade shoot seems like a great idea, but I’m learning that it is definitely talked about a lot more than it actually is practiced. For those of you that don’t know what that means, a trade shoot usually involves multiple parties that offer their services free of charge in exchange for the experience and images that can later be used in their portfolio. So, the model, photographer, make-up artist, hair stylists and anyone else involved would do a freebie in order to advertise their “craft” for pay at a later date. Everyone needs to walk around with a portfolio, so it just makes sense.

Now, trying to find these people proves to be the greatest challenge. Of course, you run the risk of working with people of much less experience than you or someone just starting out, so one of you may drop the ball. In doing so, the collaborative effort may not end up a success, but you hope that in the experience, you take something away to make you a better artist.

Although I was sure that I wouldn’t be able to find anyone in that position to work with, I am happy to report that I have a number of prospects that I hope to be working with in the month of September to share with you guys shortly. I have been working different concepts with different models, so I’m hoping to give a little variety and not do more of the same.

Tonight’s posting comprises the last of the images taken on my last trip to Mexico City when I got together with a long time friend that had expressed interest in my photographing her. This is not something she was used to, so the photo shoot was improvised and kept short. To give you a better idea of how improvised it was, I hadn’t planned on going through with it so I hadn’t packed any lighting equipment at all!! So, when she agreed to it, I naturally panic internally and immediately had my mind going a million miles an hour trying to figure out how I would get the shots and work with the little light I had available.

The main shot we were going after was actually inspired by an image taken in the 60’s of Sophia Loren. This black and white image moved me a lot, so we were trying to mimic the styling of it. Were we going after a perfect replica? No, not really. But, I think we had both looked at the image enough times that it was embedded in our head, so the shot naturally shifted towards duplicating it. Can you go wrong with trying to duplicate genius? Probably not, especially while you are still trying to define your own style. But, alas, I don’t even know who to credit with the inspiration for the image, as I haven’t been able to find the name of the photographer that took the original image. We both loved how the image turned out. We probably shot for it about half a dozen times, but this one proved to be just the right combination of composition, shadows and positioning of limbs to make the image work.

A tribute to Sophia Loren…

I alluded to the fact that lighting was a challenge, so let me share with you the odyssey that ensued. With our schedules all out of whack, we kept missing each other and I was down to the last evening I was spending in Mexico City. When she did get a hold of me and asked what I was doing, I had a clear schedule. She asked if I would accompany her to get her hair done, and I obviously replied with an over-enthusiastic and mainly sarcastic response. When I figured out that she was serious about the request, I then figured I would take it to the extreme and asked if we would then go for the photo shoot that we had talked about many months before. She agreed and I thought, “Oh, shit!!”

I went along to hang out while she got her hair done only to realize that all the murals of fashion glamour images on their walls advertising the hair stylists work were actually taken by the hairstylist as well. As soon as he was done with her and we started talking “shop”, I swear that we were like two little girls going back and forth over photography concepts, lighting schemes and compositional techniques. Unfortunately, I had to be pulled away from the conversation since they were closing up shop, but just in that, I picked up a lot of great information from a portrait photographer that clearly had been doing it for years.

Once we were happy with the result of the above image, we were going to call it quits, but I convinced her to do a few other looks. The next shot that ensued was with her sitting up as straight as possible against the headboard with the pillows behind her for that soft and fluffy look. If you notice the direction that the light source is hitting her, all the light is coming from her left. Hindsight being 20/20, it might not have been the best idea to have her lift up her left arm, which caused the shadows that ensued over her face. Then again, the shadows add a little character to the image. I really like the shadows under her chin created by her hair and I don’t think that the shadows cast on her face were overpowering. What I didn’t realize I had created in the image is when I asked her to lift her knee, cause it seemed like the way she was sitting added weight and made her look heavier than she actually is. Of course, I didn’t realize that in doing so, I would inadvertently create an effect that made it look like someone was busy under the covers!! Good thing I was taking the picture!! Also, I like how soft the hands are. By this I mean that she softened her grip a bit on the bed sheet and the hand above her head is in a softly closed fist that doesn’t give the impression that she’s uncomfortable. It’s very important to stay away from grips or fists in photographs, as they never look good in these settings. Some would say that the image works, some would say otherwise. I happen to like it…

Wait, who’s under the covers???

Going back to the lighting story, we get into the room and I start looking at the lighting options. I have two sconces on either side of the bed, and those are WEAK!! I bring over the desktop lamp, but I can’t get the lampshade off of it, so it’s really muffled. At this point I’m desperate, so I head downstairs to ask the receptionist for help with another lamp. Luckily, I have stayed with this hotel for all six years that I’ve been heading down to Mexico City, so I have built a relationship with everyone there. So, when I described my dilemma, they were all for helping out and came up with a tall lamp that shoots upward. I took it to the room, but it still wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until I went down a second time and borrowed the receptionist’s desktop lamp did I feel that I had enough light to shoot handheld at a decent aperture. I do NOT recommend relying on hotel room lighting for capturing any decent images, but that’s a DUH….

In this next image, I was trying to capture a more playful image of her smiling. It was a natural pose that she came to, so I went with it. I tried this same image at a lower point of view, but it just didn’t work as well. There was waaay too much background and it was rather distracting. So, I went with this compositional shot which also got her extending her neck, which smoothed out any neck wrinkles and thinned out her chin. In the first take, her hand fell out of view, and a cardinal rule of portraiture is not to create amputees. So, I had her bring back the arm into the image and place it over the other arm. I think it works very well and she gave me a great smile.

A beautiful smile…

The last image that I’ll share tonight resulted from another idea while she was still sitting up against the headboard. The idea was to give the sensation of a very pensive and worried subject. At first I liked the image a LOT, but the more I got to looking at it, and it was apparent when I showed it to a good friend that has been doing portraiture a lot longer than I, I realized the mistakes I made. First mistake is that I cut off her arm so only her left hand appears in the image. So, it looks like it could be her hand or someone else’s. Not only that, but she was gripping a little harder on the sheets, which never looks good.

The other mistake that I feel I made is that her head is too close to her shoulder, which makes her shoulder a little disproportionate to her head. Had the angle of her head been higher, it would have also brought up her arm angle which would have minimized the shadows in her armpit. Yeah, not the best shot, but that just goes to show you that it’s always a learning process and what appears to be a good idea on location, doesn’t always turn out.

Her head needs to come up and separate from the proximity of her shoulder.

We are both very proud of how these turned out and we look forward to shooting again next time I’m in Mexico City. Obviously, I would come prepared this time around with better lighting so that I wouldn’t have to depend on black and whites to fix the yellow lighting. I hope you enjoyed these and I also hope that some of my pointers helps out in your endeavours, may it be how to deal with poor lighting in a hotel room or what doesn’t compositionally work. Good night all!!!




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