A local television producer had reached out to me interested in promotional photos for a segment on the show Health Watch Austin (www.healthwatchaustin.com). The segment focuses on basic strength exercise that anyone can do and it is hosted by Jen Wireman.
Jen is an ACSM certified personal trainer, Texas Rollergirl ("Big Nasty" #8, of the Honky Tonk Heartbreakers), and one of my favorite models to work with. She's incredibly comfortable in front of the camera and her athletic/ballet background give her an acute awareness of what her body is doing. She practically poses herself and that makes shooting with her very easy.
You should have a go-to model like this. When you don't need to worry about your model, you can concentrate more on the lighting, composition, and other elements of the photograph. Freeing up that bandwidth also makes perfecting new techniques immensely easier. If you're still trying to find your go-to, dancers and gymnasts make especially great subjects. They've spent countless hour drilling very specific body movements that were designed to be aesthetically pleasing and the performance aspect give them great presence in images.
Thrilled that I'd be working with Jen again, I agreed. The producer wanted to project physical strength and gave me free reign within that concept. His one stipulation was that he didn't want Jen promoted as a pretty face. Jen is an amazing athlete and a dedicated trainer and we didn't want to portray her in any way that would be reductive.
The first half of the shoot was indoors. Normally, when posing women, the body is angled in order to give a slimming, daintier effect. To convey a sense of power, I kept Jen square to the camera. Having your model take up as much space as possible in the frame also gives a larger presence.
The other element I used was lighting. All images for this job were lit using a single Canon 430EXii Speedlite through a Westcott Rapid Box 26" octa soft box. The smaller source created harder shadows, accentuating her muscles, but it was close enough to be flattering on the face. Turning her face towards the light causes shadows on the close side, really highlighting her cheekbones.
The second half of the shoot was my favorite part. It was on location in the parking garage of an office complex in town and was chosen for its accessibility and its industrial feeling. The cold, hard concrete and the harsh utility lighting were fantastic! It rang of more of Fight Club than high-fashion fitness clubs and was chock full of recurring shapes and leading lines. This dynamic environment was important because I wanted to ensure that the focus was on the feeling of strength rather than Jen, herself. If you use a model to try to demonstrate a concept, it's an easy trap to fall into to when the attention focuses on the model, rather than the larger concept. A good environment will distribute that focus throughout the image helping to prevent that pitfall.
In the garage, just as in the studio, I was shooting the Canon 6D with the 70-200mm f/2.8 and lighting with a single 430EXii Speedlite through the Westcott Rapid Box. Before Jen stepped in frame, I set my exposure for the background, increasing the shutter speed to drown out the ambient light. When I had that at a level I was happy with, I added Jen and used ETTL to light her. Again, I kept the light at a more extreme angle to create those shadows to carve out the jaw and emphasize the calves.
Normally in a such a dark environment, I would use a second flash as a rim light to separate Jen from the background a bit more. In this case, I opted against it for fear that highlighting the curves of the lower half of the body would draw too much focus to the model. Instead, I used the color temperature difference between the light of the garage lights and the Speedlite to separate the subject from the background.
After being imported to Adobe Lightroom, the images were minimally retouched. Some exit signs were removed using the healing tool, and the background highlights were brought down and the edges were darkened to create a natural vignette. In addition, a bit of clarity was applied to Jen's tattoos (every single one of which has a story).
This was an immensely fun shoot. It was the culmination of lighting, environment, gesture to convey a concept of Strength. It was the perfect balance of technical and creative challenges that were interesting enough to pique attention, but not frustratingly difficult. I was able to work with a great model in a perfect location. Using some simple lighting and composition techniques, I got some very powerful images and most importantly, the client was happy.
Make sure you catch Jen on Health Watch Austin Sundays on KVUE in Austin, Tx. as well as on the track once the 2015 season of the Texas Rollergirls starts. Tickets are available at TexasRollergirls.org.