A flash, a reflector and a window

In my last post, I wrote about preserving memories, under the influence of sadness, since Floca, my sister’s beloved cat, had a few more days to live. Floca is now in cat’s heaven and while I will never see her again, I like to think of her by the window, where she liked to stay, as she was a light lover like me.

I took time to reflect on her absence and turned that into a creative outlet. I wanted to create a beautiful picture. Not any picture. I wanted to create something I was really proud of, something elaborated, artistic, creative, the kind I would imagine in a museum or fine art gallery. What did I do? I went on a field trip.

I looked for a place where I had never been and took me on a date on creativity. I went alone. I visited an old beautiful building looking for inspiration and refreshness. I came back with much more than that. It was better than water in the desert.

I fell in love with a chandelier, a beautiful light, with artful design and old style. I thought I would have liked to photograph Floca under that light, but it was no longer possible. Then I had the next better idea: I called the place I visited. I explained I was on a self assignment for inspiration, where I try to photograph a portrait a week under different light and challenges and blog about it, to help to educate my photography community. Could I possibly take some pictures there using my flash? I was honest about my intentions and they were nice with me. What could be better?

It got better. They let me in.

I rented a dress from the 1800′s and looked into European portrait paintings in the museum. It all added up to my idea. I found a cooperative, beautiful model. I asked help from two fellow photography friends to go with me as assistants. I had a final image in my head.

The goal: to create an artistic portrait of a young woman in a setting of the 1800′s. It needed to be believable and to have an old look.

The idea: the portrait would be of the woman, head to toe, in a beautiful room. It was supposed to be black and white, but I changed my mind in the developing process.

The challenge: I had seen the location only once, in afternoon light, and my session was going to happen under a different light, morning light, and I was not quite sure how I was going to like the light in a different time of the day.

In between arriving at the place, carrying up the gear -  (one light with a big softbox), lightstand, reflector, makeup, rented dress, accessories – taking the pictures and packing up to leave the building we took 2 hours and 15 minutes.

The challenge was a good one. I liked the light better in the afternoon. But I had my own portable sunshine in the shape of my flash with softbox. I shot in higher ISO than I intended, which did not compromise the quality of the image I had in mind.

While one of my friends helped the model with the makeup, the other helped me to set up and meter the light. I will be forever grateful.

This was the beginning, when we got there:

setup room.jpg

Once the model was ready, we did some tests for bouncing light:

testing light.jpg

Then, of course, I could concentrate on the composition I was looking for. The image below was made with ISO 800, shutter speed 1/125 and aperture f/5.6.

Classy portrait.jpg

I changed the light a couple of times to compose differently. In the image below the model went to the window, and I did a post processing adjustment to increase the yellows and show more details in the shadows. This is only one image. No cropping, no HDR. I wanted her face looking out passing the point of profile.  As her face went more towards away from me, she became unrecognizable, adding to the mistery I wanted to create. ISO 320, shutter speed 1/125, aperture f/5.6.

old style.jpg

And in the next one, the light comes from her right side. I decrease contrast on the wall paper. ISO 320, shutter speed 1/125, aperture f/6.3.

old style.jpg

After all the hard work, a few comments:

It was hard to control the light. Not the flash light, but the ambient light. I did not want much of the outside showing, so I had to increase my ISO to almost blow out the window light, but that made the light in the old couch super bright. In a few images it was unrecoverable. In the ones I picked I was able to tone down the light and recover the pattern.

It made me tired, but a good tired. Thinking almost hurts when you are in creative mode.

It made me think hard and push myself because my time frame to photograph there was limited.

It made me extremely grateful for my kind nature: I have a huge appreciation for the people who allowed me to photograph in this beautiful location and for the model and friends who helped me to make it real.

I came up with images I am proud of showing. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

This session was made to my sister Lisiane, in honor of Floca, who loved the light.

by Simone Severo.