Once my friend and professional fitness trainer Mary Margaret Lanning agreed to act as my model, it was off to the beautiful shores of Garrapata State Park along the northern end of the Big Sur coast on a late lazy-fall afternoon. Also helping with this session was friend and fellow photographer Mike Hall who added valuable input and handled the bulk of the lighting setups for the 2 1/2 hour shoot.
We started the session having Mary Margaret jogging along a trail that afforded a view northward towards the rocky Garrapata shoreline. I had discussed wardrobe selections with her prior to the shoot and she brought along various tops, sweatshirts and stretch pants to add a nice mix to the session. I decided to have her start with a bright yellow top that I felt would grab the viewer's attention against the beautiful blue sky. Mike and I placed two Canon 550EX Speedlites on extended light stands and powered each one with a Quantum Turbo Battery. Each flash was attached to a Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 and another TT5 was on my Canon 1D MKIV. Using one light would have worked but I was able to cut the recycle times in half by having a pair placed on either side of the trail pointed back towards the sun. We're talking about throwing a lot of light back at our subject - 8 stops worth as Mary Margaret had the sun directly to her back. The flashes are just out of view to camera right and aimed at her face. I shot a sequence (at 10 frames per second) and we got flash on 5 of the frames - not too shabby!
I had Mike boom a light stand with a Canon 550EX flash pointed directly back towards the sun and instructed him to aim it at Mary Margaret's face and the combination of her nimble stretch against the deep blue sky produced this awesome image.
As you can see, by having her climb on the rock, it allowed me to take a low perspective and isolate her perfectly against the sky with each sea stack acting as a placeholder. I also loved how her vibrant tank top complimented the blue sky.
I felt it was important to retain the shadow on the right side of Mary Margaret's face that allowed for depth and modeling. Had we shot with an on-camera flash, or had Mike place the light over my head, the direction of the light would have eliminated all the shadows and in-turn, eliminated the feeling of depth.
Think about where your shadows will fall when placing your lights. You need to ask yourself if you wish to retain the shadow, how opaque do you want it to be, or do you wish to eliminate it altogether? You are the artist so it is your call.
Getting on and off this beach is no easy feat. It requires climbing up/down a rather steep incline (could there be other images to be made here)?
I started with some detailed images of her hands and lower legs trying to show the strain of climbing these rocks, then had her pass by me from a low angle as I shot from the side and below.
We then went ahead of where she was climbing and I positioned Mike precariously with a light just to my right as the sun was coming from camera left and behind. As you can see, the strobe filled the otherwise harsh shadow on the left side of her face yet retained the candid look without its presence being felt (important when lighting outdoors).
Back on top of the headlands and keeping a close eye on the time, we headed northward to the Sobranes Arch. This is one of my favorite views and one I routinely take workshop participants to. After putting Mary Margaret through numerous stretches with the arch serving as a recognizable background element, I hit on the idea to have her power run up the steep hillside.
If you follow my blog and writings, you have undoubtedly read how the sensor can only capture a limited range of light (no more than 6 stops - 64:1 contrast range) while our eyes can see an incredible 11 stops (2000:1 contrast range). I wanted the image to reproduce the scene the way my eyes saw it, not with the camera's limited dynamic range.
The only instructions I gave Mary Margaret was to really pump the arms and legs - difficult to do starting from a 30-degree incline, 150 feet over a crashing sea, with non-native ice plant waiting to trip her up. But once again she did exactly as I asked and this was the result!
Our last location was to move to the north side of the arch, a trek that takes us past a hillside of poison oak! After carefully maneuvering up and down some bluffs (and even pausing to shoot some frames of Mary Margaret hiking up a trail bathed in sweet light) we reached our sunset spot. Mike had hustled back to the car to retrieve a Lastolite 2' x 2' Ezybox Softbox as I wanted to soften the flash's output to match the soft light of sunset.
I again put Mary Margaret through a series of stretches with the main idea of having the stretch mimic the formation of the Sobranes Arch and the Whales Hump in the distance. As you can see, she once again gave me the look I wanted while retaining a very natural appearance as if she was working out with no one around.
Mike had boomed the Lastolite Ezybox with a Canon 550EX Speedlite over my head and aimed back at our model and again the goal was to add soft light to the shadow. The warm tone on Mary Margaret's face was courtesy of the low setting sun. I shot this frame about a minute before the sun disappeared.
After the sun set, we placed a full cut CTO warming gel over the flash head and continued shooting for another 15 minutes. The warming gel replicated the warmth of the setting sun even though it had exited camera right (behind a small wall of fog). In this final frame, I wanted Mary Margaret to look as if she was finished with her workout and was just enjoying the beautiful scenery (not hard to do in this location). Again Mike had boomed the soft box well to camera right aimed directly back at her and the contented look on her face made the image and session complete!