As someone interested in portrait photography, of course I’ve wondered what it would be like to work on a surreal, high production fashion shoot for the cover of a magazine. That is the state of mind I was in when working on this project for Kayla’s quinceañera.

The location was on her grandparent’s property, and there were many little interesting areas as candidate settings for a portrait. Our first choice was a sort of alleyway with trees on either side, almost as if we were in a tunnel. As you can see, on the property there was some old farm equipment placed about for decoration, which I figured would have a nice juxtaposition with a ball gown. Being that there wasn’t a strong level of ambient light in that area, I was able to easily shape it to fit the soft, dreamy mood I wanted.

I used two lights for both shots, and in the first one I had a Magnum reflector as the key light above the camera, and slightly to the left. This gave nice highlights on the dress, and her face, without being too hard. I had this light far enough back to be fairly even on Kayla, but close enough to fade nicely to the edges of the frame. This highlights her without being too much of a spotlight. I used one other light to separate Kayla from the background, and to light the background itself. The backlight had a small white umbrella, and was positioned quite far back. This gave a soft, even illumination to the otherwise busy looking background, and also a subtle highlight along Kayla’s outline to help her stand out without being too harsh for this quiet scene. I do wish I had a third light just for her hair, because it gets a little lost in the dark trees behind her, but I only brought two with me. Lesson learned: you can’t have too many lights on hand! I also wished I had a fog machine, for just a hint of murkiness in the woods behind her.

For the second set up we picked a flat patch of lawn, and had her sit on the grass with the dress fluffed out around her. The key light this time was equipped with a Softlight Silver reflector, which is one of my favorites. Being even later than the first shot, it was around twilight at that point, so again I had to provide most of the light from strobes. I used a similar technique as in the first shot to light the background, and to add volume and separation to the dress. Since this setup had less distance between the camera and subject I was able to have my assistant hold a large collapsable white reflector just out of frame to the camera’s right for some fill.

This shoot was a great learning experience for me, and I’m grateful for how the images turned out. While I have shot senior portraits before, I enjoyed the added flair of working on quinceañera portraits. I believe I’ll be ready when I get asked to shoot my first magazine cover.

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