Nana @ Sunny Bak Studio, Venice, Calif.
Nana @ Sunny Bak Studio, Venice, Calif.
I recently had a fantastic shoot with my new friend Nana at Sunny Bak Studio in Venice. An artist, actor and model with an amazing fashion sense, Nana’s an incredible subject whom I had been wanting to photograph since I first approached her two years ago outside a local coffee shop. She’s one of the few people I’ve ever encountered whose presence can literally stop you in your tracks. The opportunity never materialized and I moved on to other things until deciding to try again a few weeks ago. Although I had never run into her in person again over that time, by then I had connected with several mutual friends and one of them, Sunny, was nice enough to reach out and vouch for me, which led to the shoot at her studio a few weeks later.
When Nana showed up to the shoot I knew she was a committed subject by the fact that, after getting stranded near the airport, she had hitchhiked to make it to the shoot. I was doubly relieved as I was not only looking forward to a much-anticipated shoot, but had also rented some extra gear and purchased film in order to make some exposures on an antique 4×5 camera I own but have never actually used. These photos are all shot on a Nikon D3, but I hope to be able to share the 4×5′s soon, pending positive results.
But even if they don’t turn out, the results of the D3 are enough to have made the shoot worthwhile. As you’ll see after clicking to the jump, I can hardly edit it down below 10 images made during a fun and fortuitous 90 minutes of shooting. The session was laid back and fun from the get go and only got better over time. Nana knows how to work the camera and we had a great time going through a variety of expressions, both posed an natural. Before shooting we came across a book by Robert Mapplethorpe entitled “Some Women.” I was mostly familiar with his more provocative work focusing on erotic male nudes, which is what most people probably associate him with. I was surprised when thumbing through the book to see this collection of beautifully lit portraits featuring young depictions the likes of Isabella Rossellini, Susan Sarandon and Grace Jones, the latter of which is a personal hero of Nana’s. Although it didn’t affect the way I set up for the shoot, I think the book provided a source of inspiration nonetheless, particularly evident in some of the more stoic images we produced.
A bit of luck came our way too when, not long into the shoot, a shaft of sunlight appeared on the backdrop. At first I saw it as a problem, an unsightly blotch of white light smeared across an otherwise even background. Then Nana – also a photographer I might add – pushed her face forward and into the light. I had been stuck on keeping my lighting the way I’d set it up, but when I saw that I immediately changed my tune. Knowing the rays, which were coming from the setting sun poking through the studio’s front door, were fleeting, I quickly started scrambling to take advantage. I wanted to try two things and managed to get a crack at both of them before the light faded away. First, I started working on balancing out the natural light with the overhead studio light so the effect of the sunlight could be seen without being bleached out by the strobes. I managed to find the right balance, so the strobe maintained the shadow detail while the sun lit her face. Then, I took the opposite approach, cutting the strobes altogether and exposing only for the highlight on her face. The effect was to surround just a portion of her face in total darkness. Right after that the sun disappeared and we resumed shooting with my original setup, which was nothing more than a single, super-diffused beauty dish placed over head, and the occasional use of a reflector below. (I’ve actually posted a couple “behind-the-scenes” shots taken by my wonderful intern Shari at the end of this post.) But it was a good reminder to roll with the unexpected rather than fight it.
My original intent when shooting Nana was to produce a couple good portraits that spoke more to her personality. The first shot posted here is probably the closest to my original vision. It’s a moment that’s loose and natural and powerful, and shows her being herself. I’ve seen a lot of amazing modeling work she’s done recently but wanted to go a different direction with her that I hadn’t yet seen, which is more my style anyway. But posed or natural, she was able to help me produce several great images that I’m happy to be sharing here. Hopefully I’ll have more to share after processing the 4×5′s.
Overall it was a great shoot and I look forward to working with her again someday!
Continue reading »