Creating a Swimming Portrait

This one is lit with two Wafer 100's with grids for backlight, and a Hexoval 140 directly over the camera.

I’m really drawn to barren landscapes.  I told a photographer friend of mine once that if I could establish my business at the edge of El Mirage dry lake bed in California and shoot all my photos there, I would be a happy camper.  There’s something about the flat textured landscape with distant mountains in the background that makes your work look like you just landed on Mars.

Our assistant Ryan playing the human light boom.

I had heard from friends in Utah that the salt flats often were coated by a thin layer of water during the early summer, and I thought that location would be a fabulous one for a portrait of a competitive swimmer reflected in a mirrored otherworldly landscape.  Things don’t always go as planned, and when I arrived to scout the area, I found a lot of mud, but no water.

This is where newspaper experience becomes a handy thing.  I knew from my feature photo hunting days that I could make a cool photo with little more than a puddle to work with.  With the right lens and an extremely low angle, I knew I could make a 2 foot wide puddle look like a lake.  After considering the possibility of building a tray of water using 2 x 4’s and a black tarp (it works – ask any car photographer from the early 80’s…), we eventually found a puddle right behind a rest stop.  The rest stop had a water hose/shower set up so people touring the area could wash mud/salt from their feet before getting back in their cars.  How convenient.

I tested the look with my Salt Lake City based assistant Ryan Faulkner, and it looked great.  The next morning at sunrise, I photographed our swimmer with our “lake”, using a Plume Wafer 100 mounted to a Manfrotto extension pole so that Ryan could boom the light near her face and still stay out of the frame.  We used a Profoto Acute 600 for this photo.

I had another photo I really wanted to make, and that was a tighter image of our swimmer, backlit from both sides with Wafer 100’s and Lighttools 30 degree grids, and a Plume Wafer Hexoval 140 directly above the camera on a boom.  As the sun came up, we made a few other photos with the beautiful early morning natural light.

A "lake" created with about 2 inches of water in a very small area.
An available light photo made with a long lens and gorgeous early morning light.

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