Li Zheng in Santa Monica

Li Zheng
Santa Monica 2013

(Click on the Image to be taken to the shoot gallery) I’m fortunate in that I get to travel to some very cool places with my day job. This occasionally offers me the opportunity to shoot in different locations, and do something a little different from my usual shoots. Whether it’s street photography in Tokyo,  or a beach shoot in Santa Monica,  it’s always great to have the opportunity to break out.

I’ve also been incredibly fortunate in the models I’ve managed to collaborate with along the way. When I took the (for me) giant leap of booking a model in Santa Monica two years ago,  I was extremely fortunate to select Trisha Lurie as my co-collaboratee (if that’s even a word). We got some fantastic shots, and they still take pride of place in my portfolio. Equally, shooting with my model friend Miu in Tokyo, which I’ve done a couple of times now, was equally productive. This year, I was again in Santa Monica with a weekend to spare, but with the minimal camera gear. I was to be out in LA for twelve days (most of it working stupidly hard, I can assure you) so there wasn’t much extra room in my luggage.  I decided-at the very last minute-to chuck a single strobe, a lighting stand, foldable softbox and my tiny Fuji x-100 (rather than my Nikon D300s and ridiculously heavy lenses) just in case I got my act together enough to post a casting to Model Mayhem.

Well, I did get my act together, and I’m grateful that I did. I posted a casting for a Santa Monica beach shoot, and as is ever the case with castings in LA, I got an amazing, if not overwhelming response.  Tons of responses, and some amazing models.  I eventually-and believe me, it was extremely hard to select-decided to offer the shoot to Li Zheng, who grew up in New York but who was now living over on the west coast.  Li was gracious enough to accept the shoot, so now it was just a case of waiting for Sunday, and hoping for the bbc promised (if it’s on the bbc, it must be true, right?...) good weather for Santa Monica on Sunday.

Sure enough, the good weather arrived, and after the sun had burned off the usual morning gloom, things were looking great. If anything, I was concerned that the sun was going to be a little too strong, but fortunately, that turned out not to be an issue for us.

The beaches were absolutely packed, of course, so I decided that kicking off the shoot underneath Santa Monica Pier was the way to go again. Underneath the Pier, there are a number of what I guess used to be rowing boats, turned vertically, and kind of buried a bit in the sand (look at the pictures-you’ll get what I mean…) which make a wonderful backdrop for images. And, as Li pointed out during this shoot, they also provide excellent protection from the winds which usually rip round the pier. It may be baking stupid hot out in the sunshine, but if you’re a bikini-clad model stuck in the shade underneath the pier, believe me, it’s not so warm. Fortunately, as well as providing great backdrops, the rowboats protect from the worst of it.

What was new this year is that the location appears to have been discovered by wedding/engagement photographers. In the past, I’ve pretty much had the place to myself, but this year, two other photographers showed up, each with a lovestruck couple in tow, to use exactly the same locations. There was practically a queue at one point to shoot against the two boats there. Still we managed just fine, fortunately, and we got all the shots we needed in the boats. One of the other photographers was good enough to show myself and Li the images he was shooting with his couple, and they were fantastic. He’d come up with an amazing way to light this particularly unique location, and it was one of those ‘punch myself in face’ moments for not thinking of the same lighting. He’d got some wonderful images, and I can’t imagine that his couple would be anything other than thrilled with the results. Certainly, remixing the lighting is something that I plan to do the very next time I get to shoot in Santa Monica. It’ll mean packing two strobes, and a few gels, but boy will it be worth it.

Anyway, back to this weekends shoot. Having shot with the strobe, and got some wonderful images, the sun was setting now, and there was an opportunity to get some natural light shots. I should point out that I’m not exactly super-familiar with my x-100 (something which I clearly need to address, given the super quality of the skin tones and just fabness of the images), but I managed to wrangle it into shooting decent images in natural light. Given the extreme lighting, setting the camera to auto didn’t seem to do the trick-the images were blown out at first-but a few test shots following best guesses for aperture/speed and we were all set, and I ended up getting some shots that I’m very happy with.

Next up, we took a short break, and ended our shoot with the sun now set, the sky getting a little overcast, but one more swimsuit which Li wanted to feature, as she’d not shot in that particular one before. For these images, it was back to artificial lighting, and shooting quickly-it’s pretty cold right by the sea once the sun has gone down-but this spurred us on to capture some of the best images, before calling it a day.

Shooting with Li was a great experience. She’s a very accomplished and capable model, and given the amount of time we shot together, I’ve ended up with an embarrassment of riches, as far as images go. Again, some absolutely fantastic images which doubtless be prominent in my portfolio for a good while to come.

At the time of writing I’ve edited and posted around 10 of the images, and had a fantastic reaction to them, from friends and ‘fans’ both. I’m looking forward to my next trip out to Los Angeles, and the opportunity to shoot with Li again.

And, this wonderful shoot also served as valuable reminder that the dinky little x100 left in my office for months on end is a waste, and I really need to be taking it out more, and learning how to use it properly.