orbis ring flash

Li Zheng in Santa Monica II

Li Zheng
Santa Monica November 2013
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(Click on the Image to be taken to the shoot gallery)
I photographed Li earlier this year, when I was in Los Angeles on a trip. We got some good results, but considering it was June, the weather didn’t play very nice that day. It was warm enough, but we didn’t really get any of the sunshine that you’d usually associate with a California beach shoot. Nevertheless, Li was a wonderful model, and great company. So, when I was fortunate enough to be in Santa Monica once again, this time in November, I dropped Li a mail to see if she’d be free to shoot again. Whilst it’s usually much cooler, and the sun set much earlier in the day in November, it looked like it was going to be at least warm enough, and we’d get the sunset that I wanted. Fortunately for me, Li was free to shoot, and so we arranged to shoot again on Santa Monica beach, this time hopefully with a half decent sunset showing up to keep us company.

As you’ll see from the images, we did indeed get the sunset I was hoping for, and also got some fantastic images as a consequence. Of course, having collaborated with Li earlier in the Summer, I knew I was getting a fantastic model, and some guaranteed great images for certain, but the sunset was pretty much the icing on the cake. We also had the advantage of a much quieter beach, which meant we didn’t have to wait too much for the people also taking advantage of the sunset to walk the beach to get out out the shot. I’ll admit, I still ended up photoshopping a couple out, though...


As ever, it’s surprising just how quickly the sun sets and the light changes when you’re on the clock, and so we had to keep readjusting the lighting, to get the best combination of ensuring that Li was well lit, but that we still captured the essence of the sunset. I also made a point of bringing a ‘head torch’ think-one of those lights you can put on your head like a sweatband-which meant that even though the sun had set, and there was no real natural light to work with, I was still able to get a good focus, and we could carry on shooting. Pretty much all of the darker shots were captured in this way.

Whilst traditional bikini/beach photography isn’t something that I ever imagined that I’d enjoy shooting. Being a typical brit, the idea of shooting with an audience of gawkers isn’t something I’ll ever enjoy. And I’m sure that if I ever showed up on a UK beach with a model like Tricia, Leila or Li, I’m sure I’d have a significant audience pretty quickly. Fortunately, it’s very clear that a bikini shoot on the beach is not an uncommon thing in Santa Monica-it’s just about a mile or so from where Baywatch was shot, for a start-and so the Californians tend to take it all in their stride, and pretty much leave us to shoot in peace.

Strobist bit: For these shoots, particularly when you’re absolutely against the clock, I rely on keeping things very simple, with just one artificial light. I was mostly using a single off-camera flash ‘as it comes’ (I know, apparently not the done thing, but I’m more than happy with the results, to be honest), set high, with a 1/250 exposure, to keep the drama of the sunset, but to prevent it from overexposing the shot completely. For the shots after dark, I was still using a single off camera flash, and later, an orbis ring flash. This is most obvious on the shots from the lifeguard hut, but was also used for those images we shot up from the beach, overlooking the Pacific Coast Highway.

I’ve enjoyed the two opportunities that I’ve had to collaborate with Li, and we’ve already got a couple of ideas for our next, slightly more ambitious shoot at some point in 2014. I’m already looking forward to that, of course.
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Quick note on this image: I’ve just processed this one image into mono so far from this shoot, and I’ve included it here rather than in the main gallery, as I think it sits better on it’s own, in a manner. I may well process more into mono-certainly, I’m delighted with this one…