Li Zheng in Santa Monica II

Li Zheng
Santa Monica November 2013
(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.
LiZheng2-538 (3)
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…

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.

Leila Shennib

Blimey. This shoot was such a long time ago. Still, better late than never, I guess. The images here are from a shoot I did with US model Leila Shannib, on Santa Monica beach, in Summer 2012. This was quite a last minute thing, and I have to say, considering how actually very cold the day was, we got some pretty reasonable shots. We probably shot for around ninety minutes in total, and Leila was a trooper, considering the not fantastic weather. Certainly, I came away with enough shots to make me happy with the day.

Trisha Lurie, photographed in Santa Monica

(Click on the Image to be taken to the shoot gallery) I was fortunate enough to collaborate on a shoot with Trisha Lurie recently when I visited Los Angeles.

Whilst this was a somewhat hastily arranged shoot, I can't help but be delighted with the quality of images. I wanted to try for something that was a uniquely California shoot, and which was not the easiest thing to do in the UK-a beach shoot at sunset.

We shot around Santa Monica Pier, on a packed Sunday evening. As we drove down to park on the Pier, looking at the sea of people on the pier, as packed as Oxford Street
on December 24th, my heart sank-I thought there'd be no way that we'd get enough space to shoot without distraction or interruption.

Fortunately, we did just fine. We had a few interruptions, and quite an audience from the Pier behind us when we were shooting the yellow bikini images, but nothing that stopped us getting the images we wanted. We ran out of light before we ran out of ideas, however, and I'm looking forward to shooting again with Trisha on my next trip to Santa Monica.