For my second shoot I was inspired by fairy portraits that were popular about 10 years ago. I wanted to take that inspiration and bring them into a more modern aesthetic, with a circus touch.
Most fairy portraits used to be shot in a studio with a fake forest and a lot of photomanipulation, but I wanted to these for real, on location. We began our quest to find a spot that would suit the dreamy, fairy forest-like vibe that I had imagined. Luckily, a friend of mine has a farm with huge trees that have large arching branches and draping leaves. It was perfect.
My performer is Audrey, she’s a ballet dancer and aerialist that I have worked frequently with in the past. She’s dedicated, talented and enthusiastic, and I love any chance to create with her. We rented gowns from Lewis Mayhem, a local designer who makes clothing for festivals and for people who generally just really like to dance. The clothing was light, lacy, and dripped with fairy portrait vibes.
Normally time of day really matters for on location shooting, but with all our busy schedules, we could only get a couple of hours in the middle of the day to shoot: and this is usually a nightmare material: High sun, right at midday in an Alberta fall, usually means dark shadows, blown highlights, and generally unflattering light.
The perfect location
We managed to find a spot under the dappled shade of the leaves that was high enough to rig the aerial equipment and provide some much-needed shelter from the sun. If I was to try and shoot this without a strobe, these would be extremely challenging conditions. The background would have been completely blown out if I had to expose the shot for her face properly, or if I exposed for the environment, she would have been in too much shadow. Luckily for us, the ELB 500 came to the rescue.
These lights have High-Synch Speed (HSS ), so I could shoot at a buttery f2.8 on my Sigma 70-200mm Sports , whilst using a shutter speed of 1/2500 sec so my images weren’t completely blown out.
For the first set I put light to camera right – the same direction the sun would be moving throughout the day, to fill in the shadows created by the leaves and to soften the harsh hotspots. I used a Deep Silver Umbrella 125cm (49″) with a diffusion sock to create nice shape, and because the sun was so bright I had to use my Elinchrom FIVE at full power. Then I put a reflector cone on another light behind her to camera left, so I could create a delicate highlight on her ballet shoes. Because this light has no diffusion, I put it about 1/3 of full power. For additional safety, I had FJ standing by the lights to hold on to them. Photographing outside, I am forever wary of a surprise gust of wind throwing lights and modifiers everywhere, even with sandbags on them.
Laura ran the smoke machine for me, as one of the ultimate features of fairy portraits is a soft, diffused environment. Usually this is created in studio using either smoke or hand painted backdrops and some soft light painting in Photoshop, but I wanted this to be all in camera. I have a cheap smoke machine I bought from a Halloween store 5 years ago that despite it’s occasional protesting, still works 8/10 times I need it to.
We then worked through a series of poses, being mindful of the position of her face so it didn’t fall too far into shadow.
As the sun moved through the sky, I realized the shadows were getting a little too strong, so I brought in a second ELB 500 with a Deep Translucent Umbrella (49”) just below the Deep Silver Umbrella (49”) and put the power to about ½ of full power. This created a much softer, prettier look for the light on her face as we changed outfits and poses.
As a studio photographer who is used to having all the control in the world, I am reminded about the benefits of being out of our comfort zone. These are images that I never would have created in the studio, but making them on location was a wonderful stretch of my creative wings.
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The FIVE is a battery monolight with 522Ws of power, allowing you to work on location with up to 450 full-power flashes. The Elinchrom FIVE features TTL, HSS, a bi-color LED modeling light, and a removable battery.
The most powerful and portable TTL light ever designed for adventurous portrait photographers shooting both in studio and on location.
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The Q-Reflector Adapter MK-II allows access to the entire Elinchrom system of light shapers. This adapter snaps onto the Quadra flash head and uses the normal rotating collar mount.