(As seen in the LUXE Magazine blog.)

magazine tear sheet
Image as it appears in LUXE Magazine

Recently I shot a “quick” (client’s love to use that word) portrait for LUXE magazine, a local favorite of the high end, fashionable set in South Florida. The photo would run as a full page black and white and it was important to showcase part of the store. I had one hour to set up, test and shoot.

Arriving sight unseen my subject, Tracy DeRamus, proved to be a very friendly woman with an attractive smile. Her store, Circa Who in West Palm Beach, though crowded with a variety of trendy furniture, mirrors, lamps and cool ceramics was colorful and airy with high ceilings. Floor space however was tight and the only natural light came from the south facing store front window. Because of time and budget constraints I did with out an assistant, instead relying on Olivia Lambert, Photo Editor at LUXE, for any needed help, and limited the lighting to one light source.

Greetings aside I quickly set up a trusty old NVS-1 speedlight. The NVS-1 is a modified and more powerful Vivitar 283. It was manufactured by Rob Stuessy who unfortunately is no longer in business. These lights are workhorses and extremely reliable. I doubt you will find any for sale, at least not cheaply. I power my NVS-1 with a Dyna-Lite Jackrabbit battery, which gives plenty of juice for fast recycling even at full power. The NVS-1 uses a bare flashtube and while you can attach it directly to the flash unit I prefer to insert it inside a 5″ reflector that is connected to the NVS-1 via a 9′ cord. I can then place the reflector wherever I want and keep the flash unit attached to the bottom section of a light stand and safe from accidents. For this shot the 5″reflector was used in conjunction with a 32″ Eclipse Plus umbrella.

The camera used was a Nikon D3 with two Nikkor lenses, the 16-35mm f/4G and the 50mm f/1.4D. Exposures were set manually. A Pentax Digital Spot Meter metered the reflective ambient light and the Minolta Flash Meter IV was used for measuring the light output from the NVS-1. Pocket Wizard Plus II Transceivers were used to trigger the flash unit. The camera was mounted on a Gitzo tripod since I’d be shooting at shutter speeds of around 1/30 of a second.

The shoot went with out technical flare ups and was relaxed, except for my normal internal anxiety. Several tests were done to check lighting and to show Olivia. Visually I loved the mirrors and reflections in the store and concentrated on using them. Photo #1 despite being the first test and Tracy wearing her work clothes was worthy of consideration. I love how relax she looks with jeans and tank top and how it accentuates her hair and casual beauty. I also like the way the elephant is making eye contact with Tracy.

Tracy DeRamus at Circa Who
photo #1
portrait of woman
photo #2

I continued with the reflection idea in photo #2 along with some foreground foliage. I liked this particular spot in the store for two reasons. One it had a multicolor background that would translate well into various shades of black and white and secondly the ambient light from the south facing window was behind me and helpful in lighting the room. The grouping of three photos, #3, illustrates the little changes that are made during a photo shoot that can sometimes make or break an image.

three portraits of a woman
photo #3
portrait of woman
photo #4
furniture store interior
photo #5

Eventually we moved to other areas of the store, inside and out, for further testing. One spot, seen in photo #4, would have required multiple lights. I wanted to show the background awning as is but needed to match the interior light level with that of the outside. One light source was not going to be enough. Here the flash light is underexposed but one look and I decided there was no need to bother with this location and moved on.

Photo #5 is a hallway setting in the back of the store and the one the magazine liked best. Even though there are lots of textures and some color in this setting I’m still not convinced it was the best location. However the Art Director at LUXE saw it differently.

Testing done I had Tracy change into her dress. Funny, she became a bit tense when we started shooting for ‘real’. Normally I like my subjects to be dressed for the shoot even during the testing phase in case we come up with an unsuspecting winner. However it was a hot, sticky South Florida morning and we were working inside and outside the store and with a limited wardrobe I did not risk a droopy dress. Another factor in Tracy’s stiffness was the lack of props for her to interact with in the hallway. I had her do some playful poses, photo #6, until she once again was her relaxed self. Eventually we came up with the image that was selected and used, #7, here seen in color and lit with the NVS-1. The black & white transformation was later done by the magazine.

portrait of woman
photo #6
portrait of a woman
photo #7
portrait of woman
photo #8

The last setting, photo #8, is one I had in mind from the beginning. I loved the idea of raising Tracy above floor level and placing her in this beautiful wicker chair, which exudes her as the queen of her domain!