10 Minutes to Shoot the Bikini Model Champion
Here’s a scenario that doesn’t happen every day…
It’s 8:00 in the morning, you’ve just completed a sunrise shoot from a balcony overlooking a tropical beach in a luxurious master hotel suite. You’ve had little sleep because you were up until 2 AM shooting a half-dozen models in lingerie/implied/nude sets in the suite from the prior day, and check-out time is rapidly approaching.
Packed and Ready to Go
There I was, packing up my cameras and lighting equipment when my good friend and photography mentor Kenny Roland calls. “Hey, are you still in the room? I’ve got Nichole Tyra here with me, we just finished our sunrise shoot on the beach… Can I bring her up to the room before you have to check-out? You should shoot with her too, but she’s got another booking at 9:00.”
Without thinking or hesitation I say “Hell yes… bring her up!” Now I’m excited and not feeling so tired anymore, because Nichole Tyra had just been crowned the winner of the week-long International Bikini Model Search (IBMS) in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, that I was attending.
Simplify the Lighting
I just spent the better part of an hour with my friend Will breaking down stands, strobes and modifiers and packing them into my location lighting bag, and was almost ready to go back to my low-budget room at the other end of the resort. I love the punchy lighting effect of my RimeLite Parabolic reflector, but it is a time-consuming pain-in-the-ass to setup with all of its 16 rods, and the battery pack for the barebulb strobe head is almost as wasted as I am and needs to be recharged. No time to whine or make excuses, the ringflash battery still has a decent charge, and I can bolt that onto my camera in a minute.
The room is trashed from all of the models and photographers that shot in the suite with me within the past 24 hours. I ran around the room tidying up and gathering together some stray pieces of lingerie that were misplaced or left behind from last night. Then there’s a knock on the door, and it’s showtime…
Simplify the Concept
Kenny wants a long shot of her from a camera position inside living room of the suite while she stands in the threshold of the sliding glass door to the balcony overlooking the beach. Nice idea… but now I can’t shoot that same look. Bastard! That was my idea! I will yield to my mentor. I need something I haven’t already shot, and that’s not easy because I’ve already shot all of the other “interesting” features of the suite the night before, and I just finished a sunrise shoot on the balcony with another model.
Hmmm… stress level is now rising, I need to think of something! As much as I love an elaborately or carefully lit studio or location set, where every detail from wardrobe to lighting has been planned in advance, I also enjoy the challenge of shooting under and pressure… no preconceived ideas, just reacting to the model and the environment. That’s exactly the situation that I found myself in that morning. Just relax and keep it simple, reduce the number of variables and then shoot with confidence!
A few more minutes pass and it’s 8:30 when Kenny wraps it up, the sun is rising higher in the sky and the model only has bikinis in her bag, so I need to pick up the ball and run with what we’ve got on hand. Nichole shows me her bikinis, and I select a blue competition bikini from her bag. Competition bikinis are worn onstage in a contest, usually have lots of “bling” but not really designed for swimming or getting wet, but they are very sexy. When a bikini model is onstage at a competition, that’s all that there is… the model and her curves in a sparkling bikini. The stage and the backdrop are not the focus of the moment, it’s all about her figure. So that’s going to become my primary emphasis for this shoot, and little emphasis will be placed on the extravagant luxury of the suite. A couple of palm trees in the background are always nice, but not in every shot, so some simpler textures in the background might work well, too.
A Great Model Makes Life Simpler
On one hand, this is going to be relatively easy. Nichole is in tip-top physical shape having spent countless hours training for the competition, and her skin is flawless. She has literally and figuratively done all of the heavy lifting to prepare for this event, which makes my task much easier. She’s been shooting on the beach earlier, nonetheless her hair and makeup still looks fairly fresh. You don’t need (and IMHO don’t want) a strong Glam-look when shooting a bikini model. I know from watching her shoot with Kenny that Nichole takes direction very well, and knows what angles look good for her shape, so that makes me feel more confident that there will be some good results.
I only have 10 minutes to shoot with Nichole before she has to leave in order for her to keep her next appointment, which is on the other side of the resort, but I think she is going to nail the poses quickly and easily.
Simplify the Set
Given the time constraints, I am going to set up only 3 shots/backgrounds. Against each background, I will direct the model in slight variations of the primary pose. Can’t get overly ambitious, and need to keep the variables to a minimum, because slight changes in distance from the camera when shooting with a ringflash can cause huge differences in exposure, especially in the highlights. But this is my first week shooting with a new Godox Witstro AR400 ringflash and it’s not my trusty old Hensel Porty, which I am more familiar with the power settings, so I try not to panic.
Ambient Morning Sun + Ringflash
First I am going to try to incorporate the ambient sun as a backlight, and try to balance, or sometimes blast-away from the front, with the ringflash. There’s not enough time to meter each shot, so I will just keep chimping the LCD and histogram until I think I’ve got the flash power balanced against the ambient within an acceptable margin of error. Besides the fact that my other strobes and modifiers were already packed, I chose the ringflash to use with the ambient sunlight, because it’s very forgiving when it comes to filling in, or eliminating shadows, but you can easily go over the edge and blow out the entire image if you don’t pay attention.
I chimped more during this shoot that I normally do, but I don’t have a choice. Shoot, chimp, adjust, repeat.
As if I didn’t have a high enough stress load already, while Kenny is still shooting, I shout out “Hey! Go grab the video camera… this is the perfect time for some BTS video that I’ve been meaning to shoot all week.” I had borrowed a friend’s new Canon Vixia camcorder hoping to get some video to add to one of my shoots, because I think that some online publishers are looking for stills with BTS video as an added bonus.
I handed over the camcorder to my buddy Will, and considering that this is the first time that either of us have done a BTS sequence, and considering that we had zero notice and only minutes to prepare, I was pleasantly surprised with the video. Exposure was a little wonky at times because of the backlit conditions, but we just set the camcorder to AUTO, and prayed. (No, I did not use AUTO mode on my camera while shooting, that’s never going to work with a ringflash.)
Lack of Planning
Preparing for successful shoot with a model requires lots of time spent in advance thinking about all of the details of the wardrobe, styling, location, lighting, props, etc.
Dan has published a very detailed look at how he goes about his production process, which requires days or weeks of advance planning, meetings with his team, and discussing the concept.
There’s an old saying about failing to plan being a plan for failure, and there’s some truth to that. I believe strongly that Dan’s methods are sound, and it always pays to plan ahead, but sometimes you have an opportunity to shoot a model on very short notice, you have to fly by the seat of your pants. Use whatever limited resources are available, and keep the image concept simple and the technical variables to a minimum.
There is also an old saying that “less is more” which I could say about this shoot. At least it sounds like a good excuse for the results when you have very little time and no advance planning…