Seeing & Thinking: Photographing a beautiful woman at a historical fortress

I’ve always been a sucker for juxtaposition, especially beauty among ruins. This time, the beauty was Bianca, a gorgeous model I had the pleasure to work with in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I spent the previous day wandering around looking for backgrounds for the shoot. There were several great places–but I loved the arches, tunnels and windy top of the San Cristobal fortress. I was immediately drawn to these repeating white arches–wonderfully lit by windows to one side, and remarkably void of tourists! I simply bounced an additional flash into an umbrella on a flash stand next to the window for supplemental light, and viola!

For this shot, we went to the top of the fortress where the wind was blowing wildly. I had asked to her to bring a billowy dress, and boy did she nail it!  Every gust brought a different composition to the scene. The sun provided plenty of light, but I also asked her boyfriend to hold a large 5-in-1 relector and aim a little fill light on her face.

The lighting for this shot was a little trickier…  The ambient light inside the room was much darker than outdoors beyond the window. With a great contrast like that, you have to make choices.  What’s the subject?  Right, so let the background show blown. To light her face, I bounced a flash into a partically collapsed umbrella on a stand to my left, careful not to overpower the scene. I didn’t want to lose the nice texture in her clothes or the wooden shutter. And I wanted her left side to appear brighter, since the sun was lighting her from that direction naturally.

Our last shot took place in one of the tunnels of the fort. Strong midday sunlight lit both ends of the tunnel, but left the middle quite dark. Without a flash, she appeared a shadowy silouette. So, out came the flash stand and umbrella. This time I partially collapsed the umbrella to produce a more organic output, and raised the stand as high as it would go in that tight space. Then played with the flash power on manual setting, aiming to balance the light on her with the natural sunlight on the foreground wall.

What fun it was to photograph a beautiful woman, using the ruins as backdrops, instead of simply showcasing a place! Thanks, Bianca…you rock!!!


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