Fashion and Water in the California Desert

This fashion editorial style image was shot on a chilly and windy February afternoon. We had an assistant just out of frame with the model’s coat so we could try and keep her warm when we were setting up, changing positions or changing batteries on the Hensel Porty pack. We used all 1200 watt seconds (Joules) of power and was pumping this light into a Broncolor Para 88 focused for maximum distance. Due to wanting to get the model warm, I only shot 50+ images in 20 minutes, having to wait for the pack to recycle to full power and this included having to stop and dispatch a fleet footed assistant to locate and retrieve a freshly charged Li-on battery from the equipment van. One of my assistants “Volunteered” to carry Annabell to and from her perch, such gentlemen I am surround by!

Make up & hair by Steven Bartling from Los Angeles, California.

Gear: Canon 5D MKIII camera, set at 50 ISO & 1/200 second shutter speed and a Canon 14mm “L” lens set at f14. Light is a balance of daylight plus a Broncolor Para 88 using a Hensel Porty 1200WS pack.

Go here to look at a larger image.


Fast paced editorial fashion and beauty video shot just outside Milan, Italy

This fashion editorial project is a mix of video & stills shot on an abandoned farm just outside of Milan, Italy.

The normal challenge of any mixed media project is get enough still images to choose from & then have enough time to also shoot video. The “Problem” with creating the still images is, I am creating a slice of life at 1/1000 of one second. So eyes can be shut, the mouth could look strange, the hands may not look pretty, the feet might be in transition etc.

On this “look” I shot a total of 110 images plus 5 video clips having a total of 1 minute 5 seconds run time. Some of the video was shot with the camera on a tripod, the others were shot using a Steadicam. Including the occasional pauses for hair and makeup corrections or the wardrobe stylist making adjustments, the total time on set, shooting stills & video, was 15 minutes. If you have ever been on a shoot where a Steadicam is being used, you know there is a fair amount of time “Trimming and re-trimming” the apparatus, even a mild breeze causes issues and now you have a situation where not just the talent is moving but also the photographer is moving.

In this case Samara relates, projects to the camera and moves so well it was easy because there were so many great images to choose from, and I knew this just by watching her work through my cameras. A lot of clients just do not get why a model is so important, they think they just need a pretty person (male or female) and that is it. Even within professional models there are exceptional models next to average models, just like lawyers, hairstylists, doctors and photographers. When I get a great model to work with, I spend less time on each look allowing the client to get a lot of great images to choose from as well as getting a lot of production in a day, or allowing my team and me develop an idea and not to be concerned if we “Got the Shot”.

If I had an “average” professional model, I may have had to shoot for an hour, or more, and still not get what I did with Samara in 15 minutes. This is the difference.

Steamy Fashion in the Cold Night

S-2304-040-F8-Crop-Copyright_Steve_ThorntonThis was shot in downtown Denver, Colorado on a cold (6° F – minus 14.5° C) windy night. I had scouted the area the morning of the shoot to find a steam vent that was not in the middle of an intersection or in the middle of the street. This vent was off to the side of the street in a bicycle lane in a part of town with a low amount of traffic. I also asked Carol to watch my back in case a driver somehow missed seeing the model & me. The “Great Problem” was the wind. I say “Great” because without the wind I would have never been able to have this image with the steam swirling around the model. The “Problem” was most of the shots just did not work due to the steam being blown out of the shot or totally enveloping the model, me or both of us.

The gear:
Canon camera set at 160 ISO, 1/25 second shutter speed with an 85mm f1.8 lens at f2.5.
I used a long shutter speed to allow some of the ambient light to illuminate the background so you could have a sense of depth and place.
I also used 2 Lumedyne packs, one was in a FourSquare “Travel” softbox, placed slightly behind the model on her left side, and the other was a hard light directed from the model’s front left side aimed mostly down onto the coat and not so much on her face. These 2 battery powered strobe packs provided the main light.

Fashion on an old Italian farm

This fashion image was shot just outside of Milan, Italy. It is the second look of 6 looks we shot here. The location is an abandoned farm house that is falling apart. I was very careful where I had the model in this building. The opening in the wall behind her had already started to collapse. You can see some of the bricks behind the model that have fallen. I looked hard at the wooden support beams above where we are for any sign of rotting. From my B&B in Milan to this location is about a 20-30 minute drive and is very close to Milan’s Linate Airport.

We were driving to Linate when Emiliano, my lead assistant in Europe, mentioned that he saw the roof of an old building. So I quickly forgot about going to the airport and went & scouted. The gate was locked but there was not a “Private Property’ sign so we tromped around for a good 15 minutes. On our way back to the car I noticed an older gentleman on a bicycle waiting for us. He ask what were doing and we said we liked the location & wanted to know if we could get permission to shoot here. He told us that there was a woman that came by everyday to feed “her” cats & pigeons, normally around 3:30 to 4:00 pm (15:30 – 16:00). Of course I’m thinking that if she does not feed the cats there will not be very many pigeons left, in fact even with her feeding the cats, I saw the remains of a pigeon. So we thanked him then parted to go to Linate.

A few days later we had time to go & visit the farm & we met the woman there. She was very kind, gracious and granted us permission to shoot there whenever we wanted. She went on to say that parts of the buildings were dangerous so we should be very careful. Her late uncle was the owner and she remembers visiting there many times while she was growing up. She pointed to the remains of a door and told us that her uncle would project movies at night. She went on to say that her uncle loved America and that is why the farm was named “Acquabella Farm”. “Farm” is not an Italian word, fattoria is a word for farm in Italian. See the image below. The “House” part of the farm is still intact and, with a weeks worth of cleaning, would be liveable again.

From when the model showed up at my B&B to start makeup and hair styling to when we were finished shooting and ready to leave took 5.5 hours total. The initial makeup and hair styling took 2 hours, it took about 30 minutes to drive here meaning we shot 6 looks and packed all of our gear in 3 hours. Pretty fast considering, but shows what can be done with the right crew and a great location to work.

Go here to look at a 30 second behind the scenes video.

Go here to look at a before & after image.


Any use for a comp or mock by an advertising agency, design firm or magazine, for internal use only, is always free, just ask me for the image & I will send it to you. Also any educational use is free, please just ask in advance. The exception to free educational use is any form of commercial publishing, printed or electronic.


Shoot & Camera data: Canon 5D MKIII set at 320 ISO, 1/125 second shutter speed with a Canon 85mm f1.8 lens attached set to f8. The only extra photography gear is a Sunbounce Pro sized reflector using a zebra fabric positioned well behind me, about 30′ to 35′ (9 -11 meters) from the model. The reflector is providing just a small POP to the light.

Cowgirl Fashion

This cowgirl flavored fashion editorial image was shot inside a B&B in the Buckhead part of Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Wardrobe styling by Vicki Perry with hair & make up by Sav Wood. Originally this was to have been shot the day before, but I was a bit ill so I asked my producer to delay it until the next day.

I still was not 100% (maybe 25%) the next day but the model had traveled 6 hours to shoot the project and I figured that I might as well feel lousy and shoot (something I really love doing) vs. staying at home feeling lousy. So I sucked it up, packed my gear into the Explorer and drove to the location, about 25 miles (40 KM) away. When I arrived I asked the crew to bring my stuff in, normally I help but today I decided I needed the energy to “See” and think.

Shot with a Canon 5D MKIII set at 1/160 second, 320 ISO with a 16-35 mm f2.8 IS Canon lens set at f2.8 and 16mm hand held.

This was the second look we worked on and was very easy to light. All light is from a Lumedyne battery powered strobe system using a FourSquare softbox and a Lighttools grid, all of which was set just to the left of the photo. Microsync radio trigger system.

Any image is available for comp or mock use at no charge, just ask first.

An unusual fashion accessory shoot in Milan, Italy or: Making a visual statement to help your client get noticed

In Advertising Fashion Photography, helping the customer make money is, for me, a top priority. This particular shoot is about helping a client re-brand themselves. They wanted to have a photo to allow them to be noticed in the clutter of magazine ads with other competitors.

Asking questions of the client will get you a good idea of what they think they want. They likely do not know what they want so it will be up to you to decide how to execute the shot. The client showed me a series of images they liked. One was a shot of a woman with a bag on their head. A bit out of the ordinary but not a real statement that they said they wanted. This is a company I have been shooting for since 2007 and all of their promotions had been nice, well executed images, which is what they wanted. They are now re-branding the company as a very high end handbag line and need to make a real statement to garner attention they need. One of these bags will retail in the 6000 Euro range. (About $8000, it’s made from an ultra high grade Alligator hide.)

So I said how about using a big gruff looking guy shot in a back alley. They liked the concept but had not a clue how to do it. I asked them if anyone they knew might be the guy we wanted. One of them said they might so I asked them to take their iPad & shoot photos. They came back with 96 images of this guy. But before they showed me they said to me, “I don’t think this is the guy we want to use, after taking the photos I have decided he is just not the right person for us.” I insisted on seeing the images & told them that I thought he was perfect. So I asked them to check the weather for Monday, and it looked good. A lot of stores in Italy are closed on Monday including his ice cream shop, yes he makes gelato for a living.

I then gave the client a list of props & wardrobe I wanted them to collect for the shoot. The day of the shoot I asked everyone to meet at the client’s office at 6 pm which was a 5 minute walk from the location I had picked out. I shot one image at the clients property (see the image above) because I liked the wall & I knew I could adjust it in Photoshop to where I wanted it to be. Then we loaded up & went to the main location. One of the images I wanted to shoot was this guy acting like Mr. Mom with a hand bag. So I had asked the client to get at least 2 toddlers, which they got. I asked for 2 because just in case one was not having a “Good” day, the shoot could still go on.
Note: Anytime you need to shoot young children, ALWAYS book more than one. A young child will let everyone know if they are not happy and if you need to shoot an image with a young child & the one child you booked is not happy, you will not get the shot you need & your client will not be happy either.

After shooting with the kids I sent them home and set up in a blind alley. The light is all hard light with the exception on some of the shots when I needed some fill light I used a FourSquare lightweight “travel” softbox with a Lumedyne pack & head. Otherwise I used Lumedyne packs & heads with reflectors, one of which also had a grid spot attached. The main light was setup overhead using a Manfrotto boom. Instead of hauling the heavy counterweight that comes with the boom kit (10 pounds – 4.5 KG), I wrapped the Lumedyne battery powered pack’s strap around the counterweight end of the boom & it worked great. NOTE: The Lumedyne 200 WS pack with the large battery weighs 6.5 pounds (3 KG) so it is not an exact replacement but close enough for this use.

I also had another hard light set up to be used as a background light. This way I could control how much of the BG would show in the image. If I did not use this background light the image would look like it was shot in a studio on black seamless paper.

One of the really great things about shooting on location at night is you get to control the light’s quality, intensity, direction and effect on the scene. After you are in the photography business a long time you will have the ability to “See” what the final image can look like before you shoot the first frame.
Again, the ability to pre-visualize a lighting setup will allow you to change the light quickly to match your vision. This only comes after years of trial & error on your part while on your road to learning light. Because I can do this so quickly this entire project took 2 hours 45 minutes to shoot.

Remember: Just because a light is not the main light, it has importance… otherwise I would not use it. I am a big believer in a one light setup, but this is not the only way to light, just the fastest & easiest
Below you can see how I illuminated the shot above.

Go here to look at this same article with larger photos.

Steve & his crew in the German National Forest near Zingst Or, how to quickly shoot an environmental portrait

I was in Zingst teaching fashion photography workshops and each day after I was finished I shot personal images. Some were fashion images but these were portraits, which I almost never do. 

I define “portraits” as a corporate photo or for someone’s press release (Boring). Now I do shoot a lot of headshots but mostly for a beauty client or for the cover of a model’s comp card, but I do not consider them a portrait. A portrait is what “Real People” go & get at a portrait studio.

When Emiliano, my lead assistant in Europe, & I scouted the area, I found a great location to shoot, and immediately knew I wanted to shoot here. The location was a National Forest about 2-3 miles (3-4 kilometers) out of Zingst. It had a lot of what I look for in a location: beauty, a variety of  different looking backgrounds within a few hundred feet (50 – 100 meters) easy to get to, easy to move gear from the vans to where I wanted to shoot, and totally free of people… well until we showed up. 

20+ years ago Zingst was part of East Germany and lived under Communist control. What impressed me was how the community leaders in Zingst have been able to change their mindset from Communism to Capitalism and do a really good job of it. The East German General of the region is now a major player in tourism and has done a great job of promoting the area. He, and others, have been able to convert their small village into a thriving tourist center.

This is even more amazing with the fact that NO ONE drives through Zingst by accident. It is not on the way to anywhere, you have to (Really!!!) want to go there. I left the house in Milan at 10 am and I arrived at the hotel, 800 miles (1280 KM) later, in Zingst at 10:20 pm.

So I decided I wanted to photograph the community leaders that were prominent in the development & running of the annual Zingst Photo Festival. The first man I shot with was Heinz Teufel:
My crew set up the gear, I then put Heinz in the shadow of a large tree (This so I would not need to be concerned with direct sunlight on his face) then I adjusted my camera’s shutter speed & f stop to have the ambient light be darker than the strobe and adjusted the strobe power to where I liked the subject exposure (To get pleasing skin tones). For these images we used either 50 or 100 watt seconds of power, not very much really considering it was mid afternoon. This is one reason I use the Lumedyne system, small, very lightweight for the power and truly efficient, meaning a lot of light for the “Watt Seconds” used. And at those settings the pack recycled in almost real time <0.5 second.

Just in case you do not think the strobe is doing much, look at this photo,

which is the same lighting set up and same camera settings, just 30 images apart and the strobe did not fire. The difference is stark.

The same lighting set up was used for Klaus:

and again you can see the change the strobe light does for you.

All of the people I photographed were illuminated using this same set up except for 2. One of which was a man who had a long face.

If you light anyone with a long thin face, using sidelight will only make them look like their face is longer & thinner than it is to start with. You also want to avoid shooting them straight on, try and angle the face. So I used a 30” x 30” FourSquare travel softbox with a grid and boomed it out & over his head.

We also used a “Windkiller, read about this below. In this image you can see the same shot without the strobe.

On the same day I was shooting with a woman,

and I wanted to put a large reflreflector under her chin.

So I used the same set up, I just changed the camera direction so the background would look different and added the Sunbounce Pro underneath her. The shot below clearly shows the Windkiller.

Remember my statement above: “Or how to quickly shoot an environmental portrait”? None of these portraits took longer than 30 minutes, starting from the time we pulled up and parked to when we were back in the cars and leaving. On the days we shot with 2 people, it might have added 5-8 minutes.

By this time in the week, clouds, wind and cold weather had covered the village so we used a few tricks to allow our “Subjects” to stay warm as long as we could. I do this by having everyone stay in their coats up until the last minute. The crew would set up the gear, I would have a crew member stand in for the initial lighting set up, then I would have our main person step in. We also used an additional piece of gear from Sunbounce, a “Windkiller” and you can see it in several set ups. Without having a big sail, as in a full sized solid fabric reflector, the Windkiller reduces the wind by 70-80% but is easier to hold.

To help you know what the finished image will look like, make a custom “user set” as part of Canon’s “Picture Styles”. (I feel certain Nikon and others also offer this, if not buy a Canon.) You take one of the custom sets and tweak it to how you like the image to look like AFTER you have made adjustments in Photoshop. On a Canon camera, you adjust the contrast, saturation, sharpness, color etc. and save it. Then you change the Picture Style setting to your custom set & the camera’s LCD screen will show you something close to what your final finished image will look like. I do not use this because I already

(Click photo to enlarge) 
know what it is going to look like even before I touch the camera. I do this to show a client because most people, not just clients, just can’t pre-visualize anything. 

VERY IMPORTANT!!! When shooting RAW, this setting does NOT change anything in the RAW file. When shooting in JPEG, it does change the JPEG permanently, so be sure you like this or you might have a lot of unusable images. My suggestion: Shoot in RAW mode only or RAW + JPEG. This way you are covered. Even when I shoot weddings (Rare & normally for model friends) I shoot RAW. Is this a pain? Oh you bet. If I shot a “Normal” wedding would I shoot in RAW? I doubt it, but it would depend on the shooting environment (A lot of strong back lit scenes or ultra high contrast light and narrow time frame.) Now as a high end advertising photographer, I shoot in RAW only. 

Even my snapshots are shot in RAW. Example: Before I went to Zingst, I was in Lenno, Italy on Lake Como. My friend ask me if I wanted to go to Bellagio for breakfast? Well yeah! So I grabbed a coat, my silk wild rag, my 5D MKIII along with a 16-35 Series II lens and we got into the boat and scooted across the lake in about 10 minutes. Lake Como is a very narrow lake but also very deep, at it’s deepest it is over 1400 feet. Now this day was just miserable, cold, high humidity, some wind and solid overcast. But I just wanted to shoot snapshots because I knew that nothing I shot would be worth having. But because I ONLY shoot RAW, and because I know how to use the Adobe Camera RAW Converter, when I got back I just tried to tweak a few images in the hopes I could get something worth looking at. Now keep in mind that nothing was done to these photos within Photoshop other than cropping to size and adding my copyright. 100% of the transformation was done in ACRC (Adobe Camera RAW Converter). I doubt I could do this with an 8 bit JPEG without getting a serious banding issue.

I will be holding another workshop in Como in September just before Photokina. Go here for general information, but no dates as yet. I only have 2-3 days left for “One on One” workshops, the rest are already booked.

You may want to think about coming early to Italy, spend a few days to get over jet lag, take the workshop then fly to Cologne, Germany and visit Photokina, which is by far the world’s largest camera show. It is once every other year and in 2010, over the 6 day event, there were 180,000 visitors. It is massive, if you have ever been to the New York Photo Expo, it would not fill just one floor in one of the buildings at Photokina, which is 7 buildings, 4 of which have 2 floors. Just for a sense of scale Canon & Panasonic will completely fill one floor.

The gear:
Sunbounce: Reflectors, Windkillers, boomsticks & sandbags

Lumedyne battery powered strobe pack & head

Lightware Direct FourSquare 30” x 30” travel softbox with a Lighttools 40 degree grid

Microsync wireless strobe sync system

Canon 5D MKIII with a Canon 200mm f2 IS lens with Zagg protective skin
Gitzo carbon fiber tripod with a Slik ball head

Steve Thornton
A winner of ASMP’s Best of 2011 Award

Max in the Cow Barn


This image was shot near Zingst, Germany, which is on the Baltic Sea. I was in Zingst because I had been invited to once again teach 3 fashion photography workshops during one of the largest photo festivals in Germany.

I arrived in Zingst about 10:30 p.m. on Friday and checked into the hotel. On Saturday morning, a day off for me, Emiliano, who is my lead assistant in Europe, and I drove around scouting the areas close to town looking for cool places to shoot. I shot at this same location last year because of all the texture it offers and I wanted to make sure it was still standing and look for other areas to shoot.

Immediately after each of the workshops I would have my crew load the gear into the vans & we would drive to one of the locations outside the town.

This location is inside an old DDR (East Germany) dairy barn, where twice a day they would milk 28,000 dairy cows. As you might imagine this facility is HUGE. The roofs of about half of this massive facility have already collapsed due to neglect. The hay storage barn looks to me to be about 50,000 – 60,000 square feet and some 50-60+ feet high. The length of the milking barn is over a quarter mile long and some 450-500 feet wide.

The light you see in the above finished image is mostly from a Lumedyne strobe inside a FourSquare “Travel” softbox, which is directed onto Max, the model. The FourSquare also has a grid on the front of it.

We finally left Zingst at 5:30 p.m. and I needed to be back by 7:00 p.m. for one of my sponsor’s events. In the 90 minutes available, the drive there & back used almost 20 minutes. So I had to find the exact spot I wanted to shoot, determine what lighting I needed, the crew then set up the gear. I then had to tune up the light & controls, set the balance between strobe & daylight, set it best for Max in the first location, in the National Forest, and shoot. This took total of 25 minutes. My crew then packed up, reloaded the vans & drove to the dairy barn where we repeated the process for this image.

Go here to see behind the scenes images and a larger image.

Fashion in Bel Air

This image was shot in Bel Air, California about 10-20 minutes after sunset & I’m using the modeling lights from 2 Lumedyne battery powered strobe systems for additional lighting. One head is in a FourSquare 30″x30″ travel softbox, which is pressed up against the opened car door with the window rolled down and the other head is directly in front of the car aimed at the model. I’m shooting with the new Canon 5D MKIII set on 2500 ISO, 1/40 second shutter speed, using a 16-35 Canon zoom lens set at 16mm & f2.8.

This new Canon camera body has a great auto focus system that actually works about 95% of the time, a HUGE improvment over the 5D MKI & MKII.

The jacket, an Alan Michael USA creation, is made from leather with fish skin trim which sounds really strange but is really an interesting combination.