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.


Sexy Lifestyle Advertising image

This very sexy couple image was photographed near Miami Beach, Florida. I had the models meet me about 1 hour before I wanted to shoot to allow enough time in case one of them ran late due to traffic, and the southeast coast of Florida has a lot of traffic. This also allows my stylist to pick through the wardrobe I asked them to bring to get something that will “work”.

In any type of boy/girl intimate imagery, believably is of paramount importance. When using models that may not know each other it will be up to the photographer to see the problems and direct the models through their potential reluctance or hesitation to engage with the other model. I have had a few projects that one or the other model just could not work through the issues they had even with me directing. Normally with professional lifestyle models vs. fashion models this is never a problem.

Most fashion models are normally photographed by themselves, and as a result of this they are not accustom to working with another model in the same photograph if it is a lifestyle project. If you shoot with 2 fashion models they might look like they are on their own separate planet, and even though they may be touching… they will look worlds apart. For a major lifestyle project, I will always look for photos where the models are interacting together with other people. If they do not have these types of images I will try to set up a test shoot and see if they can look real or not. The reality is if the models can’t work together and look 100% believable with another person, the photo will be a failure.

I have had a few projects where the client hired 2 fashion models, a man & a woman. On one of these projects it was like pulling teeth to get them look real. It was not that they did not try, it was they were like a fish out of water, so they looked, and were, uncomfortable. I did finally get a photograph that worked but it took hours to get there. After I was able to show the models some early photos next to a “Real” image, they started to understand.

So many clients & photographers think just because they have a good looking man & a good looking woman and you put them together they will look natural. Maybe, but unless they are really good professional lifestyle models, the odds are against you. When I go to the mall, a restaurant or a social get together, I will watch people and observe how they interact. Not just if they touch the person they are with, but HOW do they touch, where do they touch, what is the expression on their face, what is their body language telling me?

All of the signals that will tell someone who does not know the couple they are looking at, but will instantly know they “Belong” to the other person or not. These same set of signals will tell a person that when they see a man & a woman in a photo that was not properly modeled or directed, that it was staged photo. For me this would be a failure.

Fortunately for me, this couple had no problems at all, and it really looks like they have a lot of natural attraction.

The Gear:
Canon camera & lens – 1/160 second, ISO 100, 85mm lens set at f4

If you would like to use this image, or any of my images for mock or comp use, please just ask. There is never a charge for this service. Educational use is permitted without charge, unless published, but please ask first. All commercial use is available only with a limited copyright release prior to use from the copyright holder, Steve Thornton. Thanks for looking!

Cowboy in the snow

Here I am following Jimmy to the location

This is my shadow while riding, the big lump behind me is my 35 pound (16 KG) camera bag

Another select 2 frames later

Location wise for this shot I looked for a large flat area that has pristine snow, i.e., no animal tracks. I then asked Jimmy if this area has good “footing”, meaning is it safe for the horse. I don’t want to run a horse where there are rocks, holes, irrigation ditches or anything else that could seriously injure an animal.

Once I have established a good and safe spot to shoot, I then look for where I need to be. I’ll then dig out the snow down 2 or 3 feet (0.6 – 1 meter) so I can get into the hole. This allows me to get down to the snow level without having to lay down on my side.

So I now am standing, sitting or kneeling in the hole in the snow with my right hand holding my camera and my left hand on the zoom control of the lens while also holding onto the reins of my horse. This is very important because I want be be sure I can ride back & not walk back.

The trick here is to have the horse close so if it moves it’s head it will not jerk the reins, and therefore, move my hand on the lens while I’m taking photos. It also helps to have a a calm horse and a comfortable spot for the horse to stand, a level spot is best. This way the horse is not dancing around, stepping on you and/or your camera bag or being a nuisance in general.

Most horses, being a herd animal, want to be with their buddies. In this case my horse would prefer to be with the horse Jimmy is riding. But since I have used this horse before it knows it would be better to stay with me rather than running. I have shot with other horses and they sometimes are almost out of control jerking on the reins wanting to leave. After a few “Lessons” applied to the horse they normally decide that standing still is a better idea. If they are still a problem, I will use a different horse the next day.

Gear: Canon professional digital camera, 70-200 Canon Zoom lens at 100 mm, 1/320 sec., f5.6, 100 ISO and then processed using Photoshop.

If you would like to use this image, or any of my images for mock or comp use, please just ask. There is never a charge for this service. Educational use is permitted without charge, unless published, but please ask first. All commercial use is available only with a limited copyright release prior to use from the copyright holder, Steve Thornton. Thanks for looking!

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.

Cowboy on the Western Slope of the Colorado Rocky Mountains

This Cowboy image was shot a little after 6 am on a ranch on the Western Slope of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. I was on this location for 2 weeks and when I first arrived all of this vegetation was gray or brown due to a drought. Shortly after arriving it either rained or was solid overcast every afternoon and caused just about everything to really green up. This was the last day I was able to shoot before returning to Denver and then home. This photo was shot a few minutes after sunrise but a mountain behind the cowboy is blocking the direct light and will for another 20-25 minutes. Click on image to enlarge.

Shot with a Canon 5D MKIII set at 1/400 second, 640 ISO with a 400mm f2.8 IS Canon lens set at f2.8 and everything resting on a Gitzo fluid head and a set of Gitzo carbon fiber sticks.

Styling credits: Coat by Miller Ranch – Hat by Larry Mahan – Saddle Blanket by Mayatex – Wildrag by Cowboy Images  

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.

Fashion Details

This is a detail shot of an Alan Michael leather garment. To me all of Alan’s garments are more art pieces than “Just” another item of apparel. This image was shot in Alan’s award winning showroom in Denver Colorado.

I was shooting several items for Alan’s new website and I just had to shoot this close up to show the luscious details.

From the quality hides, to finding special buttons to weaving tie strings out to leather to the trimming all wraps up in a special item that people who are familiar with Alan’s work know who designed it.

Fashion image for Photokina Video – “Leading Photographers of the World”

This Fashion Editorial style image was shot near LAX (Los Angeles Airport) and was part of a video project shot by a German crew on me. Every 2 years the world’s largest camera show is held in Cologne, Germany. About 180,000+ people attend from more than 160 countries. In the second largest venue (the largest was Canon’s) there was an event called the “Leading Photographers of the World” and the producer had invited 5 International photographers to speak covering a range of types of photography: wedding, fashion, advertising, rock & roll and on Saturday, swim wear & lingerie. I was invited to speak about Fashion. The reason the video crew was in LA to shoot me & my crew is the “Leading Photographers of the World” wanted to hand out DVD’s of all 5 photographers and have both an interview and how all of shot our work. They give the DVD’s to attendees of the venue after the photographers spoke, which was 3 times a day. There were thousands of DVD’s handed out and I have received e-mails from some of these people thanking me for sharing how I shoot.

The rest of the story is, I was in Milan, Italy and flew to LA via NYC to shoot this project & after a 28 hour day I finally got to bed in LA. My 2 checked bags missed the connection in NYC so I did not have all of my gear when we shot the first day. So we had to shoot a couple of shots the next day too and this image is from the second day.

Shot with a 16-35 Canon zoom lens, using a FourSquare lightweight softbox and a LightTools grid. The two strobes are Lumedyne 200 w.s. And both packs are set on the highest setting, 200, in order to overpower the sunlight. On some of these shots I also used a Sunbounce Mini reflector. Go here to see a larger image.

Atlanta airport & Delta Airlines

While I was in the Atlanta Airport’s International Concourse waiting to board a Delta plane to Milan, Italy, I got out my camera and started to shoot.The Atlanta airport, in addition to being the busiest airport in the world with 5 runways, is Delta Airlines home base. All the planes you see in this shot, including the 2 in the air taking off, are Delta planes. This image was shot with late afternoon light in the rain. I just waited until most of the clouds hiding the sun thined out a bit then waited for a Delta plane or two to take off. The wait for the clouds to get out of the way took a quite a while, waiting for a couple of Delta planes to take off did not take long at all.

Go here to see a larger image.

If you would like to use this image, or any of my images for mock or comp use, please just ask. There is never a charge for this service. Any educational use is permitted without charge, unless published, but please ask first. All commercial use is available only with a limited copyright release prior to use from the copyright holder, Steve Thornton. Thanks for looking!