Over the (half) moon with Salem

I often shoot at the same places over and over again. Specially if they are open, light on foot traffic, and with space to setup gear. Even outside of pandemic times, it’s the kind of location I prefer and look for. In the Bay Area, there’s lots of places to shoot from since we have a good mix or nature and urban areas, well, I still typically hang around the same spots.

The Location

One of these same spots that I like to shoot in is the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Half Moon Bay. I’ve shot there a few times and if you follow people from the Bay Area you might have seen shots with its very distinct trees. It’s a great location that is also by the beach and you can get a lot of variety. It’s a very walkable park and the only challenge is if you go down the steps to the beach area. Its parking lot is closed due to the pandemic but it’s worth a visit if you can go once it opens.

The Model

Salem, who is always a pleasure to shoot with and who has a fierce face for days: @salemhaile

The Shoot

This shoot was mid-day and in the wooded areas. I’ve never had bad light here. This park will either have gorgeous diffused light, soft moody light, or very nice golden light even outside of the golden hour. In that sense, it’s also a very easy area to shoot in because you can get by with natural light, or strobe use.

My thing with shoots is to always start out with easy shots to get into a groove. It’s great to experiment but you always want to nail a good shot, and then build from there. Mentally, it’ll make you feel better to know you’ve already got some good shots.

We started out in the wooded areas to get softer light, which is easier to manage and light. I was using a 36″ soft box with a 600w/s strobe. I mainly use a single light and I usually place it right in front of the model. It’s always slightly to the side, but it generally gives me a flatter look with less shadows being cast by the strobe. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I don’t like tea anyway, so it’s definitely my cup of something. It also works pretty well up close with a single light, especially in shaded or overcast situations. I like to make it easy for myself and I always shoot with lighting that I know I like. Then I move on to trying different things, such as with using the sun as a second light. I ended up using the sun as a backlight in some of the later shots of the first look. Had the sun been a bit lower, it would have given us a nice glow around Salem but because it was mid-day, it’s a more of a ‘in your face’ kind of light.

We then moved down to the beach.

This is where things get interesting. If you are smart, you can leverage the harsh shadows and contrast created by the sun. Not me though. I’m more of a ‘fight-the-sun-and-probably-lose’ kind of guy. Therefore, the other way you can go about dealing with harsh sunlight is to use more flash. That’s sort of counter-intuitive but the intention is to have so much flash power that you can overpower the shadows cast by the sun. This is often called overpowering the sun.

In this case, the sun was hitting Salem from the front. I had the 600w/s strobe on one side and 8 speedlites stacked together on the other side. Even with that much light at full power, the sun still cast its shadows but it helped to soften up the light so it worked out okay. I could get the lights closer to Salem but then I’d have to shoot things a little tighter as far as the framing is concerned and I prefer to shoot loose on the framing. With high megapixel cameras, you can easily crop pictures that you want tight framing on but if you missed something, it’s gone.

This shoot had two of my favorite styles. Soft light in the shade and harsher, dramatic light in the sun. It’s not always possible to get either/or, so it’s nice when I get get both. Check out the BTS video and the rest of the shots below.

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