Canadian born and raised, Renee Robyn is a commercial photographer who has worked with industry leading brands like Adobe, Wacom, Corel, Capture One, and Intel. Follow her on Instagram @reneerobynphotography or visit her personal website.
Lanna reached out to me, wanting portraits of herself, but not the typical kind. She’s tall – almost 6 feet, blonde, Icelandic descent and proud of it. A former fitness model and now a very active mum of two, she wasn’t sure what she wanted, but it wasn’t the average boudoir/fitness style. She wanted to feel strong, ethereal, totally badass, and loved the warrior styled work I’d done in the past. I reached back into my database of inspiration artwork and came up with a few concepts, but once I met her in person and really took in her presence, I knew what would work.
Taking notes of her heritage, I offered up a mix of fantasy themed Viking-esque concepts. Heavily inspired by the paintings of Frank Frazetta I mentioned a designer local to us who hand-made leather armour that would help her embody her inner Valkyrie.
I wanted her to look on the outside like what she had hiding on the inside. Lucky for me, the designer was available and Lanna loved the concept. A few days later, we were in the studio prepping the lighting.
I went through a few different lighting set ups with her shoot, ultimately there were several images that wound up on our favourites list. At first, I used a simple beauty dish with a diffusion sock on it, but I found the shadows were too strong for the image itself. The costuming had so much detail on it, I was losing some of the craftmanship to the light quality. So, I added a fill light to the right of camera, just by putting a reflector on the strobe and bouncing it off the wall. Big, soft light was the goal, but I didn’t want it to be obvious, I just wanted to lower the contrast ratio.
Next, I pulled out a v-flat and positioned it to camera left, and in front of me by a few feet. Again, I just wanted big, soft light to fill in the shadows under her chin and bring out more details in the leather. I set the power 2 stops under my main light, and I had exactly what I was looking for.
Tethered shooting to Capture One is everything for me, especially when dealing with a client who knows exactly what she likes about herself and how she wants to be perceived. As soon as she saw the first images on the screen, even before I had the lighting where I wanted it, she was excited and empowered. Being able to see the shots large, we were able to fine tune each pose to maximize the potential of the session. Because of her modelling history I would often turn my laptop to her so she could see what she was doing in the shot and make adjustments on the fly.
The biggest challenge whenever photographing someone new is making sure they feel accurately represented in the images. When the client can see each image coming up on the screen, with open and honest communication, I can easily avoid poses and angles they find unflattering to themselves and only focus on the ones that help them see their perceived best. This helps make the shoot more successful and time efficient.
Compared to my usual work, there’s not a lot of post-production on this. I did some color grading in Capture One, then hopped over to Photoshop to dodge and burn, swap out the background, and finalize the color.
For the first image I chose a soft sky because I wanted her to dominate the frame and not be distracted by things going on behind her. Kind of like a fantasy themed pin-up, I just wanted a little atmosphere but nothing too anchoring to anywhere specific. I stayed with warm colors, mostly just because I liked how it all worked nicely together with her skin tones.
The second image was made from similar choices, I didn’t want anywhere too specific or loud, so I chose another sky and cracked desert ground which I thought matched the attire best. Once I masked her in, I cooled down the background and left her skin warm so there was a nice separation between her and the background. I added some small sparks across the frame just to pull the image together, but again, not to be too identifying. Pin up artwork doesn’t always have to follow the rules of gravity or environment, when the subject itself is the focus of the shot, and the background is merely there to give a digital aftertaste.
I photographed her on both the Canon 70-200 2.8 and my favourite lens ever, the Canon 135L on my Canon 5DMk3 tethered to my laptop. My lights are absolutely nothing special, they’re 10+ year old Alien Bee 800’s and one 1600 that I have collected used over the last decade. Admittedly I’m impressed they still work as they’ve been through it all. They definitely look their age.
Since I’m using the wall as fill light, and I didn’t want the beauty dish to brighten the background, it’s important to optimize the distance between the subject and walls. The distance from the cyc wall is approx. 15 feet, which means I can use a socked beauty dish and not worry about lighting up the wall behind her or creating any weird shadows. She was also about 10 feet from the wall where I had the bounce light which means the small amount of fill that I had firing at the wall will be soft, and not obvious.
On shoots like this I tend to run a very small crew, for the client’s comfort. I had myself, the designer Arisen Armory, and an assistant/bts photographer Curtis Jones. The client showed up with her hair and makeup done to her liking already, so it saved a lot of time.
The makeup and hair design was something we had discussed before the day of the shoot. Texture in the hair and not too much of it falling around the face was important. I also asked her to get the makeup artist to apply lashes and a little darker eye shadow as we were going for a more fantasy look than historical accuracy. I wanted her to feel like herself, but upgraded.
All in, a very happy client and they’re some of my favourite images I’ve done this year.