This past fall, I got a call from the Washington Post asking if I would photograph personality portraits of YouTube star Elle Mills. If you aren't familiar already, Elle is a 20-year-old based here in Ottawa who has skyrocketed to YouTube fame very quickly, with 1.5 million subscribers at the time of this writing. She creates her amazing (and rather well produced) videos herself, each with a different theme. Often a hilarious prank, outrageous adventure, or unique story.
The Post made reference to the long exposure style of my 2017 Girls Rock Camp series when we were discussing this shoot, so I used that as a starting place when conceptualizing the images.
After watching countless videos (it's hard to stop!) I pitched the idea of doing multiple exposures with references to specific visuals that stuck with me.
We ended up going with a balloon (for the time she tried to make her house like in the movie UP), her signature sunglasses and wink, the camera rig you can see her using in many scenes, and my personal favorite: a wedding veil (for the time she legally married her sister's boyfriend - for real - to prank her family).
I also wanted to do another variation with her camera at different selfie angles with a range of poses. Elle has a natural playfulness in front of the camera (any camera as it turns out) so this was a fun option to try.
After the multiple exposures, I tried a similar shot but as a single exposure and adding in a mini flashlight that she drew her name with before the capture finished. Getting that just right took some practice, as you might expect when writing without a surface, and backwards!
We spent quite a bit of time on the multiple/long exposures, considering one shot was 20-25 seconds and we wanted to get the best images possible in-camera. (And in case you're wondering - there was no compositing for these, Elle really killed it in single takes)!
Even after all of that, she was still game to shoot another setup for some *slightly* more traditional portraits. I moved some lights around and changed my camera settings, but I still wanted to keep a little bit of that motion blur. We had a lot of fun with these before we called it a day.
I used a Profoto Acute2 1200 pack/head combo with a Softlight Reflector and grid as the key light, boomed butterfly style right above. I chose this light shaping tool because of it's punchy but flattering quality. I used the grid because I wanted the middle exposure to be the focus, and the grid narrowed the light to that area. I also had her step slightly forward for that part of the exposure so that it would be the highlight compared to the back two.
For fill and colour, I used two B1X heads, one with a blue gel and the other with a magenta. They were placed on either side of the camera and at the same power.
The representation of movement in the images came from the use of continuous light directed from the back two corners, which was powered by another Profoto Acute2 1200 pack and two heads with Zoom Reflectors using only the modeling lights.
I generally kept the same lighting setup but moved the key light closer and more to camera left. I turned on its modeling light so that it would bleed into the exposure after the strobe fired and before the shutter would close. This added a bit of yellow to her which I liked for these shots.
I moved the two gelled fill lights camera left for a different effect on the scene as well but kept the power equal.
I also moved the right side modeling light from the back corner to more of a front position, still at camera right. This helped show the movement better because I was using a faster shutter speed than I was using previously.
Lights were triggered and controlled by Air Sync and Air USB. I shot on a Nikon D850 with the Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art, tethered to CaptureOne via TetherTools to my Apple MacBook Pro in an SKB case.
- Assisting and BTS by Kamara Morozuk
- Tear sheet photo by Sarah Dea