Portrait

Mara Saiz shoots secretive sisters in Valencia with the Profoto A1

15 February, 2018

Written by: Steven Hanratty

Like a lot of natural light shooters, Mara Saiz has always had a fear of adverse and changing light conditions. But her experience with the Profoto A1 has liberated her from this fear. The "little sun in her backpack" has become essential in her photography, even as a natural light shooter.

Madrid-born photographer Mara Saiz grew up in a small village in Castilla La Mancha. This region of Spain is Cervantes country, but instead of tilting at windmills like Don Quixote, Mara found her artistic spirit fuelled by the silence, light, and earth so commonplace in this extraordinary environment.

Her passion is people, specifically women. Through her imagery, Mara delves into their essential being and their connection with nature, light, and color. Red and vermillion tones are a recurring theme symbolizing – for her – life at its finest. And in her work, we can see echoes of Edward Hopper, Vermeer, and Klimt.

Mara's idea for the series was "sisters who keep a great family secret." For the location, she chose Innovahaus in Valencia, a versatile and inspiring space with quiet corners inside and out – the perfect place to test the versatility of the Profoto A1.

"For me, the Profoto A1 is like having a little sun in my backpack that gives me the light I want wherever I want it."

For the first of her outdoors images in Valencia, the clouds were scudding across the sky, making the light uneven and unpredictable. To compensate, Mara used the Profoto A1 on camera, pointing directly at the model. The light from the A1 is already natural and soft, but to further soften the light, she clicked the Dome Diffuser on to the A1's flash head to avoid excess shadows on the skin.

Because the light was continually changing, Mara chose to shoot all of these images in TTL mode to ensure the correct power output from the A1 and, thus, the correct exposure in every shot. The resulting image of the model standing against the muted green tones of the banana tree has an enigmatic, almost surreal quality.

Mara retains this quietly surreal feel in the next image. Both models are in a corner section of a sizeable monochromatic wall, where their colorful clothes stand out in contrast to the stark, almost oppressive concrete behind them.

Again, the consistency of light was an issue because of the intermittent sun. So, here the A1 remained on camera with the Dome Diffuser in order to push direct, yet soft light towards the two subjects, perfectly balancing their skin tones. The only difference here was that Mara chose to shoot in manual mode to create a more direct and uniform light.

There's something about the classic Deux Cheveau car that's from another time,  possibly a more romantic time.

Here, the ambient light remained constant, and again, Mara worked with the A1 on camera in TTL mode.

"For these images, I wanted a light that looked much softer on my models. That's why I used the Soft Bounce. The quality of light this modifier provides reminds me of the sun filtered by cloud."

In the bedroom, Mara needed the A1 to provide light that was direct but at the same time would fill the scene, almost enveloping the models in light. However, it was essential to maintain the dreamlike mystery of the theme, so she used the A1 on camera with the Soft Bounce once more. Working in TTL meant that there was easily enough light for the shot with the A1 on a high power setting.

Mara was anxious to take advantage of a nearby orange grove with its deep green, almost tropical tones broken by the occasional globe of vibrantly colored fruit. However, the sun was quickly falling, giving off a strong backlit effect.

To compensate, Mara worked with the A1 on camera with the power set to high. But the A1 needed to do more than provide fill, because she was also looking for soft and natural skin tones. The Dome Diffuser is the ideal modifier in this situation, further softening the light on the faces of the models.

The city of Valencia is a riot of different architectural styles from Art Deco to rampant Modernism. The picturesque town square falls into a more traditional style with its symmetrical lines of balconies and balustrades.

Here, the sun was hidden behind the tall buildings, making the light a little too uniform, and therefore grey and dull.

Mara shot from a low angle with the A1 on camera, with the flash head oriented skywards. She added the Dome Diffuser because she didn't need an enormous amount of light – just enough soft light to ensure the glowing skin tones differentiated the sisters sufficiently from the soft, theatrical backdrop of the building facade.

For the final images in the assignment, Mara opted to shoot in a local cafe, and while the ambiance was everything she was hoping for, the ambient light was not. "It was all tungsten bulbs coming from wrongly directed light sources."

Here, Mara would need to work with two A1's. The first unit on camera again in TTL mode with the Dome Diffuser, pointing straight at the models. The second A1 with a Bounce Card clicked on to built-in magnetic mount on the flash head would be hand-held by an assistant and would fire into the ceiling, bouncing light into the scene. This way, she was able to achieve a uniform light and provide perfectly balanced skin tones.

Mara has always thought of herself as a natural light shooter, but now considers the A1 to be essential in her photography.

"The A1 couldn't be further from a speedlight in functionality and light quality. It allows me to face every set fearlessly and every scene with the security that I will always get wonderful, natural light."

 

Written by: Steven Hanratty

Products used in this story

New

Dome Diffuser

Brings a softer, crisper light to the A1
New

Soft Bounce

Create soft flattering light with the A1
New

Bounce Card

Bounce light with the A1