On a recent shoot with the Profoto B1X and the OCF Beauty Dish, Australian fine art portrait photographer Vicky Papas Vergara proves that you can create a magical landscape even in a setting as ordinary as that of a suburban parking lot – a Narnia in suburbia – when you have total control of the light.
An award-winning photographer whose creativity lay dormant for 25 years until she picked up a camera six years ago, Vicky says that to be a portrait photographer, you need to love humans and see the beauty in everybody.
“Every time I photograph a woman, it’s to capture the essence of her elegance and a little bit of her vulnerability, a softness,” she says. “But I also like to see a woman being strong so it’s a balance with her soft femininity.”
That means shaping light to gently sculpt her face, bringing out her beauty. “Female portraiture has got to be really flattering. For men, you want it to be masculine and dramatic. You want to show masculine features. Men are not too stressed about how their skin looks. You’ve got to look tough,” she says with a laugh.
Vicky adds that much of her work is also a way of expressing how special women are. “They’re goddesses,” she says. “That’s how they should be treated. And I want them to feel confident on set.”
When the best-laid plans go awry
On this day, Vicky had planned the shoot around her favorite location — a fig tree with a beautiful brick wall behind it —when things got complicated. Upon arrival, she found workmen putting up a big marquee in her spot, refusing to let the crew in to shoot.
“I was losing the plot, thinking, ‘Oh no, this is not working out for me!’” she laughs.
Fortunately, Vicky had arranged a back-up tree near a school parking lot beside a busy street. So, with the Profoto B1X and OCF Beauty Dish, she was able to transform one of the most ordinary settings into an enchanted forest. “That’s the thing,” she says with a shrug. “Things can go wrong on the day.”
Consistent light with TTL and the B1X
The first shot was full length, so that Vicky’s model, Nicole, would feel more confident and relaxed for the close-up to follow. With Nicole wearing a white gown, Vicky positioned the beauty dish about two meters away to keep it out of the frame. Then she powered up her B1X, using TTL with the Profoto Air Remote TTL-N and her Nikon camera. “Using TTL with the B1X means my light is consistent,” she says. “And the B1X is so reliable that when you load your images, you don’t have that color balance shift. You don’t have to ask, ‘Why is my favorite shot three stops under!”
Vicky adds that she likes to keep everything very organic and natural — to let things flow and then see how they turn out. “I don’t like to plan what I’m doing,” she says. “I’ll go, ‘I love that, I love that.’ Then I’ll tweak it a little bit or dress her differently or shift the fabric around or have her throwing the fabric. And then all of a sudden, I’ll go, ‘Wow, that’s working.’ And then move on to the next thing. It just evolves.”
“The most amazing eyes”
Vicky says the next shot — a close-up — was essentially a beauty image, with the white OCF Beauty Dish angled from above, about one meter from Nicole. In this shot, Vicky said she wanted to capture Nicole’s youth, natural beauty and incredible eyes. “This girl has the most amazing eyes,” Vicky says. “I wanted to just get in there and capture her beauty.”
Again, she shot in TTL, while her husband (and assistant for the day) held the OCF Beauty Dish about one meter away. “The best thing about the beauty dish is the flattering soft light,” she says. “The way I used it, it gives a soft, creamy light with a beautiful fall off. It makes her skin look gorgeous and gives a hint of contrast to her eyes.”
The beauty dish was above Nicole, pointing down at about a 45° angle to create the characteristic catchlight beauty dishes are known for. “The face is like a landscape,” she explains. “You’ve got the cheekbones and the jawline, depending on where you place the light. You want to be able to enhance that.”
“But if you place the light too high, you miss out on the catchlight in the eyes. You have to have them just above the pupil toward one side and just below the lash line to give you nice, sculptured cheekbones and a bit of shadow under the chin, which separates the chin from the neck.”
“You want her skin to look beautiful”
In the next shoot, Nicole wore a red gown that Vicky created herself partly from fabric and partly from materials found at thrift shops and nature and from odd bits and pieces.
“The main thing with a beauty image is to get beautiful skin and the catchlight in the right spot,” she explains. “When you are photographing a woman, you want her skin to look beautiful. The closer the light to the skin, the softer it is.”
Although the Profoto B1X was flooding the face with light, the aim was to get definition under the chin. “You want a little bit of soft shadow under the chin,” Vicky says. “And you want a little bit on the cheekbone. Just a tiny bit, depending on where you place the light.”
No manuals, no recipes
Vicky, who does not read manuals or follow recipes, says that the fact that it is easy to go from TTL to manual is an example of how Profoto’s equipment supports creativity. “When you have a piece of equipment that is so intuitive, it gives you freedom,” she explains. “I can create great images and get what I want. Because if you have technical problems, it stifles your creativity. You are distracted, and your creative juices drain away.
“With the red gown with its shining details, I wanted to add drama to the picture, I wanted it to pop out as romantic and imperial,” she says. “Using TTL and then fine-tuning my settings allowed me to get that perfect feeling – I could expose for the gown and the tree just as I envisioned it.”
Total control to create magic
Vicky adds that while there are a lot of natural light photographers in Australia, she recommends they try some studio lighting because it offers a lot more freedom to create and shoot at any time of day.
“I’m not a lighting expert I’m more of a creative, and I used to be afraid to use studio lights. But it’s been a game-changer for me,” she recalls. “When I was shooting natural light, I was really limited to the time of day, the weather – a lot of different things.”
“And sometimes natural light is a bit too harsh. I’m still not super technical, but using the OCF Beauty dish and B1X together puts you in total control of what you’re doing. It’s the best thing, because you’re going to get the results you want.”
Even next to a parking lot.
“You don’t have to go to fantastic locations to create magic. You just need to fill the frame with beauty. Whatever is going on outside that is another story. You block all that out. Any photographer can find themselves a nice little spot in their town and just do it.”