Hannah Couzens is a multi-award winning photographer with a passion for people, portraits, and perfection. She is a renowned light shaper with an incredible eye for detail, and displays this within her recent location shoot in Santorini. Hannah gave us an insight into her time on location and how she battled the harsh lighting conditions.
White washed villages and inky blue waters
Hannah had the opportunity to venture out to Santorini when a customer that atteneded one of her lighting workshops wanted to improve her light shaping skills further.
"A lady that attended one of my lighting courses last year lives in Santorini for half of the year and shoots weddings and portraits with her business partner. She asked me to visit so that we could address some of the troubles she encountered when shooting weddings in the harsh light and to give her more confidence with using flash. Being an avid traveler but having never visited Santorini before, I jumped at the chance!"
Hannah took the Sony A7RIII body plus the 85mm 1.4 Gmaster lens and the 17 - 40mm Gmaster 2.8, which significantly reduced the weight of the equipment needed on-location. Hannah says that this was "a very welcome change" to the equipment she used to take with her to shoots and made a huge difference due to the need for only one small bag for carry on luggage. The live display view on the Sony also enabled Hannah to minimise her workload and maximise efficiency.
"Being able to adjust my settings for the ambient light and see what results I would achieve without even taking a frame really speeded up my workflow. I always take an ambient reading first before introducing my flash but with the live preview, I didn’t even need to take that shot.
I could see immediately what results I was going to get before I took a shot. It may sound crazy but being able to review my images with the electronic viewfinder was a godsend when shooting in such intense sunlight. This was a feature I am not used to but proved to be so helpful!"
Preparing for an on-location shoot
Hannah's hosts in Santorini had a lot of equipment ready to be used, which meant that luggage could be minimised to a large translucent reflector, a medium white umbrella deep with a diffusion panel and a camera.
"Knowing that my host had previously been a natural light shooter, she wanted to keep the ‘look’ of flash to a minimum so I went with larger modifiers that I could travel with, plus the diffusion panel to soften the light again to keep a more natural look. The translucent reflector also might have been helpful if we struggled with overhead sun."
Planning ahead when shooting on-location also allows for confidence when unexpected photographic opportunities arise.
"Santorini is such a popular destination and the streets are extremely narrow so it can get incredibly crowded very quickly. If you want to shoot at various places when on location, planning and preparation are key. I was fortunate enough to have my wonderful hosts with inside knowledge of where to go and where to shoot.
With all location shoots, if you can make a visit prior to shooting it will really help you establish how it will all come together. Knowing where you can park, how far you have to walk, and if you need a permit to shoot there are all things you want to get figured out before you turn up with your model or client and all your equipment."
Overcoming the challenge of shooting in strong light
Shooting in strong light can cause large contrasts and shadows in an image, and was particularly a challenge during Hannah's time in Santorini.
"My hosts informed me of how intense the light was in Santorini during our car journey from the airport at sunset, but I was not prepared for just how intense the light was! If you were in the right place, the white buildings created the most beautiful bounce light.
However, this was not helpful when the architecture or view you wished to include in the images is under the midday sun. It was a case of assessing the scene and the ambient light, whilst deciding on what composition and equipment to use.
My aim when shooting with our model was to work with my hosts to look at and solve various problems they may encounter, and to show what choice of modifiers to use in different situations to achieve the look they wished to create.
The signature Santorini landscape includes blue and white churches. Our stunning model, Cristina, dressed in a beautiful red dress to create some striking results against the blue sky and white buildings."
Image 1: A classic portrait
Hannah's first image was lit with one B1X and a medium white umbrella with a diffusion panel, which helped to soften the overall light and minimise dark shadows.
"This image was fairly trouble free as I wanted to balance my model with the ambient light but keep it looking very natural. Thankfully, there was shade in the location we wanted to shoot, so the only challenge was to make sure the image looked balanced.
Because of this, I chose a white umbrella deep, medium size, so the light source was large in comparison to the model which created a softer light quality. I also added a diffusion panel for a more even and softer light, as power wasn’t an issue."
Image 2: Lifting shadows
In Hannah's second image, the natural light was okay but she thought the end image could have been lifted even more.
"In the second image, the natural light was doing a perfectly fine job but I felt that we could bring it to life even more. Thanks to my host’s business partner becoming a wonderful assistant, we were able to use the OCF white beauty dish with the Profoto B1X really high up to light up the white building and lift the shadows on the model’s face. "
Image 3: Battling the sun for a scenic portrait
The third image Hannah wanted to take was more difficult as she wanted incorporate the famous blue roofs of Santorini's landscape, whilst keeping the image as a portrait and battling the intense sun that came from the right hand side.
"We tried various positions for our model such as looking out in the direction of the sun, plus sitting and standing. However, overall, it made for a better composition to use the sun as a hair light and have our model with her back to the sun. This left us with a challenge as the sun was so intense it was difficult to find the power we needed whilst keeping a nice light quality.
We began with a white umbrella deep but the sun was so intense that we needed the extra kick of the silver, so switched over to a medium silver umbrella deep. I have never experienced such intense sunlight to battle! This image doesn’t quite have the same light quality as the other shots as the silver gave us more contrast, but I am still happy to have achieved this shot with the equipment we had available in that location at that time of day.
To get the right composition I even had to climb up a ladder that we found and leaned it against the wall. Thankfully, I had a couple of people ready to catch me if I went down!"
Flash added to the ambient light:
Image 4: Problem-solving
The fourth image for Hannah included a lot of compositional and lighting problem-solving.
"I agreed to shoot some corporate headshots for the concierge team at the hotel, and we only had a limited time to do this whilst incorporating the sea view at the hotel. Again, we had to shoot in the midday sun, so I went through the stages to assess the problems and figure out how to solve them. Firstly, we used the large translucent reflector to block out the overhead sun. Whilst this helped, I wasn’t happy with the lack of life to the photo.
I added a B1X with 3ft octa to reintroduce some light shaping on my subject and give her eyes some sparkle with the catchlight. Sometimes when shooting on location, the conditions will present you with challenges. The trick is to break it down into what you can change, what you can't and how you can improve the situation. Take control to make it work for you."
Flash added to the ambient light:
Hannah's ideal location kit
"My ideal kit for location shoots includes the Profoto 2 head B1X location kit, a medium umbrella deep (white) and an OCF white beauty dish. This combination allows me to travel light and gives me the option to set up quickly with the umbrella, whilst the beauty dish gives a beautiful light quality from a modifier that packs down into the smallest bag. Having a larger and smaller modifier also gives me the flexibility to choose a light quality I think works best for my subject and location.
On this particular trip, both the white and silver medium Profoto umbrella deep have provided me with the light quality I needed. I also enjoyed using the OCF beauty dish when we had to walk down narrow and steep paths as it was easy to travel light. One thing I felt very smug about was that when my friends were carrying their very heavy bags around in the 30-degree heat, I had a small bag with my Sony and two lenses, which required no effort at all. I think next time I would consider bringing the OCF magnum now I know how intense the light is!"