One day last August, armed with a Profoto B10 Plus and Profoto Umbrella Deep White L, photographer Justin James Muir canoed out on Marsh Creek in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, to do a photo shoot. “Marsh Creek is a park I frequent, to go canoeing, kayaking and hiking,” Justin says. “That’s how I found this location. I was canoeing one day and came across it. It’s a hidden gem.”
The “hidden” part is what really spoke to Justin. It provided the opportunity to capture his model, Mei, in a scene that no one else had captured in the past. The idea of using the environment to reflect his subjects’ souls, is a defining factor of Justin’s work, whose photography career evolved from other creative pursuits ranging from working as an art director to a touring musician. After being gifted a camera he started shooting “everything and anything I could,” he says. But it was the intimacy of portraiture that really drew him in. “I enjoy working with people one on one and trying to bring out what I can in the person,” he muses.
From portraits of glamourous models to aging cowboys to Presbyterian pastors, there is an intimacy that draws you into each work. “My favorite thing people say about my work is that it's quiet and powerful,” he says. “I think by default I've kind of just shot in that direction without thinking about it and trying to.”
Of course, every shoot provides a particular challenge, and this one was the environment itself. But that also was what made it so ideal. “Since we had to canoe to this spot,” Justin says, “I knew that it was likely that no one else had ever shot there. I was really trying to capture Mei in a unique location.”
Justin also wanted to push the boundaries and see what could be done with just one light. “It was about testing the limits,” he says of the shoot. “Like in most of my shots I was trying to capture a quiet portrait.” And the B10 Plus’s portability made it the perfect choice for an adventure that included not just a canoe trip but standing waist deep in water to get the perfect shot. “It made it so much easier to travel light, have an easy set up and to just start shooting,” he says. “Also, when you are surrounded by water, having no power cord is an added bonus.”
To control and shape the light Justin used a Profoto white umbrella with a diffuser, which he loves for its true ease of use. “You are able to collapse and re-setup really quickly and in tough spots,” he notes. But, more importantly the use of the umbrella with the diffuser creates a softer light, which was ideal for the surrounding environment. “The quality of light mixes really well with natural light,” Justin explains. “It's a soft light that is easy to control.”
The final result: a striking portrait collection in which both Mei and Marsh Creek emit a sense of the ethereal. There is an underlying magic in which Mei is part of the environment and the environment is part of her. Which is what Justin’s ultimate goal was: “I wanted the mood of the model and location to reflect each other.”