Marie Bärsch puts the Profoto A1 to the test in the harsh sun in Matera
For German beauty and fashion photographer Marie Bärsch, making the world her studio was as simple as slipping a couple of Profoto A1s in her bag and catching a plane to Matera, an ancient Roman town in southern Italy.
Marie, who has been creating images for about eight years, turned full-time professional in 2013. “I had been working in a field that wasn’t very creative, and one day I just grabbed a camera from a friend and started shooting,” she recalls.
“I love the freedom of working as a freelance photographer, it comes easily to me, and it is just a genuine way for me to share what I love with my images and take people to all the amazing places I visit.”
Marie’s style is classic beauty photography. “I love to combine an amazing girl with stunning and exotic surroundings,” she says, adding, “I have a very strong urge to aim for a very streamlined and stylized aesthetic. I like beautiful things and try to capture them in images.”
When we approached her and asked if she wanted to try out a new product under the theme “The world is my studio” with the Profoto A1, the world’s smallest studio light, she was intrigued because she could see it could work with her approach to creating images. “My style evolves out of the flexibility to shoot quickly wherever I need to.”
When it comes to using on-camera flash, though, she had not been a big fan of it in the past and had rarely used it because it hadn’t given her what she wanted.
“When I'm using external lights, I do it to create dramatic effects or to bring out a model’s features,” she explains. “And for me, existing on-camera flash hadn’t been capable of doing that.”
On the other hand, she thought it was an opportunity to use something new from a company she trusted. “Since I love my B1, I was interested in how Profoto would approach the concept of an on-camera flash,” she says. “I just had to come up with something that would fit my style and would utilize the Profoto A1.”
Harsh summer light
Fortunately, she already had just the right location in mind - Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage town dating back to Roman times and sometimes used by film directors as a stand-in for Jerusalem and other ancient cities.
“I visited Matera last year and liked the idea of setting up a fashion shoot there,” she recalls. “Since it was high summer when I was there, I already knew I would be dealing with harsh sunlight all day, which would make it difficult to create great images without another source of light that I could control.
“Since Matera is completely built out of the same color of sandstone, I wanted to bring along both contrasting and similarly colored dresses to make the model pop with the flashes in some shots as well as blend in with the surroundings and be brought out just slightly by the light in other shots.”
Plug and play on the go
Doing a fashion shoot on location wasn’t new, but using an external light source in a very subtle way on-location, where she would normally use a reflector or her Profoto B1, was. And the Profoto A1 immediately proved itself.
“First off, the A1 was extremely easy to use,” she says. “Since we had been busy the day before the production, my assistant and I only had a couple of minutes to play around with it before the shoot.
“But the layout of the menus as well as the overall control layout was extremely similar to other Profoto products, and everything was very easily accessible. Since the A1 is so easy to use, I could set it up in minutes and concentrate on what was important: directing the model and getting the shot I want.
The A1’s small footprint was also an immediate advantage, she says. “It is easy to carry and easy to hide when you are in a busy touristy area and don’t want to attract attention.”
So, in a series of photographs with a model, Marie began to put the A1 through its paces, sometime using it on camera and sometimes off.
A1 on camera: Adding sparkle
In one tricky shot, shooting directly into the sun, with her model against the sky framed by a stone archway, Marie wanted to keep the sky from being blown out and to create beautiful skin tones on the model’s face. The A1 provided a simple, straightforward solution. “Since I liked the ambient light that the white walls bounced on her, I just used an A1 on camera to add some fill and some sparkle in her eyes.”
Adding drama with light-shaping tools
In one of Marie’s favorite shots, things got a little more complicated. As the model reclines against the wall beside some steps, her dress and skin tones blend with the colors of the stones in an attractive way. But to make the shot more dramatic, Marie placed an A1 with the Dome Diffuser behind the model’s right side to add a subtle rim light that would separate her face and shoulder from the background. “My assistant was also holding another A1 with the Soft Bounce for a tiny bit of fill on the right side of her face,” Marie adds.
Overpowering the sun with high-speed sync
On one of the last shots of the day, Marie needed to overpower the midday sun, so she used a fast shutter speed with high-speed sync to knock down the power of the sun and correctly expose the sky and shadows in the background. Then she used a single Profoto A1 off camera with a second one on camera as an Air Remote to add some soft, smooth lighting on her face.
So what did Marie think of the A1 after a day of using it to make the world her studio?
“I really like the outcome, since I feel like adding natural, beautiful light gave that extra bit of quality and clarity to the shot,” she says. “The other biggest selling points for me are the ease-of-use as well as the A1’s size. I feel that I can add that high-quality feel to my images even in the most remote location, in a package I can easily fit into my camera bag.”
“I will use it for freelance projects to quickly add a light here and there. And I can also imagine taking it with me on bigger editorial projects just to be more flexible than I can be with just a single B1.
“And since I’m traveling for longer periods of time with limited luggage capacity and also shooting in tough outdoor conditions, one or two A1s will definitely accompany my B1 in the future.”
Any tips for first-time A1 users? “Just put it on the camera or on a light stand and start playing around with it.”