The shot: Ines
I didn’t set out contriving to craft a portfolio with a broad representation of nationalities and ethnicities when I started shooting art and fashion six years ago, but that has been the happy consequence of this ongoing adventure. Beauty and talent are not delineated by nationality, ethnicity, faith or history, and when one can draw on any or all of these elements in making art, we are all the richer for it.
Ines, originally and proudly from the West African republic of Ivory Coast, is one of the most talented and versatile models I know, not to mention beautiful. She can pull off any number of looks and moods with relative ease. In our next shoot after this, she transformed this soulful and graceful version of herself into a badass urban biker chick with leathers on her back and a Harley between her legs, radiating all the attitude and confidence a fotog could ever want.
I rarely go into arty shoots sold on a single idea but after a similarly-themed shoot with Ines and Raliat some weeks before, I wanted to explore this concept touching some more on the epic history and struggles of early-African Americans.
I like to keep my shoots relatively simple. I don’t go for a lot of conceptual makeup, wardrobe or props. I try to employ light to help create the mood, give some direction, then let the model do the rest. In that sense, Ines is perfect. She grasps a concept easily and runs with it. And when she does, look out! Fotogs had better have a happy trigger finger and a good-sized flashcard.
We shot this at my studio using a skirt I carry in my wardrobe case, a headwrap she had brought and the kind of natural light only Mother Nature can provide.
I use a Canon 1Ds MkIII and 85mm f/1.2 for most of my art and fashion stuff. The 85 is a phenomenal lens — incredibly sharp, exquisite bokeh and fantastic tonal range and detail through the highlights and shadows. Of course, the 21.1mp of the 1Ds enhances that immeasurably. The combination is formidable. My only complaint with the 1Ds is that I keep hitting the buffer, especially with models like Ines who, once they hit their stride, keep you on your toes.
I use a tripod for most of my natural-light work in the studio. I try to keep the ISO to 100 or 200 (100 in this case) to maintain that tonal range, so I am necessarily shooting at relatively slow shutter speeds and open apertures. This image was shot at 1/80th at f/2 and I believe I used the reflector for a little backfill and rim light.
I usually do multiple versions of an image, from color to B&W, sepia and what I call “art” versions where I experiment with grain and contrast. Where suitable, I also do what I call “vintage” versions, often multiple renderings using overlays and working with tones, contrast, saturation, etc. – usually the last of which is my favorite. That was the case with this image. I mix the colors myself in Photoshop. There are various sepias, from redder through browns to the yellows. I’ve found yellows can work very nicely with some of my African models, evoking a certain vintage feel, but in this case I went with a browner tone that I think works very well with the light and shadow present in this image and the time and place I think it evokes.
As far as light is concerned, I use Photoshop to enhance the gradation I try to achieve in a photograph. In other words, in most cases I don’t want the transitions between light and dark to be too abrupt, and I want to keep my highlights from getting blown out.
I like this photograph. It’s one of my favorites. In my development as a photographer over the last 40 years, it is only now that I consistently see in my photographs the results I was aiming to achieve. This is a classic example. People seem to like it too. Several have suggested it should be the cover of my book. I thought that was a good idea. So when I do publish my book, this will likely be its cover. Thank you, Ines.