• Leo

Getting Beautiful out of Ugly - Spring Portrait Challenge


Part 1: The spring photo challenge in Chandler, Arizona

Today I am going to tell you about the 2020 Spring Challenge sponsored by Double Take Photography on behalf of Arizona Photographers and Models! This challenge was all about getting the most we could from an “ugly” scene, so I was very excited to take part! Especially because there were originally only 4 professional portrait photographers from Arizona chosen for the competition, and I was one of them!


The challenge was to take place in Chandler, AZ. Everyone met up in front of San Tan Brewery. Luckily, despite being mid-summer in Arizona, the weather wasn’t too hot! Then we went to the location of the shoot. 


The alley way was definitely ugly! And you didn’t have to see the numerous dumpsters that lined the alleyway to know that they were there because you could smell them! However, I immediately spotted a spot I liked! One of the building walls across was white and didn’t have much too much texture. I knew this wall would act as a natural reflector I could use to light my subject up beautifully. The sun was also at a great angle and we had plenty of that harsh AZ hard light to play with! 


As part of the challenge we only had 2 minutes to compose and take our photograph. With only two minutes to capture our shot I really had to map everything in my head quickly and figure out exactly what I wanted beforehand. In this case, I’d rather get a single great photo than 10 decent ones. 



As soon as the timer went off, I immediately directed Shelly to the spot I wanted her to be and posed her. I had my shot in mind and I had to get it in less than a minute, so I started directing her for the posing I was envisioning and she responded as if she was reading my mind! You could immediately tell she was a talented model! She did a lot of things to empower her poses. With such a narrow time window to work with, it was amazing to feel like we were on the same wavelength! 


(Movements like pointing her toe downwards to add length to her figure, matching her expressions with her body language, and using triangles throughout her posing were some awesome techniques she implemented) 



Then I got myself and my lens in position and took a test shot to make sure my ambient light was exactly where I wanted it!


With less than a minute left on the clock remaining and I realized the sunlight wasn’t

where it was just a few minutes ago! No worries, that’s why I had off-camera flash set up and ready to go! Using my Magmod kit, I had a light placed to light Shelly! The reason being is I knew this light would give a lot of depth and add a kind of ‘painted’ look. I had to make sure everything was bringing out my vision, not obstructing it! This did take a few seconds but I was adamant about getting the shot I envisioned rather than taking a bunch of photos quickly and hoping I was pleased with one.


Then, just when I set everything up a truck pulled in wanting to cut through the alley, however the driver was cool! He waved me off and told me he’d wait for me to finish. He appreciated the opportunity to stay to see portrait photography in action! Of course after all this happened I am pretty sure I only had 10 seconds left in the challenge. 


At this point, I looked at Sara, and even she seemed worried if I’d be able to get the photo I wanted before the stopwatch sounded. I turned back to Shelly who was holding her pose. With a few seconds on the clock. I took a deep breath, as a way to recenter myself. I didn’t want to rush or miss anything. I clicked the shutter for a couple exposures and the timer sounded. Here is the image I ended up creating and luckily, winning the contest with! 





After I took the photo, I looked around. There were a few of us photographers hanging out with a lively model, so naturally we all wondered the same question. What else can we get in this area? We had all driven out to Chandler, we might as well make the most of it!



Part 2: Touring Down Town Chandler as a Photographer


As we started walking, we immediately noticed a beautiful wall full of art. This mural seemed perfect to not only get a fun photo of our model leaning on the wall and incorporate the scene and our environment.


“Leaning against a wall” seems like a pretty straight forward pose, but there is so much more you can get if you pay attention to fine details to flatter your subject (and this is something that is possible and different for all body types)








Next, we stumbled upon some stairs that lead to a basement. This was perfect to use a bit of off camera flash! The first thought that came to my mind was that using a flash at low power would add so much depth to the photo. I love for my photographs to have a 3-dimensional look. The second thought is that this lighting and location could make an amazing serious and grungy photo, which is the theme of the shoot after all.





Next is an interesting topic. I love taking what seems plain to the naked eye and getting something creative out of it! There was a mirror, but what could I do to really get out of the box? 


Step 1: Here is what the naked eye may have seen,




Then we started adding Gels to our flash and adjusting camera settings to change the color of the picture





Getting closer, of course I already have an idea in mind of where I was going with this


Then, I had textures I planned to layer on top to give the finish look

If there is an idea in my head, how can I bring my idea to life? Underwater submergence, no problem!

If you know me, I LOVE creative portraiture! Playing with colors allows me to create art virtually anywhere! I love when I have opportunities like this to stretch my creative side. It helps me take these ideas, techniques, and creativity and apply it to my other photography such as portraiture and or when I am bringing out a creative vision for my wedding couples.


If there is an idea in my head, how can I bring my idea to life? Underwater submergence, no problem!




On the left: Unedited portrait

On the Right: Edited portrait using camera settings, colored gels, OCF, and textures 😉



Knowing what I can get out of my camera is one tool that greatly benefits my weddings and portraiture. Speaking of which, you know those rails in front of restaurants and bars? Like this:









All you need is to know the right angles and a bit of light for magic…





I love bringing creativity to every session, whether it appears subtly or obviously. Photo challenges like this are a fun and amazing opportunity to force yourself to think outside the box. I know that if I want to be amongst the best in the industry, I must seek to grow my techniques at every opportunity. 


A huge thank you to my fellow photographers, Double Take Photography, our lovely model Shelly, and of course the voters! It is always a pleasure to make amazing and talented new friends!


Let me know if you want to see more content like this or behind the scenes! I would love to hear what your favorite photos are!


See more on our instagram feed, or visit our portrait page if you want to see more work or what we can do for you 😊



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