I had an idea to create one fashion shoot in each country I visited reflecting the unique culture and history of each place. It didn’t pan out, but it was a good idea nonetheless. Greece, specifically Athens, was my first attempt. The shoot was to take place in historic Athens, so I wanted to depict ancient Greek mythology in the images, and I had no problem taking it to cliches. The idea cemented itself when I was walking by the Temple of Zeus on a location scouting mission and a woman selling golden wreath leaf headbands approached me. They were perfect. All we needed now was some clothing fit for a Greek goddess, so naturally we turned to Zara. We mixed the look up with a simpler Mediterranean style by swapping out the golden headband for a satin headscarf.
For the location, we chose to start in the neighbourhood of Anafiotika, a tiny neighbourhood near the Acropolis. Its cubic white homes with blue shutters and doors closely resemble the architecture of the Cycladic islands. We shot the Mediterranean look here, and the “Greek goddess’ look outside of the Roman Forum with the Acropolis in the background.
When you travel, the world shrinks. I have bumped into the same people on the street purely by coincidence in at least four different countries, multiple times. When I began to plan this shoot, I reached out to some models on Instagram, and one got back to me. Later I noticed that we had a mutual follower–a friend of mine from Toronto. It turned out that she was born in Greece and was there for work, but lives in Toronto and had worked with my friend. Nikol was the ideal model for the shoot. She knew the area and could help with locations, and we had no issues with communication.
I am a big advocate of artificial light. I believe that if somebody claims to be a “natural light photographer” or worse, they only shoot during golden hour, you can generally infer that they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about when it comes to flash photography. I can (and have) done studio flash setups that were indistinguishable from beautiful natural daylight, except we kept shooting well after the sun went down. Flash allows you to create the exact look and feel to an image that you have in your mind. So, travelling and shooting without any lights presented a big challenge–how to work with natural light to get the results I want. It doesn’t take any real skill to stick somebody in the shade and shoot them at a low aperture, but that is just boring. I wanted to learn to shape the light to create more dramatic results, and I learned a few things in the process:
1) Exposing for the highlights can create interesting compositions – There were times during the shoot especially earlier in the day when the sun was casting very hot spots onto parts of the buildings. If you expose for the shadows part of the images will be blown out, but if you work with the shadows and expose for the highlights you can add great contrast to the image.
2) Put the sun behind your subject – When the sun was a bit lower in the sky, I was able to use it as a backlight creating beautiful rays of light and a nice halo. I pushed my ISO a bit to compensate for the exposure of the subject but there already was lots of light bouncing back onto the subject off the surrounding white walls (#3)
3) Use light or reflective surfaces to bounce light – The white walls of the Anafiotika neighbourhood was a lucky coincidence because it allowed me to bounce a lot of the sunlight on to Nikol. If you don’t happen to be surrounded by white walls, there are a lot of other natural reflectors like sidewalks, sand, or snow–or you can carry a small collapsible reflector with you.
4) BONUS LESSON: Even a blind monkey could take nice pictures during golden hour. Okay, that was harsh, but it certainly does make things easier.
With these techniques, I was able to achieve 3 distinctly different looks without any artificial lighting or modifiers. Maybe natural light photography doesn’t suck so bad after all. Check out more images from the shoot below.
Check out more work from the team: