Swimwear Shoot at White Sands

September 23rd, 2010

Rounded up the crew and all the gear a couple of weeks ago and headed out to beautiful White Sands National Monument to shoot some swimwear for a couple of days.  It's really a great location to shoot, with the only hazards being a tremendous glare and instant sunburn since the sand acts like a giant reflector of the sun.  It' super-bright out there- I was shooting at ISO 50 and around f/16 in the high sun because it's so bright.  The sand is as white as snow, and in fact, it turns out you can buy sleds out there and ride them down the dunes...so my assistant Brian didn't think twice about getting one.  I mean, you're going to get sand (actually gypsum) all over you anyway, so you might as well go for a sled and a good wipeout at the bottom of a 40-foot dune.

With the primary focus being on fashion swimwear rather than glamour, I blocked shot concepts based on showing the designs and the cuts of the suits, while at the same time emphasizing the beauty of the location for natural effect.  I also worked with some of my own styling designs on this shoot, with one look using a net as a wardrobe accessory and another shot using a bikini I designed with glitter.   When given the chance, I like to produce my own styling concepts in my shots.  For some looks I'm very specific on what I want. Everything from hair, makeup, wardrobe and styling as well as shot design.  On other shots I like to let someone else create the look that they see, and yet on others it's a collaboration of ideas.

To capture the detail and natural texture of the environment there, lighting and exposure are really critical.   The sun is extra harsh, and again the sand acts as a giant reflector which bounces harsh light all around.  The tendency is that for most of the day, the sunlight is so bright that it makes it hard to see and capture the texture of the wind-blown waves of sand on the dunes.  You end up with what looks like 255 blowout, just blank-white all over.  Compensating by dropping the camera exposure can result in a bland-looking, colorless grey sky, as well as an under-lit model.  So a lot of diffusion screens, reflectors, mixing of artificial light with natural light, plus a bunch of metering gets put to use to get the model lit well while at the same time retaining the natural look of the environment on digital film.  If you can't get the look and feel of the environment itself correct in the shot, what would be the point of going there?

A year ago I made a trip down there and we were plagued with problems, including a totally overcast sky once we set up to shoot.  This time actually went off without any hitches.  Well, there was one, we sorta ran out of water 1/2 way through the second day and had to drink the beers just to stay alive.  Hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.  We had more time to relax on this shoot since it was two days.  I like the crew to be able to have a good dinner, and enjoy some relaxation back at the hotel.  The makeup artists and models had to be up early the next morning, before the sun came up actually,  so we could get back out to the location and get the early light characteristics.  White Sands is one of the most quiet places on Earth.  If there's no breeze, you hear nothing.  At night it gets really dark there- I mean pitch black- because there are no lights out there and the nearest town is about 30 miles away.  Great place to meditate, if you're into that sort of thing.

While the models were busy in makeup and hair, my assistants Brian and Sarah along with myself had time to get some sledding in as well.  Poor Sarah, she doesn't weigh much so she couldn't get going very fast.  Me on the other hand, could get going so fast that I'd go shooting-off the bottom and crashing into whatever was in my way.  We took some videos of us sledding the dunes, maybe when I figure out how to put video on here I'll add it in.  It's a good time shooting down there, just be sure to pack your SPF 86 sunscreen and some good canopy shades. Thanks to my crew and models for working hard to get the shots by getting sun-stroke, as well as sand in every crevasse!  Ah, what we do for pictures.  Here's some behind-the-scenes shots. Hover your mouse over an image to see caption, click to see full-version.  Enjoy!  (Photos by Sarah Rohr/Matt Timmons)

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