Portrait Photography Session with Kayla Jane - Tribal Belly Dancer and Artist

Fire, Cemeteries, Hope, and Nerves

WORCESTER, MA - I checked off a photography bucket-list item when Kayla Jane and I finally managed to get together for a portrait photo session at Hope Cemetery. She has been an enormous photography crush of mine since we first met at Fractalfest 2015 during her choreographed belly dance performance to open Artemis' psychedelic-breaks set. I've been following her steady, and impressive, progression ever since. 

Warm, a little reserved, intimidatingly intelligent, and always gracious anytime we have run across each other at events, I'll admit to being incredibly nervous about a portrait session with her -- I really wanted to do this one well. We coordinated a time, and location, and discussed ideas involving costuming, props, and fire. We agreed that it made sense to arrive well before sunset, in order to scout out a location, and prep for shooting. I also wanted to make sure that we had enough time to work out any pre-game jitters and build rapport as the sky got darker. As always, the RTMS2000 accompanied me, providing matériel support and, additionally, immense morale support.

Lighting was fairly simple. During the day, I used two bare Speedlites primarily as near cross-lighting at her 2:30 and 8:30 o'clock positions. For headshots, I brought them in closer for feathered cross lights at about 2:45 and 9:15 o'clock positions. Once it grew dark, lighting was even easier. Her props, once lit, would be the key light and I set up two LED video lights to about her 7-8 o'clock and 4-5 o'clock to give backlighting and rim lighting.

Exposure was also simple. Since Kayla would be moving more often than using static poses, it made sense to underexpose the ambient/background and keep the Speedlites in eTTL to let them figure out flash exposure. While there was plenty of light, I kept settings flexible enough to record some flame texture but still keep reasonable exposure on her face. Once it was dark, underexpose the ambient in favor of just exposing for the face and adjust as the flames -- the key light -- grew weaker.

Never forget that models are human beings. You are, too. So are your assistants.

A few things thing that I realized during this shoot: 

  • It's all too easy to get caught up in the what ifs, the technical details, specs, and lighting ahead of time so much that you psyche yourself out of a shoot. 
  • It's also too easy to get caught up trying to force a shoot to fit what you had in your head, reviewing photos, chimping, and rassin'-frassin' over the LCD screen that you forget to involve the model in the shoot. 
  • In both instances, you miss an opportunity to build a connection that can change the whole complexion of the shoot.

At one point, Kayla was asked if we could do more side shots because, in her words, "I like how ..... well, the way the light hits .... it's a really flattering angle ... um ... like, especially how ... um ... it's hard to explain ... umm... I just really like this shot ... "

"You like how your butt looks?.."


Immediately afterwards, it felt like a lot of ice broke and we got very comfortable, so I asked her to give me as much sass and attitude as she could while she danced -- to think of me as her audience and really try to pull me in. Some of my favorite shots of the night happened as a result!

Once we developed a rhythm and banter, working with Kayla was nowhere near as nerve-wracking as I was making it out to be in my own head and we could bounce ideas off each other, and have fun creating something unique. We changed lighting angles, the RTMS2000 helped with wardrobe, we tried different poses (I demonstrated a few ideas, she tried some of her own, all three of us fine tuned), and showed her results. In the end, we each found ways to help each other stay involved with the shoot. 

I am really excited to shoot with her again, some time soon.

Please follow Kayla Jane's Facebook and Instagram Pages, for updates, upcoming performances, and views of her practice behind the scenes.

FB: www.facebook.com/serpentinesorceress
IG: www.instagram.com/serpentine_sorceress