I work out of a humble garage in my tiny hometown of Brownsville in rural Willamette Valley, Oregon. After spending years in San Francisco working out of shared studio in an art collective doing corporate headshots and teaching lighting workshops, I longed to use my personal style on portraits of family and childhood friends.
This chiaroscuro aesthetic is a favorite among painters, who make up the bulk of my modest online following, and with whom I communicate regularly about style, light, and posing.
Along with my selective portrait sessions, I work alongside my husband supporting Lenstag, an anti-theft gear registry. This service was born from the trauma of having my own gear stolen. For that reason, I now work with a pared-down set of equipment:
Nikon D850 with MB-D18 Battery Grip
The D800 was my first large purchase after taking photography seriously. Though I sometimes shoot with medium format cameras thanks to BorrowLenses, I don’t think I’ll ever stray from this particular line from Nikon.
It’s more camera than I need for my kind of shooting, but the menus and dials are second nature to me. I shoot vertically 90% of the time, so the battery grip, with its second shutter release, is essential.
While the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G is my favorite lens, I do not own it. The Sigma 50mm Art is considerably less money and excellent. Nearly all my portraits are shot at f/8, so I don’t need a particularly fast lens. Anything between 50mm and 70mm works for the spaces I’m usually in and is flattering for nearly all subjects.
The less I have to think about gear and settings, the more time I can spend on the work itself.
Profoto B2 250 Air TTL Location Kit
I used Speedlights and Paul C Buff Einsteins for a long time before graduating up, so-to-speak, to Profoto. I opted into their ecosystem, kind of like how one does with Apple products. I find the quality of their light softer and prettier, but I am not sure if anyone can prove that.
Many of my favorite portraits were lit with much cheaper lights, so it’s hard to say. I shoot at around 1/200th of a second consistently, so I rarely use the High Speed Sync function on the lights. But if you want to get a more dramatic look in bright ambient conditions, it’s a really great feature.
Profoto Air Remote
This remote is an example of the aforementioned ecosystem of shooting with Profoto. Any radio trigger will do and the B2 kit comes with a long sync cable. But the Air Remote is extremely convenient for changing the power on the B2 heads right from your camera.
Profoto Grid Kit
These snap directly to the front of the B2 flash head and produce a noir-style result immediately. It’s a blunt instrument but a lot of fun. I recommend grids to beginners in lighting because they produce such satisfyingly different results from what most shooters are used to.
Profoto 2’ Octa Softbox
I’ve tried just about every kind of modifier you can think of – scrims, umbrellas, beauty dishes – and I keep coming back to Octa Softboxes. This one breaks down to be very small. I am able to place it very close to a subject’s face without it being intimidating. Umbrellas have so many pointy parts that are scary, especially to children.
Generally speaking, light reflected from a white surface will be quite soft while silver will be more contrasty. Both provide some fill lighting if positioned opposite your key – silver often more strongly than white. Either way, I place my reflector quite close to my subject, if I use one at all.
I don’t use gold reflectors nearly as often as white but it’s handy for hair. My portraits are quite dark, with dark backgrounds, and a lot of people have dark hair! A hair light is too heavy-handed for what I’m trying to achieve. Sometimes the gold reflector provides just enough separation.
Hand-Painted Backdrops from Gravity Backdrops (x3)
I found Gravity through social media. I’ve painted a bunch of my own backdrops but Gravity does a better job and are comparatively affordable. They are heavy and difficult to store but are just lovely. You can read my detailed review of them here.
Promaster Compact Light Stands (x2)
My lighting positions are almost entirely a variation of Loop or Rembrandt lighting (see tutorial). I don’t find myself often needing the kind of overhead setups a c-stand is suited for, though I’ve certainly used c-stands in the past. These light stands are super lightweight and have giant rubber feet.
I’ll admit that I arrived at MeFOTO for their great colors. I have a mauve tripod! It’s not pictured because I was using it – didn’t plan ahead on that one.
It’s really difficult for me to shoot without a tripod. I’m quite dependent on it. I don’t find them confining at all. I need my hands free to adjust scarves and brush my clients’ hair.
Apple boxes (that once actually held apples)
You can’t see it, but I usually have people put a foot up on a box. Unless they are very tall, it’s often more comfortable. It also gives more dynamic body language, even when it’s just shoulders-up framing.
Antique swivel piano stool
I need a backless chair, preferably one that swivels and changes height. I could use one more modern, but I simply love this chair.
50+ scarves, cowls, and hoods collected from all over the world
From Amman, Jordan to Goodwill in Portland, my scarves are acquired from all over at random. My mother was already a collector, so I had a head start.
As you can see in my portfolio, nearly all my clients don a scarf. This is not only my preferred aesthetic, but it also levels the fashion playing field. Clients do not have to worry about what they are going to wear.
Expressions and posing are in a traditional, somber style – a nod to timeless portraits of the past. One of the biggest surprises during this period of finding my style is how much people enjoy not having to grin for the camera. I am so glad I can make people happy by not letting them smile!
These days, I mostly work from home. Sometimes, I travel to Zurich and Tokyo, where I will do portraits on location. Empowering other photographers to learn how to light simply and confidently is a passion of mine. You can find tutorials on lighting and posing via my website.