How I got the Shot | Fairy Glen


How I got the shot | Fairy Glen with Sal Cincotta

This month for the lighting edition of Shutter Magazine, our travels take us to the Fairy Glen in Northern Scotland. The area is beautiful, gorgeous, breathtaking—and that’s the understatement of the year. I found myself staring at the landscape trying to process what I was seeing and how to use my camera to tell the story. Honestly, I am not sure I have done this scene any justice. Sure, I got the shot, but this is just a snippet of the landscape.

The key to creating dramatic portraits for my clients is the way I light the scene. Too many shooters claim to be “natural light” photographers. To me, that’s just code for “I have no clue how to use flash.” Figure it the hell out. It’s not that complicated. I think it’s more fear than anything else that hinders photographers from using alternate light sources. While this month’s article is not a how-to, it should inspire you to get out there and try.


As legend has it, the Isle of Skye is home to a race of fairies, or “little people.” This dates back to prehistoric times. The Fairy Glen is where the tribe meets.

So, yeah, sounds like a pretty damn cool place for a photo shoot. My vision for the shoot had a fantasy feel to it. From the wardrobe to the edit, it had to match this theme.

Alissa, my second in command, had a pink dress we had used previously on a shoot, and we all agreed it would be perfect.

The goal was to create a dreamy, fantastical image that captured the essence of the Fairy Glen. After all, the last thing we wanted to do was piss off the fairies.


Inside the Fairy Glen, we found Castle Ewen, supercool ruins located in the Isle of Skye near a town called Uig. Again, words cannot explain the beauty of this location. Locations like this are extremely tough to shoot when there are tons of tourists around. I try to be very respectful of the location and others’ enjoyment of the view. They don’t care about our shoot, nor should they. It was about 6 p.m., and luckily for us, everyone had cleared out. We were the only ones there, and it was incredible.

Always look for locations that offer something unique to your portfolio. If you choose an iconic location that everyone has shot, you have to do something unique. For me, that location is the St. Louis Arch, the most cliché spot in St Louis. When I shoot there, I am always challenging myself to do something unique.


While not impossible, it is somewhat difficult to create a dramatic portrait without some sort of alternate light source. That can be everything from a flashlight to a reflector to a strobe. You have to learn how to work with all sorts of light as a professional photographer. It’s not enough to be a natural-light photographer—unless you are just shooting landscapes, but even then, there are some amazing photographers doing cool things with light painting and other techniques.

We used the Profoto B1 and the Profoto Octabox. Normally I shoot bare-bulb for a hard-edged light, but for this shot I wanted something a little softer. Using light-shaping tools is key to getting the look and feel you want. Whatever light tool you choose, make sure you have access to the cast of supporting characters, the light shaping tools.

The light was camera right and handheld with a human light stand. The lighting was changing very quickly, as it does in Northern Scotland—clouds, rain, sunshine, repeat, every 15 minutes. You have to work fast. I didn’t use a light meter because by the time I got back to my post, it had changed again. You need to be prepared to keep adjusting in-camera. If that’s not enough stress, you have a model to contend with. We needed motion, so we had her moving forward, wind catching the dress, and the perfect expression toward the light to create this surreal landscape image.

Sounds easy, right? Hardly. And that’s why I love shoots like this. I love creative challenges. They keep me growing as an artist.

Gear and settings

Hasselblad H5D-50c

Hasselblad 24mm lens

Profoto B1

Profoto Octabox

1/180th @ f8, ISO 400

Closing thoughts

Every time you get out there, push yourself creatively. This was not an easy shot. The vision, execution and post-production all have to work together. That’s the challenge we all face. We all see a shot in our head, but how difficult is it to execute the entire thing?

This kind of shoot is heaven for me. I want to be able to work on my craft at my own pace. Working on a shot like this on a wedding day can be complete chaos for both you and your client, and your confidence can take a big hit if everything doesn’t go according to plan.

Difficult shoots help me learn to communicate better with my team, and give me the confidence to do something different for my clients. Knowing you can do something is half the battle sometimes.

Get the full story

To read the full article, launch the digital version of the August 2015 magazine.

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