How I Got the Shot with Sal Cincotta | October 2015


How I Got the Shot with Sal Cincotta

October is family portrait month across the country. Not officially, but it might as well be. The colors are changing on the trees, the weather is cooling off, kids are back in school. It’s the perfect time for portraits. The thing is, you have to advertise and market it, or no one will know you exist. The best way to market and create something that people want is to get out there and just start shooting.

This month’s image is a testament to that. On my recent trip to Iceland, I was able to capture this family portrait of Laurin, his wife, Melissa, and his daughter, Sophia.


We were in Iceland. That is the concept. I mean, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so what family wouldn’t want something unique? Our mission on this trip was simply to capture a unique family portrait. Sounds easy enough, right? With all this beautiful scenery, how could we go wrong? Well, welcome to family portraits with a 4-year-old. We wanted to showcase the beautiful and vast landscape along with the family. In addition, it was going to be a formal portrait. Everyone dressed in their Sunday best. With a pretty solid concept, we were ready to rock and roll.

In Iceland in the fall, the sun never really sets. This portrait was made at about 11:30 p.m. local time. Crazy, I know. However, once the sun goes down, it gets cold fast.


This shoot took place in Vik, Iceland. I am not sure my images are enough to capture the beauty of this gorgeous location. Driving just a short distance, you see everything from fields of bonnets to huge mountain ranges at sea level to, finally, a Martian landscape of black lava rock. It was incredible.

So, as always seems to be the case on my shoots, something inherently goes wrong. I swear, it’s like a bad movie where you know the plot but are somehow still surprised. Our first location is a wash. The location we think we want turns out to be inaccessible in a normal car. There is a lot of that in Iceland. If you ever go, rent a true four-wheel-drive all-terrain vehicle.

We are losing light fast. We scramble to a backup location where we think we can still get enough light, but I watch the sun get lower and lower as my ISO gets higher and higher. Even though the sun never really sets this time of year, it gets really low on the horizon. We get to our second location and love it—the color of the sky, the leading lines behind my subjects, everything is perfect. I get dialed in and frame up the shot when, suddenly, Sophia decides she is too cold and no longer wants to take pictures. “No! No more pictures!” her tiny lungs belt out. We are trying to joke with her, distract her, bribe her with candy, cookies, anything that will get her to give us one shot. Nothing. She is not having it.

What’s a photographer to do? Improvise. We wrap Sophia in a blanket, and Taylor, who is assisting me, starts playing peek-a-boo behind the light with Sophia while I shoot away. We manage to get her to smile for just a few shots. The first frame was taken at 11:43 and the last frame at 11:45. Two minutes. Two bloody minutes she gave us.


Natural light during sunset hours disappears fast. If you don’t understand your camera, your exposure settings and how to use artificial light sources, you are going to be in a world of hurt in a situation like this. I thought I had plenty of light, and at first I did, but shit happens in the world of photography, and you have to be able to #pivot on a moment’s notice.

This image was lit using the Profoto B1 and the Umbrella Diffuser Kit, my new favorite light-shaping tool. Normally I shoot without any modifiers, but I felt this method would be too harsh. I am glad I switched it up. We are all very happy with the result.


Profoto B1

Profoto Umbrella

Profoto Umbrella Diffuser

Hasselblad H5D | 1/125th @f8 ISO 400

Hasselblad 50mm

Gitzo Monopod to hold light

Closing thoughts.

If it were easy, everyone would do it. As crazy as that sounds, it’s so true. It was cold. Light was all but gone. I had two minutes to make a family portrait with a screaming 4-year-old. We have the best jobs in the world, and there is no more rewarding feeling than creating an image that was difficult to pull off. I love this image. I love it because of the final result. I love it because my client loves it. I love it because it challenged me to be a better photographer.

I hope this month’s issue challenges you to get out there and push the limits of your own skills.

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

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