ice queen | inspirational photoshoot


ice queen | inspirational photoshoot

camera | canon 1dx

lens | 85mm 1.2

strobe | alien bees 800 with beauty dish and sock diffuser

trigger | pocket wizards

mode | manual

exposure | 10 Seconds @ f 2.8, ISO 1600

most parts of the US are getting blasted with arctic weather right now and in o’fallon il that came in the form of up to 15in of snow and wind chill in the -30 range. now i know those of you in other parts of the country and world would probably laugh at temps like this with the obligatory “you call that cold?”, but i assure you, its freaking cold here and considering i shot a wedding 1 day prior and it was 40+ degrees – it was a drastic change.

as a side note, i was scheduled to be in nyc on a photoshoot with sue bryce for animoto. taylor and i were being photographed in the city for a new campaign they were producing for wppi.

so, here we sat at the office, doing our normal daily thing, when alissa came up to me and asked “what are you doing right now?”, my answer, the always sarcastic, “working.” 🙂 she replied, “i have an idea. we need to be out in the snow shooting. this is epic snow and we need to get outside.” and the process begins. immediately we started throwing ideas back and forth… do we go outside while the sun is up? do we turn it into a night shoot? who will model? what will wardrobe look like? etc.

at the end of the day, its all about pushing yourself and challenging yourself to find inspiration. its how we grow as artists. and the truth be told, i nearly gave up during the middle of the shoot. it was -9 degrees with a windchill of -18 while we were standing out there. we were out there for almost 3 hours to get this one shot. i am not kidding you – this was miserable. first of all, we were working in pitch black conditions. we were all freezing. getting the light to look right on a 10-15 sec exposure was all about trial and error – with each release of the shutter requiring micro adjustments. i remember thinking to myself, “why the f*&! am i standing out here right now?!” – that’s the point where we all get sometimes and that’s the point where we all want to quit. i just kept thinking, “come on, we are almost there, one more shot”. finally, i just had to get in the car and warm up – i think my brain was freezing at this point. i thought through the process, kept looking at the back of the camera, and came up with a plan of attack. i didnt quit – which in light of the challenges, trust me, i wanted to.

the challenges should be obvious at this point.

-frigid temperatures.

-completely out of my element with lighting.

-shooting in pitch black conditions.

-did i already say how cold it was? 🙂

-long exposure.

so what did i get out of this? how did i overcome? and how will i apply this to my wedding or portrait business? so glad you asked.

shooting a 10sec exposure with a shivering and moving subject was no easy task. we were shooting in pitch black conditions. so getting the camera to focus was comical. first, we had to turn on a flashlight to set up her cape just right. just the right amount of cleavage, adjust the pose, the hood over her face, her hair. we had to make all these adjustments… then sprint back to the camera and with the flashlight still lighting her up, get the camera to focus, then turn the focus on the lens to manual to ensure it didnt try to focus again. whew, ok, we are ready to take the picture. nope… dammit, the hood fell over her face. start again. ok, we are ready to take the picture. nope… dammit. car coming. move alissa out of the street… then the curious cat… “what are you guys doing?” OMG my inside voice was screaming with sarcasm. i am after all a native ny’er. what are we doing? we are making snow angels! what does it look like we are doing? but i didnt. i left that to my inside voice, was very nice, thanked them for slowing down and then we are back! ok, we got focus and everything is perfect and pop… 10 sec exposure. micro-adjustments… and next frame until we got what we were looking for.

now, all this being said, you might be wondering how would i ever apply this to rest of my business? see, i use my downtime for inspirational purposes and experimentation. we have to! its what keeps us going as artists. look, i dont know, maybe you love this image or maybe you think its complete shit. end of the day, it doesnt matter to me. what matters is i got out there, tried something different, and i LEARNED something new. thats what this is all about. you have to get out there and try something new, experiment, fail, try again. this way, when you are working with paying clients, nothing throws you off your game. i could without a doubt repeat this lighting set up for one of my wedding couples or seniors. and the best part is, now that i have had a chance to do this and make all the mistakes, there is no doubt i can have this set up in less than 5 min. imagine on a wedding night, taking your client out for something like this – they would be blown away. talk about something different. something unique. this is the path to standing out from the crowd and showing your clients and competition why you are the best and charge what you do.

get out there and try something new. be inspired.




For some odd reason this image is taking a lot of heat on facebook… apparently, we suck. this picture sucks. she is fake. its a composite and a bad one at that. everyone… take a deep breath. relax. let me help put some things to rest for you. 1 – it is not fake. she is standing there in the middle of the road. no, she was not shot in a studio and dropped in. 2 – maybe we do suck. i accept that. somehow, i will find a way to brave on. 🙂  3- she is being lit with a beauty dish and shot at 2.8 – that is going to create separation. in addition, a beauty dish by its very nature is a rounded light that will create a very milky look on females with great skin and good makeup. also, its being shot from about 20 feet away. 4 – are you missing the point? get out there and experiment – thats what this is all about. try something new, learn, fail, try again. 5 – she looks like a cartoon, her face is painted, etc. yes, she is wearing makeup and being lit with a beauty dish. and you are looking at a 72dpi file. i wish i had some dark secret we were hiding on this image. however, there is not much editing going on here. some dodging and burning, fixing of some snow, and the application of some toning to make it cooler in nature. i have included a tight shot (zoomed to 300%) of her face to put everyone at ease. you can even see the ghosting from the long exposure. she was there, her makeup is pale in nature – part of the goal of the shot. she even has some red eye that has not been fixed.

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 8.30.44 AM


This Post Has 39 Comments

  1. Dell Rose

    Reading through some of these comments are funny. The point that some of them don’t get is that if it looks “composite” or “photoshopped in”; the CLIENT knows they were there in the cold. They know what it looked like there and they will attribute that “otherworldly” feel fully to your talent as an artist. PERIOD. Then they tell two friends..they tell two friends…and on and on.

  2. Brent Chapman

    I’ve actually been planning on doing a themed shoot of some sort this year myself. I plan on using it as a chance to grow and experiment and I’m really looking forward to doing that. My plan is to do what amounts to an open casting call on my facebook page and let my clients give ideas that they would like. I’ll then choose my favorite idea and go from there. I may share this to help inspire my clients for ideas.

  3. Margaret Rutherford

    Absolutely beautiful…you have such a wonderful talent..I love seeing your photography…Have a wonderful New Year…

  4. Heath

    Thanks posting this Sal. The fact that someone would take the time to help others appreciate how an artist can grow and learn from experimenting, all the while taking heat from ignorant commenters shows that you have a love for photography but also a love for people in this business. I may not always comment on your posts, but I always appreciate them for what they are.

    1. admin

      thanks heath!! glad you enjoyed it.

  5. criff

    So a bunch of people ridicule you on this image? As professionals we all take opinions from colleagues all the time so defending this is quite funny to me. If you are experimenting be prepared for comments you may not like, thats part of the game when it comes to art. If you can’t take that kind of criticism then your in the wrong business.

    1. admin

      hey criff. thanks for stopping by. I fear you have not only missed the point of the post, but missed the point of my responses. criticism? my friend… I take that on a daily basis. thats my world. criticism is one thing – straight up ignorance is another. for example, I am a competition judge. the first thing they taught us when critiquing any image – NEVER ASSUME you know the technique. dont make assumptions about photoshop, etc. Judge the image as it is presented. so when someone states “thats a horrible composite”… “thats a terrible implementation of green screen technique”… thats not a critique… thats stupidity. and I for one, as a working professional photographer, would never make broad global statements of fact without knowing what I am talking about. So, my response was to set the record straight on the misinformation. There are many ways to present constructive criticism. The key in all this… you might notice… I did not ask for a critique. If you see that – please let me know. Now, I am all for hearing about how I am shitty photographer – and getting the unsolicited public criticism – just be sure that before the “professional critics” leave their insightful thoughts… their house is in order. which I have found out over and over again, is rarely the case. I wonder what the response would be if I stopped by the “critics” sites and left my own unsolicited comments…

  6. S Reed

    Sal…It saddens me to see the ridicule you took on this image! Photography is about getting out and experimenting; shooting outside of the box; being create; inspiring others. I appreciate you, your crew and the model braving the weather to create this image. Keep up the work that inspires so many!

  7. Sean Holder

    I think its a great shot. Just goes to show you the ignorance in the photography boom. Crazy world we live in when anyone can go out and buy a camera and call themselves award winning photographer. Digital age at its finest, everyone is a professional and a critic. I think its a great photo and the model is stunning.

    1. admin

      thanks sean! the best part about this that no one seems to get… prob because 90% of the ignorant comments are coming from people who have never even attempted something like this – the thing they are missing… the light control. we are standing outside in pitch black conditions and you are not seeing light spill all over the ground and area around the model… so instead of focusing on the technical aspects of producing something like this – they chose to focus on the subjective parts of the shoot – “i dont like the treatment, she should have had a red cape, her boobs are fake, its a bad green screen composite, she looks like a cartoon character, etc” – they are again missing the entire point of the exercise. get out there and experiment, learn, try new things, and GROW as an artist. just my two cents… 🙂

  8. Pingback: ice queen | inspirational photoshoot // Behind the Shutter | Findlater Photography

  9. Debra Kay Photography

    This image is breathtaking…and I’m not talking about the freezing weather. I love that you got out there and did it! Where did you get that beautiful cape? Have been thinking of trying to make a couple, but not sure it’s in the cards! Honestly Alissa is beautiful and if I looked like that I would show the girls off too!!! The green eyed monster seems to be showing in a lot of these comments! Keep the inspiration coming.

  10. Eva

    On the lighter side..thanks for the winter inspiration. As for hooker? Perhaps a high priced one in Narnia? not! lol. The model looks sultry (brave girl). I have been having a problem with” separation” halo and I think I understand why now. The only criticism I have would be that you need to capitalize the letter “I” i in your correspondence. 🙂 Happy New Year!

  11. Trent Ernst

    Hey Sal:

    Great shot. I just did an ice queen style shot myself, though my model was not willing to go outside. (she was not wearing a robe like this, which is awesome, BTW).

    I live in a land where it is winter at least six months of the year, so you have to embrace the weather or only spend six months a year shooting. (Or shoot in the studio). I love getting out and shooting in adverse conditions because it forces me to learn, to think, to change, to grow. I still have a stack of shots that I want to try, and, as you say, it’s only be getting out there and playing, by doing different things and yes, sometimes by completely failing, that we become better photographers…better people, then we were before.

    I have a couple long exposure ideas that have been festering for the last few years; seeing this I am reminded again of them, and will try and go out and get a couple of them this year.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  12. Jenna Michele Photography

    The editing treatment and styling (open coat) aren’t my thing. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. I still enjoyed the read, and the purpose of what was done and how you got there Sal. You don’t have to LIKE everything in order to learn from it, people.

  13. Chelsea

    I had no idea you could high speed sync with strobes! Tell me more?!

    Love the shoot! Love being inspired! Thank you!

    1. admin

      hey there Chelsea – thanks for responding… this is not highspeed sync – we are well below the sync speed of what is typically 200th of a second. we are at a 10th of a sec here. so what happens is when the shutter first opens… the flash hits the subject and lights her up… then for the remaining… lets call it 9sec… the camera is absorbing the natural light from the surrounding scene… in essence dragging the shutter in a longer version of what we would typically do. hth. sal

  14. Gene

    When they say its ‘fake’, they mean its too well lit and too perfect! LOL

  15. Alisa Stilwell

    Alissa looks gorgeous, and the shot is so beautifully haunting and compelling. Anyone should be able to see how talented you are by the amazing body of work you produce, in this shot and the countless others. The haters don’t have to like the shot, but they shouldn’t cry foul or deny its authenticity just because they wouldn’t be bold enough to create such a unique image, or because they can’t wrap their head around what you did.
    As photographers, if we didn’t try new things and learn from one another, then how can we call ourselves artists?
    Thank you, as always, for sharing. Love the inspiration! 🙂

  16. kadosh

    I love it! I like everything about this image; for me: it’s very cinematic. I wish I could have models like her in my photoshoots… and your talent! 🙂

  17. Efrain

    I love the beauty dish – I use it as much as possible. I like the shot. a little fine tuning and youre there. I always add a rim light for the separation, a small flash sb80. Anyway I like it – it tough to work in cold weather.

  18. Rob D.

    Ignore people. Its a great picture. Those who can’t hate on those who can 🙂

  19. Kevin

    The only fake thing about this image is her tits.

    1. admin

      this comment is so stupid – i am approving it. 1) just know, that alissa and the rest of the team are sitting here and she just jumped in the air in celebration. 2) alissa assures all they are not fake, but appreciates they appear to be perfect.

  20. Jennifer

    I think it looks great.. thank you for sharing!

    People just like to complain.
    Too much time on their hands with all this cold weather.

  21. Stephanie Snyder

    I, for one, appreciate you putting yourself out there and showing us your creative, experimental image. The fact that you are a million dollar studio and still use your free time to experiment and create your own shoots for the sake of creativity alone proves your commitment to the art, not just a profit line. Don’t let any of the haters discourage you. Be an artist, experiment, and thank you again for putting it out there for all of us to see and learn from.

    1. admin

      Stephanie – thank you so much. YES. thats the point i think a lot of people have missed. 🙂 its about the process. get out there, have fun, try something new and dont be afraid to make mistakes. the best part of all this for me… i visit the web sites of all the people who are just like “this sucks. sal sucks, etc” and when i get to their site… I just smile. 🙂

  22. A

    Re people criticizing, Add a colour balance filter over her, she looks too white compared to the ambient light.
    And the boobs showing detract from the feel of the picture, so are a superfluous detail that cheapen the image. You may need to be a female to see this though, sadly.
    Have fun experimenting 🙂

  23. Ziemann

    Sal & Alissa,
    Great Job! Sal, you captured the scene in amazing style, I love how the branches look like arms that are taunting the cold evil of Alissa. Alissa, way to be a champion in the cold weather. This is the kind of shot that you lived for when you first get the passion for photography. I think as professionals we sometimes forget what started our interest in photography, passion. Passion is whey some of used to spend 12 hour days in the wet lab processing to get new and creative pieces. This is a shot that was purely based on passion, creativity and the love of art. Thanks for reminding me why I truly love what we do!

    Keep up the good work, see you in April.

  24. Jonas

    Great post and inspiration, Sal! Some people do not understand the concept of constructive criticism. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all! I give you mad props for being able to take it, ignore it and at times accept it. Love the sarcasm!! 🙂 Thank you for making the effort and taking the time to share to us how you did this shoot. Definitely worth the frozen sweat to be able to duplicate this shot under five minutes on a session where it actually counts!

  25. tc

    That’s very true, Be Brave, it all about, Learn, Fail and Try Again!!!

  26. Casey

    I never understand why photographers think that making women look naked in an unexpected place will give their image an edgey artistic look. To me she looks like a cold hooker. I’ve talked to another photographer about this and I’m not alone. This whole scene would be amazing if not for that.

    1. admin

      the thing you are missing here casey is alissa was going for the cold hooker look. 😉 i think you could be missing the point of the post. but like all things in life – everyone has an opinion. its my interpretation of the scene. nothing more nothing less. i accept your opinion that you do not like the image.

  27. Tom Needham

    Like it and love your commentary on the shoot. Happy New Year

  28. Cheryl

    That is an amazing snap, Sal! Well worth it… “inside voice” indeed. Rock on, brother…

  29. Linda

    Gorgeous! I love reading your experiences. I can hear your voice as you tell the story. I love the no frills Sal and just telling it how it is! It’s great to learn from you.

  30. Rick foss

    Beautiful shot Sal and a great idea considering the weather. I bet she had on two pairs of socks and insulated boots under the cape. lol As always, you give us something to shoot for. Thanks.

  31. Donell

    Love this and timely encouragement for the New Year!!!

  32. Gerry Biggerstaff

    Great pic… We appreciate the encouragement

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