On The Road With Monte; The Yucatan Experience: Seeing The Light—Part 1
Monte Zucker
• Posted Nov 1, 2006

My classes out of the country offer possibilities that keep my life and my photography exciting. For the past three years Merida, Mexico, has been an adventure in teaching. Sights and sounds...color and composition...all available just for looking and seeing. The challenge for me is always to teach photographers to see how the light is playing on their subjects and to show them how to take advantage of it. By the end of the class it's my goal to make certain that each photographer has become aware of the light surrounding them. They also need to know what to do with it once they've found it.

My first day of classes began with the need to first analyze faces. I stressed that camera position is chosen very carefully to photograph either full face, 2/3, or a profile. Bodies are always angled at an approximate 45Þ to the camera, except for the 2/3 view in what I dub the "Feminine Pose." For that camera position alone the body faces directly toward the lens.

Colorful Images...And Custom White Balance
I stressed the need for simple clothing: solids with no patterns and colors that don't take attention away from the face. But one of the married couples in my class appeared in clothing that would ordinarily have definitely been "out of the question" for a portrait. Yet, here in Mexico, their outfits seemed to go with the territory. When someone pointed out one of the more colorful walls in our hotel I knew that this was a marriage made in heaven.

I was shooting strictly by window light with a silver reflector being used to open up the shadow detail. The first exposure (before custom white balancing) found their faces reflecting the colors bouncing off the wall. In just a few seconds I did a custom white balance with an ExpoDisc. The skin tones were perfect. At that point the class immediately saw the need for custom white balancing.

Gear For The Trip
Almost all of my images that week were created with Canon's EOS 5D camera using Canon's 24-105mm f/4L Image Stabilized lens. I hadn't yet gotten my EOS 30D. If I'd had both cameras for the trip I could have used either one of them. The EOS 5D, of course, gave me larger files, so I'm happy about that. My 2GB memory card is by Delkin. The only other camera that I used was my EOS D60 that was adapted to shoot infrared.

Open The Shadows
We were all looking for daylight under cover and close to something that would keep the light coming from a single direction. The area outside, next to the main lobby, was ideal. Light was coming from our right. The entrance to the hotel was just to the left of this group. All we needed was a silver reflector, camera left, to open up the shadows.
Finding Locations
We were able to get two of the hotel's entertainers to pose for us within the hotel's environment. When I asked the photographers to scout a suitable location no one saw the possibility that this simple wall between two of the condos offered. I, however, kept walking by this wall each time I went to my room. I saw the plant growing on this solid colored wall and saw it as an ideal setting for a shot. When I posed the two of them all it took was a small silver reflector to pick up some sunlight and bounce it into what would otherwise have been a completely flat-lit situation. The results astounded everyone. They had passed by this location many times without even noticing it. They were looking for something much more elaborate. Lesson learned!

One of our outings took us to a neighboring small town where I had once before photographed a model in front of doors leading to a police station. That same location again provided us with an ideal location for a portrait. The light steps and walls surrounding the doorway helped to create a framework for our subject. For this picture I used all available light. No reflectors needed.
Using Contrast
The police chief was standing outside the doors when we shut the entranceway. Remembering that we had done the same thing the year before, he was so cooperative that I just had to do a portrait of him as well. His dark skin needed contrasty lighting to capture his complexion. To create the lighting I brought him just inside the doorway, lit the right side of his face with daylight and used my silver reflector for the main light. That meant positioning the reflector camera left, turning it toward the open door to pick up the light and bouncing it onto the left side of his face. I tipped the top of the camera to the right to create the angular positioning of his face within the composition. In Photoshop I darkened his hat and shirt to keep them from distracting from his face.
Group Lighting
We stopped for a little refreshment in a local restaurant and photographed the group during a break. The tables were under cover, of course, facing out toward the open daylight. Each time I photographed in low light under cover I did a custom white balance by placing the ExpoDisc over my lens and making an exposure while pointing the camera toward the light source.
Foreground And Background
On another outing close to our base hotel we visited ancient pyramids. It was as if we went off the road and stepped into antiquity. These structures were still standing after thousands of years. Unbelievable! For this picture we posed our model dressed completely in black, so that he would stand out from the busy stonework. Outdoors in direct sunlight I simply set the white balance to sunlight.

We also found a couple vacationing at our hotel who agreed to go along with us. I posed them in a corner of one of the pyramids, positioning them in front of a darkly shaded area that would permit them to stand out against the busy background. I photographed them in color as well as with my Canon EOS D60 that was converted to shoot infrared. (See www.irdigital.net for info regarding infrared conversion of digital cameras.) I liked this b&w infrared shot better than the color one.
Wide Angle Lens
Michele Gauger, our host for The Yucatan Experience, gave one of our models a Mexican dress in which to pose. I used a 16-35mm wide angle lens to keep her large in the foreground of the picture, while showing the ruins and sky in the background. The infrared dramatized the scene beautifully. Since she was almost completely in the shade I had to select her face in Photoshop and add contrast to make her stand out more vividly. I also burned-down the bright steps of the pyramid in the background. For this shot I carefully selected the height of my camera to position her head within the clouds. I didn't want the horizon line to cut through the middle of her profile.
Using The Architecture
One of my favorite locations is a town where all the buildings are painted a warm, golden color. An ancient church there always provides us with great picture opportunities. The light that was coming through the series of arches was a natural for posing one of our ballerinas. Depth was assured, as the light from front to back was the same. What I had to be careful about here was where to place her head within the arched doorway of the background. Playing around, moving my camera inches in each direction, I decided that the curved lines in the background would be most effective when they intersected with her head.

Camera height was at her shoulders rather than where one might usually expect for a full-length picture. That was so I could capture the true spaciousness of the hallway. A lower camera position would have distorted her body had I tipped the camera upward to include everything I wanted in the photograph. The elongated shape of today's digital cameras was perfectly suited to capture the essence of the location.
Inside the church was another series of arches that opened onto an open courtyard. The two ballerinas were positioned to place the one in black against the lighter background and the one in white against the darker. The vertical lines of the archway helped to frame the composition of the two dancers. When photographing ballerinas they pretty much pose themselves. What we as photographers have to do is to pose them to the lens. Dancers can pose to any direction. It's up to us to help them position their bodies and legs, so that they look good from the camera's viewpoint.
There are so many more fun pictures from this Yucatan adventure that I've chosen to share the rest of them with you next month. It seems as if my travel classes out of the country are affording people a great reason for taking a vacation, furthering their education, and learning how to adapt professional techniques to what otherwise might be merely vacation snapshots.

Monte and Eddie Tapp will be touring the country in October and November, doing a four-hour extravaganza seminar. It will include lessons on posing and lighting for formal and casual portraiture, as well as travel and scenic photography. Eddie will be demonstrating easily adaptable Photoshop techniques to enhance your photographs and speed your postproduction workflow.

The name of the tour is Imagination to Reality, of course!