When I had the Carmen Electra project, I wanted to capture her in a variety of ways other than a bikini or lingerie. We dressed her in a beautiful tight dress that still revealed her toned body but the intent was to focus on her face and personality. Of the numerous looks captured that day, but the tropical Carmen is one of my favorites because of the simplicity.
To me, simple is timeless and the best.
How would I give Carmen Electra (over 40 magazine worldwide) something "simple" but stylized? Also how would we do it without a huge budget and not a lot of time?
The solution was simple. I want strong light and strong shadow. I want to give the illusion of tropical without showing the sand, water, or palm trees. I wanted to stay on budget and on Carmen's brand. Here's what we did: I asked my assistant to find a couple palm fronds from nearby trees. I would use them to cast a shadow that is universally understood as tropical.
The morning of the shoot, I ran over to the garment district in Downtown LA and purchased a vinyl alligator print cloth. I'm not sure what anyone else wanted that for, but for Carmen I wanted an alligator print wall that would not only give texture, but help us bounce some light back on her. In addition the print created a shiny background with the harsh lighting, which helped us achieve nightclub vibe, perhaps something on the beach. Any dull textures and I feel the effect wouldn't translate. I also picked a bold alligator print because she's a bold woman, and she has a wild side.
Finally I used a 1K Fresnel light to illuminate Carmen. The tungsten clearly has a very warm temperature and because of that I photographed her at a lower/cooler temperature on my camera settings. This helped me balance my image and helped me avoid an orange subject. Additionally, I balanced the colors in post (Lightroom). With a strobe, I wouldn't see the shadows the palm fronds created. I need to see the shadows while I photographed her, so I could ask my assistant to raise them up if they were near her face. With a continuous lighting source I can see where the shadows dropped and how Carmen would look. A harsh light also made the shadows pronounced. If we had a softbox or similar, you couldn't make the shape of the palm fronds and it would lose the tropical feel.
The 1K tungsten came with another set of problems. How do I photograph Carmen without the harsh light making her eyes water? For that I relied on timing and giving her plenty of rest. For example, I would count "1...2...open (click click click) OK close your eyes!"
That was our recipe! We shot for 3-5 seconds, and let her rest for about 10 seconds.