This is probably my favorite image from the desert shoot last week at Red Rocks outside Las Vegas.
In addition to the talents of the model, what makes it special in my book are 2 elements that add to the drama of the location. That drama, BTW, is aided nicely by the time of day (near dusk) and the stormy skies.
Given an environment like this, you can either play along or try to mold things to your way of thinking. I decided to play along. Dramatic portrait time.
Let me take a slight detour first and talk about the pose. Although she is making a nice s-curve, the raised right arm is somewhat unconventional. I think it adds to the image, and this is why: you want to look twice. You ask yourself, “what is she doing?” “Why is she doing it?”
The arm also serves to balance the image nicely. Tension in an image is almost always a good thing. Tension is achieved by composition (it is the reason why not placing your subject dead center can be a good thing, why negative space works, etc). Tension adds interest. It forces you to not only look, but look around. However, the image itself must be balanced; the balance can be achieved by negative space, or, as in this case, by another element in the photograph. The image as a whole must be harmonious, even if the subject or other elements within it are not.
The arm is the element which brings a sense of balance and creates harmony, yet is unbalanced in its own right. It adds to the tension. It adds to the interest.
I also decided to crop to the top of the head. This a common technique in beauty work, and in tight portraiture. What it does is force attention to the eyes. This is a portrait, after all. A dramatic portrait, but a portrait nonetheless. Without that crop it is a picture of a dramatic setting with a pretty girl. With the crop it is a dramatic picture of a pretty girl in a cool setting. The emphasis is on the subject (a person), not the scene.
Now to the meat of the story.
This image is also about color. Specifically, the color red. While the background is dramatic, it is the background. It sets the scene. When Brittainy changed into a red dress, this made her the center of attention. After all, it is a dramatic portrait. Or became one once I saw the dress.
Red will pop an image. Red works especially well against that bold blue/magenta sky. Red says drama. It doesn’t whisper.
Want excitement in an image? Wear red.
The Rembrandt lighting on her face is the second element. Normally I would reserve Rembrandt lighting for men, but in this case we weren’t going for a soft beauty image. This is a dramatic setting, and it calls for dramatic lighting. That’s not to say it isn’t flattering, because it is. It’s just not flattering in a soft way. Again, it doesn’t whisper.
I also think, when used on women, especially on location, that it adds a sense of mystery as well. Double bonus.
You add all of these elements: the location, sky, the lighting, the color play, and the model, and you get the best of what the desert can deliver in a people photograph: drama.