Head Above Water Portrait Photography Techniques

French fashion photographer Bruno Dayan has a distinct style that utilizes deep color to sensualize the female form. Nick Fancher is a big fan of Dayan and sought to create an image like those in a series of his water images. Fancher was particularly interested in the way the light source glanced across the surface of the water in Dayan’s photographs. Watch how Fancher resourcefully used a kiddie pool in his backyard to create a similar look:

To set up his scene, Fancher lined a wading pool with black shirts to black it out. This allowed the reflections in the water to be seen more easily. He used the ambient light from the sky to get the blue color in the water. Once his scene was ready, Fancher tried two different techniques in an attempt to mimic Dayan’s glamorous body of work.

For the first technique, he used the following equipment and settings:

  • high speed sync
  • 4 Canon 430EX Speedlites, all mounted onto one light stand and set at 1/2 power (to reduce recycle time)
  • a shoot-through umbrella
  • wide open aperture of f1.4 to add silkiness to the shot
  • 1/32 second shutter speed



During his second attempt, Fancher used the following setup:

  • lights raised up
  • low shutter speed
  • f10 aperture for a more crisp image
  • half cut of CTO gel on all strobes
  • white balanced according to the gel colors to make the sky color appear bluer



Both images were processed in Lightroom, where Fancher used presets to accentuate the color and contrast that fit with Dayan’s style.

With a little time and critical thinking, Fancher was able to get results similar to a master photographer. Practice like this is valuable to photographers hoping to hone in on their own personal look. Using what you have to emulate your favorite photographer’s style is a clever way to challenge yourself and improve your photography skills.

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