It’s rare that someone comes up to you and says to you: “I’ll commission a shoot from you, just do something cool”. It’s even rarer that someone actually follows through with a promise like that, but that’s exactly what happened when the amazing folks over at SmugMug decided to let me have full creative control over a shoot so long as their employees could come watch.

Working with Marika from Kicka Custom Designs has been something that I’ve wanted to do since I saw this amazing photo by Joe Gunawan in my Facebook feed. Though she was based in LA, SmugMug was kind enough to get her and some of her amazing costumes in all the way to shoot in the exotic forests of Sutro for an editorial spread in Dark Beauty Magazine.

I figured that it wasn’t quite fair if only SmugMug got to have all the fun and they agreed…  so we made sure to have a very special behind the scenes video just for you guys that would feature how each shot was created in far more detail that usual! We contacted Fstoppers writer and cinematographer Jaron Schneider to put together a super informative 10 minute video walking through how each and every shot was created.

Enjoy: (Lighting diagrams to follow after the jump)

Shot #1

 Nikon D800E | 70-200mm f/2.8 | 1/250th f3.5 ISO 50

Broncolor vonwong lighting setups

Broncolor Move 1200L | Para 133 on camera left | 90×120” soft box on camera right

Biggest Challenges:

Figuring out how to get the model safely onto the pile of rocks was our biggest challenge. From that point, making sure that none of the lights would “over light” any of the foliage required us to bend and move some of the branches into a variety of different spaces in order to make sure we wouldn’t have any overexposed tips.

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Photo by Akshay Sawhney showing the awkward escort of our heroic model through the rocks

Shot #2

Nikon D800E | 24-70mm f/2.8 | ISO 50 1/100 f/5.6

Broncolor vonwong lighting setups 2

Broncolor Move 1200L | Para 133 on camera right | 90×120” soft box on camera left for seperation

Biggest Challenges:

Getting the scene decorated in a way that wasn’t too obvious or distracting was our biggest challenge. Time, the wind and the weather were working against us to setup the set but thanks to a dedicated crew who set their minds to making sure every strand of spiderweb was prefect (I think) we managed to build a set that is filled with wonder and mystery.

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Photo by Akshay Sawhney showing the crazy mess of spiderwebs we set up for our set

Shot #3

Nikon D800E | 24-70mm f/2.8 | ISO 200 1/200 f/5

Broncolor vonwong lighting setups 3

Broncolor Move 1200L | Para 133 on camera right coming in from above | 90×120” soft box on camera left also coming in from above

Biggest Challenges:

We had to consistently wait for the wind to be in the right direction while the model stood freezing in the cold so that the smoke would be in the perfect position. Additionally, we had to be sure that she was placed perfectly which involved her uncomfortably leaning against a tree. Funny how what looks good is completely opposite from what’s comfortable!

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Photo by Akshay Sawhney notice how no lights are in the setup, the softbox was hidden behind the trees and the Para was so far/high back that it’s completely out of the shot.

Shot #4

Nikon D800E | Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G | ISO 125 1/250 sec f/6.3

Broncolor vonwong lighting setups 4

Broncolor Move 1200L | Para 133 on camera right coming in from high above the model | 90×120” soft box on camera left also coming in from above

Biggest Challenges:

This was probably the toughest shot of the series. The area in which we had to work with was super tight but I wanted a different environment from all the other images and the narrow but vertical pathway truly provided that so we rigged up a couple rocks, a piece of plywood and a stepladder for me to shoot from just a couple feet away from the model. By this point, our heroic model was absolutely freezing so the shot had to be done within 10 minutes which we managed to pull off and actually turned out to be my favourite shot of the series!


Photo by Katherine Cheng showing how ridiculously tight the space we were working in was!

Shot #5

Nikon D800E | 24-70mm f/2.8 | ISO 400, 1/100sec f/8.0

Broncolor vonwong lighting setups 5

Broncolor Move 1200L | Para 133 on camera left coming in from high above the model | 90×120” soft box on camera left lighting model from the side.Para 88 on camera right to light the model in the tree, 90×120 soft box on camera right to light the model on floor level. Two speed lights behind the models. Lights would move with each frame of the panoramic shot and models were shot two at a time.

Biggest Challenges:

Since this image was going to be printed near-life size on the walls of SmugMug HQ, I wanted to be sure that I would have the most megapixels possible so I flipped the camera into portrait mode and divided my shot into 1/3rds as I slowly panned the shot across. Rapidly changing light conditions as we were nearing sundown combined with the constantly changing winds moving the fog around made me a little worried on how the image was going to come together but at the end of the day, everything worked out beautifully!


Photo by Tamara De Jong showing a little of the lighting setup.

Final Notes:

Although this entire shoot was commissioned and supported by SmugMug, the entire shoot only came together as a result of some crazy hard work by a bunch of individuals.

One of my fans and drone pilot Robert Buhl drove himself, fragile costumes along with a team of hair, makeup and models all the way from LA to be a part of the shoot.

The heroic makeup artists KC Mussman and Glen Alen began at 5 AM to make sure that our beautiful models would be ready bright and early and they spent much of the day freezing in the icy San Francisco weather in order to bring this shoot to life.

Shoots like these only work out with the dedication and hard work of a passionate team of individuals… and that’s truly when you feel like magic happens


I’m actually in Germany for Photokina right now and speaking at the Broncolor Booth tomorrow at 2:30 PM! Join us if you’re around (or join this facebook group to keep up with my shennanigans!)

Production: SmugMug

  • Photographer: Benjamin Von Wong – Von Wong