Photographer Diana Scheunemann shoots fashion, portraits and beauty, but no matter what the assignment, her signature lighting style is designed to make her subjects’ skin look “nice and fresh and yummy.” Her work for clients like Arena, Bacardi, Elle, GQ, Levi’s, Maxim, Playboy, and Vogue is also recognizable for the sexy and energetic moments it captures. Her techniques for shooting and lighting, she says, allow her to move as her subjects move and shoot fast, before they get bored or restless. She also notes, laughing, “I’m directing them to be spontaneous.” Her husband, who frequently collaborates with Scheunemann to concept her shoots, often reminds her of the time he heard her shout to the models over the loud music playing on the set, “Have fun. Now!”
A recent cover story for Bolero magazine on the model Charlotte Free demonstrates how Scheunemann, who is based in New York City, directs her subjects and plans her technique.
In addition to shooting the cover and inside spreads, Scheunemann also shot a short video for the magazine’s website showing Free dancing, writhing and jumping to music. “She was one of my favorite models because it was easy to shoot her moving, she’s a brilliant dancer as well,” the photographer says. “Because I’m directing the models when shooting stills anyway, the transition [to motion] for me is more natural.” She adds, however, that stills and motion are different disciplines. Though she recently completed a documentary film, Love American Skin, based on her road trip around America, she says, “I wouldn’t call myself a filmmaker. I’m foremost a photographer who likes to venture into filmmaking.”
Logistics: “It’s a beauty story but we didn’t want to do a typical beauty story,” Scheunemann notes. The goal was “to show her in a really cool environment.” Scheunemann suggested a location she loves, the Metropolitan Building, a 1909 former electrical parts factory in Long Island City, New York. Though it has been refurbished and turned into a venue for weddings and photo shoots, some rooms still have exposed brick walls and weathered wooden floors.
“Whenever it’s physically possible I go to the location and see which corners I’m interested to shoot in or else I ask the location manager to send photos.” In a beauty story like this one, the look for the makeup is conceived first, then the wardrobe is selected to suit the makeup and then Scheunemann chooses a part of the location that complements the look. Alice Lane did the makeup, Lacy Redway did the hair and stylist Stephanie Tricola oversaw wardrobe. Says Scheunemann, “I like to have a dialogue and teamwork with everyone on the set, including the model so she knows what I want and I know what she wants to give. I have to know how far she wants to go.”
Lighting: When she spoke to PDN, Scheunemann had just wrapped a shoot that required five lights coming from several directions, but typically in her fashion work, she prefers working with just one or two lights. She explains, “I think it just looks nice and natural. If there are too many lights, it quickly looks artificial.”
Whether she’s using a beauty dish or an umbrella set on a boom, the light source is usually in front of the model, typically above Scheunemann’s head. It’s a setup that flatters skin and reduces flaw. Often, she says, “I have my assistant handhold the light so when I move he can move with me.” When she shot Free, she used an octabank placed on a stand that could be moved.
The pop of a strobe helps keep up the models’ energy during still shoots, Scheunemann believes. “They don’t need to hold a pose very long. They know when I’ve taken a picture so they move quickly.”
She says she prefers to shoot at ISO 100, and recalls that she took the images of Free at 1/125 of a second at f/11. In between shooting stills for the magazine, she shot video using continuous lights. She didn’t use these for any of the stills, however, because “you couldn’t make it bright enough so that I could shoot it as quickly,” she notes.
Camera: Scheunemann followed Free’s movements by shooting handheld. “I hardly ever shoot on a tripod,” she says. “I don’t want to always tell them move in this direction or that direction. I want to focus on their expressions rather than on that one centimeter which I can move really easily with a camera.”
She used a Canon EOS-1D X to capture both the stills and the video, and used a zoom. “I like a zoom lens because, for me, it’s very important to [get] a picture really quickly. If she pulls a really cool face, I want to capture her face.” As she moves, the assistant makes sure the light follows, rather than stopping to adjust the light with each movement or adjustment. Says Scheunemann, “I like to make small adjustments with the lens rather than moving the light.”
Post-Production: Scheunemann regularly works with two retouching houses—one in Poland, one in Switzerland—that know her style and taste. “To me it’s very important that the skin look like human skin,” she says. “It must look clean if it’s a beauty or fashion shot but it shouldn’t look airbrushed.”