Lighting Masterclass - The beautiful stranger and my billionaire assistant. - part 1 of 1

by Stuart Wood Published 01/08/2013


Her gaze is dreamy and mysterious, her pose elegant yet vulnerable, her alabaster skin gleaming against the sheen of the ebony garment that drapes her. Completely at ease and comfortable amongst her opulent surroundings, she creates a timeless, chic, beautiful image.

She is Katia Elizarova, Russian model who regularly graces the likes of Vogue. Out of frame to the right stands a refined, elegant man who, despite the great leveller of all males at the evening event attired in dinner suits, still

exudes urbane style and understated confidence.

The stylish man is assisting me on my image by holding the main light.

He (I later discovered!) is Leon Max, Russian billionaire.

The location is imposing, grand and utterly, breathtakingly magnificent.

It is Lancaster House in St. James' Palace, which also hosts G8 conferences and state banquets.

The event, hosted by the charming CEO of the Hermitage Foundation Uk, Katya Galatzine, was a £1,000-per-head celebration of the Romanov Dynasty attended by many notable citizens including the Russian ambassador, the Director of the State Hermitage Museum and Ronnie Wood out of The Stones!

I was the photographer covering the event for the evening.

It has to be said that I have had worse jobs!

I am using this image as a prime example of why you should always be prepared for the unexpected, as you never really know what photographic opportunities may occur during the course of a commission and how you may well be called upon to stretch yourself.

An assistant for the evening was not possible and I was also carrying minimal equipment. I had lights, tripod, reflectors, etc, back in my car (a taxi ride away), but obviously what I did not have was easy access to this photographic luxury.

What I did have were two camera bodies and lenses, lots of memory cards, a speed light and an LED icelight.

During the evening of covering the event on behalf of Katya, I was approached by a couple (who I eventually discovered were Leon Max and Katia Elizarova), to take a picture of the lady in the beautiful dress that he had designed for her. As everyone had already gone in for dinner, I suggested that instead of simply taking a 'snap' we should try to get something more and use the beautiful pillars as a setting and I rushed to my stowed equipment to get my LED light.

I had no other choice but to go completely hand-held and said a quick prayer to the god of all things photographic and similarly blessed the modern DLSRs and their forgiving nature when we are forced to abuse the higher ISOs!


Deciding to use the available tungsten lights from the chandeliers, I turned Katia toward the right of the image where there was no ambient, uncontrolled and unflattering light directly on her face and introduced my 'assistant' with my LED light, which would effectively act as my main light, with the chandeliers backlighting our subject.

As black subjects, and especially black material, has an innate ability to 'soak up' light and can end up totally bereft of detail, I moved my 'assistant' and my main light as close and as low as possible to the dress while still achieving the light that I wanted to shine across Katia's face.

Despite not yet having any idea whatsoever who my charming strangers actually were, I knew as soon as I lifted my camera to see my photograph that Katia was an experienced model, as she automatically went into a graceful position and took my simple directions easily and swiftly, and gave me a perfect look every time.

As I touched upon in my last article, when I was directing the actors for the main 'Making of a Lady' image, it is vital to take control and direct your subject as to how YOU want them. By doing this you not only develop a connection and a common goal of working together to achieve the best possible image, your subject will also feel more relaxed and confident in your abilities if you immediately take charge. I do find that lots of photographers seem to be completely unaware that the subject not only needs direction, but also that the subject cannot see what we are seeing through our lenses. Time and again on my training courses, I have to remind the delegates to simply communicate with the model and to give them direction, even if they are shooting for a few short seconds, as was the case with this image.

All too quickly, the pictures were taken and I resumed my role of event photographer for the evening.

While I was forced to keep the image 'simple' because I did not have the usual benefits of trained assistants and choice of equipment, I was still very happy with what I managed to achieve despite this.

...and best of all, I managed to secure a 'sneaky' handshake with Ronnie Wood later too!

Stuart Wood holds regular lighting master classes and wedding workshops.

For more information please refer to his blog at or follow him on twitter @StuartWoodPhoto or Facebook at Stuart Wood at Exclusive-Weddings.

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1st Published 01/08/2013
last update 07/04/2022 09:17:27

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