How Audrey Woulard Captured the Girl in the Woods in Urban Chicago

Creating the Photograph is an original series where photographers share how they created an image with lighting and minimal use of post-production. The series has a heavy emphasis on teaching how to light. Want to be featured? Here’s how to submit.

Photographing on location can present unique challenges for photographers just starting out. But, for world-renowned photographer and Nikon Ambassador Audrey Woulard, it’s just another day at the office. Perhaps best known for her portraits of young people, Audrey’s love for the art of photography began with the birth of her children. This led to her leaving the corporate world and embarking on a career in portrait photography. In addition to her portraiture, Audrey also teaches photographic techniques around the world via in-person workshops and her online educational platform. We spoke with Audrey about her workflow and how she created her Girl in the Woods portrait of one of her clients.

The Concept

Girl in the Woods was captured during one of my portrait photo sessions. There wasn’t a planned set up for this as it was one of many different setups captured that day. I love combining ambient light and created light. I was attracted to this particular location due to the ambient lighting filtering through the trees. I knew it would be a great backdrop with this image. I do not have a game plan ever. I find that stifles my creativity. I prefer to pick locations based on the comfort of my portrait clients. I look at areas that have places for teens to change clothing. Is there good parking? Is the location near someplace they need to be. From there, I can always find something interesting to photograph. I think the word challenge is where I am falling short. When something comes very easy, I do not consider it challenging. The only time something becomes challenging is when the elements get in the way. Was it too hot? Was it too cold? Was it windy? Then I look at my subjects, was there something going on there that made it challenging. Because this is a teenager, they listen and are very eager. So overall, I don’t have challenges from my perspective. If I were in another state, my challenge would be to replicate (if asked by a client) what I create in Chicago. Because I shoot in Chicago all the time, it’s easy to create the looks I want. However, if I am shooting in Denver, then the challenge would be knowing the position of the sun at certain times of the day. I would need to know how the light shines on the buildings, etc. Timing is very critical for my images because I rely on natural lighting a lot. However, in Chicago, I’ve been doing it for so many years, that it is 2nd nature to me now. However, the light at 5pm in NYC on 5th ave, isn’t the same as the light at 5pm in Chicago on Michigan Ave. Because of that, if I am in a different state, I would scout the streets to take note of how the lighting looks at certain times of the day. In my own city, I do not have to do that anymore. My approach is always about combining ambient light and created light. If I can not use ambient light in some way, I will not take the shot. 

Gear Used

The Shoot

It’s hard to find a nice wooded area in the middle of Downtown Chicago. Fortunately, there is this hidden gem that resides in the city. The weeds/grass was very very tall. There was a flattened area within the bushes. Because we were chasing the light, I instructed my client to walk into the flattened area. Behind my subject was an area where the sun was shining down. In front of my subject were very tall weeds which blocked off any ambient light that could have helped illuminate the face. So I had the Profoto B10 angled at camera right for a bit of directional light to bring in some great shadows. In my own city, I do not location scout. Often I am in my client’s own backyards. I have photographed in this location for many many years. In this spot, the forest area is small. So I am able to capture completely different looks in the same location. My inspiration was the ability to have greenery in my image vs. a city look, or Lake Michigan in the background. This image was captured at 2pm. If I didn’t have an assistant with me, the challenge would be using a light stand. The surface wasn’t leveled because it was covered with lots of weeds and sticks. If had a light stand, I couldn’t use it because the stand wouldn’t stay upright.

other looks from the same shoot

Post Production

Very little post-production was done to this image. I use Photoshop. Sharpening, a bit of color punch, and some dodging in the highlighted that I wanted to have a bit more punch is all that was done. I also removed the light/assistant from the image. 

Before and After

Credits

You can learn more about Audrey Woulard’s work on her official website and at AWTeaches. Also, check out her Instagram – @kidsandthecity.