Throwback: Nancy Nguyen

Portraiture from the Past

25th February, 2016

For me, portraiture was the gateway drug to fashion and lifestyle photography. Portraiture captures people, and that eventually led me to an interest in capturing what people do and why they do it.

I wrote about this shoot at the time it took place, but I've gone through a few reorganizations of the site since then and that writing was lost. I wanted to take an opportunity to honor it because it remains one of my favorite to date. I'll talk a little bit about the subject, Nancy, as well as how I went about producing these images.

Nancy Nguyen wearing lace in black and white

I met Nancy a few years ago and soon realized she had a flair for style. As time went on I've also realized she's fairly active in the fashion community, introducing me to several people and places along the way. Nancy worked as a member of SHEI, a semesterly fashion magazine run by University of Michigan students. Most recently we went down to Detroit together for a pop-up sale by Muktar Onifade and his brand, VIZUVLGVDŠ.

At the time of this shoot, I was working on getting a more solid shooting style nailed down. This meant tuning into the right look with the camera and trying to keep it consistent going forward. While we ended up with color and grayscale images, the mood ended up transcending those differences.

Nancy Nguyen wearing lace in black and white

A photographer's primary asset is the consistency of their work. This isn't to say that your taste and style won't shift over time, especially in the beginning. There is an advantage to being able to point to an image you produced in the past and create a new image with the same look and feel, however.

This consistency comes from two phases in a shoot's lifecycle. The first is in the shooting itself. Being able to take any situation and adjust accordingly and on the fly is invaluable. Learning to adjust ISO, shutter speed, and aperture to produce the right exposure is a skill you should learn by practice before you step into a real client situation. I often suggest to people who ask me that taking the same picture over and over while adjusting these settings each time will develop familiarity with how they behave.

The second phase where consistency is important is in editing. A single image can be edited in infinite ways, so a set of images has a high probability of running away if one isn't careful. I watched a video from Ben Sasso some time ago that emphasizes the benefit of creating editing presets in your favorite program in order to save time, maintain consistency, and easily tweak settings. I can't agree more. After hearing these ideas I immediately pulled them into my own workflow. I'm sure I've already saved days of time since then!

Nancy Nguyen portrait in chair

We shot these images in the uppermost room of a tower, with windows on three sides. There was plenty of beautiful natural light coming in, and the cloudy day outside provided ample diffusion so everything looked soft. These are ideal conditions for the mood you see in the final result.

In some of these images Nancy is very obviously in the window, while in others she's at least facing one. This gives the images a bit of the same feeling you might get on a lazy Sunday morning, sipping some coffee in your breakfast nook. It's delectable.

Nancy Nguyen portrait in budoir style

If you have any more questions about producing images like the above please ask in the comments below!