Behind the Scenes of a Secret Malibu Mountain Swimsuit Shoot

As portrait photographers, we dream of great models, great light, and a great location. Well, this shoot quite comfortably has all three in abundance and required a helicopter to get there.

I rarely get envy over shoots these days, but it still happens and this is undoubtedly one of them. Michael Sasser, a boudoir and fashion photographer, takes a helicopter with model Kinsey, to a hidden-away mountain location in Malibu for a golden hour shoot, and it is exactly as incredible as it sounds.

Natural light has gone from being in-vogue in portraiture, to getting something of a bad rap. However, with most modern cameras, if you have mastery of your settings and the right light, you can use post-production to bring out the dynamic range and achieve similar results to if you were using strobe lighting. Sasser does exactly that in this shoot and you get to see his post-production workflow too, which helps paint a fuller picture. His images are typically aimed at being balanced, with the model on the darker side, only to them pull their skintones up in post to the correct exposure. The images are stunning and have the dreamy, medium format look I enjoy so much.

You may not have a model with millions of followers, a mountain-side Malibu retreat, or a helicopter available, but the photographic principles seen in this video are certainly replicable. So, sit back and watch from the start of the shoot to the editing of the final images.

Rob Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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I'm not really a fan of fix it in post tbh. It's great we have those possibilities but for instance why not hold a simple reflector to illuminate her face instead of dodging it in post?

He's usually a one-man-band. Trying to hold a reflector properly from a distance is going to be difficult. Dodging in post is 1000x faster. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter so long you get it the way you want it.

Actually the secret location is well known. Must have been hotter than blazes up there on the helipad without a whisper of a breeze. The lighting at that time of day is incredibly harsh. It comes from the water vapor, the ocean, the soil, and the oblique sun at 4:30pm. Trust me, I lived in SoCal for 50+ years. What if there wasn't any shadow provided by the helicopter's stabilizers? What about using a black scrim and a black reflector? Or better still, choose another hour. Oh well, Ps to save the day I guess. But her blonde hair and sky are still blown out in most of the video's evidence of the crime.

Whats the address? I want to check it out...

Cute, but it's a secret. The helo pad was built to fight wildfires. Google Earth does show it and, obviously, there's a 4WD trail to it.

I didn’t care for the reflecting light, off of the television, in her eyes. It was too bright, IMO.