Dia De Los Muertos Shoot with Karla Avila

I have wanted to do a Dia De Los Muertos styled shoot for some time now, and I’m finally able to say I hit that mark.

I have been drawn to the spirit of this holiday ever since I first learned about it on a trip to San Diego’s Old Town during their Dia De Los Muertos festivities. In my family, talking about death was always disrespectful. When I told my mom about my love for the film, Coco, a few years ago, she responded by saying she’ll never watch it because it she felt it was an offensive topic. So my immediate response to discovering the existence of this holiday was that of complete novelty, followed by a flow of love and excitement. It was a “eureka!” moment for me. How could anyone not celebrate the loved ones who have passed? I immediately felt a stronger connection to this spiritual practice than any other I’ve been exposed to. On top of that, the artistry was so captivatingly gorgeous to me. While some see it as unnecessarily macabre, I see honor, beauty and love. I knew I wanted to do a portrait, if not a series of portraits, with those who love, celebrate, and relate to this culture. This week, I finally got the ball rolling.

Shoots like this are simple in theory, but since there’s such an emphasis on styling and ambience, I needed the right personnel around me to achieve that goal. That means I needed wardrobe, make-up, location, and subject to fit my vision, which, by the way, wasn’t exactly defined to start. All I had was a mood. I needed all the pieces around me to help me create it.

Slowly, but surely, I started building my team, constantly vacillating between taking control and letting go of the reigns during the creative process. As someone who has tendencies of high-neuroticism, I was pleasantly surprised to find that “letting go” was so rewarding. Anytime you bring talent together, each with their own skills, it’s important to empower people by letting them do what they do.

The day of the shoot was somewhat hectic, as we only had a studio location for a block of 3 hours. That meant shooting time was about 1.5 – 2 hours, max, to create something magical. I really enjoy that type of pressure though. My stylist and make-up artist did their jobs, now I had to do mine.

The studio location had several uniquely textured colored walls that I could use as backdrops, along with more conventional blacks and greys. I mostly shot with 2 strobes, 3 on one set-up. I left a lot of ideas on the cutting room floor due to time constraints, but I was thrilled we got in as many looks as we did in the short time frame. Ultimately my lighting goals were simple; soft but dramatic. I used a 38″ deep Octa for more dramatic key lighting, paired with 36″ octa with double diffusion for fill lighting and more beauty styled set-ups. Here is a small selection of what we created.

I’ll be perfectly honest, the end look was nowhere near what I had projected from my initial mood-boards. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the stylying, the make-up, the location, all of it was different than what was in my mind’s eye, and with all that being said, I couldn’t be happier with the results. This was a true team effort, and everyone left their fingerprint on this project, which makes me so happy. Having talented people bring their unique strengths to the table is a wonderful practice in trust and collaboration, and we all benefit from it.

Thank you to my amazing team to whom I celebrate this project with. To many more to come!

Talent: Karla Avila

Stylist: Bridget Dickey

Make-up: Elena Lavache

Assitant: Shae Hammond

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