Behind the scenes of a beauty photoshoot for Profoto

During a two-month 4x4 road trip through Morocco, a request from Profoto comes in to create content for the release of their 'clic light shaping tools'. Perfect, because I had recently bought their A2 light and already wanted to put it to the test. Even more so in these stunning environments.

Sadly, things start off on the wrong foot. In two months of traveling through Morocco while shooting product photos, we had not one day without sun. But exactly for this planned beauty shoot weekend, there is bad weather predicted. On top of that, our car breaks down some days before the shoot, so getting to the location in time becomes a challenge in itself.



In Morocco, most cities have their own signature color. Initially, the plan was to shoot in either the blue city of Chefchaouen or the red city of Marrakesh. But a last-minute change in flight options for the team turns our attention to the city of Fes, which means yellow will be the primary background color.

When searching for information about Fes, the first thing that comes up are the traditional leather tanneries. These are made up of several large pits filled with a variety of natural dyes derived from plants, minerals, and even insects. The leather is soaked in these brightly colored pools to give them different hues.

This gave instant inspiration and formed the idea for a colorful beauty shoot.

The Tanneries

I had set my hopes on shooting in between the colored tannery pools, but when we arrived two days before the shoot and saw the place with our own eyes, I quickly realized this would not be the best idea.

Because of the clouds, the colors unfortunately did not pop as much as on the picture-perfect images I had seen online (but those might also have had some Photoshop help).

A local kindly gave us a tour and even let us walk in between the leather baths. Knowing that I already needed a hand here and there to walk over the edges, I could not imagine doing this with a camera and lighting kit in hand. Besides, this place was way too dirty to let a model sit and pose next to in designer clothes.

Another unpleasant thing about the area was the overwhelming smell of ammonia for which our guide gave us mint leaves to weaken the bad odor. He told us the smell comes from the pigeon poo combined with the other chemicals they use to soften the leather.

I tried to picture our model in here trying to keep her dress clean while posing, holding her breath and balancing on the small ridges..

Better to just leave it at incorporating the colors from the indigo, henna, saffron and poppy dyes into the clothing and makeup as our color palette for the shoot.

Source: thirdeyetraveller
Leather tanneries fes morocco

The doors of Morocco

The medina of Fes is the largest in Morocco and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a maze of narrow, winding streets and alleys (in which we get lost often because google maps does not seem to work so well in this place).

Everywhere in Morocco, I have been amazed by the many beautiful doors that are literally works of art; showcasing intricate carvings and vibrant colors that reflect the rich history and traditions of Morocco.

The plan is to find a door that is situated in a not-too-busy street to make shooting in front of it possible. Which, in a bustling city like this, proves to be a difficult task.

Doors of morocco

Using the Profoto Clic shaping tools

This was my first time using the Profoto A2 light in combination with their clic shaping tools and I was absolutely amazed by their ease of use.

I always struggle with back- and neck pain because I am carrying around so much heavy gear for shoots on location. But this set is so lightweight and easy to pack. I love it!

The narrow streets of Fes bring in little natural light so I definitely needed some extra light power. Besides, we had constantly changing weather that went from bright and sunny to dark and cloudy in an instant. Being able to quickly change the position and type of lightning with the snap of a magnet was indispensable during this shoot.

Harsh sunlight? Then I need to fill in the shadows to make things softer. Fully overcast? Bring in the light to recreate the sun for more depth and a catchlight in the eyes.

The flexibility of having both a softbox and magnum reflector on the go and being able to quickly exchange them based on the conditions made me feel more confident that I can create whatever I want, anywhere I need.

At forehand, I had some worries about the A2 battery draining, but as we were going back and forth between our Airbnb for make-up and outfit changes, I could easily recharge in between the different shots. And honestly, I do not even think that would have been needed at all (but I need some more time in the field to confirm that).

The final shot

The day is now starting to come to an end. The quarterfinals of the football world cup have just started and Morocco itself is playing so the streets are strangely empty.

Our last location is outside of the medina, on a hill overlooking the city. On one side we see a threatening dark sky and on the other some beautiful sunset colors. The wind is picking up so the A2, softbox, and light stand keep falling over. Gladly Evert can take them into his hands and help me point the light onto the model.

Unfortunately, I was still doing light tests and searching for the best location + pose, when the rain broke through. It started pouring and did not stop so we quickly gathered the equipment to find shelter in the car.

At that moment I feel a bit sad about missed shoot opportunities on this breathtaking viewpoint. But the rain also brings a silver lining. Right at the moment of breakthrough, the final whistle of the football match goes off and a loud cheer is heard from all over the city. Morocco has just become the first African country in history to reach the World Cup semi-finals.

You can imagine the joy and celebrations that evening. What a magical way to wrap up our photoshoot.

Team credits

Client Profoto

Photographer & Retoucher Zilla van den Born 
Hair & Make-up Monique Brinkhorst
Evert van de Braak
Model Sabarin Mohammed Abdi, APL Models

Styling items Turquoise and Blue dress – Rails clothing, Pink and blue dress – Fabienne Chapot, Golden embroidered top – S.Oliver, Colored pants – Caroline Biss, Headscarf – Gant, Sunglasses – Victoria Beckhamm and Lanvin

Shot with
Sony a7R4
24-70mm f2.8GM II

Profoto A2 + Clic Magnum, Clic softbox and grid.