Helga Sierra
Helga Sierra

Journal: Stories on Creativity & Adventure

Learn about the artist's process, photo stories, traveling & more. 

Barcelona: Night Portraits with Ethan


A Night in Gracia

I had just seen Neymar and the FC Barcelona squad play.  I walked from the Barcelona FC Stadium back to where I was staying at.  I was meeting up with Ethan and his buddy Andrew for dinner at a tapas restaurant in a neighborhood called Gracia.  I made it to the plaza, and it was empty, I couldn't see them anywhere. I heard fireworks and a ruckus: I knew Ethan would be watching.  

"Yo" I said..."Ethan."  He turned around and said "Yo!!!!"... Ethan is one of my good friends from college, but I hadn't seen him in 3 years. We've managed to stay in tough via phone during the last 3 years, so it was pretty cool that he happened to be in Barcelona for work.

I met his buddy Andrew and we were ready to get something to eat.  We chose a restaurant with an outdoor patio, very European. As we had a great conversation and ate patatas bravas, many other tapas and more, we had the bright idea of doing a photo shoot the next day.  

In case you were wondering: Yes, Ethan & Andrew are models.   Both him and Andrew were in the city for work.  I love taking photos and shooting in Barcelona with 2 professional models would be a blast, right?  

Concept: European Urban Street


The whole goal was to get some "European Street" shots, meaning Ethan wanted pictures in tiny streets with the pretty balconies and soft tan colors.  Unfortunately, the streets we were near, in Gracia, don't have the tiny European streets we were looking for.  I would recommend Barrio Gotico o El Born for those exploring Barcelona.  

We found more grungy, textured sites, and some walls with graffiti. I've always loved the contrast between metal, rust, and graffiti; so I was ready to work. 

Styling: Neutrals

Since we didn't know what the environment had for us, a choice of neutral colors for clothing would work.  Ethan wore a white t-shirt and black jacket which we eventually swapped for a gray hoodie.

Side comment: I hadn't seen Ethan's model style, its very different than the West Texas flannels I was used to seeing him in...its fun seeing friends as they change and develop. 


We met up and the sunlight was almost gone, needless to say I learned quickly during this shoot. We decided that Ethan would be the only model, and Andrew was my assistant (meaning he carried my lens around and helped out with our make shift light source- his iPhone), while he gave Ethan a few modeling tips here and there. 

Lessons Learned


Here's some of the lessons I learned in this fun shoot in Barcelona.  

These guys are pros.  I was having a hard time adjusting my lighting settings, and these guys move fast.  This was my first-night shoot. Once they are in front of the camera: THEY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING.  They knew how to use light to their advantage and work with the environment they were in. 

I had to move and learn quickly. I even had to ask them to slow down the poses they were doing because I had issues with my set up.  Thankfully, they were patient with me, and I really like the shots we got.  




Arlindo Camacho, taking pictures of Andre Prim (Portuguese Vocal Coach.) 

Arlindo Camacho, taking pictures of Andre Prim (Portuguese Vocal Coach.) 

MUSIC MAKES YOU FEEL FREE:  Before this shoot, I was able to see Arlindo Camacho, a professional celebrity photographer in Portugal, take pictures.  I observed his work, but the most important tip was to try to make the person comfortable.  That was one of my main challenges that night in Barcelona, as I wore my photographer hat (not literally, I actually didn't wear a hat that day).  There was one moment where we all needed to loosen up, so we started playing music on one of our phones: easy solution to creating a comfortable atmosphere.   


Using Environment Light to Your Advantage

We didn't have fancy equipment.  I had to find the street lights that would help us create more interesting compositions in each of the shots.  We used Andrew's iPhone to get some extra help with lighting the close-up portraits. 

Moving Quickly with 2 Subjects:

Towards the end of the shoot, Andrew jumped in.  I had to learn how to manage 2 different subjects moving and posing at a very quick pace.  Andrew is also a professional model.  Both of them knew how to move with light and create interesting shapes, which helped me try out new angles.  I did learn that when working with 6'4" models, I should probably carry a little stool step or ladder around. 

I was able to place them in certain spots so I could play with the lines created by the streets or surrounding elements like windows and doors. 

Just like Ethan, Andrew has a fun spirit and is very laid back.  Both these guys are dude-bros, I loved seeing the contrast in our chill conversations the night before and their professionalism in front of the camera. 

Try something different:

Whether its placing the person you are taking pictures of in a completely random spot, asking them to do crazy poses or just being a little bolder in your camera angles, I realized that these moments were the ones that allowed us to loosen up a little more and have fun! That's what we were trying to do and what most creative endeavors should be: they should be fun even if challenges arise. 

Editing Style

I'm really into a grungy black and white.   I edit on Adobe Lightroom and usually fall back to many of my VSCO filters.  I've taken some of the ones in packs 05,06 and 07 and made them my own.  I really like the soft surreal quality they add to photos. 

The fact that these are street shots at night, allowed me to play with grain a little more.  I chose soft green tones throughout the other edits, and tried to preserve all gray and purple tones as those pop more during the night.  

I tried to keep the light on the subject, while trying to create a somewhat dramatic feel with the backgrounds.   As I mentioned before, I love textured elements, so you'll find that throughout the background.  As I took the pictures and edited them, I kept thinking of this as a project that would appear in a magazine spread for an urban lifestyle or travel magazine.  I'm quite happy with the results. 

Life Lessons


I was glad I got to collaborate with Ethan and to see how professional he is.  He's been growing in this career and I truly wish he keeps growing as he pursues more of what he's passionate of.  Ethan is someone with the spirit of a child, and is trapped in a big body.   Once he was in front of the camera: it was business time. 


Anyone who knows Ethan will tell you that whenever you are around him there is no need to have walls, one of his unique qualities is that he makes people feel at home.  His laugh and smile are contagious,  he's quick to make friends and keeps growing in his intentionality to share about how much he loves Jesus everyday.  It doesn't matter who you are or what you believe, he's a guy who will just tell you about what God is doing in his life. I'm proud of how much he's grown in the last 3 years, and I'm really glad he's making an impact in the modeling world: even if some days all that means is smiling and brightening someone's day. A lesson I learned from this friend: be great at your job, but don't stop sharing about what Jesus is doing in your life, and keep having fun. 


All the best guys!!! Glad we got to hang & thanks for collaborating with me! 

All the best guys!!! Glad we got to hang & thanks for collaborating with me! 

A little photoshop fun. 

A little photoshop fun. 

Hasta la proxima Barcelona.

Got any thoughts or questions on the pictures or lessons? Leave a comment below.