June 07, 2021

A Sesson of Firsts!

This session was all about firsts! It was my first session working with Liv, my first time using a new IR camera with a model, and my first outdoor figure session in 2021. Usually, I've started to photograph outdoors by May, but because of Canada's third wave of COVID-19, it is only in early June that outdoor interaction (photography or not) with mask-less people who aren't within a house-hold bubble is permitted in Nova Scotia. 

While I received my infrared converted Canon EOS R5 in early May (after it sat in customs for a full month!), the only images I've made with it have been a few of landscape and architecture, and a load of technical tests...this session is my first using it for what I bought it for - photographing the Nude! The decision to shift to mirrorless for my infrared photography was a big one, and this session would put that to the litmus test.

As Nova Scotian COVID-19 restrictions began to ease in early June, I reached out to Liv about working together. I knew she'd done some fine art modeling before, and I found the energy and character of her portfolio revealed engaging. That, coupled with the fact a friend of mine had worked her, and spoke highly of the experience, made me take the (for me unusual) step of reaching out to see if she'd be interested in working together. After a meeting to share my work and process, we set up a first session date (which turned out to be the next evening, as chance would have it), and headed for the coast (in separate cars, due to COVID-19 restrictions)!

Digital infrared original
We began the session with Liv reclining in a tidal pool; the evening was not that hot at the coast, and would only get cooler, so we'd decided to start with water images, and make the most of location while we could. Having the first images of a session with a new model tie into a thread that's flowed through my work since 1996 is never an issue. The thin, high cloud provided some soft diffusion of the sun, while still permitting some brilliant highlights on her body, and in the reflection in the water around Liv. While I started working with the camera on a tripod, I quickly shifted to hand held, taking advantage of the reason I moved to the mirrorless camera for infrared - fully accurate viewfinder auto-focus. It paid off, and permitted me a very low, dramatic viewpoint for the best image of the pose and setting.

Digital infrared original
As the session progressed, Liv and I continued to return to her working in water pools. By the middle of the session, the sun had moved lower in the sky, and provided a really beautiful side light. Working in a larger tidal pool, I made a series of compositions of her facing the sun, arching back while emerging from the pool. Initially, I worked from a higher camera position, but was frustrated with her body being set against the line of rock behind her, as opposed to against the sky, so I moved the camera lower (inches above the water surface), and everything came together. To make such a striking (and for me, atypical) image during a first session with a new model is a gift indeed!

Digital infrared original, two image blend

As the evening stretched out, working in water became impractical (the air became too cool), so as Liv dressed, I packed up my gear, and we began to walk back to the cars...only to be brought to a halt by some good light on an interesting rock face! A line of granite bedrock was being kissed by the evening sun providing beautiful side lighting to work with - and Liv was happy to see what we could make of it. After some pose experimentation and lens and camera angle variation, the above image, with Liv's sun-lit hip just kissing the downward sweep of the rocks behind her, was made!

Digital infrared original

The last success of the session was born of careful pose and camera work, blended with the beautiful happenstance that working outdoors provides. On the crest of the bedrock ridge, a glacial erratic was perched on smaller rocks (rumour has it that Art College students in the distant past may have had something to do with this particular phenomenon). Using a wide lens and careful tripod positioning, I balanced the stone compositionally against the lovely sky that was happening above it, and then Liv slowly refined her pose until everything came together. It was a striking composition to end the session on, and both of us felt it at the time. I hope this bodes well for continued sessions with Liv in the future!

For a first outdoor session of the year, I am really pleased; mixing working with a new model and a new camera into the same session could have been unwise, but in the end, Liv's comfort, experience and trust in the process shone in the images, and the camera just did what I hoped it would do - worked. Being able to preview the infrared image in the viewfinder is revolutionary (with my previous DSLR infrared cameras, one could not know how an IR image would look without first taking a test image), and having fast and accurate auto-focus after more than 15 years of having to manually focus infrared images (initially using the IR focus dot on lenses, and since 2005, using LiveView) is absolutely amazing...and yet withing minutes, just became the norm, as the session progressed. Ultimately, tools are for creating, but in the case of the new camera, it is a vast improvement on previous tools!

May 07, 2021

A Second Infrared EOS R5 Session

As with 2020, my photographic process in 2021 is being heavily impacted by COVID-19; on the day these photographs were made, Nova Scotia posed another day of record-setting infections, and moved into a tighter lockdown, including the request that Nova Scotian's stay close to home...so no new photos for the remainder of May, while we hope to gain control over the pestilence that is running rampant in Halifax.

Where my first camera tests of the newly converted Canon EOS R5 were made literally the day after it arrived (don't ask about the 30 days waiting in Canadian Customs), these images were made on a day much more suited for infrared photography - bright sunlight and an interesting sky with high, whispy clouds.

Digital infrared original

Though I made the above image with my 17mm TS/E tilt-shift lens, I was interested in pushing the cameras to the limit, so no tripod was used. The camera's focus peaking assist worked wonderfully with the manual focus lens, and the built-in levels helped me avoid any significant camera distortion to the horizontal or vertical plane. It is undeniable that this image would have been faster and easier to make with a tripod, but the fact I could focus and compose so accurately was a real treat, and further builds my confidence that this new IR camera will take my work in directions I have not been able to head before.

Digital infrared original

This image of the tree shadow on Citadel Hill was initially intended to be a photograph of the clouds, but when I saw how start the shadows looked through the viewfinder, I knew the composition would have to include both.

Digital infrared original

The last set of images were made in a graveyard, looking towards the tallest building in the city (which is currently undergoing renovations). This image in particular points out the potential of the EOS R5 for infrared work - the shadows were open and detailed, even through the highlights were subject to full afternoon sun - this bodes well for upcoming work with models where the constrast with sunlit skin and shadows tends to be a challenge at times!

All I need now is an end to COVID-19, so I can head out with a model, and really see what this camera can do.

May 05, 2021

My First Session with an Infrared Converted EOS R5

When I first began the transition from working with film to working with digital cameras, one of the biggest questions was "how can I let go of working with infrared light?" Since 1990, infrared film had been an increasingly important part of my creative process, so this was certainly a concern. All my doubts were set to rest in the fall of 2004, when I made my first set of digital images with an infrared-converted Sigma SD-10; the results were thrilling (though only 3.1 mp in resolution), and this paved the way for more than 15 years of digital infrared photography, between then and now.

Infrared digital original

Since 2004, I have had five DSLR cameras converted to be infrared sensitive; but with my latest upgrade, I moved to a mirrorless camera design, the Canon EOS R5. Switching from DSLRs to mirrorless provides two distinct advantages when working with an infrared converted camera. The first advantage is to be able to see the infrared image through the viewfinder. With my previous DSLR cameras, when looking through the viewfinder, the image viewed is the world in front of the lens (as DSLR cameras permit the photographer to view directly through the lens, as opposed to a digital video image). 

Infrared digital original
For conventional photography, being able to see the real world through the viewfinder is often considered an advantage (especially for sports or action), but with infrared photography, being unable to see what an image will look like before it is made is a real handicap. The only workaround has been to work with LiveView; this shows a video image of the composition on the back screen of the camera - and this was certainly a game-changer with the Canon 5D MKII (which was my first DSLR with liveview), but it also imposes some pretty significant limitations on process, making a tripod pretty much mandatory for most sessions, and making viewing the image challenging on bright days. All this has changed with the mirrorless camera, which clearly displays the image, in all its glorious "infraredness" before I even touch the shutter button.

Infrared digital original
The second advantage is related to the first, but in some ways, even more significant. With a mirrorless infrared camera, for the first time, auto focus works accurately (as the camera focused with the light falling on the sensor (contrast detection), as opposed to the more traditional DLSR method of phase detection. For someone who loves working with large apertures, this is a game changer! Coupled with the incredibly fast and accurate focus of the EOS R5 (including eye focus), this makes working in infrared suddenly much faster and more accurate than ever before!

March 20, 2021

A Snow Session...on the First Day of Spring

Ever since my first snow & ice sessions with Ingrid in 2008, I have kept out for appropriate winter days to work with a model on...and this was the first time since that everything came together to permit a return to working outdoors in winter (obviously, there have been many days in the intervening 13 years where the winter weather was warm enough, or a model was available, or I was available...but this was the first time all three came together perfectly. The day before had a small snow storm, and while much of the snow had melted off the trees by the time the day had warmed to 5 celsius, there was still plenty of snow on the ground to leave no doubt these were images made in the winter (even though technically, it was the first day of spring.

Digital original

When we arrived at our planned location, another vehicle was parked, so we headed in a slightly different direction, and walked into the forest until we found a suitable location. A fallen tree, covered with a blanket of snow, but with some wonderfully weathered exposed wood was the perfect place to start working. With back lighting flooding across the scene, there was some great play between shadows and highlights provided, and a wide lens helped create some direction and flow to the composition.

Digital original

As was inevitable, working so close to a river, Esme, in mid-pose experimentation, asked if she could do an image of her putting her toe in the water. The result may not be the most dynamic image I've made, but the contrast between the snow around her, and her interest in touching the water is as accurate a portrait of Esme character as I have made to date.

Digital original

During a pause between compositions, the light on Esme was perfect, so we paused the more deliberate work to made some candid portraits - the angular early-evening sun was quite striking as a rim-light on her torso and hair!

Digital original

The last set of images of the short snow-session were of Esme exploring a tree that stretched out over the river. Again the back lighting was really pleasing, with the broad dynamic range of the Canon EOS R5 really contributing to the look of the final image (I doubt I would have had such a lovely result with the older EOS 5DsR). 

All in all, the winter session with Esme was fun; with the snow-cover being relatively light, it didn't have the wow factor that we'd both been wishing for, but beggar's can't be choosers, and given how mild the weather was, it was a really good session, and left us both eager for warmer weather (and water) in the coming months!

February 14, 2021

A Shower Session with Hailey

After my recent shower session with Ingrid, I'd asked Hailey if she'd be interested in working in a shower sometime. She was, but her personal situation made her modeling in her shower challenging...but then an unexpected development occurred, and after a short text discussion, we set up this session.

digital original

It may be stating the obvious, but I've come to realize that every shower is different; like Ingrid's, Hailey's shower has the light coming from the opposite side to the shower head, resulting in all the images being lit from the backside, in regards to where the water was. While less than ideal, short of bringing in my own lighting, this was the way things were, and I had to roll with it. The vast majority of the images were made with my new colour camera (a Canon EOS R5 that I will soon convert to infrared), and the camera worked really well...but in the end, I was less than pleased with the overall colour tonality of the images, so prefer the above black and white image, which calls more attention to the light and water, as opposed to being all about the colour.

digital infrared original

At the end of December, I sold by infrared converted Canon EOS 5Ds, and expected the shower session with Ingrid to be my last infrared session working with a DSLR camera, but for this session, just in case, I brought along my older IR converted Canon EOS 5D MKII, which I had kept as a backup, when I upgraded to the EOS 5Ds; this turned out to be a  wise decision! While there wasn't a lot of infrared light to work with (about 1/10th as bright as the visible light), it turned out the tonality of the infrared images was much more pleasing than the colour photographs, so while I only made a handful of infrared photographs during the session, one of them (above), is my absolute favorite of the show images, both because of the pose and composition, and the tonality provided by the infrared cameras.

digital original

After we'd finished in the shower, as I was packing up my gear, I caught sight of a oval mirror and flower bouquet in the hall, and asked Hailey if she'd mind making a small set of images with it, before I headed on my way. Hailey enthusiastically agreed, and we made a final set of photographs, working with the space. In the end, the concept worked, but the images, less so - the background (wooden closet doors) was less than pleasing, so after reviewing the images with Hailey, we both decided it was worth revisiting, so in the future, we'll return to the space with a more controlled background, and see what we can create!

February 13, 2021

A Winter Field Trip (Halifax, NS)

 As seems to be the trend in these times, this winter has been unusually warm, so it was mid-February before I had any opportunity to photograph water and ice (taking advantage of a Photo 101 field trip as an excuse to get out.

Digital original

As I've been working with ice and water for years now, returning to it felt much like pulling on an old glove - within minutes I was back into the pleasure of working with such a magical subject, and for more than an hour (after the field trip students headed off), I explored the potential of the small waterfall.

Digital original, 2 frame stitch
The real gift of the session, however, came as I was waking back to the car - I passed a beach, and saw that the tide cycle had created lines of thin ice piles, which were catching the reflection of the afternoon sun off of a nearby building - which was quite interesting, visually. I set up my tripod, and discovered it was only with my longest lens (a 300mm f/4) that I could get the composition I thought...but with such a long lens, the depth of field needed to record the entire scene was essentially impossible. So, with great excitement, I turned to technology for a solution, using the Canon EOS R5's "focus bracketing" to create images to focus-stack together on the computer. After some experimentation, it turned out that between 35 and 40 frames were needed for each composition, and the below image was created.

Digital original, 25 frame focus stack

December 30, 2020

The Final Session of 2020 (and goodbye to infrared DSLRs)!

I didn't plan this session, but when Ingrid asked if I'd like to do something on this particular Thursday, I immediately asked if she had a shower, and what kind of light it had...her reply was the right answer, plans were made, and the last session got under way on the second last day of the year. The correct answer, of course, was that the room was lit by a skylight, so with great enthusiasm (and no idea what the room looked like) I arrived at Ingrid's apartment, and we set about to make some images.

Digital infrared original

In addition to being the last session of the year, this was also the last session for with with a infrared converted DSLR; after some frustrations over the previous summer, I'd decided to upgrade to a mirrorless camera for my infrared work - this will permit me to focus and set exposures through the viewfinder, as opposed to having to use LiveView all the time (as I currently do with my converted DSLR). Fortunately, I found a buyer for my converted Canon EOS 5Ds, so after this session, that camera will be in the mail to a new owner, and in a couple of months, I will convert my new Canon EOS 5R mirrorless camera to infrared!

Digital original

After making some images of just the light in the shower,I started to work with Ingrid in the shower proper, working between the new mirrorless body, and my infrared converted DSLR; the two cameras worked quite differently, but both made some really pleasing images. In the case of the new Canon EOS 5R camera, the new auto focus system was amazing to work with, and really increased the number of potential images I had to work with (having worked a lot with models in showers, I know how hard it can be for cameras to focus in these settings). In the end, the best of the colour images, like so many of my shower images, were all about water and hands.

Digital infrared original

Towards the end of the shower photos, the angle of the sun had shifted enough to cast light directly on Ingrid's torso, so the last set of photographs of the session took advantage of this; most of the previous showers I've worked with had a window on the far side of the shower (behind the model) or a skylight above, so this set-up, with the roof skylight on an angle to my left provided a very different look for a quite familiar approach. All in all, a great, short session, and a nice way to say good bye to a camera I've enjoyed working with since 2015.

Digital original
 

The last photographs of this short session (and of 2020) were of Ingrid lying on her bed, drying off after the shower. I didn't have too many expectations for these images, which was not a bad thing, as the light in the bedroom was a little lack-luster, so after ten minutes of exploration, I felt I'd made what could be made, and brought the session to a close.

September 24, 2020

A Final Ocean Session for the Year

Though COVID-19 has shaped this year beyond reckoning, the passion Esme and Ingrid have for working with water has shaped my work, and lead to me creating some of my strongest work in years (much of which is yet to be seen, as it is part of a planned exhibition). This session, the last outdoor one of the year, was also a session that had a little more drama than I'd hoped for.

Digital Original

The first part of the session saw Ingrid and I building on the water images I'd already created this summer - but this time, we came dangerously close to pushing things too far. Caution is always the name of the game when working with something as unpredictable as the ocean, but during the last of a handful of locations we worked in, a rouge wave came in with significantly more water than expected, and actually lifted Ingrid up, and had the potential to do quite some damage. Fortunately, moments later the water subsided, and Ingrid was only shifted a hands-breadth from her original location, but it was enough of a scare to put us both off ocean based images for the rest of the session...I could not help but thing how badly the session could have ended, if things had gone differently.

Digital infrared original

After bringing the work with the ocean to and end, we began to hunt for other spaces to work in, and with no little irony, ended up returning immediately to work with water, but this time, it was a still water pool further inland on the inter-tidal zone. After a series of exploratory posed, we hit on the above pose and composition, which was both flattering to Ingrid, and made the most of the oncoming evening light, which lit up the far side of the pool so beautifully.

Digital infrared original, 6 frame focus blend

I have not combined focus blending with the Nude often - in part because I am often far enough away from models to not need to extend depth of field in such an extreme way, and also because people breathe, and for focus stacking to work well, all part of the image need to be static. In this case, however, focus stacking was the only solution, as the rock pools in the foreground are mere inches wide, and Ingrid was a good 10 meters away from me - one frame of Ingrid, and five additional images, focusing progressively closer across the water pools yielded exactly the image I saw in my mind's eye!

Digital original

The last images of the session were made just after sunset, and for lack of a better space to pose in, Ingrid found a convenient rock shelf to arch back upon - I quickly shifted my position to place her directly below the sun's last burning light in the sky. A colorful end to a dramatic session!

September 17, 2020

A Second Session with Jessica

There was almost a month between Jessica's first session to her second, but I wouldn't have known it from how the sessions started. After walking into the location, we made our first set of photos in some high grasses (in part, I was thinking back to grass photos I did of Esme several months earlier). Right from the first image Jessica was on point, and the images reflected this.

Digital infrared original

After working so consistently with Ingrid and Esme over the past couple of years, photographing a new, inexperienced model like Jessica is quite a change. In many ways, returned me right back to the core of how I work - the collaboration between the model and I, and the mutual effort to craft the images I record. With Ingrid (after 23 years) and Esme (after only three years) there is a pretty strong non-verbal part to the process, with the models quickly finding poses and refining them with me, but with Jessica, this session was filled with constant feedback to Jessica on what was and was not working, and why, and very quickly, the session evolved a very strong flow from initial ideals (on either my part or Jessica's) to realized images.

Digital infrared Original

After finishing the images in the grasses, we moved a little more inland, and stared exploring some rocks and driftwood along the shoreline. Quickly, Jessica and I gravitated towards one bleached-white tree in particular, and after some experimentation with pose,the above was revealed, with the lines of Jessica's back mirroring the flow of the driftwood,  and the direct sunlight reinforcing the shapes it fell upon. With the weather shifting into early fall, bright sunny sessions are now starting to be functional, where only a month earlier the light would have been to directly above to work well.

Digital infrared Original

As we moved along the shoreline, the sunny afternoon continued to shape the images we made, with me finding spaces that would work with the direction and angle of the light, and Jessica exploring them physically, until the light and form came together into the final composition that worked. At times, I was unable to position my tripod exactly where I wished to be, so over the whole session, entire sets of images were created hand-held, which is quite unusual in my practice.

Digital Original

One question raised quite early in the session was would Jessica like to work with water (i.e. get wet), and while there was some interest, we both agreed it would be best to save any immersion until the end of the session, when we could bring things to a close quickly and prevent Jessica from being chilled. With this in mind, we headed closer to the open ocean, and I found a space where Jessica could pose securely by the ocean, without being directly in it. A couple of dozen images later, made over a handful of breaking waves, and the above image was made, blending the calm serenity to Jessica's pose with the chaotic energy of the swirling wave behind her. A perfect addition to an already rich body of work with the ocean and the Nude.

Digital infrared Original

The last set of images were the most surprising, and thrilling of the entire session (and perhaps the summer overall); high on a bedrock outcrop looking over the ocean we found a shallow water-pool; having decided mutually that the ocean was just too active to work with directly, I suggested that Jessica could do a final set of images posing in the pool, crossing off the "water nude" from the day's list, and perhaps creating something interesting. She enthusiastically agreed, and entered the cool water.

I had envisioned images of her figure and the entire pool, focusing on the luminous body emerging from the dark water surrounded by rock, but after creating those, I shifted to my 85mm portrait lens, and made some tighter compositions from Jessica's neck to hip. Just by chance, as I began photographing, some sharp gusts of wind blew across the water, creating a micro-ripple effect - which caught the sunlight, and made it look like Jessica was floating in a sea of stars. Thrilled at what I was seeing unfold in front of my camera, I kept photographing until the wind abated...and the session was done.

September 09, 2020

A Challenging Session at the Coast

One of the most common questions I ask when working with models (especially new ones) is "Are you having fun?" There's little point in doing what we do if it isn't enjoyable, and while posing on rocks or working in the ocean may not be everyone's idea of fun, for most of the people I photograph, the answer to the question is always "Yes". Not during this session, however. Far from it. 

In the famous line from Sesame Street: This session was brought to you by the letter M - Martinique Beach (where we were working), M_ (who was modeling Nude for the first time), Maternity (which is why M_ wanted to model), and Mosquitoes (which is why the session was SO not fun).

Digital original

I've worked with models on Martinique Beach more than 30 times, but have never had any issues with mosquitoes (apart from after sunset, which is quite normal around here)...but as soon as M_ and I got out of the car, we were set upon by them...by the hundreds. We quickly moved to the beach itself,  hoping they'd back off there, but even into the ocean, the mosquitoes persisted. If it had been any other session, I would have called it off due to the bugs, and headed somewhere else, but M_ specifically wanted to model at this point during her pregnancy, and we timed it so we'd be on the beach at sunset, so the session went forward in spite of the mosquitoes. In the end, M_'s dedication to the results, and a lot of time spent swatting bugs, paid off (not to mention taking almost 500 photos to create the final 50).

Digital infrared original

Because of the mosquitoes, I hardly touched my tripod through the session - speed was the name of the game, and hand-held was pretty much the only option. For most of the session, I avoided working in infrared; the colour camera has auto-focuses through the viewfinder, and most of the reason for working where and when we did was the colour of the beach and sunset. That being said, when a particularly richly textured of the beach was pointed out, I switched to the IR camera for a couple of images, carefully working with it hand held, and focusing through live-view. The end result celebrated the beautiful light of the evening, and the contrast between the texture of the beach and the light dusting of sand across M_'s figure.

Digital original

Many of the inspiration pregnancy photos M_ provided were silhouettes; stylistically this is a departure from how I usually work, but in hopes of presenting M_ with images that met her expectations, it was on our "to do" list. I specifically chose this Beach because it faces sunset, and I would be able to get back-lit images of M_ against the evening sky, and wet sand. In this image, my favourite, the hand of the genie (to quote my friend Steve Richard) was in M_'s hair, throwing it out at just the right time...in between her dancing around and swatting at mosquitoes.

Digital original

The last images of the session were actually made after M_ had had enough of the persistent mosquitoes, and we had packed up and were heading for the car. Just before we headed inland to the car park, I saw the sky ahead was starting to become interesting, and asked M_ if she'd indulge me for one more quick set in the water, against the evening's sky. 30 seconds later, the above image was made.

I have not had a session since 2008, in Scotland, where bugs wreaked so much havoc, and in that case, we ran away after making only a handful of photos. But for this session M_ endured the mosquitoes for almost an hour, all in the name of celebrating her pregnancy!