March 20, 2021

A Snow Session...on the First Day of Spring (Halifax, Nova Scotia)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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 Esme

After my recent shower session with Ingrid, I'd asked Esme 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.

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It may be stating the obvious, but I've come to realize that every shower is different; like Ingrid's, Esme'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.

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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.

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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 Esme if she'd mind making a small set of images with it, before I headed on my way. Esme 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 Esme, 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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!

September 02, 2020

A Return to Working with Lavender

It has been over three years since my pregnancy session with Lavender, so it was a great pleasure to get a note from her asking if we could head out for a session. It took over two months for our schedules to align (sigh, one would think with COVID-19 that life would be less busy, but apparently not), but finally, on a sunny morning, we headed out to the coast.

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As so much of my focus over the past couple of years has been on the ocean, that was the obvious first element to touch upon with Lavender, selecting a shelf of rock which was perfectly positioned as a counterpoint to the incoming ocean. As with all this work, timing was everything, but though patience, the right wave eventually came along, and I made the first success of the session.

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Moving further along the shore, Lavender and I worked with a massive cracked erratic, with her posing on the lower side, and the upper providing a dark shadow below the dramatic sky. I had thought the extreme far right was extraneous, but after trying the image with it cropped out, I have decided it helps balance the image, and keeps the sky as large as possible.

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Over the strictest period of the COVID-19 lockdown, I provided printed copies of my entire Photo Diaries for my own reference (6 volumes, each ~200 pages), and out of that process came a reminder of something I've previously realized, but frequently don't address - the vast majority of my images of the Nude revolve around prone, passive, languid poses. I need to make more work with upright models! In light of this, Lavender and I specifically chose a location where she could experiment with a variety of standing poses - this image being my favorite of the set!

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The last set of images made on our morning session were below a massive glacial erratic that overlooks the Atlantic shore. I've worked with this rock numerous times since 1997, and each models responds to it differently. The first photos took inspiration from the standing photos we'd made closer to the ocean, and with me positioned so I looked into the morning light, a beautiful highlight flowed along Lavender's figure.

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The last set of photographs were made in the same location, but from a different angle, and with a much wider-angle lens, looking up from the ground. With a pose flowed long the base of the rock, the image has a sense of drama and grace that I always look for - an has, yes, a reclining figure!

All in all, it was great to reconnect with Lavender, and make some new images, but her help pushing against my preference for the reclining figure is greatly appreciated, and hopefully will echo through sessions to come.

August 19, 2020

Jessica's First Session (with Company)

Jessica came across my work online, and got in touch about working with me. After a meeting to discuss the process, and what she was looking for, we set up a session date, which ended up being postponed, until this date. The upside of this is where the previous session would have worked out well enough, the revised date synchronized with low tide in the Bay of Fundy, so with Esme and Ingrid along for moral support (and extra models, if needed), we set out for the other side of Nova Scotia.

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One of the first successes with Jessica was against a seaweed-covered rock. The evening light was so harsh that the shady side of the rock was one of the few spaces with soft light that had something for Jessica to pose with. It took some experimentation on her part to find a space that was both comfortable and generated a body position that was aesthetically pleasing, but after some experimentation, it came together and yielded a striking image.

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As we worked our way down the shore, the sky above began to develop more and more drama, and I started to look for spaces where Jessica could pose below the sky. Once I found the perfect space (a rounded outcrop of rock overlooking the exposed shoreline), I asked Ingrid if she could show Jessica how she'd pose within the space (Jessica, being new to my process, welcomed the process); after, Jessica took up her interpretation of the pose, and I made a whole set of variations on the theme, with the above being the most striking.

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As sunset drew nearer, we raced down the beach to a particularly interesting set of water-cut caves; with three models on hand, I couldn't pass up the chance to set the against the dramatic background. Posing three models can be a challenge, but with a separate rock under each, it was possible for the women to take inspiration from their individual spaces and find a pose that worked.

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Shortly after the trio image, the sun bust from below the evening clouds, and flooded the rock with light; I asked Esme to explore the possibilities presented by one of the rock caves, and as she moved into it, I loved how the light caught her figure, and asked her to stop. While I normally avoid hard, direct light, in this case, it really played well against the deep black shadow of the cave behind.

Digital original, six image exposure blend

The last images of the session were set against the sunset; we'd already packed up and were moving back over the beach we'd photographed along over the evening. I was watching the sky as we walked, hoping the sun, already below the horizon, would under-light the wispy clouds, and provide some dimension to the sky. As things looked more and more like that would happen, I called the troupe to a halt, and rapidly selected a space to work in - a round rock set in a shallow pool seemed perfect, so Jessica took up the first pose. I had to work swiftly as the light was changing second to second, but ultimately I managed to catch the light. After three more model/pose variations, the sunlight faded off the sky, the horizon began to deepen, and we resumed our trek back to the car, and the long drive home.

All in all, a good session with a new model, and a lovely opportunity to make some great images with all three!

August 10, 2020

A Foggy Session with Ingrid

As this summer progresses, there are two overwhelming influences; COVID-19 is an obvious one, casting a shadow over everything. I'm fortunate to be in Nova Scotia, where (so far) the pandemic has been for the most part contained - but having a friend go onto a ventilator for close to a week made the risk all the more real for me. The second influence has been the heat; Nova Scotia used to be quite temperate in the summer, but increasingly, it has been shockingly hot...and this summer seemed to be even more extreme. For most of the summer, the sky has been clear, and the temperature (humidex, more specifically) well over 30 Celsius...in Halifax. As a result, almost all my photography has been at the coast, where it has been significantly cooler - and in the case of this session - foggy.

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This was the first foggy session this year (a couple of weeks ago there was fog at the end of a session), and it was really lovely to work with the soft palette that the fog provides. The first set of photos we made was on a split rock looking out to the open Atlantic Ocean - and the delicate colour of the rocks looked just perfect in harmony with Ingrid's delicate skin tones. The above image is absolutely my favourite colour images in ages - it just does not work in monochrome.

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As we worked along the shore, there was an interesting challenge. Due to recent erosion, the beach I'd hoped to be working on was drastically changed, turned into a rocky shore, and ending at a severely weathered island. As the shoreline lacked any elements to take inspiration from, Ingrid and I turned to the driftwood and weathered trees high at the high-tide level, and spent a while blending her body with the lines of the bleached wood.

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The fog that surrounded us for this entire session provided such soft, delicate light that it was hard to make a bad image; for so many sessions recently the evening sunlight has dictated what images worked and didn't, but for this session, there was a return to an emphasis on pose and composition, as the lighting was so even it was essentially not a concern.

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The last set of images were made working with some trees shrouded in old man's beard (Usnea). I have always loved the haunting look of this lichen, but only once before made image that blend it with models (in 2006). In this case, the soft light of the fog was perfect light for Ingrid, and when combined with the shallow depth of field of the 85mm f/1.2 lens, it created a moody, evocative photograph.