February 15, 2004

Sara in the Shower

The last session of my February visit to Halifax was a short one, working with a new model, Sara, in a shower. Since I moved from Halifax to Moncton, I hadn't expected to do any more shower nudes, as the beautifully lit shower in my old house was replaced in the new one by a corner stall. What made the shower at my old house so perfect to work in was the fact it was lit by a skylight - as long as the day was remotely light, I could work in the shower with beautifully even light, coming from the skylight.
Digital original
Photographing a model in a shower has some built-in technical issues. Working close to running water is always a concern, due to how much electronics are in modern cameras. The only answer to this is due caution - during the session, occasionally I felt the sprinkle of water on my hands, which caused me immediately to pull back and change my position. One way to keep this problem to a minimum is to angle the flow of the shower away from the camera angle as much as possible - as long as some water is striking the model, they will stay water-covered, and the camera will be sheltered from most of the water.
Digital original
The second technical issue has to do with all the steam and humidity in the air - the hotter the shower, the more pleasant it is for the model, but the more chance there is for condensation to build up on a camera's lens. The only way to overcome this is to keep an eye on the contrast of the image in the viewfinder (the image will drop in contrast as condensation builds up) and move the camera out of the bathroom to let the condensation evaporate. This is of course, assuming you wish to avoid the effect - for this session, with several images, I let the condensation stay, and ended up with some very dreamy results. Not necessarily better then they would have been otherwise, but successful in their own ways.
Digital original
Whenever you combine a Nude with water (in a shower or river), you add an extra layer of complexity to the image - light that is usually soft and subdued becomes specular and reflects off the water where it would normally just softly edge light. The results from the end of this session point out how much water can influence an image - when Sara lent back into the shower, and had water running over her torso, the light from the window picked up all the highlights on her body, and made them leap out of what would have otherwise been a subdued image.

February 14, 2004

Miranda Models on Valentine's Day

Something that I have become more and more aware of is how much my own images influence where my work heads. As a younger photographer, I often used other people's images as inspiration, working with an idea they had and molding it into my own. Now however, what is far more common is making an image, and then a day, a week or a month later, making a second image that takes the same basic elements of the first images, and pushes them further. I suspect this has always happened in my work but I have been increasingly conscious of it in the past year or so.
8"x10" film
When Miranda showed me the corner of her room she had cleared for us to work in, I immediately thought of an image I'd made a month earlier with Kylie, standing against a bare wall. When I'd framed up that composition, I'd worried a little that the figure would seem to small in the image and be lost to the emptiness around it. To the contrary, that image turned out to be one of my favorites and as soon as I saw the white bed, pillows, walls and ceiling, I immediately sought out compositions that would take advantage of the same sense of open space that worked so well with Kylie. The end result was a very different image for me in that it relies upon delicate white tones as opposed to dark shadows to describe the space, but it still has the "small figure in a large room" feeling that was so surprising with the initial image.
8"x10" film
In contrast to our work in Moncton, the indoor session with Miranda in Halifax was wholly back to my tradition of working with available light. Lit by a single pair of windows, much of the bed was in a soft shadow, which made it very different to work with from the white sheets I usually employ. For most of the images, as opposed to shooting into the light, I worked beside the window, with the light flooding across the bed - in contrast, when I work with white sheets, I shoot directly towards the light, using the back-lighting to provide edge lighting to the Nude.
Digital original
Miranda and I worked through much of the afternoon, with the session drawing to a close only when the setting sun stopped striking the room windows directly (because we were working to the side of the window, when this happened, the light level dropped dramatically). I was pleasantly surprised with the mix of 8"x10" work, and digital images; usually indoor images tend to focus on one or the other but with the even light, I was able to rate the HP5+ film I use in the view camera at 800 ISO, giving me a little speed with which to work (as the contrast of light goes down, with black and white film you can increase the effective ISO, and compensate for the speed increase in the darkroom - with a digital camera, unfortunately it doesn't work the same way). When I'd first seen the space in which we were going to work, I had thought it would be a totally digital session...much to my surprise it was much more balanced between the two camera formats.

February 02, 2004

Miranda Models at the NBCC

The reason that Miranda's visit in January-February was perfectly timed was the fact that I had be invited to present on my work to the New Brunswick Craft College photo program; when I'd initially been approached, I was asked if, in addition to presenting my work and discussing the process, I could provide a demonstration of my working technique. While I wasn't opposed to the idea, I did have serious concerns about whom I'd arrange to work with me in such a "public" manner; the school offered to provide me with one of their regular figure models. This would have been less than ideal because a major part of how I work is the relationship I establish with the people I photograph; the idea of demonstrating my approach with a model I would have just met was daunting, not to mention contradictive.
Digital original
As it turned out, Miranda was coming up to Moncton the weekend before I was to present and she agreed to stay an extra day to travel up to Fredericton to work with me during the class presentation.

It can be an awkward thing to photograph with the purpose of illustration and education, as opposed to creating a final image.Fortunately, both Miranda and I have worked in similar situations before (though not together), so we managed to not only guide the students through my particular way of working but also make several striking images. The first came as I was trying to guide the students through the process of recording an initial perception through to fruition using the digital camera and the second came at the very end of the session, when I made a portrait with the 8"x10" view camera as a demonstration of working with the larger format.
8"x10" film
In the end, as much as the session was a class demonstration, I came out of it pleased with the images as much as the presentation. Miranda saved me from the difficult possibility of providing a demonstration of my work in a most a-typical way (working with a model who was not already familiar with my approach) and helped me make several images that built upon the images we made over the previous days.

Miranda in Morning Light

I am always surprised at how successful short sessions can be; in the past I have had sessions that lasted no more than 30 minutes yet yielded very striking images. With this session, squished in between waking up and driving to Fredericton, I was very keen to make the most of Miranda's time while she was visiting and even more enthusiastic about being able to work with available light after so many sessions using the studio flash which, while it is a good response to the reality of living and working in Canada, is not natural light which I have a strong affinity for, and by far prefer to use when I can.
Digital original, 12 frame stitch
Because so many of my recent sessions have been working with models on the white sheets, I decided to change the approach a little and, as opposed to having Miranda on the sheets, I asked her to work as if she was emerging from them. In some ways this is related to much older work of mine, with Lisa in Maine, but where those images were "genuine" (Lisa was chilled from working outdoors, and was huddled under the sheets to keep warm), this session was using the sheets as an aesthetic and compositional device. We didn't have much time, so we worked with a single basic pose, and I explored the possibilities of various compositions and variations.

February 01, 2004

Miranda's Second Studio Session

The second studio session with Miranda was a little more focused than the first; for one thing, it was better timed, being at the second day of her visit, as opposed to only hours after her arrival and I worked with a more traditional approach. I decided to further push the boundaries of what my new studio flash could do and see how close to mimicking my approach with natural light I could come indoors at night.
Digital original
We started working with the flash located behind the white sheet, and Miranda on the other side of it, posing on a futon-bed.This is very similar to the way I work with natural light indoors but had a number of advantages. Often with natural light, there is not much light, so I have to use very narrow apertures to avoid movement from the model breathing (I will make images with natural light that use exposures of 1/4 second or longer). With the flash, while I was still working with relatively wide apertures (giving a narrow depth of field), I had no concerns about the length of the exposure, as the flash was going off at 1/2000 of a second!
Digitial original
It was surprisingly different working with the flash, as opposed to available light; for one thing, as much as I tried to mimic natural light with the flash, it was still quite different - the angle of the light was too distinct (it was too close to the backdrop) and the degree of the diffusion was not the same, probably because the rest of the room was in deep shadow. All that being said, it was distinctly different in look and feel from most of my recent studio work, making it a refreshing change, albeit different from my intent.
Digital original
In the end, the most engaging image I made was of Miranda sitting up and leaning back against the futon. I used a close composition to reduce her arms to graphical elements, and focused the image upon her knee, breast and hair. This image, so different from what I'd expected to produce, pleases me nonetheless. Sometimes the best images are the ones you never thought to make.