November 30, 2004

A n Experiment with Digitial Infrared Photography

In recent years I have developed a spontaneous habit of changing equipment in the winter; in 2001 I switched from 4"x5" cameras to a larger 8"x10", in 2003, I switched from 120 and 35mm roll film to using digital SLR cameras. With each of these transitions, I used the slower winter months to accumulate the new equipment and gain familiarity with it. This winter is no different, with the acquisition of a dedicated digital SLR for infrared photography.
Digital infrared original
When I replaced my roll film cameras with a digital SLR, the only area of my work that I knew would suffer was my infra-red images. While infrared film is available for view cameras, it is prohibitively expensive; this, combined with the unpredictable exposures, pretty much ruled out shifting my infra-red imaging to large format.

I have been carefully watching the world of digital infrared photography for the past couple of years with a plan to take that route eventually. My initial plan had been to adapt a Canon DSLR through an American website offering the service but when I learned that the Sigma SD-10 was easily modified to infra-red by removing one screw, I decided to look into that system as a way of returning to infra-red imaging. As luck would have it, I was able to purchase a Sigma SD-10 demo kit and, in short order, I was up and running with a dedicated infra-red camera.

My very first thought on receiving the camera was "When can I try this out with a model?" I immediately checked with Jesse to see if she'd be available anytime soon for a session and four days after receiving the SD-10, I made my first infrared nude in more than 18 months.
Digital infrared original
Normally, I wouldn't choose to test new equipment on a model's second session working with me, but because of Jesse's previous modeling experience and her positive response to our first session, I wasn't too concerned. As opposed to working in the kitchen, which has little direct light this time of year, I decided to spend the session photographing Jesse in the living room, starting with her reclining on the sheet-covered couch and then proceeding to work with the last of the day's sunlight falling across her body through the horizontal blinds.

On the whole, the first session using digital infrared was quite encouraging, both in terms of workflow and results. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to shift between the Canon 10D and the Sigma (the Sigma has a smaller sensor so the same focal length lens on both camera gave a slightly different composition) and how easy it was to judge the exposure of the digital infrared images.
Digital original
One of the distinct advantages of working with infrared on the digital is the post-exposure view of the image (with a histogram) which permits easy exposure judgements, without having to wait until the film is processed, hours later. The second difference was how little difference there was between the infrared and non-infrared images of Jesse - unless there was direct sunlight in the image, they looked practically the same. The greatest surprise, however, was how much difference there was between a film infrared image and a digital one: film has a distinct glow to the image due to the lack of the antihalation backing on the film. The digital image, however, is sharp and distinct with none of the glow inherent to film. It will take some time to become used to this different look but, on the whole, I am very pleased with my first foray into digital infrared nudes.

November 15, 2004

Jesse's First Session

Jesse had contacted me about modeling after hearing about my work through Kylie - the irony of the digital world is that a model in Moncton, where I live, learned out my work through a model in Halifax, three hours away. Jesse and I met up and spent a couple of hours talking about my photography, and her interests. She'd responded to my work well, and me made plans to have our first session together several days later.
8"x10" film
Often, Indoor work takes a little more preparation than working outdoors (for that, I generally pack up my gear, and head out the door, deciding on a location while en route). For this session, I spent most of the morning watching the light in the house, and trying to anticipate where it would be by the time Jesse arrived. The kitchen is probably the best room in the house for photography, but this late in the year the light is very different from during the summer. It took about fifteen minutes to move around the furniture, and have everything in place by the time Jesse came through the door..

Because she's had previous experience modeling nude, Jesse and I started working shortly after her arrival (with new model without previous experience, the transition between arriving and modeling is often much slower). I'd left the futon-couch in its upright position for the start of the session, making some images of her first sitting, then lying on the couch. The first image of the session that really resounded with me was the first portrait we made, with Jessie lying down on the couch and looking at the camera over her bent arm. The light, while a little low, was beautifully soft, and when I added a white reflector to soften the shadows, the resulting portrait was a beautiful mix of delicate skin tones, and rich, dark shadows around Jesse's hair and face.
Digital original, 3 frame stitch
Regardless of the experience of the model, a first session is always about exploring the model's response to the camera, and about learning their personal body language and mannerisms. These are what make an image of Jesse different from one of Victoria or Miranda. Most of my focus for a first session is on making the model comfortable, and watching how they move, and responding to that with the cameras. In some ways, this is the magic of a first session, as until you start working with a model, the tone and flow of the session is unknown and is exactly what makes or breaks a session.

Jesse very quickly relaxed and at ease, responding positively to my suggestions and refinements of the images we were creating. We worked for a couple of hours (until the light dropped too low to work easily without resorting to flash) and made a broad range of images. Most of the photographs focused on portraiture, as this is where I tend to begin working with new models but we made a number of bodyscapes and more abstract images.
Digital original
As the end of the session came, I moved the futon out of the kitchen totally, and worked with Jesse standing. Standing poses can feel quite vulnerable and are often difficult to do during first sessions but, based on Jesse's comfort with everything else, I suspected she'd have little or no problem; I was more than correct - some of the best portraits of her were her standing, capturing her personality quite successfully!

November 07, 2004

Bobbi in a Fall Outdoor Session

Because of the volatility of fall weather, I didn't know what kind of a session to expect with Bobbi. Even when I picked her up, I was expecting us to opt for an indoor session but she insisted she'd like to try working outdoors (she shares my preference for natural settings over man-made ones), so we headed off, intent on finding a sheltered space that would give us some protection from the cool November wind.
Digital original
The woods that surround York Redoubt have been a common space for my work since I first worked there with Denise in 1993. Easily accessible but seldom used except for the odd dog-walker (who inevitably stick to the well maintained trails, the woods are a great mixture of soft and hardwoods interspersed with granite bedrock and glacial erratics, all of which adds up to a rich cacophony of visual potential.

The first half of the session was spent working with the strong, angular sunlight that worked its way through the trees at several points. These images were lacklustre, however,because the contrasty light broke up the images more than I'd expected. Things changed when we moved down from the sunlit rocks and into a shady part of the woods.
Digital original, 8 frame stitch
I had thought that the shady parts of the woods would have been too cool to work in but, after a couple of minutes to warm up, Bobbi was more than eager to make another couple of image sets before calling it an afternoon (because it was so late in the year, the sun was already setting at 3pm!).

By far the most visually interesting element of the woods was the rich green moss that covered most of the exposed rocks, contrasting against a bed of reddish brown leaves that formed the forest floor. The last two compositions of the day were focused on Bobbi's body set against the moss; with the first image, she was set between two rocks, and in the second she was reaching up towards a tree, arching back along a line of moss.
Digital original, 8 frame resolution blend
As I'd expected, the session came to a close with Bobbi getting too cold to continue - we certainly could have made a dozen more compositions if it had been warmer, but at this time of year, every image from every session outdoors is a gift;when she said it was getting too cold, we wrapped the session up and headed back.

November 06, 2004

Kylie Poses Indoors

The last time Kylie and I worked together was at the beginning of July at which time it was warm enough to model in water. For this session, however, we were limited to working indoors, so we met up at her house and began exploring the possibilities it presented.
Digital original
The first space we worked in was by far the most engaging - one of the bedrooms has an tropical canopy over the bed made of a fine net mesh which had a wonderful texture when it overlapped and overlaid itself. The whole net, cascading down from a ceiling right, looked wonderful, but wasn't possible to work with, due to a rather obvious wall-paper scheme on the surrounding walls (I tried to make images of the whole thing, hoping to be able to digitally retouch out the wallpaper, but the task turned out to be too time consuming). In the end, the most striking photographs turned out to be the net flowing down and over Kylie's body - the added layer of visual complexity reminded me of the Simulacra images, where one can look and the body, or the reflection - here, there is the body, and the net texture overlaying it.
Add caption
Once we had exhausted the possibilities of the tropical netting, we moved to working in the hallway outside the bedroom. Initially, I thought the space had little potential but as Kylie worked with the lines of the stairway railing and walls, I started to be drawn into the space. Normally, I don't have much of a reaction to architectural spaces which aren't ruins, but the clean, stark lines of the walls and railing worked nicely with the delicate light.
Digital original
We finished up the session working on the main floor of the house, with Kylie lying on some comfy couches and padded chairs. A number of these compositions were fullbody, but by far my favourite were a number of closer portrait images, where I look advantage of the lovely quality of the light, as opposed to the setting or pose.