October 30, 2005

Elisabeth in a Pool (the last session of 2005)

As much as I had hoped for good portraits, the real focus for the session with Elisabeth was to take the water session I'd had with Brianna in the wading pool a week earlier and see how much further I could push the same approach. Elisabeth had already seen the couple of images I'd posted to my blog and was more than interested in seeing where we could take the idea.
Digital infrared original, 7 frame stitch
With all the trouble-shooting of the first session under my belt, I found it much quicker to just focus on the scene before me, and find the images that worked with Elisabeth. Almost all of the images used the same basic approach, with the softbox on the far side of the water providing the reflection in the surface and the light on the figure at the same time.

The vast majority of the images of Elisabeth in the wading pool were constructed from multi-frame stitches. The higher resolution of stitches was crucial, as the photographs focused on the details of the meeting of water and skin, fine details were very important, and since the majority of the images were long and narrow compositions, they lent themselves naturally to multi-frame stitched panoramics. The issue of the water moving slightly between the different frames of the same stitch was address by working as swiftly as possible (though I did discover with the work with Brianna to wait longer than the flash indicated between photographs, to insure an even exposure), and by clearly communicating with Elisabeth when it was paramount to stay still, which allowed her to hold her breath through the multiple frames that made up the final images.
Digital infrared original
The greatest difference overall between the work I made with Brianna and what I did with Elisabeth was the confidence with which I approach the session. With Brianna, the wading pool was all very much an experiment and, while I very quickly got a sense of how the work was progressing from the post-views on the digital camera's LCD screens, the whole first session was as much about working out the details as it was about making the best images possible. With Elisabeth, the details were already taken care of and all we focused on was making the best images we could.
Digital infrared original
I didn't revise much in regards to the set-up of the indoor water-pool. In an attempt to get rid of the pattern on the plastic bottom of the pool, I layered the fabric in the pool to give a thicker barrier, but in the end, the pressure of the water still pushed the sheets down into the circles, leading to distracting elements in the background which I either will have to live with, or carefully remove in the digital darkroom.. The next time I work with an indoor pool I think I will try to construct a square pool, both to avoid the issues of the curved walls, and to get a perfectly flat bottom to work as a background.

October 22, 2005

Miranda in the Shower

While I have worked with digital cameras with increasing focus since 2003, I almost always use them at their lowest ISO setting, preferring to have the highest image quality possible, and willing to accept the lower shutter speeds that frequently come with such a setting. The higher the ISO setting, the faster an exposure can be made in the same lighting conditions. While I have made tests with higher ISO settings, I have never put these settings into use during a session, primarily because I had no need too.
Digital original
For this session, however, the day had finally arrived when I would need to push every last ounce of light sensitivity from my Nikon D70. Miranda and I had planned to work in the shower of her new apartment since she had moved in and had blocked out an hour on the last afternoon of my stay in Halifax to make the images. The day, however, had dawned with the sky a dark shade of gray and a torrent of water lashed the streets and buildings of Halifax. The light in the bathroom was very low, both due to the poor weather outside, and the dark colour of the walls and floor. All the same, Miranda was still keen to model, so after setting the camera to its highest ISO (1600, eight times more sensitive to light than the lowest ISO of 200), we began to work.
Digital original
As I had expected, the light was incredibly low, necessitating exposures in the realm of 1/15 to 1/8 of a second; not long enough to blur Miranda if she stood still with care, but certainly enough to cause a problem if I'd been been forced to use a shutter speed eight times longer (leading to exposures of 1/2 to 1 second). Fortunately, the other parts of the process fell into place perfectly, with the light from the window giving some beautiful description to Miranda's body, and lighting up the otherwise ugly plastic shower curtain until it became a beautiful element to the image, as opposed to an annoying distraction.
Digital original
In the end, the higher ISO did not detract as much from the final images as I had worried it would; even without using noise-reduction software, the image looked good at 7"x10" (the largest size the Nikon D70 prints to without making up the image resolution in software), and with care could easily go to twice that size without too many problems. I still would prefer to work at lower ISOs when possible, but with this experience under my belt, in a pinch I know that I can push the envelope a little further.

October 21, 2005

Liam & Alexandra II

After such a pleasing first session, I was eager to work more with both Alexandra and Liam, and fortunately they both had the following morning free. Even better, they happened to live only a stone's throw away from where I was staying in Halifax, making an early morning session the next day easy to arrange.
Digital original, 19 frame stitch

It turned out to be fortunate that Liam's apartment was in the tallest building in Halifax, as the morning was dismal, with hard rain and a driving wind making even the short walk to the apartment chilling. With the high apartment, however, we could gather what little natural light there was, and make do with that.

After a hurried rearranging Liam's room, we began to work with the soft light from the storm outside coming through the windows and illuminating the couple. I used the same white sheets as we'd made use of the day before but this time, with only natural light, they were  employed to simplify the background, rather than as an alternative to a stark white or black background.
Digital original, 8 frame stitch
Both because of the low light, and the limited pose possibilities (basically Alexandra and Liam were modeling on a small bed below the window), the session was rather short. This is not to say that we didn't have any successes, but rather that what possibilities for pose and compositions were quite rapidly worked through. The only real spontaneous image came when Liam had to leave the room for a moment and Alexandra sat up and waited for his return - the light warping around her body, and the chaos of the white sheets behind her was just so delicate looking that I had to make an image of it.
Digital original, 8 frame stitch
The only real downside to the two sessions with Alexandra and Liam was that this was my last visit to Halifax for the year and it will likely by 3-6 months before we get another chance to work together.
Finding such comfortable and enthusiastic models is such a gift, and to make such stunning images with them on their first sessions hints so much towards the possibilities that it will eat at me all winter just thinking of what lies ahead.

Alexandra & Liam I

Alexandra has known of my work for several years, mainly through her friendship with L_, but it was only this fall that she got in touch and asked about the possibility of working with me. After some e-mail conversation, we made plans to work together the next time I was in Halifax - as is often the case, we both would have preferred to be able to work outdoors, but the cool weather precluded this, so instead, we went to a friend's studio (thanks again, Sue) to work for the afternoon.
Digital infrared original, 5 frame stitch
When we'd first discussed the possibilities, all the conversation revolved around just Alexandra modeling, but, as the e-mails went back and forth, she mentioned that her partner Liam might also be interested in modeling and the plans quickly evolved into a two model session. This, combined with the fact we'd be working indoors, changed a compromise (working indoors as opposed to out) into an ideal situation (working with a couple in the studio).

I began the session with some images of Alexandra alone, as we had initially planned on the session focusing on just her. Unlike most of the studios I have used over the years, this one had a seamless white paper backdrop, which I decided to use, as opposed to opting for my more usual approach of draped white sheets. This made the images look a little more stylized than usual, but also focused the eye more on the subject, rather than the surroundings. All through the session, I alternated between the seamless white and a black backdrop, varying it somewhat randomly, to inject some variation into the images.
Digital infrared original, 10 frame stitch
Once I had made a small series of standing and portrait images of Alexandra, I invited Liam into the spotlight beside her, and shifted the session to focus on the two models together. Both Alexandra and Liam proved to be very comfortable in front of the camera, and the rest of the session focused on the two of them, beginning with standing embraces, and closing the session with the two of them down lying on the white sheets against a white backdrop.
Digital infrared original
As seems to always happen, working with the two models was a stark contrast to working with Alexandra alone. The two models had a physical comfort with each other which was immediately evident, and more often than not, after giving a suggestion for a pose or modeling position, the two
models would shift it subtly, and reveal an altogether stronger result. Much of the session was spent simply recording what unfolded before me, as opposed to struggling to create a pose which came together with the lighting to create a successful image.

The session came to a close when we ran out of time, as opposed to ideas or possibilities.

October 18, 2005

Toronto in Infrared

Digital infrared original
After my thirty minutes photographing for the Naked in the House competition were over, I still had some time to spend in Toronto, so my friend Hugo, who was playing host to me for the day, took me on a driving tour of Toronto.
Digital infrared original
There wasn't really enough time to stop and photograph, so we played tag with images, driving around the city, and making what photographs I could create at intersections, stop signs, and other pauses in the traffic flow. At the time I felt this was a kind of laziness, but in retrospect, it leant a very particular feel to the images - almost all of them were of the canyon of architecture particular to large metropolises like Toronto - narrow streets bordered by tall office buildings forming urban canyons.
Digital infrared original

Naked in the House 05

It was in the middle of the summer of 2005 that I first heard of Naked in the House, a photo contest out of Toronto which is now in its fifth year.

Based on the simple premise of one camera, one lens, one roll of film and one nude model, the event (which in the past has been presented on Fashion Television as an annual special) sees twelve photographers given thirty minutes each to work with a naked model in a specific location with some pretty strict limitations placed on them. Jane, who I first worked with in June, had mentioned the TV show to me numerous times over the summer, so when I received an e-mail invitation in late September to participate in Naked in the House 05, I had some point of reference.

6x7 cm film
After much debate (mainly focusing on the cost of close to $1500. CDN, which would require me to sell some equipment to pay for the cost), I decided to accept the invitation, and just over six weeks later, I stepped off a plane in Toronto with a borrowed Mamiya 7 (thanks Steve), a roll of 120 film, and butterflies in my stomach.

As it turned out, the Naked in the House competition was quite different from what I'd envisioned, though I suspect this is from misinterpretation, as opposed to misrepresentation. When I'd read through the promotional material, I missed the fact that the model for the event was a fashion model, not a figure model. I suppose the give-away to this should have been the fact the TV presentation of the event has always been on Fashion Television, but as I do not have a TV, that little detail escaped my attention. While on one level, it might be proposed that a figure model was little different from a naked fashion mode), I would argue that there is a major difference, and my experience with the competition bears this out.
6x7 cm film

Even before I'd arrived at the competition, I had some reservations about the process; usually when I work with a new model, I spend some time sharing my work, and learning what they are seeking from the work; in this case, however, I knew I would have 30 minutes with the model and was expected to deliver three finished image at the end of the process...three frames out of ten on a roll. This did not permit much time for chit-chat, so it went without saying that I'd have to forgo the preliminaries, an approach I found unsettling and foreign.

As soon as I started working, I began to feel the difference between a "figure" and a "fashion" model; the make-up and carefully coiffed hair was a dead give away but the model's literal interpretation of my directions and her for very specific directions in regards to posing and positioning was a little shocking. With the models I usually work with, the process is very much a collaboration, with the model and I working together to discover the possibilities, but for this event, the model was more like sculpting clay, waiting for my very specific directions before moving. This totally stumped me, and while I managed to adjust to it somewhat before the end of the half-hour, the only image of the finay three that really feels "genuine" to me is the first one I made, where I'd just made one image, and model was just relaxing out of the pose...I asked her to stop moving, made a quick composition adjustment, and made the photograph.
6x7 cm film
I think the most frustrating element for me was not so much the fact that I was photographing a fashion model (as opposed to a figure model) but all the extra crew who were part of the process. I had expected a film crew (and got two) but the addition of a make-up artist and a hair stylist brought the total number of extra people on the set to 8 or more people. While the prescence of the film crew was anticipated, the make-up and hair professionals injected a totally unexpected element, often jumping into the frame just before an image was made to primp this or adjust that, more than once taking away an element that I'd been attracted to in the initial composition. Normally, when I am photographing a figure model, the only interaction in the session is between that person and myself. Both the make-up artist and the hair stylist were obviously skilled in their areas of expertise but, to me, their prescence felt diametrically opposed to what I normally do in my nude photography; their goals were to create, enhance and maintain a certain ideal of beauty, while my intent is to simply reveal an already present beauty.

October 17, 2005

Colleen in Toronto

While my reason to visit Toronto was for the Naked in the House competition, I didn't have to be at the competition location until 2:30 pm. My morning was spent working with Colleen, a first-time model who'd just by chance contacted me a week before my Toronto visit, asking about modeling. The world works in mysterious ways.
Digital infrared original
As she'd both seen my work online, and personally knew Monique, a model with whom I had worked,, there weren't too many preliminaries to work through. so less than fifteen minutes after meeting, we had started to work together. Because I knew I would be working with Colleen, I'd brought not only my tripod (which I'd need for the competition in the afternoon), but my white and black sheets, to use as backgrounds for the work in the morning.

I began the session working with portrait poses, covering the background with the black sheet and using the large picture window as a light-source. I'd been somewhat worried about the light levels in Colleen's apartment, but there wasn't an issue - occasionally I even worked without the tripod, exploring the possibilities of shallow depth of field.
Digital infrared original
It is always a balancing act, working with a first-time model - the process of gaining the subject's confidence, all the while putting her at ease and insuring the session is enjoyable is an as important as getting the right exposures, selecting the right lens, or having the right light. With Colleen, it didn't take us long to hit our stride and the session very quickly evolved from the opening portraits to encompass everything from stylized body abstracts to full-frontal nudes. I even spent some time experimenting with long exposures and zooming the lens, something I normally would reserve for a session with a more experienced model as spending time on creative experiments in the middle of a first session is sometimes not the best way to spend valuable time.
Digital infrared original, 5 frame stitch
Hindsight being 20/20, the great irony of the day was that the morning's session, with the inexperienced first-time model was much more engaging, challenging and rewarding than the afternoon's session (below) in a multi-million dollar house with a professional model. I have no doubt this says as much about me as it does the process, but all the same, what I had though of as a warm-up session, working with Colleen before the Naked in the House competition in the afternoon, turned out to be the highlight of the day.