November 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.

Elizabeth comes to Visit

An ironies of moving to New Brunswick in 2003 is that it put me closer to Elisabeth, who had moved to the province earlier the same year, and yet I only ended up working with her only twice since then, as she lived in the exact opposite direction to that which I normally travel when renting a car.
Digital infrared original
This being the case, when I heard that Elisabeth was planning to move to the USA, I immediately got in touch, and together we managed to schedule a final session shortly before her departure. After a couple of attempts, we finally managed to be in the same place at the same time, and set down to work.
Digital infrared original, 16 frame stitch
While we had focused the session plans on working with the wading pool, I did want to make sure I got some portrait images out of the session. Because her hair would get wet in the pool, we began with the portraits, taking a cue from a session with Kylie and working in the kitchen with the window light and a single chair.

The session went perfectly, with soft, directional light provided by the deck doors, and Elisabeth's usually captivating gaze providing the focus of the images. For the first time in months, I found myself working quite deliberately in colour, drawn to the delicate tones of her hair and pale skin. That being said, I did make the majority of images with the infrared camera, still definitely preferring its more evocative palette.
Digital original, 14 frame stitch
With the knowledge that this would be our last session for some time, I felt a definite pressure to produce some really strong images, to serve as a book end for our work together since Elisabeth first modeled for me in 2002. I am not sure if it was because Elisabeth and have such a good rapport, or because all the pieces (light, mood, pose) came together by sheer chance, but the results from the portrait portion of our afternoon together are among the strongest portraits Elisabeth and I have produced - I could not have hoped for better results!

November 21, 2005

Brianna in a Water Pool

Though I had arranged for a studio space in which to work on the night of Brianna's arrival, the real focus of her visit was to try something I'd had in mind since I purchased my studio lights earlier in the fall - indoor water nudes. I'd spent the previous month trying to find someone with a child's wading pool that I could borrow; in the end, a friend gave me one with a small hole in it. This was perfect for my intended use, as I was going to line the pool with plastic anyway.
Digital infrared original, 5 frame stitch
The real inspiration for the indoor water Nudes came from Surfacing, an image I made in 1998 (titled after the album by the Boomtown Rats, "The Fine Art of Surfacing"). Surfacing was made with the light of the setting sun reflecting off the water's surfac and, ever since making that image, I've been fascinated by the possibilities if working with sunsets and water nudes. I'd also started to think about the possibilities presented by a studio. The more I worked with sunsets, the more aware I became of how fleeting the light was. In most cases, there was less than ten minutes between when the light started to work and when it had faded below a level where it was practical to work.

In a studio, however, the light levels are steady and predictable, which would permit a model and me to work at our leisure until the possibilities (or the model) were exhausted. All that remained was to test the theory and see if it was actually a practical approach.
Digital infrared original
As it turned out, it was perfectly doable; after double-lining the pool with builder's plastic, and using a garden hose to fill the pool with warm water, Brianna and I worked for the better part of two hours with the wading pool. We kept the water temperature pleasant by continually adding hot water, much to Brianna's pleasure.

With the pool filled, and Brianna comfortably floating around in it, the real work began. I positioned my large 30"x60" softbox low on the far side of the wading pool, and worked on a similar low angle, using the reflection on the surface of the water as my highlight for the image. I alternated between using a 50mm portrait lens, and a longer 105mm lens, depending on how close to Brianna I was. Regardless of which lens I used, many images were stitched together, both to achieve a higher resolution, and a wider angle of view. With almost all the images of Brianna's body emerging from the water, it was practically inevitable that they would end up as panoramic images.
Digital infrared original, 2 frame stitch
Fifteen minutes into the session, I knew we had a success on our hands. Where I'd often worked with bodies in water before, I never had the time to refine any images to the degree I could with this approach. There are numerous technical issues to address (the bottom pattern of the pool is quite visible in a number of images), and some aesthetic issues to overcome (I didn't like a single colour image made in the wading pool, though the inspiration for the project, Surfacing, is in colour), the experiment was a stunning success, pleasing me more than any studio image have in many years!

November 20, 2005

Brianna on Millstones at Sunset

Though I hadn't expected to have the opportunity to work outdoors, the second day of Brianna's visit was relatively mild (for the end of November), so we set out late in the afternoon to see if we could find a space that would work for a session. We ended up working on the dyke land by the banks of the Petitcodiac River, in a space I had discovered earlier in the year, where some old mill-stones lay abandoned in a remote field.
Digital infrared, 2 frame stitch
In truth, the setting was strongly on the minimal side; apart from the handful of mill stones, there just wasn't much in the field, but I had selected the location for just that reason. I really felt it would work for a couple of images, but wouldn't really fill out a long session. Thus, it was perfect for a short session on a cool early winter evening.

While the location was quite minimal, the image possibilities were anything but; the sky above was peppered with red-painted clouds, so as opposed to working with my regular colour DSLR, I reached for my infrared camera, knowing the clouds would gain an extra edge of contrast from the sunset sky.
Digital infrared
To some degree, this session was a study in variations on pose and point of view; while it wasn't too cool to prevent Brianna modeling, we both quickly agreed the session would a short one, as the cool stone and earth sapped the warmth out of her bones. I worked with a wide-angle lens to capture as much of the sky as possible, and kept close to Brianna, to keep her a prominent part of the image. I made a couple of two-frame stitches, but to keep the session as short as possible, I resisted the temptation to made larger stitches, which by necessity require more patience on the model's part.
Digital infrared, 7 frame exposure blend, 2 frame stitch
In the end, it wasn't the temperature that limited our session, but the time of the day - we arrived in the field just as the sun was approaching the horizon, and less than ten minutes later, the sun has dropped below it, and much of the light we were working with suddenly disappeared. With the infrared camera, as soon as the sun sets, available infrared light also declines rapidly. As a drop in air temperature

November 19, 2005

Brianna's Return

Brianna first worked with me in the late summer of 2004, driving up from the US to model for a couple of days, and helping me make some very striking images. Since then, we have kept in touch, and while she was unable to make a visit again during the summer, as the days grew shorter, her plans firmed up enough to permit us to pick a weekend to make more images upon.
Digital infrared original
As it was so late in the year, being a realist, I knew that at least some of our time together would be spent working in the studio; in anticipation of her arrival, I'd arranged for a space to work in (while I now own a set of studio lights, I don't have a permanent space in which to work with them), and on the night of her arrival, after a good meal we left to spend a couple of hours working in the studio.

While I didn't have any specific ideas in mind I opted to work with a dead black backdrop, as opposed to my white sheets, as a reaction to my recent work with Alexandra and Liam. In that session I worked predominantly with smooth, seamless backdrops, and the results were still in my mind. With Brianna, I didn't have a seamless white backdrop (usually made of paper) but it was quite easy to make a black backdrop seem totally flawless, so I took that approach.
Digital infrared original, 7 frame stitch
As usual, I began the session with a series of portraits, both to reintroduce Brianna to the whole "being Nude in front of the camera" experience, and to continue to build my body of Portrait Nudes, which have long fascinated me for their confidence and visual power.
Digital infrared original, 4 frame stitch
With these completed, we shifted to working with body scapes, and the most striking image of the session came about quite by accident. I had Brianna sit upon my white sheets (she was up on a table, permitting me to keep the background a solid black), and as she was arranging them under herself, she twisted around away from the camera, and the light flooded over her back. I caught a glimpse of this and called out for Brianna no to move; I quickly made a couple of lighting adjustments, and made the final image (actually, a series of images, as the final photograph is stitched together). From this image on, the rest of the session flowed wonderfully; we continued to work on the table, against the black backdrop, and made a couple of other very striking photos, but truth be told, having made the early image of Brianna's twisted back, everything else in the session paled in comparison.