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.

Digital Original

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.

Digital infrared original

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!

Digital original

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.

Digital infrared original

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.

Digital infrared Original

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.

Digital infrared Original

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.

Digital Original

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.

Digital infrared Original

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).

Digital original

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).

Digital infrared original

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.

Digital original

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.

Digital original

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.

Digital original

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.

Digital infrared original

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.

Digital infrared original

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!

Digital infrared original

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.

Digital infrared original

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.