June 26, 2021

Continued Explorations of EOS R5 Focus Stacking

An unexpected bonus built into the Canon EOS R5 is automated focus stacking (called Focus Bracketing in the Canon menu). A technique I have used in various applications for over a decade, to have this quite functional application of the technique so easily accessible is very much a game changer for macro and some other photography.

Digital original, 40 image focus blend
During this field trip to the public gardens, as I was helping, I was also casually photographing, making images of some of the flowers around us. The focus bracketing can be adjusted to change how large a focusing step happens between each frame, and how many frames in total are being made - and most conveniently, the images are displayed as the camera takes them, so it is very easy to tell when a particular group of images is falls short of (or goes past) the far goal of the image.
Digital original, 40 image focus blend

Early in this day's exploration, it took several experimental image sets (capturing 30, 40 or more images per set) before I began to get a sense of how much of a particular flower would be covered by a set of images. Once I was into the rhythm of the process however, I needed fewer and fewer tests to hit on the optimum number of images, making the whole process smoother and smoother as I worked.

Digital original, 20 image focus blend

There is absolutely one downside to all this focus stacking explorations - the massive file count. Over this couple of hours, I made 696 images, with the final edit being 17 final photos made from 278 files (to make the three images used in this blog entry, 100 source files were used). This has serious ramifications on editing and file storage...but the results are SO pretty!

June 25, 2021

Ingrid and Stephanie on the Bay of Fundy's Floor

I have long had a love of working with the Nude in the Bay of Fundy; the dramatic landscape, couple with easy access and relative isolation makes it a perfect place to work. When talking with Stephanie about what she wished to create, in regards to pregnancy Nudes, working in water was top of her list. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the coastal spaces I work in are impractical for an unsteady pregnant woman to walk into - but the Bay of Fundy tends to be flat and easy to work on (ignoring the occasionally super sticky mud).

Digital infrared original

As soon as the session at the Bay of Fundy was confirmed, I check to see if Ingrid was available to come, as she always loves working there (the first time she and I worked in the Bay of Fundy was in 2004). Ingrid and I met up with Stephanie by the shore, and were greeted by an absolutely perfect evening - a light wind, soft light, with a dramatic sky above, which I hoped would extend all the way to sunset, giving us a dramatic end to the session.

Digital infrared original, 4 frame stitch
I have only worked in this part of the Bay of Fundy once before, so there was a wealth of locations that were new to me for Stephanie and Ingrid to work in. Long  before we made it to any rock-pools, I was happily photographing both women in turns, taking inspiration from the location, and delighting in the beautiful evening light. While I did make a few images in colour, the vast majority of the session was focused on working with my infrared camera, reveling in how the model's skin-tones looked so lovely against the darker rocks.

Digital infrared original
As session progressed, the lovely light persisted, and the two models and I slowly worked our way along the shore. There was some differences to how I approached each model; Ingrid's poses were much more physical, coming together into a series of compositions I made of her literally hanging off a rock shelf, against the delicate evening sky. Such an approach wasn't sensible (or likely even possible) with Stephanie, though several poses had her carefully walking up onto rock shelves, to get into a final pose for a composition or two. 

Digital infrared original

As the evening progressed, we decided to head away from the cliffs along the shore's edge, and out onto the ocean floor proper, in search of tidal pools to finish the session. An interesting reality to working at the Bay of Fundy is what is present one year (or even session) may not be present at another, as the powerful tides cover and reveal landscape with no rhyme or reason. As things happened, this tide presented a number of pools to work with, and I quickly settled upon one, attracted to how it interacted with the sand patterns around it, and the sky above. 

Digital infrared original
The previously luminous and light evening sky was quickly thickening, and parts were becoming decidedly gray in the distance. After initially trying (unsuccessfully) to find a composition with a longer lens, I moved out onto the sand and set up with a wide-angle lens, recording both the pool with Stephanie, and the sky above in a single composition.

Documentary image by Ingrid

After making a dozen or so variations of Stephanie in the water pool, her session was done, and I shifted to working with Ingrid, to bring the evening to a close. By this time, the sky had shifted so much that the outer end of the water pool no-longer worked, reflection-wise, so the two of us quickly shifted to the other end of the pool, which still had some of the quickly darkening evening sky reflecting brightly in it. With little intervention on my part, Ingrid moved through a couple of poses, and after a little experimentation with focus stacking and stitching, the session came to a close.

Digital infrared original

All in all, this was about as good as a session can get; the light was lovely, the location was inspiring and full of far more potential than I could touch on in a month of Sundays, and both models were enthusiastic and engaged. The end of the session came naturally, due to energy levels and changing light, and during the walk back to the cars, both models express how happy they were with the entire evening! Nothing to improve on!

June 18, 2021

Ingrid at the Coast

As soon as the Provincial COVID-19 restrictions permitted, Ingrid and I set a time for our first session of the year - Ingrid and I have worked together since 1998, and it cannot be overstated how influential our long term collaboration has been on my work.

Digital infrared original

The opening images of this session were made in some high shore-grass, taking advantage of the back-lighting, and continuing the revel in the delight of working with the new mirrorless IR camera; being able to both see the exposure before making the image, and have active, accurate auto focus really makes the camera a delight to use - and over this entire session of hundreds of images, I had not one error in focus!

Digital original

I'd expected this session to focus on infrared images of Ingrid posing along the cost, taking inspiration from the waves that were hyper-charged by an off-shore tropical storm, but that approach was just not working. The direct evening light provided too much contrast for the infrared camera to handle, and the results just looked too harsh. I switched to my colour camera, and used an ND filter (a Vizelex ND Throttle lens mount adapter) to slow the shutter speed down to 4 seconds. Ingrid was more than able to stay still for this length of shutter speed, and it took a hash and chaotic ocean, and gave it a little softer edge. The low, direct sunlight was still a challenge to work with in regards to the pose and composition, but in contrast to the infrared, the shadows could be opened up in post-production, providing a more pleasing balance to the composition.

Digital infrared original

After we finished working by the shore, Ingrid and I walked inland a bit, to finish the session working on the granite bedrock and erratic that make this part of Nova Scotia so distinct. I switched back to the infrared camera, as by this time, Ingrid's skin had several areas with obvious rock-marks, which would mar any colour images. The contrast still presented an issue, but with careful attention to composition and pose, I managed to make some really pleasing images, including the above.

A reality of working with the someone for over twenty years is that at a certain point, the question of "have we done it all" begins to loom in the background...but this session laid that to rest for now, with dramatic emphasis. After we'd agreed the session was done, and I was packing my gear, Ingrid cocked her head. looking up at a rock we'd been working besides for the past thirty minutes. "Why not climb up and see what you  can find?" I suggested...and then, as she clambered up, to took up my infrared camera and looked through the viewfinder. The deep blue sky behind Ingrid and the rock provided an elegant gradient backdrop, and as Ingrid and I refined her poses, a powerful, majestic image was created.

Digital infrared original

Ingrid's comment on this photograph, when I sent it to her after the session, was the highest compliment she'd ever given - "While being heroic and lovely in form, artfully framed etc, the image shows more of my inner self than just about any I've ever seen."

June 17, 2021

A Late Spring Pregnancy Session

Stephanie and I first worked together at the end of 2008, and while we'd worked together almost a dozen times now, the sessions became less and less frequent, as her professional career took off, and demanded more of her time and passion. As soon as I learned she was pregnant, however, I reached out and offered to build on our earlier work with some pregnancy session! Stephanie was more than enthusiastic, and a week or so later, we headed out to make some images.

Digital infrared original
For a first session I decided to stay close to home, and we started working in old military ruins; I have always enjoyed the juxtaposition of the Nude against the ruin and decay of older buildings, and these military buildings have been a setting for my work going all the way back to 1989 (and pregnancy images of my soon-to-be-daughter in utero). Our session was scheduled for the good light at the end of the day, and we were fortunate enough to have some perfect light find its way though a doorway, and onto Stephanie.

Digital infrared original

After starting in the old buildings, and making the most of them, I asked Stephanie if she was up for a set of images in the woods surrounding the buildings; several places provided easy access, and the light filtering through the trees was just lively. After carefully walking in, Stephanie posed in some high ferns, and I used a long lens with the largest aperture (f/1.2) to give the resulting image extremely shallow depth of field to place Stephanie's figure against a sea of soft, luminous trees.

Digital infrared original
As we were walking back to car park, I caught sight of a shaft of sunlight falling on a patch of high grasses, and asked Stephanie if she'd pose with the grasses and light...however by the time we were set up and ready, the light had shifted (evening light moves surprisingly fast), so I had to change the concept to focus on the light falling across Stephanie, and use post production to create some luminescence in the forest behind her.

Digital infrared original

The last image set of the session was one I actually decided to make as we passed the space walking in. A long large glacial erratic lay just off the path, and I thought it would make the perfect background for an image of Stephanie - by the time we were returning, the sun had moved very low in the sky, and the light in the forest was soft an even - just perfect for a celebratory image of Stephanie's pregnancy!

A Student's Garden (my 1,500th blog entry!)

During a one-on-one with a student, I had an opportunity to do some photography with their Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro L lens, while they tried their hand with my Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro lens.

Digital original

As it was a short session, I worked hand-held, taking advantage of the EOS R5 in-body stabilization and excellent autofocus system to make a whole series of super-close shallow depth of field images.

Digital original

While the afternoon was windy, I managed to make some sharp photos of a white rose bush, including the above, looking up into the fact of a flower, against the sky.

Digital original, 20 frame focus blend, 2 image blend

Even through I was hand-holding the camera, I did make some experiments working with the in-camera focus bracketing; only one of these was successful, with two petals of the iris in sharp focus against a velevet-soft out of focus background.

June 07, 2021

A Sesson of Firsts!

This session was all about firsts! It was my first session working with Liv, my first time using a new IR camera with a model, and my first outdoor figure session in 2021. Usually, I've started to photograph outdoors by May, but because of Canada's third wave of COVID-19, it is only in early June that outdoor interaction (photography or not) with mask-less people who aren't within a house-hold bubble is permitted in Nova Scotia. 

While I received my infrared converted Canon EOS R5 in early May (after it sat in customs for a full month!), the only images I've made with it have been a few of landscape and architecture, and a load of technical tests...this session is my first using it for what I bought it for - photographing the Nude! The decision to shift to mirrorless for my infrared photography was a big one, and this session would put that to the litmus test.

As Nova Scotian COVID-19 restrictions began to ease in early June, I reached out to Liv about working together. I knew she'd done some fine art modeling before, and I found the energy and character of her portfolio revealed engaging. That, coupled with the fact a friend of mine had worked her, and spoke highly of the experience, made me take the (for me unusual) step of reaching out to see if she'd be interested in working together. After a meeting to share my work and process, we set up a first session date (which turned out to be the next evening, as chance would have it), and headed for the coast (in separate cars, due to COVID-19 restrictions)!

Digital infrared original
We began the session with Liv reclining in a tidal pool; the evening was not that hot at the coast, and would only get cooler, so we'd decided to start with water images, and make the most of location while we could. Having the first images of a session with a new model tie into a thread that's flowed through my work since 1996 is never an issue. The thin, high cloud provided some soft diffusion of the sun, while still permitting some brilliant highlights on her body, and in the reflection in the water around Liv. While I started working with the camera on a tripod, I quickly shifted to hand held, taking advantage of the reason I moved to the mirrorless camera for infrared - fully accurate viewfinder auto-focus. It paid off, and permitted me a very low, dramatic viewpoint for the best image of the pose and setting.

Digital infrared original
As the session progressed, Liv and I continued to return to her working in water pools. By the middle of the session, the sun had moved lower in the sky, and provided a really beautiful side light. Working in a larger tidal pool, I made a series of compositions of her facing the sun, arching back while emerging from the pool. Initially, I worked from a higher camera position, but was frustrated with her body being set against the line of rock behind her, as opposed to against the sky, so I moved the camera lower (inches above the water surface), and everything came together. To make such a striking (and for me, atypical) image during a first session with a new model is a gift indeed!

Digital infrared original, two image blend

As the evening stretched out, working in water became impractical (the air became too cool), so as Liv dressed, I packed up my gear, and we began to walk back to the cars...only to be brought to a halt by some good light on an interesting rock face! A line of granite bedrock was being kissed by the evening sun providing beautiful side lighting to work with - and Liv was happy to see what we could make of it. After some pose experimentation and lens and camera angle variation, the above image, with Liv's sun-lit hip just kissing the downward sweep of the rocks behind her, was made!

Digital infrared original

The last success of the session was born of careful pose and camera work, blended with the beautiful happenstance that working outdoors provides. On the crest of the bedrock ridge, a glacial erratic was perched on smaller rocks (rumour has it that Art College students in the distant past may have had something to do with this particular phenomenon). Using a wide lens and careful tripod positioning, I balanced the stone compositionally against the lovely sky that was happening above it, and then Liv slowly refined her pose until everything came together. It was a striking composition to end the session on, and both of us felt it at the time. I hope this bodes well for continued sessions with Liv in the future!

For a first outdoor session of the year, I am really pleased; mixing working with a new model and a new camera into the same session could have been unwise, but in the end, Liv's comfort, experience and trust in the process shone in the images, and the camera just did what I hoped it would do - worked. Being able to preview the infrared image in the viewfinder is revolutionary (with my previous DSLR infrared cameras, one could not know how an IR image would look without first taking a test image), and having fast and accurate auto-focus after more than 15 years of having to manually focus infrared images (initially using the IR focus dot on lenses, and since 2005, using LiveView) is absolutely amazing...and yet withing minutes, just became the norm, as the session progressed. Ultimately, tools are for creating, but in the case of the new camera, it is a vast improvement on previous tools!