When my long time friend and favorite expatriate messaged me that she would be returning to New Jersey for a short, yet important visit. I knew the odds of me seeing her this time around, let alone catching up on her three years in Germany were about as good as the Cleveland Indians winning the World Series. Still, any chance to see such an old and dear friend was worth taking. Imagine my surprise when she was both available and looking forward to indulging me in one of my truest passions, studio photography. The hours we spent together were more of a gab session with me sneaking in a shot or two whenever I could.
Having met Mandy in the parking lot of a strip mall adjacent to my high school when I was sixteen. The likelihood of us ever becoming friends seemed improbable to say the very least. Yet, despite being polar opposites we became trusted, close friends before long. Supporting one another through sickness and health.Through the good times and bad. She’s been a huge supporter and influence on me as a photographer and as a volunteer to worthy causes. She’s one of the few people in my life who crosses the lines between friends and family. One’s that, no matter the distance or time. Remain, unspoken, an integral part of my life. And as my Mother put it “Damn, that woman does not age.” Looking at this picture. I think it highlights both her beauty and unwaning strength. I’m incredibly grateful for having the chance to catch up with her. One of Jersey’s best, no matter where she goes.
While my prior studio session helped me get on solid ground as far as my studio lighting was concerned. This weekends session with Audrey allowed me to take things a bit further. During my previous session I took full advantage of lighting the background from behind with a soft box while lifting the shadows at 45′ degrees with my new Photoflex 72′ SRP umbrella. This time around, I added a beauty dish that really highlighted the models skin and features while adding depth to the images overall quality. Moving the lights around and playing with photography’s rule of thirds More on that Here Most important was Audrey’s presence. With a sense of grace and an intuitive nature to know what I’m about to say before I utter a single word. She has made our annual studio sessions an opportunity to grow and learn while having an absolute blast. As the years comes to a close. I’m beginning to see where the next year might take me creatively. From here, the view looks pretty damn good.
During an open studio tour this weekend. We had the chance to visit many of the varied creative spaces housed in Mana Contemporary. One particularly memorable exchange came during visit to Omorphy Photos. Just minutes before, I ran in to my neighbor and friend Kevin. During an exchange that lasted all but thirty seconds. His eyes widened as he said “Go upstairs to have your mind blown. “Knowing full well our common interests in fashion and studio photography. I quickly made my way upstairs. As I entered the room my jaw began to drop as the drool rushed from the bottom of my gums to the tip of my lips. A deep, spacious studio with ceilings high enough to touch the Gods filled with a candy store of studio lights, equipment, backgrounds and enough inspiration to last two lifetimes. Against one of the walls, large prints displaying the results from that setup. I sighed as I confessed how, while I always loved working with black seemless paper and muslins. I never had enough room to distance the subject far enough from the background to create the separation needed without compromising the space needed between myself and my subject. Lessons, that for me, came the hard way. His warm, engaging personality and the patience he displayed while listening to and even laughing during my rant. While the exchange gifted me with a lot of inspiration and creative energy. It wasn’t until I got home until I began to recall some of the times when I really got to test the limits and boundaries of the space my apartment / studio space offered.
When my wife and I originally moved to Hoboken. We quickly realized the limits of the space. Though a two bedroom. The awkward layout and the simple fact that we only had two small, badly designed closets made had me run out to the town’s Gothic Cabinet Craft and buy an armoire for the bedroom. For years that piece held my entire wardrobe as well as books, portfolios and many other odds and ends.
During one particular shoot I decided to test the limits of the space and replace all the junk with a beautiful woman. Short story long. That dingbat idea made me feel just a bit more grateful for the 12 x 12 space I was shooting in. Since then my wife and I have moved from our shoebox size 400 ft. apartment to a spacious 1,400 loft. In the end I am incredibly grateful for the change of scenery and space. And while our space has more than tripled. We have less than half of the furniture that once occupied that space. Call it room to breathe.
We were about a half an hour into shooting and I wasn’t really happy with the results I was getting from my strip box. We took a short break as I fished for one of my umbrellas to replace it with. After a somewhat thorough search, I couldn’t for the life of me, remember where I had stashed it. I looked up and there was the beauty dish that had been sitting on my Ikea Expedit unused for months. Hastily, I grabbed it and with the help of Iya, changed the light.
As I took the first few images with the Beauty Dish I immediately noticed the warm glow and how her smooth, young skin shined. I fluctuated from using the Dish as the the main and only light to using the soft box as a fill light and adjusting the amount of light coming from soft box. The results were instant. It was only the second time I’ve used the Beauty Dish since purchasing it back in December. I felt really comfortable using it at different distances and degrees of power. Having a patient model allowed me the time to adjust and play a bit. I was so inspired by some of the images captured that I did something I haven’t done in almost ayear. I got prints made. In talking to a seasoned pro at Duggal. He gave me some useful tips to get even better results in the future. I can’t wait for the opportunity to put them into play. Until then…
During a winter workshop I attended in 2012. The instructor pointed out that my studio work was flat. It was an observation that, at the time, I really did not understand what she meant but took it as a negative critique of my work. A few moments later I was asked about the editing software I used. When I replied “Aperture” a gasp of shock and shame seemed to fill the room. Looking back, it was it if I was cast aside, exiled and destined to wear carry the Scarlet “A” (A for Aperture) around with me for life. Later that day a fellow attendee took me aside and suggested I move up to Lightroom 4. He used some easy to understand comparisons for me to understand. “It’s like going from Atari to Xbox. He also took the time to explain lighting techniques a little deeper. Though I was a bit embarrassed by my shortcomings at the time. I was more grateful for the knowledge and learning experience.
Almost as soon as the workshop let out the day. I was off to purchase Lightroom 4 and book a few sessions in order to test my new knowledge out. I could immediately see the difference in the images I was editing in Lightroom 4, especially by making minor adjustments with the black and white levels. (not available with Aperture) Simple tweeks that made a world of difference in the images I had taken. Minor adjustments in highlights can also be noted. I could already see the depth to my older work. When my model stopped by I changed the lighting angles and worked with less light. Something that also added depth and character. I really got to understand what she meant about flat images and flat lighting. I was no longer flooding the room with light. I was using it to to highlight areas, not overwhelm them. Since learning this, I’m really seeing the light, shadows and detail of the image before I even take it. It’s given me more confidence. I find myself working faster and taking fewer wasted shots. It’s been a real revelation to me. One that I know will help me continue to enhance my skill and build on what I’ve already learned. Like Yoda said “In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.”
I’ve been having a real hard time finding the right words to describe my recent shoot with Roksolana. Sometimes it just takes time to properly let an experience run it’s course of emotions in order to write about it from an observers point of view than an actual participant. This became evident to me when talking to a model I worked with the other day. I’ve worked with this particular woman for years and over that time, developed a close bond and trust. We’ve always shared stories and not only is she supportive of my wiring. She’s downright forceful in that she feels my stories are worth putting to paper. This Friday afternoon, as she unpacked her chosen outfits for that days session, the conversation quickly turned to just that. It was then that I realized why I do and do not write about certain subjects and certain experiences in my life. It was then when I understood why I was having such a hard time writing about this particular shoot with this beautiful and very sweet woman. It all came down to separation and the time it takes to remove yourself and a certain emotional element from the story. At the time of the shoot I was overwhelmed by Roksolana’s energy, her thwarting of everything I had planned and inability to focus on anything for more than a few seconds. That could all be easily overlooked if not for the pure fact that she turned my organized and uncluttered studio space and turned into a combat zone. Even going as far as moving my couch and taking the shirts I had picked out for her to model and spreading them across my couch insisting “See, it feels like a college dorm.”
Yet, with all the madness, lack of direction and complete exhaustion those few hours created. I still had a beautiful woman in my studio. One who is inspiring in all that she’s already experienced in her short life. I was doing one of the things I love most in life and I was in the midst of a ‘real story’. I controlled my anger and emotions throughout and stayed focused. An hour or so later, my heart rate was normal and I was sharing dinner with my lovely wife. I was not only alive, I was living.
I really wish more of my little studio sessions were as laid back and effortless as my day with Ruthie. Though this was essentially two friends getting together and just chilling out on a less than busy day. It allowed me some time to play around with my lights and take my camera for a walk. As the day quickly passed, we shared stories, listened to music, drank wine and smoked cigars. There came a point where she looked so relaxed and comfortable. A blissful moment that was shortly interrupted when she raised her head and told me how much she hated having her picture taken. It was a strange moment, considering how incredibly relaxed and natural she looked. The simple truth of the matter is she trusted me. She felt comfortable enough around me to allow herself to relax and feel beautiful. I was pretty humbled, to say the very least. You know, I’ve always loved taking more personal pictures of friends I’ve made along the way. Making new friends through the pictures I’ve taken seems even more important.
Slowly but surely I’ve been getting back to the studio, trying new things and experimenting with different lighting techniques. At the same time, I’ve been trying to cut down on shooting time and concentrate on producing better images. This past Sunday I tried some new things while working with a new model. During what seemed like a very short session we tried different lighting angles and took advantage of my rather nice wood floors and her very sexy boot. Denise was very versatile, laid back and fun. We laughed, shared stories and listened to the likes of Radiohead and Quicksand. Before our session was over, we were already talking about working together again in the near future. Not bad for a couple of people who had met just minutes before.
After this weekends workshop I was eager to get back to my own home base and put to work some of the things I had learned. I had scheduled shoots for the week in advance. Lucky for me, my week would start with someone who is by far, my favorite person to work with. That morning I drove into the city and picked up a beauty dish at Calumet Photo. I’d been considering purchasing one for some time. After working with the dish over the weekend and seeing the results; I was somewhat obsessed with picking one up.
As the day progressed I had become more and more anxious. Getting into the city, dealing with traffic and finding a parking spot amongst a sea of loading zones, “No parking during the hours of…” and “Don’t even think of parking here ever!” As I returned home to set up my typical butterflies turned to nervous knots and full blown angst. Now, I’m usually a little antsy in the minutes and at times, even the hours before a session. What was particularly strange about it was Audrey and I had been shooting together for five years. She is my muse, my canvas and by far the easiest person I’ve had the pleasure to work with. When she arrived I was surprised that I was still feeling like somewhat of a head case.
Whatever anxiety and awkwardness I had been feeling faded as we began to work together. We put the new beauty dish to work and did our share of experimenting with lighting, angles and different lighting techniques. Having a beautiful, naked woman traipsing around the apartment without a care added a odd calming effect. At one point I walked into the room as she was undressing. I apologized and quickly began to close the door. “Oh God, as if you’ve never seen me naked before.” she laughed. Suddenly, all was good with the world. It was as if the clouds had lifted and all the stress and tension from recent days was lifted. I am officially back to my old self. Thanks Audrey.
In my September 20th post “Just when I thought we were done” I wrote about my trip to ICP. (International Center for Photography) I mused about my portfolio review and signing up for the “Art of Fashion Portraiture” workshop. This past weekend I embarked on a two weekend intensive workshop that has been both an education and an emotional roller coaster.
On our first day myself and four other photographers (I actually expected there to somewhere between twenty to twenty-five.) gathered at a tremendously spacious Photo Studio and spent the day learning the ins and outs of the fashion industry from models, stylists and world famous fashion photographers who’s names I will stop short of mentioning.
It was a learning experience to say the very least. During the first eight hour day I absorbed more than I ever thought my puny brain could take on and changed my mind numerous times about attempting to enter and extremely competitive and tough aspect of photography. During the day we each had a chance to work with a model. Each given a matter of minutes to work our magic. Although I was nervous and had some performance anxiety due to working with close two ten photographers, make up artists and stylists just a few feet away. I had an amazing model to work with. She was sweet, soft spoken and completely understood what I was trying to convey. More on the workshop later.