Category Archives: Models

Melissa – the ice skater

The majority of my shoots generally involve me coming up with a concept and then recruiting a model to take part. However, I’m more than happy to work the other way round and for the model to suggest something that I then shoot.

This was the case with Melissa when I answered a message she posted on the Facebook group seeking a photographer. Melissa is a Wellington based model and actress, and she was looking for some updated photos to go into her portfolio. We had a brief discussion about what we would do and then set up a time for me to go to her place and do the shoot. We ended up doing three very different looks so I have split the shoot into three posts.

While I enjoy the challenge of working in a new environment it does mean that the car gets loaded with a lot of gear because he never actually know what he will actually use. Melissa had indicated that she wanted some photos shot against a white background. My seamless paper was actually too wide to transport so I settled on a white sheet.

The key to having a clean white background is to ensure that it is well lit and so I decided to position two lights on it. When shooting in my home studio my lights are in 1 m² soft boxes however there was not sufficient width in the space for me to position the two of them. I therefore removed the soft box from one light and shot with it in a small reflector. As this meant that the light was emitting more light, it was set at a slightly lower power than the other one so that the light was roughly even. The main light was positioned camera lift using the 65 cm soft box with double diffusion.

Melissa wanted to portray her versatility as an actor and so she created a character with some of the props that she owned. She turned into a former Russian Olympic ice skater who was now slightly past the prime of her career.

I have shot with actors a couple of times and they are really great as they can bring lots of different expressions to the images. Furthermore they will actually go with a concept rather than a model that you may have to direct.

Part of Melissa’s costume was a long scarf and so I could not resist using it as a mass that lets you focus solely on the eyes. I have shot such images on a number of occasions and I really enjoy the look and power that comes with them.

While not part of the original concept with Melissa as I was processing the images I realised that as they were shot against a clean background they were perfect candidates to be used in composite.

I generally try to use my own images for composite is that an April sent to be entered into competitions in this case I did not have any images of snow ice or ice drinks. So I went onto unsplash.com to search for some images. This is a site where photographers upload images and allow them to be downloaded without charge royalty free. I found a number of images that I though might work and after clear cutting Melissa out I added as the background.

While I like the image above I found that the image worked better in an interior location such as the ice rink.

I was really pleased with the way the images came out.

Marianne’s Water Shoot

When Marianne and I started discussing options for her shot she said that she wanted to have a water look and showed me some examples that had clearly been shot in a shower. I agreed that we could do something similar and set to work figuring out how to do it.

Now the simple solution would be to shoot in an actual bathroom. Have done this is the past but one of the main issues you run into with such a shoot is having enough room to position the subject and lighting to the way that you want.

Fortunately I had an easy solution. When our main bathroom has been renovated, after a burst pipe, we had completely changed the shower. I had kept the door panel from the old shower as a possible prop for exactly this circumstances. So by using some upright supports and clamps, I was actually able to replicate a shower.

I chose an area under a large tree because this minimised the amount of natural light and let me have better control over the overall light. Generally speaking I will set the camera to remove all ambient light for only flash is used. When shooting outside this becomes more difficult and therefore any technique to limit the amount of natural light helps.

The main lighting was provided by two speed lights that were positioned on either side of Marianne and aimed so that they did not spill onto the glass. In order to avoid reflections on the front of the glass I positioned a large black backdrop behind the camera. As it turned out the light provided from the flash eliminated any reflections on the side of the glass facing the camera.

As we were not planning to shoot full body we positioned a stool and Maryann set on that. That gave the advantage that the lights and focus could be pretty much locked into place.

It was now a matter of applying the water. We used a spray bottle to apply water to both the glass and to Marianne and started shooting.

The glass worked really well and it is was a relatively simple setup so I am sure that I will use it again.

I then changed the setup to see if we could use it to replicate a model being under water. I had shot Megan a number of years before but that was in an actual bath.

I placed a tarpaulin on the ground and set the door on top of two boxes that made it high enough for Marianne to go under. I then positioned the camera on a boom and lights on either side of her. We then filled the top of the glass with about 1cm of water.

To try to mimic the water effect we placed a rolled up towel under Marianne’s neck so that her head was at the right angle. We then started to do a series of images before the local insect population decided were were on their dinner menu, and we were forced to call it quits.

While I ended up with some usable images I would have to say that work is still needed before I would be really happy with the technique. There were two main issues one of which is easier to solve than the other.

The first was that there was two much distance between the water and Marianne. By the time I had focused on her, the water essentially disappeared as it was completely out of focus. The result was an image that just looked soft. The answer would be to close the distance between the glass and subject.

The second issue in not so easy to fix. That is that the body changes shape when it is lying on the ground as opposed to being supported in water. Not sure what we do with that one.

Even though I didn’t come out with images exactly as I had hoped it was still a fun experiment to do.

Marianne in the Red Dress

When Marianne and I went to the old science labs to do the levitation shoot I decided to pack another dress so that we could make the most of the location. As I expected she looked stunning in it.

We started in the same room as the other shots but this time I was using a single light which was positioned camera right in a rough Rembrandt location. This did present one slight challenge when I was shooting into a wall of windows as you clearly see in the image below.

The answer to this was to use the “double tap” technique that I have posted about in the past. Basically you take two shots in rapid fire. The flash will fire on the first but the second shot will occur before it has recharged. The second shot is then used to replace the glass in the area where the flash is visible.

We then moved to another room that had a complete wall of glass that was letting in lots of light. This meant that I could expose just for the ambient and the flash was not needed.

This had the advantage of being able to shoot multiple shots with Marianne walking. I find that option the best shots are obtained when you allow your subject to move freely rather than being posed.

In post I did have to remove some of the signs that were still on the wall as they were somewhat distracting.

I then noticed that the passageway outside of the room was rather dark so we decided to do something a little ghostly. I took the camera right up to f22 and set a 4.0s exposure. I then had Marianne stand out of the shot. When the shutter was pressed she slowly walked into the screen holding for about a second. The created a very ghostly image.

We then moved into what must have been an old freezer room which was completely dark. we used the same setting of f22 for 4s but this time I fired the flash at a very low setting twice.

This created a very unusual double exposure.

For the final series of images we moved to a passageway that ran between two of the buildings. This had glass on both sides so again we were able to shoot without the need of flash.

Overall the venue worked really well and we were able to get a good variety of shots within a small space and time.

Marianne Levitation Shoot

One of the things that I am very mindful of when working with models on my personal projects is that the images produced from them may not be what the models would necessarily put in their portfolios. For this reason I always offer them a second shoot where we will photograph their concepts. This was the case with Marianne who was my model for Pisces in the Zodiac series.

Marianne requested that we do a levitation shoot, as well as one involving a water look. Close to us is a disused scientific complex that I could get access to so I decided this would be a perfect location for the shoot.

Levitating a person is a relatively simply process and much easier than the food mentioned in my previous post. In its simplest form you take an image of the empty area and then have your model lie across a chair or stool. You them blend the two images together in Photoshop and mask out the support.

We used the dress from the Aquarius and Cancer shoot as it was quite flowy. This makes hiding the stool a lot easier and also makes the shot more believable if fabric is falling down.

The issue that we ran into was that Marianne could not balance herself far enough out. The solution was then to set the camera on a timer and I would support her. Her hair did present a problem so we ended up shooting with me in two locations and bringing those together in post.

I generally shoot my blank image at the end of the shoot so that I can be sure that the light falling on it is the same as for the other images. As can be seen in the images we were using two lights, in addition to the small amount of light coming in from the windows. The large light was in a 1.5m octabox to provide fill and the main light was a bare flash at a low power aimed at Marianne’s hair.

To make the job easier I also took a second blank with the light stands pulled back as you see they are not present in the final image.

We then turned around to produce another shot. Unlike the first this area was getting a lot of light from outside and I wanted to incorporate that in the finished result. So I set my camera at 1/100s f8 so that it would not completely overpower the light. I then positioned the Octabox camera left but had it on a very low power to only lift the shadows and not remove them completely.

The concept behind this shot was to be a lot darker and spooky so I had Marianne stand on the stool with her arms stretched out and head down.

To get her feet dangling we then moved the stool out and had her sit on the top of a ladder. While this was not in exactly the same height as the stool, it was reasonable close.

Back at the computer the three images were merged together. As she was in a long dress this make blending the feet and the rest of her much easier. I decided to exclude the lace at the back of the dress.

I used Nik Software to really darken down the image and in the process made it look like it was shot at night with the light of the moon.

reaction to shoot with Heaven (NSFW)

This is a somewhat unusual post, in that it is not about a photographic session that was run, but rather the reaction that occurred when the images were posted on Facebook. So in someways it is a little bit of a rant.

In my last post I shared the story of the shoot with Heaven and particularly the background as to how I came about shooting her. The session went really well, and she was very happy with how it had gone. Once she saw the images she absolutely loved them.

As is my normal practice she chose the top ones that were shared online.

It was then that one female member of the Facebook group complained that the images were creepy and went onto suggest that they were typical of situations where a male photographer had enticed a female model to pose in next to nothing.

Other female posters did not see anything creepy in the images so her opinion was not wide spread.

Now with criticism like this sometime it is better to ignore it. However in this case I decided not to do that, as the poster was making some very wide assumptions that were frankly incorrect. Heaven was not enticed into the shoot, in fact she wanted to do it. She had also had full control over the poses (which had been discussed in advance) and she had chosen the selected images.

The only thing that the poster had correct was that I was a male photographer.

It is the sad fact that there are male photographers who do shoot nude/lingerie images simply as a way of seeing naked women. However not all of male photographers are like this, but to judge our work on that standard is just not right.

I believe that I got through to the poster, however rather than apologise for her mistake, she simply deleted the whole post.

shoot with Heaven (NSFW)

My shoot with Heaven (that’s her real name) started with a post in a Facebook model group where models were being warned about a photographer who was advertising to pay for shoots but was then turning out really creepy and inappropriate.

Heaven is a 27 year old mother of three who had wanted some lingerie/nude shots taken of her and has been involved with the other photographer. Needless to say that she had not had a very good session and the photos quite frankly were crap.

I therefore offered to do a session for her. We met in a foodcourt and went over what she was looking for and the shoot was planned.

I generally like to ease new nude models into the shoot and the easiest way to do this is to start with sheer pieces of fabric. As it turned out Heaven was very confident with her body and we were able to move to nudes fairly quickly.

We then wanted to try a couple of different approaches so I set up a rod at a 90 degree angle to the backdrop, and from it suspended a venetian blind. I then positioned a bare bulb strobe on the other side of it which created nice hard shadows.

We then moved the rod around to in front of the backdrop and hung lace over it to create a window. To create a completely different look I used my lensbaby as this creates a very unique look.

For the final series of nude image we had discussed recreating the famous flower scene out of the movie “American Beauty”. This involved Heaven lying on a fur rug placed on the floor. Fake petals were then used to conceal.

For this shot the camera was placed on a boom arm above Heaven and fired using the Image App. This is a great setup for these types of vertical shots.

As it turned out I did not have enough petals and more were added in post.

While it may seen the wrong way round, Heaven then put on the lingerie that she had brought. We did it in that order to avoid the underwear causing lines on the body.

For the lingerie shots I decided to do something quite different. I had noticed that the light in the room was positioned like a Rembrandt style. So I put my 50mm f1.2 lens on and shot using natural light. I was really pleased with the results and so was Heaven.

When her favourites were posted online I did get a very interesting reaction, but that I will outline that in the next post.

Zodiac series – Pisces final shoot

In previous posts I have told you how I went about planning for the Pisces shoot which would turn out to be the final shoot in the zodiac series. As it turned out while finding models of the Pisces was relatively easy, getting them to commit to a shoot day proved to more difficult.

A month nearly past between the test shoot and when Marianne arrived to do the final one. In that time I had also managed to acquire a fishbowl that better resembled what I had envisaged.

The bowl was actually larger than the one that I had tested and therefore heavier. I therefore decided against getting Marianne to lift it even though that is what we have practised. The goldfish had also become better at avoiding me so I ended up not being able to catch the large gold one that I was after, and instead had to settle with a much smaller one.

In my test shots there were two lights aimed solely at the background. However when I started to shoot I realised that if I pulled them further away that the scene was much more evenly lit. To get light on the front of both the bowl and Marianne I positioned my strobe camera right with it being bare bulbed and pointed at the ceiling. Essentially this created a large light source above her.

Although the light positions did result in reflections in the glass I was not worried about that as it did add dimension to the image.

Although I knew fundamentally how this image would fit into the set I wanted to ensure that I had a variety of images with different focal lengths and angles.

This included having Marianne holding the fish, as well as ones where she was sitting on the ground. Ultimately it was one of her lying on the ground that was selected to be the chosen image.

With Pisces finally shot I now had a complete set of the twelve signs, even though if I was to submit them both Cancer and Virgo needed to be reshot to fit with how the set was now looking.

The level that I am going for the Photographic Society of New Zealand honours has a very low success rate and part of that is the Honours Board’s desire to see a level of diversity in the images submitted. I started to think that the set was not diverse enough and this was confirmed when I took it to one of the members of the board who had just stepped down.

While it did not end up being a submitted set, the process of shooting the twelve image was very enjoyable and worthwhile.

The Tarot Reader

Generally speaking if I go to the effort to build a set and arrange a model, I will try to get more than one look out of the shoot. So when Neena came out for the Fortune Teller we decided to not only do a series with the crystal ball, but also ones with tarot cards. These I had borrowed from my daughter.

The lighting for the shoot was very similar to the first part, with the large octobox providing Rembrant lighting.

The difference with these sets of images was that I was free to move around and try different angles rather than being locked onto the tripod.

I have placed quite a number of candles on the table and so to replicate a glow that would come from them I positioned a gridded speed light that was gelled orange on the floor on a very low power and aimed at Neena’s face.

Although a lot of the candles were that there is very little light actually coming from them. I now realise that I should have added some flame in post.

I made one really big mistake with this shoot, and tat was not checking my camera setting properly before starting. For some reason the camera was set to JPG and not RAW so the amount of adjustments I would do in post was considerable less than what I would have normally done.

The Fortune Teller

One of the topics in the 2020 Wellington interclub print competition was “illusion”. When I started to think about it the notion of a fortune teller came to mind especially one using a crystal ball.

Neena is a fashion/costume designer who I had met through the Fashion Collective. When I took part in the shot at Staglands in 2019, Neena had arrived in a gypsy style outfit which was exactly the look I was going for. So I reached out to her to see if she would recreate it for me. She agreed and we set up a date for the shoot.

I built a set in my studio so that we could cover any angles that I wanted.

I had decided to use a simple Rembrandt lighting for the main character. The studio is not wide enough to do this effectively however the room has a window in the right location. So i simply fitted a large October to my strobe and shot in from outside.

In addition to the main light I wanted the crystal ball to be omitting light and therefore I decided to position a speed light below it.

I wanted to have a circular table, which we didn’t have so I cut a sheet of plywood into a circle. This then let me drill some holes in the middle under which I then placed to lengths of timber below so that the speed light could fit between them.

I tested this will the stand I had for the ball and it seemed to work okay, although it was not as strong as I would have liked. The advantage of having the light hidden would have been that I could have produced the images in a single take and not had to composite anything.

As it turned out when Neena arrived she had a brass stand with her that looked perfect. The only problem was that the triangular base was solid. This mean that the light had to be positioned on the table rather than below it.

When I am working with multiple lights I always introduce them in the scene one at a time.

I then brought in the main light and played around with the staging of the set.

While originally there was quite a lot of items in the background I decided to simplify them as I would be coming in much tighter on my main character.

To get some extra impact from the candles on the rear table, I positioned another speedlight behind them which was gelled orange.

It was then a matter of taking a series of images with the light on the table aimed at the ball, and then a series where the speed light was removed.

Then in Photoshop the two images were brought together and the speedlight was masked out. Although the candles were lit the glow from them was a little dull so i gave it a little boost.

I then went into Nik software and added a old film simulation to it.

I was quite happy with the results but when I showed the image to some other people, the comment came back that the red candles on the right of the image were distracting. So in the final version they have been removed.

As it turned out it did not get selected for the category but I have no regrets as it was a fun shoot.

Zodiac series – Pisces Test shoot

In a previous post I told you how I realised that I had an image that could work for Pisces, and that post centered around embellishing the image.

However as the set developed it became obvious that the image didn’t fit in with the others and that I needed to reshoot it. I therefore decided that I would have a model holding a bowl containing the fish.

My wife found a rather elaborate bowl and when she brought it home I decided to see how we would go about lighting it.

Shooting very reflective surfaces aways presents a challenge especially when you want to avoid the lights appearing in the image. When the surface is flat you can work out the angle of refraction and position the camera or light in such a way that it does not come into the lens. When the surface is curved it becomes a lot more difficult.

As I didn’t want to be mucking around when the model was there I set out to try various lighting patterns and see how they would work. I managed to get my wife to assist me which was a very rare occurrence.

My initial thought was to use the largest possible light source that I could so I put up the seven foot umbrella and boomed it out over top.

While this sort of worked, you could clearly see the inside of the umbrella shape in the glass, which was more dominant when the post process treatment was run over it. This arrangement was clearly not going to work.

Then later in the evening I had an idea and headed into the studio to try it out. By this stage I could not convince my wife to help so it was up to me with the camera on a tripod and a self timer. To ensure that I was going to the same position each time I placed a stool on the set. The glass bowl was placed on the stool and I lifted straight up from it.

I took the umbrella off and replaced with a speedlight in a gridded reflector aiming straight down into the glass. I initially tried it with just the single light and was reasonable happy that there was no reflection on the glass.

I then brought in two soft boxes to light the background. While this produced a good look I felt that there was not enough light on me.

To solve that problem I brought in another light in a gridded softbox and aimed it directly at me making sure that is did not fall on the glass.

The background light did catch in the edge of the bowl but I decided that I was ok with that as it added dimension to the image.

It was no time to find my new Pisces model, which turned out to be more difficult that I thought it would.