Monday, December 29, 2008

In the Studio with Model M

I had a lovely break from work over the Christmas holiday. In addition to shoveling and stomping around in the snow I had an opportunity to do a photo shoot with a friend who was willing to sit (lay, stand, kneel, etc.) for a series of tasteful nudes. This was a first for me, though not for her which I definitely think helped the process.

Model M in the Studio
Model M - Classical Back

Since my studio is in my basement, and usually chilly, my first order of business was to get a good space heater. I hunted around and noted that most indoor heaters were rated at 1500 watts and no more. So I bought a radiator unit, knowing that it might take a bit longer than an oscellating fan/heater to warm the space, but thinking it would also be silent. My first lesson is that the heater is totally inadaquate for working with a nude model. My profound apologies to M. It was, however, nice for warming her robe into which she slipped any time we paused.

Reena also assisted during some of this shoot, helping out not only by holding a reflector but also by acting as a second set of eyes to notice an appealing angle or a detail I was missing - freeing a curl of hair to let it dangle just so or adding positive suggestions to tilt of head and so on. She has an art-seller's eye as well as some long-ago art school experience to draw from while my "experience" is purely theoretical, culled from the pages of some book. My thanks to Reena. I got some better shots because of her help.

M was completely relaxed throughout, which in turn allowed me to also relax and pay attention to my part. I had a few technical issues that needed to be worked through. Since that is exactly the experience I am seeking doing this batch of studio work, I have to say it was a positive experience for me. M seems open to doing more shoots later. I hope to narrow my intent to capturing a few specific images rather than doing a little of this and a little of that. Since M is looking for a glorious shot of herself, perhaps this round will be useful for both of us to establish a more detailed idea of what would make a truly glorious shot.

There will surely be more images of this shoot posted here, some of the Not Safe For Work variety. My subject line will contain "NSFW". I am in the process of editing the photos, and will review them with M to see which ones - specifically - she is comfortable with me displaying here or in other venues.

Stay tuned!

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Let it snow! (Can't Stop It Anyway!)

Happy solstice...Merry Christmas...Jovial Festivus...etc.

Yahara River from Willy Street
Yahara River from Willy Street

Madison received a fresh coat of powdery snow on the 24th, rendering everything with a layer of beauty. Driving was awful, and shoveling was a chore, but it sure was pretty!

Ice on Yahara River
Ice on the Yahara River

The timely decoration was a nice reminder to savor the simple things in life, and forced one to s l o w down and be more mindful. What did YOU do for the holidays?

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Walking In A Winter Wonderland

Madison got a foot of snow this weekend (about 30 cm). Being a city used to getting snow, it was less of a panic than it would have been in some other places. But, the schools closed and many business opened at noon instead of 10 AM. As Reena was leaving for work, the plow went by for a THIRD time and deposited a wall of snow across our driveway 3' high and 4' wide. Swell. I ignored it for a while figuring I would get to it after it was all done snowing and I was ready to head out for a stomp around the neighborhood with my camera. (I had scheduled a vacation day from work.) My gambit paid off: As I was putting my boots on to go out and start shoveling, my neighbor came over with his snowblower and cleared the mound at the street. I brought him out a growler of beer for his trouble. While we were standing there talking, one of his work mates came by in a truck with a plow. While we talked, he made two quick passes on my driveway and plowed it clear. All I had to do with my shovel was the very short walk up to my front door! What a great bit of luck.

I grabbed my camera and headed out to see what there was to see.

Snowblower Tracks
Snowblower Tracks

Gaudy Snowman

Raking the Roof
Raking the Roof

Snowbama '08

No More
No More!

I am certain that last sign does not refer to No More Snow, but the sentiment is there nonetheless. I have a feeling it is going to be a looong winter. We are already 4 inches (10 cm) ahead of last winter's record snowfall. Oof!

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Adventures in Aerial Silk

When I am not shooting photos or driving a desk at work, I am often involved in one form of dance or another. For the past three Wednesdays I have been taking a crash course in aerial silk dancing. OK, for my skill level calling it dancing is really (really) stretching it, but that is what it is regardless of what I am doing to the form.

Gini, Showing Us the Moves

We use the gymnasium at the new Goodman Center. It is a nice enough space, but whoa!, is it ever chilly in there. There is a constant doffing and donning of clothing depending on our activity level moment by moment.

Instructor Gini has a pretty nice little series of exercises and drills to teach us some basics, then because we are all overachievers of one sort or another, she feeds us a technique that lets us apply the skill we just learned.

Hildy X
Hildy in Inverted X

Most of what we are doing is at low level, often just a foot or so off the ground, and always over crash pads, and often with a spotter until we get comfortable. Safety first! One of the first key things we learned, or refreshed ourselves on, was getting a secure foot lock in the silk.

Aerial Silk Foot Lock
Aerial Silk Foot Lock

This foot lock allows hands-free manuvering off the ground. It is the basis for any number of 'next step' moves. Establishing this foot lock seems quite complicated at first, and uses up a lot of hand and arm strength until one gets a level of proficiency.

The class was great fun, and I look forward to my next experience with aerial silk. In the meantime I have my memories, and this shot of me that Don took. Thanks, Don!

Me, Flying Low
Nataraj, Flying Low

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Went Right?

I do not do a lot with black and white images, despite being pretty seriously color blind. Every once in a while though I get to messing with an image and find myself dissatisfied with any color settings I try. So I try the image in B&W to see if I like the tones.

Megan B&W
Megan in B&W

I find this image compelling, and am not sure why exactly. It probably will not be one of her favorites. Maybe it is compelling because, despite looking straight into the camera, she appears unaware of it. It is relaxed and unaffected. She is not posing for the camera. She is doing yoga, and I just happened to be there to capture it. I suspect that this gets back to the topic I was pondering a month ago, whether the role of the photographer is yin or yang, an active capturing of a moment or a more receptive capturing of the subject's energy. I think I got out of the way of this photo and it happened.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

...strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.

"The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own," the report finds. "The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority."
~excerpt from the bipartisan Senate report released 12/11/2008 with no dissenting votes

I urge you to read it.

Recall that Spec. Lynndie England was portrayed as the face of the "few bad apples" who were torturing prisoners at Abu Graib. She was court-martialed, had a plea bargain rejected, and was convicted, sent to a military prison, and dishonorably discharged. As this bipartisan senate report shows, she was clearly following the orders of her Commander In Chief, George W. Bush, and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. I am not defending England's actions. I am pointing out that the hammer of justice came down on the least participant of this travesty. The same hammer should descend on those at the top, and with equal vigor.

Included in the parade of sleaze are, in no particular order:
- George W. Bush
- Condoleeza Rice
- John Ashcroft
- Donald Rumsfeld
- Alberto Gonzoles
- Jay Bybee
- David Addington
- John Yoo
- Paul Wolfowitz
- Senior staff at GITMO

I wager we will soon see a Republican equivilant of, attempting to "put all that behind us" and focus on other real problems. Any takers?

UPDATE: Here's what C-in-C Bush had to say about England in May of 2004, "That same prison became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values."

And here is what he said in June of 2004, "Obviously, it was a shameful moment when we saw on our TV screens that soldiers took it upon themselves to humiliate Iraqi prisoners -- because it doesn't reflect the nature of the American people, or the nature of the men and women in our uniform. And what the world will see is that we will handle this matter in a very transparent way, that there will be rule of law -- which is an important part of any democracy. And there will be transparency, which is a second important part of a democracy. And people who have done wrong will be held to account for the world to see."

I say, I await the transparency, and the accountability of those who have done wrong. Let us start with the list above, shall we?

SECOND UPDATE: Conservative pundit Glenn Reynolds had this to say when the Abu Graib stories first started appearingin late April, 2004, "Of course, it's not the same as Saddam's torture -- which was a matter of top-down policy, not the result of assholes who deserve jail or execution, and will probably get one or both. As with other reported misbehavior, it should be dealt with very, very harshly. But those who would -- as Senator Kerry did after Vietnam -- make such behavior emblematic of our effort, instead of recognizing it as an abandonment of our principles -- are mere opportunists." [emphasis mine]

Funny, a spin through Glenn's site today doesn't even have a reference to the Senate report. *insert cricket sounds*

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Megan in the Studio

I had another opportunity in the studio this weekend. Bestest buddy Megan wanted some head shots for her graduate program as she nears completion, and she wanted some yogini shots for advertising her yoga classes. The head shots are getting easier to do, but I find myself challenged by extended full body shots because it uses all of my backdrop. The lighting has to be more controlled if I want the background to remain unlit/invisible.

In this shot, taken for my pleasure not necessarily her use, I got to use two new toys at once. I just purchased a ProMaster Slave Module for my strobe. This module attaches to my flash and allows me to trigger it off-camera. That way I can light from the side, top, below, wherever and avoid that on-camera flash mug shot look. It is not exactly what I wanted because it still requires that the on-camera flash fire to trigger the remote. To avoid the effects of the on-camera flash, I went all high tech and held my hand in front of the flash so that the IR light reached the module to trigger it, but did not illuminate Megan. I also used my home made cardboard snoot to keep the light right where I wanted it.


As you can see, it worked pretty well.

Megan ran through a series of yoga poses and helped me out by giving me feedback about what she was about to do, then as she was hitting her maximum in a pose, she let me know that, and gave me a bit of warning of how long she could remain there.

Megan in Standing Bow Pose
Megan in Standing Bow Pose

Megan Back Bend
Back Bend

Megan Cobra

What a great way to spend a few hours on a day off! Not only did I get to have fun with Megan, I got to take some good photos, learn some more, and deliver useful pictures to her for her use.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

eyeDance Bailout

In keeping with the bottom-feeders of our capitalist society, I have petitioned Congress for a Federal bailout. Unlike the shysters who are C-level executives at our major financial institutions, automakers, and (coming up next!) credit card comapnies, I have lived within my means, spent money that actually existed, and did not attempt to get rich by fostering (excuse me, leveraging) the debt of the middle- and lower-class segments of America. So while those charletans line up for their money, I thought I should have a slice of the pie too. After all, I am Nataraj Sixpack, Joe's brother.

That being the case, here is the first thing I will buy with the $2.6 billion I have requested:

Image Source

See how reasonable I am?

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Monday, December 8, 2008

In the Studio with Nell and Barry

I had a busy weekend in my fledgeling studio. In my previous post I shared some of the images of Disa and her mom, Spyder, that were shot on Saturday. I had a couple of hours of editing, primarily sifting and winnowning, but also some minor tweaks like cropping or adjusting brightness or tonal quality. Then Sunday morning I had the fun of shooting two improv comedy performer/instructors, one of whom also performs as a musician.

I learned a lot. Mostly I learned that I really, really need to get more light on the subjects when they are squirrelly and physical.

Nell and Barry
Nell and Barry

By the Sunday shoot I had learned that I could let them run dynamically in hopes of capturing the essence of "them", and then call "FREEZE!" and they would. They would pause for a beat right where they were so I could capture the image. Then they would pick right up as though I had not interrupted. Now that was fun.

Barry, crooning

In general my light was satisfactory except that I was shooting at f/1.4-2.8 and so had a narrow depth of field to work with. Normally I love the look of photos with a super tight DoF, but in this case their near-constant movement made that difficult to cope with. The solution, of course, is more light.

Nell, freezing her motion for me

I have a safe-sync adapter ordered which will allow me to move my strobe off-camera. Until that arrives (hopefully this week) I will have to use less dynamic posing restrictions. For these shots I was using my new ProMaster QLight 250 studio light on their left with either a white umbrella (soft light) or a silver bounce umbrella. I added a 100 watt compact fluorescant snooted lamp from the right to highlight the faces. The backdrop was generally lit either from behind or from the front over the subjects heads with a soft spot in a clip lamp attached to the ceiling. With this hodge-podge of lights, setting the white balance using a gray card was an absolute must! This is all great learning experience, and is of course why I am doing all the gratis work. I do my best. The subjects get some good images to use and I get valuable experience.

And no, I do not want to photograph weddings. *grin*

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Disa and Spyder in the Studio

The first of my solicited studio shoots was today. Disa and her mom, Spyder, wanted some mother-daughter photos, as well as some shots of just Spyder for promotional material. Disa is a circus performer in England, home for an extended holiday. She and Spyder are from Madison, but neither lives here now so this was a fantastic opportunity for me. Both are high-energy, super creative types, and a joy to know.

Prepping Disa
Prepping Disa

The real portraits are after the jump, so follow the link.

They really love one another, and are thrilled with each other's sense of whimsy.

Spyder and Disa
A Mother and Child Reunion

It was more challenging to shoot them than I expected. With all that poorly restrained energy, they were a pair of wigglepusses, and,well, I need more light so I can have faster shutter speeds.

Disa and Spyder

And one of just Spyder...


I have another shoot tomorrow morning, so I am getting plenty of practice. Just what I wanted. In exchange, I hope my subjects enjoy the images they receive.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

First Snoot Shoot

I have been learning to pay even more attention to light. That is a natural enough step considering that photography is all about the light (even if Nikon assures me that with a D3 I will change the way I think about "available dark"). I have never been happy with the results of a flash, though I am getting a bit better with using one.

Last week I looted the trash at my workplace and cobbled together a honeycomb snoot for my flash head. A snoot simply corrals the light emitted by the flash and narrow its effect. The honeycomb concept does the same thing but takes up less space. The result is a spot of flash that highlights a much smaller area of the target. Here is an example from my first shots with the snoot:

Disa on Trapeze
View Large On Black

There is more, and more photos, so follow the link.

In this next shot I got an unexpected bonus. The area in the flash zone is sharp and the motion stopped. The areas outside the flash zone are softened and allow the motion of her body to be apparent. I will freely admit I do not understand just how this happened as I was not using a slow sync setting.

Disa in Motion
Disa in Motion

In this next interesting but imperfect shot, you can see how the snoot allows the subject to pop and stand out from the underexposed background. I was a tad off with my aim, and the center of the flash is on Disa's right arm rather than her face.

Upside Down Disa
Disa Upside-Down

It was a fun series of photos to shoot, and Disa is a willing subject (not to mention an incredibly athletic dancer).

Here is a shot of my DIY honeycomb snoot. The materials were all scavenged from the trash, and it took me about 15 minutes to craft it. The cardboard in the center was cut as a long strip about 1.25" wide. I then cut that strip into pieces long enough to cover the face of my flash head. I glued the pieces together in a stack, aligning one side to be lined up flush and not caring about the other side. The side that is flush is inside, and snugs up to the flash. I cut another piece of cardboard to make a wrap and taped it up. The wrap just slips over the flash head and stops when the honeycomb portion hits. I added the "trap door" to the front to protect the cardboard from getting smashed up in my bag.

Homemade Snoot
Homemade Honeycomb Snoot

After taking a single test shot to prove it worked, I noted the area of effect on the side with marker. It makes an oval spot of light 14 inches high and 36 wide at a distance of 5 feet. I suspect I can control the width to get an even tighter spot by putting a strip of tape at each edge to make the opening less rectangular and closer to square. I will have to try that out.

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