Gwen, the Consummate Professional Model
The primary reason I decided to attend Kim Weston’s Nude Photography Workshop is because Gwen recommended it. I have high confidence in Gwen and the fact that she would be one of the models at the workshop sealed the deal for me. I’ve worked with Gwen several times and have always come away with great images. Unfortunately, Gwen was only available for one day of the workshop so we didn’t have a lot of time to work together.
I plan to work with Gwen in October at a shoot in Wonder Valley among abandoned homesteads. If you’d like to join us, the shared expenses will be $200 per photographer. I’m only inviting two people because I want to treat these abandoned homesteads with dignity. After all, they represent a stranger’s hopes, dreams and aspirations.
At the workshop, I photographed Gwen in Bodie House, a separate building that was once Edward Weston’s wife’s study. Bodie House is now a guest house that workshop attendees can rent to stay on-site throughout the workshop. Here are my final images from that session. As always, I used my “go-to” kit, a Canon 5D MkII and Canon 24-105/4L IS USM. All post-processing was done in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom v6.
I tried to incorporate the many ideas and techniques I learned in the workshop. Notice how I left the window panes open to allow the viewer’s eyes to “escape” the frame on one side but kept them on the opposite side to keep the focus on the subject? Also, did you see how I flagrantly violated “rules” such as not cropping arms, legs, hands, feet, fingers and other body parts that are not essential (in my mind) to the story in the photo? I still struggle to cut off/out parts of the body but, bottom line, I am, at least, aware of where and why I crop an image. To quote Kim Weston, “Every element has to be a conscious decision.”
What I Learned & Practiced
Whenever I attend a workshop, I have three goals and objectives in mind:
- Learn three things I can immediately apply to a current project
- Observe three things I can modify and apply to future projects
- Note three things I may never use but should better understand
At Kim Weston’s Nude Photography Workshop I learned the following three things that I immediately applied to my photography.
- Expand my horizons beyond the studio and black & white. Until now, with few exceptions, I had done all nude photography in a studio and all my final output was in B&W. At the workshop, I forced myself to make environmental photos in color. It was good to challenge myself.
- Further disregard the “rules” of composition, e.g. rule of thirds, cutting off hands/feet/legs/arms/etc. I became acutely aware of using corners to “anchor” an image. Now, I actively seek partial window frames in corners or objets d’art anchoring/balancing the subject.
- I am ruthless in applying Kim’s mantra, “Less is more.” I’ve gotten back into the habit of conducting a “border check” around the viewfinder before releasing the shutter. I try to keep windows, doors and walls “open” to allow smooth flow into and out of the image. I try to “guide” the viewers’ eyes.
With those principles in mind, here are some more photos from Kim Weston’s Nude Photography Workshop at Wildcat Hills, Carmel, CA. These are all of Dasha.
The first photo is a perfect example of “going with your gut” versus blindly following instructions. I had two versions of this image. The first positioned the edge of the plate in an unbroken arc across the right breast and this one where the lip bisected the right nipple. During the critique session, Kim said he preferred a clean arc as opposed to breaking the line. However, when I sent the images to Dasha, the model, she pointed out that, without the nipple, due to the angle, it appears that she doesn’t have a right breast. Below is the original version. As you can see, Dasha is absolutely correct.
For the 2nd image, Dasha again made a suggestion to crop a little tighter which greatly improved the photo. This is the value of working with a professional model who knows what makes her look good and how best to achieve that.
The 3rd and 4th photos are examples of Kim’s advice to use the corners to both anchor the image and, in this case, show where the light is coming from. This has really liberated my thinking as, in the past, I just saw corners as places for vignettes.
The 5th and 6th photos use Dasha’s hair to open up the frame and allow the viewer’s eyes to follow the lines up to her eye. The contrast of her blonde hair against the blonde wood table adds a dimensionality that would have been lost on a different colored table.
The last photo is an example of blatantly breaking the “rules.” I cut off Dasha’s fingers at the knuckles and her knee caps. All I wanted were the lines and angles formed by her arms and legs. I’m not perfectly happy with this photo but it’s close to the image I had in mind.
One thing the workshop has rekindled is an interest in medium format cameras. I’d like to get into MF but the prices are a bit intimidating. I’m trying my usual tact of telling Mary about the new top-of-the-line Hasselblad H6D-100C for $33,000 in hopes she’ll think $10,000 for the older H5D-40 is a bargain but I’m not holding my breath.
The next post will features photos of my favorite model, Gwen. I’ve worked with her several times in the past and she is always the consummate professional who can help a photographer make his/her vision come to life. I also have photos of Sara and Jenn, two other models from the workshop as well as Arya, a new model I recently worked with.
In October, I plan to photograph Gwen in Wonder Valley against the backdrop of abandoned homesteads. If you’d like to join us, the tentative cost for a 4 hour shoot is ~$200 for 1 photographer or $125 for 2. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll keep you updated.
A Bubbly, Fun Young Model
I recently had the opportunity to work with P (as always, until she’s sure she wants to be identified, I’m using an initial,) a young 22 year old model who is just getting started. She was super fun and very open to lots of ideas, even contributing some of her own concepts. I haven’t yet finished post-processing (PP) the photos but a quick review shows we made some good art. Because she’s new, I went with a different style of poses as well as PP. Please let me know what you think.
I did more PP than usual simply because I wanted to test some ideas. On the last two photos, I applied an effect to make them appear older. One looks like the 50s while the other has an even older look. I used a skin smoothing technique as well as a spot removal tool to touch up freckles and blemishes.
P was a change from my usual models because, at 5’7″ and 140 lbs, she’s not the typical model but what I call “a real woman with curves.” This was her first nude shoot so she was understandably nervous at first but my female assistant, an experienced model, helped her overcome that. Once she got comfortable, she was bubbly and overflowing with enthusiasm and ideas.
All the photos were made with my “go-to” set-up, a Canon 5D Mk II and Canon 24-105/4L IS USM. The lights were standard studio strobes with a 36″ strip box and a 48″ octagonal umbrella. Both were fitted with grids for better spillage control. All processing was done in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6. If I have time, I’ll take a few out to Photoshop for final touches.
P is the fourth new, inexperienced person in a row who has turned out to be a good model. This is totally contrary to my experience in the past where newbies have proven to be unreliable flakes. Hopefully, I’m getting better at screening new models. More of P when I get back to her photos next week.
An Outstanding Workshop
Over the years, I’ve attended many workshops. Some were good and others were forgettable. Kim Weston’s Nude Photography Workshop was among the best I’ve attended in a long time. Kim is the grandson of Edward Weston. What I most enjoyed was that I was the least talented among the nine attendees. Every person I met was an opportunity to learn new, exciting and insightful tips and techniques. I was teamed up with two digital photographers (the others were large format film photographers) who had wonderful, wild and creative ideas for posing the models. And, the models were top-notch and at the top of their game.
Here are five samples I submitted for critique. Keep in mind, these are works-in-progress. I’ll try to have the first batch of final images processed and posted in 1-2 weeks. All these photos were made with a Canon 5D Mk II and a Canon 24-105/4L IS USM. At this time, all post processing has been done in Photoshop CS4. When I get home, all final processing will be done in Lightroom 6.
The first two are Dascha, a wonderful Russian model. It took a bit more time to “sync” with her but, once we connected, she was dynamic and fun. In the first photo, I posed Dasha’s blonde hair against the beautiful blonde dining table. The second is a high key image which wasn’t Kim’s favorite but he grudgingly admitted it worked.
Gwen, with whom I’ve worked previously, is in the third photo. This was a simple pose that she “flowed” into. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had a winner.
In the fourth image, I again captured Dascha on the blonde dining table with a tray of colored rocks. She is holding a heart shaped stone near her heart.
The last photo is Sara. I loved Sara’s profile and tried to incorporate it at every opportunity. I tried hard to include the elements Kim discussed in his lectures and the only critique he had of this photo was that I could have included a bit more of her knee.
I probably made about 200 frames over two days so it will take a few weeks to process everything. Stay tuned for more photos.
Abandoned Homesteads: Fascinating and Sad
I’d heard of Wonder Valley for many years but never got the opportunity to photograph the area. It’s east of Twentynine Palms, CA in an area dotted with abandoned homesteads interspersed with currently inhabited homes of varying conditions. Many are very nice, well maintained homes while others are decrepit to the point of being trashy.
The Small Tract Act of 1938 was passed to encourage people to buy up to 5 acres of land the US wanted to sell off. A history of this area can be found HERE. The Act took off after returning WWII GIs wanted a place to call their own to escape the hub-bub of SoCal. Plank by plank, brick by brick, stone by stone, they hauled, cut, shaped, fitted and built their own weekend cabins. Some were simple prefab designs bought from Sears, Roebuck and Co. Others were beautifully designed, carefully planned and skillfully executed structures that reflected their owners’ hopes, dreams and aspirations. Today, many lie crumbling and vandalized among the desert sands.
(Hover cursor over thumbnails for a short description.)
Mary and I spent a few hours exploring the area but quickly concluded one day wasn’t enough time to do the area justice. We barely explored 2 square miles of Wonder Valley and there’s probably 150-200 square miles of abandoned homesteads.
We plan to return in the future when we can spend more time. We feel it’s important to treat the homes with dignity. Too often, we discard and dismiss our heritage without regard for future generations. It’s hard to connect with the distant past but Wonder Valley is less than 50 to 75 years ago. The people who built these homes shared many of the same aspirations as today’s population. The big difference is that those who built in Wonder Valley were willing to work to attain their goals. They didn’t sit around, waiting for someone else to build it for them. Wonder Valley resonated deep within me.