Looking Back and Looking Forward – 2

After yesterday’s slightly gloomy post, this last day of 2013 I want to look at the better parts of the past year and forward a bit into 2014.

There was much that went right. Personally my health felt like a major win for the year. Those who’ve known me for a while know that a few years ago I was significantly overweight and out of shape. After several years of work I reached a healthy weight this spring and have maintained that weight through the year. I started running this summer completing my first 5k race in late July and tried an 8k race late this fall. I don’t race to win, but simply to finish the race. I’d easily say I’m in the best health and shape of my life. While it wasn’t as smooth as I’d liked, I also got an item of the bucket list in my backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon this year. Some photos from that November trip have already passed through here with more to come.

Staying within photography I met and worked with a number of new and wonderful models this year. Also worked with a number of previous collaborators again during the course of the year. The results of both groups were a number of wonderful photos some of which I’ve shared here. Every year I find that I enjoy my work more and this was no exception. I’m particularly happy with the small project where I photographed several models at the same location back during the late summer. I’ve also been quietly playing with a project that I’ll reveal more later this week to showcase more of my work.

There are some wonderful models I’ve not worked with in a while for various reasons that I expect or hope to work with again in the coming year and I’m looking forward to those collaborations to come. While my travel was a mixed bag this year, the results of my November trip have me looking to try more in the coming year. I do think I’ll find my way out west again, perhaps to the northwest, and if things align right I’ve had the idea of a trip along the west coast for the coming year.

I’m going to try some new things and push outside my comfort zone a bit more in shoots this coming year. I did a bit of that early in the year, but want to focus on a little more grit and story in my work. Not all of these ideas will work, in fact if all of it works then I’ve likely not pushed hard enough. I’ve already set one shoot for later this week that’s going to be either amazing or a disaster, but should be fun either way.

Also I see more landscape work in my future. Some falls trips to the the mountains and my time out west have left me wanting to explore the landscape alone a bit more. My outdoor nude work actually started outdoor before I added the nude a few years back.

Vanessa and Emilie

Today a photo of Vanessa and Emile from the spring of 2008. I was in Raleigh for a few days where I worked with these two models. I had photographed models together before, but this was the first time I did anything with an erotic concept. I’d scheduled one to arrive first for some work with her, then an overlapped time to shoot together, finishing with the second model solo for some work. The second model, I can’t remember which, arrived late cutting the overlap time leaving time for only one concept, but we still got some good work for I think my first try. As far as I can tell neither model is still working. I did work with Emilie again later than year resulting in a wonderful shot I posted in a wrap up a couple years ago.

Tomorrow I’m going to look back to when I almost quiet photography. Happy New Year everyone. Hope your 2014 is the best year yet.

Looking Back and Looking Forward – 1

As we prepare to celebrate the passage of one completely arbitrary division of time to another this week, there’s a seemingly natural call for reflection or at least looking back. I’ve not been immune over these last days. I’ll not be sad to see 2013 fade into the rear view mirror. I can think of no year as full of frustrations as 2013. There were moments of fun and happiness of course and I’ll speak to those tomorrow. But there were parts of 2013, especially the spring and summer months, that challenged and placed me under some of the worst stress and pressure I’ve faced. It often wasn’t fun and I more than once felt like a ship adrift in storms far from a safe harbor.

So forgive me this week if I take some time to look both directions. Backward to the past, and forward to the coming year over the next few days. There will be photos too.

Like many children, I had a fear of the dark. It was never the dark I feared, but unknown things that could be lurking in the dark. What those things were are lost along with many other childish thoughts from those days. What I think I truly feared though was the unknown that the dark represented, and that fear of the unknown lingers in us all.

I no longer fear monsters hiding in the night, but those unknowns still exist.  It comes in when a person you trusted and cared for hurts you without explanation. The fear arrives as the tone in a lover’s voice when you realize that she’s going to end the relationship. It will show up as the ringing phone in the middle of the night that leads you to a loved one in the hospital. It brings with it injury and age as they take a toll on those you love. It comes when those we care about and trust leave or betray us and we do not understand why.

As a child I could hide under the covers feeling from the fear or run to the light of my parent’s porch where safety lay. My adult fears cannot be escaped as easily. Instead they follow me into bed during sleepless nights passed staring at the dark ceiling. They cannot be defeated like the monsters in a horror story.

But they can be defeated by facing them. By feeling fear, but moving anyway. By trusting again after someone breaks your trust. By letting someone else in to see the scar the last person left when they parted. By cherishing time that remains with those who have little left.

Fear tells you what you care about. Fear sharpens your focus to what truly matters.

As the year ends I’ve been buffeted, hammered, and perhaps a little bent. But I’ve not broken. I’ve picked myself up, dusted myself off, and begun moving forward again.

I’ve been angry and hurt this year, but I’m choosing to forgive. There were friendships that have been lost or strained, and I’m choosing to attempt to rebuild those. To reach out to those who hurt me and attempt to repair the damage done without worrying about who did what to who. I do so knowing they won’t all repair, but that some will and those are worth the pain of the ones that do not. I will let people in again knowing some will hurt me someday, but those who do not will be worth that pain.

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This week I’m going to post some photos from my early shoots. I’m going back into the archives for these so expect to see more of my learning process than polished work. Some are images I like, but all, along with many others not posted, were part of the growth process toward getting to where I am as a photographer today.

In 2008 I decided to make a real push to get more serious about my photography after dabbling in and out of it for a few years. This photo comes from a shoot that fall and one of the first shoot after making a late year decision to really start working and improving my craft. Tammi was inexperienced, but willing to learn, and had a lot of potential as a model. We only worked together this one time. A similar color photo this pose is still in her portfolio today though she didn’t model long.

Leanne and Cactus near Phoenix

Happy Christmas everyone.

I’m not superstitious. Generally I tend to take a pragmatic approach to shoot as with everything else in my life. If things go wrong, my response is generally how to react and adapt to the problem and not wondering what I did to cause it. Still, I think next time I work with Leanne, we’ll probably plan to shoot inside. Outside just doesn’t seem to work out that well for us.

After my backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon and some time in slot canyons in northern Arizona I headed down to Phoenix. First, my flight home left from there. Second, I had set up several shoots with some wonderful models before I left the state. While my shoots while here in June were often frustrating, working with Leanne was a highlight in spite of our unwanted reptilian interloper.

On this trip we’d planned a shoot that I’ve had in mind for a number of months, but never quite had everything line up right. In fact I’d first planned to attempt it while in Phoenix back in June, but the model I meant to work on it with didn’t work out and the other shoot I then planned to try to make it work ended up canceling due to a family emergency. Here Leanne and I planned, but the weather again didn’t cooperate as clouds moved into Phoenix late in the evening. While not overcast, the location I’d planned and concept now wouldn’t work.

So we went to a plan B, which was a location another model had suggested I try. Now the location seemed much better for the weather we had and the two of us headed that way. We got there and things looked good. It was isolated and no foot traffic. Then we found that one little problem as Leanne and I prepared to work – the Jumping Cholla cactus.

If you’re familiar with a cactus then you’re aware they have sharp little spines that can hurt when touched. Those are a nuisance, but the Cholla Cactus ups the ante as those spines have barbs on the end like a fishhook or arrow. Once they go in they don’t easily come out. To see how bad these things can be watch this clip from an outdoors show that also takes place in Southern Arizona. We discovered these on the ground as we got to area I planned to shoot.

Leanne

Not really time to try another spot, so we shifted to an area that seemed cactus free. I found a nice rock formation to work around which also had a nice rock for Leanne to pose on to keep her away from any cactus in her vulnerable state. Again Leanne was a joy to work with and never complained about the conditions. For these photos we worked in the fading light getting some nice images that I was looking for. You can see the clouds that had moved into the sky in these photos. While the clouds did not work for my initial concept, I worked them into a setting where they added to the image. Again, when working outside you have to work with nature, and not fight it. You’ll always lose if you try fighting.

Leanne

Leanne

We also did something more along light painting during the shot that I’ll post soon along with the final story of those little annoying cacti. If you can’t wait, see those and more photos from this shoot on Uncovered Visions at http://www.uncoveredvisions.com/2013/12/16/gallery-leanne-leanne-winter-2013/

The Blue Ridge in the Early Fall

Back in October I decided to run my first 8k race in Asheville. The weather was chilly in the morning and the race went nicely. I finished just ahead of my goal which always feels good. After doing a few 5k lengths in the summer I felt in pretty good shape, but I had definitely not trained enough for the longer length. As I left i felt pretty sore. I’d already planned  to do some hiking and photography along the Blue Ridge Parkway and didn’t let the sore muscles get in the way of my plans.

I decided to work along the stretch of the Parkway from Asheville to the southwest hoping I could get somewhere around Waynesville before dark. While my sore muscles progressively complained about the work of hiking around, I did find some nice shots along the way. While the color wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped, there were still pockets of nice yellows and reds among the higher elevations in the mountains. Heavy clouds and overcast covered the sky most of the with the sun making only the occasional appearance toward evening.

First a panorama centered toward Looking Glass, a popular climbing spot in the summer. There is a trail up this rock that I’m going to put onto my list to try to make it up come warmer weather in the spring. I’d like to have a companion shot looking back toward this lookout from the mountain.

Looking Glass

The temperatures at these elevations were already cool. The rain never really amounted to much more than the occasional sprinkle, but wind started coming in later in the day. By the time I reached an outcrop known as the Devil’s Courthouse the combination made the weather downright chilly. Before climbing a strenuous half mile trail up to the top, I did this photo of the Devil’s Courthouse itself.

Devil's Courthouse

According to legend, the devil holds court in a cave beneath this rock giving it the name. I’d already made several miles of hiking by the time I got here, and it was on the climb the soreness in my legs became more severe. Knowing it was probably my last stop of the day, I continued reaching the summit. The views were spectacular, but the weather was not. Wind and sun combined to leave the views spectacular, but not photogenic. I did find one nice moment with the sun helping to bring out color in the valley below.

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After this trip I pretty much had no energy and more than an hour and a half to drive home. So I called it a day and made my way back home. As I neared my exit from the Parkway though I did come across a wonderful moment as the sun dipped low behind the now rapidly clearing clouds. I pulled off to an overlook where I took the following pair of shots.

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Mikki Marvel

October and November were pretty busy months photographically. Early in the month were shoots with Leigh Anti and Mindy that I’ve already posted some work from. There was also a shoot with Xlcr Moon that will be coming up here soon. Then I had a little break as I finished training for my first 8k race and took some time to do some landscape work along the Blue Ridge posted last week.

Just before Halloween I had the chance to work with Mikki Stith for the first time as travelled through the area. This was the start of a busy stretch where I squeezed in another shoot with Melissa Jean right before my trip to Arizona. In Arizona, other than the landscape work I’ve posted with more to come, I also had three shoots that will be coming to the site over the next few weeks.

With Mikki I was looking to go to some basic arn nude styled work for most of the shoot. While I often turn to a black background like here, I hadn’t been working specifically on this style, a high contrast, low light style in a while. I like the results we came up with.

Mikki Stith

Mikki Stith Mikki Stith

Mikki Stith

See more of this shoot on Uncovered Visions at http://www.uncoveredvisions.com/2013/12/10/gallery-mikki-stith-fall-2013/.

Arizona Slot Canyons – Upper Antelope Canyon

Pretty much everything I read about this canyon proudly notes that it’s the most photographed slot canyon in the world. And it is lovely. The top of this canyon is narrower letting in less light than nearby Rattlesnake Canyon. This meant almost mandatory use of a tripod and longer exposures. There are also a lot more people travelling through these canyons. Several companies offer tours and while most cooperate, having people wander into the last five seconds of a thirty second exposure occurred more than once. Again Nate was good about working to get us (another photographer joined the tour for this canyon) good angles and helping to keep the shot clear working with the other guides. Going for a photo tour definitely helped there as I don’t think I’d been nearly as happy trying to do photos on a “regular” tour.

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I think the oft photographed nature of this canyon makes capturing photos more of a challenge. Often I’d see an angle and could remember a photo I’d seen of the angle. The light was often subtly different, and in a slot canyon a subtle change in light can be magnified. I could have spent hours working through this canyon exploring angles, and the couple of hours spent there felt too short.

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In early November the often photographed beans of sunlight into the canyon are gone. I did see a single time when the sun came into the canyon, but did not get a good photo of the brief phenomenon. So I tried to focus on the walls and the light coming around the lines and shapes within the canyon. It was near midday and while the shafts of light were gone, there were still moments of wonderful light coming into the canyon.

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I can’t imagine how hard it is to photograph here during the more crowded tourist seasons. Even in the off season the place was fairly busy, and cooperation was the key to getting good results. I’d imagine in the summer the crowds would make good photos as much luck as timing. In November the weather was chilly, but after a couple days in the higher elevations on the Grand Canyon Rim and nights in a tent within it, I felt pretty comfortable with just a sweatshirt. I do feel the different time of year also give the photos a bit different look than the more commonly photographer summertime images.

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A few thoughts from this trip and photographing slot canyons. A tripod was a must for the Upper Antelope. It’s just too dark to get good color without longer exposures than handheld will allow. I also found manual mode to be a must along with experimentation. As the light changed settings had to change to get good exposures. I did a lot of exposure bracketing and sometimes preferred the images that were a bit over or under exposed compared to my initial look. A wide lens also was a must. I almost exclusively used my 24-105 f/4 lens with most of the photos taken at or close to 24mm. Other than people, there is little movement inside the canyons so longer exposures worked better allowing low ISO and smaller apertures for wide depth of field. Also try to avoid the sky in the photos. Below you can see a couple where the sky above is visible and it blows out completely. In the final edit of this photo I cropped out that top corner. This is a place where the subtle use of HDR to capture the wide dynamic range also seems worthwhile and I used that on a few photos.

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Arizona Slot Canyons – Rattlesnake Canyon

Some more landscapes from the Arizona trip. After finishing my backpack trip at in the Grand Canyon, I headed to north Arizona. On this trip I’d managed to work in a side trip I’d not had time for back in June, some time to photograph slot canyons near Page, AZ along with nearby Horseshoe Bend. The canyons I visited are on the Navajo Nation and I booked a guide through Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tours and was very happy with the results. My guide Nate was an experienced photographer and helped me avoid a lot of the trial and error I’d otherwise needed to find good settings for the light. He also provided good guidance on angles and formations which again saved some time, especially important in the Upper Antelope Canyon which had a steady crowd of other visitors even in the off season.

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A slot canyon is a narrow canyon formed by the erosion of water through rock. The key feature being the canyon is very narrow, especially compared to its height. The erosion often leaves winding and banded formations of rock which combined with the coloration of the rock can be simply beautiful. We started with Rattlesnake Canyon, thankfully named for its winding shape and not any inhabitants that day. This is near the better known Upper Antelope Canyon, but is a different experience. While you walk through Upper Antelope Canyon on rather flat ground, Rattlesnake Canyon is more an experience of climbing and twisting. There were spots narrow enough that I had to take off my pack to navigate. It also involved more climbing than the easier to walk Upper Antelope. The best feature though was the emptiness. There was no crowd and time to not only photograph, but also look around and enjoy the views, feel the rocks, and experience the location. 2013-November-Slot-Canyons-2Overall I enjoyed this first canyon and would recommend the trip even though it’s not as colorful as Upper Antelope Canyon. Still I found the narrower canyon to be very photogenic with some interesting formations that made a nice contrast to the nearby and more photographed canyon. This also isn’t a casual walking trip as going through the canyon requires climbing ladders and squeezing through narrow passages. This is a short canyon and didn’t require a lengthy stay. After finishing here and working back out we then headed toward the much better known Upper Antelope Canyon a little further into the wash from the main road.

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