A First Beginning

Once upon a time it seemed during almost every shoot the model would ask me some version of, “How did you get started in photography?” I rarely hear it anymore. I assume that’s because I’ve been working long enough now that how I started seems less interesting than what we’re going to do that day. Also possible that I’ve just gotten so much better at small talk during shoots that models don’t need to go to their standard bag of questions to fill the silence.

I bought my first digital camera embarrassingly early. That camera was little more than a toy and useful only for taking photos for web pages when speeds were measured in bits per second and not megabits per second. I came into photography through art. I started drawing and painting the nude, and then thought of photographing the nude. Moving to nude photography took a while. Finding models became the hardest challenge to working often enough to build my skills. I first photographed a nude in 2005, a female friend who was mostly just curious what it would be like to see herself nude in a photo. This was before everyone had cellphones to text naked pictures to each other making it a more unique experience then. I hired a professional model for a shoot later in the year, but my inexperience really showed there.

After a few more attempts that came to nothing as I moved through early 2006. Late in the spring I connected with a model traveling through the area and scheduled a shoot. She also introduced me to a friend also traveling through the area at the same time. In the end things worked out where one model would come through and we’d work one on one, the second model would arrive and I’d work with the pair, and I’d finish working solo with the second model for a while.

The circumstances for the shoot weren’t the best. I was scheduled to close on a house a couple of days before the scheduled shoot and really had no alternate plan had the house closing been delayed. Most of my belongings were in a storage shed so the only lighting I had available was a single halogen work light bought to use when renovating the house. The house had last been renovated in the 1970s and the color choices reflected that. On the day of the shoot I had only a couple of chairs for furniture and wifi had been installed late the day before. Most of the shoot took place in an empty room that’s now my bedroom.

I mainly remember being really nervous before the shoot working with both models. The first model was okay to work with, but the second model really taught me a lot about working with a model and getting good results. I learned more during that one day of photography working with these two models than any other single day I’ve had with a camera. While I had little idea what I was doing,  that second model in particular was wonderful to work with and really taught me a lot about how to work with a model. That second model was Melissa Troutt. It was the first time I worked with her. While it would be several years before we’d work together again, a quick search of this site will show how much we’ve worked together over the years.

Melissa was great, but there’s little I look at from that shoot today without cringing at the mistakes I made. Here Melissa demonstrates why you should always make sure models are well fed before starting the shoot.


There are a few gems scattered in there though. Melissa probably deserves most of the credit for those, but I do think the idea to shoot some images using candlelight worked well. A good example below and this is a lighting I need to try again sometime. It’s also been a while now since I’ve had the chance to work with Melissa, and I hope that we can work together again soon.


Thanks to those of you that stuck around and read through these last few days. As I get to the end you might wonder what the point of this was? I’m hoping as I move into 2014 that I’m making the same jump I did in those times documented today or yesterday. A moment when I can move to a better level of work and one day look back as a similar transition point. In the last few days posts I’ve documented some of those moments along the way from the past. On Monday and Tuesday I touched on some frustrations from the last year and thoughts on where I want to go moving into 2014. Wednesday I looked at the worst stretch of my photography time. One Thursday I looked at the stretch that broke that frustration and titled it a new beginning. Today I looked back at my first beginning.

Later this morning comes my first real attempt in this direction in a shoot that will push me outside my comfort zone. The results will either be amazing or a mess. It makes me a little nervous, but I think that’s a good thing. Even if it doesn’t work, then I’ll learn from it and can take that forward and try again as I explore some new areas in photography. There will still be photos like you’ve seen in the past here, but expect some new things to show up in the future.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled post programming.

The New Beginning

History is much easier to write in the past tense. Sounds obvious, but I mean that events that leave a mark often do not seem so until reflected upon after the fact. I left off in yesterday’s post at what turned out to be a turning point for me, though I didn’t know it at the time. As the middle of March 2010 arrived I knew I was really frustrated after dealing with some personal issues and  a lot of canceled or flaked shoots over the last months. So these three shoots The first of those three ended up postponing until the following Sunday putting all three shots over the course of a single week. That week turned out to be a large step into my current photography.

First of the three came Ms. Rebel, a fairly local model out of Knoxville. It’s the only time we worked together and honestly it wasn’t my most inspired shoot since I was coming off such a long gap. If I’m honest I don’t think I really expected her to show up until I got a text from her that morning that she was on her way. I hadn’t planned a lot for the shoot, and didn’t have a great plan before she arrived. I played it by ear and was nowhere as good at that as I am now. Overall though we had a good shoot. Working with her helped me get back into the routine and thought process before my later shoots that week. The photo below is of her amazing seascape chest tattoo. It’s still one of the best works that I’ve seen.


Originally I had two shoots scheduled for the late in the week, one on Thursday and the second on Friday. A week or so before the shoots the Thursday model asked to move our shoot to Saturday, which turned out to work better for me so I ended up with Friday and Saturday shoots.

The Friday shoot came with Laura New. We headed to a place that’s become one of my favorite shooting locations over time. I’d hiked there a time or two, and the thoughts of the locations to photograph held great possibilities in the late winter/early spring transition. Having not shot nudes outside before, we began with some work with her in a white dress. The photo below of Laura on a rock next to a small rapid was my favorite of the shoot and a print of photo hung on my wall for a time.


Laura was really the first time I’d photographed a model outdoors for a lengthy period of time. We got a lot of good images that day. It was early enough that while some green showed,much of the bare winter landscape still prevailed. In spots there was a lush green carpet of plant life, but feet away would have passed for mid winter. Another shot I like from this shoot is this one of her posed on a tall rock. You can see some greenery jsut behind the rock, but the trees in the background are still bare.


The shoot made for a long day, but a good learning experience. I learned on the fly to balance the changing natural light and a model both in outfits and nude. We worked in a number of locations, each a little different. Not all went well. We were caught by onlookers once with her nude, and almost caught several other times. As it ended I walked away happy with the images and feeling I’d learned a lot in a short period of time.

I also remember being completely exhausted and sore when getting back home at the end of the day. I’d started hiking the year before, but done little over the winter undoing much of that gain of endurance. I spent much of the coming summer slowly getting back into some shape. Now I do longer hikes than that day carrying more weight just to unwind after a hard week. You can also read a post written nearer the shoot along with a second with more photos.

Saturday came the last of these three shoots with Melissa Troutt. I’d worked with her once several years before when I just started out. After she arrived  we had a wonderful artistic click almost from the start. She seemed to understand what I had in mind and how to help get there. We did a little indoor work before heading out to a location because of concerns about the weather. After the day before, I chose a less ambitious hike for this shoot. We made a short though slightly strenuous trail that ended with of a wonderful waterfall. We got to the waterfall, but started in the area around it. This early photo from that day still is one of my favorite photos that I’ve taken of Melissa.


I love the expression and pose of her on the log. I remember enjoying the way she got involved in the shoot, not just reacting, but looking for ways to make better photos. We only worked the one spot around the falls, but there was plenty of variety for a long shoot. We didn’t end until we were stumbled across by some surprised onlookers. Again no problem, but with that and the lowering light deep in these woods, we did wrap up the shoot. The biggest lesson of the two days I learned the lesson to be more careful in the future was learned.

Another shot of her on the falls itself. Posts and photos posted nearer to the shoot can be found here and here.


The experiences reworked my thoughts on photography. I felt energized and ready to work harder to get better. This blog began to become more active after those shoots. I still had a number of flakes and cancellations over the next months, but more good shoots. Somewhere along the way I began to feel like I had an idea of what I was doing and began to wnat more. I already could produce good photos with models as experienced and talented and Laura and Melissa, but began to get better results with everyone. In retrospect I think that the end of 2009 and early 2010 was a dip, a sort of plateau I had to get across to get better and start getting the results I wanted. Thanks to Ms. Rebel, Laua, and Melissa, I did get there to where I couldn’t imagine the last few years without photography.

This was the only time I worked with both Ms. Rebel and Laura New. Ms. Rebel appears to no longer model. Laura still works, but I think no longer does nude work like that here. Melissa and I have worked together many times since this shoot, and I’ve come to see her as both a muse and a friend.

Tomorrow to wrap up this week I’m going to take a look a bit further back to 2006 and one of the first real shoots I had with professional models and wrap up this little series.

First of Fall

I’ve long considered fall my favorite season and today marks the start of the latest version. September is a pretty quiet month for me shooting, but I’ve kept myself busy with some other photography projects, one of which I’ll have more about around the first of October.

The calendar doesn’t directly affect the weather, but today the first day of fall really does feel like it. I took a long hike this morning in the woods for a few hours not seeing another human soul the whole time. The squirrels scamper around gathering nuts and the mostly eaten remnants of walnuts litter the trails. The first hints of color show in a few trees and the first pioneers of the leaves to soon cover the ground have arrived. In a couple weeks I expect to be looking at a wonderful display of color that the weather of the year should have set up for us.

I do miss shooting models outside as the weather cools, but on those rare days when temperatures and schedules align the combination of the two can be quite interesting. This year I’ve gotten outdoors for shoots less often than I’d like because of the weather and other interruptions and distractions in life. In fact spring and early summer really were a terrible year for shooting outdoors and August really was my most productive month by a wide margin.

Still I’m looking forward to fall this year. I have a pretty nice schedule of shoots for October planned. Hopefully the weather will cooperate for at least a few of them to get some last outdoor shots before winter sets in. While I’m going to focus on landscape, stars, and non model photography while in Arizona this November, I do expect a few shoots out there with some familiar faces.

A few fall outdoors photos from the archives. First a shot of Adrina Lynn from back in 2010 in weather that really was way too cold to do outdoor nudes. We only worked about a half hour and it was obvious that it was just too cold. It took her quite a while to warm up afterward.


Also a shot I love of Melissa Troutt from early October a couple years ago. This shoot was very on the fly and scrambling as our originally planned location didn’t work out and we had to improvise. We wound up trying a nice little spot I need to go back to again some day. Melissa was also still getting over a very nasty case of poison ivy requiring a little extra editing and posing care. We still got some pretty good work that day.

Melissa Troutt

Melissa in the Hall

Following up my post a last week with Melissa a few more from that second shoot. The setup for these is much the same as the last image with a little tweak. A single flash behind the door at the end of the hall still provides the only light, but the door now opens wider. The flash now casts a beam through the more open door illuminating more of the hall along with the floor around Melissa. That single flash provides the only light for these images. I left the flash unmodified to produce a very harsh light to better bring out the textures in the wall and give a high contrast lighting reminiscent of film noir. The film noir style focuses on moody, dark, and dramatic themes with a low key black and white lighting style.

So a bit about the setup behind these images and the path that got to here. A few days before this shoot I’d watched the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall version of The Big Sleep based of the Raymond Chandler novel. It’s a classic film noir and my personal favorite example of the genre. The film tells a tale of a private investigator played by Bogart that becomes embroiled in a mess of blackmail, murder, and betrayal after being hired by a wealthy man to handle his daughter’s gambling debts. Like most film noir the story contains elements of sex, blackmail, crime that have led crime stories to be associated with the genre.

After shooting some images as the last I posted with Melissa peeking into a cracked door, the idea came for these. The light already had an element of that noir look and I enhanced that by shifting the light and removing the modifiers to give sharp lined shadows and hard contrast lighting. Our thought here was the story of a male presence along with a nude woman in a simple interaction of looking at each other across a small distance. The male presence is myself in a rare appearance in front of the camera. The camera is on a tripod at the far end of the hallway from Melissa and being triggered by a remote. I don’t remember for these two, but in several of them Melissa has the remote and triggered the camera hiding it shadow for the shot.


I like the first image above mostly from Melissa’s pose and expression. The male looks to have just come into the hallway and found her here. The look on Melissa’s face has just enough ambiguity in its neutrality to make you wonder at her reaction to the arrival. She seems a little concerned and guarded. There’s the question of why is she in the hall? Why is she nude? Who is this person with her? What is their relationship? What’s inside that room with the open door? My positioning where I stand in silhouette and block any view beyond her are both intentional to add mystery to the scene.

In the second below I’m a more full presence and I like the connection of her looking up at me as I look down toward her. Her pulled in body contrasts with the less guarded expression. In both images I think there are several stories once can fit to the scene. What are the intents of both characters and what relation do they have? Why are they here? It’s that ambiguity and question I wanted to capture in these photos. In the end a noir story or movie isn’t about the results. You don’t watch The Big Sleep to find out who killed the chauffeur, you watch to see the investigation and the twists and turns of the story. Here the photo doesn’t tell you what happened before this moment or afterward, but provides enough for you to write your own story around it.


Melissa from Winter

I know I’m posting kind of randomly right now. I’ve had a number of shoots this year I’ve not posted anything from so I’ve been making an effort to go back and catch up on some of the better ones. Here I’m going all the way back to end of last year and first of this one with and some shoots with Melissa Troutt. She’s always one of my favorite models to work with and one of the best art models I’ve ever had the chance to collaborate with. We end up with some interesting things every time we work together and that’s part of what makes our collaborations so enjoyable. I spent some time last week going through those photos again this past week and realized I’d never posted any of these so I’m correcting that.

First a couple of her in a simple setup with her lying on a white sheet draped over a large sofa and natural light coming through a sheer curtain on a window to the side and behind me. I love the eye contact with the camera and her body pose in this image.


Another that I really like. Her I think her face has a nice subtle emotion with a hint of sadness and regret. It’s a good pose again as it enforces that feeling of sadness in her body. I do wish I’d had Melissa move her forearm a bit to completely cover her nipple as i think the image would have worked even better as an implied nude.


One more for this post from a different shoot with her that’s completely different. Here we have a much different setup. The ambient light provides just enough light to give shape and the primary light is a flash that shows through the crack in the door. I like the element of mystery to this one with the darkness on her body leaving her nude, but only barely revealed and the question of what she’s looking into the door for. Is she looking to get in or out? There’s a lot of stories I think can be placed into this photo.


I’ve a couple more of Melissa and this same shoot for a later post, but that’s all for now.

Thoughts on the Canon 6D

I noted in a post a bit back that I’d purchased a Canon 6D to replace my reliable T2i. The camera arrived right after I settled into a bit of a holiday break. I of course played with it during the time, but didn’t get a chance to use it in a shoot with a model until last week. First I found that I was able to shoot in dimmer light that I otherwise would have. We shot using just the natural light and as we got into the late afternoon with the setting sun and thickening clouds from rain moving in I was able to shoot well past where I would have stopped with the T2i. Autofocus worked dimmer than I’d ever gotten it to with the T2i.

The good news is that my primary reason for the purchase, better high ISO noise performance looks to have paid off. The noise at high ISO on the 6D is much less noticeable. Here are two examples, the first from a photo of Keira taken with the T2i back during July and the second a photo of Melissa taken with the 6D last week. Both were photographed at ISO 1600. Click on either one to see a larger version of the image. Both of these are zoomed in extremely close to make the noise more visible, but they are zoomed in to the same ratio. Also no processing other than to balance the exposure between the two to make them better comparable. In other words I feel these are as close as I can get to direct comparison without taking a photo with each camera at the same time.

Canon T2i at 1600 ISO
Canon 6D at 1600 ISO

It’s clear how much less noise there is in the photo on the right under similar lighting conditions. This continues into higher ISO quite nicely. Here is a photo of Melissa taken late in the day at ISO 5000, a value I wouldn’t even think to attempt on my T2i.

The image quality and color when paired with my 24-105 lens has been great. It’s noticeably better than the T2i in every way. Coming from the T2i it’s like a revelation and I think that some of technical limitations I’d hit the last year doing outdoor work (especially in wooded locations), light painting, and when working with just natural light will better let me focus on just working. I’ve briefly used both the Canon 5D Mark III and Mark II a few times, but never owned either nor used either for my day to day camera so I can’t compare the 6D to either directly. . I made this upgrade specifically for the better sensor quality and better ISO performance and both are definitely noticeably better. I think the move is worth it if, like me, you are shooting with an older model and looking for the better quality images and less noise at high ISO, but felt couldn’t justify the cost of the Mark III for your needs. If I made my living with a camera, I’d likely have gone the Mark III route, but I feel for me, serious about photography, but not making a living with it, the 6D fits the nice sweet spot between what I pay and the performance I want.


I’m still playing with Wi-Fi and the GPS options and will report more on them later. I’m particularly interested in setting up a wireless tethered type workflow using the Wi-Fi wireless features when working. I’m still adjusting to the camera so I’ll add a new post when I’ve had a chance to work with it a bit more. I’d hoped to give it a try outside, but the weather has not been cooperative the last couple of weeks as it’s been very winter around here. As I have some more shoots over the next few weeks and months, I’ll continue to post some more thoughts and observations.

A few good links to some people more familiarly with the Mark II, Mark III, and Nikon D600 (the rough Nikon equivalent of the 6D) and therefore can compare them:

Going to a Darker Place

Sometimes photo plans don’t work out. I’d planned this shoot with Melissa to be outdoors on a nice late summer afternoon. In the mountains though late summer brings the threat of storms and we prepared to go shoot, the weather to the west was quite ominous. A quick check of the radar on my phone showed several lines of rain and storms coming in toward town. So we went to a plan B, shooting some light painting indoors.

I like the first one here as part of a set we did. The idea is a mix of a couple of ideas, but the strongest is probably the horror movie cliché of the old asylum. The sepia toning I think adds to the older feel of looking at something from the past. The story here is one of questions. The slight out of focus to give it a feel of being a little off normal.  Is she someone trapped and trying to get out to the viewer for escape or is she trying to get out to ensnare the viewer? Is the hand restraining her trying to keep her in to protect the viewer, or keep her from being helped by the viewer? Melissa nailed the expression perfectly here, a mix of desperation, fear, and hope.


Some others around the same theme, but more directly something menacing than the first photo. Here there’s no doubt of the intent and I think the starkness of the lighting highlights that. Love her expression in the first of these too. It really conveys the the emotion wonderfully.



Melissa in the Waterfall

The trip out west left me re-energized for photograph like I’d not been in a while.  I’d taken a break from shooting for several weeks including all of May as I’d mentioned in an earlier post.  When I started back with the shoot with Ginger I just felt more into the shoots, more engaged with the models I collaborated with, and clearer on what I wanted to accomplish at each shoot.  One part of this was a willingness to try some things and work without a plan as much.  Generally before an outdoor shoot I’ll scout the location several times to establish locations and spots.  I found myself more open now to just going out and seeing what we came across in the process.  It’s not something I would do with any model, but there are ones that I know it would work.

That’s how Melissa Troutt and I found ourselves exploring a new location on a hot day in late June.  These were the worst days of a heat wave in the south with temperatures setting daily record highs.  This day would be one of the hottest reaching around 105 degrees at my home.  Even in the western North Carolina mountains around 3,000 feet temperatures climbed well into the 80s.  That elevation and the wood cover probably cooled it at least ten degrees over Asheville.

Our first spot was a nice wooden bridge where I got a wonderful headshot of Melissa.


Our first exploration from here came to a bit of a dead end, but still found photo I liked in a bit of a dreamy style.


And then we found one of the best waterfalls that I’ve come across in the area.  It’s a wonderful private location and surprisingly easy to get to once you know it’s there.  We did a few photos around the falls


Then Melissa braved the cold water for some simply amazing shots in the flow itself.  Her willingness to endure the cold water to get shots like these is part of what makes her such a joy to work with.


Fall 2011–The First of the Rest

The first of two final posts to highlight a few last photos from the last three months of 2011 that I want to share.  These didn’t easily fit into the categories of my other posts.  First a few of Charlie Kristine from November.


And now a few of Kerri Taylor from December.


First a few other photos from shoots with Melissa Troutt in October and December.