Finding My Idea For The Shoot
This tutorial is a lot about my thinking and the process before a shoot. Having a cool idea and trying and failing until I perfect it. This idea has been with me for a number of years, as a pencil sketch artist in my youth I was always interested in drawing reflective objects and showing some of the background around the objects I was drawing.
I have always been interested in installation art, where the environment is incorporated and the location and positioning of the subject and the viewer are important. I now create most of my art with my camera but I still have similar ideas.
At a seaside town near me I happened across this giant sphere and was immediately captivated by it.
However the surroundings were boring and since then I kept an eye out for something similar I could get for myself and incorporate into my shots.
I finally found it for it. Some years later, a gazing sphere in a garden store, not expensive, just £5 for a 15cm Sphere
This was a test shot out the front of my house, just to see how much detail the sphere rendered. Turns out quite a bit, it’s perfect for my idea.
You can pick one up yourself for very cheap at Banggood or try different sizes too.
And so the planning for the actual shoot began.
My shopping list for this shoot:
- A nude model
- An interesting backdrop
- An interesting foreground
- An interesting way to incorporate me into the shot
- or an interesting way to hide me in the shot
Before I started approaching models I scouted lots of locations, I wanted something with a lot of green to show off my location, rural Ireland. But also something dramatic for the backdrop.
I tried a few places but including a reflective element meant that the backdrop and foreground needed to be clutter free. I needed somewhere quiet with no passers-by. I also needed somewhere safe for a nude model to pose and we have stinging nettles here!
I eventually settled on this old quarry which has become a nature reserve, interesting dramatic backdrop and lush green foreground, easy safe access with a path and very quiet, perfect!
So my next issue was how to hide myself in the sphere reflection, mostly from being shy but also because I wanted to create some mystic on how the picture was taken. Where is the camera, the photographer? Was it Photoshop? Or real?
Being an artist I had no problem making something. My primary concern was it had to be big enough to hide behind and I had to be able to shoot through it with my camera. I settled on an abstract element after a suggestion from my wife, a black picture in a frame. I had a few large frames already from making large art prints for clients so I decided to take one apart and see if I could successfully cut a hole and paint the back black to hide it.
I measured the diameter of the front of my biggest lens and cut the hole to match, making sure to keep the disc this made so I could make a door.
I attached a carry strap to the back too because I knew I would have to carry it around on location.
The primary function was completed, hiding me and create a interesting abstract element to pixel peep at in the picture too.
So I now had a location, already tested and looking interesting, a reflective sphere, and a means to hide myself in shot.
Model Selection: Character!
I initially had the idea to have a really white skinned model because here in Ireland, with the lack of sunshine, most people have very white skin. I also wanted my model to be different to most models that are normally used for nudes, not tanned and blonde. How about wild red hair and lily white skin?
The red hair would complement the green elements in the shot and the white skin would be similar to the white rocks at the location.
From a test shoot to see how we could keep this an art nude by not revealing her identity.
The model, Leonora Morrison, is also an author. She is 29 years old and was born in Belfast. She has a Masters in eighteenth Century studies including eroticism in art and culture and a great love for erotic art. In 2015 she published her first erotic novel ‘The Bed and the Bookcase’. The book has been a worldwide bestseller and was a direct response to the fanaticism surrounding ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, a tongue in cheek look at online dating aimed at the male reader.
The book is available on Amazon and her other short stories and blog can be viewed on Facebook ‘Leonora Morrison writer’ and ‘Inside my Head’. The Bed and the Bookcase (for kindle)She also believes in the promotion of redheads and positive affirmation of people with the ginger gene.
Her identity has been a well-kept secret and very little can be found to give this away. Leonora is a pale skinned, flame haired, curvy model. Leonora’s modelling adds a little to the mystery, aiming to create sexy, intriguing art while keeping her identity hidden.
I now had everything I needed to conduct the shoot and realise my idea.
Now one last problem: The weather here in Ireland on a location shoot.
The reason Ireland is so lush and green is that it rains a lot here. And for this type of shoot outside in a large white rock bowl we had two problems to contend with. Too cold and rainy, no way we could shoot. To hot and sunny, and we would be very warm and uncomfortable in the location.
I wanted a sunny but overcast day, we get these a lot here so we planned two days for the shoot, one as a plan B if the first day was not right.
I visited the location to see the type of light during different times because this was always going to be a natural light shoot. I knew from the start I couldn’t use big umbrellas or soft boxes because they would appear in the reflection.
With direct sun I got a hard contrasty light and with cloud over head I got a soft diffuse light. I would just have to hope for a mixture on the day, even when it is sunny here we normally have some clouds coming and going to diffuse the light
I wanted to use the natural pedestal rock to pose Leonora on so we started out there. This brought our first problem. The recent hot weather had brought about overgrowth of weeds and grass. I had checked the location the day before so came prepared!
Bush trimming pic courtesy of Leonora Morrison.
Next I wanted to check the reflection in the ball because we had a really strong harsh light source, the normal clouds I rely on for soft outside light where gone.
A little specular highlight but OK as it’s a metal ball.
First we tried some reclined poses and I was being mindful of the model, reflection in the sphere and don’t forget I was also balancing a picture frame in front of me and shooting from behind cover. Very complicated!
So we tried a few easy poses for Leonora first while I worked out the correct posture for shooting. For me this was a painful squat, the correct orientation of the picture frame had to be perpendicular to the ground and facing the sphere full on. All the while making sure my feet or elbows don’t poke out from behind!
Once I got my balance and posture, I settled on my Zeiss 55mm prime lens because it’s a fantastic lens and the sharpest I own with auto focus. I prefer to manual focus normally but when shooting through a hole in a picture frame this is extremely unpractical.
So on with the shoot. We worked through a number of poses, some my ideas, some of them Leonora’s, some just happy accident by paying attention while we both moved about.
While working through I took this, “the shot”.
It happens during all my shoots, I can just see and feel this is “it”. It was a pose that we refined, but as soon as I shot it I knew I loved it. The contrast of the green backdrop, the red hair, the white skin and the rocks reflected in the sphere.
I would always advise when you feel this you keep shooting regardless. We got lots of other cool shots, but nothing that felt as good as this.
So what problems did we have? Being outside in the sun in a giant white bowl it was hot, so we took a break for water halfway and sunblock was essential too.
With all my balancing I dropped the picture frame forward, thankfully near the end of the shoot.
Nothing I couldn’t fix at home for future shoots.
…And The Ugly
Having beautiful almost flawless pale skin is a great asset but it also is a problem, because it’s so delicate it bruises. Leonora was covered in bruises from the rock pedestal.
Also of concern was my camera equipment. Not worrying about it being stolen or broken, but keeping it hidden from the sphere reflection. I bought a new army utility bag to put an insert into specifically to hid my gear. I couldn’t get the right colour but anything would be better than my normal black.
Have a good look in the reflections. We had to hide Leonora’s water bottle and bath robe, as well as her normal clothes and sunglasses. Without the background explanation how would you assume we did this? Photoshop? I hate cheating in Photoshop, so each and every shot here, and all my other articles are only edited for colour, contrast and minor skin smoothing. The spheres are not doctored. In one shot you can see my feet, can you find them?
Conclusion: Be Yourself
Why is this so different than anything you have seen before? Not because I am better at photography than you, the reader, but because I try to think and be original. How can you do this? By all means copy this shoot, maybe do it better. But try to do it differently, add your own spin to it. Or better yet look back into your life at your own experiences and draw from that to find your own ideas. Think them through and plan the elements until you can make what is in your head a reality.
The only way to be different, and different is better than better in my view, is to be yourself, not someone else. So take inspiration from you location, your childhood and you other interests to guide you to your own original works, but most of all listen to yourself and stay true to you.