Dana, in real life an attorney based in Miami, captures “ordinary” women in stunning looks and achieves pro-like results with his efforts. He also attends a lot of inexpensive photo workshops to further develop his craft and photographic style.
Interview by Dan Hostettler
Where do you live and what is your primary profession?
I live in Miami, Florida (USA) and I have my own solo law practice. I am a consumer advocate attorney. I specialize in cases involving unscrupulous car dealers that have taken unfair financial advantage of car buyers, or car manufacturers that sell defective cars. It’s a narrow legal specialty, based on my life-long love of cars and prior experience and knowledge of finance.
Since when is nude photography your hobby?
About 10 years ago, I decided to quit my job, go to law school and join the digital age of photography. A strange combination of revolutionary life changes, I admit. I bought a second-hand Canon 10D on eBay, and while going to law school I started going to “glamour” photography workshops to start building a portfolio and learning the techniques.
What is the fascination that got you started shooting nude-oriented photos?
About the time I bought my first camera when I was in high school, I wanted to get into a special art school program. I couldn’t draw or paint, but I was good with my hands and I knew how to develop and print film, and I was lucky enough to be accepted into the program. I studied photography and sculpture there, and had two very different but very good teachers. I was taught the visual elements that make a composition “good” and other basics of aesthetics, but I struggled to create images that I was proud of.
Later in college, I took two courses in photography. I gained tons of technical knowledge (Zone System) and learned the history of photography (Cartier-Bresson, and the others) but my photography professor and I had very different aesthetic tastes. He was an Ansell Adams fan and was a perfectionist about controlling the “process” of photography.
I wanted to shoot human subjects, but not like the classic B&W artistic nude compositions that were being taught in school. Secretly, I aspired to become a Playboy photographer… Is there a teenage boy who doesn’t? Frustrated and fearing that if I pursued art as a career that I would graduate and become a starving artist, I shifted my focus (sorry for the bad pun) and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration.
Do you prefer a certain style (like NudeArt, glamNudes) and what is your idea/vision behind it all?
I really want to learn the secrets of making an “ordinary” woman look stunning, and get results like the pros. My idea/vision is not yet completely solidified, but here are some photographers that have caught my eye over the years. Let me preface this list by saying that the photographers mentioned below produce images that run a wide range of styles from tame to extreme.
Dean Capture is a California photographer whose glamourous settings and lighting techniques are top-notch in my opinion. Dean does the shallow DOF thing a little too often for my taste, but Dean is a guy that is willing to share his thoughts and experiences with aspiring shooters on developing a photograpic style. I follow his posts on the internet and here’s some good advice given by Dean to an aspiring photographer: http://deancapture.tumblr.com/post/57284045303/do-you-think-each-photographer-needs-their-specialty .
In the distant past, I was intrigued by the early work Suze Randall did for Playboy and Penthouse. My intrigue was due initially to the fact that she was a female photographer in a male dominated industry, and that she had worked on the other side of the lens as a model too. Her images over the decades run the full gamut, from erotic to hardcore. Call all of her work porn or whatever you like, but her production values and elaborate sets and styling were always above the rest.
Tammy Sands is a more recently popular female photographer whose work I have also noticed for similar reasons to Suze, and who produces images that go from high-end glamour to explicit http://www.modelmayhem.com/1556617 .
How do you cast the models for your projects?
I am fortunate that there are a lot of inexpensive photo workshops held in my area in the evenings or on weekends posted on www.meetup.com. When there is a workshop featuring a model that has a look that appeals me, I sign up and so I get a chance to work with her for a short time during the workshop. At the end of the shoot, if things went well, I approach the model and ask about the possibility of shooting together in the future and if she has any particular ideas or things she wants to add to her book, and also talk about concepts that I want to shoot.
Do you normally pay the models for a shoot or do you negotiate other deals like e.g. TFP (Time for Print)?
I do both. I started out doing TFP, but when there is no commitment to pay the model for the shoot there are lots of no-shows or “my car got a flat tire” excuses. One method I have used to compensate for the TFP no-show problem is to have an “open house.”
I advertise an open house shoot on casting call boards, and explain I am looking for 4 models to shoot 2 looks for 1 hour each person. I describe all of the specifics or a common theme for the shoot, and that shooting will be from 9 am – 3 pm. When models reply I let them know that the first to arrive is the first to be sent to makeup and first to shoot… so arrive early and avoid waiting in line, and the last chance for makeup is at noon.
Inevitably, some models don’t show up, but that’s OK because there is always at least one motivated model who arrives early, so the day is not wasted and the makeup artist has something to do! The first time I did this, and because I feared that nobody would come, or I would be pacing the floor waiting with the MUA for the first model to arrive late, I told all of the models that signed up that the first person to arrive between 8:30 and 9:00 am would receive a $50 Victoria Secret gift card. It’s a small price to pay to make sure you don’t end up waiting.
I think one reason the open house method works is because some models are reluctant to go to a home studio because they fear they will be locked up with a GWC, or worse. In an open house there will be other girls there to watch out for each other, and it sends a message of an open and safe environment.
At the first open house I had, a model told me she was bringing a male escort for her safety, which I welcomed her to do. When she arrived with him I offered him a seat and a soft drink while she was in makeup, and after fifteen minutes of him watching me working with another model, he stood up and asked for one of my business cards and waived goodbye to everyone, leaving the model behind.
Where and how do you present and publish your work (e.g. competitions, guest blogs, real galleries)?
I don’t do a good job with this. I have profiles on Model Mayhem and One Model Place. At this point, my goal is to build a more cohesive portfolio, rather than a bunch of random images. I feel I am in the random image phase right now… there’s some pretty good shots, but not a real common denominator.
How do you continue your education to stay up-to-date in nude photography (e.g. gear, styles, societal influence and trends)?
I like to tinker with cameras and lighting equipment, and I like to save money when I can. I browse the internet photography forums and YouTube for equipment reviews and lighting techniques. I browse women’s fashion magazines in the grocery store checkout line for trends in women’s fashions, makeup, accessories, etc.
Occasionally, I get strange looks from the clerk, or housewives in line with me. I think these magazines are where most styling and image trends emerge in print, and that those trends are later adopted in the world of men’s magazine content.
Many enthusiasts would like to explore nude photography but just don’t know how to get started. Any advice for those taking their first steps?
Everyone needs a mentor, and if you can’t afford private instruction with an expert like Dan , I think the next best way to find help is to attend some group photographic workshops, even if they are NOT nude oriented, as long as the focus is on photographing female subjects. “Glamour” is an overused word in workshop advertising. Many of the instructors organizing Glamour workshops also shoot nudes and know models that do this kind of work, even though they may not advertise this fact, but be resonable about your expectation levels. Go to different workshops, meet as many other shooters/students as you can. Ask them about who they like as a mentor, or which workshops provide the best models and learning environment.
Finding nude models, depending where you live, can be relatively easy or practically impossible. But, if you’ve already met a model at a workshop, and after you’ve established some credibility during the workshop that you’re not a threat to her safety and comfort, inquire if she’s willing to shoot nudes. Don’t be shy… experienced models have been asked the question hundreds of times before and they have a simple answer: “Yes” which may be followed by a limitation like “implied only” or “No, thank you I don’t do nudes for anyone.”
Try teaming up with other shooters that you meet at a workshop, and pool your resources to share the cost of hiring a model/MUA/renting a studio or whatever, and do your own workshop and support each other. Nude or not, I’ve done this as recently as last week, and you can learn something from almost any aspiring shooter because their prior experiences are different than yours. Share your triumphs, tradgedies and miracles that happened by accident… ask each other: Where did the magic in the image come from?
What are your next photography goals?
Wow, tough question, Dan. I wish I had a more well-defined answer for you. Pretty girls are pretty girls, and there is one on every street in Miami, so I am a bit jaded. Anyone with an iPhone can grab a shot of a hottie walking down Lincoln Road in high heels and a short skirt and post it on Instagram. Obviously, I am interested in capturing images with more substance than that, or I wouldn’t be here learning from you. This endeavor still remains a hobby for me. I have had a couple of paid assignments over the years, but it won’t pay the rent let alone recover my equipment costs.
Shooting can be stressful, but it’s the kind of positive stress that I like. Somehow it’s relaxing to me after the session is over. I like the problem solving that is involved in the creative process. My mental process during the shoot involves asking myself:
- What is most appealing feature to me about this model?
- What can I do to emphasize or complement this?
- What is the most significant flaw that I can see in this model?
- What can I do to conceal it or minimize its appearance?
And the hardest questions:
- What about this image will have some visual or emotional impact?
- What makes me think that others will find this image appealing?
This takes a lot of mental energy… I agonize over this sometimes. I guess that I will feel that I have made progress when the process becomes more fluid.
Tech QNA: Dana’s Gear DNA
What type of camera(s) do you work with?
Standard Gear: I love the 5D Mk II, it’s a big step up from the 40D that was my last camera. For lenses I use what many others use: 24-70mm f/2.8 L and 70-200mm f/4.0 L. Since I am not a pro with a big budget, I also rent lenses to experiment with them, like the more expensive 70-200mm f/2.8 L, but nothing about it impresses me that much to justify the huge price difference!
My Modifications: I replaced the focusing screen on the 5D with a specially modified Nikon split image focusing screen made by a specialist in Taiwan. I did that modification because I bought an old medium format manual focus Zeiss Sonnar 135mm f/2.8 lens really cheap (eBay), and I adore the results from the massive glass in this East European cold-war era lens. The Zeiss has been retrofitted with a Canon EOS mount adapter (eBay) and I added a dandelion AF confirmation chip (eBay and DIY). I don’t like the matte focusing screens that come with AF digital cameras. My eyes are getting too old, I guess. I grew up with split image, and it’s needed for critical focusing of the Zeiss, and can be used for MF of the Canon lenses too.
Do you prefer shooting indoors, in a studio or rather outdoors?
I like all of them. I like indoors or studio work for the privacy and control that you have, but shooting on the beach is probably my favorite. Living in Miami makes it an easy option, but nudity on the beach is not legal in most places. There are some secluded locations where you can “cheat” if you’re careful and considerate of others.
What lighting equipment do you set up for a shoot?
I haven’t discovered my signature lighting style yet. I am still trying to imitate or replicate other’s techniques, like yours Dan. I have a Canon 580 EX II speedlight (used eBay), and a Hensel Porty battery powered pack (used eBay) and a White Lightning monolight (used eBay). A couple of soft boxes, a beauty dish and various big and small umbrellas. There’s a California Sunbounce reflector in my closet because it’s too big to handle without an assistant.
Pocket Wizards for triggering the big strobes, or a Flash Zebra 16’ ETTL cable for off-camera flash control of the speedlight, which is a very frequently used part of my “beach kit.” I had rented the Pocket Wizard radio ETTL triggers based on the marketing hype, but was disappointed with their performance in the field. The ETTL cable has its obvious disadvantages but it has bulletproof performance at a fraction of the cost.
How important is Photoshop for your final images?
I use Lightroom for editing. I am not a beginner, but I am nowhere near being an expert. I am still learning new tricks every day. I try to avoid creating anything that could be considered blatantly obvious clone stamping edits of the model’s blemishes or creating completely bizarre exposure/contrast/color temperature shifts… but then again, don’t we all?
It’s a tool, like any other… in the hands of a experienced craftsman, the results can become a masterpiece even if there are some flaws in the original raw materials, but in the hands of an apprentice PS can’t overcome major defects in the raw materials. Anybody can boil an egg, but a master chef can take the same eggs and make a soufflé that doesn’t fall.
Are you rather a Mac or a PC lover?
I have both right now, Windows for the desktop and Mac for a laptop. I started out as a Mac fanatic in 1985… but lost my faith in Apple over the years, and had nothing but Windows machines until recently. Ever since the iPhone took the world by storm, and replaced the Blackberry I had in my pocket, I have slowly moved back to Apple when I replaced my laptop with a MacBook this year.
I think I am the only person in Miami that doesn’t have and iPad!
Dana, thanks a lot for joining me and the time you dedicated to my readers.