Beningbrough Rule Bending Pt II

So back to this new fascination with macro photography that I mentioned in part one.

Though none of my nudes have ever been explicit, it seems far less controversial to shoot close-ups of sex organs when they belong to plants, and so I’ve spent a good many hours this summer getting up close and personal with flowers, whether growing wild or in gardens… or in a vase in my kitchen.  (I’ve been in and outdoors shooting nudes too, and have continued that discussion with the two models concerned, who both actively embrace the genre.)

As you may have gleaned from the first part of this post; the driver behind this interest in the small world (and now I have THAT SONG in my head) was that it didn’t require a huge investment in special lenses and that came as a huge surprise.  I’ve owned a macro lens for several years but none of the shots I’d taken with it ever seemed close enough, yet reading the captions of the photographs at the exhibition told me they were shot with similar equipment.  It was time for some serious research.

A bit of reading introduced me to some new equipment (macro tubes) and new techniques (focus stacking) which seemed easy to try.  The first are a set of different sized connectors that are placed between lens and camera which have the effect of enabling the lens to get closer to the subject and they are so cheap.

Now I was getting somewhere, but then the closer you get the more another difficulty becomes apparent; getting the subject in focus.  Without being overly technical, photographs are a compromise between how much of the space between lens and background is in focus and the time the shutter is open (I’m ignoring the use of ISO here to keep it simple) but basically if you want everything in shot to be pin sharp then you need a longer exposure.  Fine if you’re shooting a building or a landscape but add a gust of wind to a flower and you’ve lost it.  Go to the opposite extreme and you can shoot quicker but the depth of field can be so small that when the tip of a petal is in focus the rest of the flower is not;  focus stacking means shooting a range of images that focus on a range of points and then blending them in photoshop so that the whole subject is sharp.  I haven’t cracked it yet, but this image of a feather shows the potential for the technique.

I’ve also embraced some of that blur as any creative should.

And then I discovered something else.  Reversing lenses.  This is how some of those amazing images had been captured with what seemed like very ordinary glass.  Using a special adaptor you can fit a lens backwards to your camera, enabling a wide-angle lens to do the reverse; become so narrow that it enlarges the subject.  Combined with those extension tubes and a device to move a small flash up to the subject too and I’m ready to go (even if the camera does look like feel more cyborg than I’m used to.)

And so back to the riverside at Beninbrough, with a flash in the wrong place and a lens on backwards to make some new naked friends…

Beningbrough Rule Bending Pt I

Having moved home in the last year I have a new area to explore and of course that includes some new National Trust properties that I’ve visited before, and even despite my disagreement with their drone policy two of the houses in North Yorkshire won me over with some special exhibits.

The first was Nunnington Hall; a largely 17th Century country house which was hosting a display of work by the finalists in the British Wildlife Photography Awards – how could I resist?  The images are all copyright of course so I can’t show them here, but they gave me some impetus to explore a new area of photography which I shall expand upon in the second part of this post.

Many of the shots were captured by the intrepid “camp out all night to see hares in the dawn mist” type, who must surely be professionals with bottomless pockets to fund the long telephoto lenses used in most of these shots.  I’m not denigrating their skill or commitment, but as these are shots that I don’t envisage myself ever taking I was happy to admire them but not inspired to follow suit.

In contrast the category that really did impress me was macro photography with incredible close up shots of insects revealing incredible detail but seemingly achieved with quite ordinary equipment.  I went straight out into the ground to shoot close ups of their flowers!

My second “new” discovery was Beninbrough Hall; a much grander Georgian mansion set in sprawling ground where cattle and sheep graze freely.  Beningbrough has a close relationship with the National Portrait Gallery, and so continually displays pictures from that collection, though these change in line with important themes.  In timely fashion this year is focusing on creative women, and so there are paintings and photographs of the likes of Judi Dench, Darcey Bussell and Amy Winehouse, though my personal favourite had to be one of the smaller works; Neil Wilder’s photographic portrait of JK Rowling.

With no opportunity to take that inspiration outside and begin photographing famous authors I was off to the gardens in close up mode again, but with one exception and act of rebellion.

A walk along the River Ouse gives an opportunity to view the Hall in the context of it’s grounds, though even at some distance it is difficult to capture a truly representative shot because of the many trees that can obstruct the view.  Time to get airborne again!


Foss & Nonsense

It’s a pity that global warming is the culprit, but something remarkable has happened in the UK and we’ve had a real summer (and it’s still only July at the time of writing).   At the risk of sounding ungrateful, this has had the effect of rendering almost everywhere I’ve been pleasurable and photogenic, with the consequence that my hard drive is bulging and I’m losing track of where I’ve written about and where remains on the to do list!  Buttermere in the Lake District has seen me loitering on its shores day and night twice this month and won’t make it to the blog, though here’s a sample of my time there.

Yesterday for example I went out to recce locations for a forthcoming model shoot, and based on her recommendation I went to a tiny hamlet called Beck Hole.  Actually I went to Goathland because the roads to Beck Hole were closed as a result of a landslip into the same valley where I wanted to go shooting.

Goathland is well-known to many people (not including me) as the location where the TV series Heartbeat was filmed, but you won’t be finding shots of its quaint retro look here because I was after somewhere more secluded.

And so I toiled up and down the slopes of Eller Beck in search of interesting waterside settings and was in need of new energy supplies before I even reached Beck Hole and the tiny 19th century Birch Hall Inn.   Sitting outside with a pint of Black Sheep was idyllic and I could easily have been tempted to another had I not been driving later.  I wonder if I would have felt the same had it not been a glorious summer’s day though.

In any event the restorative powers of a pint of bitter and dappled sunshine were enough to persuade me to try the opposite bank, where I saw both the scale of the landslip and the mountain rescue volunteers practicing for the worst should there be a repeat.    Upstream I went until I found exactly what I was looking for, a collection of boulders that would add interest to my shoot and provide contrast to the soft fragility of Mischkah, the model I’ll be shooting.

I also found Thomason Foss, or as it is tautologically described on the Ordnance Survey map of the area  Thomason Foss (Waterfall).  As any good Viking will tell you, a foss IS a waterfall, and of course this part of the country was once home to Norse settlers.

It may not have the drama of its numerous Icelandic cousins but it will do very nicely as a backdrop for my shoot.

Of course there’s every chance that normal British conditions will reassert themselves and it will be too cold and wet on the day we have booked.  Just as well Mother Nature agreed to pose for me in the meantime.


NSFW (Not Safe From Williams?)

Be warned – this post features nudity.

I wasn’t intending to post any of these images to my blog originally, but they seemed to take on a life of their own as you shall see.

A couple of years ago a woman I met on a date contacted me later to commission me to shoot some pictures of her, including some nudes; she’s been a yoga teacher for many years, and although nearing 60 was still in good shape so wanted to record this before time caught up with her.  We left the nakedness until the end of the day’s shooting, and despite capturing some shots earlier in the day that I was very happy with, these final shots were poor.

I was disappointed in myself and for my subject, but there were a number of reasons for the failure:

  • By leaving it to the end of the day my model was tired
  • The location we had chosen, whilst dramatic, was very cold
  • We hadn’t fully agreed what sort of shots she would like beforehand

In these circumstances I think she just wanted to get it over with and so did I!  The failure got under my skin, if you’ll excuse the term, and so with the freedom of being single this year, it was an aspect of my photography I wanted to nail and so I’ve worked with models several times this year leading up to a session with a model called Joceline a couple of weeks ago.  Though she has a YouTube channel entitled “Joceline’s Twilight Years” she still has a couple of decades on my unfortunate client, but with a background in ballet, she too is in excellent shape.

This time I was prepared.  Heavily.  I had ideas aplenty for what I wanted to shoot, so much so that in four hours we didn’t get through them all, and I’d planned sets and lighting too (all in my lounge!).  I was largely delighted with the results.

There was a small exception though.  I’ve long been a fan of an image by Rudolf Koppitz that I saw in Bradford’s National Media Museum featuring a nude set against a dark background provided by three women cloaked in black.  On the day I aimed to recreate this with a composite of 4 images of Joceline, but I wasn’t happy with the result.  Sitting at my Photoshop screen I was determined to produce something a little more creative, and it occurred to me that some shots featuring an outfit straight from IKEA (lampshade and curtain) reminded me of ladies day at the races.  It wasn’t long before I’d produced this spoof image.

And that might have been the end of it were it not for a conversation with a superb floral artist at the other end of the country initially about a series on BBC 4 about Japanese art, including Ikebana, which she also produces.  Our conversation initially focused on serious elements of composition, minimalism and negative space, but at some point I shared the nudes above, including my Ascot pastiche.

Which is when she threw down the gauntlet of producing something for the forthcoming Wimbledon championships, without copying the famous 1970’s tennis girl poster.  Naturally I responded.


Belle Donne (Venezia 273)

Today’s post breaks the norm by including two images, but you’ll see why as I tell the story.

I’d spotted a junction where to position their gondole correctly for the turn ahead, the oarsmen were drifting close to a wall and then pushing off from that wall with their left foot to swing the stern of their boats further, and so I thought if I stood and waited for a while I might get an interesting action shot.  Of course what resulted was a succession of vessels that went straight ahead under the bridge where I was standing with no need for such an adjustment.

I was ready to give up when another story began to unfold.  An approaching gondola carried two pretty girls in short white lacy dresses that contrasted with the hard black lines of their chosen transport, so I was thinking about the possibilities of the image when the gondolier bent down and instructed them to go to the other end of the boat.  Much wobbling and nervous shrieking ensured as the girls manoeuvred around each other and took their places in the prow where they now sat facing the rower.Venezia-13

They were still laughing as they emerged from under the bridge and posed for me.

I wonder what excuse he gave for having the girls sit opposite him!Venezia-14

La Triste Bellezza (Venezia 213)

There is much to enjoy in this beautiful city, but that doesn’t render her citizens or her visitors immune to moments of melancholy.

When such moments do arise there are streets and parks to lose yourself in, places that overlook lagoon or sea where you can anchor the body while the mind goes sailing, other people’s lives going on around you to distract you from your own.

Or you can find a small bar with large glasses.