Figures in Light Photography

What was the first thing that captured you about photography and make you want to be a photographer?

My father was a big amateur photographer and looking at his old pictures was a view into a past that was otherwise unknowable. He concentrated mostly on landscapes and some travel, as well as the family vacations. He was the one that gave me my first SLR in 1985 so that I could start taking pictures for the high school yearbook. I also started reading National Geographic at an early age and became fascinated with the storytelling that photography can do as well as showing us amazing places that we may never see and the people that live there. The images there were always so exciting and ignited a desire for adventure that still remains. Photography was always a hobby but became more serious as time went by.

You have some created some amazing photos. Are you all self-taught, or did you go through any training?

I’m basically self-taught. My father taught me most of the basics as a kid – Aperture, Shutter speed, ISO – as well as how to develop and print film. My time as a school photographer in high school and college helped as well, although this was mostly about the mechanics and science of photography, not really about art. I’m a professional engineer, so anything artistic had to wait until I had time after college. For me photography was more about travel, landscapes, and documenting the lives of my friends more than any attempt at art. Occasionally I would take things more seriously and those photos are still ones I treasure and return to.

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What was the hardest photography skill you had to master, and how did you overcome it?

Mixing ambient with added light is probably the hardest thing to learn. Or how to make strobe light look like ambient light. I basically had to get decent equipment, learn from the work of some real masters online (YouTube like everyone else), and then go out and experiment with the patience of others. I feel like I need to work on posing too, but I overcome that with creative partners.

Do you remember your first photo shoot and what was it of?

My very first boudoir/nude shoot was a college girlfriend sometime around 1991. We used a simple camisole and window light and a 50mm lens on my Canon AE-1, on black and white film developed by a local lab. The lab guy asked me how long I’d been doing shoots like that and was amazed it was my first one. I remember how happy the pictures made her. She had body issues and never felt as pretty as I thought she was, so I tried to show her what I saw. Unfortunately I gave her all the prints and negatives. Two years ago I discovered one remaining negative of a silhouette shot – the only picture I have from that first shoot.

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Checking out your impressive range of photos on your Instagram feed, there is a mixture of both Black&White and colour; if you had to choose between the two, which one would you prefer and why?

If I had to choose between color and B&W, I would probably choose B&W. B&W emphasizes shape, texture, and light/dark contrast. That’s usually what interests me more than anything. Color is not usually the reason I take a picture, except occasionally. I will use color when I think it adds something (my red fabric for example) or when color helps to separate the subject from the background.

Is there a specific process you follow when you are editing your photos?

I use a light hand for editing. I don’t use Photoshop (only Lightroom) so changing body shape or other dramatic things isn’t going to happen. In general I try to get back to what I remember, or to create a certain feeling (moodiness, lightness, drama, etc.). Every image gets the same basic tweaks (contrast, saturation, sharpening) on import. Then there’s global exposure adjustment, followed by curves adjustment. Then dodge and burn as needed. I will remove non-permanent things like blemishes, scars, etc. ( or other things as requested) and do some light skin smoothing, but that’s about it. I try to do as little as possible and get it mostly right in-camera. Sometimes you have to shoot to edit though, especially when shooting in high-contrast situations.

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If you could invent one piece of equipment to help you, what would it be and why?

My biggest problem for a lot of outdoor images is bright, direct light right when I don’t want it. A magical, wind-proof, giant scrim that floats anywhere to create open shade would be nice!

If you were to plan your perfect photo shoot without restrictions, can you tell me what you would do?

I would hire 2 or 3 very good models plus hair and makeup and at least one assistant and go out west for months to shoot in some of the very dramatic landscapes for a series of landscape nudes. Canyons, deserts, rain forests, and rivers would be the environments to use. The more difficult to access the better.

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Your photo shoots have taken place in some amazing locations where they difficult to find; which is your favourite and why?

They aren’t very far away actually; The most distant location was probably 2 hrs away. There are plenty of beautiful little spots around the SC and NC mountains that are ideal for this sort of nude art. The ideal weather (cloudy), time of day (early), and distance to walk (> 1 mile) help keep people from intruding. My favorite place is a very tall but unpopular waterfall that I haven’t yet fully utilized. It’s a 25 minute walk in with a dangerous climb for the last part. The triple-level cascades are beautiful and the top part is hidden from view but very dramatic. Getting models to hike in can be a challenge sometimes. I’ve only had 2 shoots there, and one was just me!

Do you have any goals that you want to accomplish in the next 3 years?

My main goal is to get caught up on my editing! But next on the list is probably a desert shoot on dunes or in canyons. I also want to experiment more with studio ideas and lighting, I also want to work with more women of color and expand my relatively small circle of creatives that I collaborate with. I can’t afford models so I rely on my friends which is why you see me photograph the same people over and over (which also has benefits).

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