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Naked In Baja eBook

After a very successful exhibition and book launch for my Naked In Baja limited edition printed book last month, I’ve been working hard to create an eBook version which represents the same high standard as the printed book. Of course you can never replace the tactile beauty of a high quality printed book but the images in this eBook do look quite stunning on an iPad.

Containing all the images of Samantha Grace, Carlotta Champagne, Ella Rose, Anne Duffy, Stephanie Anne, Anoush Anou, St Merrique, Sara Liz, Brooke Lynne and Meghan Claire that appear in the printed book, the eBook (iBook) version also contains an extra bonus of two small, behind-the-scenes videos from my shoot at Playa Las Cachora with Carlotta and Sara.

The book contains an introduction by Zoe Wiseman along with 8 chapters of artistic nude photography totalling over 110 pages. The eBook is now available through Blurb for immediate purchase and download.

Naked In Baja eBook @ Blurb

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Naked In… Baja Mexico

I can’t believe it’s been just over a year since we were all basking in the Mexican sun, eating tacos, drinking margaritas an oh, taking lots of beautiful art nude photographs of course! It took my reminiscing about Mexico and missing everyone at Fest XI in Palm Springs while I was stuck at work back here in Brisbane to prompt me to finally do something serious with all of my art nude images.

So the Naked In…  projects were born and I decided the first in the series should be Naked In… Baja Mexico. Each project will consist of a fine-art limited edition book, an eBook, a limited set of postcards and a series of signed prints. To help raise funds for the design and production of the limited edition book from this first project, I have started a community funding campaign which, much to my amazement, managed to raise the initial funds needed to cover the basic costs in only 3 days. There is also a website / blog to support this and the future Naked In… projects so make sure you check it out and keep visiting to see the latest updates –

Of course it would be great to see the support for this project continue so if you are interested in supporting it, click on the photo and head to the Pozible campaign and have a look at what’s on offer.




Part 22 of 50: Billy Crashes the Model Taxi

This is part twenty-two in a series of blogs on my photography adventures at ZoeFest X, in Todos Santos, Mexico.

You’ll recall that my decision to rent a car for the duration of ZoeFest X was turning out to be a fine choice. Before leaving Chicago, I had imagined that I might have only used it for driving the two hours from the airport at Los Cabos up Federal Highway 19 to our temporary home in Todos Santos, and then back again at the end of the trip.

Billy at Playa las Palmas, before crashing the Model Taxi. Photo by Tara Liggett
Billy at Playa las Palmas, before crashing the Model Taxi. Photo by Tara Tree

However, it was really handy to be able to explore Todos Santos when scouting locations and picking up and driving models to our shoots. The added bonus was that no matter where I was headed, there was usually a model or two or five who needed a lift to the same place. Sometimes we just ran errands. For someone experiencing his first ZoeFest, it was also the perfect way to get to know everyone in the short time we were together.

I really do find that my photos of anyone are usually better the more I know them as a person. I always try to find something interesting about anyone I’m photographing beyond their obvious physical beauty. That little added connection really does make all the difference when capturing the essence of someone.

One day, near the end of our ZoeFest adventure, I was relaxing between shoots at the Hotelito when Rebecca, Ella Rose and Candace Nirvana (whose blog entry is coming very soon – promise!), asked me if I wanted to explore a little vintage shop up the dusty road between the Hotelito and Casa Dracula. It sounded like fun so we piled into my rental car and set out to find it.

Rebecca said she was pretty sure she knew where it was. And soon enough we spotted a little unmarked driveway that was near to where she thought it might be. We had found it, although you’d really have to know it was there to find it. I had driven past it nearly a hundred times during the week and never noticed it. If there was a sign, it was very bashful.

We parked and walked into the slightly organized main room piled high with used clothing and discarded flea market fair as only a shop like this can accomplish. The trio set about rummaging though racks and racks of clothing looking for those finds that can only be uncovered by picking through everything. One by one they brought out armfuls of potential finds to where I happened to be standing, near the only semi-full length mirror in the place. And of course, the mirror was for sale as well.

The parade of first holding up the potential find in front of the mirror and then quickly trying it on if it made the first cut proceeded as I stood by, offering my best honest opinion to the, “What do you think,” stream of questioning.

I have a long history of rather enjoying clothes shopping with women. I’d have to admit I’d rather find myself in a small upscale boutique than a sports bar. It’s one of the few quirks in my man wiring that makes me more comfortable in the Chanel store on rue Cambon in Paris over the ESPN Zone. I know. I don’t know why either, except I’d rather be looking at a pair of strappy Guiseppe Zanottis than looking under the hood of… well… any car, I guess. I’ve stopped asking myself.

I have a good reputation for actually helping with my point of view when asked. I remember a few years ago when a friend of mine was in the very early stages of a new relationship and it had escalated to a weekend getaway that required swimwear. She was panicking. After a desperate phone call, I found myself in the women’s dressing room of Marshall Field’s as my friend auditioned many swimwear options.

When she walked out in a particularly flattering deep blue one piece, my natural reaction of, “Wow!”, resulted in several heads popping out of the doors of other nearby changing rooms. The women all wanted to see what would hereafter be referred to as “The Wow Suit.”

Back in Todos Santos, it was more miss than hit. Sometimes the find you’re hoping is in this rack somewhere, simply isn’t.

I took a short break from being mirror attendant to take a phone call from a friend of mine who was inviting me to dinner without realizing I was 2,500 miles away until we were a few minutes into our conversation. When I gave him a brief report on my photographic adventure in Baja, he laughed. “Of course you are!”

My friends are hard to surprise anymore.

After about 20 more minutes, Rebecca, Ella and Candace felt satisfied they had not overlooked the find of the century. They had found a few things. Worth the trip, but not quite the treasure trove we were perhaps hoping for. We piled back into the car for the short drive back to the Hotelito.

I’m sure I looked. I would never back up without looking first. Perhaps I was distracted. All I know is that I hadn’t moved the car ten feet before I heard a sickening crunch.


I pulled forward and got out of the car, angry with myself for not being more careful.

Wow. I really had crushed my back bumper. The trunk was also pushed up a inch or two.

Luckily, the van… yes, it was a great big giant blue van I backed into, was pretty much undamaged. Although my relief only lasted a few moments before the owner of the vintage shop, having heard the crunch, ran out to the parking lot waving her hands above her head in great distress. Her level of upset was a little out of proportion to the actual damage to her van, but I find it’s best to let people get it out at full volume before we can bring it down a few notches to calm and reasonable.

Eventually she realized my car was in much worse shape than hers was and the little mishap was relegated to just being one of those things. She walked back inside the shop and we drove away, a bit more cautiously this time.

Our car ride was a little on the quiet side for a minute, until I revealed my philosophy on things like my little accident.

“Whenever something like that happens, something involving a thing, be it a car or a camera or a some other thing, I always imagine, what if it hadn’t been a thing? What if it hadn’t been a stationary van I backed into? What if it had been a child playing behind the car? Or one of them? I would be so wishing it was just a fender bender. I would be wishing I could give anything to turn back time. A thing can be fixed. Replaced.”


Billy at Playa las Palmas, after crashing the Model Taxi. (See? Still happy!) Photo by Tara Liggett
Billy at Playa las Palmas, after crashing the Model Taxi. (See? Still happy!) Photo by Tara Tree

I’ve had a few camera mishaps in the course of my career. My beautiful Hasselblad dropped into 12 feet of water during a pool shoot. (It lived after a trip to Hasselblad repair.)

A $3,500 lens slipping out of the backpack of one of my assistants on location and crashing four feet to the ground onto pavement. (It also lived but the protective UV filter did it’s job and was sacrificed.)

I’ve always reacted the same way. I imagine that it always could have been much worse. Something living and irreplaceable. We agree to have learned a lesson and to be more careful next time. And we move on.

Besides. I had purchased the maximum amount of insurance the rental car company offered.

Always buy the insurance. Always.

Then you simply hand the rental car agent your keys, apologize and take the airport shuttle to your gate.

Next time: Models with Cameras and why that’s perfectly okay with me.

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FestX Musing

The Ballet of the Lucha Libre

In addition to the shooting around Todos Santos, their were the wonderful moments meeting many new people.  One afternoon I went to the pool at the Casa Bently to appreciate the experience while contemplating the cold and snow I was reading about back home.  There at the pool, I meet world citizen Tara Tree and had a most splendid chat with her.  Later my wife Dee Dee told me of her experience at the turtle release and how much more enriching it was because of Tara’s translations.  Thank you Tara!  Upon my departure from Todos Santos I was taking Brooke Lynne to the Aeropuerto and Samantha Grace rode along as she had a flight later in the day.  To kill some time Samantha and I explored a couple old cemeteries where the locals were preparing loved ones’ grave sites for the day of the dead festival, then a formal catus garden and ending in the downtown of San Jose del Cabo for lunch where she expanded my vocabulary.  Muchas gracias Samantha and loco tacos!!!

The following is a little taste, a sampling, from my time shooting at the Zoe Fest X in Todos Santo, BCS, Mexico.
Meghan – Mexico 2011
In the palm oasis that divides Toto Santos.  In addition to her modeling, I also highly recommend checking out Meghan’s photography.
Where the Cactus Dance
On the bluff overlooking the old port dock.  Worth the bumpy drive up the mountain and worth the full insurance on the rental car.
St. Merrique
St. Merrique – Mexico 2011
A little shoot with big rewards!
Anoush Anou
Unlike other shoots, I did not have a lot planned.  I am glad, because what she created was splendid.
Brooke Lynne
Brindled Lagoon
A friend who shares her art with me.  Thank you!
Stephanie Anne
Mi Casa
A day before the Fest I explored this house and it looked like none had set foot in it for years.  It soon was evident how popular it became, I thought a little make over would create something unique.
Keira and Rebecca Lawrence
Luchadoras – From the series: The Ballet of the Lucha Libre.©
I am very grateful for their professionalism working with me shooting this series.
In my head I kept hearing music from a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western.
Ella Rose
Garden of Delights
Our schedules did not mesh in Germany, so we met in Mexico.  Such a delight!
Art, that others have created, in it’s many forms is much of my foundation and inspiration for the art I seek to create.
Below is a short video that is both a homage to Rene Magritte and to my experiences with those I created with in Mexico.
Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.
Rene Magritte
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Part 16 of 50: Color or Black and White? A Photographers Dilemma

This is part sixteen in a series of blogs on my recent artistic adventures in Mexico.

I’ve been writing a lot about how I decide whether the photographs I create are going to end up being in black & white or color. Perhaps it’s time to share my opinions on that further after the last entry about collaborating at ZoeFest with the lovely Keira Grant and the images of her in both B&W and color.

Keria - Color and B&W
Keria – Color and B&W

It used to be that decision had to be made when choosing what film I was going to load into my film cameras. I used to travel with two camera bodies, one loaded with B&W film and the other with color. It allowed me the flexibility to instantly decide whether the subject matter I was standing in front of would be more pleasing to me if photographed with or without color.

If I happened to be traveling with only one camera body, it was more complicated. If I had color film in the camera and wanted to make a B&W photograph, I would note the frame number on the roll of film that I was currently shooting, carefully rewind the film until I heard it release from the take up reel, but not before the film edge wound back completely into the film canister. Then I would remove the color roll from the camera and load a fresh roll of B&W film.

When I wanted to switch back to color, I would do the same with the partially exposed B&W roll, carefully winding it back, removing it and then loading the previously exposed roll of color film back into the camera. Then, with the lens cap on, I would fire off the number of frames I had previously exposed, plus a couple more to make sure I was past any exposed images, and continue shooting on that film roll.

Yes, it was painful and time consuming. Sometimes the scene I wanted to photograph might be gone before the film swap could be completed. And sure, I could have just shot color all the time and put the color negatives in my darkroom enlarger and made B&W prints from those, and I did on a few occasions. But the results were never pleasing. There was something muddy about the B&W prints from color negative.

This was long before Photoshop and film scanners were readily available to me. Everything was chemical based and analog.

When I began to shoot with early digital cameras, I had to wrap my head around the idea that everything I would shoot would now be acquired in color, no matter whether I was planning to end up with a B&W image or not. In some ways it was freeing to not have to make that decision until I was sitting in front of my computer, but I found myself a bit confused when composing my images in a digital camera format.

Let me explain. As I began learning about composition with my first film cameras, being self taught, I wasn’t even aware of the concept of composition. I just knew if a photograph felt right to me. In my head, I thought of it as balancing the various objects in the frame, so the resulting image didn’t feel too heavy on one side or the other or top or bottom. Almost like the elements in the frame had physical weight to them and once in a frame on the wall, the picture frame would tend to rotate clockwise on the wall if there where too many “heavy” objects on the right side of the photograph.

It sounds a little crazy, but that’s how I looked at composition back in those early days. If there was something “heavy” in the image, it would have to be balanced by what I would later learn was negative space in the rest of the photograph. An area of elements that felt lighter in weight (not necessarily lighter or darker in luminance). A heavy element could be something dark in tone or large or something your eye naturally gravitated to when viewing. A heavy object had, what I liked to call, visual gravity.

So what does all of this have to do with the question of B&W or color?

Everything, it turns out.

B&W is shades of gray and color is… well.. color. When I look at a B&W image, it’s all about shapes and how they balance with each other from a brightness point of view. With color, in addition to the shapes, you have the visual volume of color. Some colors are just louder than others. They are heavier. They have more visual gravity.

Carlotta Champagne, color and B&W comparison
Carlotta Champagne, color and B&W comparison

I don’t usually let thousands of people into my digital darkroom at once, but let’s take a look at what I see when I’m deciding B&W or color.

The image on the left is the color version with a little post processing for color temperature, contrast and vibrance. It’s a perfectly fine image. But when I was shooting it, I knew I was going to process it in B&W and so I left a lot of negative space at the bottom, the blue water, that I knew I would filter towards black in post.

In color however, it’s not really negative space. It’s a very loud color. So loud in fact that as lovely as Carlotta is, her loveliness is fighting with the blue for your eye’s attention.

In the B&W version, the blue water becomes dark negative space and now Carlotta really pops! Your eye goes right to her and perhaps the palm leaves to her right which have been filtered to be brighter. It’s all getting your eyes to the top half of the photo, where I want them to be.

Of course, Carlotta has her own sense of visual gravity, so she really didn’t need much help from me!

Additionally, in the B&W version, her skin becomes very bright and in order to make a visually interesting composition, I like to add something in the frame that balances it out. The dark tone of the water does that perfectly. And the palm leaves give me a medium weight. Your eye goes to them, but only after you find Carlotta.

Ella - B&W and Color
Ella – B&W and Color

However, with all of that heavy or light, negative space, color loudness and other creative data swirling around in my head sometimes I really can’t decide whether I’m making a color or B&W image when I click the shutter. That was certainly the case while photographing Ella Rose.

That, and I was very focused on keeping my camera from getting hit by a sneaky wave and ever so slightly less on the composition at hand.

Which is better? The color or the B&W process? To me, they’re both beautiful images (thank you Ella!). But again, the B&W is more about Ella and less about her environment, as incredible as it is. The color image is a little bit flatter to me. But that’s my subjective opinion. Some viewers will prefer the color and some will prefer the B&W. Which is fine. Ella is lovely with or without chrominance.

Most of the time with subject matter such as art nudes, I’m 90% sure I’m going to end up with a B&W image.

We can program our digital cameras to shoot in a sort of B&W mode, but it’s still acquiring the image in RGB color. But if you really care about your B&W conversions, you won’t have your camera doing them on the fly with it’s limited processing ability. Much better to do them in post later where you can control how the various colors in the image are converted to B&W.

If you’re shooting RAW images, it’s a moot point anyway. Even with your camera set to display the thumbnail image in your camera’s display in B&W (which I sometimes do to keep my head in B&W space when chimping* during a shoot), it’s still recording the data in color. It’s only when you shoot JPGs that the B&W version is what is permanently recorded to the camera file.

In my early forays into digital, my B&W conversions were pretty bland. I did what most digital newbies did and simply turned off the color information in Photoshop if I wanted a B&W image. Blech.

Just like learning my chemical darkroom, it took me years to learn to manipulate the individual RGB channels of color. Like putting a colored red or yellow lens filter on a camera when shooting B&W or using contrast filters in the chemical darkroom, I learned through trial and error that, just like in the film days, composing and properly exposing an image in camera was only half of the process. Dodging and burning while making prints, using different kinds of chemical developer and even the different types of film stock I was using in the camera as well as the photographic paper I was using in the darkroom all contributed to the final look of my images.

Now, I’m not going to get all, “Back in my day, you spent hours in the darkroom breathing toxic chemicals and your fingers always smelled like fixer,” on you here. There is a lot about the darkroom I don’t miss, but it did teach me a lot about processing my images, which after years of practice on my computer, I was able to duplicate in a way that reminded me of my film prints. And I do mean years of practice. I sucked at it for a long time. And I’m still learning.

And there’s another reason I usually prefer my fine art nude images to be in B&W. The human form is a wondrous shape. B&W tends to be more about the very basic shape and form of a subject. It does feel more artistic because it’s not really based in reality. Very few people see the world in B&W (I mean that literally, not figuratively!). Without color, the image does take on a more removed from the starkness of reality feel to it. To me, it’s removing everything but light and shape. And I really like to compose in that space. It’s a bit more timeless to me that way.

Additionally, removing the color skin tone from of a nude art image, and this is just my personal opinion, separates it from the millions of other more commercial color nude/semi nude images in the world, many less artistic than what we’re talking about here. Now, certainly there are some very ridiculously talented artists out there that do nude color work. Some of the photographers I was lucky enough to spend time with at ZoeFest, do amazing things with color nudes. And of course Michelangelo didn’t paint the Sistine Chapel in monochrome. Plenty of nude skin tones there, ironically.

But we see so much skin in the world these days. Clearly, I’m personally not against that in principle in viewing the photographic work that I create. Since the beginning of human artistic expression, I’m only #4,638,301 in a long line of artists who have decided that the human form is something especially inspiring and compelling. I’m not the first one to look at a body, devoid of any covering and be in awe. For me, women’s bodies are especially artistic.

Keira Grant, color and B&W comparison
Keira Grant, color and B&W comparison

Here’s another comparison of a color and B&W processed photograph of Keira. She is stunning in both instances, but I definitely prefer the B&W image in this case. It’s more subtle. In the color version the skin color is very prominent. There’s nothing wrong with that and it is still a very artistic image. Lovely and compelling.

The B&W version however, is definitely more about the shapes and movement. It takes the viewer a split second longer to figure out what the subject is without the skin tone instantly giving it away.

Now, that’s certainly an extreme example, but it illustrates what I feel when I’m deciding to go with color or B&W.

Even in my travel photography, I find that B&W does tend to take the sense of time out of the image. Was it taken last year or 60 years ago?

I also think B&W has a better chance of engaging the viewer’s mind. The viewer already has to consider the image without color, filling in the information that is missing and maybe that also puts them in the headspace of imagination a little more than a color image. Maybe they create a story about the subject matter in their head. A story that is unique to them and their own experience.

Oh hell, maybe they just think she’s pretty. I don’t know.

Much more to come!

*Chimping: After taking a photograph with a digital camera, the process of looking at that image in your camera’s digital display. Chimping after every single photograph is regarded negatively by some photographers, especially those who learned to shoot on film cameras and didn’t have the luxury of instantly seeing what an image was going to look like unless they were shooting a test polaroid. They had to know their craft well enough to know if the photograph was properly exposed and what it was going to look like before it came back from the lab.

Chimping can also disrupt the flow of a photo shoot as it can take both photographer and subject out of the creative moment during frequent stops to play back images. I have to remind myself of that on occasion. Make a test exposure and check it once. That’s your polaroid. Then focus exclusively on your subject.

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I started a new “tradition” last year in Australia. It seemed only fitting that I do it again.

There will be video soon…

Every model who was at the festival!

Claudine, Ella Rose, Anoush Anou, Meghan, Stephanie Anne, Kiera Grant, Rebecca Lawrence, St. Merrique, Candace Nirvana, Brooke Lynne, Carlotta Champagne, Samantha Grace, Anne Duffy, Tara Tree and Sara Liz. Thank you, Ladies! Stay tuned for the video!

15 © 2011 Zoe Wiseman
15 © 2011 Zoe Wiseman
15 © 2011 Zoe Wiseman
15 © 2011 Zoe Wiseman
15 © 2011 Zoe Wiseman
15 © 2011 Zoe Wiseman
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Part 5 of 50: The Ocean and Ella Rose

This is part five in a series of blogs on my recent artistic adventures in Mexico.

In preparing for ZoeFest, we all would have to find our way up the Pacific Coast of the Baja Penisula to Todos Santos from the Cabo San Lucas International Airport. That meant renting cars. Two days before I was to fly out of Chicago, I was checking all of my paperwork, passport, flights, maps, etc., when I clicked on the email link to my car reservation.

Confirmed, November 23rd, one compact car at Hertz, San Jose, California.


I should never book important things at 3 o’clock in the morning. Scramble, scramble. No Hertz at the Cabo airport. Hmmm.

Avis! They try harder, right? Avis it is!

A few minutes later, I had a new car reservation, this time in the proper country. And since I want my travels to be as drama free as possible, I alway sign up for the insurance. All of the insurance. Insurance for the car, the people in the car. Everything. It would prove to be a wise decision before my adventure was over. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Having never been to Zoefest before, I was under the impression that I would rent the car, drive myself and my new friends to Todos Santos, park the car and do very little driving until it was time to return to the airport. Perhaps a waste of rental car money to leave a car sitting for days, but I didn’t see any way around it.


The reality of it was even though we were all mostly walking distance from each other, walking even a mile or two in the mid-day Mexican heat was a bit too much for most of us. I found that having a car was essential to get where I wanted to be, when I wanted to be there without lugging a backpack full of camera gear along the way.

Ella Rose at Playa Las Palmas
Ella Rose at Playa Las Palmas

And even though Todos Santos seemed to be a relatively safe place in Mexico these days, we’d all read the news. You never know.

I became a bit of a model taxi for the rest of the adventure. Any time I would leave one of the hotels, I’d always check to see if anyone needed a ride to their next shoot location or back to their respective hotels. Most of the time I ended up with a carload of lovely models. Another opportunity to get to know everyone a bit better.

Plus there were the runs to the store. Eggs for Brooke, cigarettes for Rebecca, things like that. I was going anyway for myself and it seemed the decent thing to do was to ask, considering how hard everyone was working and I was one of the few with a car. I mean, we were having the best time, but it was work as well. Good art is work. Make no mistake.

Early the following morning on day two after my usual coffee and chat with Mel and Scott, this time punctuated by maneuvering with my coffee cup around several lovely nude models already shooting in the fountain near the veranda (I know, brutal thing to face first thing in the morning), I jumped in my car and drove off to pick up Ella Rose at the Hotelito.

We headed off in the direction of Playa Las Palmas on the Pacific Ocean with vague instructions on actually how to get there. You see, in Todas Santos, most directions include the phrase, “…A few kilometers further, there’s a dirt road off to your right…” I found that actually spotting that little dirt road as you’re doing 60kmph past it, is a bit of an art in itself. It usually only took me three tries to do it.

Ella Rose at Playa Las Palmas
Ella Rose at Playa Las Palmas

After a few passes of kilometer marker 57 and a couple of U-turns, we finally found ourselves on the dirt road we agreed was the correct one. Ella and I took our best guesses as to which of the various forks in the road to continue down until the road just sort of stopped and we got out to walk the rest of the way.

The area of Todos Santos is a bit of an oasis in the Baja desert. It can be dry and desolate one minute and lush and green the next. Ella and I continued our walk that we hoped would eventually lead to the Pacific Ocean, through a large shady palm forest with giant trunks and tall branches above.

We continued to talk about life and art as we meandered down what seemed to be a path. Ella has a lovely voice as well, being from the U.K. and it occured to me that one phrase you never ever hear is, “I just LOVE your American accent.” It’s true. The Aussies have beautiful accents. Ditto for the Irish, French and Spanish. Lyrical. Pleasing to the ears. Not so much with the Americans.

Meanwhile, I was trying desperately to make mental notes of various things along our path so we could find our way back to the car. I’ll remember that tree stump, right? That little spiky plant in the middle of the path before we have to make a left? Sure, we’ll remember!

A bit more walking and we reached the edge of the palm forest and… there it was! One of those views you usually only see in pictures and never with your own eyes. We stopped for a moment, jaws unhinged to take it in. There were little rocky cliffs off to either side of the beautiful, long, curving beach cove. And we were the only people there. Completely stunning.

Ella Rose at Playa Las Palmas
Ella Rose at Playa Las Palmas

Ella and I walked carefully into a little stream that spilled into the ocean, she reminding me to be careful not to leave footprints on the pristine sand where we might want to make our first photographs. Good call. I have mentioned before that all of the models were very intelligent and exceptional at what they did, right?

I spent the next few hours with Ella jumping, standing, spinning into so many graceful and beautiful poses in such a lovely environment that it was really beyond what I could have hoped for. I got into the water, carefully laying down in the stream or on my knees in the ocean, desperately trying to make sure my camera never submerged.

A couple of times with the waves rolling in behind me, shooting Ella near the shoreline, she would occasionally yell out, “WAVE!”, just in time for me to raise my camera over my head as the waves knocked me over. It’s fun to play with nature as long as you keep your camera dry. Cameras and lenses simply hate salt water.

After a few hours, covered in sand, we happily walked back to the car, past the little spiky plant in the middle of the path and past that tree stump. It had been a wonderful morning of creating.

As always, more to come.

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Part 2 of 50: The “Highway” to Todos Santos

This is part two in a series of blogs on my recent artistic adventures in Mexico.

Mexico Highway 1 turns into Federal Highway 19 in Cabo at the very Southern tip of the Baja Peninsula and heads North along the Pacific Ocean towards Todos Santos. In about five or ten years, it will be a breathtakingly lovely drive. Now however, Highway 19 is under construction and barely a road for much of the drive, let alone an actual highway. It’s definitely not a drive you want to make after dark. So as tempted as we were to stop and grab a bite in Cabo in the late afternoon, Joris, Ella Rose and I decided to keep moving to make it to Todos Santos while it was still light out.

It turned out to be an excellent decision. Baja is very dry. A passing vehicle can kick up a sandstorm that reduces visibility to the dial on your radio. Unless you have your windows open, then you may not even be able to make that out. I felt a great responsibility to deliver my new friends unscathed to our destination and so I was very focused as we navigated the hilly blind curves and occasional dog or cow crossing in front of us.

It will be a quick drive up to Todos Santos once Federal Highway 19 is no longer a dirt road, however the drive from the airport ended up taking about two hours. The good news was that it gave the three of us plenty of time to get to know each other. Joris had arrived from Pennsylvania but was originally from Belgium. Great guy and an extremely talented photographer. Ella Rose was a brilliant model from the U.K. who had flown in to Cabo after a brief trip around Mexico City before joining up with our group. Her work was equally stunning.

Ella Rose at Playa Las Palmas
Ella Rose at Playa Las Palmas

It was the perfect way to begin the adventure, we three well traveled artists with ten days of creating in front of us. We discussed where we had been, life, art and the travel time actually seemed shorter than it was.

I should stop and explain that this photography artist retreat that Zoe Wiseman had created is actually an annual event, aptly called ZoeFest. This would be the tenth annual get together and therefore had the important moniker of ZoeFest X. It’s invitation only and I was already thrilled to be a part of such a group of amazing photographers and models. Past ZoeFests have taken place in Mission Beach, QLD, Australia, Flagstaff, Arizona, Three Rivers, California, Joshua Tree, California, Twenty Nine Palms, California and Woodstock, New York.

This year, our little group would take over four of the boutique hotels in Todos Santos. We had the run of all of them for shooting, discussing, sharing our work in nightly slide shows and of course enjoying the local food and drink. It really was an amazing set up.

Finally we reached the outskirts of Todos Santos and navigated through the streets as we approached the tiny downtown area. I had studied the town before I left thanks to Google Maps and even though many streets were unmarked, we managed to find the hotel where Ella Rose was staying, help her in with her backpack and make sure she was settled in.

Models have the most fascinating travel and packing habits. For many of them on this trip, Zoefest was only one of several shooting destinations that month. Even though ZoeFest was a fine art nude figure photography creation that didn’t require the models to bring much of anything in the way of clothes or shoes, some were loaded down with a suitcase or two of whatever they might need for their recent past and future modeling projects outside of our get together. All, however packed extremely efficiently. This was literally not their first time around the world for all of them.

The photographers as well were very frugal in their equipment packing. Back in Chicago, before I headed out my own door to the airport, I ended up with a pile of camera, lenses, film, support and lighting that didn’t make the final cut. Partly because what you pack you have to carry and partly because Mexico does have some pretty strict rules when it comes to what you can bring into the country before you get hit with all sorts of commercial taxes, fees and general shakedowns for tips to avoid any unpleasantness on your way in and out.

Discarded from my bag was my beautiful 1968 Hasselblad medium format camera and its accompanying lenses and film. Ditto for a small tripod and monopod as well as some small strobe lighting gear I sometimes use when shooting on location. I was incredibly tempted to bring some camera support that would allow me to move the camera if I decided to shoot motion with some of the models, but that would have really complicated my gear list and besides, I really wanted to get back to my still roots on this trip and concentrate on making beautiful single frames rather than motion photography. It would turn out to be the correct decision once again. Motion really wouldn’t have fit in with the spirit of the trip. Another time perhaps.

Instead, I ended up with an extremely small camera package that included the very bare minimum I thought I would need: My Canon 5D Mark II, 100mm and 50mm prime lenses and one 16-35mm zoom lens I almost left behind, but was so glad I brought. I threw my small Leica X1 in as well as a backup camera and my memory cards and that was it. For me, that’s less than I leave the studio with on most days.

Joris and I drove a few blocks to our own hotel and checked in. We had a couple of hours to unwind before the meeting party where the whole group would get together for the first time.

ZoeFest X was underway!

And speaking of the 16-35mm lens I almost left behind, the photograph above is of my car mate, the incredibly gifted Ella Rose, with whom I had the profoundly wondeful collaboration at a stunningly beautiful beach cove called Playa Las Palmas, a few miles outside of Todos Santos on the Pacific Ocean. Amazingly, completely deserted but for us. It was odd for me to photograph her with such a wide lens, but we decided to experiment with it, like she was on the edge of the world. A beautiful world we would all call home for an all too brief time.

More to come.

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There were such amazing people and surroundings at Zoefest 2011! Scott and I enjoyed meeting old friends and making new ones! Thank you Zoe for making this all possible!

I borrowed a tub from Rex, and Claudine had some fun with it out on the beach at Los Palmas. Ella Rose and lensbaby are a great match too….love that mosquito net at Todos Santos Inn!

Thank you Claudine, Ella Rose and Rex for making these images possible. 🙂

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An English Rose

Ella Rose is our only UK representative this year as unfortunately we had some last minute drop-outs. Like other English art nude models I’ve worked with before, she is full of  beauty and grace and she certainly didn’t disappoint on our very first shoot together.

Cam Attree –