Carly and SaraLiz

_MG_9812-0 IMG_6956I’m a bit slow at processing…soz…  This was shot in Robert and Sukumar’s room after they’d left…

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Part 21 of 50: A Brunette, Dos Casas and a Wardrobe: Photographing the Lovely Anne Duffy

This is part twenty-one in a series of blogs on my photographic adventures in Todos Santos, Mexico.

It was almost exactly a year ago as I write this that my ZoeFest X adventure began. You’ll recall I received several emails from the incredibly talented photographer, Zoe Wiseman, about her annual artists retreat that would be taking place in Todos Santos, Mexico in the Fall.. After agreeing to her invitation, I clicked over to one of Zoe’s websites, ARTnudes network and began to investigate the portfolios of some of the international models who were also invited. I had some research to do and names to learn.

Anne Duffy at Casa Bentley
Anne Duffy at Casa Bentley

One of the first portfolios that jumped out at me was the work of Australian model Anne Duffy. It’s not exactly that I have a type of model I prefer to work with, but one look at my own portfolio reveals that I do have a penchant for photographing brunettes. Something about the contrast of hair and skin that rings my bells. And Anne is the brunette-iest of brunettes. With lovely porcelain skin. She immediately went to the top of my wish list months before I would arrive at ZoeFest.

When we all arrived in Baja six months later, I’ve mentioned that we all got a chance to meet and re-meet for those ZoeFest veterans, but the Aussies were delayed a bit coming from the other side of the planet. So late in fact that I was walking out of the party, just as they were all walking in. But a flood of mental snapshots flooded to the front of my brain as soon as I picked Anne out from within her group. Every bit as lovely as I imagined. Even for being jet-lagged.

Anne Duffy at Casa Bentley
Anne Duffy at Casa Bentley

A few days later, we caught up under less noisy circumstances and firmed up our plans to shoot together. Anne and Anoush, who I had photographed a few days earlier, were staying at Casa Bentley, another of the boutique hotels in Todos Santos that our group had taken over for the duration of ZoeFest. It was a lovely paradise, just down the road from where I was staying at Todos Santos Inn.

Driving to meet Anne at her hotel, I realized I had lingered a bit longer than I probably should have with Brooke after our tremendous shoot earlier in the day and arrived a few minutes late for my shoot with Anne. Luckily, she was also running a bit behind and I had a few minutes to catch my breath and collect my thoughts before we would begin. We were all of us, slowly melting into Baja-time. Always a few minutes late, but arriving in a delirious state of peace and relaxation.

Anne invited me into her beautiful little room snuggled under a huge shady tree. When I walked through the door, I had to laugh. After shooting with nude models all week, I was surprised to see what looked like a collision between two wardrobe trucks spread out from wall to wall. Anne caught my amusement and reminded me that she and many of the other models had arrived at ZoeFest, mid-world-tour, and they basically had to bring everything they owned to be ready for anything that might transpire at their gigs before and after ZoeFest.

Ah yes. I stood corrected.

Anne Duffy at Casa Dracula
Anne Duffy at Casa Dracula

And since I was standing ankle deep in some lovely couture, it seemed like a good idea to deviate from the literal meaning of an art nude shoot and consider accessorizing for a something different. So Anne and I started hunting through everything, looking for things that I thought might be interesting to work with. It was difficult only in that Anne has excellent taste and my sorted “good pile” was quickly becoming more of a mountain than we could possibly shoot in one afternoon.

Eventually we narrowed it down to a more reasonable collection. Now, what to start with?

I had planned to take Anne back to Casa Dracula to photograph her there, but since I had barely scratched the surface of Casa Bentley as a location during my shoots, I wanted to find something there before we moved up the road to Casa Dracula.

Anne Duffy at Casa Dracula
Anne Duffy at Casa Dracula

I started to focus in on a vintage black lingerie set that we had put aside. Then I noticed a period lounge sofa near one of her windows. Anne was reading my thoughts as she pulled a string of pearls out of one of her cases. And there it was. Our first set up.

I took a few meter readings and adjusted the blinds a bit to even out the light. I switched to a shorter lens that had been giving me some trouble a few days earlier on the trip, but was the right focal length for the size of the room. I decided to fight through it’s ill-tempered nature and try to make the best of it.

Anne reclined on the lounge and suddenly I was in 1940. She was stunning. I framed up a composition of her looking up and back over her shoulder… and… click…

A quick review of the first frame was perfect except for the fact that it was completely out of focus. I was shooting wide open with a small depth of field, but literally nothing was in focus in the entire frame. Another frame was the same. Hmmmm. It was going to be a battle I could tell. Perhaps it was the sand or the heat from a week of shooting Mexico, but this lens was not cooperating.

However, sometimes you can take a bad situation and turn it into a good one. I flipped off the autofocus, which clearly wasn’t communicating with the focus point I was selecting in the viewfinder and switched to manual.

Anne Duffy at Casa Dracula
Anne Duffy at Casa Dracula

You may be saying, “But Billy, why don’t you shoot in manual focus all the time? Isn’t that a more professional thing to do?”

Well, yes, I guess. But there are a lot of things to delegate in my head when I’m shooting. I’m looking for lines and angles and how they flow together in the composition. I’m watching my model’s face, getting into a rhythm with her as she poses and adjusts and gives me another. I’m absorbing the feeling she is emoting, making sure the photograph I’m making is capturing that essence.

I’m watching to see if the light is changing if I’m relying on the sun for illumination. Has it just gone behind a cloud? Do I need to slow my shutter speed to compensate? In fact, with the exception of focus, my camera is already set for completely manual operation. The ƒstop, shutter speed, ISO, color temperature and other camera settings are all set by me manually before I click the shutter.

Even the exact focus point in my viewfinder is something I’m choosing. When everything is working properly, I usually let the camera and lens do the math and make sure that exact point is in focus for me, so I can concentrate on everything else. Except when it doesn’t.

Years ago, when I was learning how to be a photographer, none of my cameras or lenses had autofocus. Some of those old film friends that I still occasionally use to this day are completely manual cameras. Shooting with them requires a slightly different rhythm. An extra beat to rotate the lens focus ring back and forth between each shot to confirm focus. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a different pace.

So, since I was already standing in the 1940s world that Anne and I had created, I took a breath and slowed down. Anne adjusted to my extra beat and slowed her movement down as well. We were settling in at last. And the images were in focus.

About a dozen shots into the set, I was sure I had the photograph I was imagining and I shot another dozen or so, just to see if I had missed anything, but they really weren’t necessary. Anne was perfect and we had nailed it.

Anne Duffy at Casa Dracula
Anne Duffy at Casa Dracula

We packed up the rest of the couture pile and headed off up the hill to Casa Dracula. I had spent so much time there in the last week that I had already picked out a few places where I wanted to work with Anne. We headed upstairs to the survey the large and small bedrooms. The afternoon light was coming in the windows in a very inspiring way. Bright, but not direct, so the shadows would be subtle.

One of the pieces Anne had brought along was a vintage jacket with beautiful decorative fringe. It had a decidedly Mexican feel. Staying with the accessorizing theme, we decided to have her wear that instead of being completely nude. I could tell she really liked the jacket and I did as well. It just added a little something.

I had her sit on one of the beds in the large room, close to one of the open windows. I really love the flavor of light coming from a window like that. Directional, without being too harsh.

While setting up, I had misjudged my light reading and made a test exposure two ƒstops darker than I had originally wanted. Anne was almost invisible in the frame as I reviewed it, just a suggestion of light here and there to fill in her outline. A happy accident and I decided to keep the underexposed look for this setup, knowing I could most likely open it up a bit later in post if I changed my mind.

After the less than stellar performance of my uncooperative 50mm lens back at Casa Bently, I switched to my go-to lens for making beautiful portraits, a 100mm lens. I had much more space to work with now and could use something longer. Zoom with your feet, is one of my mottoes, and it was quite easy to find just the right composition by simply changing my distance from Anne in the large room.

After only about ten photographs, I once again felt we had the shot, but decided to continue a bit longer, making a dozen or so more photographs to give Anne a little time to explore before abruptly moving on. Always good to leave a little room for creative discovery when collaborating.

Anne Duffy at Casa Dracula
Anne Duffy at Casa Dracula

For the next set up, we continued with the jacket as Anne moved into one of the balcony doorways that overlooked the rear grounds. Still using my longer 100mm lens, I stepped into one of the adjacent bedrooms and photographed Anne through another doorway to give my compositions a little extra natural framing, which I like to do from time to time. I find it can give an image depth and it creates an interesting perspective for the viewer.

Anne continued to be wonderful. She gave me a series of natural poses that enhanced her smoldering beauty. I was having a difficult time deciding whether I preferred her looking directly at the camera or averting her gaze to something outside of the frame. Both options were gorgeous. Looking directly is always a more intimate relationship with the viewer, sometimes more than what I’m looking for, but her stare is so arresting that it just pulls you into the image in a very powerful way. I decided to shoot both and decide later.

We moved to another of the bedrooms where I had mentally reserved a smallish round chair near one of Casa Dracula’s front arched balcony doorways near a very plain wall. Beautiful soft light was entering the room once again and I told Anne I wanted her to try coming up with something acrobatic on this particular chair.

She looked at the chair, thought for a moment and figured it out in short order. As she inverted herself, carefully balancing on the none to stable chair, she beautifully arranged her limbs in a complementary direction that only a model of Anne’s caliber can do without looking, and upside down to boot. Making it all feel effortless.

After a few minutes of the blood rushing to her head, I had her return to vertical again and she found more lovely subtle poses as I made another dozen or so photographs. Another success.

Anne Duffy at Casa Dracula
Anne Duffy at Casa Dracula

We moved into yet another of the second floor bedrooms near where I had photographed Keira in the red mosquito netting. One of the beds in that room was against a slightly distressed wall painted in a very dark green. I thought Anne’s beautiful pale skin would be a strong contrast for the dark wall and she continued to find exquisite positions to stand and lean as I balanced my compositions with her inspiring movement.

I was feeling very satisfied with what we had done and asked Anne if she was ready to call it a day. It was a hot afternoon as usual and I try to avoid melting the models whenever possible.

“Really?”, she asked, surprised that I was considering stopping. “I have this other piece you might find interesting.”

She pulled out what I can only describe as a inventively knitted spiderweb and held it up in front of her. No, we were suddenly definitely not done shooting for the day.

“Ooh. Let’s head back outside for this one,” I suggested.

We returned to a location I had now photographed several times already on the grounds of Casa Dracula, but as is the case in Todos Santos at these magnificent locations, the light at different times of day reveal entirely different looks depending on where the sun is in the sky. Now nearing late afternoon, the wall was completely in the shade and where Anne was beginning to get set up, a sublime soft overhead light was doing wonders for the glow of her skin. Splendid soft illumination.

Anne Duffy at Casa Dracula
Anne Duffy at Casa Dracula

Anne against the gray wall was almost already monochromatic in its look even with my own eyes. Where some of the photographs of Anne in the bedroom I definitely knew would be color images, these I knew would be B&W.

Anne continued to find lovely poses in the empty environment. Sometimes balancing on one leg in the same effortless way I had grown used to seeing. We continued to work as I changed my distance from her a few times, experimenting by adding some natural elements into the composition besides the wall. But it was clear Anne needed nothing else to create a compelling image. Once more, beauty in simplicity.

Finally, we did call it a day and I was thrilled that I finally had a chance to collaborate with the first model whose portfolio had jumped out at me six months earlier. Anne was incredible to work with. A captivating beauty with a strong sense of who she is. I was very pleased we had decided to explore her traveling wardrobe. Something different for one of my final shoots at ZoeFest.

Thank you Anne for dragging so many suitcases so many miles. It was worth it.

Next, a slight detour from shooting as I accidentally damage the rental car.

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Part 19 of 50: Staying Inn-side with Anoush Anou

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

Todos Santos Inn is a lovely place to live for a while. It’s a cozy, secluded and lush bit of paradise in the Baja Peninsula of Mexico. I had been staying there for almost a week as part of the artists retreat group of ZoeFest and was really beginning to feel at home. Waking up to the sounds of birds and wind whispering through the giant palm trees above as I walked down my little garden path from my apartment to the main house where a cup of delicious coffee was always waiting for me.

But with the exception of the pool and some of the garden, I hadn’t really done too much photography at the inn itself. Sometimes it takes me a while to find the handle on a location. Todos Santos Inn was such a place for me creatively. Many lovely areas, a little library off of the main office and a nice bar as well. But after walking around it all for nearly a week, I still hadn’t quite decided how to work with it photographically.

It was the lush leather chairs that finally began to strike my creative muse. Chairs in the library and chairs in the bar. There was definitely something there.

After my Saturday morning shoot with the lovely Stephanie Anne, it was time for my shoot with the first of two gorgeous Australian models that were along for the ZoeFest ride.

Anoush Anou is based in Melbourne and a woman whose work I was familiar with before our Mexican meeting. Like a few of the models I was working with, I had been aware of her for years. And since the fine art photography world can be a small one, it’s usually only a matter of time before we would end up working together.

Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn
Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn

Anoush has a striking physical beauty about her. But there is also a haunting mystery to her in photographs. She has a completely emotive face. Sometimes somber. Sometimes sophisticated and sensual. Yet always revealing a story unfolding in your mind as you ponder what she has created.

But she is also joyful in person. Silly fun and wonderful to hear laugh. A model with great positive energy even when her creations are slightly somber.

My mind was still a bit preoccupied with my mother at home in Chicago, still recovering in the hospital and I knew I was slightly less prepared that I would have preferred for my shooting time with Anoush. And once again, with a model of her caliber, she met me more than half way. It took me a while to find the correct angle and set up in the library where I wanted to begin photographing Anoush. She patiently waited until I had found it, giving me the extra mental space to figure it out.

That was the beauty of ZoeFest. We all wanted to create incredible art while we were there. And as artists, we all knew that creativity is not a switch you throw on when the clock strikes one. Sometimes the muse arrives fashionably late and as long as everyone involves respects it, something wonderful does eventually happen.

Not wanting to make her wait on set until I was happy with my vision, I began by photographing an empty chair in the library. There was wonderful indirect light coming in from a nearby balcony door. Soft and delicate. The library was a small room and even with a 50mm normal prime lens on my camera, I determined the best angle to photograph Anoush from, was actually for me to be outside of the room itself. I could use the doorway to the library as a bit of a framing device, which I like to do sometimes. It adds a slight distance in mental perspective from my subject. Not exactly voyeuristic, but not quite as intimate. Found beauty.

Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn
Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn

By the time I brought Anoush into the library, she needed very little direction from me to find the moment. Like the other models at our retreat, she has a complete sense of who she is from the first click of my shutter. And I found a familiar sensation wash over me as you have when you finally have physical proximity to someone you’ve long been aware of from a distance.

Just posing while seated in the chair, she was lovely. Every limb a coordinated effort of beautiful flowing lines and curves. Every purposeful point of a foot or toe completing a perfect composition.

And then she turned the world upside down. Literally.

“How about I try some like this?” she asked with her lovely Aussie accent, as she laid her back on the seat of the chair, her long hair cascading toward the floor.

As I continued to photograph her, she began to rotate herself until only the small of her back was on the seat, completely inverted as if her support was no longer the chair, but a trapeze, or maybe thin air for that matter. Creating the most interesting compositions in my frame.

Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn
Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn

One of the great things about our arrangement with the four boutique hotels we were all calling home during our time in Todos Santos was that if we saw a room or area that felt particularly inspiring we could secure it for private shooting very easily. I had my eye on the bar ever since we had arrived and now it was time to utilize that space in whatever way we felt like.

A quick check in with the bartender and the bar was “temporarily closed” while the lovely and undressed Anoush followed me into the room. I knew I wanted to do something with the chairs that were group along a windowed wall of the bar. I quickly began redecorating by rearranging the chairs in a way that made no sense for would be bar patrons, but made so much sense from a visual photographic point of view. I also tried to remember I would need to reassemble everything the way I found it when we were done.

I only made a few dozen photographs in the bar because Anoush and I were on a roll and she quickly interpreted what I was looking for. The light coming in through the sheer curtains was perfect and in short order we had created what I was hoping for.

We thanked the barkeep and allowed the bar to reopen once again to the public and walked out back to the veranda, another area I had been looking at every day while having my morning coffee and daily photographic editing sessions one one of the many tables we would all congregate at during the day.

The brick arches of the veranda were visually interesting to me, although the low afternoon sunlight was creating a fairly severe contrast with the shade Anoush was posing in. We had to be careful to keep the harsh shadows off of her an that location and we found a spot for her in the first arch that had a bit less direct light.

Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn
Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn

We began with her standing and using her strong fingertips to hold difficult balancing poses that looked more effortless than they certainly must have been. I was still fighting the contrast of the bright arches behind her, not really satisfied with my composition even though Anoush was holding up her end of the collaboration bargain spectacularly.

We changed to her sitting instead of standing and it created a slightly more relaxed feel. Her compacted shape also allowed me to compose a bit tighter which helped my slightly too bright sunlight issue with my composition. She began to emote something a little more somber as well in her facial character, which I really liked.

When our time was up, I felt very good about what we had created. One of those shoots where you can’t wait to get back to the computer to see what you have. Working with the various chairs at the inn and the natural light really was all I was hoping it would be and more with Anoush’s beautiful collaboration. She really brought what I felt was a classic beauty to the images and we had a great time while creating them.

A perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon in paradise.

As always, more to come.


Bits and bobs

A few extras I’ve processed recently.

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Ella and lensbaby


I just can’t help myself

I asked Merrique to give me some pathos…..and managed to get some lovely images, but of course I just can’t help myself….and had to faff with them in photoshop….

Apologies, Merrique! (Bet you didn’t know you were a redhead!)


I even made an iphone cover!

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Candace, Keira and Rebecca

Soak up the light at Todos Santos Inn – shot with my home made bendy lens.

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Part 13 of 50: Prohibido el Paso with Meghan Claire

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

On the fourth day of ZoeFest, my true love gave to me….

Sorry, my brain is saturated to the point of insanity with holiday music this week.

But yes, it was the fourth day of ZoeFest in Todos Santos, Mexico. With the slightly mad portion of my shooting schedule behind me, there was time to do a bit more thinking. And a bit more exploring.

Everyone had been sharing what they found and where they had been and what amazing spots they had heard might be somewhere. You see, with a group like this, all the photographers knew that even if they had “discovered” an amazing location, there was no need to keep the details to themselves for fear someone would go there and make a better photograph. Someone might go to the same location and make a different photograph, but this group of photographers had the experience and self confidence enough to not fear someone would steal their thunder. And so new locations were shared with little haggling… except maybe for the cost of a cerveza frío o dos in return.

I had heard some of the photographers talking about a dam outside of Todos Santos that might be an interesting location. Like most location finds during our stay in Todos Santos, exactly how to get to the dam was a series of vague directions involving many unmarked dirt roads.

Google Maps to the rescue! (What in the world did we do before Google Maps? As a kid I seem to remember an oversized dog-eared Rand McNally World Atlas. Now the entire universe fits in your iPhone in your pocket.)

Over morning coffee, hudled over a laptop under the veranda at Todos Santos Inn, we knew the dam was north of Todos Santos toward La Paz. Somewhere near the Santa Gertudis mountains perhaps. We began heading down virtual unnamed dirt roads on the satellite imagery until we saw a shape that looked a bit like a flattened grey football… or maybe a Brontosaurus. (My more scientific friends have informed me that the preferred nomenclature for Brontosaurus is now, Apatosaurus. I stand humbly corrected.)

“That could be a dam.”

“Can you zoom in more?”

“It’s getting pretty blurry.”

“Yeah, I think that’s a dam. That’s gotta be it.”

Satisfied that there was at least a 50-50 chance I could find the dam, I drove over to the Hotelito to pick up Meghan Claire for our photographic dam adventure.

Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam
Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam

Meghan has a very calming way about her. Completely lovely combined with intelligence that only comes from being extremely well traveled. This may sound a bit crazy, but whenever I spoke with Meghan I felt like I might be speaking to the Earth. She seems to be very in tune with her surroundings. And that’s only a few of the many reasons she’s an excellent artistic collaborator.

Meghan agreed that trying to find the dam might be a creative location idea and so we headed north on Federal Highway 19 toward La Paz, leaving Todos Santos behind us.

I had heard about the police roadblocks that were randomly placed on major roads and I was about to experience my first one. A large thick rope is placed across the road, a wee speed bump, if you will, indicating the need to slow down.

“Sometimes they’ll just wave you through,” Meghan offered as we approached.

Not this time. The militarily dressed man with the machine gun motioned for us to stop as he walked over to Meghan’s door. I was all ready to volunteer, “Tourista… La Paz… vacaciones…,” when Meghan began to have an actual conversation with our well armed interrogator. It was here that I learned how good Meghan’s spanish was. Very good.

“Estoy el vacaciones de Los Ángeles,” she offered.

“Sí… Chicago,” I added, as if I was comprehending more than the few words here and there that I understood.

So I just sat there with a goofy tourist smile on my face as Meghan tried to explain what we were up to without saying exactly what we were up to.

The trick to the roadside questioning is to give them just enough information for them to believe you’re not trafficking anything or coming or going somewhere you shouldn’t be. Anything more only opens the door to suspicion and more pointed questioning.

She was doing a great job and the officer began to lean back from the window to perhaps wave us on when I heard Meghan say, “Vamos al río.”

We’re going to the river.

He leaned back in the window, machine gun ever present, now with a raised eyebrow and slightly confused look.

“¿El río?”


Sure, we’re silly tourists trying to fish in a river bed that hasn’t seen a drop of water in years. Nothing suspicious about that!

Meghan quickly clarified her story to one where we were sightseeing on our way to La Paz.

Then, a pause that seemed like a minute but was probably only a second or two and we were waved through.

“I probably shouldn’t have said we were going to the river,” Meghan laughed as we drove off from the roadblock. “The river with no water in it!”

“Well, better than telling him we were going to shoot photographs at the dam. That would have been even more suspicious!”

We agreed to leave the going to the river part of the story out of our answers if we got stopped on the way back.

As usual, I only sped past the turnoff to the dirt road twice before we managed to make the turn and we headed roughly in the direction I thought the dam might be. We came to many forks in the dirt road and I decided to turn on the crazy-expensive-out-of-the-country-data on my iPhone so we could have some idea if we had made a wrong turn somewhere. That was if we could get service way out away from everything.

Amazingly, I got a few bars and between GPS and Google Maps, we had confirmation we were actually on the correct unmarked dirt road and were half way to the dam. Yay for us!

Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam
Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam


Finally we arrived at La Presa de Santa Inés, a huge majestic structure in the valley below us. We parked near a observation deck, I grabbed my camera gear out of the trunk and Meghan and I walked over to the edge of observation area to see what we could see.

The first thing we saw was a large sign near a service staircase that led down to the dam itself.

Prohibido el Paso in large lettering. No entry.

So we did what any other photographer and model would do in a situation like this. We took a quick look around to make sure we were alone, ignored the sign and started our descent to the dam.

Now that I could see the dam as an actual dam and less of a blurry dinosaur from 800 miles above in space, it was time to consider how to photograph Meghan on it. Should it be a model on a dam or more of a model on some interesting surface? I opted for the latter.

We climbed down as far as the service walk would go, basically right up to where the water would be pouring down if there had been any water there. It was still mid morning and the sun had not peeked over the top of the dam wall yet, so we could work in the shade for a bit. Always a plus in the Mexican heat!

Meghan reclined against the near vertical wall as I composed the my first frame. I looked through the lens and… wow…

Graceful, softness against a giant, stark, sterile, cold, immovable force. Yet all my eye was drawn to was the curves of her pose as if she were floating on air instead of pressed up against concrete. Two completely opposing concepts, hard and soft. And soft was winning.

Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam
Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam

As we continued, Meghan found tiny little ledges in the seams of the cement wall to stand on, moving up the side of the wall. One of the amazing things about Meghan was that even though she was supporting herself entirely with only her toes or a very small part of her foot, her expressions were always blissful. It made me forget in the moment that her poses and the shapes she was creating, balancing on a small cement lip, were most likely fairly difficult if not a bit painful. You would never be able to tell from the photographs. A very generous collaborator.

I was very happy with what we had created so far and was thinking about another section of the dam to explore as I began to put my camera in my bag, when once again, I heard the familiar sound of a model who has just noticed some amazing light before I had. It was becoming downright commonplace on this adventure.

“Oh, wait! Look at this!”

I turned to see what she was talking about as the sun had started to make it’s way over the top of the dam wall. (I know, it sounds funny to me too.)

I normally prefer not to shoot with such direct, harsh overhead light, even though my lovely fellow photographer colleague Zoe Wiseman has caused me to reconsider that stance after seeing some of her own noon sunlight work. But what Meghan had spotted was that the sun was almost in perfect alignment with the slant of the wall, amplifying the subtle textures that made every seam and rough surface so much more interesting. It was no longer just a flat cement wall.

Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam
Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam

Ah, intelligent models and their impeccable eyes for good light. I was getting spoiled by all of this top shelf collaboration.

We switched vantage points as I stayed near the bottom of the dam and Meghan began the climb up the cement stairs that too, had become so much more interesting in the current light.

“Yes, go up a few more. Perfect!”, I yelled, as Meghan moved into a spot high above me.

Once again the dichotomy of such a harsh surface and the opposing curves of Meghan were quite spectacular. As I was shooting, I noticed that there was really no reference point that might indicate which way was up. I made a mental note to remember to look at some of these compositions rotated 90 degrees during post processing. Might be interesting, I thought to myself.

Moving on, Meghan and I decided there might be something if I photographed her from the top of the dam wall with her remaining at the bottom. I find I have to be careful with that extreme point of view, as it can tend to condense a model’s body in unflattering ways if the pose isn’t exactly right. In short order we had something composed that was very pleasing and since there really was no up or down from my shooting straight down at her, again, I made a note to experiment with some post rotation on a few of the frames.

Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam
Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam

That’s one of my favorite little tricks when shooting nudes. Depending on the environment and the composition, rotating an abstract image can yield a completely different experience of the subject. If the image can sustain rotation, either 90 or 180 degrees without feeling obviously upside down, it pushes any subtle visual movement inherent in the frame in surprising directions. Sometimes I don’t even notice the subject pushing or pulling in one direction or another until I begin to rotate it from its original orientation.

I remember discussing image orientation at one of my gallery openings a few years ago. A would be buyer and I were looking at one of my large prints of a nude figure in water. She was close to buying, but was hesitating about something.

“What are you seeing?”, I asked her.

“I’m just wondering what it would look like… turned on its side,” as she gestured a 90 degrees clockwise motion.

I probably broke gallery protocol as I walked up to the huge mounted print in front of a gallery full of onlookers and pulled it off the wall and set it on the floor on its side.


A smile began to form on her face. “Yes. It’s perfect that way.”

And then she caught herself, “I mean, if that’s okay with you.”

Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam
Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam

“Absolutely! If you buy it, it’s yours and  you can rotate it any way you wish. I think this photograph in particular lens itself to several orientations. It changes the feeling of the image, but not in a bad way. It’s just different. It works either way.”

I’ve always believed that art is a mirror. Every viewer looking at my work sees something different reflected back at themselves. It’s one of the things I love about showing in galleries. Seeing in person what people respond to, good or bad. I’ve always said, if 100 random people are in a gallery of my photography and all of them like my work, I probably haven’t gone far enough.

Meghan and I climbed the stairs out of the valley, walked back to the car, hydrated ourselves with one of the many bottles of water I was now always keeping in inventory back there and congratulated ourselves on a fun creating experience.

We headed back along the dirt roads to the main highway. We laughed about our first check point experience as we were waved through the second time.

“Never tell them you’re going to the river.”

Next up… the turtles!

More to come.

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Straight up

I love the direct gazes here 🙂

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