10 Year Celebration

Celebrating 10 years of working with Model Kelly Martel

It was Dec 14, 2006 when Kelly Martel walked into my studio to work with me for the first time.   I was working on a project called “Table and Chair” and was looking for people with lots of energy and some dance experience.    From the very first shoot I realized that Kelly easily adapted to my process of creating images.   In fact she has model (and assisted) on every one of my projects since then.

In celebration of this 10 year milestone we decided to do a shoot on Dec 14, 2016 and recreated versions of the 2006 sessions.  I thought I would be interesting to show the original 2006 images beside the results of this latest session.   Please check out the behind scenes video for this shoot at:


Table and Chair 2006

Table and Chair 2006



Table and Chair 2006  

Table and Chair 2006




Table and Chair 2006

Table and Chair 2006



Large Light Sources Part 3

Today I thought I would share what my new large light source looks like when used to light the subject from the side.  Much of my work uses very soft side lighting combined with multiple other sources and flags (SIFOTLs) to add shape and mood.    The only difference with today’s example compared to most of my other work is that this source is much larger and creates a softer or more gradual shadow edge transfer.  I find this looks very much like the window light that many painters would have used to create their work and this is why I usually refer to this setup as the Renaissance light. 

For this session only one light source was used.   Three black 8’ x 8’ V-flats were placed in front of the light to give some shape and to eliminate most of the spill from the background.  One of the V-flats was placed to allow a little light to spill on the back wall at the top left hand corner of the frame to help show the smoke direction.    One large white reflector, placed far away from the subject, was used to add a little covert light to shape the back of the body.   I love the way this simple beautiful light creates such a strong foundation for subtle stories and moments. 

The other amazing thing I love about this type of light source is the variations I can achieve by making slight adjustments to the subject placement with reference to the light, but more about this at another time.

In my next post I hope to have a behind the scenes video to share showing the process of using the Renaissance light source for the Aerial series.

Large Light Sources Part 2

I have talked about big light sources in an earlier post and how incredible the quality of light can be when managed well.   In continuation with my pursuit of the perfect “renaissance” light source I finally took the leap forward and have created my largest (softest) light source to date.   It does take up about 30 percent of my studio space and uses nearly all of my lighting packs and heads, but it gives me the ultimate flexibility to create and control beautiful simulated window light (at any time of the day with extremely fast equivalent shutter speeds at low ISOs). 

I promise to show some of the results of this beautiful light source when used to emulate window light in the next post  (I am also working on a behind the scenes video for a future post).   For today however I wanted to share the main reason I built this source so large.  In my first post on Large Light Sources I presented some examples of how beautiful and powerful this type of lighting can be when you shoot directly into it.   I absolutely love the quality of light on the body when used this way and it got me thinking how wonderful it would be to shoot some of the Aerial series with this technique.    Unfortunately the aerial series takes a great deal of space and for this technique to work I calculated I would need at least a 16 foot x 16 foot seamless diffusion panel that I could bounce very soft light into.  It did take a while to source the material but I finally found the diffusion and we moved forward with the construction of the source.  Below is a quick snapshot of the “Renaissance Light” and following is an image from the first Aerial shoot with it. 

The Renaissance Light

The Renaissance Light

I was extremely pleased with this result and all that have followed so far. At this point I think at least 1/3 of the new Aerial book will be shot using this technique.

More details and examples coming in my next post.

Aerial Part 1 – The Performer

I have been interested in dance and bodies in motion for a very long time and aerial circus arts definitely fit into this category. I had started experimenting with aerialists as a subject for one of my series about 5 or 6 years ago, but I did not have access to a facility where I could spend enough time and effort to develop a voice for this type of a series. In fact it wasn’t until we moved into our current studio space about three years ago (it was designed with the capability of rigging points for aerial apparatus) that I was finally able to really start working on this project.  I think officially I started working on Aerial in January 2013.

When I work on my fine art series I have absolutely no interest in capturing a moment or performance.  I am only interested in creating or maybe I should more accurately say sculpting a moment using a very slow methodical process with lighting, body language and body line.  I love to spend a great deal of time and effort on very subtle changes and for me that last 10% can make an incredible impact on the final image. For the models and dancers who have to repeat and hold poses or dance moves hundreds of times while we “fine tune” every little detail this approach can be extremely difficult.  In the case of the Aerial series where the subject is using all of their core strength and concentration to hold a position in the air on an apparatus like aerial silks or cerceau, this same sculpted approach to create an image can be orders of magnitude more difficult and frustrating.   I learned early on that in order to create world class images for this series I would need to work with exceptional people willing to put in a great deal of devotion and effort to the project.


Ironically and luckily the amount of effort I require from a subject to create an image for the series is actually a prerequisite for being an aerialist in the first place.   I don’t think I have ever experienced a group of performers that are more dedicated to their craft.  The amount of training, perseverance and endurance that is required to be at a world class level in this art form is absolutely mind blowing.  And once again I am very lucky and have found a community of aerialist who are passionate about creating powerful images involving their art from.   So far there have been a number of wonderful artists involved with the project and I am in debt to all for their dedication. For this first blog post on the project I thought I would say a special thank you to Cait. She was the first aerialist I worked with in the new studio and we have spent a great deal of time together figuring out many of the processes and techniques required to create the work.

Some days we even do a shot that is not in the air.

Something we did at the end of the day for fun -  I think after some aerial shoots everyone feels a bit broken.

In the next Aerial post I will talk a little bit about the process and lighting.


The Three Graces

The concept for an image is almost always a difficult internal debate for me.  I realize there is “nothing new under the sun” but at the same time I still struggle to create something that has at least some hint of originality.   Most days I work on images that are part of a defined series like Obscuro or Cloud Busting where the concept is more of a set of rules constraining what is required for the overall look and mood of the images.    But there are days where I just want to create something unconstrained by the particular dogmas of a series and spend the day doing something completely different.   For this type of shoot one of my favorite topics is to choose a classical theme that has been used hundreds (if not thousands) of times before and see if I can produce a variation that offers something a little unique. 

One of my favorite themes is “The Three Graces” – grace, charm, and beauty (or beauty, charm, and creativity, …).  There are many examples of this theme throughout the history of art – Greek coins, frescos in Pompeii, Botticelli, Rubens, Antonio Canova, etc.  Probably the most well known reference and the one I chose to build my variations on is Raphael’s:

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Graces_(Raphael)#/media/File:Raphaël_-_Les_Trois_Grâces_-_Google_Art_Project_2.jpg) .

This version has been widely used by hundreds of painters, sculptors and photographers, and I have seen many wonderful variations of it.

One of the small changes I wanted to make was to use three similar body shapes that would not be considered “classic”. I also wanted to use subjects that had tattoos.   I felt these choices were a bit more “up to date”.   In my last post on this blog I talked a bit about shooting into large soft light sources and the version of The Three Graces below used the exact same source and technique.   I love how the light wraps around the bodies enforcing absolutely no sense of place.  

For the next variation I wanted to bring the similar configuration and pose into a setting that was closer to my normal fine art work (something a bit more Chiaroscuro).    In this version a cigarette and dead flower was added as a play on the apples used in the Raphael version. 

For the last shot I thought it would be funny to change the theme from the traditional charm, beauty and creativity to something a little more negative like indifference, jealously and conceit (or similar).   A big thanks to the models for coming in to work on this with me and I hope you enjoy the images. 

Next time a discussion about the new Aerial series work.

Large Light Sources

I love using very large light sources to try and emulate beautiful soft window light.   The tough part is usually placing enough flags to prevent the light from going where it is not needed.   I am lucky to work in a studio large enough to support the placement of multiple large flags and also give me enough distance between the subject and background so I can light them independently.  This separation and independence is paramount for most of my work; however, now and then I like to experiment and in the following images there is little or no separation between the subject and the background.  In fact in this case the light source, a 12 foot by 12 foot reflected light soft box, is also the background.    I hope you enjoy the images and I will post more examples using this beautiful light source later on.

Next time - The Three Graces

Coming up with a shot idea?

I usually create images that are part of a series (Aerial, Dark Ballet, etc.) and most days I know exactly what I am shooting.  I may not know what the final shot will be but at least I know what series I will be working on.  There are times however when I have someone come into the studio and I have no idea at all what I am going to do.   I think I like these days more than any other because there is absolutely no guarantee or expectation that I will end up with a decent image and it allows me to experiment more or in the case of working with my friend Adrian last week it allows me to take a relook at a series that I had ended a long time ago and apply what I have learned since then.

In this case when Adrian came in the only thing I knew I wanted to do was use a large light source that I designed to emulate beautiful directional window light.   Adrian has an exceptional muscle structure very much that of a Greek sculpture and I wanted to experiment with using this beautiful light source.   I had dug out a large set of custom-made angel wings that were used in the Angelus series almost a decade before and was actually bringing them to the studio to discard them in our large garbage bin.    We discussed a number of potential ideas but the thought of using the wings one last time to try and create something in the style of the Angelus series had the most appeal.  

I have to admit I had never intended to work with this series again, and after trying to get these wings to look the way I intended I remembered why.   I have worked with moving cloth, water, smoke and powder, and I can tell you none of these offer near the frustration as getting wings to look like wings.  Thankfully Adrian knows that I can take hours to get one shot and he was patient enough to put up with the numerous takes to get this to look “right”.    After almost two hours of variations were happy with the direction we were going with the look of the body and wings but there was just something missing with the story.   Angelus was always intended to be a tongue-in-cheek look at angelic art and I wanted to add something to the scene that reinforced this.   I always like to use an element that is unexpected to create a diversion and in this case we decided on a cigarette.  Ironically neither one of us smoke and all that was available in the studio was a short cigarette butt used in a shoot a few months before.  Knowing we would only get about 3 or 4 attempts at this before the cigarette was two short and that we would have little or no control over the placement of the smoke (I refuse to do post production work) we decided to leave it up to the “genie in the room” and give it a go. By the third attempt we ended up with the following shot.   

From not having any idea at all to successfully rehashing a very old one, this was one of those days where I think we did OK.   I wish I could say days like this happen often but in fact they are rare.    I hope you enjoy the image.

Next time -  Big Light Sources