I’ve just loaded a bunch of new images to my fine art nude photography website, BirnbachFigureworks.com.
Early in my career I worked as an assistant for a prominent still life photographer in New York. I learned the value of attention to detail in making strong images, often moving objects a 1/16″ to make things look just right. It was a lesson well learned, and a focus I’ve brought to every genre of photography I’ve been involved in over the years.
Though that focus has served me well, there are downsides to this approach. One, of course, is that there can be a lack of spontaneity to the image making process. Another is that by being so attentive to optimizing one situation, you don’t see the other opportunities that exist right alongside the solution you are focused on.
This idea is something I stress to attendees of my workshops. And though I do not shoot for myself during a course, I do shoot photographs of other solutions while a participant is working and show them that idea when it does not interrupt their train of thought.
In last week’s Santa Fe workshop, one of the attendees was shooting her model in profile against a river bed. When I looked at the scenario, it seemed to have some wonderful possibilities from the standpoint of contrasting textures. At the same time, it seemed to me that there could have been more separation of values between the skin tone and the background. And that possibly shooting with a shallow depth of field with a simpler background would make the model pop more.
Since I am shooting behind the scenes and not actually directing the model, this is not a finished photograph. What is does, though, is give an indication of the possibilities. If this were my shoot, I certainly would have tried this approach as well as the initial one.
Over time, I’ve come to a method of working where I shoot in a location for a while, then force myself to move left or right, up or down just to see what my other options are. And though I stay focused on the details while I am immersed in a specific image, I always think about what other wonderful images may be out there to explore.
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We’ve started the fine art nude photography workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A wonderful group of participants came in from all over the U.S. to create nude photography in the splendid locations of the Southwest.
After an opening reception Tuesday evening, we held a portfolio review Wednesday morning and looked at images from the history of fine art nude photography by the masters. After lunch, we traveled to an amazing landscape that had wonderful sandstone formations, and the participants took turns directing both male and female models under dramatic skies. Afterwards, time was spent going through how to process color images into black and white using Adobe Lightroom.
Thursday morning we began the day with a review and critique of the images participants made the day before. The opportunity was there to celebrate successes and discuss ways to improve composition, posing and the relationship between the figure and the landscape. After lunch, we traveled to a remote piece of land north of the city. The key lesson participants learned was how to separate skin tone from backgrounds when shooting black and white photography.
Some wonderful images have already been made, and it’s fun to see how quickly people catch on this wonderful genre of fine art nude photography.
Yesterday I spent another day giving fine art nude photography instruction to a photographer who flew in from New York. We had a terrific model, someone who has a background in dance and athletics. She had wonderful flexibility, and was a great collaborator in the creative process.
I spent a lot of time giving photography tips how different kinds of light affect nude photography. We worked with a single light with a grid, both a large and small Chimera softbox, and umbrellas of two different sizes, one white and one silver.
In the end, my client said the experience was “more than he had even hoped for.” And of course, I was gratified to hear it. We’ve already got plans to work again in a few months once he’s had a chance to digest everything he learned.
I love sharing my passion for fine art nude photography, and along with the workshops I do, I also teach private nude photography instruction. Sometimes it’s because an individual’s schedule doesn’t mess with my workshops. But often it is that someone has specific goals in their pursuit of making nude photographs and wants a program tailored to their needs.
Such is the case with one photographer from New York who wants to understand how to use studio lights in photographing the female nude. Yesterday was the first of three days of work in the studio with dancers under a variety of lighting situations. Already we’ve explored grids, umbrellas and softboxes of various sizes to see how the different modifiers affect the bare light of a strobe unit.
It was fun to see the quick progress the photographer made in understanding when to use the different approaches to light, and by the end of the day he was surprised by how he could identify which kind to use for a new image. Today we’ll play with fresnel lights and start mixing different lighting effects. Should be a great day.
This photograph was from my demonstration using a small umbrella positioned above and slightly behind the model to maximize shape and depth.
Back in late April I taught a fine art nude workshop near Joshua Tree, California. A wonderful group of talented photographers came in from across the country and from Europe and Canada to attend. It was a great time!
Since I never shoot for myself during a workshop and only focus on the participants, I always arrive a day early to shoot for myself. And I offer participants the opportunity to observe how I approach my photography. I call it “Watch Me Work,” and this time a photographer from Luxembourg shadowed me for the day.
It’s been busy since then, so I’m just getting back to editing the photographs and doing the digital darkroom work.
This is just one of many images I was pleased to produce with a wonderfully talented dancer. I’ll be posting more in the days to come.
My good friend George Jardine has been making exceptional instructional videos for quite a while. Now George has launched a new one called The Image Correction Master Class-For Lightroom 4&5. OK, so he used one of my stock production photographs (above) for the series, and yes he is a friend. But if you are looking for extremely detailed yet highly understandable information, George’s videos are simply the best. Heck, I even learned a few subtleties in watching the series.
Highly recommended, as are the rest of his DVD’s!
One of the things I am aware of when I’m teaching fine art nude photography workshops is the speed at which participants work. I’m all in favor of not overstaying your stay when you are working an idea, and at the same time I know it’s important not to rush along to the next location.
Like so many other things in life, creating art is an evolutionary process and you don’t want to cut it short. The reason is simple. By studied observation of the model and location, and being open to serendipity, whole new areas of exploration can reveal themselves. And when they do, and if you seize them, the rewards can be enormous. In fact, you may end up with a much stronger photograph than you originally envisioned.
To that point, I want to show a series I did during the Watch Me Work at the Joshua Tree Nude Photo Workshop. Please keep in mind that I am showing these not because I think these are all “keepers” but to illustrate the progression of where I started to where I ended up. I am sharing them so you can see that images, born from a good idea may not work all that well, but ultimately lead to something you love.
There are some wonderful boulder formations on the property we use near Joshua Tree. I saw this repeating pattern in the rocks and thought it would be a good place to work with Emily, my model. We had already been working for about five hours so I knew her abilities, and she knew my openness to collaboration and play. I showed her the framing in the LCD of my camera and where I wanted her to start.
Over the next 45 minutes, we shot a lot of variations. Here are a few of those.
Once I felt we had explored the options, I asked her to take a break so I could think about what else we might try. Emily stood up, picked up a small tumbleweed and placed it on her head in jest.
As soon as I saw her do it, I quickly shot a frame, and knew we had the beginnings of another series exploring the options with this prop. I showed her the frame, talked about some possibilities, and we started down a new path. Here are some of those.
In the end, we shot for another 40 minutes, and came away with far stronger images than I had envisioned to start. The second round really showed her gracefulness borne of classical dance training. And had a fresher, more sensual feel.
So my recommendation is to not rush, and always give yourself time to let the process evolve in its own way. I think you will find great things come of it.
Our last day of the Joshua Tree fine art nude workshop was a lot of fun. Participants really seemed to be in their rhythm, finding great locations, working with the natural light, and posing the fantastic dancers we had with us. It was a wonderful culmination to a great course, and we had a laughter-filled celebratory dinner after the day was done.
The next day, one person flew home to Canada, another to Luxembourg, others to various parts of California. We had so much fun we are already talking about getting back together in the fall.
It’s been a great few days here in Joshua Tree country at the fine art nude photography workshop. Warm temperatures that are perfect for keeping the models comfortable, and light breezes for the time that the photographers are working with fabric.
It’s fun to see how quickly people’s work can evolve in photography classes, incorporating the figure into the amazing landscapes. Most are shooting for fine art black and white fine photography output, a couple taking advantage of the desert color to make beautiful saturated images.