The Path to Here (Part 1)

Carissa’s Frustration 6

Faithful reader Kevin suggested by email last week that I undertake to review what I’ve done (and how I’ve done it) to get from “there” (my initial nude photography in 2001), to “here” (my style today, and how I accomplish it). Here is the first installment.

My first nudes were taken in the Rocky Mountains near Aspen, Colorado, the summer of 2001. It was my second summer taking a workshop at Anderson Ranch in Snowmass (a wonderful place if you are an artist or aspiring artist of any stripe). I was taking a workshop called “The Nude in the Landscape,” about which my wife was rather dubious. She was there at the same time, however, taking another workshop herself, and the workshop was very proper — as one would expect. (In fact, three of the attendees were girls under age 18, which provided quite a bit of entertainment just watching them — models were both male and female.) Anyway, at upper right is one of the very first nudes I ever took (and still on my subscription site). (The copyright says “2002″ because that was the first time this particular version appeared.)

Now, it’s a not-half-bad photo, I suppose, but since then I’ve learned things about diffusers and reflectors and how to use them creatively in situations like this where the model is in direct sunlight and shadows are pretty fierce. It’s also got a good hunk of a “glamour” look, so another taken at the same time is a much better artistic nude in nature:


This photo would stand up even by my standards today.

This pairing is fairly typical of those early nudes, a mix of stumbling ignorance about what to do and how to do it, and an occasional lucky image. What I did learn early (and what has carried me ever since) was respect for my models; understanding the quid pro quo that is at the heart of the photographic nude; and the importance of good direction (by the photographer), good ideas (from the model), and good technique (from both).

(Friend Dave wrote recently about his first Photoshop nude image. It gave me a chuckle, since one of my workshop images also involved some Photoshop manipulation, although not nearly as severe as his:


From the time of that workshop, six months elapsed while I mulled over the experience and whether it was a subject I wished to pursue. In approximately January 2002 I decided that it was, told my wife (a memory for another time), and set out to find a first model. The first few Minnesota models will be the subject of Part 2.

At the beginning, as can be seen above, my digital images replicated what I would have done in the wet darkroom. Photo-realistic, minimal manipulation, use of Photoshop purely as a rather unimaginative digital darkroom. Of course, remember that in the summer of 2002 were using Photoshop 6.0, which, even though by this time I was shooting in RAW, didn’t support adjustment layers for 16-bit images. (Or a whole bunch of other stuff, either. We didn’t get a decent version of Adobe Camera Raw until Photoshop CS2 [PS 9.0].) There were few tools we could use to enhance photos beyond adjusting contrast, white and black points, and hue/saturation.

Lots of photographers still do photography this way, with minimal PS manipulation. They are damn good photographers, many of them, and their photos look like what they would achieve on film. Which is fine. It’s essentially where I started.


Malapropism Department

A FB friend is traveling across Texas, providing us some nice photography. A posting yesterday showed this:

But it was the comment that set me rolling on the floor:

Just shit this abandoned truck stop on the outskirts of Sierra Blanca, TX. Had just told K__ about it (not knowing where it was in Texas) and it just happened to be at the next exit!

Followed by this string of appropriate responses:


“lol I would think it is shot ;-)

“Oh, dude, that must have hurt!”

“LOL! I can imagine EATING a truck stop would be painful as well.”

“Damn B__, you need less fiber in your diet!”

“LOL!! I read this at least 6 times before I figured out what I hope he meant. Classic :)

“Everything is bigger in Texas…”

“thank god I’m not the only one that can’t type…”

“A ‘shit’ is what happens when you’re using a rangefinder and forget to remove the lenscap. The above doesn’t look like one…”


In the Nick of Time Department

Patricia and I finally got to the theater to see The Last Station before it disappeared. Well worth it. A beautiful little movie — if you don’t know of it, it tells the story of Leo Tolstoy’s last months, including the dramatic clashes with his wife, conspiracies by his Utopian followers to have him put his copyrights in the public domain, and his final hours, in virtual exile. Helen Mirren was nominated for an Oscar, and rightfully so. If you’ve not seen it, it’s well worth seeking out once it appears on Netflix.


Photoshop Stuff Department

So last night was the Twin Cities Photoshop Users Group meeting. I’ll not bore you with details of the two hour meeting, but the summary is: Photoshop CS5 is hot stuff.

Before I get into a few specifics, a note to Dave P: Jeff said you were the one to answer this question: Did Adobe speak with Epson so we have access to Epson’s Advanced B&W Mode like we had in CS3, so we won’t have to use the kludgy workaround necessitated in CS4?
br />The really big improvements are:

  • Refine Edge: Ever try to select hair against a background? It’s now actually possible, or at least better than in any prior release.
  • Adobe Camera Raw: If you shoot with high ISO and have noisy photos, noise reduction for RAW images is significantly better.
  • They’ve built in a really cool lens correction feature — so if you have distortions because shooting with a wide-angle lens, this feature determines the lens you’re using (from embedded metadata) and removes the distortions. Really cool, if somewhat limited applicability. The feature has other aspects, however, that might be fun to play with.
  • The Spot Healing Brush has a new “Content Aware” option that makes retaining texture, shadows, etc., a breeze when removing blemishes, BG defects, sensor dust spots, etc.
  • I’ve previously spoken of the general “Content Aware Fill,” which we saw again, and this one is a big WOW! Wait until you try it on your next panorama.
  • The Puppet Warp feature is pretty much as advertised — limited applicability for my photography, although I very recently had a shot where the model forgot to point her toes, and this feature would have come in handy then.
  • The Merge to HDR feature clearly is an improvement, but I still need to play with it to see just how good it is. (You may also apply a faux HDR look to normal images — kind of neat.)

Those are the key points I picked up on. There’s a big advantage if you are running a 64-bit machine, because some of these features are major RAM hogs. I think I see a PC upgrade in my future.


From an unpublished set — she gave me a nice, moody shot.

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0 Responses to The Path to Here (Part 1)

  1. Anonymous says:

    An odd connection to note. I was working in one of the photo labs in Aspen at that time…

  2. A major part of the course was darkroom work, including split toning, which was the instructor's specialty. I was shooting digitally, however. They required me to bring my own laptop and printer. Since then, Anderson Ranch has gone over to digital in a major way, with two full digital labs supporting all photo workshops except those few still dedicated to wet photography.

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