Friday, May 25, 2012

The Solar Eclipse: Beautiful Victory

It was an experience.  A good and bad one.  4 years of thinking about our SolArt Project is ample opportunity to consider and reconsider things very carefully.  I can't say I had all my T's crossed and i's dotted, but I had a pretty explicit plan for making this event something memorable.  From a distance, it would have been fascinating, perhaps even humorous to watch the best laid plans come undone at the seams like the stitching on an old pair of cheap sneakers.  Up close and personal though, there was a lot of soul searching and anguish.

Adversity and Good Fortune

Things went wrong on a variety of scale, from the mildly frustrating through to the near catastrophic.  Everything from a mild bee sting on my leg (my first!) through losing 6 models in one day (five were supposed to be backups), to finding all our potential shoot locations off limits.  I've never seen a more secured wasteland than the scrub-land of Albuquerque.  Everything is fenced off and posted "No Trespassing" even when there isn't much more than random tumbleweed to secure.

It wasn't till the day of the eclipse that we finally got a go-ahead from the owner of our prime location and the last linchpin of our shoot fell into place, only hours before the eclipse.  It was a moment of great relief for me -- that everything that was conceived was going to happen.  Considering the adversity we faced, sudden success seemed hard to believe, like a first draft script of a bad reality TV show.

Yet not all went badly.  Weather had been a threat clouding my mind for a long time, and yet it was a nearly perfectly clear sky.  My estimate for a clear sky in May in Albuquerque was accurate, though perhaps this was more luck than anything else.  I transferred through Denver to get to Albuquerque, and it was cloudy and rainy there, only one hour's flight time away.

Another recurring nightmare was the thought of thousands of eclipse groupies wrecking the solemn solitude of my shot.  In fact, Albuquerque as a region was besieged by enthusiasts from everywhere and in some noted places, quite crowded.  As it turns out, even on the very cattle ranch we set up shop, there were thousands of cars parked in a carnival atmosphere, only just past the sand dune we occupied with a satisfied serenity as we found out afterwards.

Knowledge of making Women look Beautiful comes in Handy

Perhaps the most revealing part of this experience was that we successfully recruited a traveler from an adjacent hotel suite as a stand in for the AWOL models.  Just a woman who flew in just to take photos like everyone else, and bless her heart she had the faith and presence of mind to accept an invitation from three strange men to come out to a desolate desert and be our model.  When you think about it, its pretty crazy.  But this whole project was nuts to begin with.  Our good fortune was to find a free spirit whose greatest concern was whether she was "model material".

And I didn't want to laugh outright because that would have been impolite and would have conceivably risked losing our last option to capture these unique images.  But of all the potential pitfalls to be concerned about on this project, whether I could make an ordinary woman look beautiful was not even remotely on that list.  I assured her that I would make her look beautiful.  I just needed her to be willing, and leave the rest to me.  And indeed, following a quick "how to look super-sexy" training session in the hotel parking lot, it was so.

What we Learned

Perhaps victory in something grand is not meant to come easily.  I didn't set out for an "adventure", or for "challenges".  I'm well past the age for that kind of youthful character building exercise.  I just wanted to get some beautiful and unique images.  Adventurous challenges were a frustrating obstacle in my path towards getting them, at times engendering a feeling of humiliation and impending defeat.  Somehow we managed to make it work.  And for that, I am grateful.  Grateful that the circumstances came together to allow it, grateful to my assistants for backing me up and brainstorming solutions with me, and grateful for a young lady from New Jersey who had enough faith in three strangers to join our intrepid team and be the centerpiece of our project.

We learned that there is no "I" in team.  We learned to trust ourselves and others who share our passions.  We learned that photographing an eclipse without a filter on your camera will not set it on fire or damage your sensor.  We learned that if we were really determined, we could be responsible and not look directly at an eclipse.

Photo by Steve Griffey (right)

You can view slides of the experience here.

And you can purchase some of the images here.

SolArt Project 2012

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Final Prep for Eclipse Project

In the end our modest Kickstarter campaign for the quest to capture the glory of the May 2012 eclipse didn't get funded.  Wrapping in a tough year personally and professionally undercuts the resolve to make this happen.

Indeed, a variety of lesser goals have been shelved for the time being, but this one... its not something you elect to pursue later.  You either shoot it when the opportunity presents itself, or you don't.  Its the same reasoning that convinced me to go for it in the first place.  This is here, and this is now.  If you don't feel like it.  If you don't have the funds.  If your resources and process are strained to the breaking point.  In the end, if you don't do it, you don't get a do-over when things come together.  They MUST come together when the cosmos says so, or the opportunity to make a statement is gone, period.

So we're going anyway.  Its not the same team, but the shot is the same.  And the results, for better or worse, will be the same.

Final Preparations

An itinerary of what we're doing next weekend has been drafted -- a long day of location scouting on Saturday; final supplies and tweaks adjusted on Sunday.  A last minute scramble for a local model and a bevy of backups because prudence demands it, just like a prime location and a slew of backups.

My recurring anxiety is the premise of showing up to a pre-selected spot of suitably desolate landscape only to find a flash mob of eclipse groupies wandering through my field of view.  There is 600 feet of scrub brush between the end of my lens and the model and all it takes is for one groupie's head to block my view, let alone hundreds of them.

Weather too weighs in the back of my mind as a factor out of my control.  Wouldn't it be lovely if it rained or was overcast during the 4 minutes I have to shoot.

For these issues, I am at the mercy of good fortune.  For all others, I have my logistical background as a former engineer to lean on for all manner of contingency planning.

Among the Critical Tools -- the Lowly Paperclip

The idea to capture a shot of grandeur is to put the model inside the eclipse.  Anyone who's ever tried to shoot someone in context to the moon or a sunset knows how small these titan celestial bodies are in relation to a person.  Just a small glowing bubble the size of a balloon, at best.  But for a truly eye-popping shot, it needs to be HUGE.  The trick is not to make the moon bigger, because you can't.  Instead, you push the person further away -- much further.  600 feet further in fact.  And without a tape measure it can be kind of hard to know how far that is.

Except if you use a standard office paperclip.  It turns out the moon fits in the end of a paperclip held at arm's length.  That's how big the eclipse will be.  And that's how big a person needs to be to be the size of the moon.  So you hold the paperclip out and keep walking away until they're just that small.  A good 600 feet as it turns out.

And once you do that, you understand why such a gargantuan lens is needed to get anything more than a tiny spec in the distance.

Only a week away at this point.  Woohoo.

SolArt Project
INFINI Boudoir

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Size DOES Matter

Have you ever been to a place that had a fun and interesting landmark and wanted to get a picture of yourself with it only to find that the object is so large it dwarfs you?  You are lost in its hugeness and the shot is fun but is kind of lacking from a "good" shot perspective?

Its all about proportionality.  As humans, we have a fairly well defined size range.  Its relatively easy to shoot people with people -- we're all similar in size, give or take.  But it can be challenging sometimes to shoot people in relation to something really big, like say the Eiffel Tower, or a jumbo jet.  Those objects are so big its easy to lose people in their presence.

Objects in Mirror may be Larger than they Appear

It turns out you can resize objects to be more in proportion to each other.  Its similar to the side view mirror effect where large vehicles can appear smaller than they actually are.  There's some visual trickery there that you can use to your advantage.

It's a common human experience that the further something is from you, the smaller it appears.  You usually have some control over how far things are from you -- you can stand as far as you like from the Eiffel Tower for example.  As well, you can control how far from you the person you're shooting is.  By controlling how far the tower and the person are from you, you can control their relative sizes.  The closer the object, the bigger they are.  Since the person is much smaller than the tower, to get them to be at least reasonably close in size to each other, the tower has to be much farther away than the person.

By bringing the person up ridiculously close and being very far away from the tower you can even make the tower seem insignificantly small by comparison.

Notice how the size of the relatively similar sized planes can be controlled in the above shots by where the person is standing relative to them.  In the left hand photo, the plane is very large because the person is right next to it -- most of it doesnt even fit in the shot.  In the right hand photo, the person is much closer to the camera than the plane.  The plane's size has been "resized" so as to be in proportion to the man.

To be sure, the shot on the left is certainly a professional, well shot image.  But the shot on the right gives a more complete shot of the plane.  The left side shot uses the plane as an impression, the shot on the right is more of a documentation.

SolArt Project 2012

So how then to address the solar eclipse that we will be shooting in May.  We are familiar with the moon as being a rather smallish object in the sky.  In actuality of course the moon is a massive object.  Shooting a person in relation to such an enormous object as the moon would ordinarily be nearly impossible -- you simply couldn't get far enough away from it to be able to comparably size it and a person together.  Instead, the moon has somewhat taken care of the problem for us by being so far away, appearing relatively small and almost manageable.

We end up having the opposite problem.  Its so far away, its a bit small and when shooting a person at normal distances, the moon shrinks to an insignificant size.

Since the majority of us are not able to get any closer to the moon than we are, we are left with positioning the person much further away making them much smaller and more similar in size to the moon.  It is at this great distance that a person can be seen to be near, or surrounded by, an enormous moon.

And since the moon and person are so far away at this point, you have to zoom in... a lot... to be able to get a decent shot of the pair.

Hence this rented behemoth.

If you haven't already, please check out our site for more information on this interesting and challenging project!


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Beautiful Failure

Odd juxtaposition of words, yes?

"Beautiful" and "failure" are not words that ordinarily associate with each other.

Failure is the frequent result of facing adversity and the unknown.  Failure can present some interesting opportunities -- as Thomas Edison had noted, it can teach you the ways to do something that don't work.  It can also provide a healthy sense of caution and help develop those skills necessary to adequately deal with adversity.

But if, at core, failure is when you don't get what you want, how can there be beautiful failure?  Is there beauty to be had in failure, aside from its hard lessons?  Read on to find out...

Pushing the Limits

All innovative, successful companies are driven by their leadership's passion for their work.  In order to grow, to stay competitive, to succeed in a wide market of competitors, they are driven to continually push the boundaries of their products and services.  This leads to the creation of internal "research & development" teams, those charged with the task of trying outlandish ideas with a high risk of failure, and potentially great rewards as well. To explore what is possible, with the intent of discovering the profitable.

You can't try out these ideas on clients.  They are paying for results!  Failure is most definitely not an option with a client.  Maintaining customer satisfaction rates requires the use of tried and true techniques that always produce great results.  But if that is all you ever do, the work becomes stagnant, stale, and uncompetitive.

We at INFINI Boudoir keep our edge not by experimenting with our clients, but using specialized models to try our newest visual experiments on.  When we succeed, it is nothing short of glorious, and we seek out ways to incorporate this new technique into our standard process.

When we fail... well... the result is usually what we call "beautiful failure".  Failure, because what we got did not meet the vision of what we were going for.  Beautiful, because the results are often a very beautiful image that without the context of a pre-conceived vision would be a delightful success.  Only in the shadow of what it was supposed to be is it a failure, albeit a pretty one.

SolArt Project 2012

This is one of our most ambitious and long term ideas... to capture the splendor of a horizon level solar eclipse in context to the female form.  Conceived some 4 years ago, we have decided to pursue this celestial opportunity, funded through a Kickstarter project.  For the first time, it invites our fans and friends to join us on this journey of discovery.  "Discovery" because shooting a model in front of an eclipse near the horizon has never been done before.  While we have some visual idea of what we're trying to achieve, exactly what it will look like is not at all clear.  The results could be spectacular... or they may be "beautiful failure".

When conducting photographic research and development, beautiful failure is an option.

Things to fear on this expedition:

  • Eye injuries due to eclipse watching
  • Rattlesnakes
  • Tarantulas
  • Scorpions
  • Gila monsters
  • Cooking the camera sensor
  • Rented mega-lens arriving or departing with inoperable damage
  • Inclement weather
  • Locals with an enhanced sense of territorial boundaries (stay off my land with that contraption!)
  • Unamused law enforcement (you got a permit for that thing boooooy?!)

Yes, a lot of things can go wrong on this shoot.  But a lot of things went wrong on this shoot too.  You dont know the shot I was trying to get.

Yet, we have beautiful... failure... to show for it.  So join us.  Contribute to our adventure, success or failure. You'll be part of it, and you'll get to join in our joys and passions.

INFINI Boudoir

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Purpose of Photoshop

is to compensate for what the camera does to photographs.  In MY world that is.  Photoshop is used for many purposes, and to varying skill levels.  It is a tremendously complex and versatile program that like most things can be used for good or evil, and anything in between.

Cameras on the other hand, while also a marvel of modern engineering, are designed essentially to do one thing -- record what's in front of them.  One of the most at-home assignments for a camera is in the Mars orbiter where it blithely records the various landscape features of the red planet in precise detail.  This is where the camera is at its most natural state -- recording what it sees pixel for pixel.  But as we will see, this is not necessarily what a boudoir photographer or his client wants.

Emotions Affect Perception

Have you ever noticed how you may see someone who is at first very attractive, but then when you get to know them, they become much less attractive?  Or someone you did not find all that appealing over time becomes more and more attractive as you got to know them better?


It turns out that our feelings about a person affect how we see them.  This is ultimately why the inner person is as, and perhaps more important, than the skin they are wrapped in.  And this is also why we like to shoot our clients long enough to extract that inner person, since that person's inner beauty, personality, and life will be captured in the images.

But back to the camera -- this visual recording device is in the end, only a machine.  It has no love or passion for what it shoots.  That lies in the hands, mind, and heart of the camera operator -- the photographer.  The camera is merely a crude tool to capture the photographer's passion and vision, like a rough chisel on a block of stone.

With judicious lighting, posing, collaboration from the client, strategic use of fabrics and props, one can yield a very beautiful photograph.  But when viewed closely, a woman's eyes might be drawn to self-perceived flaws and inadequacies, completely overlooking the fact that her lover does not see these personal flaws.  The photograph of course captures them, as the camera is simply a cold, hard machine.  It does not see through the rose colored glasses of passion and love.

Photoshop is the Bridge between Man and Machine

It is here where Photoshop fills the gap between what the camera records, and what a man sees with his emotion-influenced eyes.  In experienced hands, Photoshop is a tool that re-sculpts, re-maps, re-casts a crude pixel mapping of a woman's body, into the glorious work of art that men see.  When done well and to this purpose, Photoshop is essentially invisible.  You can't tell what's been done because it looks normal and beautiful.  And that's exactly how it should look, because that's exactly what men see.

Sadly, there are many examples of inexpert Photoshop work that push women into impossible and even unattractive ideals.  It takes an expert eye, a sense of what human anatomy looks like, and a level of common sense that says, does this look realistic?  Is this flattering?

Because a boudoir photographer is not out to make you something you're not.  That would be as nonsensical as putting your head on someone else's body.  No, our job is to make you look like you on your best day, the way the man who loves you sees you on your best day.  And that's what we at INFINI Boudoir do every day.

When you look at our gallery and think, wow, those women are beautiful, I could never look like that, its important to understand that those are real women who all have self-perceived flaws, which have been adjusted in Photoshop to show how your man sees you, or how you would like to see yourself.  In a sense, a shoot with INFINI Boudoir is the chance to see yourself through his eyes.  And that is a wonderful experience for anyone.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The No Lookin' Zone -- Where to Look During Your Photoshoot

Today in our continuing series on how to get the most out of your boudoir photosession, we cover the eyes.  Not literally of course as that would be counter-productive, but we will discuss and illustrate what you can and shouldn't do with your eyes so far as where to look.  Many of our clients feel awkward and clueless as to what to do when they first get in front of the camera, and that is completely natural!  They don't know how to stand, what to do with their hands, where to look, whether to smile, etc.  We guide you through all that of course, and even reading this you'll forget.  But this is a good backgrounder on why we tell you to do something and why you should avoid other things.

Normally photographers are peering through the back of their camera when they're about to take a shot.  Usually that is, but for a variety of reasons, not always.  

Clients have a hard enough time trying to figure out where to look when the photographer is behind the camera let alone when they're not.  Do you look at the photographer?  The camera?  Somewhere else?

The No Lookin' Zone

Well, in general its a good idea to vary your gaze to a number of locations.  You can look up, down, to the sides, at the camera, just about anywhere.  But there's a peculiar doughnut shaped "No Lookin' Zone" you should not look towards.  

In general, the No Lookin' Zone is hereby defined as a region somewhere in the vicinity of the camera.  The doughnut hole of the zone is where the camera is, and that's certainly ok to look at.  Keep in mind that the photographer is not doing the actual recording of the scene -- the camera is.  If the photographer steps away from the camera to take the shot, generally you avoid looking at him unless he specifically requests it, because there's a good chance he's in the No Lookin' Zone.  This "exclusion" zone extends a few feet around the camera (but does not include the camera itself).  When you look in the No Lookin' Zone, you look zoned OUT.

What do these individuals have in common?  They were looking at the No Lookin' Zone, resulting in a detached, vaguely disconcerting look.  Like the person is reading a cue card behind you or giving secret signals to someone else in the room to make bunny ears behind your head.  And trust me, it wouldn't be the first time for me.  Its not a particularly attractive look for photographs.  

When looking away, there is a sense of intrigue and mystery.  It is a more artful visual statement because you're not engaging the viewer directly.  Its almost a tease; the viewer gets to enjoy the image surreptitiously.  Plus its a wonderful way to show off your beautiful eyes.

When looking towards the camera, you make it personal.  Now its a direct enticement and challenge to the viewer.  The image becomes more sexually charged.

Looking near the camera into the No Lookin' Zone simply results in a weird, zoned out look.

So remember to either look well away from the camera, or directly toward the camera, but never near the camera.  And no matter what, we at INFINI Boudoir will be there to remind and guide you to get the most flattering shots for you!


Monday, December 26, 2011

Deciding a Modesty Level for your Boudoir Shoot

Men and women are wired differently in a number of ways.  It's generally accepted that men are a visually focused creature, and as nature would have it, women come adorned with a visually appealing form.  Win win!  This is why women figure so prominently as the subject of the visual arts.  Their form is universally accepted as a pleasing form to behold, and of course obviously so for men.

Women on the other hand tend to relate their sexuality in a more subtle way, appealing to a nuanced sensuality, and expressing desire with body language, gestures, and facial expressions, less so an overt appeal to their physical attributes.

It is this disparity of sexual portrayal that we at INFINI Boudoir sometimes find ourselves caught between.  Sometimes a husband will make the appointment for his wife and give us direction about the kinds of shots he's looking for.  Or sometimes we'll get a call or indication from his wife that he's looking for very revealing and sexy photos.  At the same time his wife will point out she is not very comfortable with the idea.

We're on Your Side!

It is very important that all our clients who step in front of our cameras understand that we are on their side.   We cannot be put in the position to exhort our client to go beyond her comfort level for a given photosession.  It puts us in a very awkward, unpleasant, and unethical position to do so.

We are open to all kinds of modesty levels from the most conservative to the most racy, sexy types of shots imaginable.  However our allegiance lies squarely on the preferences of the person in front of the camera.  That position is one of vulnerability and must be one of decisive personal conviction.  Our clients must feel comfortable and secure for the images to have their maximum impact and intended effect.

Mr. Sneaky Husband

One humorous incident of diverging preferences came to us through a client who, during the make up portion of her photosession, provided us with a stack of sample photos for us to review for her shoot.  Having consulted with her prior to the session, I already had a pretty good idea of what she was looking for.  The first few photos in the stack confirmed expectations for a fairly modest, artistic shoot, but somewhere along the line the sample photos diverged into a much more exposed, sexually oriented direction.  Thinking this was a little odd, I sought her confirmation that the far more revealing sample photos were correct, and she expressed surprise and embarrassment that her over-eager husband had slipped the photos into the middle of the stack.

It is important to us that couples are on the same page for the direction of the photosession.  The first question to ask yourself is who the final images are intended for.  Some women come to us of their own volition desiring to feel and look beautiful as a visual work of art.  In this case, we are interested in pleasing her sensibilities and capturing her vision.  Many women on the other hand come to us to give a very special gift to their husband or boyfriend.  Thus begins a more complex navigation of issues.

First, consider the target eyes will be his and not yours.  It is an unfortunate missed opportunity to go through the time, effort, and expense of a boudoir photosession and yet fail to meet his expectations.

When you know his expectations, its then a matter of bridging a compromise between what he may want and what you may be comfortable with.  This is an understanding that the two of you should come to resolution on; it is our policy to strongly resist advocating on his behalf in the modesty level of your photosession.

Alternatively, estimating his expectations is an important exercise in judgment when the gift is a surprise that he doesn't know about.  Will relatively modest shots underwhelm, or hit the mark?  Equally consider how more risque shots will be received and come to a decision on what you want your photoshoot to look like.

When you've given consideration to all these factors before the date of your photosession you will be much more resolved and comfortable with your decision which always provides the best possible results.  Regardless of the modesty level you choose, you will always be treated with respect and dignity in a non-judgmental environment at INFINI Boudoir.  We see the feminine beauty in all our clients and our mission is to use our artistic talents to capture your vision.