April 8, 2016

Professionally Photographing Figures in a Landscape

One of the subjects I am best known for photographing is women with aesthetically developed muscle. And one of my favorite settings for shooting these women is as figures in dramatic landscapes - often the deserts and mountains of the American Southwest.

Studio photography has a lot of advantages. Such as having a controlled environment, no concerns about weather, easy availability of hair, make up and styling help and complete control of the lighting. Of course, shooting on location in the desert or mountains there can be mobile dressing rooms, make up and styling and the rest - but this tends to get very expensive and is only available for complex and well-funded projects. My photo assignments have only occasionally had that kind of budget behind them.

(A magazine I worked for did rent the entire Hoover Dam for one day, but that's another story.)

I have found that I prefer fairly stark and dramatic landscapes in which to pose bodies that are a kind of living sculpture. But I have used the same kinds of backgrounds for lifestyle, beauty and fashion photos as well. You can get beautiful images shooting against a lot of greenery and piney woods but the results are quite different. I did some shots in Hawaii against a jungle background but found this way too busy. I much preferred the beach photos we did and posing the models against black lava rocks.

I've gotten very good response to my figures in the landscape images. One reason is something one of my assistants once told me. "I like your outdoor location photos, " she said, "because if you take the model out of the picture you still have a very effective landscape pic." I realized that she was right. When I'm shooting models against a landscape I am very much aware of the landscape itself. I pick locations carefully, pay a lot of attention to light, to time of day and I shoot with deep focus, making sure the background is sharp. Fashion and beauty photos are often done with the background way out of focus to enhance the glamour. I use that technique as well for some purposes. But not usually when shooting my athletic models.

I have found I get the best variety of compositions using a zoom lens that goes from very wide angle to extreme telephoto. This kind of lens is limited in that is doesn't operate at very wide apertures. But shooting outdoors in bright sunlight this is not a problem. Some photographers don't like this kind of lens because they feel it isn't as sharp as a prime. But in the digital age with all kind of sharpening tools for files available I don't think is a matter of any concern. Nowadays it is easy to create digital files that are too sharp and need to be softened a bit.

If I am working with a budget for a crew I sometimes use reflectors to lighten the contrast shooting in bright sun. I have also make use of portable strobes. But quite often all I need is a flash on camera when I am fairly close to a model. It sometimes just takes a touch of extra light and then making use of post-production such as shadow sliders in Lightroom. For much of the year shooting in the sun is not a big problem. In the summer months, I often plan my photo sessions to take place late in the day and sunset, then stay over night with crew and models and shoot again at first light. One trip, two sessions and super light conditions. One interesting this about photographing this kind of body in dramatic landscapes is that I often feel that I am shooting landscape when I pose and light my athletic models. Ansel Adams focuses on the details of mountains, canyons and rivers and I treat the details of defined bodies as if they themselves were landscapes. So I end up shooting the body as landscape in a landscape. Lots of opportunity for creative composition and expression.





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