Third Place Award: Nudes in November 2014

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The Spider's Lair

I have been remiss about blogging lately. A bit too busy with my law practice – which, at the moment, is how I fund my life – so unless and until I sell more prints on a regular basis, that’s just how it goes.

Anyway, some of you may know that last year, I won First Place in Photography during ArtHop™ at the Sorensen Studio’s “Nudes in November” 2013 show.

Since then, I have won other awards, as well. The latest of these – bringing me full circle for the year – is another win for “Nudes in November” 2014 show, which I present above, as the featured image of this post.

Frankly, I was a bit surprised with the win with this image. I wasn’t really expecting to even place this year, because I deliberately went out on a limb by playing with surreal ideas. And I just didn’t think surrealism was going to score me many points, given what I’ve seen at most Fresno art shows.

However, what surprised me even more was that I thought, if I did place, it was going to be with this next image.

A Slow Dispute
A Slow Dispute

That image, which I originally conceived of as a “snail race,” turned into something different. Rather than a “race,” it appeared when I began putting it together that it was more like the gals were kind of having a disagreement. That, plus the fact that I put them onto snails, caused me to name it, “A Slow Dispute.”

The image is obviously a composite, but you might be surprised at just how much of a composite it actually is. Each model was shot independently in the studio, of course. They were shot against a white background, sitting on saddles. The “snails” – well, I put that into scare quotes because there was actually only one snail – were (was) shot with my camera on a tripod, as I herded the snail back and forth on top of my jacuzzi cover in the backyard.

In case you’re interested, I learned that if you try to herd a snail with your finger, the snail will just pull up into its shell. It may stay that way for quite a long time, making it a pain in the neck to shoot. In addition, it probably won’t even turn into a different position when it does start moving again. By watching the snail interact with the environment, and experimenting, I learned that you could actually herd a snail using a twig, or a piece of grass.

In Photoshop, I made very minor alterations to the snail so as to make it appear that they were actually different snails. Aside from using the “puppet warp” feature to change their bodies a little bit, I made minor changes to colors, or spot locations on the shells.

That wasn’t the end of the compositing, though. The ferns were shot from a small bank of ferns my Master Gardener wife tends in the backyard. But the rock, the stream, and the sand came from the bottom of Huntington Lake, where one of the feeder streams entered. You may recall from a prior post that I went up to Huntington a while back, looking for inspiration on the – as it was then intended – “snail race.”

After putting everything together, I ran it through several different filters. I don’t actually remember all that I used now. Lately, I tend to use several, as no one filter ever seems to be fully satisfying when I’m playing around with an idea. My primary goal is usually to try to find a filter that is going to hew to my vision, but also help me to integrate the disparate parts of a composite. If I’m remembering correctly, on this composition, I sometimes ran filters, and/or adjustment layers, just on the individual components, then did a few “global” alterations to so-called “stamped” layers so everything would blend better.

Finally, of course, my compositions increasingly involve a little bit of hand “painting,” using digital brushes, color adjustment layers, and dodge-and-burn adjustment layers.

It’s no longer possible, without building a full-on tutorial, to demonstrate exactly what I’ve done to achieve the final result. The reason is that I use an interplay of filters, adjustment layers, dodging-and-burning layers, occasionally some tweaking of parts with new blend modes, and/or puppet warp, or even the Liquify filter, all in an iterative process. It’s no longer unusual for me to end up with so many layers, and so much tweaking, that some files cannot be saved without deleting some of the beginning layers.

This was particularly true of this next image, which I also entered in the Nudes in November 2014 show.

A Penny (Farthing) For Your Thoughts
A Penny (Farthing) For Your Thoughts

The image was, as you can tell from the caption, called “A Penny (Farthing) For Your Thoughts.” A penny-farthing, of course, is the type of bicycle in the image. For obvious reasons, it was also called a “high wheel.”

Just in case you’re wondering, the answer is “yes.” Yes, she is riding the same penny-farthing model in the right side of the image that she is holding onto in the left side of the image. The view on the left shows the actual size of the penny-farthing model relative to the model model. As with “A Slow Dispute,” we shot against a white background. I also shot an image of the penny-farthing by itself, braced up against a foam core board in front of the white background. When shooting the model model – I’m not naming her because even though I have permission to use the image, I don’t want to have it pop up if someone does a search on her name; some of her friends might not be as open-minded about art as she is – we actually took photos of her posed as close as possible to the position she would need to be in if she were actually riding the penny-farthing. But, in addition, we shot several images of separate body parts: her feet, her hands, her legs, her arms. I knew in advance that I was going to adjust her using the puppet warp feature, but the additional body parts helped to reduce distortions by allowing me to composite an individual part, such as just the foot, or just the left hand, and move it around.

Incidentally, if you look very closely at the spokes of the penny-farthing on the left, you’ll notice that the spokes beneath the left breast – actually her right breast, but left as you view it in the image – are a little bent. I didn’t notice that until after the shoot. Fixing it was going to negatively impact the “grain,” and pores, in her abdomen, so I didn’t do it. (I probably could have overcome that, but it would have required more work than I wanted to put in.) In the version shot against white, though, it was no problem to use the Liquify tool to fix them. Click on the image to enlarge it (you’ll then need to use the back-button in your browser to return to this article), and you’ll see it’s otherwise the same penny-farthing!

Finally, since the penny-farthing was popular in the last half of the 1800s, and that was about the same time as the development and spread of the use of “wet plate,” or “collodion” photographic processes, I simulated a wet plate process to finalize the image. I don’t know if anyone actually “got it” that this was what I was doing.

In any event, I was surprised that of all three images, the “comic book version,” as I called it – the featured image at the top of this post, which I almost did not even enter into the show – was the winner of the third place award.

You’ll notice that unlike last year, I have not “censored” these images on the blog, and then provided links for you to go to the galleries. There are two reasons for this. One is that I think it makes the images look ugly. I’ve never liked it, and I don’t have (obviously) the aversion to nude photography that some others have. The second reason is that, now that I have a studio, I’m shooting mostly boudoir, and nudes. I am working on other projects, as well, and I haven’t given up on landscape photography. It’s just that I’ve always enjoyed shooting nudes, and now I have a space where I can do that. I don’t want to have to “censor” as many nude images as I’ll probably be posting here over time, so that’s that. If nudity bothers you, you may not enjoy this blog as much going forward.

On the other hand, if you do enjoy nudes as much as I do, then stay tuned. I plan more nudes, more surrealism, and I actually hope to possibly consider recreating old art – if I can figure out how – such as The Garden of Earthly Delights by  Hieronymus Bosch, one of my favorite artists. I have a very large version of this framed, next to my desk, and I keep wondering how I could recreate that by shooting various nude models, birds, eggshells, etc., and compositing them in Photoshop.

Stay tuned! I think 2015 is going to be one heckuva photographic year here!