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Monday, April 19, 2010

Ebony and Ryan's beautiful day

If my memory serves me correctly, I first met John 14 years ago. It was my sister, Natasha's wedding day, 1996. I had written a song for her that I wanted to perform with the band at her wedding. Not having had the chance to meet with the band beforehand, I handed them the charts and without a single rehearsal, they played it perfectly. You can't imagine how grateful I was. But wait! There's more! After that, they asked me to come and sing with them at other weddings and gigs and I was very happy to. Give me a microphone? Somebody stop me! In the fourteen years that have passed since we have all become such good friends and I love getting together with these guys, whether it be for a gig, a jam or just a few drinks and some pasta on the odd Friday night. But this past weekend allowed me an opportunity to do something for one of them for a change.
On Saturday, my very good friend, John (our brilliant bass player) was compelled to hand his beautiful daughter into the care of fine young man - Ryan Abrahams. Ryan and Ebony are deeply in love with each other and their friendship is an enviable one. But as happy as they were to marry,  I know from the moments I spent with John on Saturday and the coffee I shared with him Sunday morning that this was not an easy thing for him. He and his daughter share a special bond. That is self evident when you see them together. But it was also evident from the few tears I saw well in his eyes during the course of the day. There is the ambivalence of the loss of the special and unique companionship of a daughter along with the knowing that she will be loved and well cared for by a fine young man who has also woven his way into the family's heart. 
I have known Ebony since she was a small girl and ss deeply fond as I am of her, I have to be honest and say that my motives for creating the best wedding photographs I could were more about my good friend John. As I have often said - and will say again many times yet - it is an honour always to be asked to capture a wedding. But this one was different. I wanted to do it for him. While I endeavour always to be at my best, I wanted so much to produce some wonderful images of the beautiful Ebony and her husband so that I could honour my long time friendship with her father. Naturally, your heart is always with the couple and you want to do your best for them on their 'day of days', but I have to admit, upon personal examination, that my motives had that added dimension.
The day itself was wonderful. The weather was perfect and the light for our late afternoon formals was simply beautiful. Being a lover of rim lighting, it was not hard to 'find the light and put 'em in it...a phrase with which my process has become synonymous. Ebony and Ryan were so easy to photograph and so cooperative with regard to each image. As the sun sinks toward the horizon in a Melbourne April, you have a relatively small window to work with when its golden glow warms the landscape. But they worked with us, and were very keen to co-produce some beautiful and romantic images for themeselves.
Our shoot was at the Panton Hill Winery where textures and architecture combine with the vineyard surroundings to produce opportunities for photographers that make life so easy. However, there was a moment there when a patch of light so beautifully lit a small portion of the forest to the right of the property that it wouldn't have mattered where we were as long as the light was there. Oh...and indeed it was.
It is here that photographers, I believe, sort the men from the boys. Successful wedding photography is rarely about the location. After all, most weddings begin in an average home where the bride readies herself for her groom. While this was not the case on Saturday, I have many times found myself in an average suburban home with a bride, bridesmaids and a short period of time. Here is where you need to understand what is required and maximise your opportunities. Often, the location chosen for formals is not the best either. But grant the experienced and creative photographer a shaft of light anywhere and there is an instant opportunity for a dynamic image.
The sun having set, we ventured into the winery buildings where I could not help but pose Ebony under the lights that fell upon the almost medieval style furniture. She has such a beautiful and innocent face that placing it under the fall of an overhead light was an automatic process for me. She is so lovely that the light becomes her servant, as it is mine. For me, finding the light and posing the couple with it as the absolute priority is a 'first instinct' process. It never fails to produce an image that pleases me. Never. It is something I can't help but emphasize at all my workshops. With some indoor images under our belts, it was time to head for the reception.
And there I was...seated with the band. Of course! And don't I love it! After all, my work wasn't finished. There was music to provide for the reception, and I was in the band. I love plugging in the guitar, stepping up the mike and letting loose wherever and whenever I can. Natasha Humble, who had been specially invited by John to be my able and creative assistant for the day was also invited to sing. He's a clever lad that John...getting twice the value for his dollar! The reception was an evening mixed with wonderful laughter, a few tears and a whole lot of fun. And...I have to admit, my voice had held up well and I was able to reach the soft notes for "Have I Told You Lately" and the power notes in "Easy" - a song I insist on doing with the band. Its my anthem, after all.

"Just gotta be me..."
However, I wasn't that Easy on Sunday morning - like the song says. I crashed at John's place after the band had gathered there post-reception for a few drinks and bit of a giggle. Actually, it was a lot of giggles,  a couple of 12-year old Scotches, a Bailey's, a shot of something the name of which I can't remember and a glass of water. John also fired up the spa but well, we were all just a little too tired. In the end, I think I got about three hours sleep. Oh well, that's not too bad. Its a good thing I am still young, right?
John, thank you for allowing me the honour to capture your beautiful girl in her innocent beauty. Thank you for a memorable day and for your friendship, always. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A small group, a unique reward...

There is something particularly rewarding about running a wedding photography workshop. First of all, you get to help people take a few steps closer to fulfilling a dream, perhaps one that even includes photographing weddings for a living. Our little workshop businees has had the distinct honour of making that happen for quite a few people. Secondly, you assist the couples who may choose one of the attendees at your classes to get a higher level of photography than they may have received simply because of some practical or creative technique that their photographer may have learned at your workshop. Posing, light manipulation and light metering, lens use and perspective, location utilisation and human interaction are all aspects of our wedding workshop that are bound to impact on the photographer and the couples whose days they capture.
In these regards, today was no different. In fact, because the group was so small, it had an added element of satisfaction in that I was able to assist each of those in attendance more personally. With Glynn doing a speaking tour for PMA in New Zealand, I was on my own - except of course for the wonderful assistance of Natasha, who modelled and co-tutored for the workshop today. Having a model who is also an accomplished and very creative photographer work with you for the benefit of your students is a distinct advantage. 
We were also joined by Taisen Blackwolf. Taisen was one of the models at our Shootahunka event, and he certainly made himself memorable to the ladies who were there. A handsome and charming young man, Taisen is going to be very welcome at future Creative Photo Workshop events. Keep an eye out for him!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Diversify Diversify Diversify

I had the pleasure of spending this past Wednesday with a beautiful family in Kyabram - Natalie and Marcus DiPetta and their two boys, Matthew and Tom. I first had the pleasure of meeting Natalie when she came to our EchucaPalooza event in August last year. Then, her husband, Marcus started his photographic journey and attended one of our workshops in February and then another more recently. Natalie runs a photography studio specialising in maternity and child portraiture and her work is beautiful. This was an unexpected journey for Natalie. She took over the business when its former owner moved from Kyabram for a seachange. Natalie's beautiful work can be seen at her website. She leaves me for dead when it comes to this kind of work. I am too afraid to venture where she treads. I am kinda with WC Fields when it comes to this kind of work. "Never work with children or animals" he once said and I agree. Natalie, however, not only ventures here in this dangerous ground, she excels at it.
However, of recent she has felt the need to diversify, if only to satisfy that typical and insatiable aspect of every creative person's soul. While she loves the work she does -and so do her clients - she, like every other photographer - needs to break out. I applaud this kind of thinking. My career has forced to me to learn how to photograph everything...and I am grateful. I learned from this process what I enjoy, what I don't enjoy, what I am good at and where I need work. For Natalie, its more a case of growth.
So, off I went to her country town for a day for a one-on-one workshop. Well, it was more like a one-on-two. Marcus was there also. Natalie's handsome husband not only acted as model for part of the day (something she had no objection to at all!) but he also wanted to learn some studio lighting techniques as well.
Its funny what a bit of makeup and some creative lighting can do for the soul. Natalie has asked a client and friend of hers to model for the workshop. Brooke, a lively and vivacious woman in her early 30's arrived. She has not long become a Mum, which is how she came to know Natalie. As beautiful as this is, it could be seen that Brooke was feeling the somewhat deglamourising effects of Mumdom. So, we set to work.  A quick makeover, two softboxes in clamshell formation, a standing fan and some hairlight and Voila! Suddenly Brooke was back! This new Mum suddenly reclaimed herself. It was an interesting process to watch. The woman who had entered the studio was not the woman who left. 
If there is one thing I have learned it is that photography - and the passion that drives it - can be a life changing pursuit. Without doubt, it alters irreversibly the lives of those who take it up. It can also change the lives of those who become its subjects. And this little setup even changed me in a way....even I was brave enough to have my portrait taken. Now that's saying something!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Two workshops, One Day

Yesterday was an interesting day for Creative Photo Workshops. Glynn and I decided we would run two workshops at the same time, with Natasha Humble and my wonderful son, Nathan as assistants. Natasha and Nathan have run workshops together while Glynn and I were overseas, and it seemed perfectly viable that we could run two workshops on the same day. Glynn and Nathan tutored our Understanding Your Camera workshop while Natasha and I looked after the Creative People Photography workshop. These two have been our most popular to date and we enjoy running them both very much.
Natasha was my model and co-tutor and the lovely young Sarah Hardy was the model for the Understanding Your Camera workshop. Running the two together worked very well and I don't think it will be the last time we will be doing that. One of the advantages I had was that Natasha is both model and tutor. Seeing as she was the primary focus for all those doing my People workshop, her tutor role was limited. After all, its hard to teach when you have ten or so people pointing a camera at you. However, she was able to drive home the points made in the workshop about the importance of directing the model, graciously and clearly and also posing with a priority of light. Being both photographer and workshop model, Natasha knows those things only too well.
Sarah is a beautiful young girl with the loveliest eyes, and a most beautiful demeanour. She photographs so beautifully and is so confident in front of a camera for one so young. I look forward to working with her again soon also.
Now, on to the next workshop..our Creative Wedding Photography workshop on April 13th...

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Pictorial Pugilism

Being a successful model is not all about physical attractiveness. Naturally you can't be grotesque either, but some of the most successful models are not actually particularly stunning in terms of their physicality. Many top models are rather 'everyday' in their appearance, but their diversity, their uniqueness, their 'look' and their charisma for the camera are the very aspects of their saleable persona that grant them access to success and longevity of career. I couldn't tell you how many times I have been in interviews with young engaged couples and assessing the success of the upcoming shoot by the attractiveness of either the bride or the groom or both, only to be once again reminded that photogenic is not about looks. Often the prettiest girls are the least photogenic, while those less attractive can photograph so memorably and even beautifully. Models who wish to diversify and earn well need to recognise this early in their career. They also need to learn that being a model is not about being a pouting, mammiferous offering on the altar of sexuality. The high end shoots - the ones that get you a name and a career - are usually the opposite of those. Pouting sexpots with miles of cleavage are easily found. A model with a diverse range of characters and looks is far more difficult to find but an absolute pleasure to work with. Photographers remember them simply because of their understanding of their part in the creative process and their willingness to contribute.
The team at Creative Photo Workshops were having this same conversation with Sophie, the beautiful young model we have had the wonderful opportunity to photograph and offer to our customers as the subject of our lessons. Her face is exquisite, being perhaps the most perfectly put together combination of features that separately are just as beautiful. However, as we said, being a successful model is much more than that.
So, as a result of our conversation, we spent a day with Sophie recently to help her expand her own repertoire and to get a few great photographs as well. David Oakley kindly organised for us to use the boxing ring where he trains as our first location. Oh yes...David Oakley is a dangerous man, folks...
This location was a great place for us to start. Our first point of call was to set up some flashguns on stands and use some Honl grids to highlight Sophie. Then, we needed to help Sophie come out of her shell. Not that she is a shy person. No, not at all. But rather so that she would not be embarrassed when asked to reveal or enact certain emotions for the photographers she will be working with in future. I couldn't tell you how many times I have worked with models who have one face, one look, one emotion. This is a very ephemeral repertoire without a doubt. Its not even a repertoire, really. Its more like a one hit wonder. Sophie, however, is capable of so much more. Her natural personality reveals that. All we needed to do was break the barrier that constrains her personality for the camera.
After our pugnacious pictures were taken, we moved into a more rural setting and worked one something a little different. It was a fun day all around. The kind of day where you have to tell yourself 'this is not fun. This is what I do for a living'.
But..yeah...its serious fun.

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller