On Friday March 9th, 2018 I shot the 2018 French Cultures Festival Kickoff Concert at Houston’s Discovery Green. There were three great bands (The Great Novel from Montreal, Tomar and the FCs from Austin, and Headliners The Blind Suns from Angers, France. They all played on the same accessible and beautifully lit stage with the downtown buildings providing a sometimes dramatic background.
People doing what they love and being oblivious to the camera makes capturing emotions a breeze and never having to pose them. This has given me a desire to shoot more artists/musicians/athletes/performers at work.
If you’re a photographer looking for an easy atmosphere to practice your craft, this is one of the best places to work on your skills. Kudos to Discovery Green for creating such an inviting venue!
For the photographers out there, all these were shot on a Fujifilm XT2 and a vintage M42 mount Asahi Pentax SuperTakumar 135mm f2. Manual focusing is not that hard with some practice and the camera’s peaking assistance.
Day for Nightis billed as a “visually immersive art and music festival exploring the boundaries of light, space, and sound.” It certainly lived up to that billing. It is such an audiovisual feast! I highly recommend attending if you can.
Like many events, the organizers don’t allow attendees to bring in “cameras with detachable lenses.” Having no choice but to I leave my XT2 at home, I relied on the little X100. Despite the very low light, the 1st generation X100 did better than OK and slowing down to pick a shot is a very enjoyable experience.
Editing an image is a matter of both taste and intent. In my abstract notion of a photographer’s ideal world, the image captured in camera is the final product – meaning that the photographer can find or create the desired lighting and composition prior to releasing the shutter. If the planned shot involves putting the subject in a complicated scene one would need a huge budget or a large studio to have full control over that initial capture. This was as true in the days of film as it is now but one of the main advantages of digital photography over film is that post-processing is easier and faster. Post-processing options are part of my decision-making at the time of that first exposure. Here is an example of the concrete application of that abstract notion:
Back in April I did a Fitness/Goddess shoot with Shannon McMillan Hernandez (details here). The initial images were perfectly acceptable and she remains very happy with them. From the very start I knew that I would edit the two themes within this shoot differently, even though they were shot in the same conditions and location.
The Goddess Theme
My original objective was to put Shannon in a scene dramatic enough to match the look of outfit. The counterbalance to that objective was that I had to be able to produce usable images that she could have in a short amount of time. To produce images that would be quickly available I tried two options: First I set the exposure to preserve the highlights in the sky and used my own lighting to expose Shannon but quickly saw that I had to contend with lights reflecting off the large windows in the background. I then exposed for the subject rather than the background. While this resulted in a is totally overexposed sky my Fujifilm’s dynamic range allowed me to recover a decent amount of those highlights.
The Fitness Theme
This required much less editing. Initial image is top left with stages of editing below it and the final image on the right.
I met Shannon McMillan Hernandez at Lifetime Fitness, or rather I approached her to ask if she would be interested in doing a shoot. She is a Pro Figure Athlete and a personal trainer. As I explained to Shannon, my intent was to try to combine two themes that are, in my opinion, infrequently expressed together: femininity and strength.
Shannon has competed as a Pro Figure Athlete and obviously knows how to get her body ready for the stage but I wanted her to avoid getting into competition shape. Anyone who is familiar with what it takes to compete in the bodybuilding/fitness world understands the amount of work and commitment needed. They also know that the way competitors look on stage is not a sustainable version of themselves. That shredded look has its place of course but I didn’t want people, especially women, looking a the pictures to view a professional competitor’s physique as any sort of standard by which they should judge themselves or others. After all, even competitors don’t look like that on a daily basis. Rather than feeling intimidated, I wanted people to feel inspired. I think Shannon really delivered!
An added bonus was that Shannon didn’t just want to do a fitness shoot, she also had a specific theme she had been wanting to try out for a long time – Goddess/Warrior. Her ideas for theme were a great fit for what I wanted to capture.
I think that femininity is too often presented in terms of objectified sexuality. Images of women looking feminine are ubiquitous but they are often sexually explicit. I am not offended by nudity or revealing images but I think they can also limit our perceptions. I wanted to show that a woman does not have to be naked to be feminine, that she can look both feminine and strong, and that strong can be sexy without being explicit or objectifying. I don’t think this is a new idea and I don’t claim inventing it – I just don’t see it expressed in photography often enough. I hope I succeed in capturing Shannon as an example of femininity and strength – powerful, confident, and not boxed in by objectified sexuality.
It is always fun to try a different genre of photography. I love taking on a project that is creative, or gives me the chance to expand my skills. This shoot did both.
You can see more unedited examples on Shannon’s Facebook page. At some point I will make time to do some creative edits on a few of these images but I think that they stand up very well as they are today.