The Colours of Spring / by Mike Stacey

The second day of Spring dawned rainy and coolish but the black wattle tree out the back was resplendent. It was in full bloom and stands about 15 metres high - one of the biggest I've ever seen. The huge flower laden branches were heavy with water and the air all around was filled with the fresh aroma of the flowers. I couldn't resist using some of these flowers in the shoot today with Taliah Campbell so I broke some off and layed them out in front of the fireplace to dry, hoping Talia wouldn't be allergic to wattle.

Set 1

Taliah arrived right on time at 1.30pm so we went over the shoot ideas and had a chat. We started off with some high key shots that included the now dried wattle and other things from Gina's collection, including some gum bark, banksias and assorted natural elements.

I have the lighting for these shots completely sorted. It's a delicate mix of strobe and natural light to create a soft almost shadowless and quite surreal look. I set up the lights and amazingly got the strobe and camera settings almost spot on first go. We set up a space amidst the branches for Taliah to lie down and did some pretty rough arranging of the stuff around her. Should have spent more time on this part. I had a stool placed either side of Taliah so I could stand with a foot on each and shoot directly down. Shooting a model on the floor is harder than it seems - the angles just don't translate to a 2D picture so you have to be mindful of a few things.

Set 1: Eyes! 

This one's on Portra with the Pentax.

The shots are great. Taliah worked some wonderful poses and her eyes, which really are amazing in any light, really glowed with the large catchlights made by the lighting set up. I shot a roll of Portra with the Pentax 67 and some digitals.

Set 2

Next we moved on to an experimental setup which was essentially extremely high key flat lighting and figure posing - almost natural poses without too much flair for another surreal kind of effect. This was a first try at getting something I have in my mind where the picture looks like a hand drawn sketch and I'm happy with the results. It's a tricky look for a model as I didn't want any of the usual poses, just a more natural and fluid stance. Taliah got it right after just a few different poses.

Set 2: shot on Portra 400 with the Pentax 67 - all blur effects done in camera.

Partial nude.

Set 3

The third set were the ones that are pretty much the backbone of my photographic work. Intimate, sensual portraits shot on film. This is something I know I can fall back to at any time and create good pictures. We set up the new (second hand) chaise lounge by the large window in the lounge room and moved it through a few different angles for differing effects. Taliah's poise and expression through her eyes was perfect and I really love these shots - they allow a human connection between viewer and subject.

Set 3 - Portra 400 pushed to 800

I also wanted to shoot some of these portraits on the floor - lying down and shooting straight across the floor into Taliah's eyes. Some tweaking of the angles and we nailed a couple of really nice shots where Taliah's arms and legs form beautiful compositions inside the 6x7 frame.

A beautiful expression and state of poise by Taliah. I love the soft effect plus the grain in this achieved by pushing Portra 400 pushed to 800

More beautiful poise by Taliah - shot on HP5 pushed to 800.

The Pentax 67

This is where the Pentax shines. There is no camera like this for stuff like this. I can shoot with it in the same way as an SLR (a heavy SLR that is) and the 105mm lens is unbeatable. There is no modern lens I've used, and I've used lots of them, that comes anywhere near this thing for portrait work. The bokeh is even better than my Nikkor large format lenses - only the Schneider Apo Symmar is on par but even then, I think the Pentax bokeh is just that extra bit more beautiful. So put a lens like that on a body like the Pentax 67, load some Tri-X, and you have the best portrait kit around. Lens and body will cost you around US$500 - US$750. I also shot digital of each of these set-ups so I have direct and interesting comparisons between a high end DSLR (D800) and the old medium format Pentax film camera.

Set 4

It was still raining outside but I wanted some shots from outside looking back in through the lounge room window. Unfortunately the reflections just weren't in the right place to make it work like I'd envisaged but there are a couple of really lovely soft and emotive looking shots here.

Set 4: Shot with the Pentax67 and Portra from a ladder outside the window and yes, I got wet.

Set 5

Moving on, we set up for the final shots which involved a different lighting set up - the most important part to delineate the image sets. A wardrobe change, not that there was much to change as there had been virtually none in the first few sets. Black tailored jacket, black pants and a hat did the trick - plus the old favourite chair and one of Gina's excellent backdrops. We added a cigarette too, cigarettes are not popular these days for good reason but as a photographic prop, I love them. Taliah did this look with some great attitude and there's a few awesome shots from this set.

Set 5

This could really only be shot on film and on the Pentax67.

Set 6

We'd been shooting for 3 hours already so this last set had to be quick. I had no idea what we'd do. I started by taking away the chair and shot Talia posing with attitude in front of the same backdrop with some harsh light and the existing jacket and just a black G string. It looked cool for sure and Taliah herself looked stunning, as she had done in every previous set but from a photographic point of view I know when something's just not right - or when it can be better.

Set 6

So next thing was to try nude but then I had no clear idea how to shoot that either - there are a million ways to shoot nudes and we didn't have the time to think or experiment. I looked over on the shelf where Gina had stacked some recent acquisitions and eyeballed a beautiful maroon coloured Indian Turban. I asked Taliah what she reckoned and she was cool to give it a go so on went the turban and suddenly I knew what to do. That resulted in the final image of the day!

Taliah was amazing to work with, I have to say one of the easiest models I've had the pleasure of collaborating with. She stays connected throughout the shoot and invests herself to realise the vision. I asked her numerous times if she needed a break, a cup of tea, a drink or something but she was good to just keep going. I was buggered at the end of the shoot!

Thanks to Gina from Gian Designs for:

* Black tailored jacket
* Assortment of collected natural elements
* Straw Fedora hat
* Coffee stained backdrop
* Indian turban
* Chaise loungeintage chair

Makeup by Taliah Campbell

Many more images coming from this shoot!