Something New: Felicita’s Beach Shoot

There comes a time in an artist’s life where they enter a sort of metamorphosis, if you will. Just as great musicians alter their sound or a painter embraces a new technique over time, photographers often experiment with new locations, new models, new equipment, and new styles. In nearly six years as a practicing photographer, I have come a long way. Though many things have stayed the same (like my equipment and my love of portraits), lots has changed. The quality of my images, the number of images I take and have to weed through, my intentions…and that’s exactly what my most recent photo shoot showcases. But it wasn’t an easy photo session, and I want to provide some insight as to the what, how, and why behind this slight “MPS makeover.” Take a look:

The Reunion

Felicita isn’t new to my photography. In fact, she’s probably my most regular model appearing even more frequently then my Nashville crew. Felicita has always been the model I choose for experiments with props or techniques because she loves taking pictures and she’s willing to do anything I ask of her. When I decided I wanted to learn how to incorporate props into my photography, she was my go-to girl. We braved 103 degrees of heat and when I asked her to lie on a set of hot, active train tracks, she obliged, no questions asked. She respects the fact that it takes time to edit and upload pictures and she is probably the only model I have ever had who actually abides by my request to not crop out my watermark if she uses my photos for profile pictures (take note, fellow models; I hate it when you crop out my logo). With Felicita’s help, my skills have improved quite a bit:

The Progression of Feli

That is a dedication that I can’t really attribute to just any and everyone.

It stands to reason then that since Felicita was coming to visit me in Honolulu, we would have to have a photo shoot. After all, we’ve been doing this for four years. We already had to put it on hold once we graduated. It would just be blasphemy had we not done a shoot for old time’s sake. What I didn’t expect, however, was for Felicita to ask for us to try something as new and extreme as a swimsuit session.

Modesty

Swimsuit 3 Swimsuit 4

There immediately was a seed of skepticism planted in each of our minds about how this sort of thing would turn out. As excited as Felicita was to do the research for inspiration and actually try it out, she was equally terrified of just how crazy this idea actually was. I mean, she was posing for pictures in little more than a glorified bra and underwear. And I, of course, had never done anything like this. Sure, I have taken pictures of people in bathing suits. If I’m going to hang out with my friends by the pool, then yeah, a photo or two will get taken. But with the intent of being relatively legitimate swimsuit shots? Yeah, no, I had never considered the option.

I think, in particular, this affected Felicita in the sense that her parents, who just so happen to be missionaries, would feel some sort of concern surrounding these images. Their daughter’s body is on full-blast here. And though Felicita is an adult and can make her own decisions, it doesn’t stop others from having reactions to what she does, especially when it’s the individuals who raised her and who have the most to say about her.

As for me, I am used to photographing people fully clothed. They may show a shoulder or a leg, but everything that typically should be covered in your standard portrait is covered. I’m not one to ogle over the human body anyway, and to produce a set of images that pretty much screams, “look at my body,” was an endorsement I just had to come to terms with. This could open up all kinds of commentary and debate about what women can and can’t wear and how that affects the opposite sex and blah blah blah, but in this moment, we took a chance by taking away clothing.

Vulnerability

It’s one thing to just be at the beach swimming about in your bikini. No one really thinks much about a woman at the beach just hanging out. But once you add a camera to it, where one person is taking posed pictures of another person, everything changes. It becomes a tad taboo and people stare awkwardly at you while silently judging you. Or at least, that’s how it feels when you’re doing this sort of thing in public. I’m used to hosting photo shoots in public. It’s often a conversation starter. But as far as working with Felicita is concerned, most of what we’ve done has been in more remote locations where we don’t get distracted. To challenge ourselves with a swimsuit session and to execute it at one of the most populated beaches on all of O’ahu? Yeah…

Swimsuit 5

Felicita undoubtedly felt the most self-conscious. She’s in a two-piece. She’s rolling in the sand. She’s looking over her shoulder. She’s posed. I can’t even begin to imagine just how uncomfortable she was. Because for this sort of thing to work, you do have to give yourself over to a certain level of vulnerability. People can see you as they walk by. You’re in public, so who knows what kind of people are watching. Honolulu is not immune to creepers burning through your skin with their eyes. I think it was brave of Felicita to strip down and stand or sit or whatever for the sake of a photo. She told me that she never did end up feeling comfortable. In some ways, I don’t think you ever can feel comfortable as an amateur model posing for bikini shots. But she handled it gracefully. And rather than let it eat away at her, it was my job as the photographer to keep her occupied so that she wouldn’t become hyper-aware of the world around her.

Creative Risk

Of course, I wasn’t off the hook, either. I may not have been the one showing off my body for the sake of a picture, but I was the one holding the camera and that made me just as vulnerable as Felicita.

Swimsuit 6 Swimsuit 7

There were a number of things a passerby could think as they saw us working. They might have thought I was one of those people who takes pictures of pretty girls and then makes money pawning off the shots I’ve taken. Others might have believed Felicita and I were a couple and I was the equivalent of the horny significant other. Those, amongst others, would have been vastly incorrect, but just being the person taking the photo is a personal vulnerability in and of itself.

This session was also a professional risk. For starters, I worried if these images would even turn out well. But even more, I worried how this would affect my career (as if I get paid to do this). I initially feared how many potential future clients I could lose when they saw these images. They could make all kinds of assumptions about what I do and what I stand for and decide that I am not the right photographer for them. And then I realized that people are doing that anyway.

I have put myself out there just by creating my official Facebook page. And people can sift through my work at any time and decide if my style is right for them. And yes, there is a series of images of a girl in a bikini, but there are also maternity photos and senior pictures. At some point I, as an artist, need to grow and experiment and find what works and what doesn’t. And there’s a possibly that in the future, there will be a few more swimsuit sessions (I’ve been asked by another friend after she saw the work Felicita and I did). I could be ashamed of growing in my craft, but I’m not. I don’t have time to be.

Growth

So what did we learn? What have we gained from this experience? I did something I rarely ever do when working with my photos: I let Felicita look through some of the photos I had taken before editing. And as I started clicking through, I could hear her behind me groaning about how she felt she looked in the images. And since that is exactly the sort of thing that persuades me not to show my models the images until they are edited and posted to whatever forum, I just looked back at Felicita and said, “I’m not listening to anything you say about these images.” It wasn’t meant to be rude. Far from it, actually. Because when you’re feeling that overwhelmed about exposing yourself in a photo, you’re going to be self-conscious and point out everything you deem negative (I would know; I do it every time I see a photo of my face).

But that’s where trust comes in.

Felicita sat down and said, “I trust you to make me look good.” And though I know that she has that part already taken care of, it was still my job to make her feel safe and proud of what we had accomplished. For Felicita, it was a lesson in self-esteem and body image. And I can tell that these images have grown on her. I mean, she’s putting some of them on Instagram and making them her profile pictures and stuff. That’s growth right there, even if it is a personal thing. And the fact that she even challenged herself to do something like this is pretty impressive. I’m not sure how many more of my regular models would offer themselves up as tribute like that.

And what about me? Well, Felicita was telling me that she had grown to love the images and that even though there were very few final edits (only 20), she was proud of what we’d gotten. She also pointed out that we took way less photos than we used to. And that for me is a triumph. Because that means I’m being far more intentional with the composition of my photos. In terms of “serious” material, I took about 60 photos. And I was able to use 20 of them. That’s not half bad at all. Felicita went on to brag about me to my roommate who didn’t realize that when we said “we took pictures” that meant “we had a photo shoot.” I brought a small collection of my best photos with me to Hawai’i. I mounted them on discarded pieces of matte board, and I let my roommate sift through them. She and Felicita went off on this whole tangent about how I should charge people and do photography on the side. My roommate was like, “you should totally sell your work in Waikiki. Tourists will buy anything, especially really nice pictures of Hawai’i.” And in some ways I know it’s vain of me to relish in such praise, but I will admit, it’s certainly a nice confidence boost.

This photo session taught me that sometimes you have to take risks. You have to expose yourself and let people think what they want to think for you to grow as an individual and as an artist. I doubt I’ll just switch over to photographing swimsuit models. I’ll let Sports Illustrated stick to that. But I think I might be a little more brave to try new things even if they are a tad controversial. The support I’ve gotten from others for this session has been overwhelmingly positive and I appreciate it. Photography is something I love, and I’m going to keep trying my best to get better at it.

Swimsuit 8

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: