Posts Tagged ‘Asian male nude’

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October 18, 2012


I had such a good experience painting “Steve with Towel” using sponges (see Painting Without Brushes), I decided to undertake something more challenging.

I was looking through my photos of Rob in Palm Springs and found one that I really liked. Not a nude, but that’s okay with me; these days I’m thinking more about gallery shows and I’m liking the idea of doing works with a broader appeal. I’ve painted so many frontal nudes in my career I finally feel I can do something less confronting without feeling like I’ve compromised.

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Above is the photograph I decided to use for my next painting. This is an image I wouldn’t have undertaken not too long ago. You know I love painting the figure with just a plain blue (or yellow or orange or whatever) background, so all I have to deal with is the face and figure. There’s a whole lot more going on in this one.

But there’s been a tectonic shift in my painter’s view of the world in the last several weeks, and that’s because of my new understanding of color. The previous two paintings and lots of practice pieces in between have really cemented my new awareness of color temperature (warm vs. cool).

Because of this, I look at this image and see relationships I wouldn’t have seen in the past. Instead of just seeing dark greens in the background, I now see COOL dark greens. And I see the warmer greens against the cooler ones. In the middle ground I see the cool purples and the warmer greens and oranges. In the pool I see the difference between the cool blues and the warmer blue-greens. And on the figure, I see the purples and greens in the shadow areas. What used to be a sea of complexity that overwhelmed me is now a set of puzzle pieces I feel competent to put together!

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But to make it even easier for me to see and deal with all the puzzle pieces, I did my usual Photoshop tweaking of the image. Using the Posterize filter, I altered the image so that I had a clearer breakdown of both values (light and dark) and hue (colors). Then, with both the unaltered photo and the tweaked version as references, I have more information available. (Compare the water in the pool in the unaltered photo and the tweaked one and see how much easier it is to see what’s going on. Now it’s possible to see it as abstract colored shapes. That is the way you have to see it in order to paint it.)

This was to be another big, bold sponge painting, so I cut myself a piece of canvas that would give me plenty of room to work. The dimensions for the painting are 36×48 (91x121cm), or 3 feet by 4 feet. A big painting, for me.

(One of the issues for me in the past with attempting a complex image like this was that there was a lot of detail, and a lot of differing kinds of detail. That’s no fun when you’re painting small. But until recently I hadn’t even allowed myself to consider painting really big. Thank goodness I got over that! Because an image like this becomes MUCH easier (and more fun) when it’s big enough that you’re not having to work into tiny, detailed areas to get something right. Of course with sponges you don’t even have the option of doing tiny, detailed areas—and that’s a good thing.)

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Above you can see the initial reference drawing, then the next stage where I’ve done a brownish wash over the whole painting, then begun laying in the background and some of the water in the pool. I’m using sponges for all of this and doing my best to keep it really loose—although I got a little carried away and did more detail than I intended on some of the plants. They didn’t need to be that finished this early in the game. But that’s okay; that will all be changed when the painting is more complete anyway.

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In the above in-progress photos you can see I’ve blocked in more of the pool and begun laying in some flesh tones to see how it’s all going to fit together. It’s never a good idea to finish one area of a painting at a time—it’s much better to skip around and work in several areas of the painting, because every time you add color or values to one area, it changes the areas around it. A painting is a dynamic thing; you can’t expect it to ‘hold still’ while you’re finishing one area of it. When you work all over the painting there’s a much better chance it will all work well together in the end.

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At this point I have been working on the painting for a couple of days. You can see it’s starting to come together. Mixing the colors has been a challenge. Knowing what I now know about warm and cool and how they alternate, it’s been much easier than it would have been in the past. But it’s still been challenging, and often I’ve found when I apply the shade I’ve just mixed on my palette, it’s not right and I have to try again. This has been especially true of the fleshtones, because in this painting, mostly they’re not what we think of as flesh tones at all. Instead, they’re cool blue-greens and warm lavenders, with a bit of orange and some yellows in the highlights.

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The next day, I bring the work further toward completion by finishing more of the background, the water in the pool (notice I’ve added the white splashes), and continuing to work on Rob’s flesh tones. I had to paint, and repaint, and repaint again, to get just the right colors and values in his body. The light is rather complicated, plus with acrylics they always dry darker so sometimes it’ll look right when it’s wet, but then it dries and you realize you have to repaint it—AGAIN.

Approximately 5 days after beginning it, I finish the painting.

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The finished painting, entitled 'Palm Springs, 6 PM.'

Final touches included getting the flesh tones just right (FINALLY!), adding the chrome railing, and adding some final touches in the foliage in the background. I’ve decided to call it ‘Palm Springs 6pm’. I feel it’s a big breakthrough in several ways: the size of it, the fact that I did such a complex work using only sponges (and not getting caught up in detail!), and the fact that I was able to use my increasing awareness of color temperature to bring more life to the image.


Click here to access all entries in Douglas Simonson’s “On the Road” Series


Malibu w stevechen

Click here to access all entries in Douglas Simonson’s “On the Road” Series


MALIBU PHOTO SHOOT: STEVE CHEN



As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’ve just embarked on a year-long journey.

I left Hawaii July 10 for Los Angeles, the first stop. I’ve been here for a little over 2 weeks, and I’ve just completed the first male-nude photo shoot of my trip so far.

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Steve Chen in a photograph by David Smith

I met Steve Chen through fellow photographers David Smith (Hawaii) and Kurt Brown (California). I’d seen some of the photographs and thought he looked great! On top of that, both David and Kurt said Steve was a sweetheart, easy to work with and just a really nice guy. I like to hear reports like that. So I was eager to meet him.

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Some of the test shots I took of Steve when we first met.

Steve came to meet me where I was staying, at my friend Gina’s Brentwood apartment. I liked him right away. He’s a very friendly, open, charming guy, and of course he’s handsome and has an amazing body! We talked a bit about the shoot, and other things, and set a date and time.

Two days later we drove to Malibu’s Point Dume State Park. Kurt Brown had recommended this spot, saying it wouldn’t be too difficult to find a nice beach with no one else around. That didn’t turn out to be quite accurate. Maybe it was because it was just getting into the really nice summer weather and Kurt was used to going there in the winter…or maybe we were just unlucky…but we hiked, and hiked, and hiked, and found beach after beach that was beautiful and would have made a great location–but had picnickers and sunbathers already on them.

We were both getting pretty frustrated, but we kept hiking and hiking–I know we covered several miles and I am not a very enthusiastic hiker!–until finally, at a point very far from where we’d begun, we found a spot with no one else around.

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That’s where I was finally able to start shooting in earnest. The sun cooperated by coming out in full force at just about that time, too, so from being very frustrated and tired, I went to being very excited and energized within a few minutes. I ultimately shot over 2000 images of Steve and was very happy with the results.

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Just a few of the over 2000 images I shot of Steve at Point Dume.

We drove back to L.A. late that afternoon, both feeling tired but content: Steve because he felt he’d done a good job (he did) and me because I had so much great new material to work from!

I wasted no time, and within 3 days I had several new rough sketches of Steve, in both pencil and colored pencil. There will be many more! (Click on the sketches to see them on my website.)

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And the first Steve Chen photo shoot gallery went up on the Simonson On Location on July 28. Again, there will be many more!


As I’ve been saying since I published my first e-book, Tropical, recently, I love e-publishing!

Because Tropical was so much easier, faster and more affordable to create as an e-book than it would have been as a conventional book, and because the response to it was so great, I immediately started work on a second e-book.

For a long time I’d been wanting to put together in book form a collection of my early male figure drawings and paintings. I started drawing male nudes around 1980, and my first drawings were from naked guy magazines of the time like In Touch, Playgirl, etc. Back then, the models in those magazines were almost always white guys. But my passion was Asian, Polynesian, Black and Latin men, so I used to draw from those magazine photographs and turn the white guys into interesting ethnic experiments.

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Early Simonson drawings. Both these images started out as photographs of Caucasian men.

Then as I got more confident I started taking photographs of some of my friends who were willing to pose, and I drew from those photographs. This took some courage, and was a huge shift for me, since working from my own photographs meant I was seeing myself as the creator, not just an interpreter of someone else’s images. This was the very beginning of what would turn into a lifelong career as a painter (and later as a photographer, too), though I didn’t know it at the time.

I’m prejudiced, of course, but I think those early years and the art that I was creating then make an interesting visual story. And of course such a collection would be interesting to anyone who likes to look at male nude art. So I decided my second e-book would be a sort of retrospective of my first decade, 1980-1990. I decided I would call it Classic Simonson.

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Thanks to Photoshop and many hours of work, I was able to transform a lot of my old, scratched-up 35mm slides into clean, clear digital images.

Classic Simonson was a challenge to put together mostly because I didn’t have very good source material. When I first started making drawings of the male nude I didn’t have any practical way of keeping copies of the art once it had been sold. This was long before the era of home scanners, and getting a professional negative or transparency made was not affordable for me back then. In most cases, I made do by putting the art on an easel and shooting 35mm slides of it.

As primitive as some of those early attempts at documentation were, they were a lot better than nothing. I began to sift through those old slides and sometimes negatives and photographs of the early art, and I found a surprising number of useable images. And some that didn’t seem that useable at first blush eventually yielded good results when I digitized them and applied my Photoshop skills. I wound up with about 150 works which I eventually whittled down to 128.

I decided to put the art in order chronologically, year by year, to show my progress as an artist. It’s interesting to see it in that context, and I think when you view the book you’ll find the progression and growth interesting. For me personally, going through these early artworks was a bit like reading an old diary. I was reminded of people who had come and gone in my life; boyfriend dramas; friends I’d been close to and who are now gone; and lots of wonderful memories.

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Beginning to work from my own photographs was a big step. Chinaman's Hat is a painting from an early photo shoot with Jon K., and on the right, Coconut Milk is from a North Shore photo shoot with Dwayne.

I recently met a heavyset older guy at Hula’s, and only after talking to him for a few minutes and looking into his eyes did I recognize one of my best and most beautiful models from those early years. I was shocked. I’d been living with the 1985 image of him for all these years. I realized in a whole new way how much time has passed. (I have to say, though, when I was talking to him, I could still see that spark of beautiful-boy sexiness twinkling in his eyes.)

So looking at these drawings and paintings is looking back in time. And knowing that the beauty captured in them has not endured in the real world just adds to their beauty. Now they’re not only sexy and beautiful, but poignant as well. I like that the book I ended up putting together puts my early work in context and gives me (and hopefully you, too) a new, broader perspective on it.

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On the left, the cover of my newest e-book, Classic Simonson, which is available both on the Amazon Kindle and in PDF format on my website. On the right, my first e-book, Tropical, which Amazon thought was too racy to be put on the Kindle.

Once I had prepared the images, I wrote the introduction and designed a cover, and began the process of converting the digital files into e-book form. As I said, Classic Simonson is my second e-book. The first one is a book of photographs, Tropical. When I finished Tropical I wanted to put it on Amazon in Kindle format, so I spent a lot of hours learning how to convert my content into the format Kindle uses. Then I submitted it to Amazon. To my surprise, they responded a couple of days later with a rejection notice. They said the book did not meet their “content guidelines.” I can only guess what caused that. Maybe they don’t like erections? Oh well…it’s been selling fast on my website and from the feedback I’m getting, people are loving it. Maybe it’s a selling point that it was too racy for Amazon!

At any rate, I decided to try again with Amazon with this new book. For one thing, there are no actual erections in these early drawings, and for another, they’re drawings, not photographs. So I prepared Classic Simonson in Kindle format, and submitted it. Amazon accepted it! That made me happy. I’m thrilled to have an e-book on Amazon. Then, since I also wanted to offer the book in PDF format (the Kindle format isn’t as good as PDF for viewing on non-Kindle devices), I created a PDF version of Classic Simonson to offer on my website.

Both versions are available now. Click here to go to Amazon and see the Kindle version of Classic Simonson. Click here to see the PDF version available on my website. Whichever version you choose, I hope you enjoy this look back at the early years of my career as an artist of the male nude.

Well, I’ve now acquired my first model via Facebook. Brian is a friend of a friend whom I’d never met in person, but he’d seen my work. He messaged me on Facebook saying he was interested in being a model. I looked at his online photos. He’s Chinese-Filipino and his look and physical type is one I’ve always had a weakness for. As I looked at his online photos I felt a definite stir of attraction. That’s one of my potential-model signals. But it’s always hard to tell from candid photographs what someone really looks like (and feels like) in person. So I said yeah, come on over to my place so I can see you in the flesh.

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As soon as Brian walked into my apartment, I was pleasantly surprised (it was a bit like my experience with Jason). He was taller and better-looking than his pictures had shown. And he was very pleasant and no-attitude, and we got along just fine. I took some test shots and was pretty sure I wanted to work with him, but I wanted him to be a little more in shape. He said he’d be more than willing to watch his diet and work on his abs for a couple of weeks in order to be in better shape to model for me. I loaned him one of my favorite workout books, the Navy Seal Workout Book, which has some great abs exercises in it. I wondered if he’d follow through, because in the past I’ve had potential models who weren’t able to do this.

But Brian was a man of his word. He called me up about 10 days later and said he’d been doing great at his program and thought he was just about ready. So we set a date.

It was on a Thursday morning, just 2 weeks after our initial interview, that I drove to his apartment and picked him up at the crack of dawn. Then we drove out to one of my favorite deserted-secluded-beach spots, a place near Koko Crater, just beyond Hawaii Kai. We got out of the car and hiked over to the rocky beach where I’ve done many photo shoots in the past.

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The day was beautiful, and big waves were crashing on the beach and the rocks as I directed Brian to a little thicket where I had him pretend he’d just arrived at a deserted beach and was going to do some nude sunbathing. He did a good job at this, and I saw that he was going to be easy to work with. This part was a warm-up, and after just a couple of minutes I had him gather up his stuff and we continued on toward the beach, where I had him jump in the water.

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Getting wet is always a prelude to one of my favorite model activities: toweling off. I got a lot of shots of this, and of course with the gorgeous early-morning light and the beautiful model, it was easy to get great images. It was at this point that I began to see what a difference two weeks of watching the diet and working on abs had made. Brian’s body was really looking good.

For the next segment, I took advantage of the setting and we walked over to an area where the waves were crashing dramatically against some big lava rocks. Again, with the light, the setting and the model, it was easy to get some great shots.

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At this point I brought out a prop I’d picked up at a supermarket on the way to the shoot: an orange. I had Brian sit on a towel and eat the orange, and I didn’t want him to eat it daintily, I wanted him to DEVOUR it. I wanted him to get really messy. He did a good job of this, and commented on how sweet the orange was. “Good,” I said. “Now I want you to squeeze the juices out and let them run down your face and your body.” This was a lot of fun for both of us, and not only got me some light-hearted and very sensual photographs, it also relaxed the model.

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I pushed him even further in the next segment. I had him climb down into a tidepool and float around in the water for a bit. Then I told him to stand up and spread his arms out wide and shout as loud as he could. About the 3rd time he shouted, he started to really open up and I started to get some great shots!

That was the climax of the shoot, so to speak—the point of greatest excitement and intensity. I felt good about the images I’d gotten, and knew that it had been a good photo shoot. I had Brian get out of the water and start toweling off, and just at that point I realized I was totally out of memory space. I’d filled up all the memory cards I’d brought. I usually bring my laptop along so that I can be uploading the images from one memory card while I’m using another, which means I can shoot all day and not run out of memory. But I hadn’t brought my computer, figuring I’d have enough memory without it. So the shoot was effectively over anyway.

This was good in a way. Because the mood between us was so relaxed at that point, and because it was still so early (about 8:30 a.m.), we decided to hang out at the beach for a while and just relax. I actually got naked myself and jumped in the water and rolled around in the sand. That was excellent! It made me realize how long it had been since I’d actually just let myself play in that way. Because I’d already gotten so many great images and it had been a successful photo shoot, I allowed myself to just relax. And it felt wonderful.

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While Brian and I were taking dips and rolling around in the sand, I kept seeing how great he looked, how relaxed and sexy, and I really regretted not being able to capture those images. Then I remembered I had my little Casio Exilim digital camera in my backpack. So I ran up the beach and grabbed that and got some photographs of Brian in the sand (like the one above). These are actually some of my favorite shots of the day because they’re so relaxed and sexy. Because the photos are so low-resolution, I won’t be able to present them to my collectors as photographic prints—but I will be able to create drawings and paintings from them if I’m moved to do that at some point.

Obviously this was a great photo shoot and I got some wonderful images. But my favorite thing about it is how relaxed and fun those final few minutes were, and I have to thank Brian for being so easy to be with that, in a total reverse of what usually goes on in these photo sessions, where I have to work hard to relax the model, this time it was the model who relaxed ME.

Update to this Entry:

In November 2012 I published an e-book of uncensored photographs of Brian from the above photo shoot. You can purchase it for instant download here.

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Soon after my early August photo session with Mike T., I got a chance to start creating some drawings of him. For my first drawing I chose a shot of Mike which happened this way: I had him wearing white briefs and getting wet in a tidepool. I wanted to see him in soaking-wet briefs. So I got those shots, and they weren’t all that great. So I had him take off the briefs. As soon as he took them off he started wringing them out, and that made for some nice shots. Then I got an idea. I told him to start wiping the briefs across his chest, then his stomach, and in effect using it as a washcloth. This made for a whole series of great shots, and the one you see here is one of the best.

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This started out as a pretty straightforward pencil drawing. However, I’ve recently begun varying my pencil leads more. What I mean is, where I used to customarily use a single pencil for an entire drawing, I’ve begun using different hardnesses for different purposes in the drawing. So for the darkest darks I’m using a very soft lead, and for the lightest areas (well, actually the second-lightest areas since leaving the paper untouched supplies the lightest lights) I use a very hard lead. For those of you who are draughtsmen and are interested in specifics, here’s what I’ve been using: For the darkest darks, I use a 2B or a 3B, occasionally even a 4B. For less-dark darks, I use a B (more or less equivalent to a number 1 pencil). For darker middle tones, I use an HB, and for lighter middle tones, an F. For the lightest shadow areas, I’ll use an H, and occasionally for even lighter tones, a 2H or a 3H. You can get by using just a couple of different hardnesses and you’ll still have plenty of range for most drawings, since just varying the pressure already gives you so much range with pencils. But if you want really subtle, fine variations in tone, use 4 or 5 variations in hardness. That’s what I wanted in this drawing, and it definitely made a difference. One challenge was the tattoo. This is where the different pencils really helped. There’s an overall subtlety and power to this drawing that I wouldn’t have been able to get with just 1 or 2 pencils. I call it “Polished” not just because it looks a bit as if Mike is polishing himself, but also because I feel like it’s one of the most polished drawings I’ve done to date.

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I began a second drawing soon after. I wanted to keep this one a bit looser—doing two very meticulous, detailed drawings in a row is just a bit too much for me. I need variation. So I decided to do this one in a looser style. For my source image I chose a shot of Mike sitting on a towel and looking at something in the distance. I love the way his body looks in this photo, and his profile is really lovely.

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Since I chose to do this drawing more loosely, I didn’t use so many variations of pencil lead. I mostly used a really soft pencil, and instead of careful crosshatching, did more of a scribble. Keeping the scribbles somewhat consistent, of course! Then, in places, I’d go in and smear the pencil lead to get softer variations in tone. That would then sometimes require going in again with a gneaded eraser to lift out highlights in the smeared areas. This approach gives the drawing a very different look than what you see in “Polished,” but it’s one I like just as much. It just has a different energy. I chose to leave the background out on this drawing, for two reasons—one, I’m lazy and didn’t want to draw all that, and two, the positive-negative spatial interplay I got by just putting the body against white space really worked. Or put more simply, the figure actually worked better and was stronger without the background. I called this one “Near Sandy’s” (“Sandy’s” is the local nickname for Sandy Beach, which is very near the location where we did our photo shoot).

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A few days later, I decided I wanted to do a simple acrylic painting of Mike. I chose an image where Mike is just beginning to remove his boardshorts. I found the gesture beautiful and intriguing. The original image was a little dark and low-contrast so I tweaked it in Photoshop before beginning to do preparatory sketches. I did several sketches in pencil, then did a light-and-shadow study in colored pencil. I was still not sure what I was going to do color-scheme-wise, but with just a single figure on a colored background, I wasn’t too worried that I’d be able to make it work.

Painting the figure turned out to be a pretty straightforward task, using standard light-and-shadow techniques and naturalistic color.

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Then, however, I added black outlines and an electric purple background (with a glow just behind the figure to make it ‘pop’). That gave the piece a cartoon-y, action-figure feeling, while the naturalistic rendering of the figure allows us to still appreciate the beauty and sexuality of the figure. I’m calling this one “Supermike.”

Update to this Entry:

In March 2013 I published an e-book called “Muse: Drawings and Paintings Inspired by Mike T.” You can purchase it for instant download here.

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I met Mike T. through another of my Hawaii models, Kaimana (they work together). He came to my studio for an interview in late July and I shot some test photos of him. To be truthful, I really didn’t need the test photos to know I wanted to work with Mike. He has an amazing body, and a great smile as well. Plus, he was punctual and polite! We talked about what kind of photo shoots I do, I showed him the release forms, and we agreed we wanted to work together. We scheduled a photo shoot for the following week.

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Mike arrives at the beach, 7 am.

I chose to use the same location I used for my shoot with Kaimana. It’s a rocky coastline on Oahu’s southeast side, not far from Makapuu Point. The area is one of the few beaches near Honolulu which is more often deserted than not. I wanted to shoot as early in the morning as possible. I arrived at 6:45am and Mike showed up about 7, which was a little later than I’d wanted, but still worked out perfectly well…the light was really nice.

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Mike folds his boardshorts.

We hiked a little ways into the deserted beach area and I started shooting right away. I started with a series of Mike taking off his boardshorts, putting them on again, then repeating, repeating, repeating while I shot every possible angle. At one point I had him folding his boardshorts, too.

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Mike with Koko Crater in the background.

We hiked a bit farther in and found some rocks that offered a good setting. I had Mike lay one of my beach towels over the rocks and sit down, while I moved around him and captured every possible angle. (Sometimes I go home after a photo shoot and just fall into bed…one of the reasons is that I am constantly in motion, not wanting to miss any possible shot, which means I am always circling the model.)

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Great light at this time of the morning!

This was one of the best and most enjoyable photo shoots I’ve done in a long time. The light was ideal, as was the setting. And the model, spectacular. Mike looks good from just about any angle, and he’s very easy to work with. Friendly, unassuming, sweet in a very masculine way. And he was surprisingly at ease right from the start. Often it takes a little while before I get the model to relax, but Mike seemed to trust me right from the start, which made things much easier—and allowed me to get some great shots right from the beginning of the shoot.


And as great as the initial shots were, things just got better and better as Mike got more relaxed and I got more warmed up and inspired. I love Mike’s looks, and the camera loves him too—almost every shot I took was a good one!

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My challenge here was keeping my camera dry!

The area we were shooting in offered lots of variety—beach, rocks, water, mountain backdrops—and I took advantage of as many as I could manage to in the time we had. I also had some new equipment which gave me a great advantage in terms of how much material I was able to shoot. Usually I use a 1 or 2 gigabyte card in my camera—that gives me either 250 or 500 shots per card. But the day before the shoot I went to the camera store to see if there were new cards available with more memory. To my surprise, they now have an EIGHT-gigabyte card for my camera! So I bought one. This was a terrific investment. It meant that I was able to shoot constantly for 2 and a half hours without having to stop to change the memory card. I did have to stop and change the battery once—but that’s the only time I had to stop shooting to deal with equipment stuff. And the 8-gig card turned out to be the perfect size. The card ran out of memory just as I ran out of energy. I wound up with over 2200 hi-resolution photos.

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We were fortunate because there was nobody anywhere near, so we were able to work uninterrupted from 7am until about 930. Theoretically I can shoot for as many hours as I want—usually the model is willing—but I’ve found that 2 and a half hours is near the maximum before I start fading. I find I expend a surprising amount of energy during a photo shoot because of how intensely I’m concentrating.

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And now, the next phase of my work (my profession/hobby/fun) begins…turning these glorious photos into glorious drawings and paintings. The afternoon after the photo shoot (after taking a nap!), I began the first drawing of Mike. You’ll see it soon, along with many others to follow.