Posts Tagged ‘Honolulu’

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


October 25, 2011

When I decided to go traveling for a year I really thought that I could travel for like two and half to three months at a shot, then come back to Hawaii for a week or 10 days, just catch up on stuff, and then take off for another two and half to three months.

Nice plan!

But totally out of touch with reality.

I have now realized, after my first quick Hawaii check-in has turned into a five-week stay, during which I have worked 12 to 14 hour days most of the time, that it’s not that simple.

I forgot that I would have 3 months of stuff to catch up on every time I come home!

Also, when I returned to Hawaii on September 15 after 2+ months of traveling, my apartment in Waikiki still hadn’t been rented. This was puzzling to me. It’s a great apartment, great location, and the property management people seemed to be doing a good job of showing it.

It was frustrating because I’d been counting on that rental income. On the other hand, it
was nice to have a place to stay while back in Hawaii.

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At Hula's with Steph.

Then, about a week after my return, I went out for a drink with my friend Steph (read about Steph and our 2008 Brazil travels together here). I told her I still hadn’t rented my apartment and she got excited. She and her friend Brian had been looking for a place in Waikiki…you can figure out the rest!

(Now I understood why the apartment hadn’t rented for 3 months…it was waiting for Steph!)

That was the perfect solution to one problem, but it created another. They wanted to move in immediately, which meant I no longer had a place to stay, and no immediate prospects for one.

But y’know, I wasn’t worried. One thing about my new lifestyle: it’s making me a lot more comfortable with uncertainty. My first 9 weeks on the road, traveling across North America and back again, was like the path of a tropical storm: unpredictable, erratic, and totally dependent on the winds, temperature and currents for direction and destination.

I’d been kind of apprehensive when I started my long-term traveling, with a make-it-up-as-you-go approach. I wasn’t sure I really had the balls to live this way!

Turns out I do. In fact, so far I’m loving it. One of the best, and least-expected, benefits of living this way, being open to circumstance and trusting rather than knowing what’s coming next, is that wonderful, unexpected things keep coming my way.

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With my friends Richard and Michele in Los Angeles

In LA, standing in line at Whole Foods in Brentwood, I looked behind me to see my publisher friend Richard, an old friend from Hawaii. I’d been trying to reconnect with him online for the past year or so. I got a chance to meet him and his wife Michele, who is lovely and already a friend, for lunch and catching up.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, where I hardly expected it, I met a woman who, like me, is just beginning to discover her abilities as an energy worker and healer. I spent a whole day with Bonnie and we not only did healing work on each other, we both learned a lot.

In New Orleans, I got on the shuttle for the airport in the rainy pitch-black of 3:20 a.m. and met Kath, a beautiful woman from Australia who is a seeker in many of the same ways as I am. She was on her way to an adventure in Cuba. We talked all the way to the airport, then found ourselves on the same flight, in seats next to each other, and again, talked all the way to Miami. We parted with a big hug and we’re now in touch via Facebook.

In LA, I reconnected with an old boyfriend who is now a dear friend, and has been a flight attendant for the past 20 years. When he heard about my new traveling lifestyle, he set me up with a buddy pass on his airline.

A friend I’ve known since my early days in Hawaii happened to be in LA when I was and saw me on Facebook and invited me to lunch. It was a wonderful reconnection and great to see him. When we said goodbye, he gave me an envelope and said, Open this later. When I got home, I opened it, and out fell $1400 in 100-dollar bills. It turns out that 30 years ago in Hawaii, I had loaned him $500 to buy a motorcycle. I’d forgotten long ago, but he not only remembered, he repaid me plus 30 years of interest.

I almost fell over when I opened that envelope, because I’d been wondering how I would manage, moneywise, over the next couple of months.

It seems the more uncertain my life is, the more space there is for unexpected blessings. I thought it would be a challenge to live this way, and certainly at times it is, but mostly I just feel blessed, and I love the way I’m learning to trust.

So I wasn’t worried about finding a place to stay even though it was Sunday night and my new tenants were moving in on Monday and I did not want to be the landlord crashing on the living-room floor! So I decided I would go out that evening, and just trust that things would fall into place.

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At Honolulu's La Mariana Restaurant with friends Allen and Joe a few days before leaving for Brazil. Allen is the angel who gave me a place to stay while in Honolulu

Within a half-hour of my arriving at the bar, I ran into a friend of mine named Allen, who happened to have an empty house that needed housesitting…for 3 weeks, which was just the amount of time I would be on the island. He even had a car I could use.

Believe me when I say this was not the type of thing that used to happen to me when I was living a safe, conservative life, staying in one place and playing it relatively safe.

I spent the next 3 weeks in Honolulu drawing, painting, writing, and doing the million things required of me before taking off again. And today, as I write this from seat 13A on American Airlines flight 162 from Honolulu to LA, I feel ready for the next phase of the adventure.

(Another unexpected plus just now: one of the flight attendants is an old friend, and he’s been sending me free beer and anything else I want.)

ADDENDUM:

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Kurt and Jacob in rainy L.A.

I’m now in the airport waiting for my flight to Dallas where I connect to my flight for São Paulo. I’ve just spent a wonderful couple of days in LA with my friend Kurt Brown. Kurt and I got a chance to work together on his first e-book (watch for that on my site!) It was great spending time with Kurt and his roommate Jacob, despite the rainy weather while I was there.

So I’m about to get on the plane now. I just checked my e-mail and I see that my friend Dave, who’ll be my host in São Paulo, is throwing a party for me day after tomorrow. Can’t wait!

(Be watching for upcoming Letters from Brazil!)


I’ve just completed a really interesting project, a painting commissioned by a couple I know.

This is a portrait commission of sorts, but not the usual kind of portrait. This is a portrait of a place and time.

My friends Siew and Jeff have lived in Hawaii for several years and now they’re moving to the East Coast. They wanted a painting that would remind them of their time here, to hang in the living room of their home and take them back to Hawaii every time they looked at it. Siew was the initiator of the project, and he told me he really liked one of my paintings, “Summer Salad,” and thought that something in that direction would be cool.

I really liked the idea. This sounded like it would be fun, and something different for me to stretch out with.

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This is a distorted-on-purpose composite of several photos I took of Siew and Jeff's house in Kalihi Valley.

I went to the house they still own in Honolulu’s Kalihi Valley to see the place and take some pictures. I also talked to Siew about some of the most notable things about their time in Hawaii. The list included cats (they have 3), fruit trees (they have a big tangerine tree right in front of their house), a rooster which used to wake them every morning way before they were ready, and various other things like rainstorms, rainbows and Geo Metros (don’t ask).

So I went back to my studio and started collecting image references from online, and started doing sketches.

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Some of my reference images from the Internet, and some ideas for the painting. The large sketch at bottom is the final sketch I did before beginning the painting itself.

I worked on ideas for a couple of weeks, letting Siew in on some of the progress by sending him scans of some of the sketches via e-mail. After I sent him the final sketch before beginning the painting (he liked it) we both decided that I wouldn’t show him any more of the progress until it was done. He wanted to be surprised, and I knew that getting input from outside once I’d begun the painting could really interfere with the creative process.

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Beginning of the painting process...

Then it was just a matter of doing the painting. I had worked out most of it in the sketches, so the painting was more about choosing and mixing the right colors. There were also some things that didn’t quite work which I had to shift around and alter a bit, but not many. The preparatory sketching process had worked out a lot of the issues already, so it was just a matter of bringing it to life on the canvas. It did take quite a while because there is a lot more going on in this painting than is usual with my work.

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The above image shows the painting about 3 days before I finished it. By this point the painting has taken on a life of its own. My favorite things are the rooster and the fish. I don’t even know where those fish came from; they just popped into my head while I was doing one of the sketches so I put them in. And I liked them, so I kept them. The rooster I was always planning to include, but I didn’t expect him to have so much personality! I love the way he’s just standing down there in the corner of the painting, surveying everything, seeming to be saying to himself, “WTF??”

But I like the whole painting. I think it turned out really well and I was happy with it. That didn’t mean it was any less nerve-wracking to have Siew and Jeff come to my studio one morning to see it for the first time. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see their reaction. They loved it! And the more they looked at it, the more they saw there, and the more they liked it. What a relief!

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The finished painting: 'Kalihi Valley'

This painting was a challenge and a lot of fun too. I liked having a specific “story” to tell with the painting. It’ll be interesting to see what new directions happen in my painting as a result of this one.

If you’ve followed my work, or this blog, for any time at all, you probably know how infatuated I am with Brazil.

I love it so much I’ve been studying Brazilian Portuguese ever since I first went to Rio, back in 1987. For the past few years my Portuguese teacher has been my friend Luzia, who is originally from Goiania but has been living in Honolulu for a long time now.

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I love Brazilian men almost as much as I love Brazil itself, so when Luzia told me she had a Brazilian friend she thought I should meet because he’s so hot and sexy and was interested in modeling for me, I said great, show me pictures! Unfortunately the only pictures she could find to show me were terrible, shot from far away, group pictures where he was in the back, etc. So I couldn’t really tell whether he was as hot as she said. Then she told me he’s leaving Hawaii and going back to Brazil forever. In FIVE DAYS.

So she gave me his number and I called and left him a message. That evening he called me back and started speaking rapid-fire Portuguese over the phone and I had to stop him. My Portuguese is okay but not when you’re talking fast and not over the phone. So we spoke English and Vinni (short for Vinicius) told me yes, he was interested, and we set up a meeting. He came over the next day.

As soon as he walked off the elevator I began to see what Luzia was talking about. Vinni is not classically handsome but he is very sexy. He’s masculine without being macho, he’s confident without being pushy or arrogant, and he has an unself-conscious grace when he moves. And a great smile. I saw all this as I talked to him and began taking some test photos. He said he’d never posed nude before but didn’t have a problem with it, so I told him to get naked, which he did. Everything I saw, I liked, and I told him yes, I think you’ll do!

As soon as he left I started work on finding a location, and called my friend Doug, who has a gorgeous pool and garden (where I did a photo shoot with Jeff a few months ago). Doug told me yes, the place was available, so I called Vinni and we set up a photo shoot for the next day.

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Vinni showed up at my place the next morning and we drove to Makiki, which is where Doug lives. It had been cloudy and rainy the previous few days so I was immensely relieved that the morning was bright and sunny. We let ourselves in to the garden through the old wooden gates and I let Vinni look around while I assembled my camera equipment.

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Usually I just kind of wing it when it comes to directing the model and the overall photo shoot. I make it up as I go along and trust that I’ll get the shots I want/need. It’s not a very conscious process, and recently I went over the photos from several of my shoots and I realized how often I really don’t get all the shots I want and need. I think this lack of conscious direction is because I’ve always thought of myself as a painter, and I’ve not taken the photographer part of my job very seriously.

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But as I get older and more confident and have more respect for myself as a creator, I’m no longer satisfied with that approach. I’m starting to take myself seriously as a photographer, and because of that I approached this photo shoot with Vinni in a way I haven’t before. I made a very detailed checklist of things I wanted to accomplish with this shoot.

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I wrote down all the basic poses I wanted to try, and I wrote down my intention of trying all the basic poses against as many different backdrops as I could. Same idea as when a filmmaker shoots many different versions of the same scene. It’s called “coverage.” And I knew in order to get that coverage I would need to follow the checklist closely throughout the session.

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Just to give you an idea, here’s a summary of the checklist:

BASIC POSES: Standing, stretching, twisting, undressing, walking, arms folded, arms at side, rubbing hands over body, jumping into pool, climbing out of pool, toweling off, sitting on edge of pool, standing on edge of pool, lying on towel face up/face down.

BACKDROPS: Do all or most of the basic poses in front of several backdrops, in this case including: the pool itself, lots of tropical foliage, some beautiful old wooden gates, and the patio beside the pool.

MOOD: With every new backdrop, all the basic poses should be done in two versions: calm and animated.

So this is how it works: I find a backdrop I like, the wooden gates for instance, and I pose the model in front of that backdrop. We go through all the basic poses in front of that backdrop, with each pose being shot in two moods, calm and animated. Then we move on to the next backdrop and repeat.

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This adds up to a LOT of time, work and a huge number of images, but that’s my goal: to capture, with this single model, as much variety as possible in terms of backdrops, angles, lighting and mood.

I have planned photo shoots before, but never before to this degree, and I was never able to stick to the checklist before. I would get caught up in the intensity of the photo shoot and while that can be a good thing, I wanted to see what it would be like to really push through this shoot in an organized way.

So that’s what I did. I was determined to stay focused and follow that checklist, and I did so, for the entire 4 and a half hours of the photo shoot. This took a lot of discipline on my part, but I was rewarded by by some of the best results I’ve ever achieved in a photo shoot.


#alttext#These old wooden gates provided a perfect backdrop, and I took a lot of shots of Vinni standing by them.

We shot at the main location for about 3 and a half hours, then went back to my apartment and I did another series of shots of Vinni on my lanai. When we finished, I was exhausted, but very pleased with the results. I wound up with 2,100 images of which an amazing percentage were good. And I got the variety I wanted, to a degree I’ve never before achieved in a photo shoot.

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It sounds so easy and obvious—follow a checklist to get better results—but it’s amazing how long it took me to wake up to the possibilities of getting more focused and organized with my photo shoots. Or maybe I should say it took me a while to mature to the point where I could remain focused and professional despite the overwhelming excitement I feel when I’m photographing a beautiful model in a beautiful setting. At any rate, I’m really happy about the way I’m growing as an artist and photographer.

Oh, and Vinni’s words after the photo shoot? “That was really FUN!”

Update to this Entry:

In March 2013 I published an e-book of uncensored Vinicius photographs from the above photo shoot. You can purchase it for instant download here.

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.

I guess I have a reputation for not being interested in white guys. But it’s not true. I’m just not that interested in most white guys.

So when I got an email from a 25-year-old Irish boy named Jason who had met my assistant Spencer and now wanted to model for me, I was not that interested. The photos he sent with the email were just okay. I delayed responding to him for a couple of weeks. Finally, though, I thought, what the hell, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised when I meet him in person.

I contacted him and we set up a meeting at my place in Waikiki. It was 5 o’clock on a weekday. When he walked out of the elevator, I was really taken aback. Not only did he look better than his pictures…he looked WAY better.

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And it wasn’t just his looks. Something about the way he carried himself, his easy smile, the lack of attitude—I was immediately smitten. I retained enough presence of mind to chat with him a bit while I got my camera equipment out. Jason was brand-new to Hawaii, having just moved here from California a few weeks previous. His ambition: to be a fireman. This was getting better and better.

As much as I liked him in person, I knew I needed to take some test shots. Just because his presence was bowling me over didn’t mean that he would photograph well (although I had a hard time believing he wouldn’t). I started shooting as we talked, then I had him take off his shirt and we talked some more, and I kept taking photographs. What a great smile…what a pretty body…I was trying hard to stay objective but it was difficult.

I told him I was pretty sure I wanted to work with him, and said I’d give him a call in the next week or so to confirm that. He left, and I ran to the computer to upload the images I’d shot so I could get a good look at them. I really wanted to see what the photographs looked like without the distraction of his standing there in front of me.

Wow. They were just as great as I thought they’d be. Jason was my new favorite model, and I couldn’t wait to have him all to myself for a few hours of intense picture-taking. And that happened fairly quickly. A little less than a week later, Jason and I drove out to Hawaii Kai, where my friends Kei and Dick live. I’ve used their backyard pool for a lot of photo shoots in the past.

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When we got there and walked into the pool area, I was blown away. It had always been a nice setting, but the vegetation has gotten even lusher and bigger in the past couple of years, and Kei has done a lot of work on the pool area as well. There’s a new lava-rock shower column poolside that Kei designed and built himself (you can see it behind Jason in the right-hand photo above). Gorgeous! I was getting amped up and the model wasn’t even naked yet.

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Over the next couple of hours I found Jason to be as easy to work with as he is handsome and charming. Am I gushing? Sorry, but I love this guy. He’s so down-to-earth and easy-going, and yet such a treat for the eyes. And his body looks superb from any angle. It’s not a big muscular body, it’s a lithe, graceful, lightly muscled body. And his proportions are perfect.

At one point in the photo shoot I ran out of ideas and asked Jason if he had any. He said, How about I be the poolboy? And he picked up the net thing that you use to scoop leaves and debris out of the pool. Not that there were any leaves or debris—Kei is beyond meticulous about that sort of thing. So Jason actually went and found some dead leaves and threw them into the pool so he’d have something to scoop.

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First I had him be the hot poolboy who’s cleaning your pool with his boardshorts practically falling off. Jason did this very well. Then we had the shorts fall totally off and he was the naked poolboy for awhile. These ended up being some of my favorite shots of the day, and not just because it’s such a delicious fantasy, but because these poses were completely natural and unstudied, and because what he was doing put almost every muscle in his body to work…with wonderful visual results.

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All in all, a great photo shoot and a great model. Thanks, Jason!

UPDATE TO THIS ENTRY:

In August 2012 I published an e-book of uncensored photographs of Jason from this photo shoot. You can order it for instant download here.

My friend Doug Smith has a beautiful house in the Makiki-Punahou area of Honolulu.

Even more beautiful than the house itself is its beautifully landscaped backyard and pool. It’s not your typical pool. It’s L-shaped, with a hot tub in the elbow of the L, with lots of tropical foliage and Southeast Asian statuary surrounding the pool. It’s gorgeous and I first saw it when Doug hosted a post-surf beerfest for our local gay surf club. I was looking around at how beautiful (and private) it was, and thinking, wow, I’d love to do a photo shoot here.

A couple of months later, Jeff (see blog entry on my first photo shoot with jeff) contacted me and told me he was going to be in Hawaii again and wondered if I’d like to do a second photo shoot with him. I did. I had actually been hoping to get another chance to shoot Jeff because he’s a great model, and because our first photo shoot was not ideal. (Because of time limitations we’d had to shoot at my apartment which was okay but not the ideal location.)

Doug was happy to let me do a photo shoot at his home, so Jeff and I met there one morning, and I showed him around before we began the photo shoot.

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After relaxing for a few minutes and having some Starbucks, we got to “work.” I had Jeff strip down on the patio.

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Then once he was naked, we started exploring the possibilities in and around the pool. The morning light was perfect.

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No matter how inviting the pool is, getting into the water first thing in the morning is always a shock. It helped that Jeff could then jump right into the hot tub to warm up. All of this makes for great shots, of course.

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Getting the model wet whenever possible is, as you know, one of my main m.o.’s. Getting the model wet is sexy and sensual and makes for beautiful visuals especially in morning light. Even better, getting the model wet means he has to dry off. A towel is always a great prop, especially when you have a beautiful blue-orange-purple multicolored towel next to a golden-skinned model against a green, green tropical backdrop.

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On one side of the pool, among the palms, was a bit of Southeast Asian statuary that had been made into a fountain. I had Jeff swim over to that side of the pool and clamber up onto the pool’s edge and pose next to the fountain. Then I had him get back in the water and position himself under the falling water in front of the fountain. I got a couple of my favorite shots of the day there.

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There were a lot of great settings, though. Another of my favorite places was the other end of the backyard where there was a big stone Buddha head at the foot of the pool, and behind that a pair of beautiful old wooden gates. Posing Jeff in these areas again yielded some of the best shots of the day.

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All in all, it was a phenomenal photo shoot. The morning light worked perfectly for the setting, and what a setting! I’m hopeful Doug will let me use it again because it’s one of the most beautiful settings I’ve ever had the pleasure of shooting in. And Jeff, as always, did a great job as a model. I not only love his face and body, I also always enjoy the energy, spark and sense of humor he brings to the occasion.

You’ll see some interesting paintings and drawings come from this photo shoot, I’m sure. (Not that I know what will happen exactly, until I actually find myself creating it in my studio!)

Update to this Entry:

In April 2013 I published an e-book called “Jeff” which contains almost 100 uncensored photographs from both of my photo shoots with Jeff. You can purchase it for instant download here.