Part 12 of 50: Playing in the Light with Rebecca Lawrence

This is part twelve in a series of blogs on my recent artistic adventures in Mexico.

I was nearing the end of my experiment of two days in a row of having booked three shoots in one day. Looking back, I’m glad I did what I did for two reasons. First, it would have been nearly impossible to decide which of the 15 models I would skip on this, my first ZoeFest. They were all brilliant in completely wonderfully diverse ways. And second, by loading up my schedule to the brim at the beginning of the adventure, as the Fest progressed, it got easier as the shoot schedule lightened up.

Rebecca Lawrence at the Hotelito

I did have one of those Aha! moments when I saw some of my photographer colleagues doubling and even tripling up with some of the models on their shoots. Brilliant. Photographing models together creates an opportunity to match up models that would work well together visually, combined with lessening the number of shoots required to photograph everyone!

Note to self: For the next ZoeFest, remember to book some shoots with more than one model at a time.

Live and learn.

The one thing I will give myself credit for was that on this day, day 3 of ZoeFest, I did arrange to photograph Claudine, St. Merrique and now Rebecca Lawrence all at the same location at the Hotelito compound. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, you know?

For me, the challenge of three shoots wasn’t being tired or anything like that. It was coming up with fresh ideas and new locations for each shoot. Since I hadn’t really built in any real downtime since the first shoot with Samantha (even the nights were full of the group of us getting together for dinner or a party or one of the slideshows), most of my mental shoot preparation was the few minutes in bed before I drifted off to sleep, the few minutes while having my morning coffee, or the hour or so in between the actual shoots.

Rebecca Lawrence at the Hotelito

But to be honest, I’ve always been a guy who likes to think on my feet. Go in with a rough idea, an open mind and use the energy of the moment to find the muse of creation. Sometimes I fall flat on my face, but more often than not, especially when I’m working with intelligent, creative collaborators, the empty head space I’ve left available until the last minute yields something unexpected and wonderful. Something much more special than if I had gone in with a finely tuned plan.

Which brings us now to the lovely and talented Rebecca Lawrence. Rebecca is a model who was on my radar for the past few years even though I had never met her in person. It’s not uncommon for me to have someone catch my eye and take a year or more before we’re in the same city and our schedules manage to mesh at the same time. I recently found an email thread between us from 2008 when we had just missed each other in Chicago.

But now, here we were finally, in Todos Santos, Mexico. The compound and buildings around the Hotelito really change from a photographic standpoint as the sun moves from morning to evening. The same area can have a completely different look in eight hours.

I walked into the living room of one of the main houses at Hotelito to meet Rebecca and almost before I had a chance to unpack my camera bags, she had moved over to a small space between two windows. It was a very simple environment to shoot her in. Basic and beautiful.

Rebecca Lawrence at the Hotelito

Rebecca has a very soft and expressive face. A stunning figure as well, but I found that I was more drawn to the mood she was creating with her expressions and what she was emoting with subtle changes in her gaze. Definitely, “What is going on in her head? What is she thinking about?”, kinds of images. Really classic and lovely.

After shooting near the windows for a bit more, we moved toward a tall black staircase with really strong textures. The contrast of her skin against the dark stairs was really stunning and she continued to give me poses that were at the same time powerful and graceful. Really the essence of the dichotomy of what the beauty of a woman is to me in my own head. The goddess as muse.

Following those stairs, we walked to the outdoor staircase that leads up to the roof. It was the same area I had photographed Claudine the morning before, but this afternoon light with Rebecca created a completely different look. And unlike the strong contrast of her on the black stairs a few moments before, I composed these pictures to be more about the lines and angles of the architecture and how Rebecca’s human poses seemed to both mimic and oppose the man-made geometry. It’s that lovely dichotomy of a woman once again.

I always find staircases fascinating to photograph, with or without a human subject. Like a doorway, a staircase suggests a certain unknown. An opportunity. Change. Moving upward. Ascension. For me, something more positive than foreboding.

Rebecca Lawrence at the Hotelito

When we were done on the stairs, Rebecca and I walked over to the same beautiful pink wall that St. Merrique and I had started our shoot earlier that morning. Except this time the wall was brightly light by the sun and the shadows were completely different.

I began by having Rebecca work from the doorway a few feet over from where I photographed Merrique. This time, Rebecca was framed by the dark doorway and could interact with a shaft of sunlight that was creeping into the entrance.

And then she jumped.

Oh wow! Do that again!

We tried a few more until we got her hands, arms, head and body exactly in the right place. All in the hot, hot sun. She was incredible.

But time for some shade now and the ever beckoning Hotelito pool. I should repeat again that Zoe really creates an amazing opportunity to create art during ZoeFest. At the Hotelito and all the other little boutique hotels we were all living in, you could shoot anywhere, anytime and in complete privacy. That is usually not possible when traveling somewhere with one model because you have civilians everywhere who may not take kindly on the art we were creating.

I’ve traveled to many countries all over the world, always with the frustration that a location that I discovered would be great to shoot, if it weren’t for all these damn people who would raise their eyebrows or call the authorities. This trip was very special for that reason.

Rebecca Lawrence at the Hotelito

The light at the pool was perfect at that moment to work with reflections in the water. We worked with Rebecca both in and out of the water, with her creating lovely shapes with every click of my shutter.

At one point we switched sides of the pool to see if the reflections would be usable from the reverse angle when I realized with my back up against the tiled wall, that the lens on my camera was too long to compose both her and the reflection into my frame. Something interesting here maybe if I just shot into the water’s reflection perhaps.

I give Rebecca credit for going along with me on this one. With the water rippling her shape in unusual ways, constantly changing, I had to resort to what we photographers sometimes refer to as, spray and pray. That means you just rapidly fire the shutter because the changing reflections are varying too much to really wait and look for something you like. By the time you see it and it registers in your brain box, it’s too late to fire the shutter. The reflection has changed already.

Rebecca Lawrence at the Hotelito

So you spray and pray. Maybe you get something and maybe you don’t. I remember being very enthusiastic that we might have gotten something, but Rebecca was a bit more skeptical. And rightly so. When we reviewed the images, we realized that we had turned her shape into a series of funhouse mirror body warps that were not exactly flattering. To say they were interesting would be the kindest way to put it. I’m pretty sure most of those will never see the light of day. I certainly won’t be posting any of them here for now.

Oh well, you have to experiment and fail once in a while on the journey to incredible.

We were both getting a bit tired by that point and we took a break near the hammock area to catch out breath. But as soon as Rebecca laid down in one, I could see that my break was going to be a short one. The low afternoon sun was casting strong shadows across her and the hammock and although there were a bit harsh, I thought there might be something there anyway. Once again, she was a great sport, staring into the blinding sun while I moved and composed. One of the more difficult occupational hazards of being a model is staring for minutes at a time into the blinding light while keeping your eyes wide open. Try it sometime. No squinting! It’s not easy.

I packed up my gear and as we began to head back to the main house, very happy with what we had created, the funhouse images not withstanding, when Rebecca suddenly stopped.

“Wait! Look at the wall.”

As I have mentioned many times before, Rebecca and the other models were incredibly smart and knew good light when they saw it, sometimes before I even noticed it. Yes, the low angled sunlight on the colorful blue and purple walls, with shadows from the nearby trees. Really spectacular.

Rebecca Lawrence at the Hotelito

I put my bag on the ground and pulled out my camera as Rebecca began to interact with the shadows. Sometimes reaching for an unseen glow just out of frame. Again, a case of a talented model being very aware of the light and environment she was creating in.

And more than a little sure these images would have to be in color. I would come back to Chicago and play a bit with B&W conversions, but really, these needed to be in color and I began to compose accordingly.

As with so many of these found light situations, we knew we only had a few minutes before the sun would set too low to cast those incredible shadows and so we began to work quickly. Composing, posing, turning, composing. Soon the light was gone, but we knew we had something. No spray and pray this time!

Rebecca was wonderful to work with. A joyful creative spirit. It was worth the three year wait for her in a lovely part of the world.

And Rebecca is as talented behind the camera as she is in front. She is a genius photographer in her own right and I’ll talk more about that in a future entry.

But for now, as always,

More to come.

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  1. Pingback: Part 22 of 50: Billy Crashes the Model Taxi | Billy Sheahan Photography Blog - Photo Tips, Stories, Information, Community

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