Saturday 18 May 2019

Art Nude In The Landscape Experience

Art Nude In The Landscape Experience

19th-25th April 2019

Our Art Nude In The Landscape Experience takes place every Easter in the Scottish Highlands but this year, following feedback from the last two years, we decided to run it twice in one week so that more people could attend. We also changed the venue, so that participants would have single rooms in a comfortable hotel with meals provided, instead of sharing twin rooms in a hostel and cooking their own food, like they have in previous years. This obviously added to the cost but we felt it would provide a more enjoyable experience and enable people to concentrate on learning as much as possible and getting as creative as possible during the event.

Our four models for the first session were the uniquely talented Rachelle Summers, Helen Stephens, Keira Lavelle and Scarlot Rose. All of the ladies had already modelled for this event previously and brought all their experience of the genre and knowledge of the locations into the mix to provide a masterclass in location nude modelling for our participants.

Water Nymphs (L to R Rachelle, Scarlot & Keira)

After introductions and a talk on planning and preparing an artistic nude shoot on location in the comfortable surrounds of the hotel lounge, we headed out for a recce at the waterfall we planned to use for the light-painting shoot and as the light was favourable and the location to die for, the models decided to add an impromptu shoot during the recce. 

When we returned to the hotel, we continued with more talks on safety issues facing models and photographers on outdoor shoots and also legal issues relating to such work. We then adjourned for a delicious three-course dinner provided by our hosts Jaimie and Richard at the Inchnadamph Hotel.

The light outside was looking spectacular and several people suggested a sunset shoot, so we agreed to head to Achmelvich Beach after dinner. This gave us an unexpected opportunity to demonstrate exactly why we suggest planning everything to the last detail for this type of work. Normally, we would have checked the exact time for sunset, the time to reach the location, the tide times for the beach and done a recce to determine whether there were likely to be people around. We would have known exactly what to expect and when to leave to arrive on time. 

As none of this was done, we had to contend with getting there a few minutes too late for sunset, with the tide being almost completely in and the beach and surrounding area being full of tourists and families doing the North Coast 500 route over Easter.

After a fruitless wander around the coast, we eventually found a good location after dark where we could set up an alternative light-painting shoot. Although some very curious horses decided to come and watch, the light-painting exercise went very well. The aim of this particular shoot is not to create stunning images, its purpose is two-fold: it is an icebreaker, to get people communicating and working as a group and it is an introduction to photographers to adjusting camera settings and working and thinking fast, which gets everyone into the right frame of mind for shooting nude models in what can be very difficult weather conditions over the next two days.

Creatures of the night (L to R Scarlot, Rachelle, Helen & Keira)

It was a short night's sleep before our early start at 5.15am to head for a marshy area in front of one of the area's iconic mountains, Quinag. If the weather is behaving, you can time the moment the dawn light hits the mountain within a few seconds but too often the light is not behaving and then the models have a much tougher task, as plan B at this location involves the bog, which the models have christened over the years "The Bog Of Eternal Stench"!  It is freezing cold, wet and incredibly smelly but it helps make some amazing images with the right models.

As the bog is filthy, cold and wet, it is the last thing the models do on this shoot and as the light was not planning to appear on the mountain, Plan B was going to have to happen. However, we introduced a fifth model for a quick shoot on one of the rocks beside the bog first, to give everyone something more than just the "bog monsters". Tsavo the Husky joined in for something a little less disturbing to start with.

Leader of the Pack (Scarlot, Rachelle, Helen, Keira and Tsavo)

Demons of the Bog of Eternal Stench (L to R Keira, Scarlot, Rachelle & Helen)

After the bog shoot, the models quickly cleaned off the worst of the mud and had a cup of hot soup as they got dressed. We then headed back to the hotel in time for them to have a hot shower or bath before our delicious cooked breakfast.

After breakfast, we had the first of our image review sessions, where everyone gets a chance to see their images projected on the screen. These sessions are very light-hearted and usually involve a lot of banter and jokes, as people spot their own and others' errors, or spot a gem they wish they had taken.

With the first couple of shoots in the bag and a lovely hot breakfast in our tummies, there was an atmosphere of happy adventure as we headed out for the next set of shoots, along a 5km path towards the Bone Caves, where cavers discovered Neanderthal bones and also the skull of a Polar Bear, which provided the first evidence that Polar Bears probably roamed in Scotland during the last Ice Age. Along the way there are numerous places to stop and create stunning art nude images.

Helen's expression and pose really suit the location

Rachelle creating beautiful figure studies against the craggy rocks of the caves

The Bone Caves not only provide us with a superb location, they also provide shelter from the wind and anything else that the weather decides to throw at us. On the way back down from the Bone Caves, we stopped at several more inspiring locations along the way.

This overhanging rock provided a great prop. Thanks to our participant John McNairn for directing the models for this pose

The colours and textures at this spot, where an underground spring bubbles to the surface, contrast beautifully with the models

Everyone was exhausted but delighted with what they had achieved when we finally reached the minibus and headed back to the hotel for a shower and another delicious dinner, after which we had our second image review session.

The final morning of the first session began with another early start, as we headed out to a lay-by near Achmelvich, where we could climb a short distance to a viewpoint across the landscape that gives a stunning backdrop with five of Scotland's iconic mountains lined up in the dawn light: Canisp, Cul Mor, Cul Beag, Sùilebheinn and Stac Pollaidh. Unfortunately, the weather decided not to play and we had drizzle and fog. However, this gave us something different for some very atmospheric images.

Helen creating a dreamy feel to the image, staring into the mist

Helen and Keira produced a fantastic set of images with a shamanistic feel amongst the foggy drizzle

As the weather turned to heavier rain, we finished up and headed back to the hotel for a fine cooked breakfast before our final review session and a talk on effective communication to ensure the success of a shoot. The original plan for after our guests had checked out was to shoot at the Wailing Widow Waterfall, which is along a rough path in a deep gorge but the heavy rain had made the path more tricky than usual, so instead we took everyone to a superb spot at the shore of Loch Assynt and the photographers each picked a number to determine which model they would have a one-to-one session with at this location.

Assynt Mermaid ~ Keira splashing water from a rock pool against the back light of glorious sunshine

From here, we headed round to a viewpoint across the wilderness, looking towards Cul Mor, Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh, where the light here provided some beautiful rim lighting on the models' hair. This was the final shoot of Session One and from here we headed to Ullapool for a farewell lunch before our Session One participants headed home.

Scarlot, Rachelle and Keira in beautiful natural rim-lighting with Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh in the background.

The team had a day off on the Monday, so we arranged a day trip to Durness, with a visit to Smoo Cave and the amazing Cocoa Mountain in Balnakeil, where the finest hot chocolate and home made chocolates are served. Rachelle and Helen decided to give the trip a miss and chill at the hotel for the day, so the rest of us headed out in the best sunshine and warmest day of the entire week. Along the way we stopped to shoot some panoramic images of the stunning Kylesku Bridge.

Kylesku Bridge is one of many stunning views on the North Coast 500 Route that includes this area.

At Smoo Cave, Karen, Scarlot and Keira decided to take an exploration trip into the cave with the resident cave diver. It was only a 10 minute trip but very interesting. Afterwards, we headed to Cocoa Mountain for a memorable treat. We bought a small selection of the chocolates to take back to Helen and Rachelle.

Keira and Tsavo in the sunshine on the cliffs above Smoo Cave

When we got back to the hotel, Richard asked if we would like to join him for a beach bonfire party on the shore of Loch Assynt that night, so we all headed down after dinner, taking bottles of malt whisky to add to the refreshments Richard provided. This turned into something of an epic night, with all the girls (and Jason) opting for a skinny dip in the frozen loch. One of many hilarious highlights of the evening was Scarlot dragging a protesting Rachelle deeper into the freezing water, as Jason squealed: "I think I've lost a testicle!". Karen and I left shortly after 1am, as I had to drive to Inverness in the morning to collect the next group of participants but the others continued the party until after 3am.

The following morning, very few faces appeared at breakfast and I was on the road to Inverness before most of the hangover crew had surfaced. 😎

Session Two was intended to be much the same as Session One, except there were only three models. Helen had stayed on to take part as a photographer in the second session. For the light-painting icebreaker, we took our parachute along and a tiara, intending to create a scene by the waterfall with an Elven princess and her attendants. However, the wind was too strong and the models found it tough to remain still enough in the combination of a cold wind and a billowing parachute. The exercise did, however, serve its purpose to get people used to working fast and adjusting settings quickly.

The next morning, we headed to the bog in front of Quinag and the sky looked clear enough that we would get the beautiful dawn light on the mountain that we were hoping for. Although a cloud did try to block the light at the perfect moment, we were able to get some images with some of the light cascading down the mountain. Despite being on this session as a photographer, Helen asked to model on this shoot, as she has modelled for this event five times and never been lucky enough to get the light.

Scarlot, Rachelle and Keira are tiny in the landscape, as the dawn light fights its way through the cloud to put some colour on Quinag.

Helen gave us her Terminator pose as the light finally broke through in earnest.

After a successful beginning, Scarlot kindly demonstrated for everyone how easy it is for a model to find herself in Stage One hypothermia without realising it. 

On our safety talk, we discuss in detail the risks and the early signs of hypothermia and why it is essential for photographers to look for these signs on outdoor nude shoots, as people in the early stages of hypothermia rarely understand that they have a problem, especially models who are trying their best to give a good performance and things can progress very quickly if not caught in time.

Scarlot continued to model after a break to warm up, saying she felt fine, until we called a halt and it was only when she stopped posing that it became apparent to everyone that she had gone too far. The difference between no problems and potentially dangerous problems was only around 20 seconds of posing but had we not stopped when we did, Scarlot could have been in serious danger without even knowing it.

The indications to us that she was not as well as she thought were first that she took a few seconds to decide on a pose change, then repeated a previous pose. In moving into the pose, she also had a little wobble. These were all indicators that her cognition was being impaired and her fine motor control and balance were being affected. It was only subtle changes but enough to make us stop the shoot.

As soon as Scarlot stopped, she became aware of the problem herself, as she had difficulty in dressing and began to shiver and feel confused. Hot soup and additional layers of down clothing arrested the decline and we returned to the hotel, where Scarlot had a long bath after breakfast to fully re-set her body temperature. We also suggested that she should not model on the Bone Caves trek , or at least until we reached the caves and only then if she felt 100% better.

After breakfast, we had an image review session and then prepared to head out to the Bone Caves. Our first location was the lovely waterfall at the bottom of the Allt nan Uamh. We then decided to head straight to the Bone Caves and use other locations on the route on the way back down afterwards.

Rachelle in contemplative mood by the waterfall at the bottom of Allt nan Uamh

At the Bone Caves, Keira gave everyone a "wow!" moment, as she did a little naked free climbing up the rock face to pose. Meanwhile, in one of the caves, Rachelle and Scarlot spent some time planning and practicing some duo poses to suit the location. Whilst this was going on, to add something different, Jason and I set up some off-camera flash in one of the caves, to add a little extra for people. I used the Sony off-camera system and Jason used Pocket Wizard on Nikon with gelled flashes. Canon users could pop a card in either my or Jason's camera, Sony users could use my system, and Nikon users could also shoot with Jason's system.

Helen decided that this was another modelling opportunity not to be missed, so whilst Keira was climbing and Rachelle and Scarlot were practicing their set, Helen put her camera down and modelled for the off-camera flash set.

Cavewoman |Helen

The poses that Scarlot and Rachelle had been working on turned out to be a stunning duo and the similarity between the two of them made the set look even more beautiful. Meanwhile Keira provided a breathtaking set on the edge of the rocks, looking out over the landscape.

The similarity between the two models helps add balance to this image at the cave entrance

In order to calculate the area of the cave entrance, one needs to use Pi

On our descent back towards the minibus, we stopped again at the waterfall at the bottom of the Allt nan Uamh, where Keira did a wild swimming set in the plunge pool. This also provided an opportunity to demonstrate the value of a polarizing filter, as we could shoot the same scene with and without, to demonstrate the effect of using full polarization on water.

Keira swimming in the plunge pool with no polarization

A couple of seconds later with full polarization taking the glare off the water surface

Back at the hotel, we had another fun image review session before dinner and after dinner enjoyed a laughter-filled game of "Cards Against Humanity".

The next morning, we had another early start to head for the view across to the five peaks from above Achmelvich and once more the weather was not kind but at least it was not raining. Each participant had a one-to-one shoot with one of the models here, before we headed back to the hotel for breakfast.

After breakfast, we had our talk on communication and checked out before heading to the Wailing Widow Waterfall. We had been concerned that the drizzle during breakfast would get heavier and once more make the path along to the waterfall too tricky but it had dried up nicely and we made it along easily. After a couple of sets with all three models and then one with Rachelle and Scarlot, we achieved something we have not been able to on previous visits here.

The waterfall has a large plunge pool and usually at this time of year, the water comes thundering down and creates dangerous currents that can easily pull someone under the many overhanging rocks beneath the surface, so we have never attempted to photograph a model in the waterfall. However, on this occasion to our surprise, the waterfall was a mild trickle and the currents normally produced in the plunge pool were non-existent. Keira, as an experienced wild swimmer, has had her eye on this location since she started modelling for this event and we agreed a plan for her to model in the waterfall on this occasion.

Mimicking the waters meeting and separating on their way down the waterfall, the three models produce a lovely image by the Wailing Widow

Scarlot and Rachelle with the waterfall

Escape from The Land that Time Forgot ~ Keira finally gets to pose in the waterfall

Our final shoot of the week was a return to the viewpoint towards Cul Mor, Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh and this time the sky had something extra for us. The clouds rising from Cul Mor looked like a volcanic eruption, which added something extra to the scene. 

More beautiful teamwork from Scarlot and Rachelle to mirror the shape of the mountains on the final shoot of our 2019 Art Nude In The Landscape Experience

The clouds rising from Cul Mor add a prehistoric feel to the landscape and Keira's pose mimics the rising plume

We finished off with Tsavo joining the human models for a sad remembrance of all that was lost in this area. Sutherland was particularly hard hit during the Highland Clearances, as tens of thousands of people were forcibly removed from their farms, villages and crofts to make way for sheep farming. In the process, an entire culture was essentially wiped out. 

In mourning for what was lost ~ Tsavo's expression perfectly fitted the sombre theme

With the final shoot of our 2019 Art Nude In The landscape Experience over, we headed to Ullapool for a farewell lunch and on to our various destinations.

This year was the first time we had run the event twice, back to back, in one week and to be honest it will probably be the last. Although we all enjoyed every minute, it was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting. That we were able to achieve so much in that week is a testament to the dedication to their art of four amazing people that I am delighted to call friends and to have worked with so much over the years. It has also only been possible with the assistance of my fantastic wife, Karen and my very great friend, Jason from Icarus Images.

Next year there will be some big changes to this event. Helen is retiring from touring as a model; Rachelle and Scarlot will not be available, as they will be in Japan for their Summers Abroad Cherry Blossom Photographic Holiday. When we discussed these changes with Keira, she felt that this would also be a good time for her to take time out from it too, so we will have an all-new line up of three superb models for next year.

We will also be spending some time this year doing extended recce trips to add new locations to the mix. If any models would be interested in modelling on this event, we would need to see how you work in the environment if we haven't worked with you before, so please feel free to contact me if you would like to join us on one of the recce trips to see how you get on. Models for this event need to be experienced in and comfortable with artistic nude work and free from tattoos and other body modifications.

If you have read this far, thank you very much for your patience :-)