Saturday, June 4, 2016

Kat in a Tree

March 18, 2016

"I think that's her!" I said to Remy, as my model for the day drove by. "I really hope she finds a parking spot."

My assistant Remy and I arrived early at South Inlet Park in Boca Raton, Florida to scope out shooting locations for our natural light session with Kat. The sunny beaches up and down the South Florida coast were all crowded during spring break season. The weather was perfect, as usual, so parking was our only hiccup!

After about 15 minutes a parking spot opened up and we made our introductions with Kat at the parking meter. She had a calm, easy nature, tall and lanky, slightly meeting a real cat woman minus the (black) latex. "Don't worry about the stray hairs from my cats, I have a lint roller in my bag." Kat purred confidently.

Her dark hair, deep eyes, and intentional language was a refreshing change from the normal model shoot. There was an air of mystery about this one. On her modeling and photography website,, Kat describes herself as a visual artist and muse. Muse to me always seemed like an ancient, idealistic, ephemeral concept but soon I would learn that modern day artistic muses do exist and walk among.

Our theme for the day was "Gender Fluid". To tell you the truth I'm not entirely sure what that means. Maybe it only means rough girls with short hair, wearing men's's version of a tomboy or someone with androgynous or hermaphroditic qualities. Probably though, it's a much broader category of looks.

Terms like muse and hermaphrodite of course originate from the ancient Greeks. The original nine Muses of Greek mythology inspired literature, science, and the arts over 2000 years ago. These goddesses are fascinating to me...maybe one day we'll see a blockbuster super-heroine movie of The Muses. Wouldn't that be something? As for Hermaphroditus, son of Aphrodite and Hermes, who merged with the water nymph Salmacis, I'm not sure if most of America is cultured enough for that movie. Incidentally, Hermaphroditus was associated with weddings and helped symbolize the coming together of men and women in sacred union. Over 2000 years of history and existence but we've all not yet come full circle...only the enlightened ones.

But I digress...

Kat shows me her bag of goodies. After some (conceptual) discussions we settle on three different looks. In my mind I loosely had different areas of the park matched with the wardrobe but I was more or less winging it. The first look is a simple white tank-top with jean shorts and black boots. We shot most of this look on the north side of the park near the beach and in the mangrove forest. Working with Kat was amazing; she naturally blends into the environment and really becomes part of the landscape. She belongs in nature, on the beach, and in the trees, using the different settings to evoke emotions.

"Kat in a Tree"


The second look was a bit more sophisticated, Kat changed the tank-top for a fringed blouse. We moved onto the boardwalk near the south side of the park and tried to keep under the shade trees. It was at this location that I noticed how Asian she looked. Many of the images from this look reminded me of sisters and nieces. Kat probably could pass as Native American or even Middle Eastern, too.

"Girl from Nowhere"
After the shoot I asked Kat the same question that I hate answering myself, which was "Where are you from...I mean what is your heritage?" Kat replied, "Well that is an interesting question, isn't it?" As she told me her story, bouncing from Jamaica, Chicago, Minneapolis, LA, and other exotic lands, I realized that Kat was like me, we really didn't know exactly where we are "from". We are Earthlings, we have that in common, I think. We're both introverts, too. While my heritage is easier to trace there is still quite a bit of uncertainty. Like Kat I've lived in many different places, too. In the end I'm not sure if it really matters where one is from as long as we can all relate to each other. As a model, Kat is able to transform herself easily into different looks, like a human chameleon, another word of ancient Greek origin meaning "lion on the ground". I like the idea of the chameleon as my animal spirit, but not enough to displace the gator (Spanish for "the lizard", but have roamed the earth for 37 million years). It seems that my heritage is reptilian while Kat's is feline. The Chinese Zodiac has contradictory advice on this sort of relationship, but in that scheme I'm actually a Dog of the Metal element. So yeah, my animal spirit is totally confused.

"Kat on a Swing"
A very interesting thing happens when you put a model on a swing...she becomes a kid again. For photographers, shooting a swinging subject is an interesting challenge that I recommend that everyone try once or twice. It's very fun but also technically tricky. When I shoot I usually grab focus once using the back focus button with the 1/2 shutter capturing just the exposure. Then I recompose and capture. Your shutter speed should be high, 1/160s or higher depending on your lens. Here I shot at F/4, 105mm, and 1/160s with my Canon 6D. You can get into a cadence with the model as she swings back and forth, either locking focus at the neutral (non-swinging) position or use AI servo or whatever focus-tracking setting you have on your particular camera to capture at the neutral point or whichever point serves your artistry. Click, click, click. You end up with lots of interesting images in a short amount of time. Eventually, real live kids kicked us out of the playground.

Learn Spanish in the park!
As we made our way closer to the beach we were stopped by a beautiful lady named Connie as she played her gorgeous, cute ukulele in the shade. She teaches Spanish for a living and was quite chatty and entertaining. There was a tinge of desperation in her voice as she told her story. I snapped a few photos for her, commiserated a bit, then Kat, Remy, and I moved onto the beach. The park was actually very crowded for the duration of our shoot but with patience and geometry one can easily avoid stray humans creeping into photographs and foster the illusion of solitude.

"The Muse"
The images of Kat sitting on the sand dunes next to the wildflowers and (Ammophila) grasses are some of my favorites. The wind blew south to north and Kat seemed to lean into the wind, moving and swaying in the breeze. Curled up like a cat, she felt the wind on her skin, twirled blades of grass, and dug her heels into the warm sand. In our daily lives we seem to rarely stop and smell the roses, not to mention trying to be a rose. In our information age there is a visceral quality the often is missing in our lives. Sit among the trees and grasses, smell the ocean air, feel the Earth, Wind, and Sun. It feels good to be an Earthling, right?

We ended our session under a park hut, taking advantage of diffuse lighting. Here I used my Westcott 26" Rapid Octo Box with a small portable strobe. Kat sat on the picnic table for 5-10 minutes as we cycled through different poses and enjoyed the shade. We wrapped up our 2-hour session a few minutes early and had plenty of time on the parking meters. before parting ways we chatted a bit about creativity, modeling, artistry, and other typical topics in this industry. After two hours together Kat (@runciblekat on Instagram) seemed even more of a mystery to me, and I like that. Remy, who is even more introverted and quiet, remarked, "yeah, she was cool. can we go eat now?" Sure kid, you earned your keep lugging all the photo gear, let's eat! Runcible indeed.