Light and Beauty in Kraków
Most of the time photography is a fun and relaxing hobby for me; one which I don't take too seriously. Usually my subjects include pretty girls across the dinner table or scenes in and around Kraków taken during leisurely photowalks. I'm relatively new to the photography game and I'm still finding my feet when it comes to creative ideas and the technical aspects. Through the Kraków Photography Group I found out about an intensive weekend course. The programme appealed to me. A variety of models in the studio and a couple of interesting locations. I hadn't done any shoots with models, likewise no studio shoots. The proposition was an interesting one. A session to learn how to take artistic nude photos clinched the deal for me.
The weekend started with a social get together so that everyone could meet each other and find out a bit more about what we would be doing for the weekend. This took place in the aptly named Camera Cafe (not completely apt, because in Poland a camera means a movie camera). A nice enough place though. After formally meeting my fellow students, the organisers and one of the photographers (six from Norway, one American and me) who would be instructing us I headed back to the meeting in Kazimierz which I hosting. Another drink at the meeting, a walk home and I was in bed by around midnight.
The next morning I was up fairly early to make sure I would not have to rush to pack my things and still have time for a decent breakfast. Unfortunately I left the flat slightly late and Google maps informed me that I would be there on time. Thoughts of taking a taxi were quickly ruled out and I would just have to quicken the pace. A bit of jogging and a bit of fast walking and I managed to make it there on time. Slightly sweaty, but on time (give or take a minute).
I wasn't last to arrive fortunately. But soon we were all assembled and ready to start our first session. The model emerged. She was tall blonde and pretty, with distinctive facial features and a very nice figure indeed. Our instructor had set up the lights (very large flash units with large diffusers to soften the light) and we were ready to start. We took it in turn to attach the radio remote control for the studio flashes to the hot shoes of our cameras and snap away while the model did a variety of poses.
My turn soon came and the first set of shots was slightly disappointing. Overexposed. Probably because I was trying to be lazy and using auto. It wasn't until I started using the settings suggested by the photographer that my shots got any better. Lack of technical knowledge was holding me back. My camera (although an incredibly desirable piece of kit) has it's limitations too. First limitation is that it doesn't have a zoom. Some people find this concept hard to grasp. Yes, you heard me right. No zoom. If you want to fill the frame more you have to move closer to your subject. Your feet are the zoom mechanism. Either that or you can crop the photo, effectively reducing the number of pixels in your photo. Not usually a problem if you're just going to post them on Facebook.
Throughout the morning my photos were gradually getting better. I wasted a certain amount of time taking photos while not being in command of the studio flashes. So, I was taking photos with available light. Most of the other photographers were doing this too. Without the flash exposure times were much longer and the pictures less sharp. At one of the other photo sessions during the weekend I did actually get some good results without flash, but generally it was a waste of time. I ended taking a lot of mediocre photos.
After three or so hours in the studio we all piled into a couple of taxis went to a restaurant near the main square. Trufla Bistro was new to me and we had a lovely lunch there. From there we had a very short walk to our next location; Hotel Stary. Kraków's most elegant hotel and we had use of the Presidential Suite for a few hours. Our model arrived. A few hours earlier she arrived at the studio. Tall, wearing glasses and fairly ordinary looking. You probably wouldn't give her a second look if you passed her on the street. But after probably after 90 minutes with our hair and makeup girl she had been transformed. The presidential suite was indeed grand. A chaise longe near the window, a large bed and bath. Dark wooden floors and richly coloured wallpaper finished the look. At this location and with this model I took some of my favourite photos from the whole weekend. And some of them without flash too.
The next shoot was at a studio on Liczba. We took a short walk to give our next instructor time to set up the lights. It was my job to carry the pizza there. This studio was completely different to the studio we used earlier in the day. A vast white space with high ceilings. This shoot revolved around well light photos with bright backgrounds. Another model arrived to be photographed and help demolish the pizza.
I walked home for a quick break before heading back to the centre for our joint evening meal. Pod Baranem is a popular, elegant place serving traditional Polish food. First "course" was smalec and ogórki (pork fat and gherkins, normally you would have this with vodka). Starter for me was barsz czerwony z uszkami (beetroot soup with ravioli-type dumplings). One of my favourite soups. I was never a big lover of soup until I moved to Poland. Then venison pate. Main course was some rather tasty Polish (or it might have been Ukrainian)-style duck. Apple pie for dessert.
All of this was washed down with a cup of tea (with milk of course) and a shot glass of the chef's special nalewka (a concoction of fruit infused with very strong alcohol and left to mature for a few months). Just as I was finishing my meal I got a call from my friend reminding me that her birthday party was still in progress and I should make an appearance there. I hadn't been to her flat before, so I decided to get a taxi there (also this was a good time-saving measure). I left the party at about 1am. I'd taken some Ukrainian wine with me and drank some of that. I tried to make sure that I didn't drink too much so that I could make the most of the next day's session. I got to bed at around 2am very tired. A full day that included running, walking, standing, eating and drinking had taken its toll. Even the photography had tired me a little.
I can't say that I got a fantastic night's sleep. I tried to take various hangover prevention cures. I ate a sandwich, had some tea and some Sprite before bed. By morning I was feeling relatively ok and at least this time I didn't have to run to the studio. I made it there just on time.
Our first nude setup was about to start and our instructor ran us through some basics. Make sure your model is comfortable. Ask before touching (if you want to reposition her). Useful stuff. The lighting was very subdued and our model emerged wrapped in a robe. Soon she had stripped off and was naked for all to see. Nice body, nice face. After a variety of photo setups we were all a bit more relaxed. I was getting some nice results and I was happy. My autofocus was working a treat (something that other photographer's cameras were having a little trouble with). At the end of the session our model got dressed and received a round of applause. As one of my fellow course members said, "It's not often that a girl gets cheered for putting her clothes on".
Lunch was in circular, cheese-covered form. Pizzas to be precise. It went down well. It was a relaxing day. After an hour or so of instruction in the ways of Lightroom and Photoshop image processing we once again packed up our gear and got into a couple of taxis. Our destination was an old fort just outside of Kraków.
This time we had two models and we were shooting with available light (plus occasional use of reflectors). This is more the style of shooting that I was accustomed to. The highlights of the afternoon for me were shooting with smoke inside the fort and the photos taken in the wooded area just behind the fort.
The weekend came to a close with a final drink at a nearby restaurant where we all gave our opinions on the course and thanked everyone involved.
Overall, it was a great course. Very well organised. It was a great experience for me. Some great pictures emerged from it. The quality of the photos from the studio sessions were largely down to the help from our instructors. So, a lot of the credit goes to them. But, it has given me lots of ideas and I would like to further studio shoots in the future. The session in the fort and the woods was something that you could do yourself using natural light. No expensive studio and lighting gear. Just a photographer and some well made-up models are all you need really. Having a couple of professional photographers along was a welcome bonus, as well having the rest of people on the course for ideas and general entertainment. During the course of the weekend I took over 1200 photos. Not all of them were great. But, it was a learning experience. And a great one at that.
Photos taken during the course...
Some behind the scenes fun...