Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Haunted Histories: Stained Glass Agnes

The house on Beach Hill where Neil's studio is is a classic example of Victorian architecture.  It is also said to be haunted.  It was built in 1891 by General McLaughlin, and he lived there with his wife and step-daughter, Agnes.  The facts of the story are clear: two years after the death of his wife, the general shot Agnes while she slept and then took an arsenic pill and dispatched himself.  This tragedy is part of the story of the house.

It is, for this reason, emblematic of Santa Cruz, itself.  It is a sunny, well-lit, murder scene.  For some people, this would offer discouragement, but Neil Simmons is a musician in a band called Fire's Fury, and they play an aggressive blend of thrash-metal and punk.  They don't shy away from the darker palate of emotions. 

This side of Neil's character makes him a more dynamic artist.  It's a combination that you don't normally find outside of Santa Cruz: exquisite beauty and morbid curiosity.  Neil can control the light in the Golden Room to make you look glamorous, but he also has an edgy side to him, so you don't have to be afraid that he's going to judge you if you have tattoos or like to wear dark makeup.

Inside the main part of the house, there is a stained glass window.  This window is said to be worth a million dollars.  It is a portrait of the murdered step-daughter, Agnes, commissioned by the general when she was still alive.  This window, more than anything, gives the house the feeling that Edgar Allen Poe would be absolutely compelled by the place.  It is at once gorgeous and terrifying.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Digital Boudoir: a Look at Photography Equipment

JJT: First of all, you work with Nikkon cameras.  Why do you like Nikkon?

NS: I went with Nikkon early in my college days because they had a reputation for really sharp lenses with the Nikkor series.  Then, once you commit, you kind of have to stick with it.  You collect the lenses and they're expensive.  Plus, you get used to where the buttons are.  Once you get used to the way Nikkons feel, you can really be intuitive with the camera.

JJT: What are your favorite lenses to use in boudoir photography?  What do they do that's special?

NS: I use a 24-70mm lens with a 2.8 aperture, and an 85mm prime lens with a 1.4 aperture.  I like to work with a shallow depth of field.  With these lenses I'm able to use less flash.  I really only want to use flash as a fill, not to create some dramatic contrasts, or anything.  I like to create a soft and even light.

JJT: What kind of lights do you prefer to work with, and how do you like to use them?

NS: I use a speedlight hooked up to a soft-box.  This gives a nice off-camera flash look, that is subtle.  I often bounce the flash off of the ceiling in order to just flood the room with light without directly blasting the subject.

JJT: What do you like most about your new camera?

NS: Well, I got the D800E, and the main thing it helps with is flexibility in cropping.  I know that when I'm editing, it will be no problem for me to recompose the shot with a crop without losing any quality.  Plus, it just has an overall nice sharpness and clarity to the image.  Also, it takes great pictures with the higher ISO settings, like 1000 or 2000 with no problem.

JJT: How many photos do you take, and how many are you hoping to keep, in a typical boudoir session?

NS: I usually take 200-500, and I try to get 50-100 keepers.  The goal is to get at least 40 great photos for an album, and this usually takes 2 hours.  I'll compose anywhere between 50 -100 compositions and take several frames of each shot to try and get the model to warm up and to capitalize on those subtle little differences.

JJT: What kind of look are you going for in your boudoir photography?

NS: In general, I'm going for a sense of elegance.  I want to make photos that are subtle but drop-dead gorgeous.  I want there to be an element of glamor, too, so I try to achieve a nice soft and glowing light.  I don't want the pictures to be too dark or contrasty.  Mainly I want them to be bright, clear, soft, and elegant photos of women looking their best.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Boudoir in Black and White

JT: Why did you decide to branch out into boudoir photography?

NS:  It seemed like a natural progression from working with models.  It’s an opportunity to turn other women into models for a day.  It gives me the ability to focus on creative lighting and posing.  

JT:  Why do you like sepia-toned and black and white images?

NS:  When you turn images to monotones it removes bad colors, certain flaws disappear (like a distracting camera flare, for example) and it can really just create a better tonal balance.  Plus, I just really love the look of the different tones.  

JT:  Which ones do you choose to turn monotone?

NS:  Usually the favorites get toned.  I like to have some variety.

JT:  You use digital photography, but you also make photo albums.  What are your favorite things about the different output options?

NS:  With boudoir photography the album is important because it provides privacy.  A woman can do a shoot and have a physical book that they can choose who can see it.  There’s a lot of intimacy to the feel of the album as a book of images, too.  I also think that they look great on a screen.  Plus, if a woman wanted to send images of herself to someone serving in the armed forces overseas, then the digital version is important, too.

JT:  One of the important elements in boudoir photography is posing.  How do you work with your models to get them into good poses? 

NS:  It all starts with the pre-meeting.  I want to get them thinking about it.  I want them to know what’s going to happen.  The first 50 photos are really just about warming up.  It’s a matter of walking around the room, working through the elements, looking at them and seeing what’s wrong, what needs to change, making adjustments and trying to find the best composition.

JT: I know that you recommend to your clients that they practice their poses at home.  Why is practice important?

NS: I want them to be conscious that posing has to do with their eyes and lips, and that it’s not just their body.  I want them to envision how they want to look.  It helps to write down ideas.  I always spend the time to come up with a list of ideas.  They should too.  My goal is to make this an empowering experience.  This also means discussing any areas of their body or angles of their face that cause them to feel self-conscious.  We need to figure those things out ahead of time.

JT: What’s the difference between working with models and with women who don’t have very much experience in front of a camera?

NS: You still have to work with the models.  They know a little better how to let me click.  There’s a flow, a rhythm of the shot, and it takes some work to learn. It’s a matter of slowing down and moving through the pose at a speed where I can get  a couple of clicks.

JT:  On your website it mentions that you’re hosting boudoir parties.  What’s the advantage of having a party for this kind of work?

NS:  It’s a really fun time for the girls.  You get three women together and their energy builds and they kind of cheer each other on in the shoot.  You have a second set of eyes catching anything that’s wrong or suggesting ideas.  It can backfire, too, though.  Some women might prefer to work alone.  It just depends on the individual and the group.

JT:  What do you think about models having a drink before and during the shoot?

NS: I suggest it if they can handle it.  I highly recommend it.  Just a shot of something or a little wine can be good for the nerves to let them relax and laugh.  The more we’re able to warm up the better the outcome.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Golden Room


The word boudoir comes from French and means something like “lady’s dressing room,” although a "sulking room" is also given as a definition.  The adjective sulky describes someone who is feeling gloomy and despondent or even resentful.  This idea of a woman retreating to her private room has an erotic charge to it because there’s some indication that she’ll use her sexuality, if not as a weapon, then maybe as a toy.  Perhaps she’ll make her love interest jealous or just drive them a bit mad with anticipation.  She goes to her space, to the boudoir, to prepare herself for the art of seduction, and to lure her prey.  The woman in her sulking room is preparing to make her next move in the chess game of eroticism.  This darkly sexy look is at the heart of boudoir photography.

Neil Simmons Photography has the ultimate space for such photography.  Located in the Golden Room at the Golden Gate Villa, you have an ideal set to take on the role of the sultry and sulky vixen.  Built in 1891, this Victorian mansion exudes romance and was said to have been a place where people from Hollywood came to for parties during the silver screen era.  From the gold leaf on the walls to the onyx in the fireplace the room glimmers with materials that create an elegant atmosphere.  Miss California used to pose in front of the fireplace, and now you’ll have the chance to work your magic in one of the most interesting and lovely rooms in all of Santa Cruz.   

Simmons’ experience working with brides has given him the skills to get great shots, and he’s excited to be expanding into this new field of photography.  Always innovating in his work, Simmons is living a dream come true in this amazing location, and he’s ready to do exquisite boudoir photography with you.  Book your appointment, now!