Behind the Scenes: There She Waits on Her Throne of Ice


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Though he isn't a photographer, Stephan King shares his own insight in the beginning of this interview on finding inspiration and source material for his work. I found this pretty insightful and I sometimes work in a familiar way like this when it comes to conceiving ideas for new concepts to shoot. 

Inspiration & Spontaneity  

I've been eagerly waiting to release this photograph from my Icelandic photo retreat back in June, with some of the most awesome people I know! Here, we have my wonderful friend and talented photographer, Lieke, modeling on an actual iceberg that was slightly beached on the banks of Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon. I must say, never in my life have I ever seen a scene just like this and it was purely a magical place to visit and experience. The contrast between the crystal clear and vibrant blue ice against the black-lava rock coastline was so surreal and other worldly, like I had found myself onto the set of some fantastic Disney film or something. 

This was absolutely one amazing day on our trip across the country's wild landscape. We spent a good part of the day traveling on the road, when we left our campsite high up in the mountains. We reached Fjaðrárgljúfur, a canyon formed from thousands of years of glacial erosion. There, an extravagant collection of moss and grass covered paths and rock formations jut out hundreds of feet up above the blue river below. After a few hours of shooting and exploring, we ate dinner and then made our way over to the glacial lagoon. 

We were about to shoot Brooke bravely going into the icy-cold water, swimming with the glaciers. I was locked out of the RV where all my gear was in. So, after running all around the lagoon to find the keys, I ended up slamming the RV door right onto one of my fingers, which instantly swelled up and bruised. Thankfully though, there was plenty ice around to help my injury, but understandably, I fell into an irritated mood because of the frustrations. 

Some of the others were out shooting along the water's edge and sharing concepts while brainstorming. Tom suggested I come along with him and a few others to the end of the lagoon, where the ice is scattered across the black beach. I thought a change of scenery would be nice as I was eager to shoot more at this location while I still had the chance. We all jumped into one of the RV's together because it was slightly raining, to cross over the road and bring over everything we needed. 

We stepped out of the RV and I had to look on the ground to see where my jaw had dropped - it was that amazing. Chilly winds blew at our faces as the water crashed onto the shore and glaciers drifted next to us from the lagoon into the ocean. It was around midnight at this time and the sun was only now starting to descend against the mountainous horizon. It must have been low tide when we arrived because large chunks were seen beached aways from the water. 

I looked around and kept repeating in my head, "I'm shooting a concept here, I have to shoot something." I almost felt intimidated by the landscape. I followed along with Tom as he was shooting Jen around some of the ice. As I walked behind him, something caught my eye. A beached iceberg so large, it stood more than a few feet out into the water and shimmered in a beautiful deep blue. I asked Tom if I was going to be in his shot if I walked over towards it and he assured me I wouldn't be in his frame. 

I was looking at this beautiful iceberg sitting right in front of me. I still couldn't get over its size and how it towered over me. I didn't have anything planned as this landscape took me by surprise. I stood there for a minute and started thinking about a throne of ice formed by a broken heart. The Ice Queen concept was born.  At that moment, the others were walking over to us after finishing their shoot. Lieke was bundled up in endless layers of clothing, but I noticed she was wearing a long dress underneath. 

I told Lieke I had an idea in mind and wanted her to model for the concept. She smiled and agreed. As I walked her towards the iceberg on the shoreline, I discussed with her the story and I mood I wanted her to portray for this image. Then she realized I wanted her to be modeling on the iceberg. She expressed some of her own concerns and was reassured if she wasn't comfortable with the idea, no one was going to pressure her to to do it. Lieke thought about it for a moment and agreed that she still wanted to model for me. 

I didn't waste any time. I quickly set up my tripod and camera as Lieke was removing layer after layer of jackets and sweaters. Our friends K.D. and Kelly helped position her onto the ice as I locked down my focal point. I asked Lieke to get into her pose and snapped a shot or two to see how it looked on camera. Without hesitation, I simply asked her arch her back and, CLICK, that was it. That was shot. Kelly grabbed Lieke and started layering her up as fast as they could. 

It was the quickest shoot I've ever done. At this point the rain was coming down a little harder and it was getting much darker out. I was the last one to leave the beach after packing up my gear and I ran back to the RV where we shared on our cameras what we had just shot. This photograph had zero planning. It was purely inspired by the moment, the landscape, and people around me. Sometimes the best ideas come to you when you're right in the moment of everything thing. Those are always special times, when you're creating on the spot after getting struck by a little inspiration. 

When you're creating for yourself, you're only bound to your own boundaries and the freedom of expression is one I love living for. Ideas don't always have to be preplanned in advance and they're just as fulfilling as the other ideas you've written or sketched out for other concepts you've shot before. You never know what the end of each day will bring you. Start each day with open arms and make it your own, you never truly know what just might happen. 

Behind the Scenes: Fracturing Conformity

BTS of Jen during the full shoot. It started to rain heavily during the shoot. She's absolutely a trooper!

Bringing Ideas to Life

Marisa helped by standing in as the hooded figures and billowed the dress in the air. 

Around a year ago, I was writing ideas down in my notebook. While listening to a song by Imagine Dragons, I liked a lyric they used, "Round and round, I'm not going to change my mind until you show me what's this life worth living for." It stood out to me, so I did what I usually do and jotted it down on a page in my notebook. No matter how small the quote or idea, I dedicate a whole page for the concept to grow and evolve. This makes it easier for me to further explore this idea and helps give me the ability to really shape a concept, from the meanings behind it, sketching it out, to describing what I want to see in the final image. For over a year, this small quote sat there. 

From time to time, I go through my notebook and brainstorm new ideas and follow up on past ones. There have been a bunch of times where I'll write an idea down, and not revisit it for months, but it's better to have written it down than forgetting it all together. Every idea doesn't always immediately take shape when I'm sketching out ideas. A lot of the time I see the idea in my mind and everything takes shape pretty smoothly, but there are concepts that need their time to soak in your creative juices before "Ah-Ha!" lightbulb moment happens in your head. 

I started collecting all my concepts, ideas, and little quotes of inspirational materials early on when I was in school. A teacher of mine asked if anyone in class kept a photo note book for ideas. No one raised their hand. I didn't know why I had never thought of making one before. Such an amazing and simple idea to keep a record of everything. Since having that class, I've kept notes down on almost everything when it comes to my photography.

In the beginning, I wasn't too organized with my ideas. I'd just blot down bullet points of a few phrases and fill pages with loads of content. I realized this made me lose focus on looking at one idea at a time. Coupled with the fact that I would only give myself a few lines of text to write out on, I needed to find an easier way to keep all my concepts in one place. I soon bought a brand new notebook and started a new system to recording all this information now and it's really been the smartest thing I could've ever done.  

Most of the time when I'm out, I don't usually carry my notebook on me if I don't have a backpack or any camera gear with me, unless I'm going to a walk or hike somewhere to clear my mind and take the time to write out some new ideas down. When I'm without my notebook, I write my concepts or quotes down in the Notes app on my phone. Every few weeks or once a month, I'll go through the notes on my phones and write everything into my notebook, making sure to dedicate each idea to it's own page. If I'm planning a series, I'll always add two or three more just incase and so I have everything for the project all in one place. 

It's always a great feeling to go back in my notes and see the concepts I've written compared to how they were executed, especially when I've sketched out the ideas beforehand. It's a great way to see how the work evolved from the page to real life. It's also a good way to look back on concepts that haven't worked out. You can look over and revisit the idea to help produce something twice as wonderful. Just think of the first attempt as the practice shoot. 

Behind the Scenes: Pause

After a good night's rest, we woke up and explored our campground surrounded by mountains. KD, Jessi, and I hiked up the nearby waterfall. I filled my water bottle with water from the stream and it was the most refreshing I'd ever drank. This followed by some time on the swings and a shower, an Icelandic refreezing cold waterfall fueled shower. Literally took my breath away. Brr! 

We hit the road, following back on one of the craziest and deadly looking steep paths out of the camp ground, in RV's no less. Soon enough, we arrived to Fjaðrárgljúfur, one of the most other worldly canyons I've ever seen in my life. Thick blue and green mosses grow scattered across the wild landscape, and the cliffs and rock formations jut out over the river below, hundreds of feet up in the air. 

I rummaged through my suitcase in the RV, trying to figure out what to bring with me. Typical me ended up bringing the entire thing, rolling it up onto the top of the canyon. Turns out, that wasn't as terrible as an idea as I thought. I was awestruck by this place, like I've been with every new landscape we've discovered on this adventure across the country. The sky was beautifully overcast the entire time, offering the amazing defused light I love shooting with.

A few in the group immediately took to the landscape and started shooting concepts. I ran a few ideas on what I wanted to do and eventually went with my first instinct. I set up my gear and got everything locked down and ready to shoot. Rebeca assisted me by pressing the shutter for this self portrait. My heart raced the entire time, it was incredible. 

When I finished my shoot, I packed up my things and explored the rest of the area, finding more of my group scattered along, lost in their element. It was magical and amazing to see so many creative projects being produced in this crazy landscape.