Ngoni; Edinburgh (in the snow)

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Through a mutual friend, I was put in touch with Ngoni Namate.  She is a wonderful model, and we met in November 2010 and spent several hours planning a number of different shoots.  At one point she said that she would really like to do some modelling in the snow, if there was going to be any – well, snow was certainly not lacking in the 2010/2011 winter!  My ‘vision’ of such a shoot was not a classical one of long warm winter coats and big boots, however – and to my surprise, Ngoni was really open to some of the crazy ideas I came up with.  The first image here represents one of the strangest of these, and is also one of my favourite images of the day: I wanted her to simply relax in the late afternoon sunshine just as if it were summer – except for the the minor detail of there being snow everywhere…

Ngoni relaxing in the sunshine

Ngoni relaxing in the sunshine

Ngoni was up for all of these mad ideas, and I loved the creative energy in coming up with these shots.  I knew most of the locations I wanted to use (though she also spotted opportunities in the woods that I hadn’t seen), and her ability to pose as I suggested and come up with many more interesting and fun poses was really enjoyable.  In terms of outfits, I had specifically suggested a white bikini and the long overcoat, and beyond that said something vague about ‘short summer dresses’ – all the credit for choosing her gorgeous dresses therefore goes to her.

I’m looking forward to photographing her again – and if you’re a photographer looking for a great model, do get in touch with her (do tell her you saw these photos).

What makes the first image work is not just the incongruity of seeing a woman in a bikini in the snow: the lighting has worked just the way I wanted it to (though I needed to expose for her skin and then process her body and the surroundings separately), and Ngoni’s expression is perfect.  In terms of composition, what I intended really works here: Ngoni occupies a relatively small portion of the image, but is very clearly the focal point.  In a setting with no leading lines around her (the snow-covered trees provide no clear lines, which they would do were there no snow), she is sitting on the only clear line, the curved bridge.  Her limbs contrast with the smooth curve: her legs and arms are very straight but bent at the knew and elbow, and together with the line formed by her body there is a clear contrast with the curve of the bridge.  A friend who saw this photograph compared the appearance of her limbs to the kinds of positions and shapes that can be found on Etruscan vases – an interesting comparison.

And just in case it seems as if she looks a little downcast at being almost naked in the snow, there are some images of a smiling Ngoni… I think she genuinely liked being in her bikini for these images, and spent far longer on the bridge in various poses than I expected her to (though this was perhaps helped by the knowledge that she’d be wearing more clothes quite soon!).  I find it difficult to decide between the colour and the monochrome versions of the next ‘reading’ image (so have put both here!) but I think I prefer the tonality that the monochrome image offers, especially when it is viewed alongside the other bikini photographs.

I want to include two more images from this series (actually these were the last ones of the day, as the golden sunlight in the top image shows): the first I imagine with a subtext such as ‘you said I should wear a winter coat to go out in the snow – that’s what I’m doing!’  Amazingly enough, at no point in the day did Ngoni complain about the cold, though I’m sure there were times she was wondering what on earth she had let herself in for by agreeing to wear so very little when out in the snow (and when she looked at me, she saw someone in sufficient layers to cope with the temperatures!).

The other images of the day made various uses of the snow, the woods in the location we had gone to, and especially the changing light.  So these two images are taken just a little while apart, with the most significant change being Ngoni’s position under tree cover and then being in a space a few metres along where the sun shone through the trees.

Photographers are always needing to think about light – that is what we are seeking to capture, after all – and I think these images offer an astonishing contrast in the dramatic change an image can undergo with a change in light.

The cream dress in the next few images had soft flowers sewn into it, and was used in two ways on the day.  Firstly, in direct golden sunlight, it allowed the flowers to be seen, and the soft texture of the dress in the golden light helped to emphasise Ngoni’s beautiful skin tones. The cream dress in more subdued light looked very different, and whilst the post-processing is also clearly different here, I haven’t really done anything much that would obscure the dress – again, that is down to the change in light.

Finally, I wanted to show some images that make greater use of colour: one of the dresses Ngoni had brought with her was a brightly coloured minidress which she paired with red heels.  I thought this would work well in front of a plain background – although these images almost look as if they are using selective colouring techniques, the almost-monochrome backgrounds were chosen precisely because that is what they were, and I thought the contrast to the beautiful colours in Ngoni’s dress and her shoes would be drawn out with such a background, thereby serving to highlight her body against the relative bleakness of the building.  I think this works particularly well in the second image, when her relatively small size contrasts well with the large door frame.

All in all, a very enjoyable day, and one in which I feel I learnt a lot as well.  And as an added bonus, Ngoni tells me she likes the images too.