This was a seriously tough article to write. I think this is the 3rd rewrite of the article. Where do I start? How?

What to Shoot?

I had been trying different types of photography for several months. I tried sports. It was cool and being a former, serious athlete, could be a good match. It was fun. But I didn't see a career in it. Same with flower photography. BTW, I have hundreds if not thousands of images. But again, not a real career. And of course, the very first type of photography I tried was travel. Sure, I love to travel. I did plenty of travel photography while riding my motorcycle. But again, not a big career future in that. Plus, can you imagine the wicked competition in that?

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Simone in her element. A behind the scenes shot. Best to photograph a subject in an environment they feel comfortable in.

Portraiture

It's funny that people-oriented photography was so low on my list. I think I was a little scared by it. Because it's so much more interactive and collaborative with another person. But, I thought I would give it a shot.I asked a young woman I knew from my salsa dancing class: Simone. Pretty young woman and good energy. She couldn't be more thrilled! She said she had always wanted to try modeling.

The next step was 'where'. Since I like flowers, the San Francisco Botanical Gardens could be a good place. It's enormous even larger than Brooklyn's botanical garden and maybe even New York City's. The time of year would be great.When I asked Simone, she couldn't be more thrilled with the location. She is incredibly knowledgeable about flower as she grew up in a rural area and her mother also was into flowers. So we had a location.

Finally, what to wear. She said she had this great, strapless red dress and she thought these gold sandals she had would go very well with the dress.We decided on a date and time which would be about 9am in the morning.

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While I did a fantastic job with her skin retouching, my eye hadn't developed yet to catch her hair. I don't know if it's 'bad'. But having her hair a little nicer would've paid big dividends. It would've gone from a very good image to fantastic in my opinion. A more average viewer probably wouldn't even notice her hair or take it as a style of photography. Natural. Which would be totally fine. Her smile and beauty just take up all the attention.

Day of the Shoot

I had sent her what I would later learn was called a 'call sheet' via eMail. It had a timetable of the shoot and other details. I would also bring a paper release form for her to sign. I was pretty darn organized even for my first shoot!

She was on-time and she looked good. The red dress she brought was lovely. Perfect for her 'beautiful girl next door' look. She didn't feel her greatest as she told me she was on her period and didn't get much sleep the night before. I believe we met at 9am and I met her at the subway station. I would drive us over to the botanical gardens. 

To say I was a little nervous would be an understatement. But Simone was great. She is super friendly and fun. I was also nervous about shooting conditions. It had rained the night before and it was overcast.

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Simone and I would go on to do many shoots after this. Exploring our artistic selves. Simone is definitely an interesting creature. She has a sort of surreal and innocent beauty and vibe. She's perfect for shoots like this. A sort of Little Red Riding Hood.

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I took this pic a few days ago. Almost exactly 10 years later after the previous image. The penis statue still looks the same!

The Shoot

The one thing I noticed quite quickly was how naturally directing Simone came to me. 'Turn this way'. 'Look this way'. Once I got into a rhythm, it was quite easy. While I know this now, I have pretty good instincts on what my subject is feeling. Probably that Simone was having fun and felt comfortable with me. I mean, that makes it 1000x easier and better. A lot for the speed and ease of the photography. But also when everyone is having fun, it shows in the pics.

The dress color was fantastic. As most of the background around her is either green or brown, she completely popped in front of it. But the color was also one you'd see in nature. Plenty. So it didn't look strange. The gold-strapped sandals looked really good. A sort of elegant, accent to the dress.

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In my opinion, the star image of the shoot. The only thing I could've improved on this image is her hair. Either during the shoot or in Photoshop. But then again, it's a very natural, looking image. Like, if you were to see your girlfriend in the park. Looking like something God made especially for you.

BTW, those catch lights in her eyes...  Breaks in the overcast. Divine intervention in effect.

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A pic I took a few days ago of the bamboo gardens in the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. A couple of pics in this article were done in here. I just love this area. I may have to do a shoot here before I head back to New York...  Absolutely beautiful and surreal. 

I really didn't have any clue what gear would work. I had my beloved Canon 50D with me and rented a Zeiss 35mm lens. While I knew the lens was a great quality, it was actually a horrible focal length for portraiture. If you're doing a close up of a person's face, it can distort features. And it was noticeable sometimes. Luckily, I mostly did half and full length portraits of her. So the focal range didn't affect things in a dramatic way.

I didn't use any external lighting either. But as I would find out later, an overcast day can give give you possibly the best lighting there is! So in that respect, I got super-lucky. No strange shadows on her and skin looked gorgeous. Since it rained the night before, there was no dust or other particles in the air. The quality of the image would turn out to be about as good as it would get. If you see a catch-light in her eyes, that's actually a portion of the sun shining through an opening in the clouds.

Divine Intervention

So yes, clouds opening up to create a catch-light. Right?

I still remember the posing I was asking Simone to do while this incredible rush of energy coursed through my body and I got goosebumps. Nothing to say that for my first shoot, things were going pretty much perfect. Weather. Model. Clothing. Location. The collaboration. Perfect. Most of the time I tell the story, I get goosebumps. Still.

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One of the images that sent goosebumps through my system....

Post Shoot and Processing

I'm glad I was introduced to photography in the digital age. Sending film off to processing or using a darkroom full of chemicals just wouldn't work for me. I'm too impatient for that kind of work. And quite frankly, I think it's stupid. I appreciate the art of the darkroom. But I'm a 1000x better with a computer. I flunked chemistry.

At the time, I was using Photoshop Premiere for editing. If you didn't know, it's a watered down version of Photoshop. It didn't even have the layers functionality! If you didn't know, that's a pretty important feature. Editing photos for portraiture is an art. How far do you smooth out skin? Color balancing. Hair retouching. And when you're starting out, you just don't have the eye for detail, or you may never develop that, to catch things. It's truly an art and also a way to define your style.

I was also using a Thinkpad X200 laptop. It was a good machine that sufficed completely for my I.T. work. But for creative purposes, it was a suffering experience. Slow and it would crash regularly when exporting a decent number of images. I really had to be careful. But I managed.

The Final Delivery

After tuning the skin retouching for the photos, Simone could be happier with the images! If she didn't feel excited when she looked at the images, I would be surprised. Her face would just blush. It was beautiful. That's how I want clients to look when they view their images. 

In fact, she would use those images to get modeling gigs. Two to three years after the shoot, she still used several of our photos in her portfolio. They just really showed off that type of beauty she has.

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The image that not only launched a career, but a life change. For Simone.

What Has Changed in 10 Years?

In some ways, there has been lots of changes and other ways, none.

I got incredibly lucky, or had an amazing amount of divine intervention, to make that first shoot fantastic. My second shoot was pretty much a disaster. I was much too cocky after that first shoot and learned a bunch of valuable lessons. Too many to go into here.

One of the most important things that developed over the years is 'the eye'. How to make a person look their best. How to use the environment you're working in and tools to accomplish it. Experience with Photoshop. I shortly upgraded to the full-version of Photoshop and that just takes dozens, if not hundreds of hours to get very comfortable with it. When I first did the retouching of a photo, I would spend 2 - 3 hours on it. A year or two later, I could accomplish better results in about 20 minutes. And that's for serious skin retouching. Some models and people, I may spend 5 minutes or less.

What hasn't really changed is style. It may be more refined. I may have an easier time knowing how to pose someone. In my fashion work, I still love a sort of old-fashioned, elegant, romantic imagery. I want to create emotion with my photos. I want people to feel.

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And four years later. Really, have things changed that much? The quality and attention to detail? Sure. I also had a makeup artist/hairstylist. Higher-end clothes. But the feel or vibe? Not really. Which I love.

And 10,000 More Words

Before heading on this photography adventure, I would never guess in a million years what the future would hold for me. I've also thought: I think I'm just 1000x better of the version I was before I started this adventure. I hadn't visited my mother since a few months before this Covid-19 thing started. Almost two years. The last time I visited her in California, I knew I had changed. This time, I really feel different. The way I'm interacting with family and friends, feels different. In a great and fantastic way. I feel 'enhanced'. 

And maybe that's what I'm most I'm grateful for on this journey for the last 10 years. And what I think this is all preparing me for and possible for the future.

Ricardo Gomez Photography

Originally from San Francisco, Ricardo is now a New York-based photographer specializing in editorial and commercial photography.
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