Behind the Scenes: A Documentary Film Shoot in Cape Cod

Under director Vanessa Vartabedian a small documentary film crew steadily unpacked cameras from the trunk of a Volkswagen. It was a chilly day in December in Wellfleet, MA and also my first time traveling to Cape Cod. After purchasing my postcard, I'm pleasantly surprised to notice a friendliness in the cashier's small talk, something I thought could only be found in my small hometown in the Midwest. While both places are seeped richly and deeply in landscape the Cape has an incredibly special golden afternoon sea light that I've never seen in the midwest or at my home in Boston. Vanessa shared that this distinguished light is her favorite part of her "second home".  I smiled and began my experience to witness the Cape through two unique lenses: Vanessa's film passion and a man named Chuck.

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Chuck, Vanessa's first interviewee, adorns a massive white beard and is an oyster-er, boat builder and lives in fantastically designed yurts. I've never been in a yurt and they are unassumingly super spacious inside. Chuck has dedicated different yurts to a sauna, kitchen, bedroom, and, the grand daddy of them all, one yurt to home his entire library and there's still space for his sewing projects inside. While we filmed in this giant ballroom of a yurt Chuck snipped away at sailing fabric and cheerfully told us the weaving of his dream to live on a boat full time someday. That'll surely come true.

Chuck also works as a DJ at a local radio station, WOMR (Provincetown, MA) and while filming in the radio studio I listened carefully to his voice on air. I was entertained as I heard him read a Christmas story from a book while sliding buttons to add dramatic sound effects to his listeners. During the interview sessions Vanessa showed her unique skill set of listening whole-heartedly to every word spoken.  She is experienced with this type of attention from her passion project "The Mosquito Story Slam", a live event where storytellers have 5-minutes to tell a true story based on a theme. Stories also seem to be Chuck's expertise; with an open heart Chuck told the film crew of loving family moments, future aspirations and shared how to honor his version of "the true meaning of life".  Hung on the front entrance of his kitchen yurt is a small, green banner with a Dalai Lama quote printed on it. Much like Chuck's charisma, these words are shared to welcome anyone who takes the time to read them.

“We are visitors on this planet. We are here for one hundred years at the very most. During that period we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. if you contribute to other people's happiness, you will find the true meaning of life.” - Dalai Lama

Boston Business Feature: styled photo shoot with Central Square Florist

For the last two months, I’ve been texting back and forth with Jackie of Central Square Florist in Cambridge, MA, designing a styled photo shoot. We initially met at a coffee shop with the idea to have this photo shoot and agreed on the theme of “casual outing”. From there we extended the collaboration to model/style & fashion blogger Victoria Hathaway and talented makeup artist Sydney Tess. The shoot would be in the beautiful setting of local business Cafe Luna and the surrounding Central Square community.

There were a lot of voices and styles that needed to come together for the shoot to be successful and working with Jackie to achieve our perfect vision had to be calculated. Our biggest challenge was giving each variable the attention it deserved.

Flowers by Central Square Florist

Flowers by Central Square Florist

The photo shoot happily fell on a Thursday night, one of the first warm days of spring. Jackie and I walked from her storefront to Cafe Luna holding boxes of succulents, a colorful arrangement, and a bouquet that was bursting to life with orange and purple hues. We chatted on the way to Cafe Luna, our first stop of the evening. As we peeked through the giant garage-sized windows, we saw the shop slowly simmering in the aftermath of a busy day. We walked through the doors, noticing the golden yellow walls and the table settings with white paper placemats and crayons available for coloring.

The staff was smiling and offered us beautifully plated dishes and the perfect cup of joe, complete with a rosette swirl on top. We began shooting still lifes of the glorious flowers and the magical looking plates, with Jackie working as an art director for different positioning. She is incredibly decisive and I adored working with her because of this.

Victoria’s makeup was minimal and gorgeous, the beautiful artwork of expert Sydney. She carried a huge travel bag filled with outfit options, still warm from their car ride from Rhode Island. I reacted quickly and instinctively to her outfit options, and Jackie stepped in to have the final say on which outfits would work best with her flowers’ color palettes.

After 30 minutes of photographing shots of Victoria sipping on a cup of perfectly prepared cappuccino (everyone enjoyed several during the shoot - not a problem in my opinion!) we began to wander outdoors.

One of my favorite spots was Modica Way, a public walkway in Central Square connecting City Parking Lot 5 to Massachusetts Avenue. Modica Way is completely covered in artist’s graffiti, an absolute must-see for anyone in Cambridge. Victoria and I share a love of street art, so this environment totally fit our styles. Victoria wore an all black jumper and held a single gorgeous sunflower, an excellent suggestion from Jackie.

With any on-location urban shoot, there is the challenge of dealing with passersby and looky-loos. But Victoria displayed an admirable confidence as we got lost in the alleys. She allowed me to “do my thing”, sporadically and playfully halting her mid-walk to snap a photograph or asking her to shake her hair wildly. Even though the street bustled with activity, Victoria was comfortable and didn’t hesitate when I asked her to chomp down on the sunflower stem with her teeth. We floated our way through the city streets and the results are saucy. Thanks to everyone who made this styled shoot so fantastic!

The team:

Flowers/Plants: @centralsquareflorist | www.centralsquareflorist.com

Model: @veehathaway | www.thestylegurudotnet.wordpress.com

Makeup Artist :@sydneytess_sydneytess@gmail.com

Interior Location: @cafelunacentral | www.cafeluna-centralsq.com

Outdoor Location: Modica Way (#modicaway)

All photography: @dakotalenoxphoto

 

Learning From A Photography Workshop

This California workshop was originally an excuse to flee from a cold Boston winter.

There were seven of us, in the middle of Carmel, CA, sitting in a circle on a plush white leather couch of an airBnB house. When the afternoon sunlight sliced in, the whole place reminded me of a 70’s Hollywood film set. We’re a group of photographers, a group of strangers, here for "Theory the Workshop." We came here to learn about vital photo skills: technical development, working with models for styled shoots, marketing and editing hurdles, but most importantly, to uncover some truths about our work.

The back porch of the workshop grounds

The back porch of the workshop grounds

The instructors for this course were Abi, of Abi Q Photography (Oakland, CA) and Brooke, owner of BlushbyB Photography (Salt Lake City, UT). Their portfolio work is primarily wedding photography, but looking deeper, their portrait work exceeds any commercial level and enters a realm of art. To me, Brooke’s work reads like a music staff, and we found out at the workshop that music inspires so much of her deeply emotional work. Abi is passionate about social justice, opening up discussion in her Instagram with the important changes she would like to see in the world.

I found the workshop by first admiring their work online and questioning why it seemed more honest and raw than other photographers I was following. Their work has a wisdom and I wanted some of 'dat.  

I swirled my first glass of red wine, lounging on the white shaggy rug of this retro home. I sometimes overcompensate for social discomfort by physically going overboard (I.E. rolling around on the floor). Abi opened with her ice breaker question, something we should be asking ourselves as photographers more than anything else. It's difficult to answer and continued to be for the remainder of the workshop.  

"Why are you here?"

Big Sur & Bixby Bridge

Big Sur & Bixby Bridge

In my sixth year in business with photography, I was facing some obstacles around this time. The largest was the not-so-fun but entirely true concept of "the dead season". It was cold outside and the winter was rolling on. No one, including myself (who's a complete ham for the camera) are thinking about portraits. Our skin is dry and barely sun-kissed, there's no excitement for updated wardrobes or really the need to leave the house at all. Like most of my clients, I'd rather be In my living room, burritoed under fleece blankets watching Netflix. But being self employed, I push myself to find things that keep me on top of business during this time: new marketing tips, potential spring deals, updating my website, and YES a warm weather workshop.

There was a hot tub outside on the porch at the house. I stared longingly at it as I rolled around on the rug. I'm a soaker-by-nature gal and even this small pleasure would be my rejuvenation: being outside with the West Coast sun on my forehead. But before basking in this perfect situation, like all things, you had to earn that luxury.

Abi and Brooke dove into the work unapologetically, displaying a whirlwind of slideshows, technical settings, brain-buzzing Q&A's, and taking us to different locations to shadow them on shoots. We got the chance to photograph each other, but the catch was Abi and Brooke would be breathing down our necks. They critiqued our direction and peered over our digital camera screens to offer composition tips and what they would have done differently. Both instructors were inviting but pushy, a perfect blend of professional boot-camp coach and a friend who cares about your success.

It was rigorous. My brain started to go into overdrive, for fear that too much information was coming at me.

It took patience and creative openness to continue the stamina of this workshop to the end. I'm a note taker, so I scribbled as much as possible, hoping that all the information would stick. My favorite part was the one-on-one critique session that took place on a balcony overlooking some majestic mountains. Oh boo, life is horrible. Abi and Brooke gave their impressions of my Instagram feed (which is so fun, please DM me if you want your own read!). They noticed little things about my subconscious photo making decisions that flooded me with joy: like my obsession with color, and that it's acceptable to have oddball photo projects, just hashtag it with #myweirdbrain.

After returning home it took me a week or two to process any of it. But once I did, my intuition took control and I found myself re-ignited and utilizing so much of what was learned at "Theory the Workshop."

Keywords when shooting with models? Got it. Editing tips for Lightroom? Yay, they're still there! Pushing composition and working with difficult lighting situations? Honey, please. It's second nature now. It's like the lessons were instilled in my brain, ready to come out when I needed to use them.

No one is born with technical perfection and the foresight to know what exactly your voice is. The road to finding our own voice is difficult, but there is plenty we can do to learn and nourish our creativity. Dare to ask the questions. Find your tribe and go to them. It will always lead you somewhere breathtaking.


FOLLOW THESE PHOTOGRAPHERS:

Thanks to all the team members of the Theory the Workshop!

Thanks to all the team members of the Theory the Workshop!

Here is a list of my fellow workshoppers' Instagram accounts. Follow them because they are brave and amazing stuff swirls in their artwork:

Kate Thompson  : @bettyclicker

Shyla : @5hyla

Carly Romeo : @Twospoonsphoto

Courtney Garn : @courtneyg_photo

Brooke (instructor) : @braillegold

Abi Q (instructor) : @heyabiq & @abiqphoto

J.Tyler (me!) : @dakotalenoxphoto

 

THE TEAM:

Workshop : @theorytheworkshop

April (Friggin' amazing workshop food chef) : @absentkitchen

Alyssa (model) : @alyssmichelle

Jerilyndee (hair & makeup) : @jerilyndee_beauty 

Chantel Lauren (dress design) : @chantellaurendesigns

Wanna know what happened the day after the workshop ended? 

Outdoor Photo Shoot in Big Sur

The day after my experience at "Theory the Workshop" in Carmel, CA, my roommate Courtney of Courtney G Photography and I were still reeling off all the inspiration flowing from our shutter-fingers. We took a photo excursion road trip through Big Sur. Here is some of that story:

Read about the full Workshop experience here

I Did A Boudoir Shoot So You Don't Have To : How modeling helped me understand all your feels.

Here I was. Half naked in the Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge, MA, getting coaxed into sticking a hotel sliding closet door between my buttcheeks, thinking to myself that I should have had more wine before leaving my house. All I hear is: "“Eyes towards the camera, part your lips slightly, ohh yeah. That’s goooood.”

This whole thing is a covert operation. I self-tasked myself to book a boudoir photo shoot, costume up for the event in “negligees”, and put myself through an entire boudoir experience with a quantity-over-quality boudoir Boston photography company.  

That’s right, the photographer becomes the photograph-ee.

I didn't purchase any final photograph files so my partner, Ty, interpreted my boudoir images for you as post-it doodles. (All rights reserved to the artist)

I didn't purchase any final photograph files so my partner, Ty, interpreted my boudoir images for you as post-it doodles. (All rights reserved to the artist)

Before you hate my sneakiness please know I did it out of love! Often, when I suggest boudoir photography to someone I get weird looks anywhere from a distorted face of disgust or a quick dismissal of the idea because “that’s not for me”. So, instead of trying to sell the experience from a photographers stand point (I get to stay cozy, warm and clothed during your boudoir shoots) I wanted to fully understand what my clients are going though. Plus, it may end up being a little fun.

Before the shoot the boudoir company emailed a PDF document highlighting all their “add-on services”, which I found out means retouching EVERYTHING, including many items I wasn't concerned about until reading their list: Cellulite - $45, acne - $25, hair flyaways - $30, scars - $50. The company introduced me to their services by listing a potential slew of “faults” making me insecure about NOT being insecure about these things. Let’s not forget about hair and makeup, which the company recommended “Wear extra makeup for the camera”. I’ve heard this before, and no. Just no. If you're into that type of thing and want to get your makeup done, awesome. Hell, I’ve helped my clients have fun with makeup during shoots because I’ve been a makeup artist for years and I respect it as an art form. But it should never conceal, just reveal. Don’t ask me to pack it on.

All of these things conflict with my personal beliefs. In my practice if you fully understand your lighting, retouching should be nothing or extremely limited. Don't ever set up anyone for failure or flaws.


At 7pm I walked in from the dark winter night to the hotel lobby carrying a plastic Market Basket bag of wadded lingerie. I didn’t go shopping for anything new, despite the boudoir’s spokesperson assuring me that “all women love the preparation part of their photoshoots”. Nah, I'll pass. My hair was clean, exactly the goal I was aiming for. I’ve got a busy schedule and a red poof of curls on my head doing what they want. This was me-ish: trying the bare minimum on the surface while maintaining my gusto-filled personality on the inside.

The Hotel Marlowe has a beautiful lobby with gold walls and jewel-toned accents.  I clenched my plastic grocery bag as I over-relaxingly strolled by the front desk to the elevators wondering if anyone could see my wads of lace, quietly judging me as I passed. I texted my photographer and she answered, “Room 502, I’ll meet you at the room door.”

After ringing the bell to room 502 my photographer answered the door smiling. She was a blonde woman a bit shorter than me and wore a comfy sweater dress with knee high boots over teal tights. She invited me into the room and jokingly apologized for the bags under her eyes saying that it’s been a long day.

“How many clients have you had today?” I asked.

“Eight." She Huffed, "and you're the last one for the night!” 

I looked around the room, two softbox lights were set up in the divided suite - one in the living room area and the other in the bedroom area. The rooms were divided by a sliding door. My thoughts started racing. How many buttcheeks have been on this door today? Or this chair? Or the bed? The answer was at least sixteen buttcheeks. Did she sanitize after each client? I wish I was doing this at my home where I know where everyone’s buttcheeks have been… Yeesh.

How many buttcheeks have been on this door today? Or this chair? Or the bed?   (All rights reserved to the doodle artist)

How many buttcheeks have been on this door today? Or this chair? Or the bed? (All rights reserved to the doodle artist)

The photographer showed me to the bathroom and directed me to change into my first outfit out of the four allowed. I shut the door and thought about how weird it’s going to be when I stagger out uncomfortably in heels and underwear. For my own boudoir clients, we start with clothes on because my clients are participants the whole time: we work collaboratively from the beginning. I believe it’s about the journey and the comfortable stimulation happening during the process, not “TAKE IT OFF” right away. 

Stepping out of the bathroom covering myself and shivering in front of this stranger the awkward session began instantly. Other than the small talk about how tired the photographer is we didn't say much to each other. I’m standing in my skivvies and wasn’t asked anything about myself. Not what the session objective was, not what I think is sexy, or what my partner thinks is sexy about me, or how I preferred to be called “Jackie” instead of “Jaclyn”. There was no music and the silence made me start to yawn and drift away...

I started thinking about my own boudoir shoots. As a photographer, I need to know the person intimately to give them any truth with their portrait. For example, to begin sometimes I'll ask about their favorite celebrity and how we can channel them together. Then we'll talk about their feelings and most sexy attribute (mine is my clavicle), perhaps what their partner thinks is their sexiest attribute and how to portray it tastefully. I always strive to offer people my coined phrase, “familiar sexy”: the look only you or your partner truly sees and celebrates in you. Personally, my favorite trait on anyone is their laugh. I like loud laughs and relaxing grins because they trump uncomfortable “sex kitten” expressions (whatever those are) any day. 

“stick your booty out, Jaclyn”. (All rights reserved to the doodle artist)

“stick your booty out, Jaclyn”. (All rights reserved to the doodle artist)

The whole shoot lasted an hour. A cold, music-less, connection-less hour. The photographer kept telling me “to open my lips.”  She recommended textbook poses like “point your toes”, and said the words “now let’s do a closeup of your boobs” (I KNOW!), and despite my complete discomfort on so many levels, “stick your booty out, Jaclyn”. I didn't know who’s gaze this was for but it certainly wasn’t for mine or my partner’s.

I couldn't stop yawning. She never fully bothered to understand my comfort level of my body and missed the opportunity to treat the photographs with thoughtful and creative respect. Posing needs to happen strategically and artistically, everything is for the individual and out of love. Boudoir shoots are a complete luxury and this felt like a desperate bootcamp. The distance between me and my boudoir photographer left me feeling embarrassed and frustrated I had spent an hour without a voice in a vulnerable position. 

A week later, the photos were ready to view. Before my viewing session the spokesperson once again presented a price sheet with every retouching option, annoyingly priming me for insecurity. As my partner and I looked at the photographs I quickly realized this was not me. This was an open-lipped awkward woman photographed while being completely uncomfortable. The lighting was harsh and blasted. The poses didn't fit my body. I looked bored as I followed *her* idea of "sex kitten". This wasn’t my sexy.


The poses didn't fit my body. I looked bored as I followed *her* idea of "sex kitten". This wasn’t my sexy. (   All rights reserved to the doodle artist)

The poses didn't fit my body. I looked bored as I followed *her* idea of "sex kitten". This wasn’t my sexy. (All rights reserved to the doodle artist)

I have to face the facts that this company's business philosophy is quantity over quality and not everyone shoots this way, but there are more out there with this model. If you’ve had a rough past boudoir experience like mine without ever processing why something felt “off”, it’s most likely because raunchiness and disconnection has been created and you do not need to be shot in this way. Different photographers have different takes on boudoir.


Don't be discouraged from reading all this because I’m proud of you for having an interest in boudoir photography! DO IT!  Your curiosity in being photographed means you want to find a new side to yourself, possibly changing and metamorphosing, embracing your sexuality, and improving your ability to project yourself in the world. We are all allowed to be sexy, funny and attractive. What do we find attractive in ourselves? What does it mean to truly “feel natural”? Why are familiar moments in the present so damn sexy? To be in the moment is a gift in front of the camera. Your next steps are to find a photographer you trust, that makes you laugh, has the gift of putting you at ease, and whose imagery you love enough to take you on this journey. Talk with them before hand. See if they are listening to you because your sexuality and confidence is sacred. At the end of the day, YOU have to love the artwork and love HOW you want to be seen.

VIEW THE FULL IMAGE GALLERY


Jessie & Andy

Midwest Elopement at it's finest. She's a barber and he's a nurse and their love is fun-filled and beautiful. Featuring Rushmor Records of Milwaukee, WI & a shout out to their favorite band, Run The Jewels.

Rubin and Nile

Mini-shoot with filmmaker Rubin Whitmore III and his daughter, Nile. Matching Adidas and Lotsa love between these two! Can you tell she's a goof and a half?!