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Tulips: Shooting a Series of Macro Photos of Mouths

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There is an ineffable allure when it comes the human mouth. The lips and tongue (and much more) help emit wonderful language, tell stories through micro-expressions, and experience the joys of how things in the world taste along with presenting another form of touching.

Here’s a look at how my recent project titled “Tulips” came about.

What I was going through creatively

Recently going through a creative “dry-spell” when it came to my fashion photography, I made the seemingly obvious choice to step back. I wasn’t having fun and I was not feeling excited with even the direction of my ideas. I found myself photographing people without harboring the magic of their spirit. One morning it hit me… this disappointment would only hinder my art. I wanted to feel fresh and silly at something again. I wanted the thrill of uncertainty.

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Why a series on mouths?

I think of a kiss. I think of a whisper. I think how lips become the hands of the face. I think about the tiny complexities of the small world, the one we forget exists. I am a reader of people and I often observe through micro-expressions.

Much of my work is very sensual in nature. Some of my work is to appear courageous and heroic. And the last bit of my work is a collection of rare, romantically impulsive ideas that can’t be cloned. I wanted to mix all three into something I have never done.

So I thought, you know what… I am going to rent a macro lens and photograph a series on lips. This ended up being something that I will continue throughout my entire career. And it also made me realize that I would much rather have a career of long-running series than have linear stories in editorial form.

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Feeling

I wanted viewers to either feel like something looks super tasty, super interesting, or super intimate. The lips needed to tell a story in everything from their form to their function. There needed to be a sense of fantasy. I am happy if someone loves it, and equally as happy if someone finds something too “left.”

This is the first series where I only cared to make things I like. I pushed myself to make sure what I made was from a blank page and not someone else’s book.

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Casting

Casting models was interesting. Nude photography has always been my top passion, so I know how it is more important that comfort is at the highest level than what my idea is. My work is readily available online along with a solid fan base, so it can be quite easier to get the talent I need through the reputation of that alone.

I would require snapshots of lips in good lighting. I would take note of how the skin is around the mouth and whether the lips would need color, gloss, or if I would keep the natural texture. I was also looking for a certain character (like full lips, beautiful shape, etc). For this particular project, personality of the lips was key, and then good skin was the determining factor.

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What I asked of the models

There were times I brought items and there were times I didn’t. I asked each model to gather things that they wouldn’t mind tasting for quite a few frames and also what may be personal to their lives. The people in this project were selected very, very carefully. Texture and color were considered greatly.

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Lighting

I made this series something that required transportation. Myself, the model, and assistant would generally either be outside under the sun, in the shade with a reflector, or in the house with a speedlight. At the same time I rented the lens, I bought a ticket to see my mother in Maryland. The sun seemed to always be out and the temperature outside was amazing. The other half the the shoots were completed in Miami, where shade was a must.

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Technical

I did all this reading on focus stacking, the thin depth of field pertaining to macro… and I honestly stopped reading. I just wanted to try it. I had a friend come over, shot two ideas and fell in love with the entire concept. I didn’t care to change anything about how things were appearing from the aspect.

Budget: No set amount but as little as possible. Lens rental for 2 1/2 weeks ended up being around $150 USD. I spent no money no gas.

Location: Wherever I was at the time.

Equipment used: Sony A7 mirrorless camera. A rented lens, Sony’s new FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS lens. An occassional reflector and cheap speedlight.

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Conclusion

Being adventurously creative is less about just being different for the sake of it, and more about discovering yourself along with self-reinvention. You’ve already left the mirror enough times pleasing clients, potential publishers, Instagram followers, and your contemporaries. You know you are starting to wind down when everything feels less joyful and your mind is up at 4 a.m. telling you before each shoot that something isn’t fulfilling you.

You don’t need to purchase super expensive equipment, in 2016 it’s easy to rent and afforable as well. You can also just use what you have, including a cell phone, or just borrow from a friend. You don’t need studio time, permits, or even a team of people.

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For the “tulips” series, I knew I just wanted some things to excite people without always a logical reason why… Whether through color, concept, or microexpression. If you are going to spend your time living on this collection of cosmic dust and possibilities, you might as well have a good time bringing your most colorful ideas to life.


About the author: Jason Bassett is a photographer based in Miami, Florida. This photos regularly appear in popular magazines, fashion blogs, and advertisements. You can find more of his work on his website, Instagram, and Facebook.

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