Sunday, July 27, 2014

More Shooting Outside My Comfort Box

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I've been shooting pretty girls, i.e., glam, tease, nude, that stuff, for a long time; nearly two decades. That's how I've made much of my living and, albeit to a much lesser extent these days, I still do. (There's incredibly less available work these days for shooters like myself.) But it seems like the less I'm hired to shoot sexy photos of sexy models, the more I love photography and the more I find myself getting in touch with my inner hobbyist and shooting outside my comfort box. (That's in spite of my income from photography, leastwise as a pretty girl shooter, being so much less.)

For me, there's little that's challenging about shooting pretty girl pics. It's fun, for sure, but challenging? Not really. That's because, of course, I've done so much of it. For my personal project photography, I'm not much interested in shooting beautiful models in glamour images, especially via trade-for-pics (TFP) arrangements or that sort of thing. I have nothing to prove, glamour-shooting-wise. Certainly, not to myself which is what matters most.

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That's a big reason why, these days, I'm so keen on shooting pics that are outside my usual comfort box. Often, way outside of it. For me, they represent challenges, leastwise new challenges. Besides helping me get in touch with my inner hobbyist, these "other" sorts of shoots also appeal to my inner artist. I'm not saying shooting pretty girls isn't or can't be artistic and creative. It certainly can be!  But when you're doing so for clients, the art aspects are limited by what the clients want me to shoot and how they want me to shoot the pretty girls they hire me to photograph. I've arrived at a point in my photography life where any glam models I might shoot for fun, well, it's going to be in ways other than glam or tease.

I went out with my friend, Diana, last Friday for another story/theme-based shoot. This time out, I wanted to shoot some pics that had a slightly "X-Files" personality to them, coupled with a vintage feel for some of them. To accomplish this, Diana's 15-year-old son came along with us and he brought along a black body suit he owns.

For the image at the top of this update, I utilized a slow shutter-- Tv (shutter priority) at 1/4 second, ISO 100, f/16, all natural light with a 50mm prime on my Canon 5D2. I had Diana's son, in his black body suit, moving towards her while Diana remained still.  I wanted to create an image that appeared like an old fashioned ghost or apparition photo.

There was a time, historically, when a few early photographers created these sorts of images and, since photography was still relatively new to the general public, they tried passing them off as proof that otherworldly beings existed.  Anyway, that was my intent. At least my partial intent. By the way, I did nothing in post to alter the way Diana's son appears in the capture at the top. It was all exposure-driven. I remain a "get it right in the camera" sort of guy, including when/if I'm trying out some special effects that I have limited experience shooting.The post work I did on the photo was mostly aimed at creating a vintage or antique look and not in terms of creating how the "apparition" appears.

For the second photo I posted (above right) you can plainly see the black body suit Diana's son was wearing. It was quite hot while we were shooting and the kid needed to pull the headpiece off fairly often as he said he couldn't breathe too well in it and he was overheating. But he was a trooper!  I truly appreciated his willingness to endure the heat in that full body suit.

Here's another (below) from last Friday's "just for fun" shoot. For this one, I whipped out my Lensbaby Muse to create a different sort of look. Hey! It's in my bag. Might as well snap a few with it, right? I'm still trying to get the hang of using the Lensbaby. Eventually, I'll get it down to where I'm more adept at using it, at least I hope so. (Not that I plan to use it all that often.)  Diana, her son, and I are going out again this Monday for another shoot, one with a different story/theme and at a different location. Should be fun! For me, if or when photography ever stops being (for the most part) fun, I'll give up doing it.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

If Only I Had a Better...

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If only I had a better (pick one or more) camera, lens, trigger, lighting device, modifier...

We've all thought that. We've all, at one time or another, blamed the less-than-amazing results of our photos on our gear, i.e., lack of gear, not the right gear, or what we consider to be inferior gear.

I've come up with a cycle most photographers go through. It definitely has a beginning but not always an end. It's like auto-repeating a song with your CD player, iPod, computer, whatever. Here's a description of the cycle as I see it:

First, when you start out shooting photos, the content of your photos, what you're pointing your camera at, is everything.

Then, as you become more confident -- and probably more selective about what you shoot -- your gear and the tech stuff becomes almost everything, i.e., your highest priority.  Example: No longer satisfied with merely lighting a portrait in a basic and competent manner, you want to light your portraits with real drama! And that takes more/better/new gear as well as learning new techniques.

Later still, the content becomes everything again. That's because you've become even more comfortable with your gear, the tech stuff, lighting and more.  But then, just as you think you've completed the cycle, just when you think you've gotten over your extra-special love affair with new and better gear and technologies and you've moved back to being more of a selective, content-driven shooter, you again turn your attention back to gear and technology. Why? Because your world, your personal world of photography, has expanded. It's sort of like how the universe continues expanding. Suddenly, the stuff you now want to shoot as an even more experienced and accomplished photographer requires, in your mind, new, better, or more specialized gear... again.

It's a vicious, auto-repeating, cycle this being a photographer thing. One that many, if not most, fall into... myself included.

A Facebook friend, hobby photographer Matt Doogle, recently authored his first (of many, I hope) blog entries. Matt's only been a photographer for about three years now but it's obvious he has remained focused on the content of his photos, rather than on gear.  You should read Matt's blog. I highly recommend doing so. It's not only encouraging for newer photographers, it recounts what someone can achieve with relatively inexpensive gear by mostly remaining focused on the content of one's images, rather than one's gear and how new, better, expensive that gear might be. Matt recounts what can be achieved, photo wise, but also what the rewards can be beyond personal satisfaction and enhancements to a photographer's ego.

CLICK HERE for Matt's blog article. It's titled, "You Don't Need Expensive Camera Equipment to Take Competition Winning Photos."  Apparently, it's a subject Matt knows something about. He's won a number of photo contests! One of his recent contest wins awarded him (and his family) a trip to Greece! How's that for a photo contest prize?

I love Matt's closing bit of advice for his blog entry:
  • Buy a cheap camera
  • Learn it inside and out
  • Stop comparing yourself to Professional Photographers
  • Be inspired
  • Dare to be different
But most of allBelieve in yourself’ and you will go far.

From the archives: The pretty girl at the top is Sofia. I snapped it about 5 years ago in the living room of my friend's house in Las Vegas.  ISO 100, f/5.6, 125th with a Canon 28-135 IS USM f/3.5-5.6 on my 5D1.  The 28-135 is a fairly inexpensive yet terrific, all-purpose, utility lens. I used three, modified, light sources plus a reflector: 5' Photoflex Octo for my main, camera left, with a white, collapsible, reflector set camera right for some subtle fill. On either side from slightly behind I set a pair of medium-size strip boxes for highlight accents; pretty much my standard, glamour, lighting setup.




Saturday, July 19, 2014

Is Your Frame Half-Full or Half-Empty?

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Like many aspects of photography, composition is quite subjective. What looks good or right to one set of eyes -- your eyes, for instance -- might not look so good or right to other sets of eyes.

Fortunately, there are some rules or guidelines that take some of the aesthetic subjectivity out of composing your shots. I know, I know, rules are for the less creative. (Keep telling yourself that and, chances are, your photography isn't going to "wow" too many people. Leastwise, not in a consistent and overall sort of way.)

I'm not going to list or describe any of the rules or guidelines regarding composition. You're probably aware of them already. If you're not aware of them, I suggest you get busy learning them. You might not always use them. You might sometimes purposely break them. You might, at times, ignore them. But overall, you'll likely become a better photographer by knowing them. (And often using them.)

Having said that, there's one rule that will help many of your images. Are you ready for it? You don't need pencil and paper to jot it down in a note. It's real easy to remember. Here it is: Fill your frame!

Yep. That's it. Fill your frame. How easy is that? Easy as pie, that's how easy. Easy peasy. Easy like Sunday morning. Simple. Real simple. How simple? So simple even a cave man could do it.

Filling your frame isn't a hard-and-fast rule. Actually, none of the rules of composition are hard-and-fast rules but, in general, this simple rule about filling your frame (with your subjects) will, more times than not, improve your people photography whether you're shooting glamour, tease, wedding photography, or almost any sort of portraiture.

When I'm shooting people and my frame is half-full -- you knew I'd finally get around to the words I used for this update's title, right? -- I'll often decide to fill it more. Doesn't matter if I'm working with a zoom lens or a prime. If it's a zoom lens, I zoom in. If it's a prime lens, I move in. Heck! Sometimes I get a little crazy and, with a zoom lens, I'll zoom in and move in! How crazy is that? Crazy man!

So, if that's half-full, what's the half-empty thing all about? Isn't half-empty the same as half-full? You know, frame wise? Nope. Not to me. Not in mind.

When I think of my framing as being half-empty, that's a whole different story. To me, a half-empty frame is one where I'm framing in ways that are using negative space as a compositional construct.

Let's review: When my frame is half-full, I know I need to fill it more. When it's half-empty, I don't. In fact, when it's half-empty, I might even zoom out or move back (or both) and make it even emptier. I know. Crazy, right?

This half-full/half-empty stuff might sound like semantics or photo-philosophical drivel and maybe it is. But it's the sort of thinking that works well for me. When I'm shooting, I like to describe my pictures in words. In my head, that is. I don't simply apply words that describe whatever story I might be trying to convey with the photos, but also regarding things like lighting and composition. Conversely, when I'm writing -- and I generally do more writing than picture taking -- I like to think of my words in terms of pictures. Does that sound weird or confusing?  Perhaps it is. But it works for me. Why? How? Haven't a clue.  It's how my mind works; creatively speaking, that is. And when things are working for me, creatively or otherwise, I don't usually try to change them. I leave them be. If it ain't broke don't fix it.

By the way, I'm referring to how I frame my pictures in the camera with this half-full/half-empty stuff,  not simply how I might later crop them.  I'm a big fan of framing my shots as close as possible to how I think they'll end up after I've applied some post-production work to them, like cropping them.

Sure, I often leave myself some wiggle room for a finished crop, And I sometimes need to frame in ways that provide extra real estate to later allow a graphic artist to do his or her thing, e.g., adding text, graphics, or what have you. But, for the most part, whatever compositional elements I (or someone else) includes in my finished photos after they're cropped were, for the most part, already indicated when I originally framed the shots with my camera.

It's all part of that 'get it right in the camera' thing I've written about before. It's how I work, right or wrong, weird or not, because it works for me. Who knows? It might even work for you as well.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Expanding Your Photographic Horizons

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Occasionally, a few people seem a bit surprised when they see photos I snap that aren't my usual and customary pretty girl pics. There's an old adage, "Man does not live by bread alone," that seems appropriate to how I feel about shooting so much eye candy over the years. I'll be the first to admit that my bread (and butter) has, indeed, been the result of shooting eye candy and it's been that way for a long time. Nearly two decades! But, as much as I enjoy having beautiful, sexy, women in front of my camera, often enough sans clothing, I can't live -- photographically live -- by only shooting pretty girls in various stages of dress and undress in spite of how much I love and admire the female form. 

Lately, as you may have noticed if you've been reading this blog, I've been exploring other aspects or genres of photography. It's still mostly people photography but it's taken a turn towards other photographic expressions. (I might soon also take a stab at landscape photography, something I've also done little to none of.) I didn't take this turn because I'm no longer interested in pretty girl shooting. I am. I love shooting pretty girl pics! But I'd be lying if I didn't admit to it becoming a bit rote and repetitive. Especially, when clients, i.e., those writing me checks, direct (make that limit) the level of creativity they permit me to engage in while I'm shooting pretty girls for them. Sure, I could try to find some amateur models off Model Mayhem or One Model Place, models who are willing to get all creative (and nude) in front of my camera, but finding them isn't so easy unless I'm willing to pay them, and I'm really not much interested in reaching into my pocket to pay for something I ordinarily get paid to shoot. If my job was flipping burgers, I doubt I'd go out for a burger dinner too often.

Trust me when I tell you my paying clients aren't much interested in having me get too creative or "artsy" with the models they also pay to be in front of my camera. But that's another story. And I'm not complaining. I'm just saying. It is what it is and I'm grateful there are people who pay models -- and me -- to shoot those pics. There's certainly less fun and exciting ways to earn a buck. Far less fun and exciting ways. You know, like flipping burgers.

Still, it's not enough. And that's why I've become so motivated to shoot other stuff. If you're someone who mostly shoots one genre of photography, whatever that genre or type of photography might be and no matter how good or experienced at it you might be, I highly recommend going outside of your usual and customary box and shooting some other stuff. You'll probably have to learn new things but that's what makes it challenging and all the more rewarding.

I'm fortunate to have found a friend who also enjoys modeling in creative ways and being a part of images that are, perhaps, a bit different and less seen. They might not be all that different but they're very different for me, that is, from what I've been mostly shooting for nearly twenty years.

When I dropped my friend, Diana, off at her car after our last photo outing I thanked her for helping me fall in love with photography again. I don't believe I ever fell out of love with it, but some of the passion was gone. That same passion I once had and now see in many newer and/or younger photographers. For a while now, I've envied their passions. Now, I feel like mine as been reignited and, consequently, I don't seem to envy the passion of others because, once again, I'm feeling that same sense of passion myself, in spite of being something of a geezer. Diana and I are already planning our next photo adventure and I'm very stoked about it. We'll be adding some new elements and I think the pics will be very cool.

Sometimes, if you shoot enough of one thing, you may need reminders of why you pursued photography to begin with. I didn't set out all those years ago to mostly shoot glamour and tease models. In some ways, I fell into shooting that stuff. Originally, I set out on my life-long photographic journey because I fell in love with photography in general. Photography has taken me in a number of different directions. Now, I'm hoping it will take me in a few more directions. It's always a journey. The journey never ends. And with new terrain to journey into and discover,  it continues to excite me, to again make me passionate about it. Perhaps even more passionate! How cool is that?

The pretty girl at the top is Dahlia, snapped at El Mirage Dry Lake, Victorville, CA, on a blistering hot summer day in the Mojave Desert. It's all natural light. Not even a reflector brought to bear on the  model. I snapped it with my Canon 5D1 and a Canon 17-40 f/4 L lens. ISO 100, f/8 at 125th. It's also one of the few nude images I've shot that wasn't something I was being paid to shoot. Well, if truth be known, I was being paid to shoot out there in the Mojave Desert that day, but not for images like the one above.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dawning of a New Camera Age (Aquarius?) for Yours Truly

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After seven years and just shy of 200,00 shutter actuations, my Canon 5D1 recently took a dump. Not an overly serious or catastrophic dump, but one requiring shipping my much-loved camera off to Canon for repair.

I was shooting some personal project pics with my friend, Diana, a few weeks ago when the lights went out. Well, the lights didn't actually go out but, in terms of looking through my camera's viewfinder, they might as well have. All was dark inside the innards of my classic 5D's viewfinder. 

When my camera broke, I was shooting (for the first time) with a Lensbaby Muse. My first thought was that it, the Lensbaby, had gone South and not my camera. I thought that because, when I  purchased the Lensbaby from an eBay seller, the seller had an accident while packing the lens for shipping and he broke the Lensbaby.

To make a long story painlessly short, the Lensbaby had accidentally fallen to the floor and broke apart. Consequently, the seller refunded my money but sent me the lens anyway. My son-in-law, Kyle, clever guy that he is, managed to disassemble the Lensbaby, apply a drop or two of superglue to two internal parts, and piece the lens back together. As a result, my Lensbaby was returned to a functional condition.

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Back to my recent ill-fated shoot: I removed the Lensbaby from my camera, thinking it was the culprit, only to have my 5D1's mirror fall out. Bummer!  I quickly realized the Lensbaby was still operational but my camera was not.

Fast forward to more recently...

Between the time my Canon 5D1 was K.O.'d due to its age and frequent use and my shoot this past Friday, I acquired a 5D MkII and, finally, I had an opportunity to shoot with it. (Beyond a few snaps to insure it was working properly, it being a used camera and all.) It wasn't going to be one of my usual-and-customary "pretty girl" shoots, although my friend and model, Diana, definitely is a girl and certainly qualifies as pretty. Instead, it was to be a story-driven shoot, just as it was on the two previous occasions I've shot with Diana. (I know, I know, Jimmy shooting a clothed model. Hey! Stranger things have happened.)

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Our theme for this time out -- our third time shooting together -- was going to include a flower-power-driven hippie motif. From a camera perspective, i.e., beyond the creative aspects of the shoot, I wanted to A) try out my new 5D2 with a model and a story, and B) continue my somewhat low-fi approach to the pics. (Which I've utilized the two times I've previously shot with Diana.) Diana also brought along a wardrobe change for a second theme, a "desert dancer" ballerina theme, and I snapped some of those pics as well.

I decided to shoot with two lenses only: a Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime and a Canon 50mm f/1.8 "nifty-fifty" prime. I also planned to use my Tiffen Pro Mist filters. (I have three of them: a Pro Mist 1, 2, and 3, each being progressively more, uhh... misty.)

My transition from my Canon 5D1 to the 5D2 was smooth and effortless. The menus on the 5D2 are very different from the 5D1 and some of the controls on the outside of the 5D2 are slightly different but none of those differences posed any problems for me. I'd already spent some time with the 5D2's user's manual prior to the shoot so it wasn't like I was figuring things out while I was shooting. Well, to a certain extent I suppose I was but being a long-time Canon shooter, doing so posed little to no problem.

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I must say my initial reaction to the camera is quite positive. It sounds different than my 5D1 when I snap the shutter and I found myself very aware of that difference. Other than that, though, all seemed very similar to shooting with my 5D1.  My 5D1, by the way, will become my backup-camera when it's returned from the Canon repair facility.

I'm confident I'm going to be quite happy with my new (to me) Canon 5D MkII. I had no intention of buying another camera body, even after my 5D1 broke, but a friend made me an offer I couldn't refuse for his 5D2. Being somewhat weak-willed when it comes to photography gear, you know, like so many other photographers are, I agreed with him that it was an incredibly generous offer and purchased the camera. Yep. For better or worse, I'm now a Canon 5D2 shooter for the foreseeable future.   I still plan to get myself a Fuji XT-1 or X-Pro 2 (when the latter is released) but, for now, I'm a happy camper camera-wise.






Monday, July 07, 2014

What's In My Bag

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Well, here we go as I embark on my second thousand blog updates. My last update was number 1,000 if you weren't aware of that. My blogging persistence persists it seems.

If web pages dedicated to these sorts of photographic revelations are any indication, there seems to be a general interest of late in what's in the camera bags of other photographers.  I was going to take a photo of my bag and its contents but that sounded like way too much work for a Monday morning. So, in the spirit of nosy curious interested photographers, I thought I'd simply share, in words, what's in my bag, not that what's in my bag is anything special. I have a pretty good sized bag, by the way. It's a Tamrac. It's fairly beat-up as it's seen plenty of action. Tamrac doesn't make the model of bag I have any longer, but it's quite similar to this one.

I'm certainly not saying my bag and its contents contains the ultimate in gear for glamour photography --  probably far from it in some photographers' minds -- but it gets me by in a "keep it simple" and didn't-break-the-bank sort of way.  Oh, and I'm still able to snap some decent photos with this gear, even if some might think of it as being not as "good" as some of it ought to be. You know, for a model-snapping "pro."

Cameras
:
Currently, I have three cameras in my bag: A Canon 5D classic, a Canon 5D Mk II, and a Fuji X-100. Do I have a preferred camera for most of my work? Of course. Doesn't everyone? My favorite camera remains my 5D classic. It's been a work horse for me. A photographic plow mule that keeps on delivering what I need it to deliver, click after click, shooting gig after shooting gig. My 5D1 has been in my bag for about 7 years now and its gotten a ton of use. Outside of my bag, I also have a Leica point-and-shoot, a D-Lux3, but it's kept, often enough, in the glove box of my vehicle. Not that I seem to ever use them these days, I also have a number of film cameras -- from rangefinders to SLRs to plastic "toy" cameras --  but they're not in my bag either. They're lying around my abode mostly collecting dust but all operational.

Glass: The lenses in my bag have changed often enough. I owned a Canon 10D and 20D before buying my 5D and, before that, I had a number of film cameras, all Canon and all used at one time or another for pretty girl shooting. By the way,  along with my film cameras I had a variety of Canon FD glass, my pre-digital film cameras all being Canon FD.  Interestingly or not, before I went digital somewhere around 2003, I never owned a zoom lens. All my glass was prime. My very first zoom lens, if I recall correctly, was a Canon EF 28-135.  Having said all that, here's what's currently in my bag, glass-wise: A Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime, a Canon 70-200mm f/4 L zoom, a Canon 50mm f/1.8 "nifty-fifty" prime, a Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 zoom, a somewhat vintage Vivitar 24mm f/2.8 prime (manufactured by Tokina). It has an M42 screw mount and, as you probably know, it's manual-focus-only.  I also have a few novelty lenses including a LensBaby “Muse,” a plastic Holga, and a plastic Diana+, none of which I use for glamour photography even though that stuff is always with me. (It takes up very little room in my bag.) All my novelty lenses are prime lenses and none of them allows for much in the way of adjustments. They're all fixed focal length/fixed aperture glass... I mean plastic.

Speedlites
:  A Canon 580EX, two Canon 430EXs, and a Yongnuo YN-568EX II. I don't shoot with speedlites all that often, I mostly use studio strobes plus I sometimes shoot with reflectors and scrims in natural light. When I do shoot with small flash instruments, however, what I listed is what I use.

Triggers: Four Pocket Wizards: A Flex TT5 and three Plus X II transceivers. I also have a couple of optical triggers.

Accessories
:
Like many photographers, I carry a variety of accessories with me. They include a number of filters, e.g., polarizers, ND (Neutral Density), and a few specialty filters like Tiffen's Pro Mist. (I have the Pro Mist 1, 2, and 3 plus adapters so I can screw them on varous lenses.) Additionally, I have a square filter system I can call on if I need to. When I do, it's mostly in order to use a graduated ND filter. I also have (and almost always use) a hand-held light meter. My meter is a Konica Minolta Vf flash meter. It's a basic and simple meter and it gets the job done.

So there you have it, the contents of Jimmy's camera bag in its current iteration. Probably like many of you, I'm always looking or thinking about changing some of the contents of my bag, mostly when it comes to glass. For instance, I'd like to trade-up my 70-200 f/4 L zoom for a 70-200 f/4 IS L zoom. I'd also like to have a Canon 135mm f/2 L prime in my bag, as well as another Canon EF 17-40mm L zoom. I had one for a year or two but sold it. I think I'd like to replace it.

I can't recall the name of the model at the top. It's a mostly SOOC (Straight Out of the Camera) image -- resized, a few skin blemishes removed, and a very slight luma adjustment -- snapped with my Fuji X100 and three monolights: a 5' Photek Softlighter for my main, pretty much on axis with my ass plopped on an apple box in front and below it, plus a couple of smaller shoot-through umbrellas, either side of the model, slightly from behind her.  I also used a house fan to blow the model's hair a bit.