Saturday, April 25, 2015

You're a Professional Photographer You Say?

Click to Enlarge
Some of this might sound like a bitter old shooter ranting but, in my non-bitter opinion, there are too many people these days calling themselves "professional photographers" who, frankly, don't have the skills or experience -- leastwise, at their current, near-entry-level skills and experience levels -- to be marketing themselves as professional photographers for hire and expecting others to part with their hard-earned money for less than professional work.
I don't care if you've spent thousands and thousands on gear, if you don't have the skills to use that gear in ways that consistently produce professional results, you don't yet deserve to call yourself a "professional" and  probably shouldn't be seeking professional work until you have such skills. A human, camera-toting version of a coin-operated photo booth isn't a professional photographer any more than a vibrating Stratolounger represents a professional masseuse.

Just because someone purchases a hammer, a saw, and other carpentry tools, perhaps the best hammers, saws, and what-have-you that are made, doesn't mean they automatically have the skills and experience to hire themselves out as a custom home builder or seek employment as a journeyman cabinet maker.

I somewhat regularly see brand-spanking-new and new-ish photographers on photography forums who obtain paid, professional work and, once the work is obtained, they're asking people in the groups to tell them how to shoot the work they've obtained.

Are you shitting me?  You went after a gig, scored the gig -- probably on price and bullshit promises -- and now you need to ask others how to make good on what you, no doubt, warranted to the client/customer you can deliver? Nice con... because that's what it is, a con. 

Oh? The client/customer suddenly threw a curve ball at you with something unusual for part of the shoot and you haven't a clue how to shoot that curve ball part? Too freakin' bad. You should, at least, have a clue, more than a clue, how to shoot practically any client-thrown curve balls. If not, don't go after paid professional gigs you're not yet qualified to shoot. At what point are you qualified to take on those gigs? That's certainly a gray area. Probably different for many. But here's my advice: don't let your ego (your Twinkletoes as I wrote about in my last update) be the ultimate deciding factor. You know, because you've snapped a few good pics when you were shooting just for yourself.

Click to Enlarge
Most skilled and experienced professional photographers aren't one-trick ponies even if many focus on a specific genre. Pro shooters, actual pro shooters, are versatile. They can adapt and call on their skills and experience to bat almost any curve ball a client throws. Often enough, bat it out of the park. If not out of the park, they can swat base hit after base hit when clients throw those curve balls. And clients toss them all the time, curve balls that is. Sometimes, they don't toss them till you show up at the gig... which doesn't afford someone the luxury of going on a photo forum and asking others how to shoot it. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against asking for or giving shooting advice.  But there's a big difference between seeking advice from others while you're learning and relying on others to tell you how to do something you don't have a clue about, but you already warranted to someone else, a client or customer, that you can deliver the goods. (Either directly warranted by lying about your experience or indirectly by virtue of your hyper-inflated "pitch," selling yourself as the "professional" photographer for the job. Most any photography job.)

I certainly don't know how to shoot everything so, if/when I'm asked about shooting something that I don't know how to shoot with a fair amount of skill and knowledge, guess what? I don't take those jobs.  Instead, I steer the client to some shooters who, IMO, do know how to shoot it. (And that's happened a fair number of times.)

Again, this update isn't me being bitter or angry about inexperienced, unskilled or marginally-skilled photographers going after paid work they are likely too green to competently produce. It's not me complaining there are too many photographers pursuing paid work these days. It's not me saying less-skilled and less-experienced photographers can't become skilled and experienced photographers warranting being paid. It's simply me saying photographers, like any other skilled professionals, should first pay their dues by investing in learning plus spending plenty of time practicing what they've learned. Once they know what they're doing via learning and practice, i.e., they've become skilled, truly skilled, then go after paid work and start accumulating professional experience.

Just because you can do some tricky looking shit with PS, LR, or some other software or apps doesn't make you a professional photographer any more than knowing how to make a few good meals in your kitchen makes you a professional chef. You might be able to handle being a short-order cook at Denny's with those marginal skills but short-order cooks aren't chefs and, just so you know, Denny's doesn't hire chefs. They hire cooks. Similarly, most professional photography clients aren't looking to hire the entry-level short-order cook versions of photographers. They're looking to hire the chef versions. Can most anyone become a chef or a professional photographer? Sure. But it doesn't happen overnight and it doesn't happen without a serious investment in learning followed by plenty of practice.

The pretty girl in the photos is Paris. Snapped it in-studio against a grey seamless using my Mola "Euro" beauty dish for a main light, slightly camera right and also slightly warmed with a small piece of Roscoe's "Bastard Amber" gel attached to the Mola's glass baffle. A pair of medium Chimera strip boxes, either side from behind, provided edge-lighting on the model. I also boomed a small, rectangular, soft box overhead from behind for a hair light, attaching black foil to the bottom of the hair light to flag it, i.e., to keep its light from bleeding onto the seamless.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Managing Critical Voices Part Three: Twinkletoes

Click to Enlarge
When it comes to managing the critical inner voices in our heads (regarding our photography) Twinkletoes is yang to Ahab's yin, or vice versa; i.e., they are opposite or contrary forces which remain complementary, interconnected, and interdependent. Ahab and Twinkletoes are made for each other. They are lost without each other. They each help us in different yet positive ways in a duality of things sort of way. I know that sounds awfully philosophical and New Age(y) but it really isn't. It is what it is and it's reflective of many things in our lives as well as all that surrounds us.

A very quick descriptive recap on Ahab and Twinkletoes:

Ahab is our/my super-critical inner voice.  Leastwise, Ahab is what I named my critical inner voice. You may refer to Ahab by another name like The Prick or Chooch or something similar. (Chooch is an Italian slang word for jackass; one I sometimes use, me being a 2nd gen Italian-American who has heard my Italian-speaking relatives use it often enough.)  Ahab is my critical inner voice who nit-picks the crap out of ALL my photos. He's never satisfied. He never thinks my work is quite good enough. More often than not, Ahab tells me my photos suck.

Twinkletoes, on the other hand, is my feel-good inner critical voice. A voice who not only encourages and comforts me regarding my photos (even when Ahab is mostly right about them) but often hyper-inflates their level of (supposed) awesomeness.  Twinkletoes thinks my work is "amazing!"

While Ahab and Twinkletoes are polar opposites when it comes to self-criticism, they work together to provide levels of balance and harmony when self-critiquing one's work. Some photographers seem to be all-Ahab or all-Twinkletoes when describing their work. (Not a good thing, in my opinion.) And certainly there are people who comment on the work of others either in (nearly) all-Ahab terms or all-Twinkletoes. (Again, not a good thing.) How many times have you seen people describe someone's photo as "amazing" when it decidedly is not?  Not "amazing," that is. Probably too often... make that too often ad nauseum, leastwise on social media. (That ad nauseum term is Latin or, as I like to call Latin, "pre-Italian Italian.")

Whether Ahab or Twinkletoes are right or wrong about any given photo is usually irrelevant from a bigger picture perspective. That's because Ahab and Twinkletoes being right or wrong about any photo I've snapped, while often important in a variety of ways, isn't their primary job, their exclusive job, their #1 job.  Instead, their most important job is to work in tandem to keep a photographer, at least this photographer,  having a decent grasp of reality regarding my photos, that is, to not let my head overly inflate or to allow me to wallow in a self-critical pit of photographic despair. You know, it's that balance thing I wrote about earlier in this article.

I'm a guy who has spent years and years shooting hot, sexy women, often sans clothing. That alone nets me more than my "earned" share of compliments regarding my pictures. (Especially, from other guys.) It would be fairly easy for me to get all full of myself and allow Twinkletoes to rule my inner-critical-voice roost.  I've known, for instance, more than a couple of other shooters who snap the sort of stuff I shoot who became, in my mind, very much that way.  Thankfully, I have Ahab to keep that shit in check. Apparently, their "Ahabs" are either missing, underdeveloped, or somewhere along the way they/it passed away. It's called ego and, apparently, they've helped themselves to heaping helpings of it. They used to annoy me, those people did. Now, they mostly amuse me or, at the very least, bemuse me.

So, my advice?  Take stock of your Ahabs and Twinkletoes.  Take honest and realistic stock of them. Work at keeping them individually in check,  in perspective, balanced, and helping you to improve in harmonious and helpful ways. Keep listening to them but don't allow one or the other to generally rule or trump the other. You'll thank me in the morning... or next month or a year from now or whenever... Or not.

The pretty girl at the top is Kita. Canon 5D with a Canon 70-200 F/4 L non-IS at 120mm focal length. ISO 100, f/13, 160th. Main light modified with a 5' Photoflex Octo, plus a couple of small-ish shoot-through umbrellas either side from behind.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Managing Critical Voices Part Two: Ahab

Click to Enlarge
"All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab..." ~Moby Dick, Herman Melville

In my last post, I took an author's advice (from an article I read in the Harvard Business Review) naming my inner critical voices Ahab and Twinkletoes.  For Part Two of the update, I'm going to write about Ahab: my maddening, tormenting, malicious, brain-caking, uber-critical inner voice.

Ahab's an obsessed, anal retentive, myopic prick if there ever was one-- that goes for Melville's crazy Ahab as well as my (inner) crazy Ahab. Every photo I snap he finds fault with.  Every. Single. One. For my inner Ahab, there is no perfect or near-perfect image in my many albums and collections of pics I've snapped. There is no single "amazing" image of mine, much less a number of them. There is no photo I've ever taken without flaws and, for Ahab, there probably will never be one.  That's how Ahab rolls, unconscionable prick that he is.

But, as much as Ahab persecutes, harasses, and sometimes vexes me, I love the guy. I wouldn't trade him in for an inner voice that's more lenient, forgiving, and less focused on the negatives. (That's part of Twinkletoes' job anyway.) I'll tell you why I love and value Ahab.

First off, Ahab is responsible for motivating me to continue learning about photography. I may not ever be able to satisfy Ahab -- so be it then -- but, because of Ahab, I'll never consider my education in photography complete. In fact, Ahab's constant criticisms not only drive me to learn how to overcome them but, in the process of learning how to rise above his many criticisms -- not that it's possible to do so --  I often find new things to learn about. (Whether it's how to do something new, do something I already know how to do but to do it better, learn the "Why?" of things I do, or even learn what sorts of gear might help me A) not make the same mistakes again or B) discover how to do things simpler and easier which, often enough, reduces the likelihood of mistakes and errors while shooting. (Cuz it frees my mind from having to deal with complexities.)

Next, Ahab keeps me on my toes whenever I'm shooting. Ahab's anal retentive qualities force me to consciously and constantly examine the details in my viewfinder and my shooting environments. Does that mean I never miss a thing I should have noticed when shooting? Things that often will take my photos down a notch or two or three? Yeah. I wish.  But Ahab's constant critical nagging definitely lessens the occurrences of missing such things because, frankly, I don't want to listen to Ahab carry on when I'm later editing my photos and he's pointing accusatory fingers at me with an overbearing scowl on his face. And by "fingers," I mean Ahab doesn't limit himself to using his index finger alone when pointing out my photographs' flaws. He's fond of using another finger as well. (Not that Ahab looks at anything with fondness.)

Finally, although there are other good reasons for Ahab's value to me, this final one I'm mentioning might be Ahab's most important job-- Ahab provides balance with Twinkletoes. (Whose role it is to pat me on the back for jobs well done.)  Twinkletoes does more than that, of course, and it's not all positive stuff, i.e., positive in terms of creating positive change in how I perform as a shooter and/or the results of my shooting.  But I'll save that discussion, the Twinkletoes discussion, for Part Three of these Managing Critical Voices updates.

I'll bet more than a few of you have your own Ahabs.  I think they're fairly common amongst photographers. If you don't have an Ahab, you should try to discover or develop one. Ahabs, in my opinion, are absolutely necessary to developing as a photographer. Ahabs help prevent us from becoming too full of ourselves. Too impressed with our work. Too willing to gloss over the flaws in our photos. Less willing to do things like play the "art card" as bad excuses for bad or flawed photography. Ahabs, in many ways, keep us real. If you're someone whose inner critical voices are all Twinkletoes and no Ahab, you have a serious problem and, in all likelihood, you're going nowhere as a photographer.

I'm temporarily brain-farting on the name of the tormented-by-her-clothing pretty girl at the top. Beyond the clothes-tearing, which I directed her to do, the action is well in line with her general personality. Trust me when I tell you she's a fairly crazy chick.

Not to bore you with a personal story but, this one time, at band camp... I mean at this party I was at, she wanted to go for a ride on my Harley.  No problemo. I'm a geezer. I don't turn down pretty women who want to hop on the back of my ride. Especially, when they're hotties,  "free spirit" types, and more than a couple of decades younger than me. (But still of age, of course.) So, off we went.

Ten minutes later or so, we're  over the speed limit cruising up a fairly major, four-lane avenue in LA's West San Fernando Valley. Suddenly, I feel her bouncing around behind me shouting "Yee-hah!" or something.   I turn my head. She had pulled off her bikini top -- the party was a pool party -- and was spinning it around above her head while whooping and hollering loudly. (Course, the roar of my bike's engine mostly drowned that out, Harley's being quite loud and all.) Thankfully, no cops were around. I would have been more than a little pissed-off getting a ticket or ending up in the back of a patrol with her along side me and my bike impounded. Cops don't always have a sense of humor for that kind of stuff. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Managing Critical Voices (Part One)

Click to Enlarge
A friend forwarded me an article titled, "Managing the Critical Voices Inside Your Head." It was written by a guy who is CEO of some company; some company that helps other CEOs develop their leadership skills managing some other companies. It was published in the Harvard Business Review.

You probably won't be surprised when I tell you that I'm not a regular reader of the Harvard Business Review.  First off, I suck at business. No, I mean it.  I really suck at business. I'm not simply a not-very-good businessman, I thoroughly suck at it. In fact, I suck at business well beyond my natural abilities to suck at other things I suck at. So, for me, why bother reading about business stuff? Especially in a prestigious journal like the HBR.  Plus, the only thing I'm a CEO of is myself... and my grand-kids when I'm babysitting them.

Off topic but FYI: Years ago, I was once an actual CEO. Yep. I was the CEO of a taxi cab company for a time. How did I get that job? It had something to do with my best friend being the cab company's lawyer.  Anyway, it was a rather large taxi cab company. One with millions of dollars in yearly revenue and a whole fleet of taxi cabs.

My main job as the cab company's CEO (actually, my only job) was to show up in court or for depositions on behalf of the taxi company-- they were a magnet for law suits and had many of them in various stages of litigation. Upon showing up to these legal Q&A proceedings, I was pre-instructed (some might call it "coached") to say one of two things, under oath, to a judge or a lawyer in response to any question I was asked. Any question at all.  My answers were either "I don't know" or "I don't remember."  Only once did I deviate from the script, I mean those two, honest, answers and, when I did, it was an honest guess, not an uninformed answer as my others answers always were. A judge asked me what color our company's cabs were. "Yellow?" I answered back, questioningly. "Aren't all taxis yellow, your honor." (The judge wasn't pleased or amused.)

Neither of my standard-answers-born-of-ignorance were lies, BTW.  It wasn't like I was perjuring myself. I really didn't know anything -- nothing, nada, zilch, Jack Shit about the workings of the cab company I was CEO of or any cab company for that matter.  I couldn't even accurately verify the cab company's business address. All I knew about taxi cab companies was what I learned from Alex, Louie, Latka, and Reverend Jim on the TV sit-com, "Taxi."

Back to the Harvard Business Review and managing our critical voices...

As photographers, we need to manage those voices in our heads who speak to us about our work and our photographs and... Wait! What? What voices in our heads?  Well, as the HBR article points out, most of us probably have voices in our heads: two major and distinct voices. At least, according to the HBR article. Personally, I think I have more than two; voices that is. I'm not sure how many I have and, fortunately, they don't all speak at once. Also fortunately, I probably don't have enough of them to seek psychiatric help. But that's a personal opinion and better left for another time.

According to the HBR article writer, most of us have two major voices in our heads so I'll go with just two. Just to keep things simple.

One of our two voices is our super-critical voice. You know the one. It's the one who nit-picks the crap out of our photos. The one who is never satisfied. The one who never thinks our work is quite good enough and who thinks no matter how good a photo we snapped might be, it could be better. It's not that we all are perfectionists in our lives. (Some of us are but I know I'm not.) It's that our highly-critical voice is a prick. A total prick. A never satisfied, it's never good enough sort of effing prick. Like a Dad who is never pleased with what his kids do or accomplish, no matter what.

The second voice is our reassuring, feel-good voice. A voice who not only encourages and comforts us about our work, but often tends to hyper-inflate its level of supposed awesomeness. This second voice is like a Mom who thinks everything her children does is terrific. Not just terrific, but incredible! Make that, AMAZING!!! This voice tells us we're damn good at what we do. Better than good! And that the only thing holding us back from wild successes is catching a break. You know, via a big, fat, fucking smile and heavy pat on the head from Ms. Lady Luck herself.

Social media offers opportunities for the voices in ours and other photographers' heads to suddenly show up on everyone's computers, smart phones, and tabs for many to see. (This is me talking now, not the HBR article's CEO/writer guy.) If we spend an average amount of time on social media -- whatever an average amount of time on social media represents these days, in actual average time, that is -- we see other photographers' voices quite regularly. Yep. We constantly see other photographers being either too self-critical or too liberal with their self-bestowed accolades regarding the quality of their work they post.

The guy who wrote the article in the HBR says we should name our voices. We should give them names so that, I suppose, we can get to know them better on a more personal and intimate level.  Become friends with them. Good friends with them so we can hope to understand them in helpful ways and, more importantly, learn to help them help us when they are speaking to us. Okay. Sounds reasonable to me. I'm a goer. (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?) I've always been a goer in many ways. So, names it is.

I'm going to call my two inner voices Ahab and Twinkletoes. I'll bet you can figure out who's who.

Ahab is, of course, a loud, pushy, could-care-less-for-my-personal-feelings, evil, mean, obsessed tyrant of a prick on a never-ending quest to capture the greatest photo of all time or at least one that he doesn't feel the automatic need to be a highly-critical prick about.

Twinkletoes, on the other hand, treads oh-so-lightly on all my work, smiling broadly, verbally patting me on the back while flitting about sprinkling faery dust all over each of my images-- the good, as well as the bad and the ugly. Twinkletoes pulls rainbows and sunshine out its ass (technically, that would be my ass I guess) and sugar-coats my pictures with them.

Yes. Ahab and Twinkletoes. The two voices in my head appraising my photographs. I'd hook them up with my inner child, Little Jimmy, but years ago, while unhappily enduring therapy as part of a highly futile process of saving a marriage -- that's another off-topic story -- I discovered he, my inner child, is as full of shit as Ahab and Twinkletoes often are. Yet -- and this is a big YET -- they all have value. They're each important in a number of ways and, when I update with Part Two of this blog update -- because it's late and I'm too sleepy to do it now -- I'll tell you how I think those particular voices in our heads can help us become better photographers. Or, at least put us on the road to being one.

Heck. Maybe I'll also talk about other people's voices speaking to us about our photographs. Real people and real voices. You know, the voices of other shooters who look at our work and are either pricks in their manner of offering assessments and critiques, or faery-dust-spreading, make-you-feel-good-for-no-good-reasons, overly-generous-with-praise, rainbow-spilling, sunshine-up-your-ass, sugar-coating well-intentioned types.

The pretty girl at the top is Sasha Grey. Sasha's made the (historically) near-impossible leap from being a porn star to having a mainstream acting career, one where she's getting some decent roles and making a name for herself. You go, girl! I snapped the pic at the top on a location set. The producers rented a large night club in Hollywood. Lots of extras. Big crew. Even a reality-show crew from Showtime.  I wonder if Sasha is trying to catch her inner voices with that netting? Or, at least hold them in.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Game Changer

Click to Enlarge
I sometimes hear the words, "game changer," bandied about amongst photographers.  Usually, the words are applied to one piece of gear or another. The game-changing dubbed gear might be something new that's come along, or something new added to the kit of a photographer who, apparently, fully expects said new gear to be a game changer for his or her photography.

In the long evolution of photographic gear, has anything that's come along truly been a game changer? Well, sure... I guess. What sorts of things might have been true game changers?  Color film? The advent of 35mm SLR cameras? The arrival of digital photography? Probably. Probably those things and more have, to one degree or another, been game changers. Did they change every photographer's game? Yes and no. I suppose you'd have to look at it on an individual basis and tally  the results and then make some sort of subjective decision about how many photographers who embraced those new developments qualifies the gear for a game-changing crown or medal or certificate of merit.

What about personal acquisitions of specific types of gear? (Whether the gear itself is newly arrived on the market or simply new to the acquirer.) Is such gear a true game changer for those who acquire it? Again, yes and no.  I suppose it depends on what each photographer does with their newly purchased gear they believe (or were led to believe) will be game changers for their photography. That's why they probably bought the new gear, for it's game-changing possibilities, that is.  In other words, for what they might do that's new, unique, quite different, and game-changing compared to what they've done prior. (With gear they already possessed)  The changed game they hope and.or expect will take place might be in terms of results, i.e., the photos produced, or their approach to their photography or via newly acquired capabilities as a result of the new gear, i.e., it widens the scope of what they can do versus what they've been able to do in the past.

I'm only writing about this because, just the other day, I got into something of a somewhat contentious debate on Facebook with a photographer who decided to spend a fair amount of money on some new lighting gear -- a Profoto B1 system, to be specific -- and who believes (per his own words) it will be a "game changer" for his photography.

This particular photographer routinely "wows" me with his work. Not because his work is uniquely stand-out from a technical perspective -- and that's not to say his work is anything less than technically good -- but because of it's editorial content, points-of-view, thematic traits, and artistic merits. His pictures tell stories. Powerful stories. Human value stories. Stories of injustice and hope.

When I questioned the photographer's belief that his new Profoto B1 will be a "game changer" for him, i.e., I was curious how the B1 will become such a gamer changer for him, it unleashed more than a small amount of negative responses towards me from his friends, fans, admirers, and the photographer himself. He's a fairly popular shooter, by the way, and has a good-size FB following... as he deserves.

So, here's what I'm curious about: Is merely believing that a new addition to one's kit, be it a new camera, lens, lighting system, or something else, enough of a catalyst to actually be game-changing? Is faith in some new gear and what it might mean to a person's photography all that's required for it to actually be game changing? Or, is it a self-convinced illusion? Make that "delusion." I understand the power of faith and belief in something. It can drive people to great heights or, as is more often the case, not make much of a real difference, their strong beliefs notwithstanding.  It can even lead some into a results-abyss of sorts because their expectations, based on what they believe about their new gear, are far too great and unrealistic. (If only I had that new camera my photography would go through the roof!)

With regards to the photographer who (unwittingly) motivated me to write this update -- not that motivating me to write this was his intent, not even remotely -- I still don't see how his new lighting gear will be a game-changer for him since, in my opinion, the awesomeness of his photography has little or nothing to do with the specific lighting gear he chooses to employ. (Or which camera or lens he chooses to shoot with, for that matter.) His creative mind and his strongly-held personal points of view are his #1, always potentially game-changing possessions. (As it is for all photographers.) 

I do understand how the portability, increased power output, and some other capabilities of Profoto's B1 will offer him new abilities, efficiencies, and proficiencies for his work. But those are production workflow things.  What I still don't understand is how the B1, which is a pretty cool piece of lighting gear I'll readily admit, will truly be a game changer for him because the quality and emotional impact of his work has so little to do with whatever lighting gear he uses. His photography does use lighting to great effect to underscore his themes but, frankly, he could accomplish the same with two or three speedlites or some lower-end strobes. (I'm not sure what he's been using prior to acquiring the B1, but I'm pretty sure it's been much less expensive and less portable studio strobes. )

The gratuitous, nothing special, eye candy at the top, which has nothing to do with what I'm writing about  today and only serves as just that-- gratuitous eye candy, is Faith. Simple B&W conversion from a JPG with PS's B&W tool.  I snapped the pic some time ago on location using a bare wall behind Faith as my background.  Many (if not most) of my clients prefer bare walls or a seamless behind the models because of what will be done with the images, later on, by their art department people or graphic artists they hire. In other words, for the most part, the models will be cut-out from the BG.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Three Degrees of Isolation

Click to Enlarge

The word "degree" has two separate and very different meanings: It can refer to a unit of measurement, e.g.,  degrees of an angle or degrees of temperature, or it can refer to the amount, level, or extent to which something happens or is present.  For this blog update, I'm using that second definition of "degree," the latter one, and I'll probably use it multiple times, each time referring to an amount, a level, or an extent of something, and I'll probably do so with varying levels of success. But hey! I try! Right?

Okay. Let's talk about Three Degrees of Isolation.  (Note: Not to be confused with Six Degrees of Separation, a theory that says everyone is six or fewer steps away, by way of introductions, from any other person in the world. I don't know if I'm a believer in the Six Degrees of Separation theory or not, but I do believe the Three Degrees of Isolation helps make better photographs.)

One of the keys to good model images,  make that most any photos of almost any subject -- and this is a big one --  is a photographer's ability to isolate a photo's main subject from its surroundings.  Photographers accomplish this via varying degrees of creativity and technical skills, doing so with various levels or degrees of success.

You see, our eyes and minds cut through the visual "noise" and clutter of what we see utilizing both physical as well as mental processes. It's an automatic and instinctive ability we humans have. Hell, many animals have the same ability.  We're born able to do this, leastwise once our eyes and brains, soon after birth, develop enough in order to do so.

Not so, however, for cameras and lenses. While it's true our eyes are quite similar to a camera's lens, what cameras don't have is a brain with the ability to mentally process what the eyes (the brain's lenses) see in order to isolate the main subject(s) they're looking at from other things peripheral to the main subject or focus. In other words, what the camera sees doesn't automatically isolate the main subject from its surroundings. (Those surroundings being the visual noise and clutter I mentioned at the start of this paragraph.)  Instead, photographers need to do things in order to isolate their subjects so the resulting photos, often in less than subtle ways, point viewers to those main or key subjects. Once reason photographers should use "isolating" practices is because, for one thing, our eyes see in three dimensions (with our brains processing those three dimensions) while cameras only record two of those dimensions, and the camera does so without a brain able to isolate the key elements or the main subjects of what its lens "sees."

So how do we, as photographers, isolate our key or main subjects from the noise, chaos, and clutter (or lack of it) in a model's surroundings? We do so, for the most part, in three ways by utilizing varying degrees of three, general-but-separate, specific-yet-overall, photographic skills or techniques.

The three skills/techniques for isolating a subject are:

1. Depth of Field (Not to be confused with Depth of Focus which refers to lens optics-- more specifically the placement of the image plane, i.e., the film or sensor plane in a camera, relative to the lens.)

2. Lighting

3. Composition

When I'm shooting a model, one of the first decisions I make is what degree of Depth of Field I plan to record in order for my focus -- that is, where focus generally begins and ends -- to be used to help isolate her from the shooting environment; to varying degrees, that is.  (I say "generally begins and ends" because Depth of Field does not have an exact point where the focus abruptly begins and ends. Rather, those points are subtle and gradual, yet they're still quite noticeable, in a subtle-but-noticeable and gradual way.)

Let's say, for example, I'm shooting a model in front of a plain, uniform, seamless background.  (As many of my clients often have me do.) Depth of Field isn't much of a concern with a model in that environment. But, if/when I'm shooting a model outside in daylight at an exterior location, well, that's a very different matter.  I might, for instance, decide to shoot her in front of a seamless at f/8 or f/11 which delivers a fair amount of Depth of Field. I'll make that choice because, no matter how much Depth of Field my photo produces, the seamless won't seem to be in focus. (Unless it has wrinkles and creases, etc.) 

If I take that same model outside, I may (and I do, often enough) choose to shoot at f/2.8 or f/3.5 in order to shorten the Depth of Field and throw the background (and foreground) out of focus. (Again, to varying degrees depending on how I want the resulting images to appear.) I'll often do that, specifically, to help isolate my model from her surroundings, usually the background, which is something I'm not much concerned about when she's in front of a seamless. 

Three-point or triangular lighting, glam style.
Lighting is my second consideration for isolating my models from their shooting environments. For studio or other interior work, I mostly use a lighting setup that is called "Three-Point" or "Triangular" lighting."  It's old school but then, so am I.  Plus, my clients like it so that's what's most important. 

Three-point or Triangular lighting requires three lights at a minimum: A main or key light plus two back lights (the glam version) or a main or key, a fill light, and a back light. (The original version.) The two back lights (in the glam version) are generally set on either side of the model, from behind, to produce  highlights (or edge or rim lighting) designed to isolate (or separate)  models from the shooting environments. 

Certainly, I can add more lights. And I sometimes do. I can, for instance, decide to separately light the background or seamless. But I don't often do that because, for the most part, especially when shooting with my model in front of a seamless, my clients don't care about the background. Their art departments, most often, will be cutting the model out of the BG for whatever they're using the pics for-- like packaging, posters or slicks (slicks being a small poster), and that sort of stuff.  So, I don't light it. I can also add other lighting, e.g., a fill light or a hair light or some other highlighting light but, again, I don't often do so. I often  add a reflector or two into the mix for some subtle fill, but reflectors don't count as lights, on their own.

Once again, when I'm outside it's a different matter. When shooting in daylight. I still want to isolate my model from the shooting environment to various degrees, and I'll mostly do so using just one artificial light as a main or key light.  Generally, though, I'll place my model with the sun behind her in order to allow the sun, as a light source, to produce edge or rim lighting that is quite similar to what I produce in the studio with back lights. 

Composition is the third technique utilized to help isolate subjects/models, to various degrees, from the visual noise, clutter, or lack of it, whether shooting inside or out.  There are more than a few compositional techniques one can employ to accomplish this. I won't call them "rules" because many photographers are resistant to the notion or mention of "rules." That's cool. But do yourselves a favor: learn the friggin' rules! That way, you can use them if you decide to. (While you're at it, take some time to learn about the Elements of Design as well.) Trust me when I tell you those Rules of Composition, as well as the Elements of Design,  will earn their keep and often come in quite handy. 

BTW, I'm not going to identify all of the techniques/rules of composition you can employ -- once again, to varying degrees -- to help isolate your models from their shooting environment and produce better pictures. Why not? Because this is a blog update, not a chapter in a book or an entire book, and composition is a subject, like lighting, that can encompass whole chapters in books or entire books for that matter. 

So, next time you're shooting a model, consciously think about the Three Degrees of Isolation -- DoF, Lighting, Composition --  and how you can effectively utilize them, to varying degrees of course, to help you make better photos. 

The pretty girl at the top is Ms. Lupe Fuentes. All three degrees of isolation, to varying degrees, are at work in the image to help isolate her and make her, especially her pretty face, quite obviously the main subject of the photo as well as for directing its viewers' attention. Here's another snap of Lupe from the same shoot.