Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sorry for Being a Slacker

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Boy! Have I been a slacker updating the blog lately. For you regular readers, my apologies. For the rest of the photographic world, you didn't even notice so no harm, no foul.

I'd blame my inattention to the blog on the holidays or being too busy but those would be lies. The holidays didn't get in my way, not really, and I've been no more or less busy as of late, although I will admit to being somewhat preoccupied with things other than glamour photography. (Being semi-retired seems to induce other preoccupations, other than what I was preoccupied with prior to becoming semi-retired... which was working and/or seeking work.)

One of those preoccupations has been my keen interest in vintage glass. Over the past six months or so, I've acquired a fair number of lenses -- what some call "legacy lenses" -- and using them with both my Canon 5D2 and my Sony NEX-6.  I haven't used them to shoot pretty girls for the client work I still get hired to shoot. That would violate my rule about not experimenting on someone else's dime. (Although I occasionally sneak in a couple of shots with whatever new lens I've acquired; a couple of shots meaning three or four of them prior to shooting the sets I've been hired to shoot.)

If I were shooting pretty girls as a hobby shooter, which really isn't something I shoot as a hobbyist and, these days, I consider myself about 80% hobbyist, I'd probably be using some of my legacy lenses routinely for pretty girl shooting. Sure, they're all manual-focus-only lenses but, when shooting for myself, that's okay. I'm not in any rush when shooting for me. Auto-focus glass makes me faster and more efficient when shooting for clients, but being a fairly fast worker and production efficiency aren't things that are very high up on my list of priorities when I'm shooting for me. If something I'm shooting for me takes hours to shoot when, if I were shooting it for pay I'd get it done in half or less the time, it ain't no big deal. In fact, it prolongs the fun of shooting and I'm not so old that I don't value having fun, whether it's with my photography or most anything else I might be doing.

So, what kinds of glass have I been acquiring?  Well, let me list the lenses I've recently bought. I should also mention that all of them are primes and they're all M42 mount lenses (aka Pentax screw mount) except two: A Meyer-Optik Görlitz 50mm, f/2.9 Trioplan with an Altix mount. (Although I'm still able to use it with an M42 adapter.) A Hartblei 35mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift with Canon EF mount. (Which isn't vintage glass although the lens is around ten years old, possibly more, and it's definitely a specialty lens.)

Okay so here's the rest of my legacy lenses, all of which are either Russian-made or German, specifically Meyer-Optik Görlitz (MOG) for the German.

I'll list my Russian glass first: An 85mm f/1.5 Cyclop (no aperture diaphragm so it's f/1.5 all the time-- it came off a Russian military night-vision rifle scope), a Tair 11A 135/2.8, a Helios 44-2 58/2, and a Mir 1B 37/2.8.

Here's my German MOG glass: A 50/2.9 Trioplan (which I already mentioned), a 50/2.8 Orestor, a 30/3.5 Lydith, a 58/2 Primoplan, and a 135/2.8 Orestor.

You might be asking yourself, "What the heck are you doing with all those new old lenses, Jimmy?"  That's easy: Having fun with them!

The pretty girl at the top is Mila whom I snapped last night at my weekly, Wednesday evening gig for an internet streaming company. It's a super-easy job: I show up and shoot with the client's camera (in this case a Canon Rebel something or other with an 18-55 kit lens.) The small studio space is pre-lit -- me being the guy who pre-lit it some time ago -- so all I have to do is drive there (it's a 20 minute drive), walk in, pick up their camera, shoot two models (a quick set of each of them plus a set with both of them together), get paid and go home.  My kinda job! It's simple, easy, fun, in-n-out with none of my gear being used and no waiting to get paid. What's better than that?  Plus, it gets me out of the house one evening a week. (I don't get out much these days, leastwise in the evenings, which is probably a 'getting old' thing. Oh well.)

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Your Photographic Spine

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You have a spine. No surprise there.  We're all vertebrates as opposed to, say, octopuses, jelly fish, and sea urchins which are invertebrates, i.e. they're spineless animals. (I know some people like that, mostly spineless, but that's another story.)

Your photography has a spine as well, albeit a figurative spine. It's that one aspect of your abilities, above the others, that supports you, holds you up, that gives you photographic stature -- whether it's via hard skills or soft skills -- almost regardless of what you're shooting. It's the main thing that keeps you, or can keep you standing tall as a photographer.

Whether we consciously realize it or not, we rely on our photographic spines in most all of our work. Before I started pondering my photography spine -- and I started pondering it in earnest while  reading a book by famed Broadway choreographer, Twyla Tharp: "The Creative Habit" -- if someone asked me what the #1 thing I rely on most for the majority of my work, to make it stand out that is, I would have said my knowledge and skills in lighting. But the more I read Ms. Tharp's book, the more I re-thought my  answer to that self-asked question. Eventually, I came to realize my spine had less to do with what I know about the nuts and bolts of lighting and photography in general, and so much more about how I interact with people, in this case, with the models in front of my camera.

I have a long-time client who told me, somewhat recently, and this is a quote or as near to one as I can recall: "You want to know why I've kept hiring you all this time, Jimmy? And still do? It's not because you're such a good photographer. There's plenty of photographers as good as you; plenty who are better than you. I hire you because of the way you work with the models. Just about every model I hire you to shoot, whether they're new or experienced, walks away from your set happy, confident in the photos you snapped, and with nothing but good things to say about you. There's hardly ever a problem or drama caused by you. And it shows in the pics." BTW, I've had other clients tell me similar stuff in similar ways. So yeah. I have some corroboration in this matter. (Where's those smiley face emoticons when I need one for a blog update?)

While some of this may sound like I'm patting myself on the back, I'm really not. I do have good people skills. Probably better than good. Leastwise, when it comes to models. (Who are also people, at least technically they are.) I can usually read most models like a book within minutes, sometimes seconds, of them arriving on my shooting sets. (At least the model part of who they are.) It's a rare model who comes close to causing me to choose the wrong tack or the wrong approach, photographer-to-model/person-to-person approach to shooting her. You know, in terms of how to best to interact with her and gain rapport with her so as to get better pics from her. I'm good at it. It's something that's part natural (I suppose) plus it's born of many years shooting many, many models. Even before that, I had plenty of experience shooting actors for their head shots and portfolios. Actors and models are similar sorts of folks in many ways. I could list all the ways they're similar but that's not what I'm writing about today.

Conversely, I've recently become very interested in shooting things other than models and/or other human subjects and my biggest problem with that (not that it's too big a problem because I still have skills, you know, skills other than people skills) is that I can't rely on my spine, my 'people skills spine,' to make good pics. In fact, when I first started trying to shoot some of this other stuff, I felt a little like a jellyfish, one of those invertebrates I mentioned at the top, all gelatinous with little hard structure to support my less than competent efforts. It's like going from model shooting to product shooting. I know how to light inanimate objects because I know how to light people. I know how to compose people and inanimate objects. But the pics still mostly sucked in spite of my throwing my non-spinal-skills at the pics.

So, how do I proceed if I can't call on my photographic spine, my people skills, to support me in these other efforts that don't include people? Well, believe it or not, and this is probably going to sound rather stupid, I've taken to talking to the inanimate objects in front of my camera. I've also taken to talking to myself, out loud, when I'm shooting. (Hoping some mental health professional isn't nearby because I probably sound like a whacko.) For some future shoots that require special locations and/or environments, I plan to take along someone if I can.  You know, just to have someone to interact with even if that someone isn't the one being photographed because, IMO, my best work happens when my mouth is going, even if/when I'm talking to myself,to something that doesn't talk back, or to someone who is just along for the ride.

If you haven't thought about what your photographic spine might be, i.e., what the #1 thing that makes you who you are as a photographer -- whether it's a hard skill like understanding gear, lighting or composition, or how you make exposure your bitch -- I highly recommend you do. Course, remember: Your spine might be something other than a hard or technical skill and there's a good chance it is for most folks.  I suggest, if nothing else, you do a personal skills inventory to figure out not only what your spine is, but what your other support structure skills are that you routinely rely on most. Doing so will likely give you more confidence, help you to work to your strengths and, at the very least, help you figure out what you may need to work harder on as you/we all continue to grow and develop as photographers.... because that's something that never ends.  Growing and developing, that is.

The pretty girl at the top is Melanie. She's user-friendly in front of a camera; that is, she knows what she's doing, has a great attitude, takes direction well, is fun to work with, that stuff.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mastering B&W Nudes

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Boy! Do I have a terrific new product to tell you about and you know I don't tout too many products or overstay my blogging welcome with such things.  My good friend in Prague, Dan Hostettler, has just released an awesome new digital training program, "Mastering B&W Nudes."

Dan and I communicate quite frequently so I know he's put a full year of hard work into this most excellent program. And it shows. Boy! Does it show!  But that's only half the good news. The other half is the limited-time discount Dan's offering-- 33% off if you act now or in the next few days or so.

I could go on by telling you lots of good things about this new product and why I think you should purchase it and how it will help you, well, help you master shooting B&W nudes (as the title says), but why don't you take a few moments and have a look at Dan's preview page, then decide for yourself?

To preview Dan's "Mastering B&W Nudes Today," and/or to purchase it at 33% off, click on the link below and enter Dan's world of mastering B&W nude photography... today:  


Be sure to view the video at the top of the preview page!!!

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Live! From Prague!

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My friend, Dan Hostettler, an awesome pretty girl shooter based in the City of Prague (in the Czech Republic) recently produced a live streaming event and, by all accounts, including mine, it was a smashing success!

Dan's live-streaming event wasn't about simply placing a few consumer webcams in a studio. Nope. Not for Dan. Instead, he produced a full-blown video production with a professional crew using state-of-the-art gear. I was VERY impressed, not only with the production itself and the wealth of shooting technique Dan provided, but with the 'sold-out' number of viewers, world-wide, who watched, listened, and got interactively involved. (Dan limited his live 'pay-per-view' ticket sales to 500 viewers.) And Dan's model for the event?  Well, to say I would love to shoot a nude/glamour model of Ms. Melisa Mandini's beauty, allure, and skill would be an understatement. (And I'm a guy who has shot hundreds and hundreds of nude/glam models -- well over a thousand of them -- over the past couple of decades.)

Live streaming has become a big business and it's not all about streaming smut. (Although the "smut" end of the live-streaming biz is generating millions of dollars monthly.) Live streaming has many possible uses; education being one of them, including nude and glamour shooting education. Indeed, photography education of all kinds is ripe for streaming. (Think 'Creative Live') Streaming potential continues to grow, develop, and mature as modern technologies offer low-cost (compared to broadcast television) capabilities, making it possible for just about anyone to take advantage of. 

Dan's live event was so well-received (i.e., such a success) that he's planning at least two more for 2016.  In fact, Dan and I are discussing the possibility of yours truly traveling to Prague next summer and participating in his third live event. I lived in England for three years when I was in my twenties so I've already been to Europe in my life, but not to that part of Europe. I'm positively stoked about the potential for joining Dan for one of his future live events.

So hey! Don't take my word for the level of webcast quality Dan produced for his live-streaming event, check out the short video he edited together from the event (and more) by CLICKING HERE. (Caution: It's NSFW.)

The pretty girl at the top is Ashlynn. I snapped it a few weeks ago. I have an ongoing gig on Wednesday evenings to shoot a couple of models, each week, for an adult internet streaming company. (There's that "smut" thing I mentioned.)  It's an easy gig. I'm in-and-out quickly. I use their (crappy, low-end) lighting gear which is already set-up when I get there. Usually, I get about ten minutes with each model. Works for me! The small studio where it's shot is in Burbank, CA. Burbank is about a twenty or thirty minute drive from my home. I walk in, whip out my camera, shoot, the tech uploads from my card, I get paid and go home. My kind of piece-of-cake gig!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Luck is a Skill

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We hear about lucky shots all the time.  We all know that luck isn't something photographers can count on but, count on it or not, luck sometimes is a factor and it's always nice when we catch a bit of luck in our photography. If only we could count on luck for even more lucky photos, right? But luck doesn't work that way. Luck is fickle. It's unpredictable. Luck smiles on us when it wants to, not when we want it to.

Shooters who regularly take the spray-n-pray approach to their photography are counting on luck to various extents. After all, if they shoot enough pictures, a few of them are bound to be good. Maybe one or two are better than good. But who gets most of the credit for those truly cool snaps out of 300? 400? Perhaps even more?  Sure, the photographer deserves some of that credit. Maybe a big share of it. (Or maybe not.) But luck and odds snag some of that credit as well. Sometimes, luck and odds deserve most of the credit for those great shots.

Some photographers seem to catch lucky shots more often than others and they don't do it by spraying-and-praying. They don't count on the odds. So how or why  does luck seem to smile more often on some photographers and not others?

It mostly happens because those "lucky" photographers are prepared for luck to smile on them. They're ready for it. They know it when they see it. They open the door to luck, they open it wide allowing luck to happily prance into their photographic lives... often and regularly.

Famous golfer, Gary Player, was once asked about luck in terms of his game. Here's what Player said, and it's as appropriate an observation for photographers as it is for golfers:  "The more I practice, the luckier I get."

"The more I practice, the luckier I get."

Sounds so simple, right? Perhaps too simple? "The more I practice, the luckier I get." What's simpler than that? You know, than practiceing? It's a whole lot simpler than regularly buying new gear and going through new learning curves just to get yourself proficiently up-and-running with that new gear in hopes of capturing better photos.   It's simpler than spending hour after hour reading books and viewing tutorials and utilizing other learning methods to improve your photography. I'm certainly not saying learning new things won't help your photography. It sure as hell will. But learn all you want, all that learning won't amount to much if you don't practice what you've learned. And practice it a lot.

Ockham's Razor tells us that the best solutions and answers to many things are usually the simplest and least complex of the solutions and answers that come to us. I'm pretty sure Gary Player's take on luck, "The more I practice, the luckier I get," qualifies for an Ockie. He get's my vote for one! (An Ockie, BTW, is what I call my imaginary Ockham's Razor Award. I try to award myself Ockies whenever I can. I look for opportunities to earn Ockies.) After all, practice is one of the simplest ways and most assured ways to improve your photography. It's not complex. You just... well, you just do it.

So there you have it. Luck isn't just about "luck."  Luck is also a skill. A skill you practice and prepare yourself to receive and to spot when it smacks you in the head.  Bottom line-- the more you practice something, the better you become at it or, looking at that from another angle (and as famed golfer Gary Player discovered and shared with us) the luckier you'll get!

So get out there and practice!  Practice often. Practice a lot. Practice, practice, practice! And get ready to get lucky!

The model in my lucky shot at the top is Faye. I used two lights: 1) a strobe modified with a shoot-through umbrella in front of her, camera right, and 2) another strobe, bare bulb, on the floor directly behind her and pointed up.  Simple monochrome conversion with PS3's B&W tool. Snapped it with a Canon 5D1 (M mode) and a Canon 70-200 f/4 L at ISO 200, f/6.3, 1/100th.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Standing Out

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Since I've become semi-retired, my mind, leastwise in terms of my photography, has been focused on finding or discovering ways to stand out as a photographer. (Doesn't everyone do that?) Actually, "focused" might be too weak a word to describe my condition in this regard, so I'll make that "obsessed."

Obviously, standing out (to varying extents) is generally a bit easier when one regularly has (or has had) as many beautiful and sexy glamour, tease, and nude models in front of their cameras as I have. Duh, right?

Now, if I want to stand out, I'm going to have to do it in other ways. Having a stand-out photographic style doesn't just happen. It takes thought, premeditated thought. And experimenting! And practice! And a bunch more! In the future,  instead of my style relying mostly on who/what I have in front of my camera, and how I direct them and so forth, standing out is going to rely on much more. than who/what is in front of my camera. It's gong to rely more heavily on how I capture the who and the what (the non-model who/what) and how I might treat the photos after snapping them. (Treat them in post, that is.) Again, duh.

I've never been much of a post-production guy. My clients all have art departments or they employ re-touchers and graphic artists to perform the post on my work and other shooters' work. That's been fine with me. And easier. Besides, I've never had a great interest in developing my post skills to the levels of those sorts of people. I probably could become pretty good at processing pics if I really wanted to and was willing to invest the time and resources... but I'm a shooter, dammit, not a photo processor! I admire some of the work of other photographers who excel at that stuff but I'm still not particularly interested in learning and practicing more than I need to learn and practice doing. The quality and stand-out-ish-ness of my current and future photography (assuming I manage to stand out) will rely, mostly, on what I do in production, not post-production. Again, I'm a shooter first and that other stuff second.

To that end, I've considered and explored a number of ways to accomplish standing out, be it with the help of certain kinds of production gear or via shooting stuff I've not shot much before, e.g., of an editorial-ish nature. (And no, I'm not going to rely on gear to stand out. That's folly.)

Like most photographers, I have preferences for what I most enjoy shooting and what I most enjoy shooting involves people in front of my camera, not necessarily models. I should also note that my quest to stand out has little or nothing to do with earning money with my photography. It's fun making a living with cameras in one's hands, especially with pretty models in front of you, and I've done that for more than a couple of decades, but money isn't driving me now; art is.  If my future photo-art generates some money, that's cool. If not, no biggie. I could mostly care less.

One of the "gear-centric" ways I've messed around with for my attempts to stand out has been via glass, you know, those lensy things on the front of our cameras.  I've played with using plastic Holga and Diana optics plus a couple of LensBaby lenses. None of them have resonated with me in big-big ways, although I do like using them. I've also used some specialty filters (like Tiffen's ProMist filters) and still plan to use them, as well as some others, e.g., FLD, ND, and more. But again, while I like the results I haven't suddenly been moved to make those filters part of my possible future calling-card style, stand-out or not. I would love to try using a tilt-shift lens to this end but, so far, I haven't been able to convince myself to lay-out the dough for a good T/S.  They ain't cheap!

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My newest eBay acquisition -- it should arrive in the mail in a few days or so -- is a Cyclop 85mm f/1.5. It's not a lens intended for photography but, well... here's how someone on a manual focus lens forum described it:  "Cyclop-- The One-Eyed Monster! It's called a Cyclop and is an f/1.5 (only! no aperture control) 85mm lens modified for use by the Russian military for a night-vision device and renamed the Cyclop H3T-1. It weighs a ton, is carved out of a former Soviet tank, has no diaphragm, and produces absolutely insane results! The good news is that it's a native M42 mount lens and practically indestructible."

I'm told mastering shooting with the Cyclop is no easy task, but that makes it that much more intriguing for me.  Yeah, it's focus is so shallow that manually focusing will be a challenge but, to obtain the sorts of results I'm looking for will not only require precise manual focusing, but choosing quite specific shooting environments, especially in terms of time of day, lighting conditions, specific sorts of backgrounds, as well as optimum distances between camera-to-subject and also subject-to-background. (Yeah, I've been doing a lot of reading about this Cyclop beast.) When all that stuff falls properly in line, the results can be insanely awesome, at least to my eye. What makes it insanely awesome? The unique and special bokeh this lens can produce. along with the very shallow DOF. It's not your run-of-the-mill bokeh, BTW. It's almost other-worldly. It's bokehlisious bokeh. And a unique bokehliscious bokeh at that!  Anyway, I'm stoked. I'll post some pics when I have some I think are half-way decent. 

The woman in black in the photo at the top is a friend of mine. (I've probably posted that pic before, a while back that is.) I snapped it using a Canon nifty-fifty on my 5D classic with a Tiffen ProMist filter screwed onto the lens. All natural light  I might have been tempted to add flash or a reflector but we were shooting in a county park, Vasquez Rocks, and the park ranger told me that the moment I pull out any lighting gear she was going to consider it a commercial shoot and require me to have a shooting permit. (Which, of course, I did not have.)  She then parked her Park Ranger's SUV nearby and sat there and watched me shoot. Freakin' bi... never mind. I'll refrain from name-calling.