Sunday, July 05, 2015

Pretty Picture Syndrome / Meaningful Picture Syndrome

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Oh boy. I'm thinking about this art stuff again. This time, contemplating the tech of photography and how it coexists with the art of photography.

In my mind, there are two, overall and general, types of photographers: Those who place most of their emphasis on the technical side of photography and those who place greater emphasis on photography's artistic possibilities. Here's how I define the two:

1. Tech-driven shooters, for the most part, strive to give exceptional and memorable form to outer realities via gear and technique. I call that "Pretty Picture Syndrome." (PPS)

2. Artistically-minded shooters strive to give exceptional and memorable form to inner realities. Often, but not always of course, without calling on high-end gear and techniques to do so.  I call this one "Meaningful Picture Syndrome." (MPS)

(Note: I'm not using the word, "syndrome," to infer some sort of mental case disease or condition as components of those definitions. Course, if the crazy shoes fit then, by all means, go ahead and wear them. You won't be alone.)

Some photographers, of course, can combine PPS and MPS in terrific ways. Those photographers are are in less abundance in today's world abundantly filled with photographers.  They've always been rarer, if truth be known.

Neither types of shooters (nor their approaches to photography) are inherently right or wrong. (Or represent a mental disorder, as mentioned.) They're simply different. Both types of photographers can and do create art, intentionally or otherwise.  Leastwise, photos that viewers might perceive as art. (But what do they know?) The big difference between the two is mostly where and how each searches for image possibilities, i.e., where and what to point their cameras at, coupled with how they will record/capture what their cameras are pointed at.

Photographers aren't exclusively of one type or the other. Photography is equal parts science and art, after all -- the science of photography representing the yin to the art of photography's yang --  but I do believe many photographers, perhaps most, choose, whether consciously or not, to place greater emphasis on one of those yin/yang elements over the other.

These days, as many camera and gear manufacturers and sellers are happy to report, it appears the majority of photographers have more interests in producing memorable work via the science and tech of photography (making pretty pictures via gear and technique) rather than focusing on photography's artistic possibilities, i.e., making meaningful pictures with or without the added help of higher-end creative tools and processes. Again, nothing necessarily wrong with either approach or their results. They both can and often do produce awesome photos.

There are, of course, external influences which might mitigate a photographer's abilities to lean one way or the other. Often, those external influences are called customers or clients. A wedding photographer, for example, probably won't win much favor with his or her customers/clients if every wedding shot they capture looks a bit like abstract art.  A few shots of that sort might put smiles on the faces of those customers but probably not so if all the wedding shots are snapped that way  producing those sorts of results.

I think it might be not be a bad idea for photographers to do a bit of self-assessing regarding this notion of PPS and MPS. I've tried doing that for me by evaluating my own photography from these two perspectives. I've come to the conclusion, non-scientifically of course, that I'm somewhere around 70% a PPS shooter and 30% and MPS guy.  I've also come to the conclusion that those numbers don't represent an optimum ratio for myself or anyone else. 

It seems to me the ideal ratio -- much the way photography itself is 50/50 science and art -- is a 50/50 emphasis on both tech and art. In other words, whatever you might be photographing deserves fairly equal treatment in terms of your technical approach-- choice of camera, lens, exposure, and more, coupled with your nods to art and aesthetics, meaning and emotion and that stuff-- e.g., composition, shooting angles, (again) exposure, emphasis and non-emphasis on selective elements within the frame, and more. That's not to say a mostly technical shooter's work is void of aesthetics and meaning but, generally, one quick glance at almost any photo will tell you which emphasis (gear and technique versus meaning and emotion) was most important to the photographer who snapped it. 

The pretty girl in the side-by-side same-frame images at the top is Sunny. I don't often apply composite elements to my photos mostly because I suck at it, not having much in the way of skills in doing so. But, the background at the studio where I snapped the image seemed to beg for a bit of something extra-- something a touch more artsy and, perhaps, aesthetically pleasing, while possssibly generating slightly more emotional content... not that Sunny's form, her outer reality that is,  isn't aesthetically pleasing all on its own if you get my drift. 



Monday, June 29, 2015

You Don't Need to be Creative to Make Art

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I see plenty of photographic images which, in my mind, qualify as being "art" but aren't especially creative. (If they're creative at all.)  In fact, there seems to be two kinds of artists and art: creative artists/art and not particularly creative artists/art.  Neither is more or less qualified as "artists" or "art" than the other. They're just... different. Different kinds of art, that is.

I should mention there's a difference, in my mind, between "creative art" and the "creative process."  Artists who make art with photographs often make art that isn't particularly creative, per se, although they use creative tools and creative processes to make their not-particularly-creative-art into, well, art.  But just because someone uses creative tools and processes to make art, it doesn't automatically follow that the art they're making represents creative art. It might still be art, of course, just not creative art. In other words, all art isn't a product of creativity. All art might be products of creative processes but creativity? I don't think so.

Art that is truly creative is less seen, different, or unique art. Art that is not less seen, different, or unique, however, can still be art. Good art. Great art. Inspiring art! It just isn't particularly creative art. Not really.

Truly creative art represents a much smaller percentage of all that is art, whether it's good art or something else. How many truly artsy photos of, for example, sunsets have you seen?  Were any of them art? I'll bet more than a few of them qualified as art in your mind and many people's minds, more so when the image is blown up, printed, framed, and hung on a wall. The fact that we've all seen plenty of sunset art means that sunset art, as a rule, isn't particularly creative; you know, it isn't less seen, different, or unique. In fact, it can border on common and being down-right pedestrian yet it's still art. Go figure, right?

Picasso was a creative artist. His art was definitely less seen, different, and unique. Dali's art was the same way-- different and unique. Yet Rembrandt's art wasn't particularly less seen, different, and unique but it is still thought of as some of the best art ever produced. Again, go figure.

Art it seems, much like beauty, is in the eyes of its beholders. (After all, everyone's a critic.) And art's beholders don't necessarily consider honest-to-God creativity to be much of a requirement for art to be classified as "art," even great art. That's why some photographers, perhaps many, can make art, real art, that isn't particularly creative. (Good news for many, right?) Although creativity isn't a requirement for great art, great art still needs to exhibit excellent and skillful creative processes employed in its making, at least for the most part. (Which, alas, might be bad news for some.)

Anyway, just some thoughts on art and creativity not being all inclusive or inseparable, except for when it is.

The gratuitous eye candy at the top is Joanna Angel. For me, the photo doesn't represent much in the way of creativity nor do I see it as art, per se. (Unless I consider the Art of the Tease as being legitimate art.) I still snapped the picture, however, utilizing some of the very same creative processes often used for making actual art, creative art or otherwise. Plus, I think I captured it with a certain level of artist-like skill if I do say so myself. Course, that's not really my call to make, everyone being a critic and all.

The pic was shot in a studio called The "Goat House" in North Hollywood, CA. The Goat House was so named because it's located adjacent to a Los Angeles city animal shelter and, out back of the shelter, next to the Goat House's rear parking lot, there are barnyard animals often kept and wandering around. I lit Joanna with three light sources: a 5' Photoflex Octo for my main, just slightly camera-right, and a pair of Chimera medium strip boxes, either side, from slightly behind her off to each side. ISO 100, f/5.6, 125th with an 85mm prime on my Canon 5D (classic.)


Monday, June 22, 2015

Photography of the Gods?

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Mark Twain once wrote, “Faith is believing something you know ain't true."

Faith, of course, is having trust, hopes and beliefs in someone or something. Faith often requires believing in someone or something which may or may not have any real, tangible, or scientific proof to back up those beliefs. Yet, even when faith has little to no corroborating evidence to substantiate its lofty claims, faith remains one of the most powerful human forces on the planet!

Some say you can move mountains with faith. I've yet to see anyone actually do that (except with a whole lot of earth moving equipment and lots of time to do so) but truth, no matter how allegorical or far-fetched, never seems to get in faith's way or in people's abilities and willingness to have faith in things that are, for the most part, impossible or highly improbable.

Remember the children's book, “The Little Engine That Could?” It's all about faith. It's a simple book designed to teach kids the value of  mountain-moving faith, leastwise mountain-climbing faith. In other words, faith in themselves and believing in their abilities and potentials. I 100% endorse teaching kids to believe in themselves and in what they might accomplish.  But that sort of belief goes beyond simple faith.

Mark Twain, as you likely already know, wasn't speaking about photography with his observation about faith – I'm pretty sure he was talking about things like politics and religion – but his words ring true even if you apply them to photography, certainly to photography gear.

These days, perhaps more so than at any time in the history of photography, many photographers seem to have incredibly deep faith in the belief that the best or the priciest or most popular gear, be it the latest cameras, glass, lights, or the newest software, will somehow make them better photographers, automatically yielding better pictures. Personally, I believe that requires a whole lot of faith in tools and machines and, often, at the expense of faith in one's self.

Obviously, there are cameras and lenses and more which help photographers deliver technically superior photographs. But, as famed photographer Andreas Feininger once noted, "Technically perfect photographs can be the world’s most boring pictures."

I'm not saying gear can't be a terrific help in our quests to produce better, make that more technically perfect photos. It certainly can be. (If that's what you're after.) Instead, I'm saying that overly relying on gear and software and expecting those tools to automatically make us better photographers and produce more memorable photographs simply ain't going to happen, I don't care how much faith you have in your gear.

Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer, wrote, “Faith is an oasis in the heart which can never be reached by the caravan of thinking.” It seems to me many photographers have that sort of faith when it comes to new and more technologically advanced gear. If they did not, so many of them wouldn't be lined up like caravans to purchase the latest in cameras, lights, computers and software, and gadgets and gizmos which promise to fulfill some carefully and intentionally marketed faith in said gear.

There are many apostles of gear and they are, of course, the manufacturers and marketing and sales people who hope to sell you all those faith-inspiring cameras and lenses and lights and digital
effects software and more. The apostles of gear often go to extraordinary lengths to foster and promote your faith in the gear they're touting. They do so with varying degrees of actual proof to back their claims, sometimes attempting it with little more than their word for it or the words of paid shills, I mean compensated apostles. You know,  famous or well-known photographers vouching for the products they're paid to tout, providing testimonials, honest or otherwise, to those products' divine powers by showing you photos snapped with the gear they're touting, photos that you or I may never be able to shoot for a variety of reasons which have nothing to do with the gear those apostles were using.

If photography had its own bible, it would include the Books of Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, and more. And like the actual bible, it would hope to convince you that the path to photo heaven lies in embracing, revering, believing-in and worshiping their divine products. "Put no camera before me." ~Canon or Nikon apostle. They, the apostles, would each tell you they are revealing “the truth,” even though that truth, according to each book, is comprised of worshiping and having faith in a different manufacturer or product. That truth, of course, is according to themselves and presented in ways that sets their words, and the use of their gear, as gospel.

Unfortunately for most photographers -- and fortunately for most manufacturers of photo products --   faith in gear isn't all that hard of a sell. The apostles of gear are well aware the masses of photographers yearn for this sort of faith. So many of the world's photographers, certainly those with less experience, hope their prayers for better and more god-like gear and tools will be answered and,  by embracing those god-like tools, they will be spirited ever closer to photo-heaven, a place where every photographer shoots nothing but awesome pics. The believers seek the light, the metaphorical light, of photo-Nirvana which that light symbolizes per the words of the photo-gear apostles and the gear they evangelize.

All this gear-evangelizing is likely the reason so many believers, i.e., so many of the faithful, continue to make offerings to the photo-gods by purchasing the many products the photo-gods send from photo-heaven. Many mere mortal photographers, certainly those amongst the faithful, tend to worship those products as gifts from the photo-gods' bounties. The faithful often come to believe that they, being the worthiest of aspiring photographers, have been personally chosen and invited to sit and partake of the photo-gods' bountiful tables.

Far be it for me to commit heresy and blaspheme or question the wisdom of the photo-gods and their apostles of faith-in-gear, but it seems to me the one true god of photography abides, if it abides at all, within you and not in your gear.

Temet Nosce.

That's Latin for "Know Thyself." I invoke the language of my ancestors, me being of Italian heritage and all, because I firmly believe that in ourselves, not our gear, our best work resides.

Speaking of gods, the pretty girl at the top, Ms. Tera Patrick, is a model who has been dubbed the Goddess of Glam by photographers and others... photographers and others other than myself, that is. But I totally agree with the moniker. If you're a glamour photographer, you'll have a hard time finding a glamour model who better fits that holy handle. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Clicking (with) Your Subjects

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It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter. ~Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Beyond the technical and creative stuff, one of the surest ways of snapping great images of your subjects, whether they're models or most anyone else, is to work as hard (or harder) at clicking with them as you work at all the other stuff prior to and while you're clicking the shutter. The other stuff is important, for sure, but it often takes a rear seat to things like trust, rapport, and the interactions you engage in with your models.

Clicking with the people in front of your camera often trumps lighting, exposure, decisive moments, location, wardrobe, composition and more. Certainly, it's nearly always of equal importance.

While all the technical and creative concerns remain very important, and I'm definitely not saying they should be neglected, clicking with your subjects and working to create trust, i.e., trust in you as well as in your skills and abilities, should  be a paramount part of your job as a glamour photographer or portrait shooter of most any kind. Working hard at that trust thing almost always yields better photos

Can you click a great photo without clicking with the model? Sure. Is it as likely to happen as when you and the model are clicking? Probably not. Are you always counting on luck or a model's abilities to make your photos terrific?  Good luck with that.

Richard Avedon -- you may have heard of him -- once said, "A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows they're being photographed."

Well duh!

But while that seems, on the surface, an overly simple and obvious observation, it remains a very revealing observation. Or, it should be if you're a glamour or portrait shooter of most any kind. And guess whose job it is to help those in front of the camera forget, to the extent they're able, that they're being photographed? That would be you, of course: The photographer.

How do models forget they're having their pictures snapped?

There's no single, clear-cut way of doing that but it begins with (and relies heavily upon) trusting you, the photographer. It's also a matter of them getting into a role or character, or arriving at that place where letting their guards down is rather simple. As you might already be aware,  models letting their guards down usually involves a level of trust and confidence in the person photographing them.

It takes a fair amount of trust for many people to let down their guards in a photo session, even when they're experienced models. Doing so requires them to momentarily forget their insecurities; perhaps even forgetting they're being photographed and, instead, getting into a "flow" while in front of a camera. Generally, it's in that flow, that groove, that place where they momentarily develop amnesia about what they're doing at the moment -- being photographed, that is -- while disregarding who they normally are and losing their inhibitions. In other words, becoming less aware they're being photographed. Helping models get to that place isn't 100% on you as the photographer, but a big chunk of it is.

Yep. As  famed photographer Alfred Eisenstaed once said: "It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.”

You can take that simple-yet-valuable advice to the bank.

The pretty girl at the top is Alexa Lynn, snapped at a studio. Three lights: 5' Photoflex Octo in front, nearly on axis but slightly camera-right,  plus a couple of strip boxes, either side, from slightly behind. So simple even a caveman could do it. (I've been accused of being Neanderthal-ish on a few occasions.)

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Model Photography: Work and Play

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When it comes to shooting models, many photographers (I'm guessing) harbor dreams of being paid to shoot models. Regularly paid. Nowhere is that more evident than on social media where many, many, many images of models can be regularly seen; the majority of which (I'm further guessing) snapped by hobbyists.

Many of those hobbyist-snapped model photos are as good, or better, than the photos shot by those who shoot models for a living and/or who offer training and education in shooting models, myself included. (In case anyone thinks I'm inferring a personal exemption for myself regarding this.)

In my case, I've spent a lot of years shooting models for a living. Mostly "adult" models but professional models nonetheless. In more recent years, I've also made some forays into photography education with my eBooks, not all of which are about shooting models. I keep threatening to take that aspect of my photography life, the photography education part, to another level with workshops and such but, so far, I haven't found the necessary motivation, determination, or whatever it takes to pull the lever on that. I'm pretty sure I'd do okay with it. Perhaps better than okay. But still, so far at least, I've been all talk and no real action on that front.

One thing I've discovered: All those years of shooting models for paychecks has meant I have little-to-no interest in shooting models for fun, for play, for however you want to describe shooting models without being paid; especially, in my case, glam, tease, and nude models. (Not that shooting models can't be fun and entertaining, complete with its own set of ego rewards.)  Human nature I suppose. If I had spent twenty years working in a candy factory (which some might say I have, metaphorically) I probably wouldn't be overly interested in buying and eating candy. (Wait! Don't read too much into that last statement.)

None of that means I don't understand the allure of shooting beautiful, sensual, hot, sexy models. Especially, in the minds of many male photographers. Again, it's a human nature thing. But my human nature driving this sort of endeavor has been satisfied many times over. Over-satisfied I might say. In other words, I see it as work, not play. And if/when I go to work, I'm going to get paid or I'm not going. That's not for all my photography pursuits but for pretty girl shooting? It is.

There's more than a few photographers -- you see them pimping their stuff on social media all the time -- who are plying the "learn to shoot models" trade in big ways. They are, by and large, pretty good shooters. Some of them, of course, are more than a little bit self-aggrandizing when pimping their stuff, i.e., they regularly exaggerate their own importance, skills, talent, and/or reputation. But that might be human nature too. Course, when someone's constantly-repeated branding line is along the lines of the best (or finest) in artistic portraiture, it either reveals a high level of being full of one's self, an obvious lack of awareness of the overall, wide, wide, world of artistic portraiture, or probably both. 

But hey! Different strokes and all that. If tooting their horns to a near-deafening level is what floats their boats, who am I to find fault with that? Besides, the world of photography is big enough to accommodate more than a few self-aggrandizing, overly-full-of-themselves, incredibly-egotistical photographers. And please trust me when I tell you-- there are quite a few of them out there. I've personally met more than my share of them.

All that aside, I hope many of you who shoot models, that is those of you who do so for fun, play, and entertainment, keep doing so. Many of you are true inspirations to many of us. Likely, even more so to those photographers who are significantly behind you on the learning curve. In fact, many of you are probably bigger inspirations to those people just starting out than those who shoot this stuff for a living or who teach others how to shoot models.  

I'm often amazed at the level of production value some hobbyists apply to their artistic model photos. I'm not simply talking about post-production -- although that too but to a lesser extent-- but in terms of the make-up, hair, wardrobe, styling, and so much more. More importantly, the level of imagination and creativity I often see in those pics. Wowzers!  Many of you who are, for the most part, hobbyists -- leastwise when it comes to shooting models -- truly rock! Keep on keepin' on! Shooting models, that is.

The model at the top is Tera Patrick who is no stranger to the covers of magazines like Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, even High Times and many more. 


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The "C" Word

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There are more than 8,000 words in the English language that begin with the letter "C." Not too many more than 8K, but more... and they're all "C" words. All 8,000+ of them.

The specific "C" word I'm writing about today probably isn't the first "C" word that came to your mind when you read my title -- if it were, I'd probably be guilty of shock-blogging -- but it's still one with special significance to photographers even if it's not the most expected word when someone refers to the infamous "C" word.

The "C" word I'm writing about is creativity.

Creativity and other words which are derivative of the word, "create," is a word that is often bandied about amongst photographers, indeed amongst artists of all kinds. Creativity is a noun. It means, "The use of the imagination or of original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work."

Most photographers regularly employ that first part of creativity's definition. You know, the using their imagination part. Very few, however, manage to create something which represents that second part. The "original idea" part. It's not that there aren't lots of photographers capable of having original ideas of some sort. I'm sure there are. The problem is, there aren't many original ideas left, if any, to imagine.

Have you ever done something that you thought was original only to have someone say it's been done? Who hasn't?  (If you haven't, you probably haven't had too many ideas you thought were original.) It seems everything has already been done. Leastwise, when it comes to original ideas and photography. (A quantum physicist might still have an original idea regarding quantum physics stuff, but that's science, not art.)

Saying, "It's been done," is a polite way of telling someone their creative and original idea isn't as original as they thought it was. It might be creative but original? Nope.  You can't blame people for having (what they think are) original ideas that aren't original. No single individual knows (or is cognizant of) everything that's been done, creatively. But if enough people look at something that someone claims as being "original," someone along the way is going to say, "It's been done."  And they'll  most likely be correct. In fact, they're almost assuredly correct. Plus, they'll often point to the proof that it's been done. Hey! It sucks, I know. But that's how this creative stuff rolls.

Are there any original ideas left in the world of photography? I doubt it. There are probably original twists and spins on ideas but twists and spins, while seemingly original, doesn't make the finished work original. Not completely. It's still derivative, albeit with a slightly different twist or spin.

Are there two classes of people when it comes to this creativity stuff?  You know, creative types and non-creative types? Again, I don't think so. At least not in the sense of being born with creativity and born without it. I think everyone is born with the ability to be creative. It's true that some people seem to have easier access to their creative selves. It comes more natural to them if you will. Some even make creativity look uber-easy... while others can't seem to access their creative selves no matter how hard they try. Why that is I don't have a clue. Part of the reason, I suppose, is that some people don't put much value on creativity, leastwise in themselves and, occasionally, regarding others as well. Go figure.

The majority of my work isn't creative to any great degree. It's mostly all derivative with an occasional twist or spin to the derivation. Somewhere along the way, some photographers came up with original and creative ways to shoot glam and tease photos. But since then, everything I see in the pretty girl shooting world has been done. Most of it done to death, including my work. And let me add that saying everything, pretty girl shooting wise, has been done isn't the same as saying it's all done with equal skill. Creative skills and creativity aren't the same two things. One refers to the process while the latter mostly refers to results, i.e., what those results represent. (In this case, creativity.)

I'm not being humble, by the way, when I say my work isn't, for the most part, creative or lacks a great deal of creativity.  The people who pay me to shoot pretty girl pics aren't interested in me being creative or having original ideas when I shoot for them. They want more of the same-- more of the same sort of derivative work that others shoot. They want that work well executed, of course. And they'd like it being better than the work others produce in the genre. They definitely want to see me utilizing plenty of good craft skills in the work I perform for them. But true creativity? Original ideas? Nope. That's why, whenever I shoot pics that, in my opinion, actually are creative (if not original), it's always stuff I shoot on my own dime and my own time. In other words, personal project pics.

The image at the top is, IMO, fairly creative. It's certainly not original -- I'm confident it's been done before -- but creative? I think so. Obviously, it isn't a snap from the thousands of sets of pretty girl pics I've shot for clients. I shot it for me. I shot it for my own creative fulfillment. My reward for shooting it wasn't in the form of a pay check. Instead, I paid myself with a creative reward. What's a creative reward? Well, it's not a tangible thing like, say, cash. It's an emotional thing which, sometimes, makes me feel better than stuffing a few extra bucks in my wallet. That feeling isn't always better than cash, but sometimes it is.