Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Click to Enlarge
Two more weeks till Christmas. That doesn't give me much time to figure out what I'm going to give myself... make that what Santa is going to bring me.

I've got children and grandchildren but they're fairly easy to shop for. For my two kids, both young adults, money works. For my two grand-kids, who are 8 and 10, a quick question-and-answer session always yields more than a few options for potential gifts from Papa. But for myself?  Hmm... There's so many things I might want and, while they're all photography related, I'm still unsure what my Christmas gift to myself might end up being.

I don't need a new or another camera. Glass? I just bought myself a Canon 20mm f/2.8 prime about a month or so ago.  My main camera bag, while continually getting more and more beat-up looking, is still functional and holds what I need it to hold. Plus, I have three or four smaller camera bags for those times when I'm traveling light or lighter, gear wise. I have a pretty decent tripod, two monopods, and a pair of different heads. I have plenty enough lighting and grip for just about anything I might shoot. Modifiers? I'm flush with them. That leaves accessories.

I plan to do some photo road tripping in 2015. Not merely some, but a fair amount of it if all goes according to plan. No, I'm not taking to the highways and byways to shoot pretty models. My plans are to embark on a journey of discovery shooting landscapes and seascapes and, hopefully, shooting many of them in ways less seen; not in ways previously unseen -- there's nothing new in terms of techniques and approaches to to just about any photo genre -- but in less seen ways. And, in ways that only need to satisfy me, not some client. I've spent nearly two decades shooting pretty girls for others and that's always meant being somewhat inhibited in terms of many things. Clients want me to shoot what they want me to shoot and, generally, in ways they want me to shoot... not in ways I might want to shoot. I guess that's the price one pays for someone else paying a price to have you shoot for them.

The stuff I want to shoot will be all new for me as, for all intents and purposes, I've never shot, or even tried to shoot, a serious landscape or seascape in my life. I've been more of a bodyscape kinda guy.  I've been spending a lot of time recently reading, learning, watching videos and all that to prepare myself for my outings. I don't want to go out there and learn by trial-and-error. Sure, there will be plenty of that even after immersing myself in learning media but I won't be clueless. I might not be abundantly knowledgeable when I get out there but being clueless just ain't my style.

I'll likely also document my journeys, to some extent, in ways other than the finished photos. What I'll do later on with that documentation -- whether it's written, behind-the-scenes photo, video, whatever -- I haven't yet a clue. Well, maybe I have a clue or two but nothing in concrete. I did, however, begin shooting behind-the-scenes photos of my lighting setups before it even occurred to me to begin writing a blog. So, some documentation might later come in handy for something or another.

Back to a possible Christmas gift for myself. The more I think about it, the more I think I'm thinking accessories.  But then, I already have a bunch of accessories: I have ND filters, including an ND 3.0 (that's -10 stops.) I have two, maybe three circular polarizers.  I have ProMist filters, an FL-W filter (for shooting during the Blue Hour) and some other filters as well. I have two remote shutter gadgets. I have all the editing software I need. Hmm... Nothing comes to mind. You know what? Maybe I don't need anything? Maybe I should just save my money for some of the road trips I plan on taking? Yeah. That's it! That might be the best, makes-most-sense Christmas present I can give myself... or not give myself, depending on how you look at it.

I don't recall the name of the pretty girl at the top. I snapped it just prior to last Christmas while working a gig for a client. (Or was it the Christmas before last? Sheesh! Keeping track of time becomes more and more difficult the older I get. I could look at the date on the photo's data but I'm too lazy to do so at the moment.)

Anyway, it wasn't a Christmas-themed shoot. She was one of three models I shot that evening and she happened to have that outfit with her. Being it was about a week before Christmas -- at least I remember that much -- I asked her to put it on. I only snapped a couple of dozen pics or so of her in it. As you can see, it's one of those outfits (two pieces plus the gloves) that goes-on and comes-off fairly quickly and easily. Unfortunately, we ran out of time while I was shooting her in it so there wasn't time for it to come off, as quickly and easily it coming off might have been.  Oh well. Sometimes, time is the enemy.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Shooting on Sticks

Click to Enlarge
Do you shoot on sticks? If you're not sure what I'm asking, "sticks" refers to a tripod. It's a word often heard in film-making but possibly to a lesser degree amongst still photographers. No matter. Using the word "sticks" to refer to a tripod has been around for a very long time.

Lately, I've been shooting on sticks more often than I have in the past. One reason is because my current favorite lens for shooting many types of people portraits, whether it's glamour or something else, is my Canon 70-200 f/4 L non-IS. I've gotten rid of my other zoom lenses and the 70-200 is the only zoom I now own. Yep. These days I'm exclusively a prime lens guy, except for my 70-200.  Why's that? Well, there are a number of reasons, personal choice reasons, and perhaps I'll write about those reasons in a later blog update.

Being a non-IS version of Canon's 70-200 line-up is why I almost always use sticks when I'm shooting with it. If and when I don't, I'm likely going to have to toss out a fair number of captures because they're going to be ever-so-slightly soft around the eyes, where I nearly always focus. Soft focus on the eyes is not the sort of thing I want for most of the people portraits I shoot. I'll bet you don't either.  Sure, I do things like shoot at higher shutter speeds to reduce the likelihood of soft-around-the-eyes pics. I also try my best to hold my camera steady, real steady, when using it. Even then, I end up with more than a few photos that aren't usable.

I should also note that, except for its proclivity for slightly-soft-focus when I'm hand-holding the camera when using it, especially when it's zoomed in and I'm shooting wide open (which I mostly always am when using it) I love the lens!  Unlike it's IS version siblings, especially the f/2.8 IS, it's not a heavy lens.  In fact, it's not heavy at all. I've shot with the 70-200 f2.8 IS L, not with the camera on sticks, and boy did it wear out my arms! So, to make sure my focus is nearly always nailed-down when shooting with this particular non-IS lens, I generally, almost always in fact, put my camera on sticks (or sometimes a mono-pod) when I'm shooting with it.

One of the things I've noticed about shooting on sticks is it slows me down, that is, it slows me down in good ways. When I'm working with my camera on sticks, I notice I'm a bit more, I don't know, methodical and deliberate. I tend to pay better attention to things like framing and composition. For some reason, it makes me more thoughtful while shooting. I don't feel like I'm shooting from the hip like some trick-shot gunslinger. Those are all good things that often yield more and better "get it right in the camera" results.  Shooting on sticks also helps me resist the urge to over-shoot. I generally end up with less snaps from a set, but a higher number good snaps, i.e., keepers. Fewer images also generally aids in editing -- fewer frames to go through -- so, there's a post-production-efficiency gain when shooting on sticks, leastwise that's been my experience when doing so.

Certain genres require shooting on sticks. Long exposure and many types of land/sea/cityscape photography come immediately to mind. And, of course, there are genres, like street and event photography, where shooting on sticks isn't practical. 

Because of the positive things I tend to gain from shooting on sticks, I'm now using them more often than before and with other lenses-- lenses that are much more reliable than my 70-200 non-IS in terms of focus even when shooting at slower shutter speeds and with those lenses wide open or nearly wide open.  Why? Again, for many of the reasons I've already noted. Especially, the part where doing so slows me down and forces me to shoot a bit more methodically, deliberately, and thoughtfully.  And please don't confuse methodical and deliberate with being somewhat anal retentive and overly intent on the the tech stuff at the expense of the creative stuff. If anything, shooting slower and more methodically and deliberately seems to stimulate even more creativity in my brain. Go figure.

By the way,  I'm not saying everyone should suddenly start shooting everything on sticks. I'm not doing so either.  I'm simply suggesting you might want to give it a try if you're not somewhat regularly or semi-regularly using a tripod or a mono-pod. Who knows? You might see an improvement in some of your work. What do you have to lose by trying it out? A small amount of time? That's a small price to pay for, potentially, better pictures assuming better pictures result.

The pretty girl at the top is Paris. The lighting is somewhat different from the lighting I often employ for many of my pretty girl shoots. That's because the particular client I was shooting for was okay with me -- in fact he encouraged me -- to go a bit outside of the standard glam-and-tease box (lighting-wise) that many, if not most of my clients prefer to me to shoot within. I used four lights for the image: 1) a Mola  33.5" "Euro" beauty dish for my main, set camera left and kept in close but also set low and angled up; 2) a small soft box boomed overhead and from behind for a top-of-her-head hair light; 3) a medium-sized strip box, camera right and from behind; 4) another medium-sized strip box, camera left, set a bit higher than the strip on the right and also from behind. I didn't shoot Paris with my camera on sticks.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Some Things Ain't the Way They Used to Be

Click to Enlarge
Before I say what I have to say today, an FYI on something free to download. It's the TLS Digest. What's a TLS Digest? Well, the TLS FB page, (aka The Light Side) is a terrific photographer's forum-style page on FaceBook. It's mostly comprised of British photographers but I don't hold that against them. The guys who administrate TLS decided to transform some of the really good threads there into a periodic digest and make it available to, well, to everyone. Check it out!  You can download the first TLS Digest, a free PDF, by CLICKING HERE.  Also, if you're a Facebook user and you think you might want to join TLS, here's the link to the page. It's a closed group with more than a few very accomplished (and helpful) photographers participating, as well as plenty of shooters who are there to share and/or to learn. As it's name suggests, The Light Side is mostly focused on all things lighting... without taking itself too seriously.

Anway, here's today's post...

The world of professional photography has dramatically changed in recent years. Duh, right? These days, mostly because of new technologies, many more people are interested in photography then ever before. Not only that but many of those who have more recently found interests in photography can produce images that are quite good. Often enough, awesomely good!  I'm often blown away by the quality of photographs I see coming from hobbyists.

Not only are many of those newer-to-photography folks able to produce great images, but many of them have (or are trying to) turn their passions and skills in photography into something that generates personal income.  Nothing inherently wrong with that. But here's the deal...

These days, becoming a working photographer -- you know, one who gets paid to shoot -- has so much less to do with their photography, i.e., their skills, talent, and the pictures in their portfolios, and so much more to do with their abilities to market and brand themselves that the photography itself seems to have become a less important trait or factor in their abilities to become working photographers.

Do you know or know of any photographers whose work, in your opinion, isn't so great and yet they seem to have work, paid work, and clients or customers coming out their ears?  Guess why that is. Yep. Marketing and branding.

None of that is to say you shouldn't work hard at becoming a good photographer. But if you're doing so at the expense of also learning to become a good or great self-marketer, well, odds are no one is going to notice how terrific your images are, leastwise in terms of seeking you out so they can start giving you tons of work. It just doesn't work that way. In fact, I'm not really sure it ever worked that way.

I do know that ten, fifteen, twenty or more years ago being able to produce work that truly stood out counted for more than it does these days.  Whether that's a good thing or not depends on who you are.  If you're a shooter who routinely produces average, pedestrian work, but are really good at marketing and branding, it's likely a good thing. If you're a photographer who regularly produces terrific, even awesome photos but you kind of suck at marketing and branding, it's probably not such a good thing.

I'm mostly writing about this stuff today because my email's "in box" has been cramped full of Black Friday offers for deals on gear, software, instructional programming and more, but I haven't seen anything offered that deals with helping photographers become better self-marketers.  That's not to say those products aren't available. They are. But I guess they're not sexy or popular enough to waste a Black Friday on.

The pretty girl at the top is Jamie. Snapped it on a standing set in a loft studio in down-town LA. Used a 5' Photoflex Octo for my main, plus a medium strip box behind her and to camera left for some subtle edge lighting.  Converted to B&W with Photoshop's simple tool for doing such things. Plus, I added few other digital ingredients to it. If you read this blog somewhat regularly, you know I'm partial to converting images to B&W in various ways.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Beyond Mundane

Click to Enlarge
I was reading an article about portfolio websites today while eating lunch. The article was published in a well-known photography magazine. Yeah. I'm old school. I still read magazines and periodicals of the non-cyber kind. I even read the occasional book, i.e., a printed-on-paper book.

Mostly, I read magazines about photography or I read one of two other, non-photography rags: Archaeology and Smithsonian. Occasionally, I'll read Vanity Fair but not too regularly. Also, like today, I mostly read magazines while eating lunch alone at a restaurant. Today's lunch alone was sushi. Yum! Sushi! Who needs lunch company when you have a good magazine and sushi? Not me.

The magazine article I read provided helpful tips on creating visually notable portfolio websites. It also included some words on how to get your website mentioned or showcased in the magazine's future articles on photographer websites. Some of the generic tips about websites included suggestions like not using black backgrounds because white lettering on black backgrounds is hard to read. You know, like the design of this blog page of mine with its black background and white letters.

I don't personally have an online portfolio but I'm often thinking I should have one if for no other reason than my photographer's ego.  Anyway, to get to the point of this update, the two things the rag article's writer mentioned regarding getting one's online portfolio showcased in the printed magazine are: 1) A great design and 2) Photos that aren't mundane.  (With extra-special emphasis on #2.)

Just so we're all on the same page with this mundane stuff, let me define the word for you, not that I think you don't know what it means. In the context of portfolio websites, I take the word 'mundane' to mean: Lacking interest or excitement; dull; common; ordinary; banal; unimaginative photographs.

Many of us who are photographers earning all, much, or even small parts of our incomes routinely shoot mundane photos. Mundane photos are most working photographers' bread-n-butter. Mundane photos represent the lion's share of their work. Mine, yours, most shooters' work. How's that, you ask? Because most clients, be they commercial glamour clients or wedding and event customers and beyond want, whether they know it or not -- and they usually don't know it's what they want -- mundane photos.

Don't get me wrong, those clients and customers who want mundane photos want terrific mundane photos! Stand-out mundane photos! But in terms of most other aspects of the photos, they want what everyone else wants, only better, that is, better in terms of quality and all that stuff. You see, what most of them don't want are photos unlike those that other photographers provide except in terms of quality. And by quality, I'm not simply talking about good exposure and in focus. They want, for the most part, images that are exceptionally well composed and lit with good emotional content. Hence, they want really good mundane photos. All that's why I sometimes go out and shoot photos for myself. 

When I shoot photos for myself -- I usually refer to doing so as shooting photos "just for fun" -- I try to shoot photos that aren't mundane. Leastwise, photos that are less mundane. Photos that are unlike those I normally shoot for pay. Images that are less-seen and somewhat uncommon. (Even if the genre I'm shooting is, basically, common.) Why? Because I want my personal work to be super expressive and super-expressive isn't as common as many photographers think it might be or claim their photos happen to be.  You see, I want to shoot stuff that's, well, that's different. If I go out and shoot landscapes as an example, I want to shoot them in less-seen ways utilizing less-seen techniques and from less-seen perspectives. It's not about what I might point my camera at -- let's say, for the sake of my example, a pristine lake with majestic mountains in the background -- but it will be about where I point my camera from, where I place it, how I angle it, what filters I might use, how I shoot it, and what I might include along with whatever it is, in the bigger picture sort of way, I'm pointing my camera at... if any of that makes sense.

Click to Enlarge
Here's a pic on the right I shot not long ago just for fun and just for me. It and others I snapped that day may not be ready for prime time in some gallery. It  might not be one I'll choose to include in some future, online, portfolio I may or may not create. And it might not appeal to too many people's discriminating tastes. Whatever. But whatever it is or is not, it expresses something I wanted to express and it's not mundane. Leastwise in my opinion.

Hopefully, in the not too distant future, I'll have a pretty good stockpile of non-mundane images I can choose from to put together an online portfolio; one that has a good design and includes more than a few images that aren't, for the most part, mundane. I might even go for broke and not make the portfolio's background black with white lettering. 

Course, every photo I use likely won't be non-mundane. And then there's the notion that one shooter's super-expressive photo is another shooter's "ho hum" pic. But I'm hoping more than a few of the pics I'm going to shoot will be of the beyond the mundane variety, especially any pic I might use for my portfolio's splash page image plus the first one or two in each individual category or gallery -- within my overall portfolio -- I might create. 

The pretty girl at the top is Alexa. It's not my usual pretty-girl-on-a-seamless that so many of my clients have me shooting. Ergo, it's a bit less mundane than much of my work, owing largely to the environment she's selling her allure in. I lit Alexa with three lights: A 5' Photoflex Octo for my main, set just a bit to my right with the center of the modifier just above the model's eye-level. I also used a medium strip box, camera left from behind, plus a small rectangular soft box boomed overhead from behind Alexa and just slightly camera right. ISO 100, f/5.6, 125th, manual mode on my 5D1 with a Tamron 28-75 at 60mm.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Angle of Attack

Click to Enlarge
I like to refer to a photographer's shooting position, i.e., whether their camera is pointed up, down, or remains mostly level, as their "angle of attack."  It's a term I first learned while working (for more than a decade) in the aerospace industry as a corporate film-maker and photographer.

In aerodynamics, the angle of attack specifies the angle between the line of the wing of a fixed-wing aircraft and a vector representing the relative motion between the aircraft and the atmosphere... if that makes sense.  In photography, in my mind at least, angle of attack represents the angle (relative to, say, a level floor) which indicates an up or down angle between a photographer's camera and the subject of his or her photo. Hopefully, that makes more sense.

Course, most photographers simply call (what I call) their angles of attack their "shooting angles."  But a shooting angle is a bit vague and can be applied to other positions a photographer might be shooting from when shooting anything. You know, like, "I need to get this angle from over here or that angle from over there."  Saying things like that doesn't refer to an actual angle, i.e., an up or down angle relative to level. It refers to virtually anywhere a photographer might be shooting from, not just angles like high angles pointing the camera down or low angles pointing the camera up or even a lack of an angle when keeping one's camera level in the "X Axis" when shooting. (In aerodynamics, the X Axis is referred to as pitch, that is, it refers to a plane's nose pointing up or down or being level. The two other axises are yaw and roll. Aren't I smart? Who knew?)

Okay. Now that I've spent three paragraphs explaining my use of the term, "angle of attack," I'll get to what I'm writing about today: Using low angles of attack for dramatic or psychological impact and giving more "power" to your models.

I received an email from the good folks at Picture Correct the other day, as did about a hundred thousand or more other photographers. It was all about low angle photography tips. If you're not on Picture Correct's email list you might want to go there and sign up. They regularly send out some terrific info. And it isn't just promotions for stuff to buy even if they do promote a few of my ebooks from time to time, as well as those from other photography authors.  Anyway, this particular email got me to thinking I should write an update about shooting models from low or lower angles versus level angles that are, for the most part, snapped from eye level.

There are a couple of reasons why I shoot the majority of my pretty girl pics from lower shooting angles. Make that I shoot with an angle of attack that has me shooting from low rather than eye-level or higher. While I don't often shoot from dramatically low angles of attack -- unless I'm purposely looking to produce a fairly dramatic image -- I am, for the most part, shooting from below. By below I mean I'm generally shooting from belly-button level. That would be the model's belly button, not mine.

Shooting from a belly button angle of attack means my camera is pitched or pointed up, but not overly or too dramatically angled up. It's just enough of an up-angle to give the model a bit of psychological "power." Leastwise, in terms of how viewers perceive the images. In other words, it awards the model a subtle sense of dominance over the viewers. Conversely, if I want to create a sense of subservience or submissiveness, I'll opt to shoot from higher angles with my camera pointed or pitched down.  Yep. Angles of attack can have a lot to do with how viewers perceive images, and not just in terms of whether it's a generally good or not-so-good image.

The other other good thing about me shooting from an approximate belly button height is it means I'm usually shooting with my ass plopped on an apple box. But that's a more personal thing cuz, personally, I can be a bit lazy when shooting.

My laziness aside, a variety of types of people photography -- include many types of portraits -- aren't the only genres where shooting from low angles, often from dramatically low angles, can make your photography more, well, more dramatic. Many landscape photographers, for instance, capture images from quite low angles of attack, sometimes nearly ground level, even though their overall images are big and wide vistas snapped with wide angle lenses. Shooting models from a very low angle of attack with a very wide angle lens can create a sense of distortion -- an uber-wide angle lens combined with a low angle of attack, that is -- which may produce some very cool and memorable images!

The pretty girl at the top is Charmane. I snapped it and a bunch of others of Charmane from my usual sitting-on-an-apple-box angle of attack. Since making eye contact with the camera is oft-seen element of glamour photography, my shooting position forced Charmane to look down on me. (Physically look down on me, not the other kind of looking down on me that some people sometimes engage in.) She's not overtly or too obviously looking down in the image. Rather, she's doing so in a somewhat subtle and natural way. Again, having models look slightly down to various degrees gives them a perceived sense of power and dominance in the photos.  By the way, that doesn't mean I'm a submissive person in other ways, if you get my drift. We're just talking about photography and angles of attack here, not me personally and/or other types of human relationships... other than your usual and customary photographer/model relationships.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Green and Blue for B&W

Click to Enlarge
I've been known to use colored gels on more than a few occasions when shooting pretty girls. Often enough, I've utilized Rosco's Bastard Amber or Straw to warm the skin of more than a few sexy models. The two other gel colors I've often employed are CTB (Color Temperature Blue) and CTG. The latter being -- Yeah. You Guessed it. -- Color Temperature Green.

Green and blue aren't gels used to warm skin. (People aren't Smurfs or green-skinned alien creatures, after all.) But they can be used effectively in glamour and nude photography in a variety of ways. One such way is with images intended for B&W conversion.

How so? Well, since human skin doesn't include blue or green in its skin tones, the green and blue in an image can be easily manipulated without effecting the skin tones. One such manipulation where using green or blue gels can come in handy is when you're converting to B&W.

In the image above from a set I snapped a while back, I was shooting with model Faye in a small apartment against a bare wall. The wall was texture-coated and painted off-white. I used two lights: a main light set camera-right about head-high and modified with a medium-sized, shoot-through umbrella, plus a bare-bulb strobe on the floor behind her, angled almost straight up. I metered my main light for a good exposure but cranked up the back light to create a very hard and obvious edge around her and to back-light the smoke so it would be well portrayed in the image. I also gelled the back light with CTB for some of the captures.

Click to Enlarge
The image on the right is the SOOC (Straight Out of Camera) capture for the photo above. (Re-sized, not cropped, for the web.) The blue-gelled back light has its own "cool value," in my opinion, and also affords me the ability to manipulate it in post -- manipulate it quite a bit, in fact -- when converting to B&W.

Because there's no blue to the model's skin tones (or her scant wardrobe for that matter) I was able to easily adjust the levels of the background in post by simply choosing the color blue as my "key" for such adjustments.  For the image above, I brought the tone of the blue way down, i.e., darkened it quite a bit, in order to further "pop" the model from the background and to add some interesting value to the bare wall. I was also better able to accentuate the texture of the wall working in B&W.

Manipulating the blue for a B&W conversion isn't the only thing I could do with that blue. Since the blue isn't part of the model's skin tone, I could manipulate the blue in various other ways for color versions of the image. I could have done the same thing with a green gel as green isn't present in skin tones either. That's why, of course, when they're producing many special effects for motion pictures, they utilize "green screen" and "blue screen" backgrounds because it allows the film-makers the ability to "key in" other things while not effecting the images of the actors or other subjects, props, foreground sets, etc. that don't contain the colors green or blue, whichever they chose for their background key.

I'm a big proponent of experimenting, not on my clients' dimes but when I'm shooting for myself. You might want to try introducing green or blue gels into you pretty girl shooting or for almost any portrait work that's captured against a seamless, neutral background, especially if you intend to convert those portraits to B&W.  I don't suggest you first try doing so if you're hired to shoot portraits for a client or customer but, once you've gotten comfortable using such gels and techniques, you might want to sometimes work into you productions workflows, including your paid-work workflows.

Model Faye, seen in the images above, is someone I've worked with a fair number of times. I've shot her in "just for fun" pics, as well as commercial glamour, tease, and also some fashion work for an LA clothing designer. As a teen, Faye was an American Apparel model and, combined with her subsequent volume of glam and tease work, it's all helped make her a very experienced model: Easy to shoot with (user friendly, as I sometimes like to say), easy on the eyes, and a model who knows how to very effectively "work" her side of the camera. The image I used for this update was captured with an 85mm prime lens on a Canon 5D1, ISO 100, f/6.3 at 100th.