Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Vox Humana

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Photographers talk a lot about style, you know, personal style. So, what is personal style? Personal style is that part of a photograph which includes the photographer's biases, whether their biases are revealed by lighting styles or techniques, composition, personal commentary, and more. In other words, a photographer's personal style represents that part of their photography in which they have added their own voice. Their human voice. They're (hopefully) thoughtful and intentional voice. It's that thing referred to in Latin as their vox humana. A photographer's voice is not an audible voice, of course, but it can speak quite loudly and quite succinctly.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, vox humana became a popular term among church music aficionados. It referred to a specific reed in pipe organs of the day, one which produced a beautiful, vibrato, almost human-like sound. Later, the term took on another meaning, one used to describe an artist's style, that is, his or her artistic "voice."

Hmm... Latin, church organs, artist's voices, glamour photography?

In the arts, visual arts and otherwise, an artist's style or "voice" is considered a very important element of their work. It identifies them in many ways. That's because it's the one element of their work that sets them apart, to varying degrees, from other artists pursuing the same sorts of endeavors. Photography, like any other art form, can be highly competitive. Beyond a photographer's skill at networking, hustling, and schmoozing for work, i.e., clients, customers, art buyers, etc., a photographer's vox humana goes a long way towards making them, and their work, memorable and, quite possibly, in demand. For some, that is, those pursuing photography as all or part of their income, a resonating vox humana can be quite profitable as well.

In creative writing, for example, a writer's literary style, the way he or she constructs prose, is called his or her "writing voice" even though, again, no actual sounds are generated. (Unless, of course, the work is read aloud and the reader's human voice becomes inspired by the writer's soundless voice.) With creative writing, a personal, identifiable, and somewhat unique vox humana can be a truly awesome thing! (Provided that "voice" resonates in positive ways with readers.) It can not only be satisfying for both writers and readers, it can sell books and more! The same holds true for photographers, even glamour photographers, including that part about resonating... with viewers in photography's case.

Yep, a shooter's style, their "voice," their photographic voice can be an awesome thing. Some photographers truly make their photos sing in beautiful and meaningful ways. Look, I'm not trying to go all metaphorically philosophical on anyone but training and developing your photographic voice, a voice that resonates with viewers, one that produces pictures that sing, is a very positive thing, perhaps the most important thing many photographers can do. Like a singer practices and trains their voice, photographers should do the same... once they find their voice.

How does one develop their photographic vox humana? Certainly not by diction or singing lessons, that's for sure. In fact, I'm not sure it's something most photographers develop purposely and consciously. Instead, their style or voice seems to evolve on its own as the result of cumulative and eclectic, sometimes subconscious, retention by 1) viewing the work of others and 2) incorporating bits and pieces of the work of others in their own work. (Consciously or subconsciously.) 
What eventually emerges is one's own photographic style or voice. It may not always be especially unique and it's usually an amalgamation of other photographer's styles. Most often, it isn't a result of anyone's naturally-bestowed creative abilities. After all, it's that amalgamation of other photographers' styles and approaches which, when assembled together, consciously or subconsciously, becomes an individual shooter's style or voice. The good news is-- No natural endowments required.
 The gratuitous eye candy at the top is Jenna. I snapped it utilizing my usual glamour photography voice, i.e., making obvious use of edge-lighting and shooting from slightly below with an upward angle. That is how, at least in part, I most often talk "glam and tease" with my photographic vox humana. The pic is from a set shot on a small set in a studio. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Leading Lines and Visual Pathways

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Leading lines and visual pathways aren't just for when you're shooting in an environment that provides opportunities for incorporating such things into your photos. Leading lines and visual pathways aren't simply elements of a composition that are apart or separate from your models. Your models' poses can also provide leading lines and visual pathways.

So, what are leading lines and visual pathways?

Leading lines and visual pathways are elements in your composition that lead or direct viewers' eyes to the main subject of your glam (or any) portrait and they generally do so in powerful and aesthetically pleasing ways.  In other words, they either point to, lead, or direct, via pathways, to your subject (or to specific parts of your photo) and/or they improve the allure of your subjects, add visual excitement, and generally bestow a subtle sense of power to your models

Sure, adding allure and power to your subjects can be accomplished in other ways -- separating or "popping" them from the background via shallow depth of field and/or lighting, or with makeup, hair, and styling -- but with the addition of visual pathways and leading lines, viewers' eyes are led to your subjects in even more guaranteed ways. They can also move viewers' eyes around the model and to parts of them you want your viewers' eyes led to... if that makes sense.

Lines, as you're probably aware (or certainly should be aware) are one of the Six Elements of Design.  In photography, lines are the undisputed champs of those six elements. If you're not familiar with the Six Elements of Design, put your learning hat on and get cracking! You're a photographer, dammit, and I assume (like myself and many others) you're hoping to be all you can be as such. Learning the Six Elements of Design and purposely integrating them into your photos will help you become that much better of a shooter.  Guaranteed! (Where to find all you need to know about the Six Elements of Design? Google is your friend.)

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In glamour photography, the "S" curve (illustrated in the sample photo at the top) is probably the most commonly seen use of lines when shooting sexy models. The visual pathway created by a model making an "S" curve with her body adds plenty of allure to her image. Since I shot my model (in the photo above) against a seamless, there were no other lines in the shooting environment to take advantage of. That only left the model herself to create such lines.

In the photo on the right, also shot against a seamless, the model's arms are forming leading lines, diagonal lines, which help lead viewers' eyes (via visual pathways) to her pretty face. BTW, diagonal lines are generally considered the strongest of the strong, line-wise.

There are many elements to a photograph's composition. There are quite a few so-called Rules of Composition.  Those rules, of course, aren't set in stone. But they do provide excellent guidelines for enhancing the artistic look and feel of your images and are easily employed. Again, consider the photo above right. Besides using leading lines formed by the model's pose, I've also framed it in a way that utilized negative space as well as a nod to the Rule of Thirds. All those elements of composition, IMO, serve to enhance the image in positive ways.

Model photography isn't simply about shooting pretty, well-lit, women posing in various ways and in various stages of dress and undress. There are many elements of composition that can easily be utilized to improve your photos.  Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to learn all you can about these elements, in addition to lighting techniques, model interaction, and so much more. And, of course, once learned your job is to practice, practice, practice.

 

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Before Shooting Outside the Box...

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More than a few photographers proudly say they shoot "outside the box." I often wonder if they first made sure they even have an identifiable box before attempting to shoot outside of it. That is, did they spend any time figuring out the confines of *the* box or their box before (supposedly) shooting outside of it or claiming they've done so?

Shooting outside the box is a supremely vague statement. After all, there are boxes and there are boxes, metaphorically and physically speaking. Plus, if you say you're shooting outside the box, are you talking about some overall photography box or your own personal box? I hope it comes as no surprise that those two boxes are not one and the same, metaphorical dimensions wise.

The Overall Photography Box:  First off, I'm not sure such a thing exists -- my gut tells me it does not -- but, assuming it does, it's gotta be one, big, motherfracking box!  After all, photography has been around a long time. During that long time, many millions of people have tried their hands at being photographers of one sort (or at one level) or another. Each of those photographers had their own personal box so, if you consider how many boxes that represents and you could somehow consolidate them (and the gazillions of photos it represents) into one, big, overall box,  it would make a spectacularly huge, spacious, encompassing-an-incredible-amount-of-photography, box!

Your Personal Photography Box:  This is the box that truly matters. It's also the box nearly every photographer is referring to (whether they know it or not) when they say (or think) they're shooting outside the box. Whether it's a relatively small box or quite a large box doesn't matter much. It's their box and their box is what matters, whether they're shooting inside or outside of it, when they refer to the box.

How do you assess the metaphorical dimensions of your box? You know, in more practical and understandable terms than simply referring to it as such? (i.e., a poorly-defined, ambiguous or nebulous box?) That requires taking stock of your photography, your level of skill and experience, your creative abilities, and perhaps even the available tools you have to shoot pictures with in or out of your box. (Shooting outside of some boxes occasionally requires specialized tools. Shooting underwater photography would be way outside of my box, including having the appropriate photographic tools in my photographic tool box to do so.)

Your photography box is like a raw index including, but probably not limited to, your skill and know-how,  your level of experience, your ability to effectively engage in creative processes (internally), what you normally or mostly shoot, and more.

I've shot a ton of pretty girls in various stages of dress and undress. That's my box, for the most part. And I know my way around the inside of my box quite well. My glam-and-tease shooting box is more than familiar to me. I know it's dimensions well, even its little nooks and crannies. But if I start shooting, for instance, landscape photography -- something many, many, many other photographers do and do extremely well -- I'd be shooting outside my box. Wait. What? Landscape photography? That doesn't sound like shooting outside the box. Well, it is and it isn't. It certainly doesn't represent shooting outside photography's overall box but it definitely means I'd be shooting outside my personal box.

All the above and more is why I'm rather amused when I see or hear someone going on about their photography being "outside the box." Guess what? It isn't. I don't even have to view it to know it isn't. Such a person's photography might be less-seen -- and that can be a terrific thing -- but less-seen doesn't necessarily equate to being outside photography's universal box. It only means it's outside many photographer's boxes; but certainly not all or every photographer's box who's ever snapped a photo since Day One of photography.

I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade, I mean anyone's boxes, but c'mon! Let's get real. No one is truly shooting outside *the* box. No one. Claiming you are doing so is simply a smug, arrogant, high-handed, pretentious, Donald Trump-like way of describing your photographic accomplishments and shooting styles.

The image at the top is sort of semi-outside my personal box.  It's within my box in terms of the subject being a female model. But it's outside my box in many other ways, not just in terms of wardrobe, setting, pose, expression, and general emotional content, but also from a more technical perspective. I don't often, for instance, use a 50mm normal lens when shooting models. I definitely don't utilize an effects type of filter in front of my lenses too often, in this case a Tiffen Pro-Mist filter to give the image a soft, hazy, slightly-glowing-highlights and somewhat ethereal look and feel.




Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Post-Production Detachment

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When I'm shooting, I'm intensely involved. Later, when I'm reviewing, editing, and processing the photos I've snapped, I'm mostly detached.

Detachment is defined as a state of being objective or aloof. Being detached from your work, leastwise the post-production part of your work, allows you to step back and view your work from further away-- not from physically further away, but emotionally, artistically, creatively, and intellectually further away. And that's a good thing.

When I'm shooting, many (if not most) of the decisions I make are subjective. Part of the reason for that subjectivity is time, that is, the time constraints associated with production. In other words,  I don't have time to sit back and objectively (in a detached and aloof manner) think about all my shooting decisions while I'm shooting.  Instead, I direct models into various poses and expressions and quickly frame each shot in ways that I think, subjectively think in those moments, look good.  What looks good in those moments are based on near instantaneous decisions; decisions which are mostly subjective. Decisions driven by what I "think" looks good. In the moment. Subjectively.

There's a great line in the movie, "Predator," when, after Arnold's commandos come into contact with the flick's title character, someone points out to Jesse Ventura's character, Blain, that he's bleeding. "I ain't got time to bleed," Blain calmly replies. Shooting is like that. When I'm shooting -- and this is probably true for most of you -- I ain't got time to be objective.

Post-production is a whole different matter. In post, I have time to be objective, as does mostly everyone. And being objective requires a certain amount of detachment and aloofness.  Have you ever snapped an image and, after quickly chimping it on the back of your camera, you became truly excited about the cool and killer pic you just snapped?  Sure you have. We all have. We all make those subjective sorts of quick decisions while we're shooting. But then, later on, when reviewing the photos and you come to that one killer shot, you objectively realize it's neither a killer image or, perhaps, one that's even going to make it past the cut?  Yeah. That's happened to me too, often enough. Probably to you as well.

Being emotionally, artistically, creatively, and intellectually detached from your photos when later reviewing and processing them is a good thing. A very good thing. I might even go so far as to say it's a required thing. It's not difficult to fall in love with some of our shots when we're snapping them, and to have that "love," whatever it was initially based on, continue on into the post processes. Unfortunately, that's not generally a good thing. Worse, it can sometimes lead us to painting lipstick on pigs or frosting turds all because we fell in love with one pic or another, for one reason or another during the subjective stage of picture making (production), and then we're unable  -- again, for one reason or another -- to let go of that love during post, i.e., during the time when we should be in our detached and objective stages of picture making.

Just some thoughts on detachment, that is, being detached when working on our pics in post.






Saturday, August 01, 2015

Flash Shooter's Bible

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My good buddy, photographer Ed Verosky, has just released a most excellent new ebook: Ed Verosky's Guide to Flash Photography.  Yeah, yeah. I know. There's more than a few ebooks on flash photography out there. But if any one of them rightfully deserves to be called a "flash shooter's bible," it's this one.

Like me, Ed is a big advocate for keeping the tech stuff simple and, in his new ebook, he makes the case (successfully, in my opinion) for standardization being added to your flash-shooting, production-workflow, bag-of-tricks. Standardization isn't a trick or tricky, of course, in or out of a bag.  Rather, it's a way of simplifying and making more efficient most all of your flash photography portrait work, whether you're shooting glamour or most any other sorts of portraits.

Ed's first flash photography ebook, 100% Reliable Flash Photography, a book he released 5 or so years ago, has sold a whopping (I shit you not) 50,000+ copies! That's a number that would easily qualify it for the non-fiction best-seller list over at Amazon. Course, there's a reason Ed has sold so many copies-- Cream rises to the top!

Now, for his new book, Ed Verosky's Guide to Flash Photography,  Ed has skimmed the cream-of-the-cream from his first cream-filled flash photography ebook and added a whole bunch more. More cream, that is. Top rising cream.

Hey! If you're struggling with flash photography or hoping to ^^^UP^^^ your flash-shooting game, this book is the one you've been looking and hoping for.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Ed's terrific new ebook.

Photo at the top is one I snapped of the Goddess of Glam, Tera Patrick, for her Mistress Couture line of lingerie and other clothing. It was shot in the living room of Tera's house between the stairway and what I kept jokingly referring to as her 'phallic phountain.'

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Retirement Enigma

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These days, I'm mostly retired from professional photography. I say "mostly retired" because I still work occasionally, but I do so way less than I did just a year or two ago. Way. Less.To paraphrase The Princess Bride's Miracle Max-- There's a big difference between mostly retired and all retired. Mostly retired is slightly still not retired. With all retired, well, with all retired there's usually only one thing you can do.

Apparently, that one thing isn't happening for me. Leastwise, not the way I thought it would happen.  What is that one thing I'm talking about that I thought would happen once I was mostly retired?  I thought I'd be a much more productive hobby shooter.

When I was still working regularly as a shooter-for-hire, my photography life was 80% or 90% shooting for pay and 10% to 20% shooting for fun.  Let's call it 80/20 shooting-for-pay versus shooting-for-fun. You know, for the sake of simplicity.

Once I became mostly retired, I figured those numbers would flip the other way around, i.e., they'd become 80% shooting-for-fun and 20% shooting-for-pay and they'd do so all on their own, nearly automatically and just like magic!  I mean, I have plenty of time on my hands. Plenty! So, time isn't a factor. I also have all the gear I need and more. Plus, I have enough money to live on because A) I paid plenty into Social Security for a big chunk of my life and B) I have a private pension annuity from those 15 years I spent as a spoke on a corporate wheel. (Well, not a full spoke but a partial corporate spoke nonetheless.)

Sounds like everything should have fallen into place, right?

Nope.

It hasn't worked out that way.

The 20% part where I earn some extra dough from shooting is fairly accurate but the 80% part? The 80% that has me shooting-for-fun or for artistic reward? That part? The dedicated hobby photographer part? Hasn't. Fucking. Happened.

My hopeful transition from shooting chicks wearing few if any clothes to more lofty and artistic -- at least in my mind -- photo pursuits remains mostly in my head. It seems to exist only in the fantasy realms of my mind and not in actual reality. Why? So far, I haven't a clue. (Well, I've had clues but none of them panned out into something more than a clue... they've been false or partial clues at best.)

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It's not that I can't think of anything to shoot. I have tons of ideas for stuff I want to shoot. And most of them don't require a model so I can't blame this personal enigma on not having a physical muse or two. My ideas, for the most part, only require me and my camera (and a few specific props for some of it) heading out to some places where the right backdrops and environments for the stuff I want to shoot exists. And many of those places are fairly short drives from where I reside in Southern California.

Lately, I've been reading different books in hopes of discovering WTF is wrong with me. These books target the creative process, not the retirement process. I don't need any help learning how to be retired, semi-retired or otherwise. That part is a no brainer. As I mentioned, I have enough money to live coming in. The annuity arrives on the 1rst of each month and Social Security on the 3rd Wednesday of each month. And they both do so like clockwork. It's certainly not beaucoup  money but it's more than enough for me to live on without having to eat dog food or mooch off my family while still having some leftover for doing fun stuff... which I rarely do but that's \another story. (One that's probably related to my lack of hobby shooting but I'm not going to worry about that aspect of this personal quandary right now.)  Nope.  Money, or lack of it, is not my problem. Neither is time or ideas. Instead, my problem is being photographically active in my semi-retirement, that is, why I'm not being so.

The current book I'm reading is by well-known American dancer, choreographer, and author, Twyla Tharp. It's called, "The Creative Habit." It was recommended by a friend and it has a title that instantly interested me. "The Creative Habit." Yep. That's what I need to do, I need to get into a creative habit. That same sort of creative habit that was easy to have when people were paying me to  be creative with a camera. (Not that my creativity was their #1 reason for hiring me, but that's another subject. One I believe I've covered before on this blog. Probably more than once.)

Anyway, I'm only three or four chapters into Ms. Tharp's book. In fact, I was just reading more of it today while eating sushi for lunch. Tuesdays, you see, are Sushi-for-lunch days for me. It's become a habit for me to eat sushi on Tuesdays.  I'm not sure how I got into that habit other than I love sushi. But habitually eating it for lunch on Tuesdays? Which I've been doing for a while now?  Go figure. It just happened.

During today's "The Creative Habit," sushi-accompanied, reading time, Ms. Tharp detailed a number of "fears" that artists and creatives seem to have. Fears that keep them from acting on their creative impulses. Fears that get in the way of creating. Well, none of the fears she listed were fears that I was hearing about for the first time. Worse, none of those fears seem to describe my personal problem in this matter, i.e.,  whatever it is that's getting in the way of me creatively producing. Not one. Not even close. Not even a little bit.

My sense of optimism -- I'm probably one-third an optimistic person, one-third pessimistic, and the final third a jaded and cynical person -- is telling me to keep reading. It's saying, "Dude! You're only three or four chapters in. Give it a chance!"  And I will. I'll definitely give it that chance. But I'm also becoming a bit concerned that, much like the other books I've recently read on this or very similar subjects, I'm going to finish reading the book and still come up empty. I'll still be wondering why  I can't seem to make this (seemingly easy) transition from pro shooting to hobby shooting.  And let me say this about hobby shooting: I'm way more excited, photographically speaking, regarding what I might produce as a hobby shooter than I ever was while producing photos as a full-time working shooter. And that excitement is mostly because I don't have someone with a checkbook telling what and what not to shoot or how to shoot it. Not technical "hows" but... you know what I mean.

Anyway, whatever the major malfunction to my creative wiring might be that's currently getting in my way still baffles and eludes me. It's not like I can take some pills for it. And that's a total fucking bummer!  I'd eat such pills in a heartbeat if "get creative" pills like that existed. Also, please don't anyone tell me to just "Do it!" or some other familiar and oft-said, home-spun, Mom or Dad-ism.  If it were that simple, this wouldn't be a problem.  Plus, I have said to myself "Just do it, Jimmy!" I've said it a bunch of times and guess what?  I still didn't.  I mean, WTF???

The gratuitous eye candy I've posted with this rather pathetic, woe-is-me/all-about-me update is Daisy. In the pic at the top, Daisy is non-verbally telling me something in response to what I just said to her, whatever that might have been. I often have that sort of effect on the models I shoot.