Friday, October 17, 2014

My Hierarchy of Gear Obsessions

As photographers, we're all (to varying degrees) obsessed or obsessive about gear. Whether those obsessions revolve around cameras, lenses, lighting or other stuff, our gear obsessiveness often dominates our thoughts when thinking about photography, especially in terms of how we might improve our personal photography or venture into new shooting genres. That's not to say we're all gear-heads but, as photographers, there's a little of bit of gear-head in all of us.

When I had my studio, which I had for about three years, my gear obsessions were different than they are today or they were prior to having a studio.  My studio was about 2,500 square feet, most of it comprised of a big warehouse-like space with high ceilings. There was also a small office and an equally small reception area at the front entrance. The studio also had a large, metal, roll-up, garage-style door which opened to the main part of the studio.

Inside the studio, in addition to a few standing sets I built, I constructed a small dressing room and a mezzanine over it with stairs leading up to it. The mezzanine was about 15' x 15' and was my no-walls bedroom. (I constructed a guard-rail around it since I'm rather clumsy, especially when I first roll out of bed.)

Why a bedroom? Well, because I lived in my studio for about two or more years of my time having one. There was no kitchen but I had a fridge, a microwave oven, a hot plate, and a barbeque grill.  I either ate out, ate take-out, or cooked something in the micro, on the a hot-plate, or on the grill. (Which I'd wheel out the garage door, smoke and all.) My studio's good-size bathroom had a shower. The mezzanine I built extended over the bathroom as well as the dressing room. I decided to live in my studio because A) I was there most of the time anyway, B) Why pay two rents? C) It was fun!

Getting back to the subject of this post...

When I had my studio my gear obsessions were different than they are today. The hierarchy of my gear obsessions are easily illustrated by the graph on the right. As you can see, my #1 gear obsession (when I had my studio) was grip, whether that grip consisted of stands, arms, booms, and an assortment of clamps and other things designed to set lights, reflectors, scrims, and flags. I also had apple boxes, sand bags, and a bunch of expendables.

After grip came lighting: Monoblocs a.k.a. studio strobes, for the most part but also continuous lighting instruments since I was also shooting video in the studio. Plus, a wide assortment of modifiers, reflectors, scrims, and flags. I also had a decent amount of electrical gear: break-out boxes, stingers (extension cords), and a Variac, (To control AC which I usually used to either slow down the blades of a fan or to dim some of my continuous lighting gear.)As you can see by my hierarchy graph, I wasn't too concerned with lenses and cameras. At the time, I already had what I felt I needed to get the job(s) done.  "Other Stuff," by the way, refers to things like props, wardrobe, and set pieces

When I gave up my studio -- that's a whole other story; why I gave it up that is -- I sold off a lot of my gear, especially grip and lighting, albeit mostly the continuous lighting. Without a studio, I really didn't need much of that stuff.  And without a studio, my hierarchy of gear obsessions began to change as depicted by the graph on the left.

To this day, my gear obsessions are about the same although the portions of it that reflect lighting, grip, and other stuff are are even less important to me. (These days, my lighting obsessions are mostly focused on speedlites and other small lighting instruments.)

In other words, my current gear obsessions revolve mostly around glass and cameras with glass being significantly more important to me than camera bodies.  Why glass? Because, to get back to my opening paragraph where I talked about improving our personal photography or venturing into new shooting genres, glass is generally more important to those two hopes and desires than camera bodies are, even if it often seems that photographers are more obsessed with all the new camera bodies the big manufacturers regularly announce and release.

The pretty girl at the top in the behind-the-scenes image is Jana. I snapped it on a very simple set I put together in my former studio with a seamless, a few set pieces I had laying around, and a smoke machine. Here's one of the resulting images from the set.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Let's Hear It for MUAs!

When shooting glamour, beauty, fashion, any of that sort of stuff, credit for the pics usually goes first to the photographer, next to the model, and finally to others who may have been involved in the creation of the images, assuming those others get any credit at all.

I'm often guilty of not providing credits to those others who contributed. It's not that I don't value their contributions -- I do! -- but later on when I'm sharing my images I often neglect or forget to credit them.  Plus, given my more recent status as a bonafide geezer, my memory doesn't always work so well so I might not remember who did what; you know, as in the names of the people who did whatever they did on one set or with one model or another.

Generally speaking, the "others" who contribute most to the majority of my pics are the makeup artists (MUAs) who performed their magic on the models I've shot. I've not always had an MUA present on all the sets or with all the modlels I've worked on/with and there certainly are more than a few models who are quite good at applying their own makeup. For the most part, though, when an MUA is on the set my photos will be noticeably improved.

MUA Jennifer J. doing a quick touch-up on a fashion shoot I worked
My photos aren't simply improved because of an MUA's skill, although that's a big part of it, but also because having an MUA says something to the models-- something silent yet positive. Having an MUA generally makes models feel better about themselves, more confident and special.

When I'm shooting, my mouth is often running at high speed, delivering one esteem-building compliment after another. It's rote and repetitive and often comes off as anything but genuinely sincere -- although I try my best to make it all sound sincere -- yet models still want to hear it, genuine and sincere or not.  But even all that on-set ass-kissing doesn't necessarily or automatically trump the positive impact of having an MUA on the set.

If you're a professional pretty girl shooter, or perhaps a hobbyist or something in between the two, I highly recommend engaging an MUA for your shoots whenever possible or practical. Your images will not only be improved simply because a good MUA will make your alluring models even more  alluring, they will be improved because having an MUA says something positive to the models. Something silent yet still loud and clear.

The pretty girl at the top -- featured before makeup, after makeup, and a production image -- is Penthouse Pet, Tori Black. The before/after pics are cell phone snaps taken by the MUA. Tori is certainly plenty cute without the makeup but she's devastatingly sexy and gorgeous after sitting in the chair. The MUA who performed the magic was Melissa Murphy, a most excellent MUA whom I've worked with more than a few times. CLICK HERE for an article from the Huffington Post about Melissa's on-set habit of snapping before and after pics of the models she's worked with. After watching the video, you'll definitely understand the value of an MUA.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Personal Styles: Creation or Evolution?

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Photographers sometimes talk about personal styles and the importance of developing a personal style, one that is somewhat identifiable, unique or individualistic to various degrees. I've mentioned this as well, a number of times... you know, for the benefit of newer (new-ish?) photographers.

I'm sometimes told I have a recognizable personal style.  I posted the triptych of the model above on a photography forum this morning and someone, almost immediately, mentioned how those three images are *so* Jimmy's style.

I'm occasionally perplexed by comments like that because I don't think about my personal style much, whatever it might be, nor do I recognize it as being particularly unique to me. It just is. (Is what it is, that is.)  I never went out of my way to develop it that I'm aware of. There was no develop a personal style strategy I undertook earlier in my career. Like most everyone's personal styles, mine has been heavily influenced by other photographers' works and styles. We all tend to mimic what we like whether we're consciously aware we're mimicking or not. Perhaps "mimic" isn't the right or best word to describe the process? How about words like moved, shaped, or swayed?

For most photographers, personal styles aren't stylistically static. Rather, they're dynamic. I believe, for just about everyone, personal styles change via an ever-evolving process. (Even if that evolutionary process is slow and barely noticeable over the short term.) Whatever my personal style might have been a decade ago, it's not my personal style today. There are probably elements of my former personal style still found in my current style but, overall, my current style has changed evolved. I'm guessing ten years from now my personal style will be different, changed, and evolved as well. I won't set out to make my style different, leastwise I don't believe I will, but it will likely be different nonetheless. Same holds true, I'm pretty sure, for most shooters.

I'm pretty sure, for the most part, personal styles change rather slowly and not deliberately. I don't recall any sudden or abrupt changes to my personal style in the past, consciously undertaken or otherwise.  I definitely don't think I've ever had a style epiphany of any sort. If I did, it was a sub-conscious epiphany... Wait. Do sub-conscious epiphanies count as actual epiphanies?  Probably not.

Unlike the evolution of species, I have no hard, scientific evidence to prove my theory about the evolution of personal styles.  I am, however, convinced that I'm correct in my evolution of personal styles assumptions and observations. That's right, I believe personal styles are evolutionary rather than the product of some creationism process.  I also believe personal styles evolve as a result of natural selection of small and cumulative variations that increase a photographer's ability to compete, survive, thrive, and excel in their chosen shooting environments, businesses, or most-often-pursued genres. You know, much like that other evolution some people argue and fight talk about.

Does that make me the Charles Darwin of personal photographic styles theories?


So, what kinds of things make up a photographer's personal style?  Oh my! (®George Takei) There are so many factors involved. Here's a few of them, certainly not all, just a few and just the big ones:

Lighting: Preferred or often-employed lighting techniques can be a huge component of many photographers' personal styles. I think it's a fairly major component of my personal style, leastwise when I'm shooting pretty girls as well as other sorts of portraits.

Composition:  Again, this is one that's often a big part of most photographers' personal styles, mine included. I tend to compose images, via viewfinder framing, cropping, or a combination of both, in similar (and thus personally familiar) ways. You might do the same and it's likely you often do, even if you're not doing so consciously.

Poses, Expressions, Attitudes, and More: When it comes to glamour photography, make that portraiture in general, I have preferences, go-to poses, expressions, directorial attitudes and more that I often call on with my models. Because of that, I think the manner in which my models generally project themselves in my photos represents a big part of my personal style. (Coupled with their own personal modeling styles, of course.) Again, this is something that's probably the same for many of you whether you're aware of it or not. I'm probably aware of it because I think about this kind of stuff often, me being a photography blogger and eBook author in addition to a working photographer.

Shooting Environments, Wardrobe, Props, etc.: Many photographers have definite preferences when it comes to things like shooting environments, suggested or directed wardrobe, use of props and that sort of stuff. Example: Some photographers prefer shooting outdoors to shooting in studio or in interior locations and nearly all their work seems to reflect that preference.

There are certainly more components to our personal styles than those I've listed but I think I've covered the big ones, i.e., the most obvious and identifiable components of most photographer's personal styles.  By the way, you know how some shooters talk about shooting outside the box?  Well, in my estimation, the only boxes most of them are shooting outside of are their own personal boxes -- which may also represent their personal styles -- not some universal box or style which metaphorically represents an inhibiting box that encompasses all photography in general.

Here's another snap of model, Ash, featured in the triptych at the top. This one from later on in the same set after most of her wardrobe had somehow magically disappeared.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Wildly Creative Photography

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Everyone wants their photography to stand out, to be perceived as unique, special, and wildly creative. To achieve this, many photographers resort to all kinds of approaches and techniques to make that happen.

Some photographers rely on wardrobe, props, shooting environments, and hair-and-makeup to make their images stand out. Others count on dramatic lighting to accomplish their goals of shooting unique images. These days, perhaps most shooters utilize post processing of one sort or another to make their photos special, be it via their uses of Photoshop and other general purpose photo editing software or by applying pre-packaged treatments to their images.

In my opinion, what often enough becomes a casualty of more than a few photographers' quests to have their pics deemed unique and uncommon is good, simple, basic photography skills.   Here's an FYI for any of you who believe the only way to get noticed (as a photographer) is by producing images that are decidedly less seen: For the most part, you're wrong. Nothing trumps consistently excellent yet basic photography skills in your work.

Sure, occasionally producing those sorts of less-seen images is a good thing. A really cool thing. A thing that often gets you noticed in special ways. Sometimes shooting those images might even be a requirement of sorts.  But when you become obsessed with trying to produce those sorts of over-the-top, stand-out pics in everything you shoot, you'll not only fail at doing so, leastwise doing so with everything you shoot, but it's likely that you'll be engaging in exercises of futility as you regularly attempt to do so. Worse, those efforts might start to become gimmicky and/or repetitious in a "we've seen this before" kind of way.

I don't care how well thought of you are as a photographer because of the wildly creative photos you sometimes produce and share with the world, you will still shoot plenty of throw-away images if producing wildly creative pics is always your goal. And I'm not simply talking about those frames from your wildly creative sets of pics that aren't keepers. I'm talking about entire sets where "wildly creative" is your #1 goal.

For most photographers, it's your ability to consistently produce good photos, I mean very good photos, photos that don't constantly try to rely on wildly creative approaches but are consistently competent in terms of basic photography skills, coupled with a good eye, that will award you status as a good, make that an excellent photographer, be it a professional status or hobbyist status.

So of course, when it comes to wildly creative approaches to your photography, give them a shot. Give them a shot somewhat often. Those sorts of pics most definitely have a place in your portfolio. But don't do so at the overall expense of basic, simple, and straight-forward photos, photos that shine, i.e., photos that make you shine because of their obvious and consistent displays of elemental and essential skills. They are the foundation and back-bone of most photographers' work and they will go a long way towards making your occasionally "wildly creative" efforts stand out even more. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Curate This!

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Lately, I've noticed the words "curate" and "curator" showing up more and more on photography pages on the web. Whenever I see either of those words used on a photography site or FB page or whatever, the first thing I think of is Inigo Montoya from the film, "The Princess Bride," when he says to Vizzini, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

"Curate" and "curator" can be pretentious words. Some of you might be thinking it's a bit pretentious of me to use the word "pretentious" on a glamour photography blog but here's where I'm coming from:  Unless you're an actual and bonafide curator at, say, a legitimate museum of art somewhere, referring to yourself or to some unknown people who are moderators or administrators or even simple contributors to your photography page as "curators," or that someone has "curated" the photos, is way more pretentious than me using the "P" word on this blog. Way. More.

I had an experience not too far back where my contact guy at a web site that does NOTHING BUT PIMP SHIT TO PHOTOGRAPHERS, declined to promote one of my more recent eBooks because, he explained, his "curators" didn't think some of my photos were quite good enough. Good enough for what?  You're selling museum quality shit now? Excuse me but who the fuck are your curators and what the fuck are their credentials qualifying them to "curate" my pics or those of anyone else?

By the way, this was the same guy who, a couple of years ago when he was just kicking off his photo-stuff-sale-site, begged me -- begged me! -- to let him pimp my first eBook, "Guerrilla Glamour."  (Which I was more inclined to say no to because there were some questionable issues regarding his program and how sales were tracked and accounted for.) But he begged. And I gave in. And guess what else? He's made some decent bank off my book over the last three years! (I've done okay with him as well. But I still don't like the way authors can can't track sales, independently of his "word," that is.)

It's now three years later and I still get monthly pay-outs from him. How honest they are I still don't know. But I am, for the most part, a trusting sort of guy... which hasn't always worked out so well for me in the past, but that's another matter. And let me assure you that when he rejected one of my recent eBooks, there was no begging or anything remotely close to it on my part.

Because now he has "curators."

And who can argue with curators? Especially "curators" who have zero known credentials as curators.

So, pardon my born-and-raised in New Jersey/Italian-American crudeness but I can't help but grab my crotch with one hand, push my hips forward, and say to this dude, "Curate this!"

For today's exhibition at the JimmyD Museum of Pretty Girl Shooter Glamour Photography, I pretentiously curated the photo of the pretty girl at the top. She's Penthouse Pet, Tori Black. This humble curator hopes she  meets your "refined" photographic tastes.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ed Verosky's New eBook

My good friend, Ed Verosky, has just released a new ebook: "Introduction to Close-up and Macro Photography."  I had a chance to read it before it's release and, frankly, I had no idea there was so much more to close-up and macro photography than I might have imagined there was.  (I guess I've been living in a glam photography bubble or something.) That aside, I was quite impressed at the way Ed broke it all down, making it easy (as possible) to understand and, more importantly,  the way he provided me (and all of you) with all that I or you will need to know (and need to have) should I/You/We decide to begin shooting close-up and macro photos.

From close-up product photography to macro-shooting bugs and beasties, flowers, and all sorts of other things,  it's all between the virtual pages of Ed's new eBook.  If that's something that interests you, Ed's book is what you've been waiting for. (Even if you didn't know you were waiting for it.)

If you're interested in learning more about Ed's cool new ebook, just CLICK HERE.  Better yet, if you decide you're interested in purchasing a digital copy for yourself, you can do so and receive a 33% off the already low price of $15. But you'll need to act fairly quickly! Ed tells me the special discount code will only be good for a week. So, if you're interested in Ed's new book, and you want it at a terrific discount, simply use the discount code, DISCOUNT, in the shopping cart when checking out. (How's that for a clever discount code? DISCOUNT.)

You know what? As long as I'm telling you about great deals, I think I'll up the great-deal ante here and offer you another great deal.  From now till the end of September, you can purchase any (or all) of my ebooks for 25% off! That's right, 25% off the purchase price of any of my ebooks. All you need to do is provide that clever discount code, DISCOUNT, in the shopping cart for any or all of my ebooks as well. Links to all my ebooks are provided in the right-hand column of this page. If you've thought about buying any of my ebooks, now's the time. I haven't run a discount on them for quite some time and I have no plans to do so again in the near future. So get 'em while the getting is good!

Anyway, that's it. Check out Ed's terrific new ebook by CLICKING HERE. Purchase any of my ebooks for 25% off. Don't forget to use that discount code, DISCOUNT, for a 33% discount on Ed's new book and a 25% discount on any of mine.

So you can't say I withheld posting some eye candy because I was pimping a close-up/macro photography ebook, or even my ebooks for that matter, here's one from a while back.  It's the lovely and sexy Jenna Haze. Jenna scores high on my personal Pretty-Girl-O-Meter. I'll bet she pushes the needle in a very positive direction on your pretty girl meter as well.

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