Thursday, August 28, 2014

RAW v. JPEG: A Somewhat Different Perspective

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I've been a shooter in the adult biz for a long time. I've worked for companies like Playboy/Club Jenna, Hustler, Vivid, Wicked, and more. Guess what? They don't want RAW files. They never have. They want JPEGS-- large, fine, JPEGS.
 
I know, I know... Some of you might be thinking, "That's porn. Quality doesn't matter much." Okay. If you say so. But before you start feeling all photographically superior and so much smarter than the people who shoot and utilize glam, tease, and erotic photos in the adult industry, you might want to take a look at some of the packaging, print ads, and more adult companies produce.... from JPEGS. Shouldn't be too hard to find some good examples. They're all over the place, Certainly, on the web.

That's not to say there aren't adult companies who aren't too picky about quality. There are. Many, in fact. But that's the same in most industries, not simply the adult industry.

When I'm working for adult companies, I usually burn disks of what I've shot right on the set at the end of the production day or days. Why? For a number of reasons. First, those companies don't pay me to go home and convert RAW files for them. Second, those companies' art departments don't want to spend time and resources converting RAW files. Third, trust issues of various kinds. They paid me to shoot the stills and they want them in their possession almost immediately. (Note: If I'm working for a company for the first time and I don't really know them, I don't give them the stills until I'm paid. I'm not saying I hold the stills hostage. I don't. And they're not holding my pay hostage either. For the most part, it's a mutually understood practice: they hand me a check and I hand them disks or vice versa. It works out better for everyone that way, i.e.,  actual trust is taken out of the equation.

As I said, all I shoot are JPEGS. And that's at the direction of my clients. And guess what else? Many of my clients have full-blown art departments. It's the people in those departments who are the ones who don't want the RAW files. And some of the people in those art department are very experienced and truly terrific re-touchers and graphic artists. Often, very well paid re-touchers and graphic artists.

I should also mention that, because of the way it works for my job,  I don't get to fix anything later on. At the end of the production day, I do a quick edit and delete frames with blinks or strobe misfires and what what have you, and then burn the disks. In other words, I turn in the SOOC (Straight Out of the Camera) images. Those art department people I mentioned have the ears of my clients long after I've shot the pics. Consequently, assuming I want to get rehired for future productions, it's a pretty good idea for me to do whatever I can to make their jobs easier and more efficient. Like most people, none of those art department people wants to work harder because someone else created more work for them.

None of that is to say my clients' art departments don't enhance my images. They do. Sometimes, they make them look truly stellar on the packaging and elsewhere. I remember walking into the big annual adult convention in Las Vegas some years back and the first thing I saw was an approximately twenty-foot vertical banner of Tera Patrick made from a JPEG I snapped of her. It looked really good. I mean really good. And the JPEG held up terrifically through all the enlarging that was done.  

I'm not saying shooting RAW is automatically a waste of time and storage space. It's not. But RAW isn't  the end-all be-all for all digital photographers either. I shoot a fair amount of non-adult-biz portraiture. Even then, when it's most likely I'll be doing the post-production myself,  I snap JPEGS. Not because of habit but because those JPEGS are more than good enough for most of that work.  If JPEGS are good enough for the people who pay me to shoot pretty girls and the skilled artists who process the pics, they're almost always good enough for me when I'm shooting other stuff. Leastwise, for the most part. 

The pretty girl at the top is Sasha Grey. I've shot Sasha more than a few times. She's always terrific and fun to work with. The image was captured in a night club in Studio City, CA, on a Vivid Entertainment production. It was a bit difficult remaining focused. There were somewhere between 50 and 100 extras on the location set. Plus, a rather large crew. Confounding the keeping-my-focus-focused issues -- and keeping Sasha focused as well -- was a 4-man, 4-camera reality TV crew from Showtime who were all over Sasha and I while we were trying to shoot this set.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Money Shot

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This will probably come as no surprise to those who read my blog even semi-regularly, but I've worked as a photographer for more than a few adult entertainment companies. Those companies include Playboy, Hustler, Vivid Entertainment, Wicked Pictures, Tera Patrick's TeraVision, and more. Quite a few more. Judge me if that's your thing. Have at it. Nothing I say will change your mind, not that I care enough to try. To me, it's a job. Like it or not, someone is going to do it. If not me, someone else. I have no moral hang-ups issues with it. Like I said, it's a job. Period.

That aside, the adult biz has quite a few words, terms, and  acronyms that are unique to it. (Which is what I'm actually writing about.) Example: Ever hear of a FIP? (You say it like a word. A word that rhymes with sip.) A FIP is a commonly used acronym in the adult biz.  It means "Fake Internal Pop." I think you can figure out what a "Fake Internal Pop" represents in the production of a porn scene. If not, use your imagination. You'll figure it out.

This blog, "Pretty Girl Shooter," is so named for a common term used in the adult biz. When I'm working on an adult set and a producer or production manager says, "Jimmy! Go shoot her pretty girls," he or she is referring to the glamour images that will likely be used for packaging, marketing, advertising and more. Those "pretty girls" are decidedly "R" rated, not "X" rated. In fact, often enough many of them are "PG" rated and don't feature nudity. Pretty girl pics are "soft core," not "hard core." ("Hard core" being a term embraced-by and commonly used in mainstream and elsewhere to describe many things of a decidedly non-porn nature, yet a term originating in porn.)

Yep. The language of porn extends beyond its own world and some of its words and terms are embraced (in speech and in writing) by others, others who porn folks commonly refer to as "civilians." The "money shot" is one such term. I'm pretty sure most adults understand what a "money shot" is, leastwise they think they do, even when the term is not used to describe what they believe a "money shot" represents, you know, specifically represents from a biological perspective.

But here's the rub: On all the porn productions I've worked, and I've worked a few, more than a few, I've never heard the so-called "money shot" called a "money shot" referencing that moment of release by a male porn performer. Not once. Not ever. I'm not sure who invented the term, "money shot" to refer to that part of a porn scene, although it likely was someone in porn or someone writing about porn. You see, in  porn parlance one does not call the so-called "money shot" a "money shot" because that's not what it's called. Everyone who works in porn refers to what many others call a "money shot" -- others who have never worked in the adult biz -- a "pop shot."

If you ask me, "pop shot" is a much better and more accurate description of what's going on when a male performer ejaculates. The word "pop," in a porn context, is a multitasking word. It's used as both a verb and a noun: The performer "pops," a verb, versus what the stuff is he's popped, that is, the product of his "pop" which is a noun. The "shot" part of "pop shot"  also serves double-duty.  It  refers to what the performer is doing, you know, sort of similar to what a gun does when it's discharged, and also what the camera is capturing, as in "a camera shot." Personally, I think "pop shot" is a much more accurate and appropriate term from a variety of  perspectives.  "Money shot," on the other hand, just doesn't do it justice. And trust me when I tell you the money doesn't later come to adult industry businesses as a result of "pop shots." "Pop shots"may be de rigueur for many adult flicks, but that's not something set in stone nor does it guarantee money as a result of said shot, or pop, take your pick.


"Money shot," I suppose, is a more politically-correct way of saying or writing about a "pop shot."  I also think it works better for analogies or as a metaphor when applied in different ways. But it's not accurate. It's not what they call that part of a porn scene, that is, the part at the tail-end of most porn scenes.

The etymology  of the term "pop shot" becoming "money shot" (leastwise, in more polite mainstream circles) sort of reminds me of George Carlin's famous riff about the evolution of the term, "shell shock."  If you're familiar with Carlin's "shell shock" monologue, I'm confident you understand my vague comparison. If not, Google the words "Carlin" and "shell shock." You'll find more than a few YouTube videos of the great comedian doing that bit. 

As a photographer, I do think of one type of shot that qualifies as a "money shot" and it ain't the actual "pop shot."  I even refer to this particular shot as a "money shot" when I see it. So do some of my clients. For me (and my adult biz clients), a "money shot" is a shot or shots (the shots being photographic captures) that I know are obvious, jump-off-the-screen, photographic shots that will be later used to generate money for my clients. It's the shot or shots that many non-adult photographers refer to as "keepers."  In actual porn parlance, a "money shot" is the shot or shots that most likely will be used for product packaging, in ads, and for other uses. It's not always the best shot(s) from a purely technical perspective, but that's because there's so much more to a photographic "money shot" than a photo's technical merits.

The pretty girl at the top is the Goddess of Glam, Tera Patrick.  I knew that shot worked well the moment I snapped it. Sometime later, 944 magazine selected and published it in full-page glory in their magazine. Models like Tera offer a different problem at times: It's harder to pick a "money shot" out of Tera's shots because it's sometimes hard to snap a photo of Tera that doesn't qualify as a "money shot." (A few years back, People magazine included Tera in their annual list of the 100 most beautiful women in the world. That should tell you something about the likelihood of snapping a "money shot" when photographing Tera.)

I can make the above comment (about it being difficult to snap a non-money-shot image of Tera) with some degree of confidence. That's because I've shot Tera quite a few times. In fact, for a few years years I was (for the most part) her exclusive photographer. Why's that you might ask?  Well, I'll simply say it wasn't that way because there was a dearth of photographers who could do an equally good or better job of shooting Ms. Patrick, or who wanted to shoot her.  Tera has been shot by many terrific photographers throughout her career, albeit not during those couple of years when I was her shooter.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

It's Alive! It's Alive!

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In the original 1931 version of "Frankenstein," Dr. F shouts, "It's alive! It's alive! It's alive it's alive it's alive!" when he realizes his experiment is a success.  I'm no Frankenstein-like photographer, but I've done a bit of experimenting in my time with cameras in my hands. While my experiments haven't always been successful, they have yielded (what I believe were) successful results on a few occasions. Perhaps even more than a few. Course, when success was achieved I didn't get quite as excited as Dr. Henry Frankenstein did over creating his monster. But I was fairly happy with the results, my non-monstrous results.

For photographers, experimenting with new ideas and techniques can be a good thing. A positive thing. An expanding-your-photographic-horizons thing. Equally important, it can often be quite personally rewarding. More so than, say, following the pack -- ideas and techniques wise -- with almost everything you shoot.

When you discover something that works through experimentation and trial and error -- whether you find it via pre-visualization and experimentation or stumble upon it accidentally -- and it really works well, who knows? The pack might even decide to follow you!  You might end up becoming something of a photographic trend setter. That doesn't always happen but, if or when it does, how cool is that?

A few days ago, I made a semi-snarky comment on a photography forum where a photographer posted a portrait of two people standing in a woodsy, daylight environment.  I couldn't quite figure out what was going on in the foreground: There were odd, beige, out-of-focus, semi-transparent, artifacts, very pronounced, visible in the lower third of the image.  I couldn't figure out what created them. I commented: "I give up. Is that flaring? Are you shooting thru a window? Is that swamp gas?"

Other forum contributors quickly chimed in. Here's a couple of their comments: "It's broken glass, right?"  Another wrote, "It's probably just leaves, shot between the lens and subject." But then the same commentator re-thought his comment: "...there's some odd reflections in there too, so, maybe not."

Finally, the photographer who snapped the pic ended the mystery:  "It's just a cheapo prism I got at Amazon guys. I put it in front of my 85mm lens."

I then defended part of my original guess: "Hey! I was close when I asked if he was shooting thru a window. A window is a prism... well sorta... okay, not really. LOL" 

The shooter who snapped the pic then commented: "If I made u look at it for more than 3 seconds then that's a triumph for me. You don't have to understand it, that's the beauty of art."

Well, I can't argue with that even if my more-than-3-second pause when looking at his image wasn't because I thought his experiment was a success. Nor did I think it was beautiful art. I do confess, however, that I didn't understand it.  Whether that's a good thing or not, you know, a positive element of the photo I'm not sure. Sometimes, creating confusion in the minds of viewers can be a good thing. Sometimes it's not. For the image in question, I think is was not. (Not that I'm an art critic to a greater extent than all of us generally are.)

I did offer the photographer one bit of advice in his forum thread: "A simple caveat tho: If/when you're being paid to shoot, don't experiment on your client's time or dime."

The image at the top is one from some experimentation I've been doing lately. Specifically, I've been experimenting with various gear and techniques that yield rather lo-fi images. I've been experimenting both in production and post-production to achieve the sort of look I'm hoping to create. To that end, I've occasionally been using "toy" lenses like those produced by Holga and Diana. I've also been using a few filters to create the look-- filters like Tiffens' Pro Mist filters.  

This particular image (at the top) was snapped with a plastic Diana+ lens on my Canon 5D classic.  I later played with a few post-prod techniques to further compliment the look produced by the decidedly lo-fi Diana+ lens.  Please note the image above, as well as others I've shot, are what I call "personal project" pics. I wouldn't experiment like this when shooting for a client. If I later decide I really like the look I've been experimenting with, I might decide to incorporate some parts of it into my professional work -- altho I doubt I'll be shooting pretty girl pics for clients using a Holga or Diana+ lens -- but not until I've nailed the processes down and am very comfortable with the gear and approaches to the images that represent my experimentation. In other words, I won't incorporate any of the results of my experimentation into my paid work until I'm able to shout, "It's alive! It's alive!"

 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Do You Shoot in Auto Mode Even When Your Camera Isn't?

One of the things I've often stressed in my ebooks as well as here, on the blog, is the importance of practice. Practice! Practice! Practice! If it was almost any other sort of advice, I'd probably be guilty of beating it to death. But you almost can't beat to death the notion of practice being the best way to get good at something unless, I suppose, you're practicing beating something to death, but even then...

While there are a few (very few) photographers who seem to be prodigies of some sort -- they pick up a camera and, almost from the start, they're shooting terrific photos -- that's not the way its been or is for most of us. Most of us have had to pay or are paying our learning and practice dues. Some people advance quicker than others. (That's usually because some people practice more than others.) Does innate talent have anything to do with it?  Sure. Sometimes. But innate talent is not a requirement for shooting terrific photos. Practice is a requirement.

In my mind, the biggest pay-off from practice is the ability to shoot in auto mode. I'm not talking about the camera's modes. I'm talking about a more personal mode. A shooting mode, i.e., a mode the shooter is in when shooting.

The more you practice, the more the things -- things like techniques, using your gear, whatever -- become almost second nature. They become, to varying degrees, part of your subconscious. When that happens, they become automatic or nearly automatic (how about calling it "semi-automatic") allowing you to shoot in (what I call) your personal auto mode. My best work, I believe, was snapped when I was barely thinking at all about what my camera or lights were doing. In other words, it happened when nearly all of of my attention and focus was where it should be: On the model.

I'm not suggesting that practice will make you completely forget about thinking what you need to do (technically) to capture the images you're intent on capturing. I'm simply saying the more you practice, the closer you'll come to that auto-like place. And it's the best place to be! For photographers, especially those shooting people in non-candid ways, there's no better place to be in order to capture your best photos.

Every time I need to pause and think about what I'm doing, gear-wise or for any reason, is time taken away from my models. It's time taken away from the creative process going on in my head. It breaks my concentration and focus. It makes the smooth harmony of my shoots (something I always strive to produce, harmonious shoots that is) miss a beat, stutter, hiccup, or fall flat. That's not to say I can't recover and manage to get back to that place of model/photographer harmony, I almost always can, but I have to work a bit to get back there. Sometimes, more than "a bit." (Something I'd rather not need to do.)

If you want to improve your photography -- and just about every photographer I know wants to do that -- the best way to accomplish that goal is via learning and practice.  The worst way to try to accomplish that is by purchasing new cameras or other new gear.  Gear will never make you a better photographer. Leastwise, not automatically and not on its own. As a general rule, new gear will (at first) likely take your photography down a few notches, for a while at least. That's because new gear requires learning how to use that new gear and learning how to use it well requires practicing with it until you return to the point you were already at before purchasing and working with the new gear.

None of that is intended to suggest you shouldn't buy new cameras or other gear. But in my mind, the  best time to do that is when your skills have outgrown you current camera or other gear, you are going to begin shooting other genres or subjects which may require different or more gear, some unforeseen calamity renders your camera inoperable on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.

Course, if you have plenty of dough to constantly spend on the latest and greatest cameras and gear, by all means-- buy it all and buy it often. I'd probably do the same whether I needed the gear or not. But if you're not so flush with money that you can treat yourself regularly to all the new stuff that's constantly being released, you might want to consider what that new gear will really and truly do for you and your photography. Often enough, it won't do much.

The pretty girl at the top is Hannah. I pulled it out of the JimmyD archives. It's from six years ago! Wow! Where does the time go?  We were shooting at a Harley Davidson dealership. (After hours, of course.) For some reason, a few of the dealership's employees decided to put in some no-pay overtime. I wonder why?


Monday, August 11, 2014

Nothing Fancy


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 A few weeks ago, I went out again with my friend, Diana, for another "just-for-fun" editorial-style shoot.  Diana's son came along with us.

I wanted to capture some pics that seemed to say something about poverty in America, make that poverty in rural white America. I hoped to channel just a slight bit of Dorothea Lange and her Depression Era work. Nothing fancy or tricky, lighting wise or otherwise. It wasn't an attempt to mimic any of Lange's terrific photos. First off, it would have taken a budget to recreate the time period in which Lange shot most of her best work. I had no money for period "production value." (Props, wardrobe, locale.) Besides, I'm not so full of myself that I think I can match a master's work like Lange's.

Instead, I simply wanted to capture a bit of the feeling seen in some of Lange's work, especially those that portrayed a sense of hopelessness and despair in the expressions and body language of her subjects. It was more about projecting emotions than recreating a time period. I like shooting emotionally-driven pics. It's about directing the acting rather than setting lighting, framing for composition and other photographic elements. Not that those elements don't still remain important.

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The image at the top was captured with a cheap Holga lens on my Canon 5D2.  The pronounced vignetting is a product of the lens, not post production. It's a somewhat difficult lens to work with as it's very hard to see what you're pointing your camera at through the view finder. And as far as focusing with the Holga, well, it's just this side of "fuhgedaboutit" as far as that goes. Next time I use the Holga, I might try shooting with the camera in Live View mode to see if that helps in terms of the being able to see what I'm framing and perhaps focusing as well.

The image on the right was snapped with my Canon nifty-fifty. I enhanced some of the textures in post, which accounts for Diana's mottled skin. In reality, she has a very nice complexion.

I recommend occasionally going out and shooting with an emphasis on emotions. I spend a fair amount of time on photo forums and it's evident that more shooters seem interested in spending their time trying out various lighting and other techniques rather than going for the emotions. Emotions are equally as important to a photo's apparent shooting techniques when shooting people -- often enough, they're even more important -- whether it's portraiture, editorial, documentary, whatever you're shooting.

While we were out there, I also had promised to shoot some head shots of Diana's son. He has an interest in possibly pursuing some acting.


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The head shot above, one of a number of frames I snapped of Diana's son, is all natural light. No speedlite or reflector employed. Sometimes, the light is really nice all on its own and it's best to just leave it as is. It certainly makes things simpler when that's the case.  Nothing dramatic or show-offish. Just a nice look for a commercial head shot. I snapped it with a Canon 70-200 f/4 L zoomed most all the way in. ISO 100, f/4, 200th of a second.  As the light changed -- and it always does, quicker than we sometimes expect -- I added a speedlite into the mix, but just for a bit of subtle fill. Again, nothing fancy.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

When I Forget I Exist

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I recently acquired a Canon 5D MkII after my longtime partner in crime photography, my Canon 5D classic, had a major malfunction. (The mirror fell off in the middle of a shoot.) So far, I really like my 5D2. There are more than few differences (i.e., upgrades) between the 5D2 and 5D1 and one notable difference/upgrade is Live View shooting. Instead of singularly having a traditional viewfinder to frame my shots with, I can select Live View and use the rear LCD screen to accomplish the same. Cool, no? Well, sort of. Yes and no, actually.

I was looking forward to giving Live View a shot. (Pun intended.) So, the first time I went out with my 5D2 to shoot, that's exactly what I did.

It didn't go well.

My Live View experience only lasted a mere few frames or so before I switched back to viewfinder shooting.  No, there were no technical difficulties using Live View. It worked as advertised and just as it was supposed to work. And even though I was shooting in daylight, albeit shaded daylight, the 5D2's rear screen is bright and clear (much brighter and clearer than the 5D1) and I was able to see what my camera was pointed at quite easily.  The problem was me. It simply wasn't working for me. And it wasn't because I'm strictly an old school shooter or an old dog (which I am) who can't be taught new tricks. I've added plenty of new tricks to my shooting bag of tricks over recent years and, each time I did, I made the transition and learned those new tricks quite easily, having little trouble working them into my production workflows and shooting style.

I recognize there are times when having Live View capability will be a plus. Shooting landscape photography comes immediately to mind. As does macro photography and product photography. Also, when using the 5D2 to record video, another added capability of the 5D2, Live View will likely be a big help. (Assuming I ever use it as a video camera.) I've recorded thousands of hours of video, by the way, with various video cameras, including my Sony Z1U HD camcorder, and can easily switch back and forth between the viewfinder and its swing-out LCD screen. In fact, I've probably shot more, much more, with the LCD screen employed than with the viewfinder pressed to my eye. But that's video and this is still photography I'm writing about.

Here's why I will not be shooting with Live View except on sporadic occasions when it makes sense for a variety of possible reasons, none of them I'm going to go into right now. It's got to do with something   photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once said, something that resonated with me: “When I have sex with someone I forget who I am. For a minute I even forget I’m human. It’s the same thing when I’m behind a camera. I forget I exist.”

And so do I.

Let me explain.

I find it so much easier to forget I exist -- not that it's something I need to purposely do when I have a single open eye pressed to the viewfinder and the other eye closed -- because it happens rather automatically. You see, when I'm shooting with only the viewfinder, it's almost like nothing else exists but what I see in my viewfinder because that's all I see. (That's how it becomes as if I forget I exist.)  With viewfinder shooting, I easily immerse myself in a world that's only in my viewfinder. A world where little else matters, including myself.  A world contained, constrained, and restrained to only what I see in my viewfinder.

Not so with Live View.

When using Live View, on the other hand, with both eyes open, all the world around me continues to exist in my peripheral vision, and to exist with all it's many distractions.  You see, when you're completely focused on what's in your viewfinder, when it seems like you nearly cease to exist outside of your viewfinder's view of the world, you're better able to see, to notice, to be keenly aware of everything in that limited field of view. Suddenly, your entire world is your shot. It's a scaled-down world -- scaled-down to a small, manageable, and confined perspective -- and it makes snapping great photos so much more likely. In that world, a world revealed only in your viewfinder, all the details of your shot are more clearly revealed. They leap out at you! And you know what they say about details.

Ideally, as photographers, when we venture into the two-dimensional, scaled-down, finite world of our viewfinders, little else outside of that world matters much, including ourselves, at least for those brief moments in time. Focus isn't simply about what our lenses are doing. Focus, being focused, is what we're doing. Being focused with our eyes, our minds, our creative senses, nearly all our total awareness, is the place we all should be whenever we're shooting.  And using Live View, in my opinion, makes being in that place much more difficult.

I don't recall the name of the pretty girl at the top. It was snapped in a rather small condominium right up the street from the Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank, CA.  More companies than Warner Brothers resides at the studio these days but, originally, Warner Brothers built it. I canted my camera to take advantage of the diagonal lines of the bright colored chair to subtly help direct viewers' eyes to the model, not that I think many viewers, especially of the male variety, will need much help for their eyes to be drawn to her.