Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Future of Digital Photography: Stephen Hawking Style

I once attempted reading Stephen Hawking's, "The Universe in a Nutshell." Well, there's nutshells and there's nutshells and the universe as a nutshell, as put forth by Hawking, the British theoretical physics guru, was beyond my abilities to comprehend. Color me stupid? Maybe.

In the same vein of stuff that's beyond my meager abilities to comprehend and understand, allow me to direct you to the Fluffytek Photography blog and one of it's author's attempts, in his latest update, to explain digital photography and where it's going in terms of quantised physics. (Quantized for us folks on this side of the pond.) Who would've thought a blog with the word "fluffy" in its title would contain so much serious science?

As an artform or a craft--depending on which label you prefer--photography conjoins science and art and, IMO, it's difficult to achieve competence as a creative photographer without understanding some of the science that drives it... coupled with some artistic sensibilities, of course.

Which is the more important of the two? To my way of thinking, the latter. But that doesn't mean photographers with little or no understanding of the scientific and/or technical elements of photography will be able to consistently capture their artistic visions, photographically, in memorable ways.

While I'm a big believer in renouned photographer, Andreas Feininger's, observation that, "A technically perfect photograph can be the world's most boring picture," I also believe technical competence plays a big role in achieving photographic perfection. (Assuming such a thing is achievable.)

But like nutshells and the universe, there is understanding the science of photography and there is understanding enough of the science of photography and, after reading this latest, Fluffytek update, I'm convinced it contains way more science than I need to keep shooting some half-way decent images of beautiful, sexy, young women. And I mean that in the nicest, most respectful, way.

The pretty girl pics I posted are of Aneesha and were captured in the studio with my Canon 5D w/ my trusty 85mm f/18 prime, ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 125th. Mainlight courtesy of a Mola beauty dish.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Oh No! I'm Influential!

I love when people leave comments. That's one of my rewards for writing this blog. And while I wouldn't dissuade anyone from sending cash, checks, or money orders if they were so inclined and/or mentally-unstable (I am, after all, the Pretty Girl Shooter blog's favorite charity) I do encourage readers to leave comments.

BTW, if you leave a comment and it doesn't show up immediately, that's because I have to moderate it. That means, when I'm online and alerted to the pending comment(s), I need to log-on to the site and approve or disapprove it/them. I can't remember disapproving any legitimate comments thus far--whether they were supportive and in agreement with what I wrote or otherwise--except for one or two that were of the SPAM variety.

Oh! Before I forget! Here's a follow-on to yesterday's post: As I predicted, Glamour 1's head-honcho, Rolando Gomez, responded to Paul Buff's comments re: Buff's Alien Bees' ringflash system. Gomez, however, chose to post his response on G1 rather than on the Fred Miranda forum where Buff posted his response. Per my update yesterday, this subject has been engaged in some serious forum hop-scotching. If you're interested in Rolando's reponse to Paul's response to Rolando's response to the original poster's G1 thread, you can do so by clicking HERE. (Whew! That's a lot of responses!)

Back to today's update and me being influential...

A reader left a comment to a very early-on post I had written about my Mola beauty dish. If you never caught that post, you can read it by clicking HERE. You can also read an email I received from Mola's inventor and CEO by now clicking HERE. Anyway, it seems after reading what I had to say about Mola's incredible beauty dish, this reader decided to find out for himself if the dish was all I claimed it was. The man put his money where his mouth is by heading down to Samy's, in Los Angeles, and renting a Mola dish and trying it out.

Here's what Joseph Francis, the shooter who left the comment and rented a Mola had to say: "I'm a relatively novice photographer. On the strength of your review I rented one from Samy's in Los Angeles. Now I want one for my very own."

Joseph was also kind enough to post a few examples of his work with the Mola dish and you can view each of them by clicking HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Joseph-- If you're reading this, great job! You ain't as novice as you claim. Personally, I like #2 and #3 the best with #3 garnering my Best of Show award for this batch of pretty girl pics. And what a great gag that is with the frosting! How come I never thought of doing that? Did you have to rent a cake decorator as well?

So keep on keepin' on with those comments people! I like to read as well as write.

The pretty girl posted along with this is Aurora, lit with my 33.5" Mola dish as the mainlight.

Monday, November 27, 2006

When Opinions Collide

It began as a not-so-unusual post on the Glamour1 forum discussing the wisdom of spending big bucks on a high-end ringflash system (think Hensel @ about $2500) versus a very moderately-priced system (think Alien Bees @ about $300.)

Rolando Gomez, the G1 forum's founder and owner, jumped into the discussion and put forth his own views which weren't overly supportive of Alien Bees' ringflash. (For whatever it's worth, I should note that Hensel is one of G1's corporate sponsors.)

Another G1 member then provided a link to the G1 discussion on the Fred Miranda forum and invited Paul Buff, the CEO of White Lightning and Alien Bees, to respond to Gomez's comments which is exactly what Buff did.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of the ringflash. I think they're faddish, over-rated, and only gained ocassional celebrity status due to their use by some fashion photographers and others. Sure, they have their uses-- Mostly, IMO, as a fill-light in certain shooting situations but, for me, that's about it. I don't own one and I don't plan to purchase one. And although I'm fairly ambivalent regarding the use of a ringflash, I still found the evolution of this thread interesting.

It's not often that a somewhat routine discussion ends up hop-scotching forums and sucking-in a notable lighting manufacturer's CEO over the pros and cons of one of his company's products.

Although, as of this writing, Gomez has yet to respond to Buff in the Fred Miranda thread, I'm guessing he probably will. I'm hoping someone from Hensel also jumps into the fray. That would make the discusson even sweeter. It's likely, however, that Gomez will remain Hensel's forum front-guy in this dialogue. Regardless, it's not often that users and manufacturers go cyber-head-to-cyber-head in this fashion and I find it refreshing and informative.

The pretty girl pics accompanying this post are of Jayna. MUA was Charlene. For this series, I played around with some red and sorta-red gels playing out with her red-ish wardrobe set against a brown-ish seamless. Captures were with a Canon 5D w/85mm f/1.8 prime, ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 125th.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

How Are You Spending Your Photo Bucks?

I don't get it when I see shooters spending the biggest part of their equipment budgets on bodies and glass at the exclusion of lighting and grip and other gear that is, to my way of thinking, "must have."

Certainly, a good camera body and superior glass is important but I know some photographers who are shooting with a Canon 10D or a first-generation "Rebel" with moderately-priced glass and some of these guys put a lot of 1Ds shooters with the latest "L" glass to shame. There's a lot of reasons for this, and while skill and experience ranks high amongst them, there's more to it than that.

I was on the beach one time, at mid-day, and watched a shooter with a 1Ds MK II coupled to an EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens shooting a pretty, bikini-clad, model in one of Canon's auto modes. Why? The shooter doesn't own a light meter. That's about $8,500 to $9,000 worth of body and glass owned by someone who didn't think it important to spend a few hundred bucks on a light meter. Instead, he was relying on the camera's auto-exposure design to deliver the best possible images in a situation where highlights and shadows were working overtime against him and his camera's auto-metering system. This guy also wasn't using anything to modify or control the light. I struck up a conversation with him and learned he didn't own any lighting or light modifying gear; he didn't even own a Speedlite flash or a reflector. I asked him why and he told me he couldn't afford to spend anything more on his pretty girl shooting hobby.


I understand, when it comes to camera gear, bragging rights seem to be important to a lot of shooters but bragging rights never snapped a great image.

Do yourself a favor: If you're about to spend some serious money on camera gear, try to get the most bang for your buck. And that bang isn't limited to the camera itself or the glass you're going to mount to it. If you're serious about this thing we do, invest in a light meter and learn to use it. If you hope to consistently capture beautiful images of beautiful women, realize that "perfect light" is rarely at hand without some modification of "available light." Invest in some lighting gear! The rules of diminishing returns applies to cameras and lenses. If that means your budget doesn't allow for the "best" camera or glass without sacrificing other important equipment, resist the urge to go that way. Think harder about what will deliver the "best" images, in terms of your overall equipment arsenal, regardless of whether some of the gear you might end up using doesn't qualify as, technologically, the "best" available.

The pretty girl posted along with this minor diatribe is Paris. I shot her in my studio about a year ago. At 18, she wasn't very experienced but she knew, instinctively, how to play to the camera. MUA was Terese Heddon. Canon 20D w/28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 Canon zoom. That's only about two-grand worth of camera and glass in my hands working in concert with about that much again in lighting and grip. (About half the value of the guy-on-the-beach's gear.) Sorry if my examples are all Canon but I'm a Canon guy and I don't have much experience with or knowledge about Canon's competitors.

Friday, November 24, 2006

WoW To and From the Strobist

There's a double meaning for my use of the term "WoW" in this post's title: "WoW" as in "Wow!" and "WoW" as in an acronym for "Words of Wisdom."

If you haven't visited the Strobist site, I highly recommend you do so.

The Strobist is full of great information, keen insights, and practical advice. Although it principally focuses on the use of strobes (i.e., on-camera type strobes or flashes--think Speedlites if you're a Canon person--whether that strobe or flash is mounted on-camera or not) I think you'll get a lot out of what the Strobist has to say whether an on-or-off-camera flash is part of your usual lighting regimen or not. I know I do.

A recent, 11/21/06, post on the Strobist is titled: The Lighting Journey: Where Are You? It begins by discussing something or other about images posted on the Strobist's Flickr group, but then dove-tails into the truly sage part of this post; something the Strobist calls the Seven Levels of Lighting.

I read the Strobist's Seven Levels of Lighting a couple of times with great interest. It put a lot of things into perspective for me. For one, I realized where (in terms of glamour photography) I believe I currently exist on the The Lighting Journey: I figure I'm at Level 5: The Bag of Tricks

Here's how the Strobist defines Level 5 shooters:

"Most competent magazine / agency shooters live here. He knows what works, and he can make money with it. She experiments, but a has a collection of techniques that she can choose from to craft almost any situation into a beautiful photo.

Grid spot, soft box, flash drag, you name it. They know them all and can cycle them to the point where their pictures do not appear to be cliches of themselves.

To someone in phase one, two or three, they appear to be the ultimate destination."

Do yourself a favor and check out the Strobist on a regular basis, I think you'll find it's worth the time.

The pretty girl pics accompanying this post are of Nautica. They're from a series I snapped 5 or 6 months ago.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I'm Thinking...

Maybe I might put together a workshop or two? And although I probably should have thought harder about doing so while I had my own studio, I still have friends with studios and know some cool locations, and I have access to enough hot models, and I think I know a thing or two about pretty girl shooting, so why not? Did I mention I have access to hot models?

Of course, if I were to put a glamour photography workshop together I'd want to come up with a unique "hook" for it. You know, something that sets it apart from other workshops. And honestly, I'm not sure what that would be.

I did come up with one idea that I call Guerilla Glamour. It would be like guerilla filmmaking but it would apply those kinds of techniques to glamour photography. To me, Guerilla Glamour recognizes that many hobbyists don't have a whole lot of gear--I'm talking lighting and grip gear--and they might be interested in learning how to maximize the gear they do own, even if that gear is as little as a camera and an on-camera strobe. I mean, what good is it if you attend a workshop and capture some great images of some hot models using someone's pro gear only to go back home and not be able to duplicate what you did at the workshop on your home turf?

But then part of me thinks the Guerilla Glamour concept might simply be nothing more than the glamour photography workshop equivalent of Hamburger Helper.

If anyone thinks this all sounds like I'm looking for suggestions and/or advice you're right, I am. So feel free. Email me or use the comments section. I'm all ears... or eyes since I guess I'd be reading your words.

I posted a few more images of Cody from my shoot with her the other day. I figure she's easy enough on the eyes for all of you to endure seeing more of her.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sometimes It Begins Badly But Ends Up Okay

I hate it when things screw up right at the beginning. Yesterday was a good example.

Call time was scheduled for 10:00 A.M. at my friend's studio. I called my assistant for the day, Cippy, at about 9:00 and told him I'd be a little late as I realized I had to stop by my storage and retrieve some gear I would be needing. No problem was anticipated as a result of this: The model would be in make-up for about an hour-and-a-half and, once I arrived, I could be set-up and ready to shoot within a half-hour.

I arrived at the studio at about 10:30 and went right to the make-up room to see how things were going-- They weren't. The model, Cody, was sitting on the floor texting on her cell phone. Before I could say a word, Cippy came in and told me the MUA hadn't shown yet.

"Who's doing make-up?" I asked. (The MUA was booked by the client and I assumed Cippy was in contact with one of their people. Cippy, BTW, is technically one of the client's people as well. He's not an actual "photographer's assistant" but simply an extra pair of hands... sort of. I'll explain that later.)

Anyway, Cippy shrugged.

"Just great." I thought.

Cody, the model, took time-out from texting and offered a verbal hello. Just then, one of the client's "people" came in.

"Make-up will be here in a few minutes. She's only blocks away."

"What happened?" I asked.

She shrugged.

I grabbed Cippy and headed into the studio to get my gear out of my car and start setting it up.

About thirty minutes later I went back to the make-up room. Cody was still on the floor, still texting, and there was no MUA to be seen. Lea, the client's girl, was on the phone with Verizon arguing something about her cell phone bill.

"Where's make-up?" I asked.

Lea told the Verizon rep to "hold on a sec" and looked up. "She's not here yet."

"I can see that," I said. "Where is she?"

"She'll be here soon. There was a screw-up." And she went back to to speaking with Verizon.

I was becoming impatient. "What do you mean there's been a screw-up?"

"I'm on the phone," Lea said.

"I don't care what you're on. Where's the make-up girl? What do you mean there's been a screw-up?" Cody, the model, looked up at me and smiled meekly and sympathetically.

"Hold on again," Lea said into her phone and then looked up at me, obviously becoming perturbed that I was interrupting her phone conversation with Verizon. "She forgot to pencil this shoot in and she was on another set but now she's done and she's on her way," Lea quickly explained and returned her attention to Verizon.

None of this smelled right. I looked over at Cody but she was again intently texting. I went back to the studio to mess with my lights, realizing I wasn't going to get a straight answer.

Fast forward a bit and the MUA finally shows up at noon. Noon! two freakin' hours late! I started grilling her. "Why am I going to be going home two-hours later than I should be going home today?"

The MUA looked sheepishly at Lea. "I, uhh... forgot to pencil in this shoot."

It was becoming obvious now what probably happened: No one from the client's office booked the MUA and she was called at the last minute. I quickly realized further resistance was futile. I was just going to have to go with the flow even if the flow was pissing me off. I told Cippy to go find a Starbucks somewhere and get me some coffee. I went back into the studio to mess around with my laptop.

Two-hours later Cody was ready to go and we started shooting. Everything went smoothly from that point on. What'd'ya gonna do? Right? Get in the client's face for screwing up? Had it been me, of course, who had been the one tasked with booking the MUA, and had I forgot to do so, there would have been hell to pay.

Oh well. Just another day.

Model is Cody. MUA Kammi. Captured with Canon 5D w/85mm f/1.8 prime, ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 125th. Here's a shot of the lighting setup (below) for those of you who like seeing that stuff.

Oh, I should explain that part about Cippy "sort of" being a "pair of hands." Cippy was born with a birth defect. He only has three fingers on one hand and two on the other. It's amazing and remarkable to witness his dexterity in spite of his missing digits. I guess it's shameless of me to admit, but I sometimes refer to Cippy's hands as "claws" and I occasionally call him "Lobster Boy." (I've known Cippy for 6 or 7 years.)

I know, I know... it sounds cruel and insensitive of me. But Cippy has told me, numerous times, he not only thinks it's funny when I say that, but he'd rather have me bring attention to his "claws" from the start then have people pretend like nothing's wrong with his hands while constantly stealing weird glances at them. Ya see, once I refer to Cippy's hands as "claws" it diffuses all the weirdness anyone else on the set (who hasn't met Cippy before) might be feeling and, after they nervously giggle at my politically incorrect remarks, Cippy's hands become a non-issue. In fact, if we're shooting and I neglect to make my rude remarks, Cippy brings it up and, with a big grin on his face, eggs me on to make my crustacean comments at his expense. Go figure. And here's an interesting post script: Cippy is a favorite amongst many of the models for administering back massages with those claws. Apparently, and according to numerous models, Cippy's claws are perfectly designed for this and yield great back rubs. For some reason, Cippy never seems to mind being called upon to work the kinks out of these pretty naked model's backs.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

David LaChapelle Retired?

In spite of the guy being somewhat less than forty-years-old, word on the street (here in El Lay) says that uber-photographer, David LaChapelle, is retiring or has retired or, well, I'm not sure what exactly it's saying but it's saying something about him being retired.

Perhaps it might be that he hasn't really retired in the way most people retire but, instead, he's merely retired from working in Los Angeles and has ridden West into the sunset... to Hawaii. (Hawaii is where the word-on-the-street says he's gone and moved off to.)

Word also says that his art people--set designers and so forth--and his assistants and others are scrambling for work. And it seems many of them are nosing around L.A.'s infamous adult entertainment industry looking for gigs... an industry I have more than a passing acquaintance with. BTW, if you really want to come down to it, LaChapelle's people probably deserve a little more than a little recognition for their contributions to LaChapelle's controversial and acclaimed work.

But ain't that way it always goes? Take movies, for instance, who gets the lion-share of the credit for great movies? The director, of course. Same for photographers, especially fashion and glamour photographers. I see work all the time that is truly awe-inspiring. But not necessarily because of the shooter. Often, I realize the hair and makeup people, the stylists, and the art directors deserve more credit than the photographer. In fact, I'll bet that some of that work is awe-inspiring in spite of the shooter! But that's another story.

I don't mean to take anything away from David LaChapelle with my last paragraph. The guy's a photographic genius. He rocks! He's the shit! And he's wildly successful! So successful, in fact, that if he has decided to retire, in his thirties, I'm sure he can do that without any problem whatsoever. But ya know what? I'm guessing the guy still has a photograph or two left in him. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the best is yet to come from David LaChapelle.

I was hesitant to post any of my meager efforts in the same posting that talks about someone as gifted as David LaChapelle. But then I thought, "Screw it!" I'll put an image or two of Charmane up here. She's certainly easy enough to look at. I don't think anyone will complain about having to look at Charmane while reading about a true artist like LaChapelle.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Photographic Scotoma

So I'm watching The Da Vinci Code the other night and there's this part where Sir Lee Teabag (or whatever his name is) is explaining something to the main chick in the movie who, it turns out, is the actual descendent of Jesus H. Christ (Himself) and Mary Magdalene who, according to the book and flick, was JC's wife and mother of His children. In the scene, this Sir Lee guy is explaining the finer points of Da Vinci's painting The Last Supper. According to Sir Lee, the person sitting to Jesus' right is not one of the disciples and is, instead, Mary Magdalene. Sir Lee explains that the reason most everyone thinks this person in the painting is a male rather than a female is because many people are afflicted with a psychological problem called scotoma. According to Sir Lee, scotoma involves the mind seeing what it wants to see.

"That doesn't sound quite right," I thought. So I clicked Pause on the remote and went online to look up the word scotoma for a more accurate definition.

Unfortunately, on my first try, I spelled it wrong and typed in the word scatoma which, according to, is "a tumorlike mass of feces in the colon or rectum."

"Shit!" I thought (pun intended), "That doesn't sound right either," and I decided to amend my spelling and go for it again.

On my second try I got it right and was near-instantly cyber-shuttled to some definitions for the word scotoma. As it turns out, Sir Lee took a bit of dramatic license with his definition. It seems scotoma is a physical malady which produces, "loss of vision in a part of the visual field; a blind spot."

Okay, that's not exactly a condition where, as Sir Lee explained in the movie, the mind sees only what it wants to see but, I suppose, it's kind of close.

Anyway, this got me to thinking about photography and how, as photographers, we are sometimes afflicted with this scatoma thing. In other words, we're not always paying attention to what we're paying attention to when our attention is all wrapped-up in producing our photo masterpieces. It's like we suddenly develop a blind spot, or a mild case of scotoma, when it comes to noticing details. Or, as Sir Teabag would have us believe, we're only seeing what our minds want us to see. Either way, this is a definite problem because, as I've said before and as many others will tell you, when it comes to photography, all genres of photography, so much of it is all in the details.

I'm not going to belabor this point. I'm simply suggesting this: If you hope to produce images that aren't akin to scatoma you should work hard at avoiding photographic scotoma.

The images accompanying this post are of the lovely Gigi. In the first image, she seems to be having some sort of opthalmic problem going on. I'm not sure if it's an actual case of scotoma. It might be that she simply has some sort of scatoma in her eyes.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Brazilian Fashion Model Dies of Anorexia

Ultra-skinny models are in the news again. This time, a Brazilian model, Ana Carolina Reston--that's NOT her in the pictures--tragically died on November 14 from a generalized infection caused by anorexia. Her passing has renewed the controversy surrounding underweight models.

You might remember when, just this past September, a Madrid, Spain, fashion show banned models whose body-mass-index (BMI) was below 18. Ms. Reston’s BMI was 13.5 when she passed away. The World Health Organization considers anyone with a BMI below 18.5 underweight. A BMI below 17.5 is considered criteria for the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. A BMI nearing 15 is often used as an indicator of starvation... think concentration camp victims.

Reston's mother, Miriam Reston, has been speaking to the press, pleading with mothers world-wide to encouage their children to avoid risking their lives through unhealthy eating practices for the sake of the fame, money, and celebrity that represents the carrot on the end of the stick for young women hoping to become successful fashion models.

I don't get it. I've never quite understood why fashion designers pursue seriously underweight models to showcase their wares. Sure, I understand that clothes often look better on lean people but if these designers take a close look at their customers, who's that skinny amongst them? Are fashion's consumers that dumb they can't see the difference between what a dress draped on a seriously underweight model is going to look like versus what it's going to look like draped on their own (mostly not underweight) bodies?

Thankfully, we don't have this problem with glamour models. We don't insist that they are tall and skinny. We like a bit of meat on our glamour girls. That's not to say being "in shape" isn't a requirement for most glam chicks, but being underweight--make that emaciated--ain't what pretty girl shooters are looking for.

The image at the top is Aaralyn. I shot her yesterday for a client. MUA was Chloey. As usual, I captured Aaralyn with my Canon 5D w/85mm f/1.8 prime. The first image was captured at ISO 100, f/6.3 @ 125th. For lighting, I used a 5' Photoflex Octodome for my mainlight. I positioned a Chimera Medium Strip camera-right, about 45-degrees behind the model. I also used a bare-bulb monolight with a 30-degree grid attached to the front for an accent light, camera-left, also about 45-degrees behind Aaralyn. After getting all the requisite "pretty girl on a seamless" shots my client needs for a DVD's cover artwork, I had some fun shooting Aaralyn on a trashy, alley set. I decided to use just the bare-bulb with the grid for lighting this series. I wanted to give these images a stark, higher-contrast look.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Hidden Details in the Shadows

I checked out the Santa Clarita Valley Photographers Association annual photo show at a local hotel recently. Santa Clarita, if you don't know, is a suburban community located about 25 miles North of downtown Los Angeles and it's where I live.

The show was designed to showcase the work of local photographers, pros and hobbyists alike, and hundreds of them were represented, albeit I didn't see any examples of glamour photography. I wasn't surprised by this. I've lived here for quite a few years and Santa Clarita is a fairly conservative town.

I attended with my daughter, her husband, and their two children. My daughter, who also lives in the SCV, is a serious hobbyist who wants to begin building a business focusing on children's photography. She's been interested in photography since high school and keeps getting better and better wielding her Canon Digital Rebel, 300D. The SCV Photographers Association is an organization I'm encouraging her to join if she really wants to pursue her photography goals.

As I walked up and down the aisles, pausing to admire the many prints on display, I couldn't help but notice a common problem amongst the many images I viewed: A lack of detail in the shadows. When I came across images that had plenty of detail in the shadows, it turned out these images were, for the most part, captured with film.

What's with that?

It turns out, after speaking with more than a few local shooters--some of them pros--that post processing was something many of them seemed to know "not enough" about. In fact, for many of these photograhers, the extent of their post-processing skills seemed limited to an ability to FTP their images to an online print house and that's pretty much it.

I'm not saying that quality print houses don't do a good job processing and printing images. Many of them do. But I wonder how much time that print house technician is going to spend on individual images. It seems to me many of these photographers are leaving critical technical and artistic decisions to complete strangers. Sure, these strangers are probably, for the most part, competent. But they might not see the image the way the shooter envisioned it. Giving the post-processing over to some annonymous individual to process might work for many assignments but when you're going to showcase an image or two at a photography show, you'd think the shooter would want complete control over those images.

Anyway, back to my "lack of detail in the shadows" observations.

When I spoke with a shooters who processed their own images, I found that most of them were using earlier versions of Photoshop. And when I tactfully pointed out the lack of detail in the shadows and casually mentioned Photoshop's Shadow/Highlight Tool, I was surprised to learn most of them knew nothing about it, much less how to use it.

I'll admit, it hasn't been all that long since I became acquainted with PS's powerful Shadow/Highlight Tool, but now that I know about it there isn't an image I don't manipulate using that tool. And since I've been doing so, I've been very surprised to discover how much shadow detail exists in digital images. Detail I wasn't sure existed in my pre-Shadow/Highlight Tool days.

If you're not using Photoshop's Shadow/Highlight Tool when processing your images, I recommend you begin doing so. If you don't know how, learn to do so. Here's a nature photography site that talks about the tool and includes some impressive examples of its use. You can Google for more info and how-to tutorials.

I'm still not as proficient using this tool as I hope to be but I'm working on it. Here's a tip for pretty girl shooters: Don't overlook one of the coolest capabilities of this tool for processing skin: Adjusting (increasing) the mid-tone contrast. It can produce some very dynamic results.

The gratuitous pretty girl featured with this post is Ice. Ice has an interesting, multi-ethnic look. I captured her with a Canon 5D w/85mm f/1.8 prime, ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 125th.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Feathering the Light

There's a currently active thread on the Glamour1 forum where a technique called feathering the light is being discussed. The original poster provided an image, along with a lighting diagram, that illustrates his attempts to feather the light across a model's face.

Rather than write about that shooter's attempts to feather his light, I thought I'd simply write about feathering light in general.

If we assume the brightest area of a directional light source is at it's center (e.g., where the flashtube is positioned) we can also assume that, as you move away from that center and remaining in the same plane, the intensity of the light diminishes. In other words, the light begins to fall-off or feather or gradually decline in brightness as you move away from it's source. There are a variety of ways to feather the light including from right to left, top to bottom, diagonally across an image, or around a perimeter.

Mola beauty dishes, for example, are specifically designed to fall-off, or feather, a half-stop from the center of the dish to the outer perimeter of the dish. Obviously, as you move even further away from the outer perimeter of the dish, the light will fall-off even more dramatically.

Using a Fresnel lens and focusing it in various ways is another way to feather, or produce a graduated fall-off around a permeter in a light source's appearance in an image.

When you feather the light across a subject you'll notice a fall-off (or diminshed exposure) from the brightest point made by the light to the dimmest. The more gradually the light falls-off the more aesthetically pleasing it generally appears. The more pronounced the feathering is, the more dramatic the image will often seem. Feathering is another technique which belongs under the broader heading of Light Control.

If you're using a light source that is not designed to produce fall-off, like a Mola beauty dish or Fresnel lens, you can still feather the light by angling it away from the subject. The degree to which the light is feathered will depend on the angle it is turned away from the subject as well as the distance between the light source and the subject. Since a light source placed further from the subject will produce light with harsher or more pronounced shadows and, conversely, the closer the light source the softer it appears, the elements of angle and distance work in concert to produce more or less feathering.

If you're using modeling lights, you should be able to see the feathering effect on the subject when you play around with varying degrees of angle coupled with various distances between the light source and the subject. If you're shooting digital, as most of you probably are, a quick review of the images will tell you how pronounced the feathering effect becomes as you adjust the position and direction of the light.

Large softboxes are sometimes difficult to use when attempting to produce a noticeable feathering effect. Softboxes are usually designed to minimize brightness in the center (less center hot spot) by using an internal baffle. They are also shaped to disperse the light evenly over a larger surface. In other words, the larger the source the more difficult it will be to produce a feathered effect across a small target area like a model's face. A smaller source, therefore, will produce more noticeable feathering. I sometimes use a a bare bulb with a small reflector and with a small grid affixed in front of it to produce more obvious fall-off across a small target area. By angling this light source and adjusting the distance to the subject, I can see the amount of feathering its producing.

The pics I posted are of Margo, one of Mother Russia's sexier exports. They were captured with a Canon 20D w/28-135mm zoom, ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 100th. I applied feathering techniques when capturing these. In the first image, I angled the main light source, a Mola beauty dish which has its own, inherent, feathering qualities and, in the second image, I used a monolight shot thru a Fresnel lens. As you can see, the light fall-off from the focused Fresnel is fairly dramatic.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Ethics of Image Manipulation

I don't know about many of you, but I manipulate almost every image I shoot, i.e., those that I decide are keepers.

Often, my image manipulations aren't very dramatic. Sometimes, they are. Most of the images I publish fall somewhere between subtle manipulations and heavy manipulations.

Fortunately, pretty girl shooting doesn't require adhering to the same code of ethics as photo-journalism requires. If it did, most all of us would be guilty of routine and multiple violations.

North Carolina's The Charlotte Observer maintains strict policies regarding image manipulation. So strict, in fact, the paper recently fired one of its photographers for altering the color in an image. That's right. He altered some color values. The shooter, it seems, made color enhancements to an image of firefighters at work; not to the firefighters themselves, but to the sky behind them. You can read about it HERE.

Personally, I'm an advocate of truth-in-journalism. But I can't help but wonder whether this newspaper's ethics policies have been carefully re-examined since the digital revolution forever changed the ways in which we take pictures and process them.

According to the newspaper, the shooter was fired because he manipulated the color of the sky in the background of the image. According to the shooter, he made color adjustments to the sky, while post-processing, because of an exposure problem which incorrectly rendered the colors of the sky in his image.


I suppose the first thing that comes to my mind is how important the actual color of the sky was to the sanctity of honest news reporting. It isn't as if the photographer snapped the image on a rainy, overcast, day and later replaced that sky with azure blue.

Do the editors at this newspaper realize that most all digital images need some adjusting? Especially in terms of luminescence levels and color saturation? (Nevermind sharpening and other adjustments.) Heck, most film images required chemical (and other) forms of adjustments. Do the paper's managers also realize that almost any adjustment made to luminescence, for instance, will alter the color values in an image? Is there a policy regarding how much manipulation is okay and at what point the paper's ethical policies are violated? Was the shooter truly intending to decieve the public with his post-processing manipulations or was he simply enhancing the technical and photographic qualities of the image?

More than likely, the true answers to these questions will never be made public. Truth and reality don't actually exist in anyone's mind. Only each person's version or perception of truth and reality exists. The same holds true for images captured by photographers.

From left-to-right, Stefani, Tera, and Kelle are featured in the image at the top. I manipulated the colors of this image by converting to B&W. If this image were part of a news story, would I be guilty of an ethics violation for manipulating the original colors (and a few other elements) of this image?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Saluting the Flag

An important tool in a shooter's bag of tricks is the simple flag. It might be sexier to talk about the gear we use to modify light than what we use to control it, but controlling light is as important as modifying it.

There are many ways to control light: grids, barn doors, and snoots are typical examples; flags are another example.

A flag can be almost anything you choose to use to block light from illuminating areas you don't want to illuminate or blocking it from casting light in certain directions. Flags are usually fashioned from materials that light will not penetrate or shine through.

There are two main reasons for controlling a light source: Keeping the light from spilling onto areas you don't want to light and/or keeping the light from causing flares in the lens. Grids, doors, and snoots can do a great job when you want to keep the light contained to specific areas. Flags can also be very effective.

Flags can be fashioned out of so many materials. They can also perform double-duty as reflectors. I often use pieces of white styrofoam or foamcore to both flag a light and to bounce some of that light. Other materials a shooter can use to flag a light run the gamut from fabrics, like duvetyne, to black foil, to a simple piece of cardboard.

In the image below, there are three flags at work. One of them is flagging the strip box placed behind and to the right of Leah, the model. That simple flag, nothing more than a piece of styrofoam, is keeping the light from spilling onto the background and illuminating it. To the left and also behind Leah, another styrofoam flag is performing similar duty. Above Leah, there's some black foil attached to the small, boomed, softbox. The foil is flagging that light source, also keeping it from spilling onto the background.

In glamour photography, we usually want to focus the viewer's attention on the model. We also want her to "pop" off the background. Part of directing the viewer's attention and capturing images that "pop" the model require controlling the light and keeping it from spilling onto areas of the image that reduce attention on the model. Believe it or not, a beautful face and great body often aren't enough to accomplish this. Flags, as well as other devices used to contol light, are a great way to achieve this.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Case for Portability

Now that I'm a former studio owner, I've thought about how having a studio affected my equipment acquisition decisions, especially as it pertains to lighting and grip gear.

Throughout the time I had my studio, about 2 years, I earned approximately the same income on location shoots as I did in the studio. I'll admit, I never worked much at marketing the studio as a rental space. Mostly, because I was concerned about strangers messing with my stuff. The biggest problem I had was storage space-- there simply wasn't enough of it. All my lighting, grip, props, set-pieces, and wardrobe were kept in the open. Certainly, it wouldn't have been all that easy for someone to walk out with a monolight or a couple of C-stands but it wasn't out of the realm of possibilities either.

Space is an even larger issue when I'm booked for location shoots. My vehicle is not a truck, van, or SUV; it's a 4-door sedan. That means space is at an even greater premium when I'm packing up to go shoot.

Some of my gear makes sense for using both in a studio and on location. Monolights, as opposed to packs and heads, are a good example: They're very portable, they're powerful yet adjustable light sources, and, when necessary, they can be powered by battery packs. Besides, I wouldn't want to schlep around heavy power packs when shooting on location. IMO, packs-and-heads are old school. And while I consider myself something of an old school shooter who subscribes to many old school techniques and approaches to shooting pretty girls, it seems to me that applying those techniques doesn't preclude using the latest technologies. The switch from film to digital as the dominant medium used amongst shooters is a good example. My advice? If you're contemplating purchasing lighting gear, go with monolights. Power isn't the only consideration when buying lighting equipment. And it's often less important when shooting glamour and portraits. Put portability high on your list of importance.

Modifiers are another consideration. I love using my Mola beauty dish. But it isn't very portable. It can't be folded-up and its large, bell-shaped body isn't very practical when loading up a car with gear. Softboxes and umbrellas make more sense. My favorite mainlight modifier, after the Mola dish, is my 5' Octodome. It provides soft, wrap-around lighting characteristics and it easily sets-up, folds-up, and packs-up.

I guess what I'm saying is that, even if you have a studio, you should be thinking about how easy is is for you to pack up your gear and head out to a location without sacrificing what gear you'll need to get the job done. I suppose if money ain't an object, you could maintain two, distinct, sets of gear: One set for the studio and one for when you're on-the-go. In my case, however, money is an issue so I'm most-often looking for redundancy in terms of useable applications for my gear.

BTW, my favorite "Case for Portability" is the Pelican case. If you're not acquainted with Pelican's products, check out Pelican's website for info.

The shot-on-location images accompanying this update are of my good friend Kori Rae. They were captured near El Mirage Dry Lake, near Victorville, California, at the ruins of an old stone house. I didn't schlep much gear up to El Mirage, just my camera, a light meter, a few reflectors, and Kori. (Oh yeah. My pal Rick, another shooter, was also there. Hey! Someone's gotta hold the reflector!)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Still in Limbo

I'm still in limbo... cyber limbo, that is. I have very limited internet access at the moment (except when I visit family and use their computers) plus my computer and hard drives are still boxed up. I'd explain in more detail but it's a long and boring story and has nothing to do with glamour photography whatsoever, so why bother? Hopefully, I'll have regular access again within a day or two.

I'm only mentioning this as I don't want anyone to think I've lost the motivation to continue writing about pretty girl shooting and posting pics of hot, sexy, chicks.

Hopefully, you'll continue checking in to see if I'm back to business as usual.