Sunday, December 31, 2006

Felice Anno Nuovo!

Thought I'd toss out a New Year's greeting in Italian since it's such a big part of my cultural ethnicity.

For my last meal of 2006, I went with Spaghetti Aglio Olio with some nice grilled sausages ("saw-seej" as my Grandmother would say) and some crusty bread. Made the meal myself! That's how ethnic I'm feeling tonight.

Unlike many of Italian descent, I'm not much of a wine drinker so I went with Lemonade Crystal-Lite to wash it down. Yah, I know, that's practically heresy.

I already wrote about my resolutions for the coming year. I prefer getting the resolution-making out of the way before New Year's Eve. For this last evening of the outgoing year, I usually reflect back, focusing on the really postive things that happened in my life during the year. I'm not much for partying and crazy revelry on New Year's Eve, never have been. I usually stay in. That's not because I don't know how to party. Trust me, I do. I've just never been into doing so on New Year's Eve. Don't know why. It's just me I guess.

Here are a few of the terrific things that took place in my life during 2006:

1. From the perspective of family, which is the most important thing of all, my daughter gave me a second grandchild. For me, the birth of my grand-daughter, Brooklyn, was the most wonderful and momentous day of 2006 and counts as one of the all-time greatest things to happen in my life, right along with the births of my two children and my grand-son.

2. From the perspective of my career, 2006 marked the year I decided to devote myself to photography above all my other endeavors. I spent more time hustling work as a stills shooter than as a video shooter and related gigs, albeit not always as successfully as I'd like. While that decision resulted in a decline in income, I'm happy I made the choice and I intend to continue in that direction. I'm bent on turning the resultant income decline around and discovering new ways to put my photography skills and knowledge to work.

3. Deciding to create this blog was a decision I'm glad I made. It's given me an opportunity to put into perspective my philosophy and knowledge of photography and the genre of photography I mostly pursue. Although I'm not sure where this blog will ultimately lead me, I'm pretty sure it's going to lead me to positive things.

Well, those are the big three for me. I wish everyone the best of everything in the coming year!

The gratuitous eye-candy is Charlotte. Instead of the warm, saturated skin tones I often utilize, I went with a softer, cooler-toned, lower-contrast approach to the processing. MUA was Lilian.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Some Thoughts on Posing

What constitutes a good pose? I honestly can't answer that. For me, it's one of those "I know it when I see it" kind of things. One pose might look great on one model and not-so-great when another goes for it.

Great-looking poses from one model which might look lame on another are the result of many variables including body type, height, wardrobe, the lighting, the environment the model is posing in, her level of confidence, and much more. Posing guides can be helpful, especially for less experienced shooters, but can any posing guide take into account the considerations I just listed? I don't think so. That's where the shooter's eye and aesthetic sensibilities come into play. That's why posing, from the photographer's perspective, is so often an "I know it when I see it" kind of thing.

I'm not saying there aren't tried-and-true poses, some of which will work for most all models. And there certainly are good posing habits models should learn and shooters should recognize. But if you think the rules for things like lighting and composition are important to understand, whether you religiously stick to them or not, a lot of the so-called rules for good posing go out the window depending on the model's ability to pull off poses that break away from the norm.

When I'm shooting a model for the first time, one of the first things I want to learn about is her level of experience in front of the camera. Most of my game plan depends on the model's experience and her level of confidence. An experienced and confident model makes things so much easier for the shooter. I've shot models who can strike almost any sort of pose with very little direction. Less experienced models are another story. Sometimes you have to treat them like meatpuppets and direct nearly every aspect of their physical being in front of the camera and, in the end, a lot of it still doesn't work due to the lack of confidence and insecurity of the newbie model. Personally, I hate having to be a total puppeteer. It takes energy away from the shoot and doesn't permit me to focus on other aspects of the images I should also be concentrating on.

When it comes to posing, learning what works and what doesn't work, plus developing a discrimating eye when it comes to model poses, are as important as what you learn about lighting and exposure and composition and all that stuff.

I'll probably be writing more about posing in upcoming updates.

The lovely lady posted along with today's babble is Nikita Lea. Nikki's a very experienced glamour model and has often been seen in magazines and on the net.

Friday, December 29, 2006

There's Nothing New: It's All Been Done Before

One of my favorite photography blogs is Strobist. It's chock full of useful information for shooters of all levels of skill and experience. If you're serious about lighting-enlightenment and you don't regularly visit Strobist, I recommend you begin doing so. (Is "lighting-enlightenment" a redundant pairing of words?)

In his most recent offering, the Strobist provides a review of Michael Grecco's book, "Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait." But in his informative review, the Strobist makes some statements that, frankly, surprise me coming from someone as knowledgeable as himself.

For example, he describes a Grecco lighting setup used for a portrait of two, NYPD Blue stars:

"Grecco gives example after example of how he chooses to break the rules while on assignment. One of my favorite examples - and so simple - is how he lit the NYPD Blue stars from the bottom with a hard light to get the upside shadows. Then he gobo'd the light from the two guys' faces, then lit the faces from the top with gridded lights."

The Strobist then goes on to say, "Why didn't I think of that?"

I dunno, dude. Why didn't you think of that? What rules were broken? The rules of Rembrandt-style lighting? What Grecco did was utilize a film noir inspired lighting approach for the portrait. That's hardly breaking rules. It might be utilizing a less-often seen lighting style but it doesn't break any so-called rules.

According to the Strobist, Grecco chastizes the use of "classic" lighting styles with statements like this:

"In most cases when I see this kind of lighting, I get a hairball in my throat. Not only of how predictable it is, but because of what it generally represents: slick, pedestrian lighting that is to me, schlocky!"

Classic is schlocky? I'm gonna have to mull that one over for a while.

Look, I'm not coming down on Michael Grecco. He's a terrific shooter and certainly knows what he's doing and I'd be lying if I said I don't envy his success as a photographer. His images are way cool and I'm sure his book has tons of great information. But sometimes I think these celebrated shooters become a little too enamored with themselves and their work and they begin believing they're inventing all kinds of new styles and techniques when, in fact, they're not. What they do know how to do is artfully execute, manipulate, and adapt the various styles and techniques that were devised by others who came before them. They also know when to do it differently and when to play it safe.

I agree that always utilizing commonly-seen lighting styles is less apt to make your work standout. But shooting with less-often-seen lighting techniques doesn't mean your breaking rules. It simply means your willing to go out on a limb, stylistically, and doing so might be a good thing. It might also be a not-so good thing depending on the circumstances, how well you pull it off, and where you are on the photographer food chain. I'm the last guy to tell anyone to always play it safe, although playing it safe is often what many clients expect and that's certainly another consideration. My philosophy is this: First give the client what they want and expect. Then, if there's time, give them something else. Of course, if they love that "something else," it might then become the thing they want and expect and that leaves you with trying out other things for the "something else." Conversely, if they hate the "something else," you still gave them what they wanted and it all remains good.

The black widow-like model in the image at the top is Caroline. I snapped this image 3 or 4 years ago with a 10D.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Watch Out for Chia Pet Syndrome!

If you're like me, when your eye is pressed to the viewfinder the vast majority of your attention is focused, intently, on the model. For the most part, that's a good thing.

But sometimes, this level of attention causes us to be less focused on what's going on behind and around the model. It's tough to blame ourselves for doing so, especially when there's a beautiful lady posing in front of us... sometimes naked! But if we're not careful, we might end up snapping an otherwise killer image of the beautiful babe with, what looks like, something growing out of her head or from somewhere else, almost like a Chia Pet.

I can't tell you how many times I've snapped images only to discover I was paying too little attention to that tree or bush or the shrubbery behind the model and, wouldn't ya know it, the image, being two-dimensional and all, gave the appearance that a limb or a branch was growing out of the model's head. This isn't only a problem when shooting outside with flora in the picture. Windows often have horizontal and vertical components that can make your model look like My Favorite Martian with antennae growing from her lovely melon. (I think I just seriously dated myself.) In fact, there's all kinds of things waiting in the background and elsewhere to mess up our shots.

When I think to do so, I go through a quick, silent, checklist--in my head--while I'm shooting.

"She's in the light? Check."

"No amputated arm syndrome? Check."

"Nothing looking like it's growing out of her head? Check."

Of course, there should be a whole bunch more bouncing around our brains while we're shooting. To make matters more complicated, we should be verbally communicating with the model all the while. (Wouldn't it be great if we could Vulcan Mind Meld with models when we're shooting them?) All of this requires some mental gymnastics at times. Since what I'm writing about today falls under the heading of "practical advise," I suppose what I'm advising is that you train your eye and your brain and your mouth to become gymnasts or acrobats: Working together like one of those incredible Chinese acrobatic teams that are all on top of each other, balancing precariously off of chairs held by the lower guys' noses while plates are spinning on the fingers of the people on top.

I'm writing about this today because, as I was going through some sets of Selena, who I'm featuring in today's post, I came across a few too many images where the vertical and horizontal parts of those windows seemed to be growing, unattractively, from her head. Mostly, I think, it's the verticals that caused the problems.

As noted, the model is Selena. MUA was Lilian. I captured these with a Canon 5D w/85mm f/1.8 prime, ISO 100, f/6.3 @ 125th. I used a 5' Photoflex Octodome as a mainlight. Ambient provided everything else. Monchrome conversion using the Channel Mixer method.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Pretty Girl Shooter Workshop?

Recently, I've received a number of emails inquiring about my intent to organize a workshop in the coming new year. Yesterday's post sparked more of the same as a few people wondered if my plans to work with my daughter meant I've lost focus on producing a glamour workshop.

I'm still pondering the pros and cons of putting on a workshop. And it's still an idea, for the most part, I think I might pursue. The recent workshop flame-war that erupted on a popular glamour forum (that I wrote a few times about on this blog) was quite educational for me. As I've never attended a photo workshop, that online spat (unintentionally) provided me some insight into the methodologies used by various workshop promoters.

I've also had a well-known workshop promoter--yeah, someone who was involved in the cyber-spat--inquire if I'd be interested in joining with him for a Los Angeles event. I'm quite tempted and I might agree to join with him in this but I'm still mulling over the pros and cons to accepting his offer.

It certainly would afford me the opportunity to work with someone who is quite successful at producing workshops; someone with a lot of experience promoting, organizing, administering, and implementing these sorts of events. Might this be a good way to start out in the workshop biz? Maybe. In fact, it could be a terrific opportunity! But might there also be some down-the-road problems from being identified with that individual's workshops? Would I be able to shed the connection, if I needed to, once I decided to go on my own? Would joining with him dillute whatever might be unique to something I might devise? Like I said, "pros and cons," and these are just a few of them bouncing around my head.

If I do this, I most assuredly want it to be as worthwhile for me as it would be for its participants. My reasons for considering jumping into the workshop biz aren't altruistic. But, at the same time, I want to provide a win/win experience for myself as well as those who attend and for those who participate as models or provide other services.

Hopefully, I'll figure this all out in the near future.

The eye candy posted along with this is Charli. She's definitely a looker, ain't she?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Since the number "7" is perceived by many (myself included) as a lucky number, I'm hoping the seventh year of this new millenium will be a year where luck will help achieve some of the resolutions I'm making. I'm not counting on luck to achieve the things I want to achieve in the coming year, but a little help from Lady Luck certainly wouldn't hurt.

Besides the obvious things that many resolve to accomplish in a new year, which are also on my list of resolutions, e.g., losing weight, getting in shape, quitting bad habits and that sort of stuff, another key resolution, for me, is to expand the scope of my photographic pursuits and to do it in ways that helps others as well as myself.

My wonderful daughter, who is a married, mother of two, has been more than a little bit interested in photography since high school. She has always been most focused on people photography and she possesses a good eye, understands the basics, and occasionally makes a few bucks off of her photographic pursuits. But with two small children, she doesn't have the time to pursue it in ways she'd like to and that's where her Dad (me), the year 2007, and resolutions comes into the picture.

I'll confess I've been less of a mentor to her than I should have been--photographically, that is--but I intend to change that and, in the process, hope to build something both my daughter and I can benefit from: We're going to officially go into business together and focus on family (and related) photography.

This doesn't mean I'm giving up my pretty girl shooting business. I will continue pursuing it much the way I've been doing so. It is, after all, my bread-and-butter. But glamour and tease photography holds no interest for my daughter. That aside, its time for me to start passing on what I know how to do in ways that match what she wants to do.

Fortunately, it's not just skills and experience that I can throw at this venture. I have a lot of expensive gear that we won't have to purchase. From her side, she has a good head for business--an area that I'm seriously lacking at--and, hopefully, that will go a long way towards helping us put together a viable business. Plus, my experience and portfolio doesn't include a lot that will appeal to the clientele we're targeting. Obviously, my daughter will be the "front woman" for this endeavor.

Don't get me wrong, we don't intend to start up a photography business that mimics the kind of family portraiture, kid-pics, and other stuff you see coming out of a Sear's photography studio or similar place. And we're not joining the wedding photography industry. (Although my daughter has been paid to shoot a few weddings and she might continue this pursuit to some extent. But weddings aren't for me!)

We are developing, what hopefully will be, a signature style that will appeal to discriminating clients. We both reside in a growing community of about two hundred-thousand with the largest demographic being young, upwardly-mobile families who have a fair amount of discretionary income. That means there are plenty of potential clients here with money to spend on innovative family (and related) photography. The city where we reside has been one of the fastest growing bedroom communities in the Los Angeles area and it's still growing. Sure, there are other photographers taking advantage of this demographic in innovative ways. Our goal is to trump them with creativity, quality, style, skill, imagination, and innovation.

I'll keep you all posted on how this unfolds. Of course, I'll still be blogging on all things related to pretty girl shooting.

Speaking of pretty girls, the image posted at the top is Rebecca. I've displayed some similar images of the lovely Rebecca in the past, although I may not have posted this particular image before.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Xmas to All

It's Christmas Eve here in sunny Southern California. Having grown up in the Northeastern U.S., I still can't get used to sunny and warm weather for the winter holidays. And I've lived in California for more than 30 years! It just doesn't seem right. It certainly doesn't feel right. For some 30-odd years it never has felt right and I'm sure it never will.

I remember when I was a kid back East. We always hoped for a white Christmas. We didn't always get a white Christmas but we certainly never had temperatures in the 80s and/or 90s. I'm sure there's a lot of folks all over the U.S. and other parts of the world who would love to have warm weather right now but, trust me, you wouldn't want to have it on Christmas.

Oh well, I guess you can't have it both ways.

Anyway, just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a great holiday--whatever you celebrate--and a terrific New Year!

I've gone through my image archives on all my hard drives and it seems I've not taken a Christmas-themed glamour shot. So, I thought I'd take this pic of Jessie I snapped a year or two ago and add a little holiday graphic to it. Whether she's been a good girl or a bad girl, Jessie probably get what she wants for Christmas. In fact, she probably gets more of what she wants when she's been a bad girl.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The TFP/TFCD Debate w/TFC Thrown In

Last week, I visited the G1 forum, as I often do, and posted a link to an article posted on the Fluffytek Photography blog concerning TFP/TFCD.

The G1 thread quickly degenerated into a quarrelsome, semi-flame war between some people involved with photography workshops. It certainly wasn't my intent to foment trouble between a few of the forum's members but that's what ensued.

In hopes of getting the TFP discussion back on track, another G1 member began a second thread regarding TFP/TFCD. This second thread spawned another post on the Fluffytek blog further stating that blog-author's opinions about the whole TFP/TFCD process.

Personally, I don't shoot much TFP/TFCD. It's not that I'm opposed to doing so, I sometimes do shoot models with a TFP/TFCD arrangement in place. But doing so is more the exception to my pretty girl shooting pursuits than the rule. I do, however, shoot something called TFC. (Note: TFC is not to be confused with TLC, altho I do put a lot of TLC into my TFCs.)

If you haven't figured out this acronym yet, TFC stands for Trade For Content.

TFC is like TFP/TFCD in that no money changes hands between the participants. If there are hard costs involved, like an MUA, the TFC principals split that cost. But where TFC differs from TFP is in the permitted use of the images. The model gets to do whatever she wants with her images (with certain restrictions) and I get to do, for the most part, whatever I want with the images as well. (Again, with certain restrictions.)

Let's say you encounter a model who has a membership/subscriber website. Obviously, she needs fresh content for that site. That's part of how she retains members. By trading content, the model gets commercial use of the images I capture. By the same token, I get commercial use of the images. Yep, I can sell those images to other websites or to print media or I can use them for my own commercial enterprises.

I know some of you will immediately envision all kinds of potential problems with this arrangement but there are more than a few web-models and shooters who engage in it and aren't complaining about mis-use of the images later on.

Do I have a specialized release form for this arrangement? Of course I do, although it's not anything that special. Am I still the copyright holder of the images? You betcha. But in this arrangement, I've assigned use that goes beyond promotional use of the images. The model has done the same back to me.

TFC may not work for everyone. Some people are simply too protective of their work or their likenesses to comfortably engage in this practice. I suppose that's because so much of what they shoot is so fantastic or because, as a model, their future is guaranteed to be on its way to superstardom. But it sometimes works for me and for more than a few models I've shot with a TFC arrangement in place.

The model I posted along with this update is Jasmine. I shot these, and quite a few more of her, under a TFC arrangement with her about a year or so ago.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Solstice

I'm not much of a religious guy. But today is a day that has been celebrated by millions and millions of people for thousands and thousands of years. Today is the day of the Winter Solstice. If any of you thought today went by kind of fast, that's because the Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, in terms of hours of daylight, that is. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere of this planet, today was that day.

What does this have to do with glamour photography? I don't know. Probably nothing. Although I suppose I could invent something esoteric connecting photography to the solstice if I thought about it for awhile. Ya know, because both of them have to do with light.

Instead, I'll just stay on this solstice thing.

Other holidays have been born of the Winter Solstice with (as you probably already know) Christmas being the most prominent. Hundreds of years after Jesus was born, men decided on the date of his birth and it's no coincidence they chose December 25. When those men were alive, the Winter Solstice occured on that day. Yep, December 25th was made Officially Christmas in 350 A.D. by Pope Julius 1.

But I'm an old-fashioned guy. And some of the fashions I'm old-fashioned about were fashioned long before there were Popes or Jesus. That's why I'm wishing everyone a Happy Solstice! Please don't be alarmed if my pagan-sounding ways sound a bit too pagan. I'm also a contemporary guy so, in case anyone's wondering, I do also celebrate Christmas.

So Happy Solstice and many Yule greetings to all!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sensor-Cleaning Chronicles

First off, I want to thank everyone who provided great advice and suggestions in the comments section regarding my sensor-cleaning paranoia. Much appreciated!

I was at the local mall yesterday on a Christmas shopping mission. While there, I stopped by a photography store, Ritz Cameras. Ritz is a retail chain, mostly serving the photography needs of non-pro/non-serious-hobbyist consumers who are more of the "I just need a camera to take snapshots" consumer. I asked the pretty young thing working the counter (probably seasonal help) if they had any sensor-cleaning products. "No," she said. "But we have stuff to clean lenses."

"You don't stock anything to clean sensors?" I asked.

"Nope," she replied, "But there's a real camera store across the street."

"Thanks," I politely said and decided to head over to the "real" camera store.

The "real" camera store turned out to be a local retailer who stocked a fair amount of pro gear: Everything from medium format cameras to the highest quality glass for Canon and Nikon products. Once again, I asked if they stocked any sensor-cleaning products.

"No," was the reply.

"You don't stock anything to clean sensors?" I again asked, this time a bit more incredulously.

"We have brushes," the middle-aged retailer replied.

"I don't want to just push the dust around, I want to clean it off," I responded.

"Sorry," he said. "But we don't stock any of those products."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because Canon and Nikon don't support any of them," he said.

"Well, what do Canon and Nikon recommend?" I asked.

"They don't," he said. "Basically, they act like the problem is a non-problem. They don't seem to want to endorse any product or process to clean sensors and, until they do, we're not stocking any sensor-cleaning products except brushes." (Note: He wasn't talking about sensor-cleaning brushes, like those from Visible Dust, he was talking about simple brushes and brush/bulb combos like those used in lens cleaning kits.)

"Holy Moly," I thought to myself, my sensor-cleaning paranoia now re-fueled.

"But I'm sure you can find something on-line that will help," he added.

I don't know what all this means. Obviously, the electro-static environment sensors exist in attracts dust and it is a problem. But not enough of a problem, it seems, for the two, premier, manufacturers of dSLRs to take an official stand on... at least, with retailers. Am I missing something here?

The model at the top of this post is Page. She's made-up and wardrobed as sort of a combination Goth-like/Kabuki-like Queen of Hearts for a recent Alice in Wonderland-ish production I worked on. MUA was Zenova.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Striking Fear in my Heart!

I ain't no wimp. I want to make that clear right from the start of this post. While I wouldn't classify myself as a dare-devil--no bungie jumping, sky-diving, or other extreme sports for me--I'm fairly gutsy in other ways.

But this... this thing I'm facing... it's striking fear in my heart. And I don't think I'm alone in my fear. What is it that's causing me to shake in my boots? My sensor needs cleaning!

I've never cleaned a sensor before. For some reason, neither my 10D nor my 20D has ever seemed to need cleaning. I have no idea why that is. That doesn't mean those cameras don't need sensor cleaning, it only means I haven't seen any evidence of dust in the images. But my 5D is exhibiting a fairly large spot that I can only assume is the result of a collosal, mutant, dust bunny.

Are there support groups for photographers who need their sensors cleaned? Should I seek professional help? Or should I simply go the stiff upper lip route, bite the bullet, and clean the sensor and hope for the best?

Here's the deal: I'm not the most mechanically-inclined guy around. Yeah, I can screw in a light bulb but my mechanical prowess doesn't go far beyond that. And when I've researched how to clean a sensor, the information I found was so filled with alarming warnings of catastrophic results (should I mess up when attempting the cleaning) that I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm fairly concerned... make that, I'm afraid. I'm very afraid.

It all started on my last shoot. I was going over some images with a model when she suddenly became agitated. "What's that?" she exclaimed and, with that, she jumped up, tore open her blouse, and began inspecting her torso looking for a bruise or a malignant mole or something like that. "It must be your camera," she finally said with obvious relief.

I immediately grabbed my camera and inspected the UV filter on the front of the lens. It was clean. And the moment I realized it was clean, the blood started draining from head. I realized what was going on at once-- the sensor was dirty!

I've avoided doing anything about this problem since that shoot. That's mostly because I haven't shot anything since. But things are coming up and I know I'm going to have to deal with this.

And I'm afraid. I'm very afraid.

The lovely lady accompanying this paranoid post, shown clothed then sans clothing, is Francesca. MUA was Lilian.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Model Revelations

I always engage in frivolous small talk with models before I shoot them. Most of you probably do the same. Sometimes I'll tinker with the lights or putter with my camera just to buy some time; keeping the seemingly innocuous banter going. I don't do this because the lighting needs tinkering or the camera needs puttering, or to fill dead air with noise or to merely be friendly... which I am... friendly, that is. But that's beside the point. I also do this in hopes finding something out about the model that might help or impact what I'm about to do, i.e., get the most out of her.

Sure, I have to be a little careful. I don't want to come off flirty or as if I'm trying to hit-on her. And I don't want to sound too inquisitive and risk over-stepping the polite rules of coversation with someone I might barely be acquainted with... even if they might be naked, or soon will be naked, in front of me. What I'm doing, besides working to develop rapport with the model and helping her feel comfortable with me, is I'm hoping I'll stumble onto something about the model that will help me to make some interesting pictures of her. I'll admit, it doesn't always reveal all that much but, sometimes, it does.

Take Katarina, for instance. If I didn't engage in some purposely-extended small talk with her--somewhat difficult as she speaks English as a second language--I wouldn't have discovered that, before coming to the U.S., she was a performer in a circus!

Whoa! You don't meet circus performers everyday on the set! Making her even more interesting was the fact that she was a trapeze artist. A freakin' trapeze artist! Who would'a thought?

Apparently, this Russian beauty spent years with the circus. He career was cut short when she took a terrible fall. Showing me the scars that run up the insides of both arms, from her wrists nearly to her elbows, she told me about the steel rods that now help support her arms. Her dexterity and strength are still tip-top, but not good enough to make her living swinging from a trapeze.

So now I'm thinking, if she was a trapeze artist, she must be super comfortable "performing" in front of strangers and she also must be very strong and flexible. This could result in some interesting poses that you're simply not going to get out of many models. So that's what I did-- I asked her to really exagerate some of the poses and, IMO, some of them came out pretty cool. Sure, I still shot all the requisite glamour stuff, but these exagerated poses were incredibly fun to shoot. I wish I had more time with her. Hopefully, I'll have an opportunity to shoot her again. Next time, I'll make some plans to take better advantage of the physical prowess I now know she possesses.

But I wouldn't have stumbled on any of this if I didn't work hard at making small talk.

As noted, model is Katarina. Images captures with my Canon 5D w/85mm f/1.8 prime, ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 125th. MUA was Lilian.

Friday, December 15, 2006

FHM Bites the Dust in the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal has reported the U.K.'s Emap Group PLC, has "...closed the door on the bulk of its U.S. operations as it confirmed the suspension of FHM magazine in North America."

A spokesman for Emap Group PLC said, "...FHM's U.S. Web site would continue to be maintained, and the closure won't affect FHM's 30 other editions around the world."

What? No more FHM? Oh well. I don't think I'm gonna be Jonesing for an FHM fix anytime soon. The truth is, I might have picked up a total of one or two copies of the British-owned lad mag since it began distributing in the U.S., I believe, in the mid-to-late 90s.

Personally, FHM, as well as Time-Warner Inc.'s Loaded, and a few other rags of this ilk, always seemed like inferior knock-offs of privately-held Dennis Publishing's wildly successful Maxim magazine.

Maxim is often a fun read. It has an editorial personality that's easy to relate to: Between the covers of its issues there's everything from biting satire to out-and-out lampoons, gadget reviews, and serious investigative journalism. And there's also the babes.

I've spoken to plenty of models who aspire to grace the pages of Maxim. An equally large number of photographers also hope to have their glamour work featured in the magazine, myself included. (I'm not ashamed to admit.)

Maxim-style images have become an identifiable photographic style. What's interesting about this so-called Maxim-style is that it's not very difficult to shoot. I think most competent shooters can easily mimic Maxim's pretty girl pics. They're not like Playboy's style which is meticulous in its execution and requires greater skill and more lighting sources. A Maxim-style pretty girl image is attainable for many shooters. Of course, that doesn't mean you or I are going to end up with a Maxim tearsheet just because the images they publish aren't especially noteworthy from a purely photographic perspective. But, because they've lowered the bar on such images, hope will spring eternal for many models and shooters who aspire to a Maxim tear.

The un-Maxim-like and somewhat Sapphic images I posted along with this update are of Lorena and Selena getting chummy with each other. Shooting images like this, with multiple subjects, requires paying even more attention to details, e.g., be on the lookout for one model blocking the light and casting unwanted shadow on the other. Subtle highlights can be helpful in separating the subjects from each other, even when (maybe especially when) they're getting close to each other.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Strobes vs. Hot Lights

Regularly, on the photo forums, people ask about the relative advantages and disadvantages of using strobes vs. hot lights for glamour photography.

I'll give it to you in a nutshell: Use strobes and forget about hot lights.

Yeah, I know, hot lights are cheaper than strobes. Well, au contraire, mon frer! Home Depot shoplights might be cheaper than strobes but modern, state-of-the-art, continuous lighting instruments, principally designed for use in filmmaking and videography, are not.

But, for most hobbyists, those aren't the hot lights you're talking about. You're talking about inexpensive shoplights. I might have written about this before so, if I did, bear with me... I think this bears writing about again.

Here's some of the big reasons shoplights aren't particularly effective as lighting instruments for model photography. And yeah, I know, some of you guys have worked hard at getting some pretty good results with shoplights. I'm proud of you. But far and away, shoplights are not prefered lighting sources for obtaining high-end results. Maybe there's a few of you out there who think that pros choose to use strobes because A) pros are elitists and/or B) pros can afford all those high-priced monolights and such? Shooterz, please! That ain't why pros choose, almost without exception, to use strobes.

As for me, the only time I might consider using shoplights--except, perhaps, if no other lighting sources were available--would be to use them as practical props.

Here's a short list of why shop/hot lights aren't your best choice for people photography:

1. They're hot. I mean really hot! And potentially dangerous, as in fire hazard dangerous.

2. They're difficult to modify and/or control.

3. They don't put out much light. Leastwise, not in terms of the kind of power you need.

4. They aren't designed to hold color temperature.

I don't think I need to go beyond those four reasons. They should be enough. They should be more than enough.

If you can't afford a set of strobes, buy one strobe and learn how to effectively use that. There are some fairly inexpensive monolights available and one of those cheap Hong Kong specials will outshine your shoplights. (Pun intended.) If you don't want to spend the money on monolights, get yourself some on-camera type strobes. You can easily find used strobes of this type at really cheap prices. You don't think you can get incredible results with on-camera type strobes? Start reading the articles on the Strobist and then come back and tell me on-camera strobes are ineffective for people photography.

Okay, I'm off my rant-box. The beautiful babe I posted along with this update--and she's such a total babe--is Lorena. I shot her last week. Not only is Lorena gorgeous and sexy... she's, uhhh... really gorgeous and sexy!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Don't Shut Yer Yap!

I posted some fairly animated pics of Selena on the Glamour1 forum yesterday. One of G1's members asked me what kinds of things I say to the model to sometimes illicit such, uhhh... wild abandon in front of the camera. Here's what I told him:

"...encourage them to let themselves go and get "extreme," and "intense," stuff like that. I tell them not to think about looking dumb... that it might feel that way but it doesn't look that way. I ask them to "sell it" meaning to "sell" their sexuality and sensuality to the camera. I ask them to exagerate it... to oversell it... and "look like it hurts" or "look like it feels TOO good." I have them move slowly but not necessarilly to drop into a pose and hold it... that I'll keep up with them. I don't usually give too much specific direction in terms of pose while they're doing this. Maybe just directions like "throw your head back" or "cheat" this way or that. I just let them go and snap away. It takes a few minutes but as I keep encouraging them with "more of that" and "even more extreme" they start to get into it. Usually, I toss the first bunch of images until they become more relaxed and abandon their inhibitions. The worst I can do when I'm going for this stuff is to keep quiet. I'm constantly talking and encouraging..."

After posting my response, I realized the most--perhaps only--good advice I gave were contained in the last two sentences. It's not so much the exact words I use, it mostly matters that I keep talking.

When you're asking the model to go outside her typical posing comfort zone, it's even more important than usual to keep giving feedback and to keep a dialogue going, albeit a one-way dialogue. I think this is important when you're directing the model in traditional glam poses and even more important when you're having her put forth more emotion, more attitude, or asking more in terms of physical poses.

For the model, being in front of the lights and the camera can be a lonely, insecurity-inducing place. The shooter is the person who's going to help the model overcome her inhibitions and make the images work. No matter how much rapport you've developed with the model--I don't care if she's your significant other of 20 years--keeping silent on your side of the lens, for the most part, is way less potent a strategy in terms of getting the goods. You're trying to communicate something with your pictures, right? If you're not already doing so, how about communicating with the model while you're capturing what you're trying to communicate? Makes sense to me.

As noted, model is Selena. MUA was Lilian. B&W conversion courtesy of PS's Channel Mixer. Here's another...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Lewis Hine

Lately, I've been admiring the work of photographer Lewis Hine. Although I've seen examples of Hine's work before, I guess I never took note of the attributions or remembered who the shooter was.

Hine represented so much that I admire in photographers. What? You didn't think my photo interests extended past a pretty face, tits 'n ass?

That aside, Hine captured some truly remarkable and enduring images. He made important social statements with his work. Sadly, during his lifetime, his greatness went largely unrecognized. He spent the last years of his life in poverty with little recognition for his work. Romantic notions of starving artists notwithstanding, I think that sucks even more than usual. You see, in Hine's case, his art was used by reform activists to precipitate positive social change. The social change I'm talking about had to do with child labor laws.

During the last half of the 18th century and into first part of the 20th Century, the American industrial revolution was fueled by cheap labor. Sadly, chidren were considered a cheap, abundant, and easily replaceable labor commodity. They worked in dismal and dangerous conditions. It's sad to think that a big chunk of America's industrial might was built on the exploitation of children. I guess the industrial North, who rightfully abhored the South's use of slaves to maintain their agrarian economy, thought it was okay to exploit kids to grow their industrial economy. Go figure, right?

Hine became the official photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). For ten years, on behalf of the NCLC, Hine traveled to factories and sweatshops and other workplaces documenting the plight of children in harsh and unforgiving work environments.

Hines other contributions to the art and craft of photography included photographing and documenting immigrants at Ellis Island, American Red Cross relief efforts in Europe, during and after WW1, and, again in the Southern U.S. during the Great Depression. Hine also captured rural life in the mountains of Tennessee for the Tennessee Valley Authority and he was commissioned as the official photographer for the building of New York City's Empire State Building. In addition to Hine's remarkable photographs focused on the plight of children in the workforce, I think I love Hine's work documenting the construction of the Empire State Building the best. Many of those images are breathtaking and vertigo-inducing!

That's quite a list of photographic accomplishments by anyone's standards!

Sometimes I sit here and think about what other things I might be doing with these skills I possess... something in addition to shooting pretty naked chicks, I mean.

Just so you don't go away complaining that I didn't post another pretty girl along with this historically educational update, here's another one of Selena from last week. I put up a couple of other pics of Selena a fews posts ago but I figure you can manage to look at another shot of her.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Sometimes a model arrives on the set and my heart goes pitter-patter. Not so much a personal pitter-patter (although, sometimes, there's that too) but more of a photographer's pitter-patter. Faith was just such a model.

I was shooting another model when Faith arrived but I kept finding myself turning my head in Faith's direction as she sat patiently waiting for her turn in the make-up chair. I couldn't wait to get her in front of my camera.

When she walked in, Faith didn't have a lick of "street" make-up on her face. Her hair was pulled back into a matronly bun. She wore gray sweat pants and a plain, blue, tee-shirt. She was long and lean and her naturally exquisite face looked like it had a porcelain veneer. Take a good look at this first image I've posted. Click on it and let it enlarge. There's not a bit of PS applied to Faith's face. None. Zero. Nor to the rest of her body.

Anyway, it took a lot of discipline to keep focused on the model I was currently shooting and, trust me, that girl was quite a beauty herself.

What makes a pretty girl like Faith grab the attention of the shooter the moment she walks in? Especially when there's a bevy of pretty girls on the set? I really don't know. (I shot about 15 girls over the two days I worked this gig. It was like an assembly line for making pretty girl pics.) I'm sure personal aesthetics have a lot to do with it. But I think there's something more than the shooter's tastes going on. Some girls just have it. What that "it" is I can't explain but it speaks loudly and clearly.

As Faith climbed into the MUA's chair, I thought I'd be able to return all my attention back to the work at hand. But that didn't completely happen. I kept taking little breaks from the set I was shooting so I could walk over and keep a close eye on the MUA's progress with Faith. Not that I didn't have trust in the MUA's skills. Lilian, who was applying Faith's make-up, is very skilled and experienced. I simply wanted to keep an eye on the process and use that opportunity to build a bit of rapport with Faith.

An hour or so later, I had Faith where I wanted her: In front of me and my camera. They had me shooting against a plain, blank wall on an old, time-worn, hardwood floor, with a small, black, mushroom-shaped settee. That didn't matter. All I needed were my lights, my camera, and Faith.

It was a muse-driven experience. Faith knew how to work the camera and all I had to do was direct the poses and snap away.

As you've already figured out, the long, lean, and lovely model in these pics is Faith. MUA was Lilian. Images captured with my Canon 5D w/ 85mm f/1.8 prime. ISO 100, f/6.3 @ 125th. Mainlight was a 5' Photoflex Octodome. A Chimera medium strip and a small, silver umbrella are providing highlights from either side behind her.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Honey! I Shrunk the Model!

I'm not exactly known for shooting cutesy stuff. But when someone's paying me and they say, "Shoot that," I shoot it. (As long as it's legal and it doesn't offend my gentle sensibilities which, you might not be surprised to learn, aren't all that gentle.)

Anyway, shooting cutesy stuff like the image to the left might sound like I'm compromising my artistic integrity but there's integrity and there's money... integrity... money... Hmmm.

I guess where I draw the line on this compromising stuff is when I'm asked to compromise the photographic integrity of what I'm shooting. That's different. I don't like shooting bad pictures. Not even for money. Of course, that's mostly because it might effect future money if you get my drift. And I'm not saying I don't ever shoot bad pictures. Sometimes, I do. Maybe more often than I care to admit. But I try my best to limit the occurrences of doing so.

It was a grueling, long, day yesterday. Just about everything that can go wrong on a set went wrong. Final result? I didn't get home till 4:30 this morning. Yesterday's call time, by the way, was 10:00 A.M. If I'm doing the math right, that's about an 18-hour day. It's amazing the long hours people will put in for their art... and their money.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not bitterly complaining. I love what I do. It's easy to love: Beautiful naked women... a camera... beautiful naked women. But I ain't getting any younger and 18-hour days play hell on me. Take today for instance: In the aftermath of that 18-hour work day, I'm completely wasted. There were things I needed to get done today and they aren't getting done. I don't have the energy or will to get off my ass and do them. Such is the way of the aging photo warrior. Not that I'm THAT old. I'm old enough, though, to need some recuperating time from days like yesterday.

Enough of the self-commiserating. The shrunken, Lilliputian-like model in the first image, as well as the naked, unshrunk model in the second image is Charlotte. MUA was Yoko (I think) or maybe it was Zenovia. Actually, it could have been Lillian. There were three MUAs on that shoot. Three MUAs and one photographer should give you an idea of what a busy boy I've been: The phrase Assembly-Line Pretty Girl Shooting sounds about right for my last few days. Both of these images of Charlotte were captured with my Canon 5D w/ 85mm f/1.8 prime, ISO 100, f/6.3 @ 125th. I used three lights: A big Photoflex Octodome for a mainlight, a small umbrella to camera-left from behind and a medium Chimera strip, camera-right, also from behind.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

There's Compromises and There's Compromises

I was on a set all day yesterday. In fact, I'll be back there again today. I wasn't scheduled to work but, apparently, there was some problem with another shooter and I got called in as a replacement.

The location was in down-town Los Angeles. That's almost an hour's drive from where I live. Plus, I had to put my gear together in a hurry as the production was getting behind schedule by the minute till I arrived. It was a video production and those video guys don't like to get held up by the still photography guys.

I arrived and schlepped my gear into the old, dilapidated building that would serve as the production location. They were already backed-up a couple of girls--for the stills--and wanted me to get set up in a hurry. The production manager took me to a room with lots of windows where they wanted me to shoot the first set.

"There's plenty of light in here. You don't need to set up your lights. We need to make up some time," he said.

I protested immediately. I explained that, while it was true there was plenty of available light for exposure, the images would be flat, lack punch, and would be difficult to shoot since the back-light coming through the windows would be so much brighter than the ambient light illuinating the model. If I simply were to use the ambient daylight coming into the room and had someone to hold reflectors it could work. But there wasn't anyone they could spare to hold them for me. I also mentioned that, sometime later on when others, e.g., a graphic designer tasked with making the DVD's packaging artwork, were looking at the images, they wouldn't be aware of the behind-schedule problems and I'd be held accountable (in their minds) for lesser-quality work.

"Okay," the PM said, "But please try to hurry."

I quickly set up two lights: A big Ocotodome for the mainlight and a strip box off to the side. Balancing the exposure between the mid-day daylight outside the windows and the light striking the model wasn't made easier by the fact that she was wearing white. I didn't want blow out all the details in her white outfit yet I needed to work quickly and get through the set in about twenty minutes or so.

In the end it worked out okay. The honchos on the set all seemed pleased with the images. But I know they would have been much less pleased if I had completely compromised and simply shot snapshots with the unmodified available light.

The almost 6' tall model was Selena. MUA was Lilian. Canon 5D w/85mm f/1.8 prime. ISO 100, f/6.3 @ 125th.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Writer's Block

Some days I just can't think of anything to write about; anything worthwhile that is. I sit here and strain my brain thinking some idea or theme or subject will magically pop into my melon. But it doesn't.

This condition is made worse knowing there's people out there regularly stopping by to see if I've updated. Just great! Now I have yet another responsibility to others to worry about.

Don't get me wrong, all of you have been great. No one has left any comments like "Dude. What? You can't think of anything more informative or entertaining or important to write about than this drivel you've been passing off as read-worthy?"

Sometimes, I get some incredible emails. Here's an example of one just from the other day--

"Cracken blog mate, been an awesome read. Keep it up. Sounds like you aint full of shit either and u aint let the fact that you film awesome birds for a living turn you into a stuck up wanker. You a bit of legend."

I'll admit I had to consult an English English-to-American English dictionary to translate the email but, once I did, my ego felt truly stroked! Especially when I learned I ain't a wanker, stuck up or otherwise.

Okay, I've now put together six paragraphs of nothing that is on-topic. Sorry. It just ain't happening today.

The on-topic pretty girl posted with this nothing post is Reagan. I shot these (as I remember since I'm too lazy to check the EXIF data) almost a year ago. MUA was Terese Heddon. Conversion to monochrome was via PS's channel mixer.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

C&C Please

There are a lot of reasons shooters post their images on photo forums. Obviously, simply being proud on one's work and wanting to share it with others is one major reason.

Many photographers also hope to receive some constructive C&C. (i.e., Comments and Critique.)

In the world of pretty girl photography, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. That often means that one viewer's goddess is another viewer's Plain Jane. These differences in opinions, in terms of the relative beauty and allure of a model, often drives the number of comments an image will receive. We've all seen images of wildly beautiful women, photographically captured in wildly incompetent ways, and still those images receive many accolades.

Sometimes, the C&C is all over the map and the shooter is left trying to make some helpful sense out of it all. Other times, most of the C&C seems to agree with what's right and/or wrong with an image and the photographer is left with little doubt as to the appeal of his or her image. (And appeal is what it's all about.)

The "all over the map" responses can be especially troubling for novice shooters. Their level of photo-insecurity might be high. As a rule, they're looking for criticism, coupled with helpful hints and advice, to either overcome their image's shortcomings or improve it in general.

Other factors that comes into play are the qualifications of individual viewers to (expertly or, to varying degrees, semi-expertly) assess an image's positive and negative qualities. Often, this is decided by looking at the images the commenter has posted in a portfolio or along with the C&C. This can be helpful but also misleading. Everyone has an opinion. And quite often, those opinions are valid regardless of the opinion-giver's ability to create images that meet the same standards of his or her own critique.

So here's the deal: When all is said and done, the only person who's opinions really matter regarding the aesthetic and technical merits of your images is you. If you're happy with your images, be happy with them. If they make others happy, be happier. If they makes people with cash in their hands happy, and that cash is being extended to you, be happier still. Consider the opinions of others carefully, without regard to their qualifications to offer them, and make your own decisions about their relevance.

New York Yankee's baseball great, Yogi Berra, once observed, "Nobody knows nothing." But it should also be noted that most everyone believes they know something and, sometimes, they believe they know a lot. This means that, when you consider Yogi's philosophical axiom, those masses of people who know nothing will still decide whether or not something has universal appeal. I suppose we're all stuck with our own personal aesthetics and we can only hope, as photographers, that our personal sense of aethetics appeals to others while, at the same time, remains uniquely individual and personal.

Certainly, we're all influenced by the opinions of others. Sooner or later, we develop a style and an approach that is influenced by both our personal sensibilities as well as the sensibilities of others. That often becomes the style we end up routinely integrating into our work. If that style is unique, yet universal in its appeal, it will make our work stand out and be noticed. If not, it won't.

On the other hand, I might be completely out-to-lunch and full-of-shit in my opinions regarding all this.

The young lady having a good time with herself in the image at the top is Kelle.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Paying for Efficiency

That thread on the Glamour 1 forum, the one that began by defending Alien Bees' ringflash system, then turned into a discussion about the relative pros and cons of the AB ringflash versus Hensel's ringflash, then sucked in Paul Buff, CEO of Alien Bees and White Lightning, and finally took another slight turn before it ended.

The slight turn at the end was a discussion of the relative merits of buying high-end lighting gear (in general) versus purchasing low and moderately-priced gear.

The final portions of the discussion seemed to be going nowhere. The "light is light" argument got thrown into it and, while to some degree I agree with that notion, a stalemate seemed to ensue.

But then Rolando Gomez, who had been ardently defending higher-priced gear, wrote something that made perfect sense to me and which I fully agree. He wrote, in one of his final contributions to the discussion, "As a pro I want to work as efficiently as possible and when working with lights that have those 'bells and whistles' that make my lighting easier I will not only be more efficient, but will have a "flow" with the model that helps produce better images--it's about working easier, smarter and efficiently and not battleing something you should not have too."

Gomez's observaton about "working efficiently" is certainly on target. If there's one thing the higher-priced gear delivers, it's the ability to adjust and manipulate its instruments' outputs in efficient and effective ways. Sliders and rotating knobs, for instance, that allow the user to adjust a light's power output with less-than-precise analog control are more difficult and time-consuming to utilize then digital "clicks" that are precise and include LED read-outs to the tenth of an f-stop. This kind of "ease of use" will certainly translate into a smoother work-flow on the set. And when your working with greater efficiency you end up with more time to spend on the MOST important part of the shoot, i.e., communicating with the model.

Anything that allows the photographer more time to work directly with the model rather than spending much of his or her time tweaking lights is a good thing. If your doing this thing for a living, you might find it makes sense to spend more on lighting gear to get those "bells and whistles" (for convenience and efficiency) then to shave some bucks off your equipment expenditures.

The images I posted along with this update are of Playboy AND Penthouse covergirl, Tera Patrick, a.k.a., the Queen of Glam.

P.S. Although I'm well-aware I cut most of Ms. Patrick's left-foot off in the first image, I still like it. I'll plead the Andreas Feininger defense for this one: "A technically perfect photograph can be the world's most boring picture." Besides, who's looking at Tera's left foot?