Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dude! What's With the Ads?

You might notice some additions to the blog. Sorry, but I've added some ads. I'll admit, it looks like I've sold out to naked and unabashed e-capitalism. What can I say? There was all this empty, black, space on my blogger page and I thought, "Why not put a few ads on there?"

I doubt I'll get rich off these ads. In fact, I'll be surprised if I make anything at all. But ya never know, ya know?

I'll try to keep the ads relevant to the subjects I write about. For instance, the gear I've selected to feature (from Amazon and it's e-commerce partners) is all stuff I have in my own, personal, arsenal of photographic weaponry. That's not to say everything listed reflects a complete inventory of what's in my camera bag but I figure, if I'm going to pimp camera and lighting gear, I might as well pimp stuff that I own and routinely use. In that way, I can stand behind the photo gear I'm pimping.

I'll admit I haven't read the photo-related books I've listed but they look like books I'd be interested in owning or reading or thumbing through. There are so many photography books available on Amazon, it would take me hours to go through them all and find the ones I do own. Maybe if I got better at using Amazon's search functions? But that in itself takes time.

I'm trying to get Google's Adsense ads to make advertising sense. So far, nothing they've provided has any relevance to photography or what I write about. It seems Google uses bots and algorithms to look at the sites where Adsense is used and determine what sorts of ads to post. So far, at least in terms of this site, Google's technology hasn't been too successful at figuring out what kinds of ads to post on the Pretty Girl Shooter blog. I guess I'll try increasing my use of words like "photography" and "camera" and "photo" to nudge Google's bots and algorithms in the right direction.

Anyway, I'm sure most of you will quickly develop the ability to subconsciously filter out the ads from your field of view so, in time, you'll barely notice they're there.

The statuesque blonde at the top is Tyler. I photographed Tyler while working the doomed (by the LAPD) shoot the other day. MUA was Lilian. I captured Tyler with my Canon 5D w/ a Canon 85mm, f/1.8 prime, ISO 100, f/8 @ 125th. I used a Photoflex 5' Octodome for my mainlight and a medium Chimera strip for my backlit highlights. Both modifiers were illuminated by Novatron monolights. Anthony, my assistant for the day (when he could break away from his other, on-set duties) bounced in a bit of fill using my Westcott, 5-in-1 reflector. All of the photo gear I used you can find in the Amazon ads I've provided. (Like I said, "naked and unabashed e-capitalism.")

Here's another of Tyler. Since I'm causing you to endure advertisements, the least I can do is post a bit more eye candy.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

To Protect and Serve

Yesterday, I was on a set at a location house in the hills above Encino, California. To say it's an upscale neighborhood would be an understatement. The home where we were shooting was privately gated and built against a hillside. There were stairs everywhere in the house as it had four levels. The home was lavishly decorated with modern and abstract furniture, art sculptures, and other interesting decor. I'm guessing here, but I'd say the place is probably worth 4 or 5 million. The grounds, of course, are impeccably landscaped, including a pool that has some really cool fountains and water effects around it.

Everything was going real well until about sunset. That's when we heard a woman's blood-curdling screams coming from somewhere nearby. The screams, according to a number of people on the crew, were coming from the next home up the street. The woman was screaming things like "Help! Please someone help me! Oh God! Help!"

Our production manager immediately got on his cell phone and called 9-1-1.

In minutes, an LAPD patrol car showed up and the homeowner (of our location house) directed them to residence next door.

About five minutes later, the cops returned to the gate (at the front of the house where we were shooting) and asked to speak to the homeowner and our production manager. It seems the cops weren't interested in any further information regarding the screaming woman. Instead, they were now interested in us.

According to the cops, when they knocked on the door of the house where the screams came from, no one answered. The cops decided no one was home so now they wanted to know what was going on at the house we were at. Our PM told them we were shooting a flick and immediately offered up the (properly issued by the City of Los Angeles) shooting permit to the officers.

No problem, right?


In moments, four more squad cars showed up. Now, there were about ten cops milling about at the gate and a few of them entered the grounds and began asking a lot of questions: Questions that called into question the legitimacy of our production manager's 9-1-1 call.

Somehow, through some creative law enforcement logic, the cops wondered if our PM's call was an attempt to deceive: They wondered if it was possible that the screaming had been made by performers in our production! When the cops were asked why they thought we would call in a complaint directed at our own production, they shrugged and wondered if we were concerned that other neighbors might be calling in complaints and we were trying to cover for ourselves.

Ya can't make this stuff up.

When the cops were asked if they had received any other phone calls complaining about someone screaming loudly they said, "No. Not yet."

Not yet?

Anyway, I know all this seems to defy logic but that's what was happening as another two or three patrol cars showed up. By the way, when the cops were asked if they entered the house next door--to insure there wasn't an injured person inside--they said no, they didn't think there was enough "probable cause" for them to make an entry. They also didn't question any other neighbors to determine if anyone else had heard the screams. Instead, they decided they did have enough probable cause to start checking I.D.'s and grilling members of our cast and crew.

Then, a couple of LAPD vice officers showed up and took over the investigation. Now we had, what seemed like, half of LAPD's West Valley (San Fernando Valley) patrol shift guarding the perimeter of our production location while plain-clothes vice officers conducted a thorough investigation. Obviously, they somehow determined we were potentially dangerous people.

No one at the location was permitted to enter or leave the premises as vice, accompanied by a few uniformed officers, grilled cast and crew people... apparently looking for permit violations. One of the girls (on our crew) was given a particularly hard time by one of the uniforms because she didn't have a California I.D. Instead, she showed them her Oregon driver's license. That seemed to be suspicious enough for her to have to answer an awful lot of questions regarding what she was doing in California. Who needs Homeland Security when we have such determined and thorough peace officers guarding us from, uhhh.... citizens of Oregon!

Ultimately, the Protect and Serve boys discovered that two cars belonging to people attending our shoot--both cars belonging to magazine reporters covering the production, not crew members--constituted a violation of the "No Street Parking" rule listed in the shooting permit. After being held hostage for over two-hours, the production was shut down and we were all told to pack up and leave. No one was cited but the production was shut down anyway.

We never found out if anyone was hurt (or worse) at the house next door. Neither did the cops. At one point, I made a not-so-quiet comment about there obviously being no other crime taking place in the San Fernando Valley at the moment. (There were, by this time, about 15-20 cops on the scene.) Unsurprisingly, my attempt at humor didn't prompt any chuckles amongst the Boys in Blue.

Oh well. Just another day at the office.

The pretty girl at the top, from yesterday's shoot, is Nautica. MUA and hair by Lilian. Here's another of Nautica, clowning around with a goofy pose, while I was shooting her on an exterior, spiral staircase in the backyard of yesterday's production location.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Ring Flash?

I've often thought I need to get myself a ring flash. I've spent a fair amount of time searching out various ring flash options on the web. I've examined this ring flash and that ring flash but I always end up asking myself, "Do I really need to spend some of my hard-earned cash on a ring flash?"

Without exception, the answer has always remained the same: "No. I don't."

Certainly, I've seen plenty of excellent examples of ring flash-assisted, pretty girl photography. But then, I've seen just as many, actually more, excellent examples of pretty girl shooting that didn't include ring flashes in the lighting schemes.

I'm pretty sure Maxim magazine is mostly responsible for the current state of ring flash popularity. (Everyone wants to shoot those Maxim-looking shots, right?) Apparently, someone, at some point, decided to dust off their old ring flash while shooting for Maxim. Many young photographers, drooling over the models featured in Maxim, must have decided the best way to shoot a pretty girl is with a ring flash. After all, photographers for a magazine with Maxim's popularity must know something mere mortal shooters don't know. And perhaps that something might be a ring flash?

Then there's all the behind-the-scenes videos we've seen featuring well-known fashion or glamor shooters wielding a ring flash. Hmmm... that photographer must know something. After all, he or she is making a fairly excellent living with a camera. And look how excruciatingly beautiful the excruciatingly beautiful model looks being photographically captured with the help of a ring flash!

I've decided using a ring flash is more a stylistic approach to pretty girl shooting than anything else. And I've also decided using one isn't my style. That's not to say there's anything wrong with using a ring flash. It's more about what kind of results you're looking for. And the results a ring flash offers aren't what I'm personally looking to achieve. Yeah, there are uses for a ring flash which aren't, for the most part, stylistic, but that would mostly be accomplished by setting the ring flash off-camera, on a stand, and using it for some sort of fill. I already own gear that will accomplish that.

But who knows? My attitude about this might change. I might wake up tomorrow and decide a ring flash is right for me. I might decide the quality of light a ring flash produces is just what I'm looking for.

Personal aesthetics can be fickle that way.

The pretty girl at the top is Cassie. I shot Cassie a couple of days ago on a location shoot using my Canon 5D coupled to an 85mm, f/1.8, prime at ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 125. Two lights were employed for this shot: A 5' Photoflex Octodome for the main light and a medium, Chimera strip, behind her, camera-right. I also used a white reflector--one of those large, round, 5-in-1 jobs--to bounce in a bit of fill from the front, opposite the main light. I had set a small, rectangular, soft box, boomed-in high, over and behind her, for a hair-light, but it didn't fire for this capture. Oh well! I like the shot anyway-- Mostly because it conveys action, coupled with a sultry expression, while Cassie removed the rest of her dress.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Shooting on Autopilot

While sitting on the throne today, I was thumbing through a dog-eared copy of "Studio Photography" magazine. Usually, when I'm throne-sitting, I snatch up some rag I've already thumbed through five or six times and search for an article I skipped my first half-dozen times through.

This particular issue had an article titled, "The Business of Referrals." It focused on methods wedding shooters use to develop new business. I'm not a wedding photographer, hence, the article wasn't a priority on my "To Read" list.

The article included a profile of Michael Erdkamp, a wedding shooter. In it, Mr. Erdkamp is quoted as saying, "Professionals miss great images all the time by getting tripped up on calculating the F-stop/shutter-speed thing. It needs to come naturally, like shifting from second to third gear."

This got me to thinking about the importance of becoming automatic when shooting. I believe good shooters go beyond being able to manually and effortlessly change gears as the needs arise: They become like automatic transmissions when it comes to shifting their technical approaches to a shot, i.e., in terms of making those F-stop/shutter-speed decisions and more. In fact, I think good photography comes when shooters can flip-on an internal, auto-pilot switch with all the tech decisions.

I've been around a lot of other shooters in the course of my work. Often, I tend to make instant decisions about photographers I might be observing. First off, I decide whether the shooter, in general, seems to know what they're doing. If I decide they are practically clueless, I usually quit observing them unless it becomes entertaining in a comical way. Okay, maybe I'm sounding a bit smug and arrogant here, but there's something I find amusing while watching a shooter try his or her best to figure out what they're doing as some model stands in the lights, fidgeting, rolling her eyes about, and generally getting more than a little impatient. (Believe it or not, nearly clueless photographers sometimes manage to score paid gigs.)

If I decide the shooter knows what they're doing, I'll watch them work. (If time permits.) Mainly, I'm hoping to learn something while observing them. I also make some further decisions about the shooter. And one of those decisions is about the shooter's apparent comfort level and knowledge of their gear.

From my observations, entirely un-scientific I might add, the best shooters are those that seem to go on auto-pilot when it comes to making those pesky tech decisions or in the operation of their gear. This, of course, allows them to spend nearly all of their time interacting with the model.

The best way to reach this auto-pilot comfort level is to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more! It's also accomplished by taking the time, when you're not shooting, to learn, learn, and learn some more! From where I sit, it seems the best shooters are those who live and breathe this photography stuff. They are photographers who know their stuff so well they seem hardly to be paying attention to it. That's not to say, of course, that they're not paying attention to the technical details of capturing good images, it just seems that way to those observing them.

The gratuitous pretty girl at the top is Eva. Here's another shot of this buxom beauty, somewhat more candid, after the dress and the spectacles, came off.

Monday, May 21, 2007

What Will You Stumble Upon?

I don't make a habit here, on the PGS blog, of pimping websites. (Unless you'd call putting some photo-related--and a few other sites--in my links, "pimping websites.") But today, I'm going to do just that, pimp a site, that is.

If you haven't yet discovered StumbleUpon.com, you ought to check it out. In fact, I'd suggest you join StumbleUpon and DL their toolbar and put it in your browser.

StumbleUpon.com allows you to "channel surf the internet with the StumbleUpon toolbar to find great websites, videos, photos and more based on your interests. StumbleUpon learns what you like and makes better recommendations."

Once you've joined StumbleUpon and told it what kind of sites you're interested in (and DL'd their toolbar) a simple click on the "Stumble" icon will take you to a series of sites that you might find of interest. It even allows you to give the various sites you stumle upon a "Thumb's Up," or "Thumb's Down," further refining the sorts of sites that StumbleUpon hopes will capture your interest.

I've already stumbled upon some really cool photography sites that I never knew were out there. For instance, just yesterday I stumbled upon the work of photographer Thierry Le Gou├Ęs who is now my newest, most favorite, pretty girl shooter.

Unfortunately, I've not yet stumbled upon the PGS blog (or any of my pics) on StumbleUpon. But who knows? Maybe at some point the PGS blog and/or the work of this humble pretty girl shooter will be deemed cool enough by StumbleUpon for others to stumble upon?

The gratuitous eye candy at the top is Charmane. I shot this pic a few weeks ago on a stark-white, infinity cyclorama at a studio in downtown L.A. I'm sure you'll agree that Charmane is awfully easy on the eyes and I'm pretty sure more than a few homo sapien males would be quite happy to stumble upon Ms. Charmane.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Photographers: Artists or Craftsman?

More than a few photographers, myself included, periodically experience a mild case of angst attempting to answer the question: Am I an artist or a craftsman?

The short answer is both.

At times, I honestly consider myself an artist. That's because, in my opinion, the images I capture and process constitute an art form. Since I'm doing the capturing and processing, that makes me an artist. (Leastwise, I'm occasionally able to convince myself that's what I am and/or what I'm doing.)

But most of the time, I'm a craftsman. Why? Because most of what I shoot I'm shooting for someone else, i.e., a client or a customer, who is paying me to photographically capture images, per their instructions or direction, in a way that demonstrates a certain level of photographic craft-competency.

I realize that, throughout history, artists have been commissioned to produce art. But my clients and customers generally don't qualify as patrons-of-the-arts or artist's benefactors. They don't commission me to shoot pretty girl pics. They're simply people who want me to take some pictures of whatever it is they want me taking pictures of and they want me to do so with a craftsman's skill. And for doing that they pay me. They don't pay me for my artistic visions, they pay me for my skill and experience. In other words, they hire me because they consider me a photographic craftsman or, in simpler terms, a fairly decent shooter.

Whether you pursue photography as an art or a craft doesn't really matter. Hey! Whatever turns you on, right? But remember this: Throughout history, many great artists have died in poverty with few people recognizing their artistic greatness. Many, many craftsman, on the other hand, earned good incomes and went to their graves with full stomachs and in a warm and comfy bed. (A big nod to Cobalt, a Glamour1 forum member, for his reminder concerning this, provided in a forum thread started by another G1 member, zoot_zeussir.)

The pretty girl at the top is Kirsten. One of my clients, Wicked Pictures, recently hired me to shoot some on-the-set pics of Kirsten (and some other beautiful babes) at a location house during the production of one of their flicks.

Monday, May 14, 2007

So Much to Do, So Little Time to Do It!

Seems like I've been a workin' fool lately. I don't know why but, recently, my phone started ringing and I've been working a lot. That's a good thing, of course, cuz I can always use the cash! It's not that I don't work often enough. It's just that, lately, I've been working about twice what I usually work. Like I said, that's a good thing.

Besides not being able to update the blog as regularly as I'd like, I haven't had much time to process the many pics of the many pretty girls I've shot in recent weeks. I love processing images and it drives me nuts when I can't spend more time messing with the pretty girl images I capture. In this photo/digital age, a lot more creative possibilities have been put into the photographer's hands. We now have more control over our work than ever before. Not very long ago, nearly everything I'd shoot would go to the lab and someone else had more control over my work than I did. But that was then and this is now and now I have all the control the darkroom once had. In fact, I have more control than they did.

When I refer to control, of course, I'm talking about having control over images I process for my own purposes. Obviously, clients, their graphic designers, and others still exercise a lot of control over what I shoot. I'm talking about selecting images that appeal to me personally: Images that I can use for promotional purposes (or just for having fun) while maintaining personal and creative control over those images. (For better or for worse.)

The model at the top is Lorena. Lorena is another model I shot during that assembly-line day I've blogged about. Once again, I've played around with compositing another image into the BG. I think it works but I know I need to get better at compositing. I suppose the only way to do that is to keep at it. I love Photoshop but, damn, there's always so much new stuff to learn. Just when you think you're getting pretty competent at doing one thing with it, something else becomes a thing you want to learn and you feel like you're a novice again!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

One Pic : Three Different Results

About a week-and-a-half ago, I shot 20 models in a single day. Maybe it was 21 models. Once I got past a dozen or so, who was counting? Not only was I asked to shoot each of them individually, they also had me shooting them in pairs and, once or twice, in trios or three-ways or whatever you'd call it. I've already mentioned, in an earlier update, that I felt like the Henry Ford of T&A photography that day. I became a one-man, tease-photo, assembly line! Yep. Throughout the long day, one model after another was ejected from the make-up chair and paraded in front of my camera-- First in sexy attire and then, after some wardrobe shedding, in the buff. By the way, it took four MUAs to get the job done and stay on schedule. It would have been a much more profitable day if I were working by the piece, I mean model, rather than at a day-rate. Oh well.

I'm just now going through all the pics (about three-thousand of them) and processing a few. It's not my job to process them. That's for someone else to do. Ya see, much of the time I simply turn over CDs or DVDs of the images I've shot to the client. But I do keep copies archived and, when I have time, I enjoy going through them and processing a few for my own use, e.g., this blog. Sometimes, I like to process the same image in different ways. That was the case with the three approaches to the image of Sunny I've posted at the top of this update.

Sunny was one of those 20 or 21 girls and she knows her way around the front of a camera. It certainly makes the job easier, even when it's an assembly line, when models have a clue what they're doing. I can't say that was the case for each of the eye-candy babes I shot, but it was for Sunny and a few others.

The first image of Sunny is processed the way I normally would for an image like that. In the second, I thought a monochrome approach might be cool. And, in the third, I composited another image with the original. I kind of like the third one, although I'm certainly no expert in making composite images.

All the images captured with a Canon 5D w/85mm f/1.8 prime, ISO 100, F/5.6 @ 125th. I used a 5' Photoflex Octodome for the mainlight with two, strip-boxes behind her from either side. I also brought in a piece of white foam core for a bit of fill on the front side, opposite the mainlight.

Here's another of Sunny. She certainly has that "girl next door" thing going for her, doesn't she?

Monday, May 07, 2007

White Cycs and Black Cards

I was shooting last week at a studio in downtown L.A., in Korea Town to be exact. The studio resides on the 2nd floor of a large, old, brick-and-mortar building, probably built in the 30's or 40's. Down below, there's a Korean bookstore and some other Korean establishments.

A lot of music videos are shot at this studio. In it, they have a permanent, 3-wall, U-shaped, infinity cove, cyclorama that was painted white (on the day I was there) and that's where they wanted me to shoot. This cyc was a little unusual as it also had an infinity cove at the top, for all three walls, and a ceiling.

Normally, I'm not a big fan of shooting on white but, if that's what the client wants, that's where I'll be shooting. I had an assistant, Anthony, who schlepped my gear up the long ramp to the studio and set things up. The first girl was already in make-up when I arrived (late, as usual) so I didn't have much time to get my act together.

Charmane was the first model. With my trusty 5D, I captured a couple of hundred images of her but I wasn't too happy with the results. With all that white reflecting everywhere, the contrast seemed too low. Next, the client brought another model out, Dee, and wanted me to shoot some fairly-vanilla, Sapphic, stuff. No problem. But I still wasn't happy with the contrast I was getting on that white cyc.

Then it hit me!

What a dunce I can be! Black foam core! That's what I needed: Some large, black, foam core, cards. I asked the studio manager if they had any black foam core lying around in their grip and electric room and, sure enough, they had a couple of 4x6, beat-up and half-crumpled, black, foam core cards. I set the black cards on either side of the next model, Keani, kind of book-ending her at about 45 degrees in front and on either side, and resumed shooting. Man! What a difference! The black, reflected on the model, suddenly increased the contrast and provided more detail (plus some well-defined shadows) making the pics (at least, in my opinion) much improved.

Next time you're shooting on a white seamless or white muslin, or on a white cyc, introduce some black foam core into the mix and I think you'll be happier with the results.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Don't Piss Off the Model

I like to think I'm a funny guy. Often, I use humor to relax the models who find themselves in front of my lens. Occasionally, though, my funny-guy ways crosses the line, even though I don't always know where that line is. The models, of course, will usually let me know when I've crossed that line by their responses to my humorous barbs. When I'm thinking fast, I'll manage to press the shutter when that reaction surfaces.

Yesterday, I shot Kelly. Kelly's a lot of fun to work with and, apparently, the fact that she's so much fun must have encouraged me to take my humor to... well, to places Kelly didn't fully appreciate. Hey! What can I say? Sometimes a comic artist's art isn't fully understood in ways that it's intended.

On the plus-side, I was quick enough on my toes to snap the shutter when Kelly reacted and the resulting image, IMO, is kind'a cool.

Here's another of Kelly captured some time after she recovered from my attempt at humor. I captured Kelly with my Canon 5D with an 85mm, f/1.8 prime, ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 125th. Three light sources were used: A 5' Photoflex Octodome for the mainlight, positioned above her and camera left; a medium Chimera strip box behind her, camera-left; a diffused, bare-bulb, monolight set camera-right, also behind her, and up fairly high. I added a piece of white foamcore, camera-right and in front of her for a bit of fill. The background I used for these was dark gray, crumpled and then rolled-out, seamless paper. MUA/Hair by Vivian.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Sometimes Life Gets In the Way

Sometimes my life gets in the way of things that are important to me yet need to be put, temporarily, on a back burner. Lately, it's been that way with my Pretty Girl Shooter blog. It's not that I don't have anything to say. And it's not that I haven't captured any images of pretty girls while I've been absent from blogging, it's just that personal and business issues sometimes need to take precedence in terms of allocating my time.

To add to what's been going on in my life, my computer took a nose dive and I was without it (and internet access) for five or six days. When it rains it pours, you know what I mean?

Besides stuff going on in my personal life and having to replace my desktop computer, I've worked quite a bit over the past few weeks. The image of Brea, accompanying this post, is just one of the many pretty girls I've photographed. Last Sunday, for instance, I shot twenty girls. I felt like the Henry Ford of glamour/tease photography as one after another came out of the makeup chair, assembly-line style, and graced my lens.

Hopefully, I'll be able to get back to regular updates in the very near future. I'm also hoping many of you will continuing stopping by and supporting the blog.

Here's another of the lovely Brea from a Playboy/Club Jenna shoot last week. I'm still trying to work out some color issues between the new computer and my monitor so if the color/skin tone doesn't look quite right, that's what's happening.