Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The End of 2008 (Thankfully)

For me, 2008 sucked in so many ways, both personally and professionally. Without going into details, I've lost much and had to make and/or accept changes that remain painful, depressing, and dispiriting. Some of these losses were near and dear and some were simply economically-related. (The latter being far less important but distressing nonetheless.)

I'm not trying to write a pity party speech. I'm not a pity party kind of guy. 2008 was what it was and things are what they are. Some of you might be fans of mob movies and TV shows, you know, programs like "The Sopranos." As such, you might be familiar with a saying popular with many Italian-Americans. (Assuming you aren't one and you use the term yourself.) They, i.e., we, usually say it with a shrug. The words are, "Wha'd'ya gonna do?"

As it relates to so much that occurred in my life in 2008, that's what I'm saying and that's what I'm sticking with, leastwise, publicly.

Wha'd'ya gonna do?

I'm not looking for people to leave encouraging words in the comments section, please don't. I'm neither a fatalist nor am I surrendering to anything. I'm a forward-looking guy--sometimes too cynical but generally optimistic--and I'm committed to making 2009 a turn-around year. I have lots of projects I'm working on and I am determined to achieve them, hopefully, all of them. (I'll settle for an 80 or 90 percent success rate by year's end and still call it a win.) I'm also bent on making my personal life happier and more satisfying.

I'm not convinced this blog is the right place to vent this kind of stuff. I'm not really comfortable writing this update. I'm appalled at how many times I've already used the words "I" and "I've" in this post. (Four times in that last sentence alone.) But other than using this blog as a vehicle to share, inform, and instruct, it's been a place to vent. To relieve some angst. And I guess that's what I'm doing... make that that's what I've done. Cuz I'm done writing about this gloomy shit. At least, for today I am.

And now for something completely different... and, thankfully, not something downhearted-- The opposite, in fact.

One of 2008's special and rewarding moments was discovering, just yesterday, that the PGS blog has been awarded Best Overall Photographic Nude Blog by the good folks (and excellent, part-time, art critics) at the Fluffytek Art Blog. This completely unexpected ego-stroke represents the third time in that many years the PGS blog has been the recipient of a Golden Fluffy award!

In 2006, as well as 2007, PGS was honored with Golden Fluffies for "Best Glamour Blog." Okay, they're not Pulitzers but considering the quality company, i.e., the excellent photography blogs PGS shares these awards with, I am floored and flattered nonetheless. Thanks Lin and Rich! I'll try my best to continue writing this blog in a manner which, I know, you both expect.

From all of me to all of you, I hope 2009 is all you hope it will be.

The image at the top is Cindi from few years ago. Although I've posted it before, it kind of says how I feel at times... too many times in 2008. I've gotten a bit of mileage out of the photo. More, that is, than by simply posting it here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Pretty Girl Shooting as Entertainment

For most guys, viewing images of beautiful, sexy, alluring models is entertainment. For that matter, there's plenty of women who enjoy doing the same thing, although for (probably) different reasons. But many women, like their male counterparts, are also entertained by checking out pics of hunky, sexy, men... often, for the same reasons!

The church ladies, of course, don't approve. They would rather we all satisfy our entertainment needs with content like THIS. But that's not the way much of the world works. Leastwise, my world (and possibly yours) doesn't work that way.

When it comes to experiencing entertainment beyond the purely visual sense, the church ladies would much rather have you go HERE than to some other location for the purpose of, as an example, making your own pictures of beautiful, sexy, alluring models. While it's true the church ladies' suggestions for a good time can actually be a good time, that fact doesn't discount the joys and entertainment-value of shooting pretty girl pics. Different strokes and all that.

Yeah, yeah... I know. You're all serious photographers and you're only shooting (or hoping to shoot) gorgeous models as an outlet for your artistic expression and not for personal entertainment.

Photographers please! This is you pal, Jimmy, you're speaking to, not your wife, significant other, mother, or co-worker.

There's nothing wrong with having a hobby or an avocation that's fun, exciting, stimulating, and rewarding. And photographing beautiful women, especially from most guys' perspectives, certainly qualifies as all those things and more. In other words, it qualifies as entertainment: Guiltless entertainment that includes close interaction with beautiful, sexy, women yet doesn't necessarily result in a trip to a divorce attorney or spending unnecessary time looking for a replacement for your (suddenly missing) significant other!

"Honey! I'm thinking of attending a photography workshop."

"What kind of photography workshop?" she asks.

"Oh, you know, one where there's all kinds of hot chicks parading around in front of my camera wearing little or nothing and posing in very sexy ways in response to my commands direction."

Whoa! Hold on a minute! That ain't the right answer! The right answer sounds more like this: "Honey! You know how important my photography is to me. It's my creative outlet! It's part of who I am... creatively and aesthetically. I'm only attending for the learning and the opportunity to enhance my skills. I'm going there to commune with other photographers... people with similar interests as mine. It's all about developing and improving my game... my photography game."

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying pretty girls shooters aren't serious photographers, leastwise, many of them are. And I'm not saying its practitioners aren't (also) engaging in acts of artistic expression. I'm just saying that shooting stunning, sexy, barely-dressed or undressed women can appeal to photographers in many ways that photographing, as an example, a beautiful sunset might not satisfy or excite. In other words, I'm just saying.

All this is why, when I finally begin hosting workshops, I'm going to work hard to make my workshops entertainment experiences for those who attend. That's not to say they won't include learning and communing and skills development. They will. But I'm not going to pretend that the aforementioned elements are the only reasons photographers attend these workshops. They also attend pretty girl shooting workshops for their entertainment value. Church ladies aside, what's wrong with that?

The pretty girl at the top is yet another model whose name I cannot recall. (I hate getting old.) But I do recall that photographing her was fun and quite entertaining.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Is the Canon 5D MkII the End-All Be-All of dSLRs?

I keep meeting people and reading about people who intend to purchase a Canon 5D Mk II. I still don't know anyone (in real life) who has one in their possession.

I was at a party the other night. While there, I was introduced to a guy who is a photographer for the U.S. Navy. He isn't a member of that particular branch of the armed services, instead, he has a contract with the Navy to provide still photography services. He's been doing this for most of his working life and he's a 70-year-old dude. A very cool dude with tons of fascinating stories to tell.

This guy, I can't remember his name, told me he's about to buy a 5D Mk II. He still shoots a lot of film and, when it comes to digital, he's been working with a Canon Rebel XTi. It's gonna be quite a jump from an XTi to a 5D Mk II!

I've considered purchasing a 5D Mk II but, frankly, I'm okay with my original 5D. It gets the job done. For me, getting the job done, and getting the job done right, is job priority #1. If I'm gonna spend some dough, it will probably be on glass, "L" glass, that is. For me, more (and better) glass will go further in terms of getting the job done right than a new camera body. That's not to say my 5D is the last dSLR I'll ever own, I'm sure it won't be, but for now I'm opting to hang in there with my 5D. Besides, available cash (or lack of it) makes that decision an easy, no-brainer decision to make.

There's some cool improvements included in the 5D Mk II, not the least of them is the new LCD (the LCD on the back of the 5D is pathetic, especially in daylight) and not the best of them being the Mk II's HD video capability. Sure, it's nice being able to shoot video with those Canon prime lenses but, frankly, being able to shoot video with a hybrid isn't at the top of my wish list.

Uber-photographer, Vincent Laforet, is making a lot of noise with his use of the Mk II as a video capture device but, IMO, a lot of this has to do with a still photographer suddenly discovering the joys of video while utilizing a tool (an SLR still camera) that he is supremely comfortable with using. Please don't take that as a 'dis' to Mr. Laforet, it's not intended that way, it just is what it is and it is, I'll repeat, simply an IMO thing.

Interestingly, the people I've spoken with, i.e., those who intend to purchase a Mk II, aren't saying much about the plethora of megapixels the Mk II's sensor uses to capture images. Perhaps they believe 21MP is overkill for most of the pictures they intend to capture? Maybe they're asking themselves, "Is more really better?" I don't know. I'll leave that question for the photo-geeks.

As 2009 arrives and evolves, I'll keep shooting with my original 5D. Sure, if I suddenly come into some serious cash I might consider upgrading but, for now, my 5D is what I have and I'll keep working to take it to the wall.

The pretty girl at the top is my friend, Devin, from some time ago, shot with my 5D and an 85mm prime.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christm Whatever It Is

I'm not a religious guy. That's not to say I'm an atheist, I'm not, but no single religion has ever explained or practiced the God thing in a way that works for me. To make it all more confusing, for me at least, the religion most prominent in Western Civilization, Christianity, the religion I was raised with, can't keep its stories straight.

Which brings me to Christmas.

If ever there were a holiday that borrows from many beliefs and traditions, it's Christmas. (Which is not necessarily a bad thing.) If there's one common denominator in the way we celebrate Christmas, it's the winter solstice.

At the risk of bursting some bubbles, there is no historical evidence that Jesus Christ was born on the 25th of December. In fact, according to some researchers, Jesus was born on June 17, 2 B.C. – the day that Venus and Jupiter became so close that they would have appeared to be one bright beacon of light.

IMO, Christmas would be more accurately called Mithmas. (Sort of like Christmas with an odd lisp.) Why? Because, back in the day, the winter solstice occurred on December 25th and that particular day was celebrated, by many, as the birthday of Mithra.

Mithra was a pagan sun god and he was believed to be born on the day of the winter solstice-- Dec. 25th back then. Mithra was also believed to be born again and again and again, each year, on the winter solstice. (Get it? The sun god is born and re-born, each year, on the winter solstice-- the shortest day of the year. As Mithra gets older, the days start getting longer until the summer solstice where the days start becoming shorter again and Mithra enters the last half of his life... for that year.)

So how did the day celebrated as the birth of Mithra become the day celebrated as the birth of Jesus?

Around 300 A.D., the Roman Emperor Constantine was trying to bring peace between Romans who worshiped Jesus and those who worshiped Mithra. Apparently, Constantine was a shrewd politician. To help bridge these two religions, he declared himself both a Christian and a Mithraist and, in a really clever political move (cuz there was a lot of fighting going on between Christians and Mithraists back then) Constantine declared December 25th, the winter solstice, as both the birthday of Mithra and also the birthday of Jesus.

And that's how Mithmas became Christmas.

What about all those other traditions associated with Christmas? Well, they're all borrowed from many places and traditions.

St. Nick was a once-wealthy Greek Bishop who lived about the same time as Constantine. Bishop Nicholas became well-known and much loved because he gave away, as gifts and presents, all his worldly possessions to the needy, the poor, and, most often, to children. (Bishops, BTW, traditionally wore red robes... just like Santa. How's that for a coincidence?)

Then there's all that stuff about Christmas trees and reindeer and Santa taking a nocturnal ride in the sky and Yule logs and stuffing stockings and more. Pretty much all these Christmas-related traditions are borrowed from pre-Christian Germanic and Nordic celebrations. These celebrations, as you might have already guessed, were all associated with the winter solstice.

But none of this truly matters because Christmas, whether you see it as a celebration of the birth of Jesus or as something else, is a special time of year where people come together in positive, often joyous, ways. Christmas is often associated with peace, that is, hopes for peace on Earth. And what could be better than peace on Earth?

Nothing.

So to all of you from all of me, I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Merry Mithmas, a Happy Hanukkah (i.e., the Jewish Festival of Lights... another solstice-originated holiday), a Kool Kwanzaa, or a wonderful winter solstice holiday of whatever sort you celebrate!

Monday, December 22, 2008

What? A Landscape???

You're probably wondering what the heck a picture of a tree with some mountains and clouds in the background are doing on this pretty girl shooting blog? Well, it's a pic I snapped with the little Canon rangefinder I purchased off of Ebay last month.

I did take a few pretty girl pics with it but they are seriously flared-over. You see, I was shooting a model and I whipped out the little rangefinder and snapped a few with it. But the 40mm lens on the rangefinder doesn't have any sort of lens shade so the accent lights that I had set behind the model flared the crap out of the images-- So much so they are messed up beyond repair and beyond viewing. Oh well. What was I thinking?

The camera seems to be operating properly. I had the film processed at WalMart. (The particular B&W film I used uses C-41 processing so it can be developed in the same chemicals as color print film.) Along with the prints, WalMart also includes a CD of the images. But the scans are very low resolution. In other words, they suck. But that's okay. All I wanted to do with this first roll was determine the camera was operating properly... which, apparently, it is.

Here's a headshot of Sophia from this past year and shot with a Canon 5D. Didn't want to post an update without any sort of pretty girl pic included. I'm real considerate that way.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Photographers? We Don't Need No Stinking Photographers

Yesterday, I received a phone call from a friend of mine. Haven't heard from him in a while. I'll call him "H" for the purpose of this update. He's a guy who, for the 10 (plus) years I've known him, has been a salesman, a PR guy, an agent, and more. He's also a hardcore poker player.

"What have you been doing lately?" I asked.

"Mostly playing poker," H told me.

"You make your living playing poker?" I asked, rather incredulously.

"Not a great one," H admitted. "But I survive with it."

H went on to tell me he plays, almost daily, at various, local casinos and that he ekes out something of a living, enough to get by on, from doing so. There are a number of poker casinos in the Los Angeles area. Larry Flynt, for instance, owns the Hustler Casino in L.A. (Besides being involved in all kinds of hardcore enterprises, Flynt, himself, is a hardcore, long-time, poker player.)

H told me he also makes some money as a photographer.

"A photographer?" I asked. "When did you become a photographer?"

"That high school photography class finally came in handy," H laughed. (H is about 50 years old.) "A big European poker magazine just wired me a nice chunk of change today for a spread I shot for them that's already been published. I even got the cover."

"Wow. That's, uhh... great, H." I said.

"Another poker magazine, here in the States, has also hired me to shoot regularly for them." H informed me.

"Do you even own a camera?" I asked.

"No," H admitted. "I borrowed one from a friend. But I might buy one if I keep getting the work."

"What's a photographer without a camera?" I rhetorically asked.

"Hey! I've got a good eye!" H responded, rather defensively. "And these cameras are no-brainer anyway."

So there you have it. Anyone who took a high school photography class ten or twenty or thirty or more years ago and who has a friend with a "no-brainer" camera (who might be willing to loan it out) might have the skills and background and ability to work in the exciting and rewarding fields of editorial, news, or sports photography. Of course, you'll also need a "good eye," self-proclaimed or otherwise.

Another shot of Tera Patrick at the top today. One from this set became a full-page in 944 magazine. I didn't borrow a camera to shoot it although I'll admit I did take a photography class (or two) in high school.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Step Closer to Workshops

I drove down to Torrance, CA, this past Saturday to check out Moses Marquez's model showcase event and to meet with the man himself. You might want to check out Moses' (NSFW) port on Model Mayhem, especially if you have a yen for Asian chicks. (Pun intended.)

The event was great fun with plenty of friendly, smiling, gorgeous, scantly (but acceptably) clad models, many of them Asian glamour and/or "import models."

If you don't know what an "import model" is, I'll first tell you what they're not: They're not models who've been imported from Asia or some other faraway place. (Although, in some instances, I suppose they could be... imported, that is.) Here's what they are: They are models, many of them Asian, who often grace the pages of import car rags and websites and are regularly seen at import car trade-shows working as hostesses for participating vendors.

Back to Mo's model showcase: While the pretty girls were abundant, attendance by the public started out a bit slow. By afternoon, however, it gained quite a bit of momentum and plenty of guys crowded the room. For the most part, these guys seemed to mostly be pretty girl shooters themselves. It appeared to me that virtually all these guys were having an awesomely fun time interacting with the models. It was a place where eye-candy entertainment meets... Fuhgedabouitit! Let's call a spade a spade-- Purely and simply, it was a place where eye-candy entertainment meets the guys who thoroughly appreciate eye-candy entertainment. I believe it cost $20 to walk through the door and I didn't see or hear anyone who seemed to feel they're money was wasted. Just a sea of smiling faces-- On the models' faces as well as the guys who came out to the event.

For those of you who pursue pretty girl shooting as a hobby, let's face it, entertainment is a big reason you're doing this thing we do. Frowns and the disapproval of church ladies aside, jokes about GWCs notwithstanding, this genre of photography is all about the shooter having an entertaining experience, as well as a creatively fulfilling adventure, while photographing beautiful, sexy, chicks. In other words, it's a good time with a hot chick while not doing anything that puts you in danger of landing in divorce court or losing your girlfriend. What's better than that? Okay, maybe having that same great time in a way the might actually land you in divorce court could seem better but let's not go with that for now.

Back to what I intended to write about.

The biggest reason I drove to Torrance was to meet with Moses to discuss workshops. And that's what we did. Joining us in the meeting were the promoters of Glamourcon and a few other photographers.

Glamourcon has been around since the early 90s. They developed a nice relationship with Playboy when Hef happened to stop by one of their early events. Today, Glamourcon's events feature many, many Playboy Playmates--from back in the day to the present--as well as plenty of other models. Their events attract thousands of visitors. Glamourcon is celebrity-driven, featuring the best and most popular pin-up. glamour, and tease models.

Not to give anything away, but we spent quite a bit of time discussing workshops and how these workshops could fit in with both Moses's events as well as Glamourcon's events. Discussions continued into the evening at a very nice Italian restaurant. (I enjoyed a delicious plate of Chicken Fettucini, "Alfredo" style.) After dinner, we headed back to Moses's offices and talked some more. I think everyone left feeling good about the ideas we discussed. It looks like I'm a big step closer to realizing my hopes to begin promoting pretty girl shooting workshops.

The pretty girl at the top is Nautica from a few years ago. Although she's of Asian descent (leastwise, partially so) Nautica is not an import model. (Aside from the fact that she imported herself from her home, in Hawaii, to Los Angeles some time back.) It's not really a glamour image. I guess it's more a portrait of her in all her nakedness, albeit parts of that nakedness is hidden from view and... Forget it! I don't know what it is. It's just B&W image of the beautiful Nautica with a fair amount of shadows covering the goodies. Yeah. That's what it is.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Who Needs Lighting?

I often cruise Craigslist looking for good deals on photo, video, and lighting gear. But "good deals" are hard to come by. Mostly, I suppose, because too many people are willing to pay nearly retail--sometimes even more than retail--for used items. This same problem exists on Ebay.

I'm constantly amazed at the bidding on Ebay. Don't these people first determine what the item costs retail? I've seen an awful lot of photo gear sell on Ebay for nearly as much, as much, or for even more than it can be bought, online, at retailers like B&H Photo, Adorama, and elsewhere. Not only is a used item "used," but it comes without a warranty. And yet many people are willing to pay as much, sometimes even more, than the same item can be purchased new with the manufacturers warranty! Go figure.

Today's adventure on Craigslist netted nothing in terms of a good deal for something I think I might need or want. But I did catch a quote in and ad that, unfortunately, is a sad commentary on the current state of photography: "We are getting rid of these 6 foot photography lamps to open up some office space. We used to use them to shoot photos of our products but we have everything edited in Photoshop now." (Note: The "6 foot" refers to the max height of the stands the lamps are mounted on.)

So there you have it: Who needs lighting when you can edit in Photoshop?

I could go on and on with a rant that's, literally, boiling in my brain. But why bother? As a commentary regarding many people's current attitudes about the art and craft of photography, the quote says it all.

BTW, I took my first roll of film, shot with my Canon rangefinder, in for processing yesterday. Should have it back in a few days, allowing me to see if the camera is operating properly. That's all I wanted from the first roll-- To see if the camera works right.

I'm heading down to the Holiday Inn in Torrance, CA, this afternoon for a business meeting with my friend and fellow pretty girl shooter, Moses Marquez. Moses, in addition to his photography, is an event promoter. Today, his Model Showcase Events company is putting on a Christmas Model Expo at the hotel. We're going to discuss some possible, future joint ventures that address the ever-growing, pretty girl shooting, marketplace.

The pretty girl at the top is Alexa Lynn from earlier in the year. I don't know why I wasted my time lighting her when, after all, I could have simply edited the picture with Photoshop.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Is the Party Over for Gear Manufacturers?

You probably don't need me to tell you this but photography can be a fairly expensive habit endeavor. If you're making all or part of your living snapping pictures, the money you spend on gear is a cost of doing business. If you're pursuing photography as a hobby, and depending on how hard you've been bit, it can put a sizable dent in your discretionary funds: Real funds or imaginary funds... make that plastic funds, aka, your credit cards.

As the economy continues to go into the toilet, I wonder how many photo-hobbyists (i.e., those people who make up the largest group of photo-gear consumers) will continue spending at the rate they've been spending on the latest-and-greatest camera or strobe or editing software manufacturers continue releasing into the marketplace? Have we reached, or are we near reaching, a saturation point where people simply decide to make do with what they've already accumulated in their camera bags or installed on their computers?

Much the way many folks engage in frivolous spending practices when times are good, tough times usually result in more frugal purchasing decisions. If the news media is correct and the economic forecasts they continue dwelling on is on-the-money, a lot of people are going to think twice before they plunk down five-hundred or a thousand or a few thousand on whatever new dSLR camera body Canon or Nikon comes out with. (I'm talking, of course, about all those pro-capable cameras for the masses.)

Instead, I think many shooters, if they haven't already figured it out, are going to realize that making good pictures isn't so much about the gear that's used, it's mostly about how that gear is used. I know that kind of thinking flies in the face of the majority of the marketing and advertising these manufacturers throw at us, but that's a fact... Jack.

The eye-candy at the top is the Goddess of Glam, Tera Patrick, from about a year or so ago.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Another Hollywood Meeting

I'm going to be careful writing this. Don't want to jinx anything by being a little too optimistic.

Yesterday, my ex-partner and I "took" another meeting with the Hollywood people. As reported in my recent update, A Parallel Universe, this second meeting only included Rob (my ex-partner), yours truly, and, of course, the Hollywood peeps.

The day after our first meeting, one of the Executive Producers at the production company emailed us. Here's what he said:

I wanted to drop a line so we could prep you for a few things we would like to discuss for our meeting next week:

1) Please bring in a one page bullet point synopsis on how you see the show. We have some ideas but we want to hear your ideas first.

2) Please bring in an excel budget or at least a breakdown of the numbers and how you see it all unfolding.

3) We also want to know what you and everyone who would appear on the show expects to make fee wise which walks hand and hand with the budget and understanding the numbers.

4) Finally we will need to discuss profit share and so on since we would be financing the entire show we would want to know what you excpect on both the front and back ends.

We look forward to seeing you on Tuesday.


Since our first meeting I learned a bit more about the company we're dealing with. Their courtroom show, the one where they first met and cast my ex-partner, is called The Hollywood Judge. The feature film they now have in (limited) release is called Gardens of the Night and stars Tom Arnold and John Malkovich. The limited release is to qualify for Academy Awards consideration. I've read some reviews that believe Arnold, in this dark and disturbing film, deserves Best Supporting Actor consideration for his role.

Okay. These guys are definitely the real deal. So how did yesterday's meeting go? Well, afterward, Rob and I stopped for some lunch. While eating, my daughter texted me and asked me to rate Rob's and my confidence (in terms of how well the meeting went) on a scale of 1 to 10. I asked Rob what he thought and fully agreed with his assessment. I texted my daughter back: "Strong 7 to 8."

If you're wondering, the budget numbers we needed to provide them are for the (adult) shows within the reality show we would produce as part of the overall project. A portion of the proposed series includes behind-the-scenes of the making of those shows-within-the-show... if that makes sense.

There's more stuff we have to get to these people by this Friday. According to them, we may have a definitive answer as quickly as next Tuesday or Wednesday.

My fingers are crossed but I'm not getting too excited-- Been here and done this before, a few too many times.

The pretty girl at the top is Faye from a year or so ago. We were shooting in a studio in downtown L.A. The light coming in from the windows, which made up most of the wide wall behind her, was streaming in some fairly intense natural light. I asked the video's gaffer if he could let me use one of his HMIs plus a shiny board. That's how it's lit. I could have used my strobes but, hey! I spotted that HMI just standing there. Here's a BTS shot (below) of the lighting setup. That's the gaffer, Joel, talking with Faye while I diddled with my Canon 5D, snapping off a few shots of the set. You can see the HMI on the right and the shiny board on the floor in front of Faye. As I recall, I also walked-in the reflector, mounted on a stand and arm and seen in the foreground, for some extra fill.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Provoking Models

This is gonna be more of a food-for-thought post rather than a how-to update.

December, 2008, marks the 100th Anniversary of the birth of famed photo-portraitist, Yousuf Karsh. The tale of how Karsh captured his most famous portrait, that of a scowling, defiant, Winston Churchill, seeds my thoughts for this update.

Karsh, as the story goes, was given two minutes to photograph Churchill who, it's also told, wasn't too interested in being photographed at the time. Churchill sat in a chair where Karsh's lights were focused, a scowl on his face and a cigar clenched between his teeth. Karsh, although rather intimidated by the larger-than-life British Prime Minister, plucked the cigar out of Churchill's mouth. Churchill was now decidedly annoyed. He leaned forward, his expression projecting resolute disapproval. Karsh snapped the shutter. The rest his history. This portrait of a glowering, defiant, Churchill went on to become, according to many, the most reproduced photograph in history. The emotions portrayed by Churchill, at the moment Karsh pressed the shutter, became a world-wide symbol for defiance to the aggressions of Nazi Germany.

Whew! Heady stuff!

What's this got to do with pretty girl shooting? In my mind, plenty.

One reason I don't shoot art nudes is because, so often, the images seem nearly void of emotion and attitude. Leastwise, emotion and attitude expressed by the subject's face and eyes, unless you consider that far-off look as emotion. Instead, the subjects are most-often photographed as if they are beautiful, classical, sculptures. Expression takes a back-of-the-bus seat to things like lighting, symmetry, visual drama, and composition. Emotions and attitudes portrayed by expression seem to be the last thing on many art-nude photographers' minds.

That's not to say I don't appreciate the aesthetics of many art-nude images I've viewed, I do, but in my pretty girl shooting visions emotion and attitude are everything. Well, maybe not everything, but they're at the top of my list. Sure, it's always nice to see a killer body portrayed in a beautifully photographed image, made even more enticing by expert makeup and hair, a cool location, and thoughtfully-controlled lighting and interesting composition. But the icing on the cake, for me at least, is the expressions on the models' faces coupled with the pose: Those sensual revelations in their eyes and glimpses into their private places where their yearnings and desires are revealed, reinforced by how they present their bodies. Yep. that's the stuff that inspires me: Emotions revealed by expression, coupled with pose, and further enhanced by the things I do, as a photographer, and the skills applied by MUAs and others.

Many models have a hard time revealing their emotions. Sure, they sometimes have their tried-and-proven expressions in their modeling bag-of-tricks but, for me, I want more than what they've given to all those other shooters. To get that--which I'm not always so successful at doing--I often feel I have to provoke the model into giving it to me.

I've yet to have a model show up with a cigar clenched between her teeth. And my way of (hopefully) getting at her emotional expressions is a bit more subtle than plucking something out of her mouth. Mostly, for the sorts of pretty girl pics my clients are looking for, the emotional range they hope to see is of a carnal and sensual nature. They don't want to see hope, despair, and all that kind of emotional stuff. (Unless they're expressing hope that some primal, physical desires are about to be satisfied.) My clients want to see yearning and desire and seductive, come hither, lust on the faces of the models. To get that, i.e., to get more of that than the model usually puts out or routinely puts out, I sometimes resort to verbal and other forms of provocation. No, I don't lubricate their brains with booze or drugs. I don't get flirty with them. Nor do I have someone fluff them in hopes of seeing a bit more arousal in their eyes and expressions. But I do sometimes engage in suggestive mind games designed to achieve the desired results.

I can't tell you what to say or do to get at these emotions, i.e., what mind games to play. (Although certain mood enhancers, like the "right" music or other atmospheric effects, certainly help.) But I do know that, as photographers of beautiful, sensuous, women, we need to connect with our models--and connect with them in some earthy-yet-positive ways--to get these results. I should, however, caution you: It's a fine line you'll walk when attempting this connection. The last thing you want is for them to think you're hitting on them or being pervy.

I don't think I've ever had a model perceive that I was coming on to her. Besides, that wouldn't get the results I'm looking for anyway. And I've never provoked with physical contact. It's all, as I already mentioned, a mind game. My job, besides setting lights and focusing a camera, is to help them engage in an internal journey where the thoughts and feelings and memories they encounter are written on their faces and revealed as spontaneous emotions and attitudes. Don't know how many of you will understand this, but think of it as Method modeling. You'll better understand the term if you have some knowledge of the acting technique called Method acting. I wish I could be 100% effective when I do this. Hell, I wish I could be 50% effective. But my failures are rarely for lack of trying.

The pretty girl at the top is Katarina. I've posted this image before. It's one of my faves. When shooting Kat, I asked her to remember (and animate with expression and pose) the wildest and craziest sex she's ever had. Her first few attempts at revealing this memory weren't, for me, too successful. Maybe she's simply had way too many wild and crazy sexual experiences in her life? She was, after all, a circus performer before stripping off her clothes in front of cameras. Regardless, I kept shaking my head, acting frustrated and nearly shouting at her with things like, "No! Bullshit! C'mon! That's not the wildest you've ever had!" Finally, she gave me the image above.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Parallel Universe

Yesterday, I was at a meeting at a Hollywood production company's offices. Nope. It had nothing to do with my PGS reality show. This meeting was to pitch a different project. Although this project has very little to do with glamour photography, I think I'll blog a bit about it anyway.

It was a unique and memorable experience. If you don't believe in parallel universes, your take on the subject would probably be changed had you been a fly-on-the-wall at this meeting.

Background: A number of years ago, when I was working mostly as an adult film director rather than a photographer, I had a partner who was (is) quite a colorful character. (Think a louder, cruder, and whackier Robert DeNiro in "Analyze This.") My ex-partner's job was being the producer while my job was directing, shooting, and editing the shows. We were responsible for a lot of flicks being distributed in the marketplace, some high-end (by adult standards) and some not so high-end. This ex-partner is one of those guys who always has an entourage surrounding him: An entourage of misfits, whackos, and degenerates. We, my ex-partner and I, always thought the truly bizarre events that routinely transpired as a result of this crew of freaks, losers, and oddballs was entertaining enough that someone should be constantly videotaping it. This was before the current popularity of reality shows.

A few weeks ago, my ex-partner was hired by this very same production company (we were meeting with) to appear on a TV show they are producing. I don't know the name of the show but it's a new, courtroom-themed, reality show. To say this show doesn't take itself, courtrooms, or legal proceedings very seriously is an understatement.

Apparently, my ex-partner was in rare form as he regaled and entertained the show's cast, crew, and live audience. "We've produced over 50 episodes," said the show's executive producer, "And this one was, by far, the best... the funniest... the most entertaining!" (Had I heard this statement recounted by my ex-partner I'd be suspicious of its authenticity but it came right out of the mouth of the exec while were at yesterday's meeting.)

After the taping of the show, my ex-partner met with the producers and convinced them they should take a pitch meeting with him. They agreed. What they didn't expect was my ex-partner showing up at the meeting with a sampling of the very same whacked-out crew who still are part of his daily entourage. I received a phone call from my ex-partner, asking me to also attend. We don't hang out these days. In fact, we've only seen each other a few times in the last 3 or 4 years, but I agreed to go. I decided to bring along a video camera to record this meeting that, trust me, would be a meeting the likes of which these Hollywood guys would remember for a long time.

So there we were, at the plush offices of the Hollywood production company: My ex-partner, his ex-wife (think Fran Drescher of "The Nanny"), Joey (the Long Island Lolita guy) Buttafuoco, Gerry the Limo Driver (the crotchety, 80-something-year-old, barely alive, "Open yer own freakin' door," limo driver who has Tourette Syndrome), Lance the Amish Guy (who's actually a Hungarian who came to this country to become a film director after winning an immigration lottery and lives in a homeless shelter and looks more Amish than Hungarian or anything else. Lance is simultaneously mentally-challenged and mentally-gifted and sounds like an autistic Count Dracula when he speaks.), Shylock (a former loan shark turned porn agent), Crystal the Porn Star (a ditzy, dark-haired, beauty whom my ex-partner refers to as "Crystal Meth"), Pete the Writer (who, apparently, wrote a few movie scripts in the 80s that were produced and who now believes his life's calling is to immortalize my ex-partner in a book, or a movie, or whatever), and, of course, yours truly.

On the other side of the room were two executive producers, a couple of line producers, and 2 or 3 development people. We were in a big conference room with the Hollywood folks on one side of the room, maintaining a safe distance from my ex-partner and the motley crew he brought along with him, and my ex and his entourage on the other. The Hollywood people also had a cameraman, with a camera mounted on a tripod and pointed at my ex and his crew, to record the pitch. I took a lone seat that was in the middle of the room, along a side wall, between these diverse groups. As I mentioned, I also brought along a video camera and, in an effort to keep things fair, routinely turned my camera on the production company people. Most of the time, I was on my feet, bouncing about the room, recording the truly bizarre stuff happening on my ex-partner's side of the room.

As I watched my ex-partner perform his over-the-top, part-wiseguy & part-moron comedy routine, introducing the members of his misfit entourage and giving them ample opportunities to prove how truly dysfunctional most of them are, and then recounting stories from the world of porn (with accompanying visual aids) that should have had all the normal people in the room blushing, the Hollywood folks were nearly salivating with interest and awe, hanging on every word and asking for more. There were times when things got so loud and out of control I was surprised someone outside the conference room didn't call security. For a time, this big conference room became an insane asylum.

The meeting lasted about an hour-and-a-half. (I ran out of tape in my camera before it was over... great planning on my part.) At the end, the exec producers asked if my ex-partner would call the following day to set an appointment to come back, without the entourage, to talk business. For whatever reason, I'm to be part of the follow-up meeting. We'll see what happens. The working title of this proposed TV show? "Porntourage."

The pretty girl at the top is Roxy from some time ago, shot in my studio... when I still had one.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Answering Questions

Before I get to what this update is about, you may have noticed the Help Our Wounded Warriors link, under my pic, on the right side of the page. Give it a click and check it out. Reach into your pocket and make a donation. Feel good about yourself and add some karma points to your scorecard.

A lot of you have written to me since I began this blog. Many of you did so because you had a question to ask. Often, these questions revolved about lighting models. I try to answer every email in a timely manner. And I try to do so with an easy-to-digest answer, assuming I have one. It's always a nice stroke to my ego that so many of you seem to value my understanding of light, lighting tools, and the use of those tools. It's also been a valuable education for me, i.e., to know the sorts of things shooters want to learn about lighting and other aspects of pretty girl shooting. Since I'm a guy who is producing a DVD and will be promoting workshops designed to help photographers better understand the techniques that will, hopefully, improve their pretty girl shooting photography, your questions have been a great help in determining what the content of the DVD and the workshops should be.

Probably, the most-often asked question has to do with lighting ratios, usually the ratio between the main light and the accent lights. (Or edge lights, rim lights, highlights, whatever you want to call them.) These, of course, are those light sources often working either behind, above, or to the sides of the model, separating her from the background and adding some sexy punch and wow-value to the images.

When I'm lighting a model, the first thing I meter is the main light. That's my starting point. Personally, I like f/5.6 or f/8 for my main. I'm not saying these are the ideal apertures for pretty girl shooting. They're simply my personal preferences. Shutter speed isn't important at this point as long as it's within the camera's sync speed range. I usually begin by setting the shutter speed to 125th. Later on, I might change the shutter speed depending on how much ambient I want effecting the image. A slower shutter speed allows more ambient to reach the sensor and a faster shutter does the opposite. Shutter speed has little or no effect on the level of exposure created by your strobes. Why? Because, when they fire, the duration of your strobe's light output is faster than the shutter speed you'll probably be shooting with.

Next, I meter the accent lights. There are, of course, a few variables that come into play, hair color being a big one. Platinum blonds can be tough. Their hair wants to blow out. And yet the amount of reflected light I like seeing on their bodies is often too much light to keep the detail in their blond hair. Often, dealing with this becomes more a matter of controlling the light, that is, controlling where it strikes the model, rather than adjusting the light's output.

For me, adjusting the accent lights is part science and part subjective decision making. Back in the film days, it used to be nearly all science unless you were shooting Polaroids first. This is one of the cool things about digital: You get to preview the image before you decide things look like what you want them to look like. (Note: Learning to read histograms can really help you out here.)

Anyway, I usually begin by adjusting the output of these lights so they read, on my meter, .2 to .3 hotter than my main light. Example: Main light reads f/8.0 and the accent lights read f/8.2. That's the science part and it's a good place to begin. Once I've done the science, personal taste comes into play as well as compensating for certain variables. These variables are why there's not an absolute, all-purpose answer to this lighting ratio question.

Since it is governed by laws of physics, light behaves in predictable ways and this is the point, when you're lighting the model, where those variables come into play, i.e., effecting how the light will behave due to its predictable nature. I already mentioned hair color as an observable variable. In actuality, hair color is simply part of the two, big variables that will effect how those highlights will be recorded on the sensor. The two big variables are angle of reflectance coupled with the reflective qualities of whatever the light is striking.

Entire books are written about this stuff, books like Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting. That's why it would be impossible to cover this subject adequately in a blog update or in an email that attempts to answer your questions. My advice? Learn! Keep learning. Take the time to learn if you're not already doing so. Go out of your way to learn. Make learning a regular part of your development as a photographer.

Okay, I've given you a starting point in terms of the lighting ratio between the main and accent lights. That's all it is. A starting point. Play around with it. Experiment. Make mistakes and learn from them. Make successes and learn from them too. Ratios are simply one component of the process. It's not just about the output of your lights, but where you place them and where you place the model and how you turn her in and out of the lights. (Thus changing the angle of reflectance and bringing different levels of reflectance into play.)

Once again, I can't remember the name of the gratuitous pretty girl posted at the top. I shot her a few years ago in my studio. I do remember that she's from Brazil and that she was lots of fun to work with. Damn! Getting old sucks.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

So Many Ideas, So Little Time (and Resources)

My head is spinning. There's so much stuff I want to do. So many things on my plate. So crowded are my thoughts that I'm overwhelmed.

I know the best way to deal with all this is by selecting one project, one goal, one idea and putting the majority of my energy into it. But I'm concerned the other ideas will fall by the wayside, never to be resurrected which, of course, risks all the ideas never coming to fruition.

All these ideas are, as you might have already guessed, photography related. They're not so much about shooting photos (that is, me doing the photo shooting) but exploiting what I know about doing that. That's not to say I consider myself Mister Know-it-All when it comes to all things photographic. I'm not. Far from it. I'll leave that label for the many helpful know-it-alls on photo.net. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

But there are a few things I might be better versed in, photographically-versed, than the average bear. Since there seems to be so many people out there who hope to expand their skills and knowledge, especially in those areas where my skills and knowledge are focused, I believe I can produce a win/win scenario where I exploit and market what I know and others benefit from that marketing and exploitation.

Here's some of what's overwhelming me, excluding some personal stuff that remains, in itself, overwhelming:

1. Producing the Pretty Girl Shooter instructional DVD and making it a reality, i.e., completed and available for distribution.

2. Producing my first, Pretty Girl Shooter, workshop.

3. Making the pretty-girl-shooting reality TV show a reality.

4. Learning the new editing system I recently purchased. (Which is a key component to achieving more than one item in this list.)

5. Figuring out how I can manufacture and sell some cool light-modifying gear I've invented. (Can you say you've invented something before that something actually exists? i.e., while it's still an idea rather than a reality?)

6. Making a living in a declining economy and in an industry that is in the toilet. (Which, technically, is what all that's listed above is designed to make moot.)

Again, I understand that conventional wisdom suggests breaking all these ideas and projects down into realistically do-able, achievable, components and focusing my efforts towards accomplishing these things one at a time, then going on to the next. But my head automatically rebels against conventional wisdom. It always has. Often, not to my benefit. I can't help it. They wrote me this way.

Anyway, I'm impatient to see results with more than one of these projects, i.e., real and tangible results. To make matters worse, impatience is also overwhelming me. It sometimes seems paralyzing. Angst is ruling my life and it's counter-productive to achieving my goals. I'm trying my best not to sound like I'm whining. I'm trying to sound like I'm just saying. But I'm afraid it's coming off more like a whine than a mention.

The eye-candy at the top is Devin from this past week's shoot in Vegas. MUA was Miss Brandy Beavers. (Yes, that's her honest-to-God real name!) Brandy is a multi-functional, multi-tasking, multi-skilled person. She is into so many things! They include, but certainly aren't limited to, make-up and hair and styling and all that sort of stuff. It almost makes one dizzy listening to her recount her resume. (Although, admittedly, she's awfully easy on the eyes while you're listening.)

I captured the beautiful Devin with my Canon 5D w/28-135 IS USM, ISO 100, f/8 @ 125th against a paper seamless. Main light modified with my Larson Reflectasol with two kickers working behind her and modified with small, shoot-thru umbrellas.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Couple of Days in Vegas

Some of you might have noticed, via my Twitter updates, that I spent a few days shooting for a client in Las Vegas this past week.

The drive to Vegas was uneventful. I headed East to Sin City in my new ride, a Toyota 4Runner SUV.

The 4Runner is way more practical a vehicle than the compact or mid-size cars I usually rent when I shoot in Vegas. All that storage space in the back, with the rear seats folded down, was great! Lights, grip, cameras, laptop, luggage, all packed away with ease and was easy to get at.

On my way to Vegas, I stopped at one of the casinos near the California/Nevada border to take a leak. Having taken care of business, I headed out of the casino but a 5¢ Wheel of Fortune slot machine seemed to beckon to me before I reached the door. I put a buck into it and, on the second spin, it paid $50. Nice. I collected my fifty, walked out the door, climbed into my car, and was back on the road. I wish I could make $50 every time I took a leak. What a great, personal, economic recovery plan that would be! I'd be drinking oceans of water, tea, and coffee every chance I got!

Spent the first day shooting against a seamless we set up in a high-ceiling game room in my client's very upscale home in a private, gated community. I was told all the pics would be used for cut-outs (for web use) so I didn't care much how my lights were working on the background paper. We shot about 10 wardrobe changes the first day. All the pics were "PG" rated. An MUA was on the set all the time.

On Day Two we were going to shoot outdoors but it rained. Started raining sometime during the night and continued raining until I headed home on Thanksgiving Day. So, on the second day, we shot more against the seamless. The second day's shoot was decidedly more "R" rated.

One of Day One's themes was football. In the image at the top, Devin seems to be playfully tackling Amber as Amber catches a pass. I've worked with Devin and Amber a few times before and they're always fun to shoot. It was refreshing shooting stuff where the models were clothed, very animated, and having a fun time. (Instead of the usual naked stuff, posing for maximum sexual allure.) My client was quite specific in terms of what he wanted and he was on set the whole time. I wasn't given much latitude in terms of what was going on in front of my camera. Sometimes, that's a great thing: The clients get exactly what they want and I get paid for pushing my index finger against a button and delivering the results.

As I already mentioned, the background seamless didn't matter in terms of lighting. (All the images will be extracted from the production BG, mostly for web use.) I used my trusty Larson Reflectasol to modify my main light and a couple of shoot-thru's for the edge-lighting working behind the models. Canon 5D w/28-135 IS USM, ISO 100, f/8 @ 160th. Not much processing on the image above: Cropping and some levels adjustments and that's about it.

I headed back home early Thanksgiving morning with the rain still pouring down. It rained off-and-on all the way back to El Lay. Didn't stop at the border for some $50 bladder-relief. Made it safely home in time for turkey dinner with the family.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

More on Working in Close Quarters

If there's one, close-quarters, room I dislike working in it's bathrooms. Might as well be working in a closet when it comes to many bathrooms. Yet, often enough, I'm asked to shoot pretty girls in bathtubs and showers. They are, after all, natural places for models to appear sans clothing.

First off, there's rarely room to back light in bathrooms. Well, to easily back light, that is. And I'm a guy who likes to use back-lighting.

Sure, there are ways to hang lights up high and out of the way--gaffers do it all the time--and there are booms that can be utilized. But the big difference between gaffers and photographers (leastwise, in terms of lighting a set) is gaffers and their minions (lighting grips) are given ample time to light them. Photographers, well, this photographer, is usually given mere minutes and, even then, the honchos on the crew are looking at me like, "What's taking so long?"

Sheesh! Rodney Dangerfield move over. Hey guys! Try selling your freaking video without good photographs for the product art, advertising, marketing, and more!

That little outburst aside, time and space are my foremost enemies when I'm directed to a bathroom to capture some pretty girl pics. Usually, I'm left with few options other than front lighting. In my mind, front lighting is front lighting even if it's coming from the side, i.e., the source isn't positioned, to some degree, behind the model.

Of course, there are a few other issues at work when shooting models in tubs and showers, not the least of which being the humidity in the bathroom. Most models aren't going to be too thrilled working in cold water, even luke-warm water, and their lack of enthusiasm for doing so often limits the range of emotions and poses they offer... even when the room itself is quite warm. Unfortunately, hot water causes humidity in the form of steam. (Even though the steam might or might not be visible.) Steam, as you're probably aware, loves to cloud glass. You know, like the glass that is your lens.

Yeah, I've shot in some bathrooms where there was plenty of room, both to get my lighting gear where I want it and to keep myself far enough away from the water (the steam generator) to reduce or eradicate it's impact on my glass. More often than not, this isn't the case. Usually, I'm stuck with front lighting and trying to keep my glass clear.

Oh well.

The image at the top is (front-lit) Savanna from last week. I like the way gravity did its thing on the bubbles slowly flowing down her body. I set up two lights: One of them behind me modified with my Larson Reflectasol. The other, for fill, off to the side and modified with a small, shoot-through umbrella. It was one of those (many) times where I wished I had some additional gear with me to help me control and confine the light, e.g., a snoot, grids, flags, doors, whatever, but that wasn't the case. Total set-up time? About three minutes. Total shooting time? About ten minutes. Total set-up time for the (3-man) lighting crew to light the bathroom? About an hour. Maybe, in the future, I'll just say, "Screw it!" and use their (continuous) lighting and a high ISO? Sure will make my job easier.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Annie Liebovitz at Work

On my Christmas list is a new book from uber-shooter, Annie Liebovitz. The celebrated photographer calls her latest tome, Annie Leibovitz at Work.

This isn't a review. As mentioned above, the book is merely on my wish list. I don't own a copy nor have I read it. But I have read some stuff others have said about Annie's latest and, as a result, those words have triggered my curiosity and I want a copy for myself.

Over on the ever-popular Strobist site, David Hobby, Strobist's guru, had a couple of words to say about the book. In his mini-review, something David wrote struck a chord with me: "Much space is given to her approach, what she is thinking, problems to be solved, photographer-subject interaction and the like."

Photographer-subject interaction.

Yeah.

If there's one element that often sets a competent people-photographer's images apart from the pack, it's photographer-subject interaction. Once a photographer is comfortable using his gear, wielding it effortlessly and effectively like a shutter-snapping Samurai, once a photographer has learned to manipulate exposure, lighting, and composition with ease and finesse, the skill that's left to conquer--certainly to refine--is photographer-subject interaction.

Unfortunately, this final skill set is difficult to learn. There are no all-purpose, DIY photographer-subject interaction instructions to guide shutter-snapping devotees on their paths to photo Nirvana. It's a skill that some people naturally possess and others need to work hard at developing. Like a doctor's bedside manner, it's that one, often-unpredictable, variable that can cure the ills of pedestrian pretty girl shooting or keep it languishing in the Ho-Hum ward.

I've said this before, it's lonely out there in front of the camera and in the lights. An experienced model will bust out interesting, even compelling, poses and expressions that impress the shooter and artfully convey emotions and attitudes. But if you're hoping for something more, it's up to you, the shooter, to inspire, to motivate, to find ways to reveal something about the model/subject that transcend what's been captured by others and what she already has in her modeling bag-of-tricks. Doing so is accomplished, leastwise potentially accomplished, through dynamic photographer-subject interactions.

I'm confident that, if we had an opportunity to watch Annie Leibovitz at Work, we'd see she has this photographer-subject interaction stuff down pat, as do many other notable portraiture photographers. It's the thing that sets them apart. If you're looking to set yourself apart, like I'm always trying to do, developing and refining your interactions with the subject will go a long way towards doing so. We're not shooting still-life images when we're pretty girl shooting. We're photographing living, breathing, animated, beautiful, sexy, emoting beings. How well those in our viewfinders convey something more than they ordinarily convey for other shooters depends on how effectively the photographer wields his or her people skills.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Working in Close Quarters ***UPDATE***

One of the reasons I prefer low WS monolights, e.g., 300ws, 500ws, is their practical use in close quarters. Often, I'm working in places where I can't get my lights too far from the model. In fact, the lights are practically on top of them. If I were using high WS monolights, like 1000ws or 1600ws, I wouldn't be able to dial them down enough to be shooting in the exposure ranges I prefer.

I suppose, with high WS lights, layers of diffusion could be used in front of the lights to knock them down but, Jeez! What a PItA that would be!

Sure, there have been times I would have liked to have had more power than my monolights provide. But these times are few and far between, especially when shooting pretty girls. More often than not, I want soft light. Soft light is not what you're going to get when you have to set the lights a good distance from the models: The further the light source, the harder the light. The closer the light source, the softer the light.

The far=hard and close=soft thing is not about how far the light travels from its source to the subject, it's about the size of the aperture of the light source relative to the subject. When you're source is kept in tight, it's aperture is larger (relative to the subject) and, consequently, produces softer light. The further away your source is set, the smaller the aperture will be (relative to the subject) and, as a result, the harder the light. Hard light produces hard shadows. Soft light produces soft shadows. Generally, pretty girls look prettier when soft light illuminates them. This is Lighting 101 stuff but sometimes it's a good reminder for people.

In the BTS shot above, you can see I'm in fairly tight quarters. The room was small and I had to wrangle furniture around to get it out of my way. Those two accent lights, with the shoot-through umbrellas attached, are practically on top of Jennifer. There was no room to move them further away. Since they are 300ws monolights, with variable power output controls, I was able to dial them way down, keep them in close, and not blow out the highlights more than I wanted to or produce hard shadows. Kept in close like that, the light is soft and wraps around Jennifer nicely while still producing the desired highlights.

In the foreground, upper right, you can see a portion of my trusty Larson Reflectasol. I had ample room to keep this main light further from Jennifer. Since the Reflectasol is fairly good size, I could keep it further away and still have it as a pretty good-sized aperture relative to Jennifer. Again, producing soft light which wrapped around her nicely.

BTW, the hot light in the snap, seen to the left of Jennifer, is a Mole-Richardson 1k Tungsten "Baby-Zip" softlight. It isn't producing light that's impacting exposure in any real or meaningful way. (f/8 @ 160th, ISO 100) My strobes are more than over-powering it. But since I was shooting Jennifer in front of that very bright window, I was having trouble focusing.

The modeling light on my key, coupled with the foreground ambient, simply wasn't enough light to focus: Jennifer appeared silhouetted in my viewfinder. I borrowed the Baby-Zip from the on-set lighting crew's grip truck and brought it in simply as a way to light Jennifer up enough to focus. Sometimes those video-production lighting guys and their gear come in handy. If you're wondering where I was shooting from for the usable pics of Jennifer, I mostly kept myself positioned low and just behind and a little to the right of the Baby-Zip. Reason for shooting Jennifer in front of that bright window? Well, A) I was told (by the PM, uhhh... Production Manager) that's where I was to shoot her, i.e., in that small, cluttered room, and B) I kept the drapes open because I thought the pattern created on the floor at her feet was kind of cool.

Isn't it just peachy that the people not involved (or overly concerned or experienced) in the visually-creative aspects of this stuff--you know, like Production Managers--are the ones who so often decide where the visually-creative stuff should take place? Leastwise, in my world that's how if often goes down.

* * * U P D A T E * * *

A reader suggested I post a pic from this set. When I wrote the original update, the pics were still on my laptop--which doesn't have PS loaded on it--and I guess I was being kind'a lazy about moving a file or two to my desktop so I could process and post. So here ya go: One from the set with Jennifer. It definitely makes this "Working in Close Quarters" update more complete. Thanks!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Is DSMC the Future of Image Capture?

What is DSMC you ask? It's an acronym, of course. But acronyms are meaningless without knowing what the letters represent. In this case, DSMC stands for Digital Stills and Motion Camera. In other words, it's a video camera capable of capturing both still images as well as motion pictures in a incestuous marriage of two, closely related, technologies.

DSMC is the brain-child of RED Digital Cinema Camera Company founder and CEO, Jim Jannard. Jannard is also the founder of Oakley, Inc., a popular and successful eyewear and apparel company. Talk about diverse companies!

RED isn't the first company hawking products that marry still and motion capture. Heck, many cell phones can do that; not to mention point-and-shoots and high-end dSLRs like Canon's 5D MkII. RED's newest, however, takes these convergent technologies to new heights.

I'm not going to catalogue the tech specs of RED's new camera lines, EPIC and Scarlet. You can have a look-see for yourself by CLICKING HERE. Instead, I'll simply describe RED's newest, modular, technological marvels with a single word: Wow!


Of course, "Wow!" comes with a price. And the price won't be cheap. But think about it, leastwise in terms of image capture at the higher levels of production: The ability to shoot digital stills with equal or greater quality than a (digital) medium format camera while also capturing motion pictures with the high-definition resolution of almost any of the pro, digital cinema cameras out there? Fuhgedaboudit! And how about this modular system letting you still use your investments in optics, whether it's Canon or Nikon glass?

Wow!

The eye-candy at the top is Monica from some time ago. Shot Monica in the backyard of a location home in the San Fernando valley at/around mid-day. I placed Monica in a shady area and used 3 studio lights to illuminate her. Couldn't let a pretty girl like Aussie born-n-raised Monica wilt in the sun. Shrimp on the bar-bee anyone? With Monica tending the grill?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Editing of a Different Kind

You might have noticed I tweeted (twitted?) some stuff yesterday about a Final Cut Pro system I went to look at and then purchased. Yep. I'm now a proud owner of a Final Cut Pro video editing system.

I realize this isn't about the kind of editing I wrote about recently, that is, editing our images to, hopefully, identify the best from our photo shoots. Nope. I'm now writing about another sort of editing: Video editing.

What does video editing have to do with glamour photography? Probably not much. Except, of course, if you're soon to produce a glamour photography DVD and you'll be needing to edit the footage you'll be shooting for said DVD. (Makes me feel so lawyer-ly when I use words like "said" in said context.)

Video editing isn't something new for me. I spent years working as an editor, a video editor. I owned an Avid Media Composer for many of those years and, in fact, I still do. Except my Avid is now a hi-tech dinosaur, its fossilized remains kept under lock-and-key in a storage facility I pay $160 a month in rent to maintain, i.e., to store a bunch of crap that, at the end of a year's worth of storage fees isn't worth what I paid in said storage fees. (D'oh!@# I said the "said" thing again!)

The numbers look kind of similar--if you squint your eyes--between the purchase of this Final Cut Pro system and my Avid. I said "similar" not "the same." My Avid cost over $100K. The FCP system I purchased yesterday cost $1100. That's only a difference of a couple of zeros, right? Granted, I bought the Avid system new and the FCP system is used but, "Day-am!" Those two zeros are BIG zeros!

I spotted the FCP system on Craigslist. It had just been listed. I called and it turned out to be an editing system owned by a production company now on hiatus. They had recently finished their season of shows for Spanish language television and were getting rid of some gear that was about to collect dust for a number of months. The FCP system--they have three systems but were only selling one--was part of what they were looking to get rid of. The price was right so I jetted to Burbank to have a look and realized, upon checking it out, it was a good deal. So, I plunked down 11 pieces of paper with Ben Franklin on the front and walked out with the system.

The executive producer, the guy I bought this gear from, threw in the workstation the FCP system was sitting on. Nice. According to the EP (executive producer) I bought the FCP system from, it was eleven hours from the time he listed it and sold it. He told me lots of people called and one guy came in just before me but the guy was a little short of cash. ($300 short.) So, he took off to hook-up with his girlfriend to borrow the three bills but the EP warned him that, if someone else walked in with cash before he returned, he was gonna sell it. Only minutes after the other buyer walked out, I walked in--with the cash--and walked out with the system. Guess it was meant to be if you believe in that stuff.

Okay, so now I have a Final Cut Pro editing system composed of a Mac G4 dual-processor tower with ample RAM and storage, two 22" flat-panel, LCD, wide screen Samsung monitors, a Mackie 1202 VLZ Pro mixer, and a pair of Roland speakers. Besides FCP, the G4 has a whole bunch of other post-production software loaded on it. They weren't selling external storage with the system. No problemo! I already have some Medea Firefly drives that are designed for use with digital, non-linear, editing systems via firewire. Amongst other things, these drives spin faster than normal drives which can be important when you're through-putting that much data at 30 FPS. (Frames Per Second.)

I also already own a Mackie mixer (a Mackie 1402 VLZ Pro) as well as a pair of Roland speakers. They're buried in the storage room with my Avid's remains. Guess I'll sell one of the pairs of speakers and one of the mixers and that will reduce the cost of what I spent on the FCP system. I love it when shit works out this way.

I don't expect my learning curve to be too steep. After all, I edited on Avids for many years and Adobe's FCP interface looks a lot like the Avid's. I haven't been on a Mac in 5 or 6 years so I'm gonna have to de-Windows my brain a bit but that shouldn't take too long to accomplish either. I'm thinking a week or two playing with my new toy and I'll be ready to rock-n-roll. Unfortunately, my new Mac doesn't have PS loaded on it so I'm gonna have to do something about that.

The pretty girl at the top is Persia from this past Monday's Day of the Dread Brick Wall. I screwed with the colors on this one as well. Persia, as you might guess, is Persian. BTW, "Persian" is what Persian-Americans refer to themselves as, as opposed to Iranian-Americans. Can't blame 'em. The Islamic Republic of Iran is, historically, a rather recent invention while the country formerly known as Persia is/was a multi-millennium-old civilization, culture, and people. If many Persian chicks look like Persia, it's yet another good reason to agree with President Elect Obama that we should be talking with the (Persian) Iranians rather than shaking our dicks rattling our sabers at them.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What to Write About?

What to write about? What to write about? What to write about? Always the question, rarely an auto-response answer.

How about that Devi? (Pictured left.) The word, "sultry" comes to mind, no?

I became so sick of looking at all that red brick I decided to de-saturate the color to the point it's all muddled and barely remains in the spectrum. I'm not sure I like the overly de-saturated color all that much but I think I like it better than leaving all that brightly-lit, distracting and attention-grabbing red freakin' brick glaring in the image.

I mentioned, in a previous post, that I had little room to place the models further from the brick wall. If I had, the light fall-off would have darkened the brick to the point it wouldn't be so distracting. Or, if I had some other grip gear with me, flags or grids or whatever, I could have dealt with it differently. But that was not to be. You might think I'm obsessing on the brick wall and perhaps you're right. Maybe that's why I keep playing Pink Floyd's, "The Wall," over and over?

It's not that I don't like brick walls per se. They're okay. And sometimes they work out really nicely. But I take my pretty girl shooting seriously and when elements of a photo don't work for me, especially when it's due to conditions beyond my control, my ability to control--considering the gear I had with me, or lack of gear--I ain't a happy camper. Sure, I always have PS tools to deal with these things. And I used some of those tools to take down the wall's loud presence. But I'd rather deal with stuff like this in production. I'd rather shoot it closer to the way I want it to look but, sometimes, a whole host of variables (time, space, gear, a sudden breakdown of my skills, i.e., sort of like "skills amnesia") gets in the way of doing so.

In the end, whichever of these pics are used by some graphic designer will probably include cutting the model out from the dread, red-brick BG. And upon seeing that end result, I'll probably be okay with the use of the image. So maybe I should yank the Pink Floyd CD out of the stereo?

Maybe.

Sultry Devi shot with my Canon 5D w/28-135 IS USM. (Possibly the best, damn, inexpensive, all-purpose, utility lens Canon has ever produced.) Exposure was at ISO 100, f/8 at 100.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why the Adult Biz Sucks These Days

I think I've mentioned, probably a few times, that the adult industry is in the toilet, i.e., production-wise it is. And production is what matters most in my selfish, self-serving, and only-worried-about-Jimmy view of the biz. Yep, there's far less work than ever before and for many reasons. How's a brotha supposed to make enough "money for nothing and (be around hot) chicks for free?" (Hat tip to Dire Straits.)

I read something this morning that pretty much says it all. Since many of you aren't industry insiders, here's some Who's Who info to help make the article you're about to read make more sense: The "Grand Vizier" is an anonymous source often quoted on an adult industry news-n-gossip site. GameLink is a huge online retailer. Private Media is (was?) one of the world's biggest, most successful, DVD producers/distributors; they are European-based. Steve Hirsch is the owner of Vivid Entertainment. Wicked is a top-of-the-heap production/distribution company. Adam & Eve is a giant mail-order company and owner of many retail outlets, nation-wide. (A&E is headquartered in Hillsborough, North Carolina-- Go figure.)

While reading, you might note that no mention of the economy comes from the Viz and for good reason: Usually, inexpensive entertainment like Hollywood's flicks, music, and even the adult biz is solid during economic down-turns. But this ain't about an economic down-turn. This is about other stuff. I guess that's why PE Obama hasn't mentioned anything about bailing out the adult biz. Why else wouldn't he mention it?

Here's an extract from the article I read:

The Grand Vizier points to the potential GameLink acquisition by Private Media and predicts there will be other deals similar to this and a rapid rate of attrition among the adult studios.

“You’re going to see more of this,” predicts The Vizier. “Adult companies will be selling to content companies.”

The Vizier says don’t be surprised if you see Vivid announcing a similar deal within a year.

“If the money’s there, Steve Hirsch will sell it so fast to make your head spin. I think only a few companies will survive the shakedown. And we’ve already seen a number of people just disappear. Gone. No goodbyes.”

“Tube Sites and Free Porn are killing the whole business,” he says. “The industry’s going to hell in a hand basket. The industry right now is bleak and no one knows in what direction it’s going in right now.”

But the Vizier thinks companies like Wicked and Adam & Eve will probably hang in there.

I ask the Vizier how some companies are staying afloat.

“The whole video business is built on the float,” answers the Vizier.

“That never occurred with the web side of the business. Going back ten years those guys were always pre-paying for traffic and advertising. Whereas video companies decided they were going to get in the credit business, extending people the ability to pay 90 days or six months, or whatever. The web doesn’t work that way. The biggest difference is that the Internet ate the video peoples’ lunch. Like the way no one has a VCR? No one’s going to be buying DVD product.”

“Everyone can steal stuff off the Internet,” The Vizier continues.

“It’s all about the set top box and IP TV. It’s all about the Internet and IP TV. Televisions are going to digital and everyone’s being made to have a digital TV. You have the ability of plugging in a set top box. Which means you’ll have access to anything you want. Why would people need to buy a DVD?”

The Vizier says there’s another system owned by VISA which might become popular.

“If you have a card you get an invitation in the mail to pick up a box - the smart remote knows who is using it. All the content is free and with a card you can buy things QVC-style. And they want to buy adult content.”

Anyway...

I ain't crying. I'm just saying. (Actually, I'm just cutting-and-pasting.)

On a completely different subject, today's eye-candy is Savanna. (Click Savanna to enlarge.) I shot Savanna the other day while working on a Vivid Entertainment set.

Shooting against that brick wall really wore thin. It was okay for a while but then every snap started looking the same. There were some cool places to shoot at the location we were at but, "NOOoooooo," I had to shoot in that little freakin' room with the brick wall. (Wouldn't want me or my gear getting in the way of the video's production crew.) Worse, I had to share the room with the dozen or so (mostly) good-looking female extras background talent. It's not that I have a problem being the only guy in a room with a dozen or so chicks or having an audience--I don't--especially when one of them is as pretty and naked as Savanna. But it cut even further into my working space and the bevy of background beauties was a bit distracting. I'm an artist, dammit! Not a side-show attraction!

Or, maybe I am.

A side-show attraction, that is.

Whatever.

Savanna captured with a Canon 5D, 28-135 IS USM, ISO 100, f/8 @ 100. The two back lights (providing some edge and highlights) were modified with small, shoot-through umbrellas. Main light was modified with my trusty Larson Reflectasol. (See previous blog update for more on Larson's low-tech, Relectasol modifier.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Are Exotic, Pricey Modifiers Over-Rated?

I've become of the mind that we, as photographers, have been brainwashed into believing our images will only sing if we're using the right most expensive gear.

Actually, I didn't *just* become convinced of this but remembering that, at some point in time, I did become convinced of it gives me something to write about today. And writing and doing stuff that keeps my mind busy is a good thing. Otherwise, I end up dwelling on shit I really don't want to dwell on which ends up brainwashing me in ways I *really* don't want to deal with. BTW, for this particular update (Whew! Back on topic) I'm mostly talking about gear that modifies and controls our light sources even though this brainwashing thing--the first brainwashing I mentioned, not the other--applies to nearly all the gear we use, from cameras, to grip and lighting gear, and beyond.

Manufacturers of the more expensive gear want us to believe all their hype that claims getting the best shots only happens when we use their products. That's why they make deals with uber-shooters for them to use their gear, attempting to convince us that we'll only be able to shoot like those celebrated pros if we use the same gear they're using. Companies who produce the pricier lighting gear, whether it's the lights themselves or accessories that manipulate the light, are no exception. It's not just camera manufacturers who get the big boys and girls to endorse their wares. No matter. I don't blame them. It's business, right?

But why pay more for certain brand names and their products? Because they're so much better, right? They make better pictures, right? The hottest, most successful snappers on the planet use that gear, right? Well, I don't know. Certainly, many upscale products trump their cheaper counterparts in build quality, functions, ease of use and more. But do you always need all those extras? It's like automobiles. You can order one with a leather interior or one with a vinyl interior. Will the car with the leather interior do a better job of getting you from Point A to Point B? Probably not, although it might get your there a bit more comfortably.

When it comes to lighting pretty girls, there's only a couple of things we want from our lighting modifiers: As the generic term, "modifier," suggests, we want to modify the light (soften it, create wrap-around effects with it, create specular effects, etc.) and we also want these accessories to control the light.(Spread it out, keep it confined, focus it, knock it down, etc.)

Lately, I've been using a very basic modifier for my main light: A 70's or 80s era Larson Reflectasol. (I bought mine at a used-camera show for about $10.) It's a pretty simple design. It looks like an umbrella when it's folded but when you open it up you see that it's a flat, square, silk, transluscent diffuser. (Not sure if it's actually made of silk... but silk sounds better than, uhh... cotton or polyester.) Mine looks sort of like THIS, only mine is bigger and doesn't have the black trim around its perimeter. The diffusion material is attached to an umbrella-like frame (Larson calls it a boom arm) and is mostly used as a shoot-thru. Leastwise, that's how I mostly use it. The Reflectasol, as you've already figured out, attaches to your light source where an umbrella would normally be attached, but in front of the light, like a shoot-thru... and it's flat. (Oh yeah. I already said that... that it's flat.)

This modifier doesn't do a very good job of controlling the light but it softens it as well as any pricier Chimera or Photoflex modifier is going to soften light. It doesn't have any special light-handlling qualities by using internal baffles (hell, it is a freakin' baffle) or interior reflective material or quality-of-light aspects realized through a convex or concave or other shape. It's simply simple. And, for the most part, it gets the job done.

If and when I need to control the light passing through the Reflectasol, I simply use flags or black foil or whatever. Or, I pull out and use some other modifier that is designed to do a better job of controlling light. But I don't do so too often. Why? Because I'm lazy? Well, maybe a little. But, more importantly, I want to use gear that doesn't take much work in terms of setting it up, moving it around, or tearing it back down. The Reflectasol certainly meets that criteria. Besides, I'm usually under-the-gun in terms of time. On production sets they expect me to set up my gear in minutes and get through the photo-sets in not-too-many more minutes. It's always rush, rush, rush. I'm usually the lone photographer amongst a crew of video production people and they don't like having Jimmy slow them down. It's often as if they *just* tolerate me only because they know the pictures are a necessity and/or required by whomever is funding or producing the show. (Which makes sense, of course. Try selling your freakin' movie without pictures for advertising and packaging and all that stuff, guys!)

The pic at the top is Kayla from yesterday's Vivid Entertainment shoot. (Click it to enlarge.) She was one of four girls I shot throughout the day. I had about ten or fifteen minutes with her. Okay. Maybe twenty. They had me shooting in a second-story, small-ish room of the two-story brick building that served as our location. If I had more room to work, I would have had Kayla further away from the brick wall, allowing the light to fall off a bit more before reaching the bricks and, in so doing, darkening it. Oh well. "More room to work," ample time, or extra pairs of hands to help are all luxuries I'm not always usually afforded.

I quickly set up three lights on stands. On two of them, the back lights, I put small shoot-thru umbrellas. For my main or key light, I attached my trusty Reflectasol. I had everything set up in short order and, with Kayla in front of my lens, I snapped away. I spotted that old stand-up light in the room, as well as the old oak chair, so I dragged that stuff onto my little "set" and plopped Kayla onto the chair and asked her to work with the chair and the light for 20 or 30 snaps. Canon 5D w/28-135 IS USM, ISO 100, f/8 @ 125.

I suppose Kayla figured turnabout is fair play as she aimed that old light on the olde photographer and shined some light on him... I mean me.