Sunday, February 17, 2008

I've Moved ***UPDATE***

I've moved into new digs, that is. Computers are still packed up but I'm hoping to have everything back up and operating in the next few days. Just didn't want anyone to think I've gotten lazy.

UPDATE: I'm having some TD's (Technical Difficulties) where I've moved to. It's (sort of) out in the country, leastwise, as "out in the country" as one gets in the Southern California/Los Angeles area. I have little-to-no cell phone reception here as well as a variety of internet access issues. My life should be running semi-normally by week's end when AT&T technicians are scheduled to arrive on white horses wearing big smiles and ten-gallon hats as they install a land-line phone connection with DSL. Afterwards, I should be, once again, back in business. Until then, I might be able to update (as I'm doing right now) from another location... a location other than where I'm now living, that is.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Brain Fart or Epiphany?

I think I might be having an epiphany of sorts. If so, it's not one of those sudden, brilliant, burst-of-light epiphanies you hear about. It's more like a low-heat, quietly simmering, slowly-materializing epiphany. Picture the visual effect they use when someone or some thing is beamed aboard the Enterprise, but in slow-motion. In very slow-motion. That's what this feels like.

On the other hand, I could either be having a long and laborious brain fart or nothing more than a simple realization-- One that I should have had a long time ago.

Whatever it is, it's consuming my thoughts as I try to piece it all together. (Sometimes, epiphanies--like brain farts and simple realizations--are like jigsaw puzzles: Assembly may be required.)

Here's what, so far, I've epiphanized. (Is epiphanized a word? Probably not.)

I understand that people hire me for my skills. Nothing wrong with that. I pride myself in my skills. My skills were hard-earned and required years to develop. Skills are a good thing, right? And I think I possess some pretty decent skills. Considerable skills. Occasionally, impressive skills. If there's a pretty girl in need of sexy pics that glamourize her in technically skillful ways, I'm one of those "go-to" guys my clients often go to. My skills pay the bills. Not as well as they once did but they pay the bills nonetheless.

But, to take one's photography to the (overused term) next level, technical skills aren't enough. In fact, it might even be that too much focus and emphasis on technical skills holds one back from achieving more. I'm becoming more and more convinced of this as this, uh, whatever it is, continues materializing.

Ideas, imagination, and creativity are what pays much bigger dividends. Simply put, creativity trumps skills. Often, it trumps it in big BIG ways! A wildly creative photographer with half-ass technical skills has better odds of ascending to the Pantheon of photography's luminaries--or even half way up that hill--than a (simply) technically superior photographer has of doing so. Of course, if one can be both technically proficient and wildly imaginative, well....

Like I said, I'm still assimilating and processing this epiphany or whatever the heck it is. I'm sure this update seems very incomplete. I'll probably write more about it as this new way of looking at what I do, and how I approach and accomplish my work, becomes a bit clearer to me. (Assuming it becomes clearer.) I understand the notion of creativity trumping technical skills sounds simplistic and no-brainer. For many of you, it might seem like a concept that doesn't come close to qualifying as an epiphany. But, for me, someone who so often gets completely caught-up and overly-concerned with the process of capturing technically good images, it's not so simple. And it's ripping apart many of my egocentric perceptions about what I do photographically and how well I do it.

The blind-folded, cuffed-in-a-cage, pretty girl at the top is my friend, Kori Rae, from a couple of years ago.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Disappearing Middle

Friday night, Leesa and I headed down to Redondo Beach, California, to meet with some aerial photographers, one of them being a friend of Leesa's. These photo-aviators were attending their annual, national conference at a hotel in the Redondo Beach marina.

While we sat and chatted in the hotel's bar, sipping drinks and talking about (what else?) photography, the group of airborne shooters we hung out with voiced many of the same concerns and frustrations as other groups of photographers regarding the current state of the professional photography business, make that the business of taking pictures for a living. (Many manufacturers and others who provide products and services to photographers are doing better than ever.)

One thing that sets these photographers somewhat apart from other groups of pro shooters is that they are, quite obviously, aviators FIRST and photographers a somewhat distant second. But still, issues regarding the recession and how it is effecting their photo biz (many of them make much of their livings shooting for property and land developers, architects, etc., not exactly booming businesses these days), the Quality Bar being lowered, shooters giving away content for free or at very low cost, and how the evolution of digital technology and low-cost/high-end image capturing devices has brought so many more shooters to the game. Issues of copyright assignment and licensing were also voiced.

One of the people we were socializing with said, "There's not much middle anymore. There's a small group of people shooting the really high-end, big-money stuff and there's everyone else getting pushed to the bottom of the photography pay scales."

Wow! That kind of says it all.

"Wait a minute," I objected, "The difference between you people and everyone else is, in addition to camera gear, you need an airplane and a pilot's license. That takes a lot of training and it costs quite a bit to purchase and maintain your aircraft. That has to cut down on competition."

Immediately, the pilot/shooter corrected me. "You don't understand," he said, "We're mostly people who already were pilots with airplanes. We figured out we can help pay for what we love doing (flying) by letting photography cover the costs of some of it."

I nodded, beginning to understand their concerns.

"The problem is," he continued, "Too many weekend pilots have figured this out and, since cameras are relatively cheap and no-brainer to use to capture fairly decent pictures, everyone with a small plane and a decent (small format) camera is suddenly an aerial photographer."

An unsettling aerial photography epiphany suddenly struck me.

The pilot continued: "Look at wedding photographers," he said. "Everyone's a wedding photographer now. Almost anyone getting married has a friend or a relative with a digital SLR and those photographers are willing to shoot their friends or relatives weddings for practically nothing. And photographers trying to break into wedding photography, often as a part-time/weekend business, think the best way to approach it is to practically give away their services just to get the experience. With the exception of people who want really high-end wedding photography, that's what's happening. The middle part of the business is vanishing. People who could once make a decent living shooting weddings are now faced with more competition than ever before and many of them are being pushed lower and lower with the rates they're able to charge."

I was beginning to become depressed. Make that, I was now completely depressed. If photographers as specialized as aerial photographers are getting clobbered with the same issues as most other photographers, where is it all going?

I wish I knew.

But wherever it's all going, it's not giving me warm and fuzzy feelings.

The gratuitous eye-candy at the top is Margo. I shot this image of Margo a few years ago. I lit her with a single-light source from above: A modified Mole-Richardson 1k "Baby" with a strobe fitted into it and the Baby's Fresnel lens intact.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Book Review: "Light: Science & Magic"

Once again, a special thanks to all of you who have purchased from Amazon via this website. As I've mentioned in earlier updates, I take my commissions in the form of gift certificates. So far, I've always used those gift certs to purchase photography books. Recently, with my Amazon earnings, I bought Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, and Paul Fuqua.

I've read a couple of other reviews of "Light: Science & Magic" in which it was dubbed the bible of photographic lighting books. I don't think I'd label this extremely informative book the bible of lighting books but it certainly is a very comprehensive examination of the science that drives photographic lighting. (Note: If I were a product photographer rather than, principally, a pretty girl shooter, I probably would call this the bible of lighting books.)

These days, it seems that many serious photo hobbyists come from the ranks of engineers and/or those with engineering backgrounds and, as such, I think these same hobbyists will truly appreciate the science that is the backbone of LSM. That's not to say the book is mostly aimed at people with science and/or engineering backgrounds. It's not. It's for everyone who is serious about their photography. Just about everything you ever wanted to know about the physics of light and how those physics effect (and are implemented into) the photographic process is covered. I don't mean to infer the creative and artistic aspects of photography are neglected, they're not, but it is science, rather than magic, that dominates the authors' text.

As I read through the book, I was surprised at how much of that science I already knew... but didn't know that I knew! (If that makes sense.) Most of my scientific knowledge of light--how it works and how it effects photography--is a product of my experience rather than some formal education in the physics of light. From that point-of-view, LSM put a lot of what I already knew into perspective for me. Now, I know why I do what I do when I'm lighting something. In fact, had this book been available much earlier in my career, and assuming I had read it, it would have saved me from a lot of mistakes I've made as I grew, through trial and error, as a photographer. That's why I enthusiastically recommend this book to all photographers, regardless of their skill and experience. To call this book "An Introduction to Photographic Lighting" is, to my mind, a bit misleading. It's not Photo Lighting 101. It's quite a bit more advanced than that. I think the more a photographer already knows about light and lighting the more she or he will get out of this book.

The pretty-girl pool-hustler at the top is Devin from a year or so ago. Image has nothing to do with this update. Just some eye-candy to go along with this post.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Breaking the Rules (Part One)

Bob Marcotte (a Fresno, California, commercial photographer) and I have exchanged a number of emails recently. Bob has given me some great ideas for things to write about. For me, one of the hardest things about maintaining this blog has been coming up with those ideas. I've found the writing part way easier than the idea part.

The question, "When is it OK to break the rules?" is one that periodically shows up on a lot of photo forums and elsewhere, like in one of Bob's emails. To be sure, there's no hard and fast answer to this. There are no exact rules that govern breaking the rules with the possible exception of this: If you're going to break the rules, break them creatively, effectively, and successfully.

I know that wasn't very helpful for those looking for more specific guidelines for rule-breaking. Photographic rule-breaking is *very* subjective. I regularly see images--those that break the rules, that is--that seemingly violate a myriad of photographic rules effectively and successfully. I can't always put my finger on the reason I think an example of rule-breaking works well. In fact, it's often easier to explain why an image that breaks the rules doesn't work so well.

Before I get into this, let me begin with the following admonition: Breaking the (so-called) tried-and-true rules of photography begins with knowledge and understanding of those rules. Sure, we can all find examples of rules being accidentally broken to great effect. But I think you'll find that learning and studying the rules that "govern" the artistic and technical aspects of photography will make you better prepared--and give you a far better shot at--breaking those rules creatively, effectively, and successfully.

Subjectivity is fickle and personal. For instance, I have a personal peeve when it comes to the dread Amputated Arm Syndrome. Images that exemplify AAS rarely, if ever, work well for me. That's not to say I don't, on occasion, photographically amputate and arm. I do. But I'm always on the lookout to avoid doing so. I should note there are times when many photographers (on forums) indicate great admiration for photos that are AAS impaired. As I said, AAS is a personal peeve of mine and not necessarily everyone else's. I should also note this: The hotter the model and the more skin she's flashing, the less most shooters will complain about AAS. And here's another note to note: ABS, or Amputated Breast Syndrome, is another matter entirely. Often, these same photographers (who are okay with AAS) will not be happy when a photographic mastectomy is performed on a totally hot model and a beautiful breast is inexplicably lopped off!

There are lots of elements to rule-breaking that come into play when rules are effectively broken. There are also some rules, IMO, that rarely work when broken. Here are a couple of examples:

Cropping at Joints: This almost never works. It is, as the Brits are fond of saying, "Bad form." There may be good examples of this rule being creatively, effectively, and successfully broken. I just don't remember ever seeing one.

Rule of Thirds
: This isn't so much a rule that is broken as much as a rule that is neglected. In other words, this rule should be employed more often by more of you in more of your images. I frequently see images that would really "sing" with the therapeutic application of Rule of Thirds (RoT) composition. Interestingly, RoT is a very easy rule to employ. Why so many photographers neglect to do so is beyond me. Want to shoot consistently forgettable images? Well then, simply frame or crop your subjects dead center in the frame and do so consistently. You'll be surprised (or not) how often a compositionally center-framed model will yield forgettable results. Here's a note to those of your who are engineers as well as photo-hobbyists (since so many photo-hobbyists seem to be engineers by trade): RoT is not something that needs to be precisely and perfectly employed. Put away your cyber-rulers and protractors when processing. When you apply RoT to your images, things don't need to fit, perfectly, into those RoT-ish spaces. Unlike the Pythagorean theorem, the mathematical science of RoT is not a geometrically exact science.

I'll write more about rule-breaking in upcoming updates.

The pretty girl at the top is Jamie from a recent shoot. Some might say a rule was broken in this image: The rule about shooting up a model's nose. This is one of those subjective rules. (As are nearly all of them.) If a model has prominent nostrils, you might want to avoid shooting from low angles that seem to probe her sinus cavities. Personally, I don't think Jamie has prominent nostril flare... but maybe that's just me? Plus, it's a three-quarter shot (instead of a head shot) so I think the image gets away with breaking the Nostril Rule although I'm fairly sure there are those who would disagree. Is there a rule about models teething on their bras? Hmmm. I'm not sure.