Thursday, October 30, 2008

Guerilla Glam?

Thanks for all the comments and private emails re my last update. Some great advice and words of encouragement included in them! One reader, Willt, suggests, "As long as others are throwing their advice into the ring, I'll do the same: Chop your list to a single item, and then do at least one positive thing toward its completion each day."

Good advice, Willt, I think that's exactly what I'm going to do. To that end, I'm focusing most of my energies towards the production of the DVD.

Quite some time ago, I asked people (here and on various photo-forums) to input what they'd like to see in such a DVD. The majority of them wanted me to keep it focused on stuff they can accomplish without needing too much in terms of higher-end lighting and grip gear. A big chunk of my target audience doesn't have a lot of gear, leastwise lighting and grip gear, yet they still want to make great pics. I want to show them how to do that. I want the DVD to focus on, what I call, a "guerilla-glam" approach. In fact, I'm thinking I might title the DVD, "Pretty Girl Shooter: Guerilla Glam."

The obvious way to go with this DVD, and one that I've considered, is to simply demonstrate various lighting techniques in various environments. But I'd like to make the DVD less predictable in terms of it being a purely how-to-take-great-pics piece. I'm thinking it might be slightly weighted towards a documentary-style approach that includes the "how-to" stuff but in a less obvious way. After all, I want it to be entertaining as well as informative. I don't want it to be simply a series of demonstrations that I expect people to mimic. There's already plenty of that stuff available on DVD and on the web.

I also want to do some things that are different and less-seen in programs like this. One of the things I'm considering, for instance, is somehow rigging a very small (video) camera that attaches to my back and looks over my shoulder, recording some of my hand, a bit of the camera and lens and, of course and most importantly, the model. An "over-the-shoulder-cam" if you will.

Recently, photographer and PGS blog reader, Kenn Ellis, generously sent me DVDs of a BBC series called, "The Genius of Photography." He also included a documentary about photojournalist, James Nachtwey, called "War Photographer." Thanks again, Kenn!

In the Nachtwey doc, a micro-cam was used, one that looks over Nachtwey's shoulder, revealing what was in front of the photographer (along with his hand and camera) as he clicked away. This is an extremely effective (video) camera angle to cross-cut with the primary action. For sure, the over-the-shoulder "action" we'll be shooting in this DVD won't be as intensely dramatic as much of the imagery captured by the war photographer's micro-cam, but it should be visually effective (and instructive) nonetheless. Sure, I could simply hand-hold a video camera and, with a graphical overlay simulating what I'm seeing, make like the viewer is also looking through my dSLR's viewfinder. And I might do some of that as well. But I think the over-the-shoulder-cam is a more interesting and effective camera angle. Hopefully, I can pull it off.

The DVD, of course, will include plenty on lighting and posing and all that sort of stuff and with ample demonstrations. It will also include gear explanations and how to use the gear to its maximum effectiveness. Some of it, very simple gear like foamcore, C47s (clothespins), gaffer's tape, gels, and stuff like that.

I don't want the DVD to come off too academic, too "talking head-ish," or too classroom-like in its approach. I also want to focus on things like the interaction between the shooter and model, the shooter and the MUA and others, and the importance of gaining rapport with all involved... especially, the model! I also want to get into those peoples' heads, learning how they approach their crafts and what they expect from the photographer.

The pic at the top is a behind-the-scenes image of a Tera Patrick shoot from some time ago. Hmm... still had long hair and a pony tail when that pic was snapped. Image by Leesa J. I'm hoping to get Tera to appear in the DVD.

Monday, October 27, 2008

An Inconsequential Milestone

I noticed that, a few updates ago, I passed the 400th post mark. Not that it means much, but it surprised me to realize I've authored over 400 posts on the PGS blog! So, I'm raising my big, blue, Crystal Lite-filled Bubba Keg to myself for the effort.

Alright. Enough with the patting myself on the back.

But you know what? Milestones, even those that are as inconsequential as this one, sometimes cause one to pause, reflect, and try to figure out what it means and where things might go. Sort of like making resolutions on that annual milestone we call New Year's Eve.

What it means? It means I've spent more than a few hundreds of hours writing and maintaining this blog over the past few years. It also means I've managed to attract something of a small but loyal following readership. Leastwise, according to my stats I have. (So far, for 2008, the PGS blog has had nearly a quarter of a million page loads from well over 150,000 unique visitors... whatever all that means.) But more importantly, it means I've made friends and contacts and my name gets out there, not that my name getting out there has gotten me any work, but it gets out there... somewhere out there. Example: A while back, I attended a photographer/model event, sort of a model expo, and I was surprised how many people knew who I was. Not so much models but photographers. And they knew me from this blog. I guess wearing one of those stick-on name tags with "Hi! I'm JimmyD" written on it helped. I also guess I'm not the only one who spends way too much time on the freakin' internet.

Where things might go? Well, although I'm sometimes capable of being a world-class procrastinator, I'm not much of a prognosticator. I don't have a crystal ball and I can't read tea leaves, palms, or Tarot cards either. But here's the things I still want to do:

1. Produce a Pretty Girl Shooter DVD. Yeah, I've been talking about this for quite some time. I get plenty of emails asking me to do this and telling me that, once such a DVD is available, the person writing will buy. Yep, I receive quite a few emails telling me this. In fact, I get one or two almost every week. So here's what I've done: I've put my son-in-law on the case and I'll tell you why. Kyle, my son-in-law, is one of those guys who puts blinders on when things need to get done. Unlike me, his often-procrastinating father-in-law, he gets things done! And he gets others to get things done. He will question me daily on what I've accomplished towards producing the DVD. If I say, "I'm working on the outline." He asks me every day how the outline is coming and when he can see a copy. Actually, he's been doing that for about a week now, ever since I told him that's what I've been doing. He's even put together some production people, an MUA and a camera operator and editor, to commit volunteer their time to the production. And now those people are also calling me and asking what's going on! Expect to see a DVD in production in the not-too-distant future... in spite of yours truly.

2. Produce/promote some workshops-- Another thing I've spoken about in the past. And it's another thing I regularly receive emails about. Unfortunately, I'm not a very well-organized, detail-oriented kind'a guy so this has also been difficult to get off the ground. So here's the deal: If some of you want to write me or comment on this with some suggestions or words of encouragement or otherwise, I'd love to hear from you. I don't really want to do a workshop in L.A., although I'm not tossing that idea out. I'm thinking of Las Vegas or perhaps somewhere else... somewhere even more fun and/or exotic or possibly better located for potential attendees. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. BTW, occasionally someone writes and inquires if I'd be willing to do some private instruction. They're willing to cover my travel expenses and put me up. But so far, I've always politely declined. It's not that this doesn't appeal to me, it does, I just think if I'm going to spend a couple of days out of town, privately instructing someone, sharing all those so-called Secrets of the Pros, I should be getting something more than a free trip out of the deal. You know, like getting paid for the effort. So, if anyone, or any small group of people, would like to have me do a private instructional thing, let me know. I won't ask for an exorbitant fee, probably something in and around my day rate plus expenses. Trust me, I ain't the highest paid pretty girl shooter on the block.

3. The TV show-- I've been dragging my heels at getting my agent to quit dragging his heels. I still think there's a great idea for a TV show in what's been put together. And my agent agrees. It's just a matter of me being more determined and getting him to be more determined. Things were really looking good for a while but that VH-1 show, "The Shot," kind of screwed things up. Especially since "The Shot" didn't do well. Had it been a hit, it would be easier to pitch this show. (Tv development people aren't, as a rule, too daring. They love to mimic what's already proven to be successful.) But just because audiences weren't too impressed with "The Shot" doesn't mean they wouldn't be happy with the show we've pitched--which is considerably different from VH-1's show--and should still be pitching.

There are a few other things I'd like to put on my plate (or put back on my plate) but I don't want to overwhelm myself. Often, I'm an easily overwhelm-able guy.

Pretty girl at the top is Jamie from last Spring. Guess she was hungry although I can't imagine that stripper's bra was very tasty. Canon 5D with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 100th.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

New (Blogging) Kid on the Block

Fellow pretty girl shooter and all-around ace photographer, Bob Marcotte, has kicked off his own blog: Studio Marcotte.

Bob says his blog is there to "...Inform, Instruct, Inspire..." I don't know about any of you, but I can always use plenty of that in varying amounts.

Bob alerted me to his new blog and I wrote him back with this:

I don't know whether to congratulate you or pass on my sympathies. Writing a blog can be rewarding, to be sure. It allows us to share, to build some "street cred," and to channel our angst. There's a lot of positive things associated with it.


It can also be like a big fat monkey on ones back. As if life doesn't dish enough stuff that needs doing -- stuff that weighs us down and nags and begs for attention -- a blog can (especially once its garnered an audience) be like a child that constantly needs attention: Attention that, I often wonder, could or should be directed elsewhere, at things that would seem to advance our careers and put some $$$ in our pockets.

Regardless, you have an engaging writing style that cuts to the core of many aspects of what we go through, trying to get ahead as snappers.

Well, if Bob is going to take the time and expend the effort to blog--and don't say I didn't warn you about what you're getting into, Bob--the least we can do is support his efforts. Bob's first few articles already contain some genuine pearls of wisdom so it's not like it's a waste of time surfing over to Studio Marcotte for a quick read and to check out some of his work. He even crosses swords words with Fluffytek's mistress in one of his articles.

In other words, I give Bob's blog the official PGS Seal of Approval. (As if that actually matters and not because he philosophically disagreed with Fluffytek's chief, resident wordsmith, Lin, on a specific issue.) And BTW, just because a blog links to me--like Marcotte's does--doesn't mean I'm automatically gonna link to them. (Monetary and select, pre-approved, other bribes accepted and excepted.)

The gratuitous eye-candy at the top is Jana, from a while back, shot in my studio.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Rangefinder Quest (Update)

I still haven't managed to win an auction on Ebay for a decent rangefinder at a more than decent price. (Snipers suck!) Thanks for all the suggestions! I've spent the last few days obsessively researching and learning about many rangefinder cameras. For the kind of money I want to spend right now, which ain't much, I remain focused on Canon's 1970s era Canonet QL17 GIII.

Everything I read about this compact rangefinder seems to say some very good things about it...especially considering the price! I'd love to get one with a black body (Gotta be cool, right?) but they are very scarce.

I'm resigned to the the fact that I'll probably have to replace the light seals on a QL17 GIII camera once I win one. But, in my research on how to do this, it seems a fairly simple "fix" using very inexpensive materials.

I've also spent some time on FlickR forums looking for other peoples' work using a QL17 GIII and it seems very few shooters are using the camera with strobes. Granted, I'll be shooting a fair amount of available-light images--I have an interest in pursuing street photography to some extent--and this camera (as are many rangefinders) is perfect for using as a street snapper, especially with its 40mm f/1.7 glass, quick loading and focusing capabilities, shutter-priority auto-exposure mode, and compact, low-profile design. Granted, the camera's meter doesn't function in manual mode. I'll just have to tuck a light meter in my pocket when I go out to shoot.

I also want to shoot some pretty girl stuff using the rangefinder as well. I know the camera's 40mm lens is not exactly ideal for this kind of work so I'll probably concentrate on bigger images, that is, images where the subject is a smaller part of the overall image... where the environment becomes more important (or as important) as the model's importance is in the majority of my work. That's not to say I'm going to restrict using the camera to street photography and pretty girl shooting and little else. Who knows where this might lead? Maybe nowhere? Maybe somewhere? Time will tell.

Two auctions I'm participating in for QL17s end tonight. I'm hoping to win one of them. But I have another half-dozen similar cameras waiting in the wings in my Ebay "watch" list.

The pretty girl at the top is Alexa from some time ago. I've posted other images from this set before. Canon 5D, 85mm prime, ISO 100, f/5.6 @100, B&W conversion using the Channel Mixer method.

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

Finally won an auction! I'm now the proud owner of a Canon Canonet QL17 GIII rangefinder. I somehow managed to win the camera without resorting to sniping. Here's the rangefinder's description as provided by the seller:

This Canon Canonet QL17 GIII is in excellent+ condition and fully working including the shutter, meter, etc. The 40mm f/1.7 lens is clean and clear and very sharp. The camera's appearance is outstanding and the viewfinder is clean and clear. The camera's light seals have been recently replaced and it is ready to shoot. Includes lens cap, PX625A battery and complete owners manual on CD. High bidder wins it!

Ended up winning with a bid of $62.oo, paid for with part of the loot I earned selling an old, useless lens on Ebay a few weeks back. (Note: The lens was useless to me, i.e., I had no use for it in my kit. The lens itself was in fine condition, fully-functional and, obviously, not useless to the buyer.)

Note to self: Need to buy a few accessories, e.g., 48mm filters (skylight, green, etc.), spare battery, maybe a lens shade... Oh yeah, and some film. Jeez! I haven't bought film in SOOOooooo long!

Anyway, I'm anxious to get my hands on my new toy, play with it, get to know it, play with it more, get to know it more, and see how I do with it. Sorta sounds like dallying with a woman, huh? Here's some pics of the actual item I won. (As usual, click to enlarge.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Turning the Digital Clock Back to Analog

Lately, I've been thinking somewhat obsessed with the notion of shooting film again... just for grins. I pulled out some old gear I still had--Canon AE1 and various glass--and thought, "Okay, I'll get some Plus-X and shoot some B&W." Yep, the old AE1 still works. (They made cameras good back in the day.)

But then, I began thinking in a slightly different direction: Shooting with a rangefinder camera.

I've always wanted to shoot with a rangefinder but never managed to make that happen. (Probably because I've never owned one.) But hey! If a rangefinder was good enough for the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, it's good enough for me! And, in this digitally-obsessed world, there should be plenty of good deals on used rangefinders at places like Ebay.

I was right. Ebay is full of great deals on rangefinders. Much better deals, in fact, than you'll find there for contemporary digital cameras... except,of course, if you're looking at a rangefinder from Leica, analog or digital. Pricey!

Anyway, although Cartier-Bresson was a Leica guy, I don't feel like I have to go the more expensive Leica route to satisfy my rangefinder cravings. (Or, for that matter, most any other German producer of rangefinder cameras.) Instead, I began looking at alternative options. Fortunately, for my wallet, plenty of other (non-German) camera manufacturers, many of them Japanese, produced quality affordable rangefinder cameras: Canon, Nikon, Konica, Yashica, just to name a few.

Since I'm a Canon guy, I began researching Canon rangefinders. Also, since I started out my life-long interest in photography as a 12-year-old Yashica kid, I thought I'd give that manufacturer's goods a look-see as well. Here's what (I think) I've decided: I'm either going to buy a Yashica Electro GSN or a Canon Canonet QL17 GIII.

Both of these cameras are well-touted. They each have their pros and cons. The Yashica, for instance, is an auto-exposure camera with few manual overrides, i.e., no manual mode. The Canon is also an auto-exposure camera but with full manual operation available. Both cameras come with--according to every review I've read--some really awesome glass. The Canon was sold with a 40mm f/1.7 lens and the Yashica came with a 45mm f/1.7 lens. Both cameras offer automatic parallax correction, comes with hot shoes, and have leaf shutters. Generally, a "great condition" Yashica GSN is less expensive than a "great condition" Canon Canonet QL17 GIII. Both cameras are quite popular amongst rangefinder enthusiasts and have near cult followings. And both cameras, of course, are WAY LESS expensive alternatives to going the Leica/German route.

So that's where I'm at right now with this turning the digital clock back to analog thing. I don't have an appropriate scanner so the lab where I process the film will have to do the scanning. And yeah, that will cost a few bucks every time I want to play with my new toy. Or, maybe I'll keep a look-out (on Ebay) for a good film scanner? Who knows? When it comes to my decision to either buy the Yashica or the Canon, I might buy one of each. They're that cheap! I'll let you know how this thing develops and, hopefully, will be able to post some pics from my future, rangefinder endeavors.

The gratuitous pretty girl at the top is Roxy from some time ago. Roxy captured with a Canon 5D, 85mm prime, ISO 100 f/5.6 @ 125th.

P.S. I'm also thinking of buying a Holga. Again, just for grins.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Adult Model Makes Good

First, sorry for the lack of updates this past week. I've been in a profound funk. I still am. Personal shit.

OTOH, the pretty girl you're looking at is Sasha Grey. Sasha is a well-known adult model and performer whom I've photographed on more than a few occasions. Apparently, Ms. Grey is moving up in the world; the entertainment world, that is.

Reports say that Sasha has landed the leading role in Academy Award winning director, Steven Soderbergh's, newest film, The Girlfriend Experience. Soderbergh is best known for his films, Sex Lies, and Videotape, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and Ocean's 11.

Here's an article from adult industry trade journal, XBiz:

NEW YORK — Hollywood director behind cult classic “Sex, Lies and Videotape” has tapped adult star Sasha Grey to star in his upcoming feature film.

Hollywood trade journal Variety earlier this year reported that Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh planned to cast an adult film star as the lead in “The Girlfriend Experience.” The film is a low-budget feature film told from a perspective of a $10,000-a-night escort.

This week, several outlets reported Soderbergh decided to cast Grey as the lead in the Magnolia Pictures production. The film is now shooting in New York.

The film will be financed by HDNet label partners, Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner. It's the second in a six-picture deal with Soderbergh to direct low-budget films to be distributed in theaters, on cable TV and DVD simultaneously.

Sasha Grey was traveling and couldn’t be immediately reached.

Soderbergh won the ‘Best Director’ Oscar in 2000 for “Traffic,” a gritty depiction of international drug smugglers and the federal agents who pursue them. He was previously nominated for the award for “Erin Brockovich” and “Sex, Lies and Videotape.”

Good luck, Sasha! Break a leg and all that showbiz stuff!

Image of Sasha from a 10-day shoot last summer. It was Vivid Entertainment's remake of Deep Throat and Sasha was cast in the leading role. BTW, Showtime produced a reality series about the remaking of the most famous adult film ever which, I'm told, will begin airing sometime between this November and January. '09. If you catch it when it airs, I'm also told I appear in a fair bit of it. I should be easy to spot-- I'm the middle-aged, over-weight, photographer-guy pointing his camera at naked chicks.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Couple of More Thoughts on Reverse-Engineering

Thanks for all the thoughtful and thought-provoking comments to my last post. I read them all with great interest.

I'd like to clarify a few things, leastwise in terms of my attitude towards reverse-engineering photos.

As a learning tool, reverse-engineering can be an invaluable process for photographers learning the craft. For example, for those learning to utilize artificial light, reverse-engineering helps photographers discover how various lighting techniques create great images. Hopefully, it also inspires the shooter to ask an important question: Why did the (original image's) shooter choose to light the model using that specific lighting approach?

Obviously, we're all influenced by the work of others. Sometimes our work seems indistinguishable from the work of those who have influenced us, i.e., from a technical point of view.

Hopefully, we find ways to stamp our own, personal, brands on our images even if they seem derivative or similar in their technical aspects to the images that influence us. How is this accomplished? Often, the difference between our own work and the work of some photographer who has influenced us is subtle. It comes, not so much from the techniques (lighting, composition, processing) we throw at the image, but in the ways we are able to get something different, something special, out of our subjects.

I've often written about the importance of gaining rapport with models. The more successful you are at gaining rapport, the more likely you will be at getting something out of your model others may have missed. As stated, it might be something quite subtle but it might also end up being something quite powerful.

For me, the greatest problem I have getting that extra-special something out of a model is when the model is very experienced. Often, we both end up going on auto-pilot, producing images that are just good enough. While the technical aspects of those images might be okay, the images themselves are shallow. Of course, in my line of work, most of my clients aren't looking for much emotional depth from the models I photograph. They're looking for something much simpler and quite primal. Fair enough. They are what they are and the resulting images usually produce the desired response.

But if you're looking to produce images that succeed on many levels, images that convey more than the obvious, you'll need to work hard at getting that out of the person in front of your camera. Successfully doing so is one way to set your work apart from the work of others.

Another shot of Jennifer up top. This was from last week. Jennifer did her own makeup and hair. I was seriously restricted in terms of where I could shoot and how much time I was allotted to photograph her. I quickly set two lights (a main and a side-light for accents and to separate her from the BG) and shot in front of that big window, working to avoid reflections.

P.S. Decided to go with an even darker grey for the blog's background. It's one shade greyer than black.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Rip-Off or Homage?

Recently, in an article on A Photo Editor, a lively discussion ensued when APE updated with something he called, Seen it Before vs Completely Original. It wasn't that APE's blogmeister, Rob Haggart, was sharing his personal views on the subject. Instead, he let quotes from two, separate, blog sources do his talking for him.

The second quote Haggart posted revealed that notable and celebrated photographer, Platon, had recently hooked up with The New Yorker as a staff photographer. That's fairly feakin' prestigious! (Not that, as a photographer, Platon is unaccustomed to prestige and accolades and all that good stuff.)

In APE's comment section, the first reader in the batter box mentioned that Platon was once an assistant to fashion and portrait uber-shooter, Richard Avedon. (How cool is that?)

A bit further down in the comments, someone wrote the following, referencing the comment about Platon making his bones at the feet of a true, photo icon like Avedon.

I see the first comment being a statement of exasperation on the accessibility of technique (Strobist, lighting seminar crowd) and inexpensive gear creating a vast number of rip off “artists” who figure out an innovators methods and use them with no consideration of what the (original or ripped off) image is communicating. They just “like the light” and don’t want to spend the time to come up with their own method of communicating through images. These are the same weekend (micro stock) warriors who are diminishing the quantity of “great” photography we see and replacing it with our current crowd sourced over saturated market. The result: Someone makes a great image. Another someone sees and dissects it. Two weeks later everybody with two strobes on Flickr has a set in that “new hot style”. So some give up, and stop looking for exceptional work, or stop taking the time to get upset with plagiarism.

As you've probably already guessed, that second commenter's words got me to thinking.

When people reverse-engineer a photo, regardless if it was shot by a celebrated pro or a weekend warrior, are they ripping off the source or are they paying homage to that shooter?

Popular site, Strobist, runs reverse-engineer-the-lighting posts often enough. Strobist is, essentially, a learning site mostly targeting hobbyists and, more specifically, those hobbyists wishing to learn how to light like pros but using small, inexpensive flashes and DIY gear and gadgets.

When people use those dissection and reverse-engineering skills they learn on sites like Strobist, or when they learn to shoot just like someone leading a workshop or seminar, are they then, later on, merely guilty of engaging in imitation is the sincerest form flattery violations or are they actually committing some form of artistic plagiarism? (i.e., when the images they produce look remarkably like the originals they've RE'd or that they shot in the (almost exact) style of a workshop instructor... sometimes with the same model, pose, etc.)

I'm just saying out loud here, folks. I don't really have the answer.

But here's what I do think: I think, as that guy who wrote that APE comment I quoted seems to think, those photographers whose goals are all about becoming great imitators, i.e., becoming just good enough to semi-convincingly imitate someone else's work, do not really pose threats to an original shooter's reputation, work, or his or her livelihood. And here's why: People can almost always spot the difference between an innovator's image and an imitator's image.

As that second commenter seemed to be saying, imitators are merely imitating and their work will almost always be lacking something. IMO, it won't just be lacking the ability to communicate with images, as the commenter mentioned, but it will be lacking something more important and something more ethereal. It will be lacking soul.

Personally, I believe people can spot soul in a photograph. (As well as a lack of it.) Viewers might not consciously see the soul in a photo but they see it nonetheless. They might laud the imitator's work for its lighting, its composition, its kick-ass post-processing, but they won't be moved by it. Soul is one of those things that can't be reverse-engineered. In fact, soul can't be engineered at all. It comes, magically, from the artist's and craftsman's own soul. You can convince yourself you've imitated the soul in another's work but there will always be some doubt nagging at you each time you look at your endeavor. Nope. You cannot RE soul. You cannot create it, leastwise, you cannot create soul in something that is not your own. Your own, that is, in most ways... in the important ways.

The pretty girl at the top is Jennifer from a couple of months ago. (As always, click to enlarge.) We were shooting in an impound garage: A dirty, greasy place where they store towed cars for varying reasons. I lit Jennifer with three lights: a main placed slightly camera-right and modified with a large Octodome plus two, highlighting, accent-lights, modified with small shoot-thrus, placed behind her, on either side of her, and pointed at her. Canon 5D, 28-135 IS USM, ISO 100, F/8 @ 1/60. (Slower than usual shutter to let a bit of the ambient seep in.)

P.S. As you may have noticed, I've slightly modified the blog's BG color from black to a dark grey. We'll see how that goes for a while.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

More Stuff: Whether I'm Ailing or Not

I'm still on a bit of a gear kick. I don't really have any excess cash at the moment to be purchasing much of anything in spite of there being so much stuff I need want. Yep! So much stuff, so little cash to buy it. (Note: I don't do credit purchases for my Wish Lists... well, rarely.)

My last post netted some informative comments plus a few emails. For instance, people are recounting experiences that seem to bear out the flakiness of the JTL battery packs. The last thing I want to happen is to be on a location shoot counting on portable power and it takes a dump on me. So a reader, Eduardo, steered me towards the Tronix Explorer XT.

Here's the XT's overview as provided by its manufacturer, Innovatronix:

"The Tronix Explorer XT is a portable power supply (pure sine wave inverter) designed to power flash and power pack units for location shoots. Compared to other inverters, it uses a 24V power source and it is rated at 350 watts continuous power, 1200 watts peak power and recommended up to 2400ws. Equipped with two (2)12V, 7Ah sealed lead acid batteries and efficient circuit design that generates almost a thousand full power pops for 300ws flash units. It takes 3-5 hours to charge the unit."

The XT sounds pretty cool. Here's something even cooler about it: The Tronix Explorer XT sells for $349. That sounds like a great price for a power supply with the XT's output and charging time. Plus, it only weighs 18 lbs. That means I could schlep it around with little effort. I love the concept of "little effort" when it comes to schlepping gear around.

I've also heard some negative things about the Ray Flash ringlight adaptor. For instance, Steve, of Team Rockstar Images, says there were more than a few (media) shooters attending the recent Exxxotica Expo (in New Jersey) who, altho using the Ray Flash gadget, were decidedly unhappy with it. Steve says their grumblings included claims they were intending on returning the units to B&H (where they recently purchased them) and were going seek refunds. In another email, a reader tells me he's already seeing Ray Flash knock-offs on Ebay. I haven't taken a look at them yet but it certainly doesn't surprise me. What products don't get knocked-off these days? (Ahh! Those clever Chinese.)

BTW, I recommend you check out Steve's site, Team Rockstar Images, for some really cool and awesomely captured pretty girl pics. He also has one of the most verbally-colorful "About" pages I've read in a long time. It begins like this: "Screaming like a big block Camaro on a late night beer run, Teamrockstar Images has been unleashed on the world." That Steve is one clever wordsmith, no?

The babe at the top is Gianna from yesterday's shoot for Vivid Entertainment. Easy to look at, ain't she? I was in fairly close quarters so I put Gianna in front of a small brick alcove in the living room of the Arts & Crafts style home we were shooting at and lit her with two lights: A 36" square, transluscent, Larson Reflectasol for my main--the link doesn't show the specific unit I've been using but you'll get the idea off the one shown in the link--and I also worked a small, shoot-thru umbrella into the mix. I set the shoot-thru off to the side, camera-left and against the wall, for some added, side-kick highlights.

Here's a shot (shown right, click to enlarge) that better reveals the shooting environment. This one reveals the full-frame (no cropping) and is virtually unprocessed. You can see where the wall's paint blows-out in the upper-left near where the shoot-thru was placed. Essentially, there was no easy way to backlight Gianna in the normal sense, leastwise, given the immediate environment I was photographing her in plus the limitations of the gear I had with me coupled with the pressure of time. (Run-on sentence. Sorry.) So, I opted for the lighting configuration mentioned in the previous paragraph. As you can see, that Reflectasol spreads out a lot of even front-light which many of my clients prefer for the naked chick photos I'm providing them.

BTW, I didn't' open the shoot-thru-- just let it remain un-opened in front of the flash tube to limit it's spread and keep it a bit more controlled. (I do that sometimes.) All I wanted to do was provide some subtle highlights to better separate her from the brick alcove and to add some punch to the lighting without lighting up even more BG stuff with the kicker. (i.e., that my mainlight wasn't already illuminating.)

Course, the art guys will probably cut Gianna out of the BG so, ultimately, illumination of the BG won't matter much. But it matters to me, dammit!!!

I've been using that Reflectasol quite a bit lately. I purchased it sometime back at a monthly camera show that takes place in Pasadena, California. (Sort of a photography flea market.) It was new old stock, meaning it was still new in the box but was manufactured, I believe, back in the 70s. I really like the look it produces although it's a bit hot in the center. (I might mess around with affixing a small piece of diffusion to the center of the Reflectasol.) This modifier is a bit more cinematic in its lighting technique, i.e., it's a simple, flat piece of diffusion in front of a light source.

Gianna captured with a Canon 5D w/ 28-135 IS USM (my trusty, all-purpose, utility lens) ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 100th. Not much post-processing on the image. I probably should have added a tad more digital manipulations. But then, as I've often stated, I'm kinda lazy and that condition doesn't seem to be changing much. Besides, I'd rather work harder at getting things right when I'm engaged in the process of photography then when I'm engaged in the process of altering fixing the photography in post.

P.S. Question for you: A reader complained suggested I change the color scheme of the blog. He says it's difficult to read the text. I originally chose the current colors because the black provides better contrast to showcase the images. But I'll admit the white-on-black text (as well as the other colors on black) sometimes bugs me as well. Anyone? Anyone? Buehler? Anyone?