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?


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.