Sunday, September 28, 2008

Stuff to Cure What Ails Me

Went to the movies yesterday and saw Lakeview Terrace. It was ok. Not great. I'm a Samuel L. fan which is why I went. Thematically, the story (and Samuel L's character) seems somewhat inspired by Denzel W's Training Day. Although Samuel L. is a cop in Lakeview Terrace, that's where the resemblance to Training Day ends in terms of the setting and storyline. Like I said, it was ok. I could easily have waited for this flick to come out on DVD.

Anyway, while waiting to see Lakeview Terrace, my date and I popped into Borders Books. (Borders is right next to the theater.) I went straight to the magazine section, picked up a copy of American Photo magazine, plopped myslef in a nice comfy chair under an A/C vent, and began thumbing through the rag.

There were some good articles with great photos. I especially enjoyed one particular essay, "Art, Sex, and Clothes: The Importance of Fashion." There's also a recent photograph by Klinko & Indrani, with some interesting "how they did it" text included, that I thought was pretty cool. It's a post-apocalyptic (looking) fashion image shot out in the desert near Palm Springs.

Then I came to the page with the editor's choices for new gear, gadgets, and gizmos and saw a couple of things I think I might buy.

The first is a gadget: The Ray Flash ringlight adaptor. It's not that I'm just now aware of this product. I've known about it for quite a while and have even held one in my hands. But now I think I need one. Why? Well, on a lot of the shoots I'm on, I'm usually required to shoot candid and action shots--in addition to the glamour pretty girl stuff--and in settings that necessitate either on-camera lighting or having me roll in a few stand-mounted monolights.

Personally, the look of on-camera strobes makes me sick, mostly because of the hard shadows they throw. Yeah, yeah, yeah... I know all the tricks to make an on-camera strobe look better. I still, for the most part, ain't a fan of the look with or without the tricks applied. I also get my stomach twisted when I have to bring in bulky lighting gear, i.e., pulling it away from where I'm shooting the glamour stuff and onto another set or nearby shooting area, only to have to cart it back to the glamour shooting area a short time later. That's right. I'm lazy. So shoot me. This ringlight adaptor seems like a great answer to my, uhh... issues.

Here's what Scott Kelby has to say about this gizmo. I'm thinking I'd still wheel in another light for a backlight and let my on-camera, Ray Flash-modified strobe trigger it optically.

The next product potentially on my shopping list is JTL's Mobilight 301 AC/DC Strobe with Battery. Here's why I might buy it: PRICE!!! For about $300 that's a pretty cool deal. It delivers 120 full-power 300WS pops and it looks fairly light-weight and VERY mobile. That's not a lot of power but then I don't need all that much power most of the time. But here's why I might NOT buy it: I'm reading reviews that say the battery is flaky. Also, I've shot with JTL monolights before and my biggest gripe with them is recycle time. The recycle time on this A/C-D/C unit is 2 to 4 seconds. That doesn't sound like a long time to many people but its a freaking eternity when you're shooting and waiting for a light to recharge.

The nurse at the top is Angie from last week. Ahem... cough, cough... How about them uhh... lips, huh? Next time I'm sick, I'm hoping Angie stops by to nurse me back to health. In fact, sick or not, Angie can nurse me anytime she wants! (Medically speaking, of course.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

FYI: Exotic Erotic Ball and Expo

If you live in or near the Bay Area or plan on being there around the end of October, here's something you might want to jot down on your calender:

Perry Mann's 29th Annual Exotic Erotic Ball, the internationally acclaimed Celebration of Flesh, Fetish, and Fantasy, and -- according to E! Entertainment TV -- "The World's #1 Wildest and Sexiest Party!" is, once again, taking place.

And here's more: The promoters have announced they will also produce the largest-ever Erotic Arts Festival in San Francisco Bay history. The arts festival will become part of an "Exotic Erotic" weekend of themed entertainment scheduled for October 24 and 25, 2008 on Treasure Island.

More than 20,000 people annually attend the Exotic Erotic Ball and Expo. Exhibiting artists will be showcasing drawings, paintings, sculpture, photography, wood, glass, metal, mixed media, ceramics, and the impossible-to-categorize. If you're interested in exhibiting your erotically-themed art at this year's show, contact Emily Hansen at for further information.

The topless pretty girls up top are Angie and Persia from last week. (I'll bet you can figure out who's who by their names.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Oops! Sorry! How's This?

A reader wrote and complained mentioned that the image I posted of Shawna (in my previous update) depicted her with way too many articles of clothing on.

Being the reader-responsive blogger that I am, I'm rectifying my thoughtless posting of a wardrobe-clad Shawna with one that displays her with decidedly fewer garments adorning or body. (Click to enlarge.)

Don't anyone say I don't hold my readers' interests at heart. Promoting the viewing happiness, in addition to the photographic skills awareness, of those who visit this blog is of paramount concern to me. I'm good that way.

Shawna, photographed against a seamless and captured with a Canon 5D w/28-135, ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 125. Three lights employed: Mainlight modified with a 3' Larsen Reflectasol, backlight (camera left) modified with a small, silver-lined umbrella while the backlight (camera right) was shot through a small, shoot-thru umbrella. A small fan was employed to gently blow Shawna's blonde locks. MUA Maryanne. Minimal post-processing performed: Cropping, levels, wart removals, and a touch of this and that, here and there. (Just kidding about the warts... Ahh, but you knew that.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

From Sleazy Bar to Villa-Like Estate

Last week I shot in a small, sleazy bar in a San Fernando Valley barrio. For the past three days, I've been working high in the hills above Malibu in a villa once owned by Motley Crue's Nicky Six. But here's the rub: While I had the run of the bar, all five or six hundred square feet of it, at the villa I was confined to a large room with high ceilings and plenty of windows and instructed to shoot on a white seamless. Go figure!

Other than the fact they didn't have me shooting outside, on the very private and sumptuous grounds of the estate with its magnificent 360° panoramic views of the Santa Monica Mountains, I had a great time.

Did I mention the food? Well, the food, i.e., the craft services, were truly outstanding! My compliments to the chef. I must admit, I could easily get used to showing up on locations where the first thing I'm asked is how I like my eggs and would I prefer pork, turkey, or soy bacon, toast or bagel, hash browns or O'Brien potatos? Or, would I rather go with quiche and fresh fruit? Or, any and/or all of the above and more? Much more-- like assorted pastries and other goodies, just-squeezed juice, freshly ground coffee... I'm not even going to discuss the lunches, dinners, and late-night snacks. (The grilled Mahi Mahi for lunch on Day Two was absolutely delish!) Anyway, It was like shooting on a cruise ship. I think I gained 5 lbs. working this video and photo-shoot! At the sleazy bar location, they ordered in pizza or Mexican or Chinese... I don't remember which.

The producers for this gig even hired me a great assistant! As a result, I'm now officially spoiled.

BTW, I don't want anyone to think I've never worked sets like this before. I have. Quite a few times in fact... though not lately, I'll admit.

Things are tough all over and budgets, for the most part, are being slashed to hell. I blame technology and the internet and asswipes. Too much entertainment content is being pirated, bootlegged, and given away for free. It's unbelievable! Most of the asswipes, that is the bootleggers and pirates, aren't even making money off their illegal activities. Apparently, they do it because they think it's cool or whatever. Yeah. Very cool. You're screwing over a lot of people! Not just companies and whatnot, but the people who earn their livings making the content.

Okay, I'm done ranting. The pretty girl at the top is Shawna, posing on a seamless in a big room in an incredible mansion perched atop a stunningly landscaped hill at the end of a multi-mile-long private road and hidden away in the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains not far from Malibu, California.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chicks With 'Tudes

You know the kind of 'tudes, i.e., the attitudes, I'm talking about: Bad girl attitudes. I love when bad girls get in front of my camera. (As is often the case.)

Sometimes, I have to coerce the inner bad girl out of the model. Other times, it's simply their everyday normal demeanor. Angie is a perfect example. She oozes bad girl. No direction was necessary. The image (left) was the very first click I snapped when she stepped in front of me. (Not counting the one where my two strobes failed to fire.) Throughout the set, Angie just gave me more and more of it, of her BGA that is. (Bad Girl Attitude.) I was in heaven.

I don't know how to exactly describe a bad girl's attitude. It's something that shows in her eyes and the way she holds her body. When you see her in real life or in moving pictures, you see the attitude in her walk and in her movements. You hear it in her voice. It's not so much what she says but how she says it. And it always gets my blood flowing.

I was shooting yesterday in a sleazy bar in a bad part of town. The beer-joint was small. The ceilings were low and painted black. There wasn't much room to set lights (where I'd prefer them to be) for that oft-seen glamour look. I decided to go a bit more guerrilla with my pretty-girl-shooting photo-techniques, keeping it minimal and shooting in a manner and style that better reflected the actual environment-- more in the "sense" of the place rather than in pictures that made it look like something other than what it was.

Obviously, I still needed to deliver the kinds of photographs my client was paying me to snap. But I didn't want to overly glamourize the environment or the models. Don't know if I succeeded. Maybe I'm just imagining things and deluding myself thinking I did? (You can take the pretty girl shooter out of the normal pretty girl shooting environments but you can't take the glam out of the pretty girl pics?)

I'm just thinking out loud here.


I'm usually inclined to focus on a certain kind of sexy allure in my photos. The allure I usually shoot is more predictable. Predictable for my work, that is. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. It's probably a good thing as far as my regular clients are concerned. They appreciate consistency. They hire me for consistency. As boring as that often is... for me.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

How to Become a Famous Photographer

My last post generated some interesting comments and questions. And man! Do I wish I had the answers.

But I do have opinions.

A reader asked, "Jimmy, if you were advising a new photographer who was determined to become the next Joe McNally or Annie Leibovitz, what advice would you give her?"

Well, first off, a big, BIG part of the answer is right there in your question: The word "determined."

It takes a lot of determination to become a McNally or a Liebovitz or a Richardson or any one of the many true success stories of contemporary photography. It's not only about the quality of your photos. Your photographs might be awesome and yet it's easy, in the world of pro snappers, to remain something other than someone referred to as a great and notable photographer. It's easy to remain a nobody.

I've heard plenty of people say, "Yeah, Jimmy's a great photographer." But they only mean that in the context of the sorts of images I snap. What they really mean is that Jimmy is a competent, perhaps even skillful, pretty girl shooter. The harsh reality for me is that, outside of my circle of friends, associates, clients, and a few others, there is no greatness attached to my photographic rep. I'm just some guy who makes a living with cameras in my hands.

Besides determination, I believe you need a plan. A marketing plan. A divinely-inspired marketing and self-branding plan that details--creatively, uniquely, and aggressively--how you intend to get to where you hope to go in the world of professional photography.

Let's say you want to become a famous fashion photographer. Well, first off, that's probably not going to happen if you live in or near Tulsa or Seattle or Bumfuk, Montana. You'll need to be where the action is. And the fashion-foto action is in the Big Apple, New York City. Maybe Miami to a lesser extent. But NYC is where the action principally resides. You could also, of course, travel overseas to Paris, Rome, Tokyo and a few other hotbeds of fashion-shooting. But, for the purposes of this update, I'll assume you'll be staying on this side of either pond.

Once you are entrenched in a fashion-shooting capital, you need to go after your dream with single-minded purpose. Nothing exists for you except that brass ring! You're a zealot! You wear blinders. Everyday should include accomplishments that brings you closer to fulfilling your goals. It ain't a vacation, it's a mission.

You never miss opportunities to advance yourself. It's all about you and your plan. You schmooze and you network. You've heard that phrase about being in the right place at the right time? You find out where those right places are and you get yourself there at the right times. Don't know when the right times are? You go there at all different times until you figure it out.

I know this stuff all sounds like advice without real substance but the few people I'm more than marginally acquainted with who have managed to grab their desired brass rings, and to hold onto them, literally, and I mean LITERALLY, applied themselves 365-24/7 (for years) to the job of getting to where they wanted to go. They were and remain, in almost every sense of the word, obsessed. Make that insanely obsessed!

And that's my final bit of advice for this update: You want to become a McNally or a Leibovitz? Become insanely obsessed with becoming one. (Some luck and good fortune won't hurt either.)

Photo at top: Tera Patrick in front of her hubby's chopper on the front walkway of their home.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why Photographers Obsess on Lighting Techniques...

...and other craft and technical stuff.

I received an email today from Amazon. In it, they were touting Joe McNally's book, The Moment It Clicks.

Amazon often sends these sorts of emails to their customers. They know most all of my purchases from them have been photography books. I guess they figure any new purchases I'm likely to make will, more than likely, also be photography related. And they're probably right. (I love being so predictable. I suppose Amazon loves this about me as well.)

As I often do, I clicked on the reviews and read, what Amazon refers to as, "The most helpful favorable review." What can I say? I try to be optimistic that way. Here's how that particular customer review began:

"Picture this. You meet one of the world's great photographers in a bar. He has a stack of pictures with him from his portfolio. As you go through the pictures, he talks about them, about the people in the photographs, and how he made each of them. About a third of the way through you realize that when he talks about the technical details he talks mostly about the lighting, and you are sorry you didn't pick up on that right from the beginning, but now you listen avidly to try to learn his lighting techniques."

Great opening paragraph! The review succeeded in sparking my interest. But it also got me thinking. (Thinking? Uh oh! Danger Will Robinson!)

Anyway, my thinking wasn't so much about McNally's book but about many books related to photography. Specifically, all those "how-to" books related to photography. And then I began thinking about all the other "how-to" stuff related to this thing we do: Stuff like blogs and websites and workshops and seminars designed to help photographers shoot better pictures. My brain then focused on the crazy popularity of such things amongst photo hobbyists and enthusiasts and pros and semi-pros.

Then, I started thinking about how all us consumers (of such "how-to" things) have come to believe that craft and technical skills, i.e., learning about lighting and exposure and Photoshop and gear and all those not-so-secret secrets of the pros, are the things that make a great photographer. And how, if we learn that stuff, we'll all be great photographers. And then, suddenly, I realized it's all bullshit.

Sure, learning the craft and technical stuff often is the foundation of great photography. But it isn't necessarily the stuff of great photographers. The sad truth (for us mere mortal shooters) is that great photographers didn't learn to be great photographers by simply learning technical skills. They became great photographers because they had that potential for greatness already within them. And that's something that can't be learned or taught or gleaned from a book. It can't be gotten from websites or at seminars and workshops. All that stuff might be part of the equation but it's not the solution to the equation.

When a great photographer shares the things they might believe made them great, it isn't going to make anyone else great. It might help make other photographers more competent but it isn't going to make anyone a truly great and successful photographer. Although the sharing (by wildly successful photographers) of craft and tech info might convince others it will include a road map to greatness, all of that sharing is designed, in reality, for one purpose: To make money for the celebrated photographer and to boost their rep for greatness. (Not to create more level playing field competition for the successful photographer-author.)

Don't get me wrong. It's all good. It's the way these things work. Carrot-dangling is a major component of marketing. I'm not in any way put off by any of this. There's a good chance I'll still buy McNally's book even though I realize that all this stuff I've just written about means his book, or any other book, isn't going to make me a great photographer. I'll still buy it because, against my new-found better judgment, I hold out hope that McNally's book, like the many other books I've already purchased, will somehow and against logic, contain a magic pill that will make me a great photographer. But I also realize there is no magic pill that McNally or anyone else can prescribe and dispense to me. If I ever turn out to be a truly great photographer, the stuff of greatness is already within me. All I have to do is figure out how to get in touch with it, assuming it's even there.

The behind-the-scenes shot at the top is the beautiful Nautica in my studio from a couple of years ago. Two assistants helping! One of them shooting smoke and the other fanning it away from the front-side of the model.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Just Back from Vegas

Spent most of the week in Sin City's brutal heat. (Hence, the lack of updating.) Headed up Vegas way to shoot some pretty girls for a regular client. I shot in and around a location house, in a small studio, and outside in the freakin' heat!

One place my client wanted to shoot was at the famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign. The sign is on the strip a mile or so East of all the big hotels out near the airport. We went there late in the afternoon with the sun low in the sky and the temperatures still in the one-hundreds. It wasn't yet Golden Hour and, although we had intended to stay there and shoot until the magic light arrived, the looky-loos drove us off.

In retrospect, it was kind of funny. I started photographing the girls using a reflector and a speedlite for fill when, seemingly out of nowhere, two limos, a tour bus filled with many people, and a fair number of carloads of tourists stopped in traffic and drove up over the curb and onto the 20' to 30' center divider the Welcome to Vegas sign sits on in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard. While I continued shooting the three, scantily-clad, pretty girls in front of the sign, a bunch of people, mostly guys, exited the parked vehicles and began crowding around the models. Moments later, a traffic jam formed in both directions around us and my thoughts were less on photography and more focused on the likelihood of LVPD squad cars joining the growing number of vehicles that encircled us. But I'm a professional. So, being a pro (or possibly an idiot) I ignored the growing crowd (moving closer and closer to the models and me) and kept shooting. Interestingly, the crowd seemed to understand my camera's field of view and they mostly remained out of the shots.

Soon, the sounds of hoots, hollers, and cat-calls filled the hot, late-afternoon, Vegas air. My client was becoming agitated. He started running around trying (in vain) to prevent onlookers from snapping photos of the girls. "Dude!" I shouted out at him. "They have as much right to do this as we do." But he's one of those guys who is very possessive about his models--probably more so when spectators are taking pictures of them even though we were in a public area--and he continued trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to bully people into refraining from shooting "his" girls.

The models, on the other hand, were ecstatic about being the subject of such attention and they began posing more for the crowd than for me. In short, things were getting out of hand. Way out of hand! It was quickly becoming a mini Girls Gone Wild episode... in broad daylight and in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip! I know they call it Sin City but there are certain sins they don't tolerate well in Vegas, brief glimpses of public nudity being one of them.

Anyway, between my client, who was becoming more and more aggressive and nasty with the onlookers, angrily shouting at those of them with point-n-shoots to quit snapping pics of the girls, and the models getting bolder and bolder with their teasing/flashing/provocative poses, I thought it best--before a riot broke out--to announce I had captured everything I needed, to forget about waiting for the golden light (which was still thirty or more minutes away) and to get the hell out of there! I packed up my stuff and we quickly herded the models back to our cars and made a hasty exit back to my client's offices.

In all, it wasn't much of a fun trip. I worked a lot of hours and didn't once step foot in a casino or a decent Vegas restaurant or buffet. Oh well. It's probably just as well. With the summer sucking (work-wise) as bad as it did I really didn't have any spare cash to be losing to a casino. I can also stand to miss a meal or two... or three.

The pretty girl at the top is MacKenzee from the morning before I left for Las Vegas. Kind of artsy-ish for me. Maybe not. I suppose that's more for others to decide. Besides, the model wasn't striking an artsy pose when I snapped it. She was simply stretching her back a bit. I added the B&W processing just so it looks like I might be more artistically-cultured than I probably am.