Saturday, November 29, 2008

So Many Ideas, So Little Time (and Resources)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Couple of Days in Vegas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

More on Working in Close Quarters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well.

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Annie Liebovitz at Work

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

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

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

Photographer-subject interaction.


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Working in Close Quarters ***UPDATE***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

Is DSMC the Future of Image Capture?

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, November 14, 2008

Editing of a Different Kind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What to Write About?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why the Adult Biz Sucks These Days

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

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

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

Here's an extract from the article I read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I ask the Vizier how some companies are staying afloat.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Or, maybe I am.

A side-show attraction, that is.


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

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Are Exotic, Pricey Modifiers Over-Rated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Editing: Another "Other White Meat"

It's late in the afternoon. The sunset is striking. I'm sitting, alone, outdoors, at a coffee house near home. They have free WiFi, here, at "Its a Grind." Starbucks should take note.

As beautiful as it is, the sunset makes me melancholy. Mostly, I suppose, because I’m sitting here... alone.

But that's not why I'm writing.

Instead, I thought I'd write about editing. No, I'm not referring to PS touch-ups and/or other post-processing techniques. I'm writing about editing, i.e., the ability to select the best images from your photo shoots: Those images that you plan to share with others.

Like shutter speed, editing is a less-talked-about consideration, certainly in terms of it being a "hard" photographic skill. There's SOOOoooooo much written about lighting and exposure (mostly aperture, as discussed in my last) and, of course, post-processing. On the flip-side, significantly less is written about editing. That’s why, once again, I'm using the (clever?) pork, "other white meat," analogy. Or is it a metaphor? I'm always getting those two things screwed up.

I spend a fair amount of time on photography forums, mostly those forums where pretty girl shooters congregate. You know which boards I'm talking about.... the boards that hold glamour, beauty, even fashion and other genres of pretty girl shooting near and dear to their cyber-hearts.

While perusing and participating on these sites, I always take time to view plenty of images. You can’t help but doing so. Almost every thread features someone’s work. Usually, because of the specific boards I frequent, I'm seeing images of pretty, sexy models captured beautifully and, unfortunately, not so beautifully. Partially because of this blog, and possibly the fact that I'm one of those guys who manages to make some sort of a living shooting pretty girls, I seem to have a fair amount of juice on these boards. When I comment on someone's image, whether my comment is critically positive or not, its usually perceived as an of "expert" opinion. So often when I comment, a special "Thanks for commenting, Jimmy" follows.

As a rule, I'm not much for handing out "attaboys." If I think an image is pretty good, I'll rarely comment. When I think an image is not so good, I'm more likely to comment. Because of this, I think I sometimes come across as a harsh critic. Oh well. If you can't handle the heat, get out of the freakin' kitchen. (Not that my ego is immune to pain but I enjoy the solace of still getting paid even when I shoot crappy images of less than expected quality.)

When someone takes personal exception to my criticisms and informs me of this, I'll usually take time to write to them and explain, in more detail, whatever it is about their image(s) that I'm not too impressed with. I often try to offer suggestions for improvement. Of course, so much of this stuff is purely subjective. My opinions aren't any more valid than the opinions of anyone else, regardless of my "juice" or professional experience in the matter. In fact, not only are my opinions not any more valid than other people's opinions, I often mention (to those I'm writing to) that I don't think my photography is any better than their photography. The truth is, there are many, many shooters out there who are better shooters than I am, whether they're shooting pretty girls or anything else. But here's where I think I sometimes have an edge over many of those people, not all of them, but many: Editing.

If there's one thing I've learned, it's this: Don’t fall in love with any image I capture because, nine times out of ten, there are plenty of folks who will disagree about the quality and impact and usability of that particular image. Fortunately for me, many of the people who make those kinds of judgments about my pictures do so for a living, e.g., photo editors, graphic artists, etc. And since I've often had the opportunity to ask those people why they've selected one or more of my images over others (for publication or for a poster or an ad or the cover of a DVD or whatever) I've positively benefited from a real-world education that few hobbyists are given the opportunity to participate in. Except, perhaps, when they participate on photo forums. But then, who's making the judgments on those boards? Well, it’s usually not people who make those kinds of calls for a living.

Editing is supremely important. It’s as important as your shooting skills, your lighting skills, your skills directing models, and your post-production skills. It's as important as using the right tools for the job. No matter how hard you try, you can't (always) frost a turd. Underneath the frosting, it's still a turd. Even those images that aren't turds, but are simply not so good, are difficult to hide-- that is, to hide the fact that its simply a mediocre image.

Keen, professional, eyes will almost always ferret out a sow's ear from the silk purses no matter how heavily or carefully or competently post-processed a pedestrian image might be. Or, how hot, sexy, beautiful, and alluring your model might be. That's what those people do. They get paid for having a discerning eye. Not so much a photographer's eye but an eye for spotting quality and noticing flaws and detracting elements and other things that take an image down, leastwise, that take it down in terms of it being a suitable image to use for a story, an ad, a poster, a DVD cover, just about any commercial use. Sometimes those flawed elements are very obvious. Sometimes they're quite subtle.

My experience with people who judge my pictures, i.e., judge their usefulness for whatever their intent might be, has afforded me the ability to more effectively remove myself, as a creator of the image, and to grow something of a third, closer to impartial, eye. No, I can't always dismiss my personal preferences or the emotions that I might attach to a particular image but, with the help of the people I've mentioned, I've been able to hone those skills fairly well. At least, in my opinion it has.

Working with those folks, those third-party, professional, image appraisers, has (I think) made me a better judge of my own work and, perhaps, a fairly good judge of other people's work. Its given me the ability to (not only) spot the obvious, but to focus in on the subtle things that make one image less, uhhh... special than another. It's not that I have a natural ability to do this--some people do--but it's been this experience, this educational process, that has helped me edit my own work and to be a fairly decent judge of the work of others. Leastwise, in terms of the commercial elements that make one picture, *the* shot. And it's mostly because, as opposed to hobbyists, I so often benefit and get chances to learn from the judgments of others who, I'll say it again, make those judgments for a living.

I don't know what I can recommend to all you shooters who don't, ordinarily, have the luxury of getting feedback, editing feedback, from pro editors. I guess all I can suggest is to listen to what others tell you and figure out how to use some kind of emotional Luffa sponge to scrape your ego's skin a bit thinner. And if you keep hearing the same sorts of comments about your work, especially when those comments are seemingly negative, realize that all those people saying the same or similar things probably aren't wrong. Instead of getting all "butt-hurt" over it, do something about it. Learn to spot those flaws and quit trying to frost turds or pass off pedestrian work as something more. Once you've developed some good shooting and processing skills, there's almost nothing more important than developing your editing skills. Nothing.

Once again, I can't remember the name of the model at the top. Maybe I'm getting model's-name-Alzheimers? The picture isn't a turd, per se, but I doubt it would ever pass muster with someone editing my pics for a men's mag or an ad or whatever. Sure, she's hot. She's sexy. She looks good. But, she doesn't look as good as she could or should. Can you spot the elements of this image that take it down too many notches for it to be used? And I ain't referring to the wannabe-artsy B&W conversion.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Art (and Trickery) of Motion Blur

My favorite little photo forum,, is hosting a "Beauty in Motion" challenge. Cool! SuperShoot's challenge is to capture a person or thing, while depicting movement, with extra credit given for effective use of motion blur.

I asked JT, the Yoda-like administrator of SuperShoots, if that extra credit would be awarded for in-camera creation of motion-blur or something achieved in post? He responded that, assuming viewers could tell the difference, creative use of in-camera trickery would be given more weight.

The SuperShoots challenge reminds me I had planned to write a review of a book I recently purchased: Bryan Peterson's Understanding Shutter Speed: Creative Action and Low-Light Photography Beyond 1/125 Second. (Also shown in my Recommended Books links in the right-hand column.)

Shutter speed sometimes seems like pork: You know, pork being the other white meat. While the creative use of aperture is more often discussed, shutter speed almost feels like it suffers from Rodney Dangerfield syndrome. But that's far from the truth. Creatively, appropriate shutter speed is as important as aperture and other variables for capturing images that reflects the photographer's vision for those images.

We all know that fast shutter speeds freezes action. Leastwise, we all should know it. Fast shutter speeds are, quite possibly, the most commonly-seen creative use of shutter speeds. Sports photography often depicts the use of fast shutter speeds to capture all those competitive, decisive moments or to freeze a moment that, otherwise, would fly right past our abilities to see. Peterson's book certainly spends quality time on the subject of fast shutter speeds.

Where the book really sings is when it discusses slow shutter speeds, i.e., shutter speeds used for low-light photography or to infer motion. Anyone who hopes to successfully participate in SuperShoots challenge, but who has had little experience using slow shutter speeds, will be better equipped--knowledge equipped--with some help from Peterson's book. I don't mean to only focus on slow shutter speeds to produce a sense of motion. Photographers hoping to sharpen their skills shooting in most any low-light environment (night shooting, etc.) will benefit from Peterson's book. In fact, anyone who wishes to expand their photography skills awareness, especially in the area of creative use of shutter speeds (for all sorts of applications) will benefit with the purchase of this book. Best of all, it's very moderately priced at $16.47.

Peterson's Understanding Shutter Speed: Creative Action and Low-Light Photography Beyond 1/125 Second is well illustrated with many photographs which depict the use of the techniques he writes about. It's aimed at photographers of all levels of experience.

If, like me, you already own Peterson's Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera (Updated Edition), this is a natural companion book for your photography-related library. "Understanding Exposure" is also value-priced at the $16.47 price-point and is a book I've already reviewed, in a positive way, in a previous update.

I would have loved to post an image depicting beauty in motion, illustrating the creative use of shutter speed in my pretty girl photography but, alas, I don't seem to have such an image in my files. You'll just have to make do with another gratuitous picture of a pretty girl, sans clothing, to accompany this post. Had I captured the lovely Hannah on that Harley while it was moving, I might have taken a shot attempting to depict motion blur. Unfortunately, leastwise prior to reading Peterson's book, I doubt I would have been too adept at doing so. Maybe that's why I bought his book?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different

Well, different from what I've been lately writing about. I think an update that speaks to the art and craft of pretty girl shooting is overdue. You know, some words that might help a few of you improve your game or consider stuff you haven't thought much about before or are unsure about. An update that speaks to the craft, rather than talking about what Jimmy has been doing or what he hopes to accomplish. (I just love writing about myself in the third person. Makes me feel so muy importante... not.)


One of the first and most basic choices a photographer makes, just before clicking the shutter and as it applies to composition, is about aspect ratio, i.e., whether to snap an image with the camera oriented to capture the subject with, what's commonly called, a portrait aspect ratio or a landscape aspect ratio. Simple choice, right?

As I look at many pretty girl photos, it's obvious that the majority are captured utilizing a portrait aspect ratio. Makes sense. People--and pretty girls are people--are generally longer than wider. That makes filling a frame often seem appropriate with the frame being vertically longer than horizontally wider, especially since we so often have the models standing or kneeling or in positions that remain more vertical than horizontal. Many print applications also suggest using the portrait aspect ratio: magazines, posters, DVD packaging inserts and more are mostly printed on paper stock that, when properly oriented for viewing, reading, whatever, are vertically longer than wider

Sometimes we have the models lying down or in other positions where the orientation of their bodies is more horizontal rather than vertical. Using a landscape aspect ratio often seems to make sense with these sorts of poses.

But it's not always so simple. Sometimes, choosing an aspect ratio that is in opposition to the orientation of the model's pose makes sense. It can add interest to an image. It can come off more creative and lesser-seen. Especially when framed using other compositional techniques, you know, like the Rule of Thirds, or when the model is in an interesting environment and, when capturing the model in that environment, it would be more effective using an aspect ratio that opposes the orientation of her pose and makes the environment, and her place in it, a more interesting photograph. Sure, you can crop in such a way that changes the aspect ratio in post but, often, we don't allow enough space in our framing to effectively accomplish that.

So here's a really super-simple bit of advice that might help you improve your game: If you're not sure whether to shoot using portrait or landscape aspect ratios, shoot it both ways! After all, most of you are shooting digital, right? What is capturing an image both ways going to cost you? A few seconds? Whoop-dee-doo. Even if you're shooting film, it isn't going to cost much to snap a few extra frames, re-orienting and re-composing your image to a different aspect ratio.

Speaking of film, and to get back to Jimmy (Oh no!), I received my Canon rangefinder yesterday or the day before. I bought a few rolls of Kodak Pro BW400CN at Walmart. (That's B&W print film that gets processed with C-41, i.e., color processing chemicals.) Right now, I only want to insure the camera is functioning properly. Plus, since that's all I'm doing with it for these first few rolls, using this particular film allows me to get the processing done, cheaply and quickly, pretty much anywhere... you know, like at the same Walmart where I purchased the film stock.

I'm a bit embarrassed to say I can't remember the name of the pretty girl at the top, captured with my camera oriented to produce a landscape aspect ratio image.