Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Art Card

To my eye and mind, artsy does not equal art. Artsy can be good, really good, but it still ain't automatically art, true art.

I see plenty of work that is artsy, artistic even, but it's not necessarily what many view as art; not true art. I'm amongst the ranks of those many. (BTW, artistic, for me, is a step up from artsy yet still not true art.)

There are traditional conventions associated with art. Art, make that artists, can choose to break or ignore those conventions, use and abide by them, or do something in between. Either way, the results might be art, might simply be artsy or artistic, or might be something else. It's like porn from the perspective of the U.S. Supreme Court: "I know it when I see it." That, of course, doesn't make porn art. (By association.) It only means that defining art and defining porn are two separate entities that are similar in terms of subjectivity.

This might all seem confusing. Or, maybe not?

For me, for the most part, it's not.

In the world of truly great art--you know, stuff that hangs in museums or sells at auctions or galleries for big bucks--there are probably as many examples of great art that abide by the conventions as there are those that break them. Art is funny that way.

When it comes to photographic art, all of the same holds true. Photographers, it seems, often prefer the word "rules" over "conventions," i.e., breaking or obeying the rules. Either works.

In my opinion, throwing artistic conventions at one's photography does not make one an artist. It might mean the photographer has an artsy eye or artistic sensibilities but it doesn't mean the resulting work qualifies as true art, make that 'perceived by others as true art.' But it might also mean the work is noticeably better than a lot of other work... or not.

Regardless of whether those artsy elements in a photograph work or don't work, they are usually visible in the results and you, at least, get an "A" for effort.

Same holds true for breaking the rules, when they're broken effectively and on purpose.

Unfortunately, some of this art stuff allows photographers a convenient wild card to play when defending discussing their work: The "art card."

The "art card" is, in theory, a beautiful thing. So is looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. The "art card" is most often played when viewers don't seem to appreciate a photographer's work or efforts. In the minds of shooters who play the "art card," it's a wild card that, for the most part and only in those art-card-players' minds, trumps all other opinions.

Fictional example:

"Dude. That photo sucks."

"That's your opinion. (Asshole.) Just because, it's out of focus, over-exposed, over-processed, composed like shit, and says nothing to you doesn't mean it sucks. It's my artistic expression and who are you to say what is art and what isn't?"


I suppose.

That's not to say, of course, there aren't examples of actual art that are out of focus, over exposed, and all those other things. There are. (Although not too many.) It's just that, for the most part, most mere-mortal-shooters aren't producing work that bears those characteristics and still qualifies as art. In fact, most of *that* work doesn't even qualify as good or interesting work. Instead, most photographers who are producing photos of that nature are producing images that, for lack of a better word, suck.

Anyway, I'm just saying.

Mostly because I haven't fully weaned myself off certain photographer/model forums yet.

Here's some tips for pretty girl shooters:

1. Learn the rules. It's the only way you'll ever break them effectively when you choose to do so. (Except by luck or accident.)

2. Quit trying to produce art unless you really and truly see yourself as a serious artist and that's the way you roll. I mean, photographers please! Focus on producing images that are memorable, outstanding, or simply quite good. The majority of you aren't photographing pretty girls, with or without clothes, because you are consummate artists. Nor are you shooting those subjects for purely artistic expression. Sure, that might be part of it, but there are other reasons you're shooting this stuff. Many different reasons. Too many to list. Some as simple as it being quite fun and entertaining. So let's keep our perspectives real and honest.

3. Don't play the "art card" when you believe your work is less or under appreciated. Most people recognize the "art card" for what it most often is-- bullshit. You're only fooling a few when you play it. Very few. Plus, when you play the "art card," if often makes you look like a 'ruh-tard.' (© "The Hangover.")

4. Learn how to apply art conventions to your photography. It doesn't automatically mean the results become art but it often yields better photographs.

5. Develop a personal style. Yes, that style might include artsy elements. In fact, it probably should. As a result, some may call your style, "artistic." That's a good thing. But don't let it go to your head. It still doesn't mean everything you shoot is art. In fact, it might mean that nothing you shoot qualifies as true art but it's still a nicely positive compliment, nonetheless.

All the above is not to say you might not produce true art in your photography, intentionally or otherwise. But, in reality, and per my observations, the majority of you aren't specifically looking to do that.

I know I'm not.

The pretty girl at the top, primping in front of a mirror, is Devin. I snapped this candid photo of Devin in Vegas while stealthily sneaking up behind her, ninja style, a year or so ago. No, it wasn't a Peeping Tom incident.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An Xmas Gift of Another Kind

The gift? Well, over the holidays I discovered a lost relative who is also a fiercely-spirited photographer. She wasn't actually lost, of course, but I haven't seen her since she was a young child so she was, in a sense, semi-lost... to me, that is. I credit Facebook (and a 'heads-up' from my daughter) for the discovery.

Gina, who is my 2nd cousin, is most serious about her photography. She shoots with a Canon (natch... we're both apples from the same tree, after all) and she just recently purchased some PCB AB lighting gear. I'm happy to say Gina also plans to buy a light meter. If you're a regular reader, and whether you agree with them or not, you probably know my views on the importance of light meters.

Gina's father is the oldest son of my Dad's older (and only) brother. My Dad had 6 sisters as well. Old school Italians, being mostly Catholic, often multiplied unabated-- Church doctrine re birth control and all. (Vatican Roulette notwithstanding.) But hey! The more the merrier! Besides my immediate family, I have (well, had) plenty of aunts and uncles, and I have dozens of cousins, dozens more 2nd cousins, and probably even more 3rd and 4th cousins and who knows what/who else!

While growing up and into my 20s, Gina's father and her father's brother and I were quite close. But we all kinda lost touch. You know how that sometimes goes: We get wrapped up in our own, immediate families, careers, friends, that sorta stuff. No excuse, of course. What's more important than family?


Gina is a very serious hobbyist and also hopes to shoot professionally-- photographer-speak for getting paid to wield a camera. While Gina has another career, photography is what she's really passionate about. Sounds like a few of you, no? I've already, of course, encouraged her to read this blog, especially since pin-up and glamour are two of the genres she's very interested in shooting and, even more especially, because I've got this sometimes-outa-control ego and all.

Besides FB, Gina is also on MM. She goes by "Strapped Photography." I'm pretty sure she's being metaphoric, inferring she rolls "strapped" with a camera and not a gun. You know, in the way gangsters refer to being "strapped." If I'm wrong, I'll be sure not to piss her off! :-) If you have a minute or two, how about stopping by Gina's MM page and giving her a shout, friend her, whatever! Tell her cousin Jimmy sent ya! Click HERE to visit Gina's MM profile.

Coty, the pretty girl in the oh-so-dramatic head shot at the top, is a model I've lost touch with. I shot Coty a number of times back when I still had my studio and (because I did have a studio) was more apt to occasionally shoot some TF stuff; when the spirit moved me, of course. Looks like the spirit is moving Coty in that pic up top, no? BTW, a key light directly overhead, like in that pic of Coty and in cinematic lighting jargon, is often referred to as a "God light." I'm just saying.

Here's another of Coty, this one also in my studio, also TF, and also dark and dramatic but somewhat more revealing in certain ways. (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Portraits: What Puts the Icon in Iconic Portraits?

I was thinking about portraits. You know, those often-formal (or not) pictures of people that say something about who and what they are.

My stream of consciousness started overflowing its banks, leading my thoughts to iconic portraits snapped by iconic portrait photographers.

I started asking myself, "What or who mostly makes a portrait iconic? The photographer or the sitter?"

Then, it hit me. Not like an epiphany but more like a fog-lifting awareness which, in truth, is how many things become part of my awareness. (More truth: Rarely does the fog completely lift.)

For the most part, when we see portraits that are proclaimed "iconic," it's very often because of who the sitter might be rather than who the photographer might be. Certainly, that's not an iron-clad rule--think Steve McCurry's Nat Geo photo of the Afghan girl with those feakin' eyes--but, in the world of portrait photography, it's often who is in front of the camera, not behind it, that matters most in terms of creating iconic portraits; make that portraits that, later, are perceived as iconic.

In some ways, that kinda sucks.

I don't know about many of you, and this ain't me getting full of myself, but I believe I can snap portraits that are pretty damn good--photographically good--just like many master portrait photographers have and still do except, in my case and probably yours, I don't have sitters who will automatically elevate my portrait-taking into the realms of renown. Generally, my subjects don't have the juice or position or celebrity or status to make my stuff particularly memorable--regardless of how good it might be--in the minds of the masses... nor is it likely that, as a consequence, any of my stuff will ever be dubbed, "iconic," by whomever does the dubbing.

As an example, if you consider the famous photo of Winston Churchill, snapped by Yousuf Karsh, the one where Churchill has that tough-as-nails resolute scowl on his face, did it really matter who snapped it?

(Update: Here's a link to an interesting account of Karsh's encounter with Churchill. I've read the same or similar accounts elsewhere.)

I'm not taking away from the considerable skills and talent of Yousuf Karsh. The man was one of the world's great portrait photographers! But still, if almost anyone else had shot nearly that same photo, and then that photo became, as Karsh's photo did, a big part of Britain's war propaganda machine against the 3rd Reich during WW2, whoever snapped the image would, quite possibly--perhaps even probably-- be hoisted to a pedestal as a world-class portraitist and, perhaps, even have gone on to be dubbed another "Sir Icon."

(Updated Note: I'm not saying all pics of iconic sitters become iconic pics. I'm simply saying it often takes an iconic sitter for a pic to become iconic... if that makes sense.)

Anyway, read what you will into what I'm saying because, as usual, I'm just saying.

Pic at the top is the Goddess of Glam, Tera Patrick. I snapped it in her home, uhh... I don't remember when but it wasn't all that long ago. The photo certainly does NOT have iconic status nor any other particularly meritorious status. Nor, I'm sure, will it ever. In fact, few have seen this pic much less commented one way or another on its merits. (Or lack of them.) Tera, of course, does have a certain iconic status, albeit mostly within the world in which she has worked.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An Accidental Cookie

I was messing around with this model last night.

No, not that way--I ain't that lucky--we were shooting and, since I had a bit more time than usual, I started messing around with the lights.

Most of my messing around, to my eye, didn't look so cool. I know, as photographers, we're often encouraged to think and shoot outside the box but, sometimes, when we do, outside the box ain't such a pretty place.

BTW, I did get all the pics my client needed. The messing around part was in addition to the expected images.

My model, Miko, was cool with it. The alternative was sitting around, bored to tears, listening to me trying to make witty conversation with someone younger than half my age, namely her, and I think she sensed that-- Smart chick. (We were waiting for my client who was running late.)

Anyway, I was playing around with my ring flash, shooting a lot of crap, trying to decide what I did and didn't like about it. (I'm quite new to ring flash lighting.) After a while, I decided to get it off my camera, putting it on a stand above and slightly behind me. As it was, I was working with limited gear. My client, who usually has some pretty nice Profoto packs-and-heads in his studio, didn't. What I mean is the Profoto gear was MIA, AWOL, absent, whatever. Turned out it was on loan.

Fortunately, I had my PCB/Zeus pack-and-heads with me, plus the ring flash that goes with that system. Unfortunately, I had nothing to modify with. You'd think there'd be one lousy umbrella or something in that studio, but no, there wasn't. All I could find was some diffusion material. I should mention I shoot for this client regularly, like weekly, so I assumed, before heading over there, everything would be as it normally is, in the studio I mean. It wasn't. My bad for assuming.

Okay, at least there were stands. So, I grabbed a C-Stand and a grip arm, put a head on it, MacGyvered the diffusion material in front of it to make the light less harsh, and boomed it behind Miko. This would be my backlight, making some highlights from one side and behind. Since I didn't have a main light modifier, I decided to go with the ring flash. After all, many shooters go with a ring flash and, often enough, nothing else. It all worked reasonably well. Good enough to get what I needed to get, especially for web-site use.

Back to putting the ring flash on a light stand...

The ring flash on the stand worked well enough, especially for messing around. The light was a bit harsher than I usually prefer, mostly because I was working in fairly close quarters on a small set and without a modifier.

At one point, I raised my ass of the apple-box I was seated on, snapped a few, chimped, then realized I had partially blocked the ring flash with my fat head and husky body. (Husky sounds better than many alternative words meaning the same or similar, no?) I started to sit back down so as not to block the light when I thought, "Ya know. That doesn't look *that* bad." Leastwise, on the LCD. So, I got back up and, like a human cookie, or cucoloris, snapped a few more, moving my head and body around in front of the ring flash to alter the shadow effect.

I still don't know if I like the results or not. I'm leaning towards not. The colors got a little weird for some reason I haven't yet figured out; I probably screwed them up worse adjusting in post. Her face is approaching geisha-white, seriously mis-matched to the rest of her skin tones-- a result of the hard-light of the ring flash hitting her face and my soft body blocking other parts of the light, i.e., flagging, softening, and feathering.

I suppose the whole experiment was a little like thinking and shooting outside the box, leastwise, it was thinking and shooting off the box-- my ass off the apple-box, that is. But like I said, outside the box ain't always a pretty place. My ass off the apple box ain't so pretty either. I'm just saying.

It certainly would make more sense to use an actual cucolorus instead of my body for a cookie but, like I said, Miko and I were just messing around. (Yeah. I wish.)

The pretty girl at the top, as already mentioned, is Miko. I discovered that Miko's Mom is Korean and her Dad is Irish and she was born in Germany but grew up in Seattle. Go figure. Gotta love that Eurasian thing, right?. BTW, even though the skin on her torso looks smoothed, I didn't do a thing to it in post. All I did was crop, adjust various levels, burn a few areas, and that's about it. I'm thinking the pic might look okay in B&W, especially with my shadows dancing around on her lower body, but I have too much to do right now--Xmas and all--to be messing around with it in PS.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

You Think I Need That Scrim, Jim?

Yep. I do. In fact, how about Jimmy's Scrim Jim?

My Westcott Scrim Jim,that is.

Sometimes, the best tools in our lighting arsenals are the low-tech tools: Tools like reflectors and flags and scrims.

Take a look at those two pics of Dahlia at the top. Both are nearly un-processed except for re-sizing and a touch of Curves adjustment and sharpening. Both were snapped by my good pal, Rick, of Simi Studio, while we were out at El Mirage Dry Lake, shooting the Pretty Girl DVD stuff. Rick captured Dahlia using his Canon 20D. He had set the camera to capture in monochrome mode and, as such, they're not post-prod B&W conversions.

Both pics were shot with early-ish mid-day sun as the primary source. For both, a white reflector was employed, adding fill from below. But there's a difference between the pic on the left and the photo on the right. That difference was a scrim, a scrim with translucent, diffusion material, placed above and behind the model, knocking down the harsh light from the sun.

The hair on the top of Dahlia's head is nearly blown-out in the pic on the left. In the pic on the right, shot a few minutes later with my Scrim Jim added to the mix, the highlights on Dahlia's hair are near perfect.

How'd that happen?


By adding a simple scrim with diffusion fabric, we knocked the sunlight down about a full stop and, all at once, the highlights in Dahlia's hair were right on the money!

You don't, of course, need to use a Scrim Jim to modify the light in this way. Any sort of framed, diffusion fabric, like rip-stop nylon, can be used. I know plenty of people who make their own, DIY scrims and reflectors. I have. They work just as effectively.

Personally, though, I like my Scrim Jim because it's easy to set-up and dis-assemble, it comes with its own, handy-dandy carrying bag, it attaches easily to stands and grip arms, plus I have a number of different materials that can be quickly attached, e.g., white, silver, gold, diffusion, black. By using different fabrics, my Scrim Jim quickly converts to a reflector, a scrim, or a flag.

As mentioned, the pretty girl at the top is Dahlia. Photos by (and copyright) Rick H., Simi Studio. Dahlia did her own makeup. I assisted.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Dishonesty of Glamour Photography

An online acquaintance, photographer Jim Felt, a founding principal in a very successful, Pacific Northwest, commercial photography business, emailed me this morning. Jim said he finally found time to listen to the interview I did, some months back, with the good folks at Photographer&Model.com.

If any of you have some time to kill and you're up for listening to someone babble on about photography, mostly glamour photography, you can do that, through the magic of radio podcasting, by clicking HERE. It's easy enough on the ears as well as that gray thing lodged between them. IMHO, of course.

Jim was nice and said he enjoyed the interview, using words like fun and great and incredibly insightful and boffo!

Okay, maybe I'm lying about the incredibly insightful and boffo! parts but Jim did seemed to really enjoy the interview... or he was simply being nice. Regardless, I'll take compliments, sincere or otherwise, where I can get them although I know Jim was being honest and sincere cuz, well, cuz that's how Jim rolls.

In his email, besides kind words, Jim asked, "By the way, when was (glamour) photography ever honest? It's always been enhanced. Just not to the casual degree that Photoshop has allowed."

I agree.

But then I started thinking. (I have a bad habit of doing that, thinking that is, often when it's least important to do so.) So, I wrote Jim back, tackling the "dishonesty in glamour photography" issue-- Not that dishonesty in glamour photography truly qualifies as an "issue" in the normally-used context of the word. But it does in my world, dammit!


There's nothing new about enhancing glamour shots. Its been done for a very long time. I do so nearly all the time. After all, I'm not a photo-journalist. There's no rules of ethics for glamour photographers. Leastwise, not in terms of the results. My job is to make the best glam photos I can manage to make. That's one of my rules.

When shooting, I'll use whatever tools--tools sometimes used to produce dishonest results--at my disposal. (As effective or sometimes ineffective as they might be.) I use those dishonest tools and processes cuz that's how *I* roll, dishonestly... but only as a photographer, of course.

In glamour photography, dishonesty is often the best policy!

There. I said it.

If you don't find using the word "dishonesty" palatable, try thinking of the dishonesty I'm refering to as "tricks" or smoke-n-mirrors" or "skill and experience" or even the "secrets of the pros" some would have you believe are actual secrets.

Okay. Here's my response to Jim. Thought it would make for an easy and on-topic update:

Obviously, glamour photography has never been honest. That's the whole point--To produce images that glamourize the subjects. Glamourizing a subject requires dishonest techniques to create, what should appear to be and in more than a few ways, seemingly honest results.

(Please Note: Glamorizing a model is not the same as frosting a turd. I'm just saying. In case anyone has that confused.)

In general, life--except for the lives of a few--is not, as a rule, overly glamorous. Glamour photography is escapism, much the way so many movies and books and so much more are purposely escapist.

Certainly, Hollywood's stars, often referred to as America's royalty, have always, paparazzi aside, been presented in glamorous ways. I talked about that in the interview, i.e., the origins of glamour photography in 1930s and 40s Hollywood.

Later, Hugh Hefner came along and the rest is history.

Hollywood stars, supermodels, and glamour models as well, are not common folks like you and I. Well, they might be, and in many ways often are, but not if producers, advertisers, agents, PR people, publicists, spin doctors, many photographers and a whole bunch of the stars and models themselves have anything to say or do about it. Hence, glamour photography is one means to that end: That end being to promote the glamorous aspects, the regal star qualities, the way-more-special, beautiful, sexy, and/or much less common than you or I, aspects of the subjects.

Dishonesty in glamour photography isn't simply accomplished with lighting and makeup and processing and that kind of stuff. Sure, that's part of it. A big part of it. But the dishonesty of glamour photography is in the overall presentation of those so-called, make that creatively-enhanced, "glamorous" people." It's about style and feeling and allure and more.

(A guilty confession: I might have expanded a bit on what I wrote to my friend, Jim, in my email to him. Being somewhat long-winded and fairly opinionated is also how I sometimes roll. Can't help it. They write me this way.)

The pretty girl at top is Cody from a year or two (or three?) ago. Time freakin' flies! I snapped Cody using a few dishonest tools and techniques at my disposal--from production to post-production--including a fan used to subtly blow her hair, dishonestly creating the illusion that her raven mane was slightly moving about in some gentle, in-studio, breeze. (Like someone left a studio window open on a windy day or something.) Here's a BTS shot, below, for those who enjoy BTS shots.

NOTE: if you're a Canuck and still residing in your home world, you might notice I've added Amazon-Canada to my links in the right-hand column. A big thanks and tip-of-the-hat to reader, RovingRooster, for suggesting I also become an Amazon-Canada associate.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Models: What's On Their Minds?

Before I begin writing (and pretending) I know what goes on in model's minds--they are women, after all: Leastwise, most models I shoot with are--here's an end-of-the-year holiday reminder: It's Winter Holidays time!

Wait! D'uh. You knew that. End-of-the-year = Winter, leastwise, start of it. And start of Winter = Holidays. Again, D'uh.

I'm only making this oh-so-obvious reminder because, while I could be wrong, I'm guessing some of you might be contemplating buying yourself a gift, you know, something nice or practical or cool or completely unneeded just to say "happy whatever" to yourself. I say do it! You deserve it! You've been good throughout the year, right? Course, "good" is relative but I'll bet you've been good enough!

Anyway, I'll also guess some of you might be purchasing gifts for others, holiday spirit and all, and whether those others have been good, naughty, nice or otherwise, you ain't no Scrooge! So, if that's what you're planning to do, and if you're of a mind to buy something from the good folks at Amazon, you might also extend some holiday cheer this way, that is, towards your happy PGS blogger! I've been good, bad, naughty, AND nice! I deserve it! And doing so is easy as mincemeat pie! How? By using (i.e., clicking-on) the Amazon link in the right-hand column of this blog when browsing and/or ordering from Amazon.

Buying through Amazon by clicking my link doesn't cost a penny more to you but, by doing so, you'll be purchasing through my Amazon-associates link and helping support the PGS blog.


Okay. Enough with the begging. It is SOoo unbecoming. Besides, last time I did the 'alms for the needy' thing, many of you responded so incredibly well that I ended up getting tossed off Google's ad-thing for uhhh... well, for begging. But that won't happen with Amazon because, unlike those Google-nerds, the peeps at Amazon are some cool people!

Back to photography and pretty girl shooting:

In my most previous update, I replayed a recent shoot writing about a personal experience with a model. In the comments to that update (who reads the comments, right?) photographer Ed Verosky, who originally suggested the update's subject, asked, "...I wonder what goes through a model/subject's mind as you're doing your thing. Does she want more direction or less, would she prefer you to be more animated, does she want lots of encouragement and praise? What's been your experience, Jimmy?"

Here's what I replied: "I've found the more direction the better. I'm not talking about micro-direction where you're directing every finger and toe in addition to the rest of the model, but a steady stream of general direction, both in terms of pose and body(parts) positioning, with some emotive direction for expressions and the all important 'tude, combined with lots of positive feedback, even it that feedback starts sounding rote and repetitive. That's what seems to work pretty good for me. (Sorry about that long, run-on sentence.)

Oh! Music helps too!

Nothing worse than, to borrow from radio people, "dead air" when you're shooting."

I'll add to that a bit--

In my experience, "dead air," on a shooting set, is like expecting to catch fish in the desert. I guess it's possible to do so, depending on which desert we're talking about, but the odds of that happening, in many deserts, are long. Way long. Same with getting good pics while shooting with your trap shut. Models, no matter how experienced, want to hear direction and reassuring words. They want to know they're not alone out there in the lights. Like children, they want your approval. On model-shooting sets, the photographer is the boss for that time, no matter how brief or extended. As that boss, you need to be a constantly communicating leader. How else, if you're not communicating, will your model understand your "vision" and mimic it with her face and body? ESP? Vulcan mind-melding? I don' think so.

On sets, photographers are also, in some ways, a bit like parents, guiding their (model) children. That's not to say you should treat models as if they were children, they're not, although some act like they are, but that approval thing is very important. And it's important for your "model-children" to hear that approval fairly often. If ever ther's a time to voice approval and stroke a model's ego, it's when she's in front of your camera.

When you're shooting, models put themselves in your hands. (BTW, that's not to say your hands should be on the models.) They're trusting you to do the right thing, the responsible and the protective thing. Those right, responsible, and protective things are all about making great pictures of them. Regardless of whether your model is a "5" or a "10," doing your best to make great pictures of every model you shoot is the right thing to do. It's your responsibility as a photographer. And by doing so, you're protecting their image: Images they want others to favorably view and, I'll bet, so do you.

So what's the model thinking about while you're shooting?

Sometimes, she's thinking about how to present herself in the best light, pun intended, while you're shooting. Sometimes she's thinking of all those things she's insecure about, i.e., what it is about her face and/or body that makes her insecure. Yeah, some of those things, if and when you discover them, might seem ridiculous and untrue but that doesn't matter much. It's what she thinks about herself that matters. Your job, besides wielding your camera like a Samurai camera guy, is to help her overcome those insecurities.

Some models are appraising you while you're shooting them. Is he/she any good? Does he/she have an eye? Is he/she hitting on me or just innocently babbling-on, engaging in photographer-speak (for lack of a better term) to make me feel comfy and secure?

Other models, often the very experienced models, might be thinking about almost anything other than what's going on at the moment. Your job, when you sense that's what's going on, is to redirect the model's attention to you, to what *is* going on, to what she's doing in front of her camera. That's right. While shooting, it's her camera-- She needs to "own it" if the results are going to be good. Conversely, you need to "own" the model. That's not to say she's your puppet but, in some ways, that's not a completely untrue way of looking at the process.

Still other models are nervous and afraid in general. Usually, these are new and inexperienced models. If you're not careful, your pics of these models are going to feature deer-caught-in-the-headlights expressions. The few times deer-caught-in-the-headlights expressions work is when you're actually photographing deer caught in headlights, if that's your thing. Or, sometimes, when shooting certain types of bondage-and-discipline and fetishy pics, again, if that's your thing. I know I sometimes enjoy shooting that stuff, when I'm feeling in touch with my dark side, that is. ;-)

If some of this is sounding like you need to be part psychologist, in addition to the photographer parts, you're right. You do.

The gorgeous one at the top, in the Xmas lingerie, is Tera Patrick. It's one I snapped during a holiday-themed shoot last year. Tera certainly knows how to put the "X" in Xmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

When Models Take Charge

In the comments section of my last update, photographer Ed Verosky suggested some ideas for PGS updates. (Thanks again, Ed! I've said it before: For me, the writing part is easy, what to write about is, more often, the hard part.)

One of Ed's most-excellent ideas for updates suggested interviews (Q&As) with models regarding being photographed, i.e., what's going on in their heads during the process... which could be fairly scary in terms of finding that out or, perhaps, non too ego-enhancing for many photographers. Regardless, Ed also added that it might be interesting to ask what models might tell photographers if they, the models, were directing them, I mean us, the photographers.

I agree! That could be some less-often-seen yet illuminating and insightful ground to cover.

I haven't, as yet, had the time to cover such ground but I will relay what happened during a recent shoot where the model had the nerve decided to direct yours truly a bit. Possibly more interesting since the model's English language skills were marginal at best.

I was shooting content with Spanish-sex-siren, Lupe Fuentes, for her new and upcoming web site. Lupe is a freakin' doll! She's warm, friendly, smart, sexy, gorgeous, and knows what she's doing in front of a camera. Her lack of English is more than made up by her ability to communicate in other ways. Even when, as I found out, she's suddenly directing the guy who is supposed to be directing her. That would be me, in this case.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Being the lazy-ass that I am, I often shoot with my butt firmly planted on an apple box with the box resting on the floor and its long-side up. Besides conforming to both my laziness and my fat ass, this puts my camera at an ideal height for much of what I shoot, pretty girl shooting-wise. If the model gets lower, I can always flip the apple box so the short-side is up and, by doing so, lower my shooting angle while still retaining the comfort of my ass seated on the box. I'm quite adaptable that way. (Note to self: Let's get some soft, comfy, padding installed on that apple box. Perhaps Memory Foam®?)

We were shooting in a kitchen in an upscale home-- marble floors and counter-tops and such. Lupe was perched on the marble top of a center island in the kitchen. I was seated on my apple box, comfortably shooting from low-ish angles. I thought the angles looked fairly cool, perspective-wise-cool, as a result of my lazy-low angles. Suddenly, Lupe began gesturing to me, with her usual big, pearly-white smile, in a way that said, "Up!"

"Up?" I asked.

"Yes!" she nodded excitedly.

I quickly looked down, assuring myself I wasn't displaying any GWC attributes. As usual, I wasn't.

(Side Note: I might be a borderline geezer but I'm NOT SO GEEZERLY, I'm happy to say, that my shit don't work! Well, most of the time it don't... I mean does. Unfortunately and occasionally [and sometimes happily] it also still works at times when it's not necessarily supposed to work... all on it's own like it's on auto-pilot and in spite of the many, many, naked chicks who are routinely sprawled in front of my camera and because of that, one might think, make me immune to their effects. Sorry if that was more information than anyone needed to know. Just wanted to qualify that "GWC attribute" comment-- Jeez! Where's the perfect emoticon when ya need one?)


I got off my ass and stood.

"No!" She shook her head, motioning for me to get higher.

"Higher?" I asked, pointing my shutter finger up.

"Yes!" she enthusiastically nodded.

"Okay." I shrugged. I stood up on the apple box, balancing myself as best I could.

"Oh!" I said, looking down at her young, beautiful, curvy, sexy, naked, nubile form, suddenly experiencing a pretty-girl-shooting epiphany of sorts. "You!" I pointed at her. "Submissive," I said, fairly certain I'd solved the mystery with my sometimes slow-ish melon.

"Yes!" She nodded. Actually, "Sí!" is what she said, this time with utmost enthusiasm and with the coyest of smiles.

At once, Lupe began posing super-seductively and making these incredibly submissive expressions while looking up at me with those freakin' awesome Spanish eyes and, well, let's just say it caused me to shoot most of the rest of the set with my legs crossed. Not so easily done, I might add, especially while balancing myself atop the long side of an old, somewhat dilapidated, apple box.

The pretty girl at the top is Lupe. It's from the very first time I shot her, on a white cyc in a studio, just a day or two after she arrived in this country. Sorry, but I don't have easy access to the pics in the kitchen I just wrote about. Most of my stuff is still packed away from my recent move. I know, I know, what a freakin' tease I am-- Heterosexually speaking, of course. Yeah! How about those Jets!

(Processing on the pic above kinda sucks as, what little processing I did, I did on my cheap, less-than-three-hundred-buck, laptop with its cheap LCD screen which, in a word, sucks. Oh well.)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

We Don't Need No Steenkeeng Photography Skills!

I spend a lot of time on forums, photo forums. Probably too much time. But still, doing so can be an education. Not so much an education in photography but more of an education regarding the attitudes many photographers appear to have these days. You know, their attitudes towards the craft of photography.

These days, especially amongst some new-ish photographers, it appears more than a few of them believe production skills--I'm talking about traditional camera and lighting skills--are way less important than post-production skills. In fact, I read posts by some who say that production skills don't matter much at all. I'm not saying this is true across the board. It's not. But, often enough, it's an attitude I see displayed on one particular (and popular) forum quite frequently.

But here's the deal, leastwise my opinion of the deal:

If you're gonna pursue photography as a career, it's probably in your best interests--aside from the business side of it--to learn all you can about production, i.e, about camera craft and the technical aspects of photographic production. You know, that part of photography when cameras are in your hands. I'll agree that, these days, it's also important to hone your Photoshop and other post-production skills but, for the most part, again IMO, production skills will carry you further as a photographer then post-production skills will.


While it's gotten easier and easier to frost a turd, what with Photoshop and all the nifty actions and cool third-party software available, a turd is still a turd regardless of the frosting applied.

Even if you're so clever with your post-production trickery that you can fool almost everyone into believing your turds are not, actually, turds, there are times when knowing how to produce something that isn't a turd might help you out immensely. In other words, knowing how to capture a non-turd-ish photo matters! Certainly, believe it or not, it matters to many potential clients, especially if you're looking at pursuing fashion, beauty, and/or glamour-and-tease as your photography career choices.

This might come as a big surprise to some but, often enough, when you're shooting in those above mentioned genres, you don't always get to perform the post-production on the images you've snapped. Nope. You're not even given the opportunity to frost those turds!

I know, I know... that sucks! What can I say? Life, and sometimes our pursuits in life, aren't fair. If you're a photographer, make that a fauxtographer, not being offered the opportunity to fix fuck-ups in post really sucks! I mean, how unjust is that? It's a freakin' travesty, right?

You see, instead of you getting to hide your incompetence shooting a camera, someone else processes your work and those "someone elses" also have to fix your fuck-ups. This is not something that makes those "someone elses" too happy. Often enough, and unfortunately for you, the fauxtographer, those people sometimes share their dissatisfaction regarding your work with (Shudder!) your clients!

It sometimes gets worse.

There are also times when you might find yourself shooting tethered. That means you're shooting for an audience, an audience that might include the person who is going to pay you, i.e., your client. Clients, you might remember, are also the people who, hopefully, will hire you again and, sometimes, even recommend you to others.

When shooting tethered, your audience isn't expecting to see a comedy; a comedy of errors, that is-- A photo-shoot version of a French farce played out with a photographer, a model, and a few other "cast" members. They want to see some seriously good work happening on that photographic stage.

Holy crap! Talk about pressure!

When shooting tethered, if your shit sucks, i.e., the stuff coming out of your camera sucks (as evidenced by what the audience is seeing on the screen) the client, along with everyone else, gets to immediately see that your capturing turds.

It still gets worse.

After seeing your turds on the screen, or later hearing from post-prod people that your production work sucks, the client will probably decide that you suck! As a photographer, that is. And then, suddenly, POOF! There might go that full or part-time career in the exciting world of photography you hoped to have had. Leastwise, in terms of shooting fashion, beauty, glamour and tease, and making some money at it.

It's interesting, on some photo forums, that more than a few people who call themselves photographers seem to have a negative, certainly ambivalent, attitude towards the traditional craft of photography.

We don't need no steenkeeng photography skills!

Go figure.

I'm just saying.

The pretty girl at the top is 2003 Penthouse "Pet of the Year," Sonny Leone. I snapped that semi-candid pic of Sonny at a production location last year. That's some whacky wallpaper, ain't it?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Why I Sometimes Shoot With a Cropped Sensor Camera

I have two camera bodies in my bag: A Canon 5D and a Canon 20D. As a rule, the 5D is my primary camera and the 20D serves as my backup. That aside, I sometimes decide to shoot with my 20D.

We all know the 5D sports a full-frame sensor on board while the 20D, like all Canon's double-digit-DSLR-cams, feature 1.6x cropped-sensors. The exception is the new 7D: Single-digit nomenclature yet also with a 1.6x cropped sensor.

When I go with my 20D, it's not to obtain further "reach" in an optical sense, i.e., to somehow magically turn 100mm into 160mm. That doesn't happen. You don't suddenly turn a lens into a longer lens because you're using a cropped-sensor camera. No-sir-ee. Technically and optically, you don't get more "reach" with a 1.6x cropped sensor. It only seems like you do because of the crop factor. But the fact that it "seems" like you do is what causes me to, sometimes, reach for my 20D.

When I go with my 20D, it's also not because I suddenly decide I want less pixels capturing the reflected light. More pixels can be a good thing but pixels aren't everything. For the most part, the 20D has sufficient pixels for most of the work I perform. Yeah, the 5D has a superior processor and other technology that trump the 20D but that's getting way too technical for me to write about and, frankly, those aren't huge factors when it comes to capturing good images, especially when shooting the kind of stuff I normally shoot.

Back to "it seems like" you get more reach...

While, technically, more reach from your glass does not happen with a cropped-sensor camera, what you see in the viewfinder appears as if you do. Sure, I could later crop an image captured with a full-frame sensor to match the crop obtained with a 1.6x sensor but cropping in post is not always the same as framing in production.

I prefer to frame my images, when shooting, in a way that most closely resembles what the finished image will appear like, composition-wise. Perhaps it's a product of my many years shooting with video cameras? You know, where there is no cropping later on, in post. Regardless, I try to avoid excessive "loose" framing other than with a nod towards text and graphical elements that might later be used with the images in ads, or for DVD cover art, or for other uses.

I prefer framing in-camera, I suppose, because there's something spontaneous, something in the moment, something in the way the model moves me that affects my framing and composition. (Sorry if that vaguely sounded like the lyrics of a Beatles tune.)

Often, there's a rhythm a photographer and model get into when shooting. I'm fairly sure many of you have experienced this. It's an awesome thing when it happens! Maybe not as awesome as sex but pretty cool, nonetheless. And that rhythm, leastwise for me, affects my framing and composition. If, instead, I simply relied on post (only) for cropping my way to finished composition, that composition might sometimes, certainly not always, suffer as a result. Why? In post, the rhythm with the model no longer exists and that something that was special in the moment is now history in terms of how it might have affected my framing and composition... if that makes sense.

The gratuitious eye candy at the top, with me sitting between her legs (great seating, btw) and her shining a light on me, is Kayla. I've probably posted this pic before but, due to my recent move, I'm still living out of boxes and my desktop computer, with its hard-drives containing so many images I've shot, remains unavailable to me.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I'm Outa There!

I was just getting back on an updating roll then, BOOM! I kinda got lax again. But this time I have a legitimate excuse: I've moved to a new residence.

To say, "I hate moving!" is an understatement. It truly sucks! (As if so many of you actually relish the act of moving your domicile.)

The only good thing that comes of moving, well, two good things are 1) you get to go through all your crap and get rid of the stuff you have no idea why you kept in the first place and 2) the place you're moving to represents a positive change in your life.

Both apply to me.

I literally, and in so many ways, hated where I was living. I know hate is a harsh word--and now I've used it twice in this update--but, in this case, it applies. Actually, it wasn't so much where I was living, I loved the location, but with who. (Whom?) I should note I don't actually hate, as in completely despise, intensely loathe, and fervently wish horrible things upon the who/whom I'm referring to but, in terms of sharing a residence with them, and all *that* included, hate applies... if that makes sense. I won't go into details as that could fill a book, albeit a petty, boring-as-hell book. I'll leave the consequences of their ways, their actions and behaviors, to karma. The reasons I didn't move sooner, lame as they were, had to do with sheer laziness, unjustifiable procrastination, a heaping dose of stupidity, and dreading the act of moving.

Anyway, the move is done, courtesy of three or four miserable days of going through all the crap moving entails and also courtesy of my son and my son-in-law: They felt sorry for the "old man" and volunteered to do the lion's share of the grunt work. Actually, my son-in-law volunteered. My nearly 14-year-old son was, uhhh.. partially leveraged into helping. But he was great! Never complained! In fact, they both were great, working their butts off carrying my stuff and more!

Sorry this update has nothing to do with pretty girl shooting. I have occasionally noted I sometimes use this blog for angst relief. I'm still settling into my new digs. Nearly all my junk remains packed. But I didn't want too much time to go by without posting something, anything, even if it's as off-topic to this blog as this update happens to be, angst relief not withstanding.

The pretty girl at the top is beautiful, sexy, raven-haired, Spanish (from Madrid, Spain) Rebecca from a couple of years ago. I may have posted this pic before. Sorry if I have. At the moment, I only have my laptop available. My desktops are still packed along with access to most of my pics. Rebecca captured with a single key light, placed on the other side of that French door. The balance of illumination was all ambient.

Friday, November 27, 2009

New Mola-Light Blog

From the good folks who brought us the Mola line of beauty dishes comes a blog with everything you ever wanted to know about Mola beauty dishes.

Actually, since the Mola Light blog is brand-spanking-new, everything you ever wanted to know about them probably hasn't been posted yet. But as the Mola-Light blog grows and evolves, everything and anything about Mola dishes will probably, eventually, be covered.

I'm a Mola owner. I have a 33.5" Mola "Euro." When I still had my studio, I shot often with my MBD. Since giving up the studio, I've used my Mola much less. That's mostly because it's not the easiest modifier in my lighting arsenal to schlep around with me. But still, for me, it's *the* modifier of choice when I really want some beautiful, soft, creamy, wraparound light. Yep. When that's what I want, my Mola is often my go-to modifier.

Check out the new Mola-Light blog. There's plenty already there to make your visit informative and entertaining. Tell 'em JimmyD, the pretty girl shooter, sent ya!

The pretty girl at the top is Roxy from a few years ago. Roxy captured in front of a green seamless using my Mola "Euro" as my main light modifier.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Meters v. Histograms

This isn't going to be one of those "old photographers do it by the meter," updates. It's not a rant. I'm not going to infer that, if you're not using a light meter, you're not a "real" photographer. I just want to point out a few advantages of metering over relying on histograms.

Let's say you shoot weddings. I don't but, for the sake of argument, let's say I do. I'd probably be using a light meter for, at least, the formal portraits. Why? Well, because wedding photographers are dealing with lots of whites, as in wedding dresses. Could I use a histogram to dial in those whites? Sure, but possibly at the expense of skin tones. When there's a lot of white in an image, a histogram is going to look like you might be over-exposed, with a bunch of peaks on the right.

On the other hand, a meter allows you to precisely know what's going on with those whites while, at the same time, letting you know what's going on with the skin tones. By metering (and lighting) you can strike a great balance between the whites and the skin tones. If you're really clever, you'll be able to light, meter, and expose for both the whites as well as those black tuxedos, showing detail in both.

Let's say you shoot art nudes. I don't but, once again, for the sake of argument, let's say I do. Again, I'd be using a light meter. Why? Well, because in art nude photography, shooters are often dealing with shadows. Lots of shadows. Shadows often approaching black. Once again, by metering (and lighting) you can strike a more precise balance between the models' skin tones and the shadows. If you're relying on a histogram to give you this information, the histogram is going to look like you're under-exposed, with a bunch of peaks on the left.

Histograms are great. They're helpful and can lead you to proper exposure. But there are enough situations where the histogram is going to be misleading. Sure, possibly as much as 80% of the time you can get a good exposure using a histogram alone, especially if you're experienced reading them. But for that other 20%, a meter is what's going to dial you into proper exposure. I know some of you are thinking, "No problem. I shoot RAW. I can fix my exposure fuck-ups when I convert."

True enough. Leastwise, much of the time... but not always.

You blow those whites completely out and no amount of RAW converting is going to recover detail that simply isn't captured. Conversely, same holds true with shadows, albeit to a lesser extent, i.e., there's often detail in shadows even when they look very black. But blown-out highlights? Fuhgetaboutit!

BTW, while histograms will get you through most any exposure environments in a pinch, relying on the LCD screen alone is, well, is too iffy even for government work.

Ever watch those BTS vids of notable pros shooting? If the vid's content has much depth, you might have noticed those peeps are most always using a meter. Leastwise, an assistant is wielding one. If you aspire to be the next Annie L. or Greg Gorman or David LaChappelle or any number of top-notch shooters, you might want to consider getting and using a light meter, assuming you don't already own and use one.

The pretty girl at the top, trying either to push her way out of the picture or keep me at bay, you decide, is Dylan from a few months ago.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tis the Season to Be Jolly! (Yes and No)

This week, the Thanksgiving holiday officially kicks off the Christmas season, leastwise, for most Americans.

Traditionally, it's always been my slow time of year. I don't expect the 2009 Christmas season to be any different. I'm not saying there will be no work. There will simply be less work. Significantly less work.

I'm not crying or whining. I've long been aware this happens each and every year.

Still, it's always "Ouch!"

If I were a more fiscally responsible person, I'd save more for the Christmas work doldrums. But me being me, that doesn't seem to ever happen. I had, for instance, enough cash to get me through this year's slow period with little concern but, of course, there was that Harley I couldn't resist. Paid cash for it! Also bought some new glass and lighting gear. Paid cash for that stuff as well. Doing so used up, pretty much, all my "rainy day" cash.

Oh well.

I guess it's how I roll.

For some photographers, this is probably a great time of year. What, with shooting family Christmas portraits, company parties and such. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on one's perspective, that's not what I do.

I suck at marketing and business. Truly suck! There. I said it! These days, marketing and business is probably a bigger part of making money off the family and event biz than being good at photography might be.

Again, I'm not whining or complaining. It is what it is and I yam what I yam.

None of this is to say I curl up in a ball and wait for the new year to arrive. I try to use this time of year to accomplish other things, things that might net me some cash down the road or stuff that simply interests me or things I've put off doing.

I haven't had a "day job" in about 20 years. In all that time, I've made my living, as a freelancer, with cameras in my hands and/or computer screens in front of me. It's what I know how to do. It's what I love doing.

In some ways, like many people, what I do defines me. Course, that Harley also defines me, albeit in other ways... as do other things in my life.


I'm just saying.

The pretty girl at the top is Alexa, captured during the same production and at the same studio location with, basically, the same lighting as the last image (of another model) I posted in my previous update.

Sorry for the somewhat "woe is me" update. Sometimes, I use this blog for angst relief.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Choosing Your Key Modifier

Decisions, decisions!

If you're at all like me, you have gear that offers more than one choice for a key light (main light) modifier. I'm talking, of course, about when you're using strobes.

There's all kinds of potential candidates for the key modifier job and different situations and/or environments might dictate which modifier makes most sense. Other times, the "look" you're going after pushes you towards one modifier over another. Still other times, it's simply about which modifier you feel like using for a variety of reasons-- including what might be the quickest and easiest to set up. (The last one often dictates my key light modifier choice... but I'm sometimes mostly lazy that way.)

Lighting manufacturers offer a big array of modifiers to choose from: From umbrellas to soft boxes to panels and scrims to ring flashes to beauty dishes and more. Of course, some people like to shoot bare bulb. Bare-bulbers, I'm thinking, might be photographers who are also nudists.

Just joking.


I'm not going to attempt to write about all the reasons you might choose one modifier over another. That's a subject that sometimes takes up a chapter or more in photography books. But I will mention a few things that might push you towards choosing one key modifier over another, especially if you're a pretty girl shooter.

When shooting beauty and a lot of glamour, soft is good. Soft lighting isn't always the way to go, depending on the look you want to give your images but, often enough, soft is the way many glam and beauty shooters go. Leastwise, for their key or main light. (Note: Just to make sure we're all on the same page, when I say "soft" I'm speaking to the quality of the light. I'm not talking about focus.)

If you're thinking soft, you're probably thinking bigger modifiers. You know, like BIG soft boxes and BIG umbrellas and BIG whatever you're using. The bigger the better if soft is your goal. When it comes to lighting, soft lighting, size does matter. If you don't have BIG, you should be thinking of moving your key modifier in as close to your model as possible. That way, the source becomes bigger by virtue of its proximity to the subject. It's kind of like those words printed on your car's side-view mirror about things appearing closer than they appear... sort of, in a round-about way. Or maybe not.


My two, fave, key modifiers, not necessarily in order of preference, are Octos and beauty dishes. I own a Mola 33.5" "Euro" and a 5' Photoflex Octodome. Through one of my regular clients, I also have regular access to a 7' Photoflex Octodome.

There are some distinguishable differences between the Mola dish and an Octo. Most notably, the Mola provides more "wrap-around" light while the Octos seem to produce less of that quality. I've never shot with a big parabolic but I'm thinking it also provides a lot of wrap-around light quality.

Many shooters use grids on their big light sources. Grids provide more control, i.e., less spread to the light. They also effect wrap-around quality as they make the light more directional. Grids, I should add, don't particularly reduce the soft qualities of a big light source. I mean, they might to some extent, but you'd probably need scientific instruments to measure a grid's effect on softness.

I should also note that I have a white, silk, baffle for my Mola but I almost never use it. The baffle, to my eye, alters the effect of the dish, turning it into something that more closely resembles a soft box in its light quality. If I want the look of a soft box I'll use a soft box.

I hear a lot of shooters say they're in search of their "style." Style comprises many elements, from composition to color and exposure, to so many other things. Lighting certainly is one of those elements. In fact, its a BIG element when defining one's style.

I suggest people experiment with using a variety of key modifiers until they find one or two that, for the most part, makes them happy. That's not to say that once you've found some favorites you should ignore all the other possibilities. Variety is the spice of life. Changing up your choices in this matter shows a greater range of lighting acumen. You probably don't want to appear static or stagnant in your lighting approaches in spite of your desires to create a definable and recognizable personal style.

The pretty girl at the top is Kat from some time ago. It was shot in a studio in North Hollywood, CA. I lit Kat with my 5' Photoflex Octo for a main, set slightly to my right at about the same height as me. (I'm 5'10") To camera-left, at about a 45 behind the model, I set a medium Chimera strip box on a stand with the top of the box about even with the top of the model's head. To camera-right, I used a small, silver-lined umbrella, boomed up fairly high also coming from behind Kat. I snapped the image with a Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime on my 5D.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Photography as a Profession: Its Future

...Or lack of one.

I don't envy young or new photographers starting out these days, leastwise, those with a mind towards making a career out of it. It's a tough business made tougher by the economy, technology, and more competition than ever.

It doesn't matter whether your hopes and dreams include being a photo-journalist or shooting editorial, fashion, glamour/tease, commercial, events, or most anything else. These days, the future for professional photographers looks like a bleak landscape, more so for those just starting out.

The economy sucks. No startling news there. Newspapers and magazines are shutting down in droves. Soccer Moms and Uncle Alberts are shooting weddings and events for near nothing. Everyone, it seems, is as good as the pros or think they are. What's happened to the career photographers who once owned these businesses and others? They're now competing with everyone else for whatever is left, photo-wise. It's like a pack of dogs fighting for scraps.

Photographic technologies have moved forward by leaps and bounds. Never has the technological state-of-the-art been so dynamic or seen such advances in such a short time! The results? Photography approaches no-brainer status, i.e., in terms of capturing images that are, or seem, competent in terms of their technical aspects.

Competition is overwhelming. Everyone, it seems, is a shooter. And many of them are shooting stock or posting pics on FlickR and elsewhere or giving images away for bragging rights, allowing the folks who once paid well for good images to pick and choose photos that are good-enough and pay little or nothing for them.

Of the many iconic photographers of yesteryear, how many of them would be able to make a dent in today's photo markets? Sure, talent is meaningful and the cream rises to the top. But when there's so little room for the cream to rise, and when so much cream (and other stuff masquerading as cream) is poured into the mix, the odds of standing out become longer.

From where I'm sitting, these trends will continue. For the career photographer, current or would-be, the future doesn't look so rosy. It looks more difficult than ever. Yes, some will always succeed. But the number of people who comprise those "some" are becoming fewer and fewer.

On the other hand, it's probably the greatest time ever to be a hobbyist!

The pretty girls at the top taking a bubble bath are dark-haired Sofia and blond Devin. Snapped that one in a house in Vegas in '07. The future didn't look so rosy then either, athough not as un-rosy-like as today. Image captured with a Canon 5D w/85mm prime. As I recall, I used a single light to illuminate them: A monolight with a Photoflex 5' Octodome to modify and, if I also remember right, a flex-fill reflector for some fill. (That bathroom wasn't very big.)

Note: This update is a cut-and-paste of a post I made on MM this morning. Since many of you aren't big fans of MM, I thought I'd re-post here. I was overdue for an update, after all.

The MM version of this update really blew up and it's still going strong. If any of you who read this blog are people who also participate on MM, and you responded thoughtfully to my MM OP, please feel free to follow my lead and cut-and-paste your MM response here, in the PGS comments. I'm sure there are some who visit here, and not MM, who would like to hear your thoughts on this.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

DIY vs. Paying for the Real Deal

I got sucked into a Model Mayhem thread recently that was about DIY gear (Do It Yourself) versus paying for manufactured equipment. I can't believe how easily I can be drawn into these things. As is usually the case with MM threads, it morphed and distorted and zig-zagged around the original subject but, at first, it remained relatively on topic.

The OP (Original Poster) was wondering if he should make/use DIY gear or should he save up and buy manufactured stuff.

I suggested he use whatever he could until he was able to purchase the real McCoys.

But since, as is often the case on MM, the thread got somewhat personal with a few people becoming asses assertive in their opinions, I might have occasionally raised my emotional level, just a hair, to make my points.

Please note these are my opinions on the subject. Some or many of you might disagree. That's the beauty of opinions: I can have mine and you can have yours and we all should still be able to peacefully co-exist, in the real world or the cyber world. I know. I know. How naive is that?


I have a fair amount of money invested in lighting and grip. I don't think I spent that money because I'm an idiot. (Altho me being an idiot is, at times, debatable.)

All lighting instruments are not created equal. Their qualities, other than simply producing photons, are varied: Power ranges, flash durations, recycling times, maintaining color temps throughout those power ranges, build quality and reliability, and more. If you want better performance, better quality, more versatility, you're gonna have to pay for it.

Example: Profotos versus shop lights from Home Depot? No brainer. Profotos versus crap from Hong Kong? Still no brainer if you're really serious about lighing and photography. (I don't mean to only pimp Profoto. There's plenty of great manufacturers of quality lighting instruments out there.)

All lighting modifiers are not created equal. Again, their qualities differ, sometimes immensely, sometimes in more subtle ways. The right tool for the job is key to modifying light. As an example, I don't own a Mola beauty dish because I'm too dense or narrow-minded to believe a big, modified, DIY'd salad bowl will get the job done equally well.

I don't own Chimera and Photoflex softboxes because I'm an elitist and stick my nose up at cheap-oh shit from Hong Kong, offered on Ebay, even though it's built to the same standards. (Yeah, right.)

All grip gear is not created equal. I don't use stands and arms and clamps from companies like Matthews, American Grip, Norms and others because I'm blind to the fact that wobbly, questionably constructed, cheap-ass, unreliable grip gear--stuff that can be bought for very little--is just as good as the pro gear or because I'm a gear-snob or because I don't know I can find things at Home Depot that might suffice.

Do I sometimes buy shit from Home Depot to use in my photography? Sure. Do I occasionally cobble stuff together to modify or control light? Absolutely. Do I think, because I can cobble or head over to Home Depot, manufactured gear is a waste of money?

Photographers, please.

The pretty girl pics at the top are a couple of more snaps from last week's shoot with Lupe. Three light sources: Two medium umbrellas, either side, from the front, and a shoot-thru, boomed high and from the side/behind, on the left. Canon 5D, 70-200 f/4 L, ISO 100, f/8 at 160th. Lighting is fairly flat across for my personal tastes but that's what the client wanted so who am I to disagree?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Model Mayhem's Mayhem

Been too long since I've updated: A combination of being busy and being lazy. I'd lay the blame about 50% on each of those factors.

I've been spending some of that lazy time on Model Mayhem lately. Nothing Earth-shattering about that. It's just that MM isn't a forum I've invested too much time with in the past.

Generally, I perceive MM as more a social networking site and less a photography forum. It's like MySpace or Facebook with a model/photographer theme. Nothing inherently wrong there although I spend very little time on Facebook and I deleted my MySpace account about 6 months ago due to my complete lack of interest.

So why MM? Well, once you get past the many recycled subjects, there's much on MM to amuse, entertain, and occasionally enlighten. Some of the recycled subjects, btw, remain amusing regardless of how often they are recycled.

My first post on MM, a thread that I started, got shut-down and locked fairly quickly. I don't even remember what it was about but it caused a stir and I don't really remember why. Maybe it's just me? Whatever. Anyway, I didn't intend my post to be controversial but I guess some people thrive on controversy and, to be honest, I'm not exactly allergic to it nor do I run from it.

Of those recycled subjects I mentioned, the lion's share of them are either about models flaking, models with "demands" in their profiles, models not responding to messages and emails, GWCs, diva models, models' boyfriends, model escorts, model nudity, and scams. As you can see, the common denominator in many recycled threads are models.

There's an obvious love/hate relationship between models and photographers, assuming MM is representative of these two groups as a whole. While models and photographers need each other, leastwise if we're talking "pretty girl shooting," this symbiotic relationship is often strained.

The folks who populate MM are a varied bunch in terms of experience. You have everything from brand-spanking-new models and shooters to those with much experience. The newbies, no doubt, account for many of the forum's subjects being recycled over and over and over. Yet, those who have been around that forum for quite a while still take the bait and participate in those threads. Go figure.

As for pro models/photographers versus serious hobbyists, not-so-serious wannabees and GWCs, I'd say the 80/20 rule applies with 20% of those who participate being pros. For the purpose of this update, I'll liberally define pros as being those who earn 25% or more of their total income from modeling or photography, regardless of whether they're any good at what they do.

There are some amazing portfolios on MM. Some truly stellar work! Often, they're stellar due to post-processing, sometimes due to the photography and, least of all, a combination of both. I'm not making any post-prod versus production judgments here. I'm just saying. And, of course, for every stellar port there are 10 or more that suck. Again, I'm just saying.

I don't know how long before my interest in MM wains. I'm easily amused so I might be taking part in the games there for a while. When participating on forums becomes tedious, boring, or sans any real knowledge gains, I usually back off. So, predicting how long I'll remain interested in being an active, participating MM member is difficult.

I'm not on MM, like many, to prospect and mine the TF potential of the many models who are MM's members. TF, of course, means "Trade For." You can fill in the what, e.g., Trade For Pics, prints, CDs, whatever. Anyway, I'm not much of a TF kinda guy. I guess, for me, it's like working in a candy factory: I love candy but, if I made my living making it or selling it, I probably wouldn't be as interested in eating it. The idea of spending my off-work time doing what I do when I'm at work isn't overly appealing to me unless, of course, there's some special reasons to do so... if that makes sense.

The pretty girl at the top is Lupe from two days ago. She is so much fun to shoot! She knows exactly what she's doing and contributes a lot of ideas to the work. She also brings enthusiasm, a winning smile, and an all-purpose positive vibe to a set. Plus, she's beautiful and sexy as hell. It doesn't get much better than that.

Lupe shot with a Canon 5D and a Tamron 28-75: ISO 100, f/8 @ 125. I lit her with two Profoto Acute 2 heads: The key modified with a 42" silver-lined umbrella, just to my right, and the other modified with a small, white, shoot-thru, boomed from behind, up high, angled down, camera left.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Should Photos Come With Warning Labels?

The brouhaha about uber-skinny models continues. Opponents believe Twiggy-like models are negatively influencing women and young girls by setting body standards for beauty that are difficult, if not impossible, to realize. Some opponents contend that manipulated images should be labeled as such.

The latest fracas involves Ralph Lauren's company and a model, Filippa Hamilton, who has been a long-time staple of Lauren's marketing and advertising campaigns. An absurd image of a Photoshop-induced, body-distorted Hamilton appeared on the cover of a Ralph Lauren catalog in Japan.

Here's the image causing the stir. Obviously, someone got carried away with the Liquefy Tool and whoever was responsible for approving the catalog's pictures didn't object.

Ms. Hamilton, in interviews, says her long-term contract with Ralph Lauren was terminated because, according to Hamilton, she was fired for being too fat.

Recently, Hamilton appeared on MSNBC to discuss her issues with the photo as well as her dispute with Ralph Lauren. You can view the video interview HERE.

Personally, I think the notion of warning labels on pretty girl pics are a crock of shite. There are many consumer-targeted images, as well as consumer products that include warning labels. Cigarettes are a good example. Anyone believe tons of smokers have quit because of the warning labels on a pack of smokes? Or plastered on advertisements?

Me neither.

Some warning labels are effective and appropriate, e.g., those that read, "Poison." And while cigarettes probably qualify as poison, it's a different kind of poison: One with addictive qualities as well one that ain't gonna kill you right away or make you dangerously sick in an immediate manner.

Same goes for warning labels on images. I don't think the incidence of anorexia are going to seriously decline because an image of a supermodel, one where she appears extraordinarily thin, comes with a label that reads, "This Image Has Been Altered and Manipulated for Aesthetic Reasons."

While I agree there's undo pressure on young girls in terms of body shape and beauty in general, i.e., it's the fashion industry that is setting unreal and unachievable standards for beauty, it seems to me it's up to childrens' parents to set them straight and help them understand what is beautiful about them, what is healthy and what is not.

I also understand that obesity is a major health problem, especially in America. But again, I defer to parents. Try monitoring what your kids are eating, how much they're eating, how much exercise they're getting and maybe think about preparing a healthy lunch or dinner for your kids, rather than taking them to the local MickeyD's next time they're hungry.

I'm as guilty as the next photographer of altering and manipulating images of the models I shoot. Sure, I'm trying to make them look as good as they can. I don't merely rely on post-production to do this. I use lighting, pose, makeup, hair, composition, and wardrobe and props to achieve this. I'll admit I also use post-processing techniques. But these techniques aren't the only trick I employ and I don't overly depend on post.

The image at the top is Penthouse Pet, Shawna Lenee. Rather than glamming her up, my client wanted her more natural, i.e., with the makeup and hair. Although Shawna is in her mid-twenties, they also wanted her looking like a late-teen. Besides the makeup, that direction impacted my lighting, as well as the poses and expressions. I don't think Shawna looks unachievable in terms of beauty and body shape. Yeah, those tits cost a few a bucks. But breast enhancements aren't completely out of the reach of most women these days. They've certainly become commonplace enough.

Here's a thought: Do you fantasize about spending the night with a young lady with a body-shape similar Shawna's? Or, do you dream of spending quality time with a woman with Twiggy's shape? Yeah, I know that some of you guys like 'em skinny. Maybe even real skinny. But most of you don't.

Shawna captured with a Canon 5D w/ 17-40 f/4 L glass. I used three, Profoto Acute2 heads: Two in front on either side, modified with medium umbrellas, and another, boomed up high on the left side and modified with a small, shoot-thru, umbrella. ISO 100, f/8 @ 125. MUA was Sarah.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Baby Baby Baby

I had some minor outpatient surgery yesterday so, today, I'm recuperating. Jeez! The recovery is worse than the freakin' procedure! It's nothing particularly serious so the blog is in no imminent danger of becoming collateral damage due to my "gettin' old" syndromes and maladies. But, I'll admit, I'm not up for writing a real update at the moment.


A friend sent me some YouTube videos and I thought I'd share. Now I know why so many shooters want to go to Paris. The models are bee-you-tee-full and, apparently, up for almost anything, naked-in-front-of-a-camera-wise. (Gotta love that!)

The first one has great eye candy. The second one is for laughs. And the third one is for even bigger laughs. IMO, #3 has hotter chicks than those in #1. But maybe that's just me? I'm also thinking #3 wasn't shot in Gay Paree! Looks more like in or around L.A.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The "X" Factor Redux

Since a photographer whose photos I enjoy viewing, and whose blog I often check out, dug deep into the PGS archives to comment on something I wrote over three years ago (Yikes!)I thought I'd republish it, perhaps with some extra commentary.

BTW, the shooter/blogger who dug and commented is a guy named Ed Verosky, an Austin, TX, photographer.

Republishing this also means I don't have to write something new from scratch. Cuz that's how I roll sometimes... lazy.

I'm also gonna update the pretty girl pic I used in the OP, probably make a few minor edits to the text, and I'll include the comments some readers made back then plus Ed's comment of today.

Here's my OP, titled The "X" Factor:

More than a few people on this planet view glamour photography as pornography. That is a fact of glamour photography life and, for the most part, neither you nor I are going to change many of the millions of narrow-minded minds regarding this. Once you put a pretty girl in front of a camera and she removes some clothing or poses seductively, sensuously, sexually-invitingly, or in any way erotically, there are people who are simply going to brand it with a Scarlet P, feign disgust, and heap scorn on the photographer, the model, probably both.

I've read through many photography forum threads wherein the contributors attempted to explain the differences between porn and glamour/erotic photography. An uncomplicated and slightly humorous explanation is simply, "the lighting." But I've seen enough legitimate glamour photography with really poor lighting to toss that explanation aside. Just because the lighting is atrocious lacking finesse and/or is artistically non-existent doesn't make a so-called glamour-shot porn. Of course and conversely, great lighting in a true pornographic image doesn't suddenly make that image glamourous or automatically place it in the realm of gallery-quality erotic photography.

A dude in black robes once said something like, "I can't define porn but I know it when I see it." Since this person was never proclaimed the Grand High Exalted Mystic Porn Czar, I, for one, have never been willing to take his word for it. Although it's probable that some of you might agree, in principle, with the underlying intent of that statement, and you might believe that porn, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder, I don't agree nor do I buy into that explanation either.

For the purpose of defining porn as opposed to glamour and/or erotic photography, i.e, this wonderful and exciting genre of photography that I pursue as do many of you, I've developed a self-explanatory checklist to help people determine whether an image is, most likely, pornographic: Pornographic, that is, in terms of its sexual content or sexually implicit content. I call this checklist The Three P's.

Here they are:

Penis (Erect)
Pink (You know what I mean.)
Penetration (Again, you know what I mean.)

If your image contains any or all of the above, it is, more than likely, a pornographic image. If it does not, it probably is not... porn, that is.

Now that I've cleared that up for all of you and, indeed, for the entire world's population, I think we can safely and comfortably call this discussion closed.

Okay. Fast forward to the present...

The porn v. glamour discussion, of course, never has been closed and probably never will be. My Three P's is little more than a general guide. It's like saying, "It's pretty hot out," versus saying "My thermometer says the outside temperature is 101 F."

By the way, the "I know it when I see it" standard for obscenity (not necessarily porn) came straight from the mouth of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. I knew that when I originally wrote the article but I thought I was being clever and witty by only quoting the statement, rather than quoting and crediting it. Obviously, some readers didn't notice my tongue-in-cheekyness as evidenced by some of the comments I've republished below. If you want to read more about how a bunch of Supreme Court justices tried to define obscenity, you can CLICK HERE.

Here's the comments from back when I first published The "X" Factor update... plus Ed's comment of today:

Anonymous said: "Somewhere, I once read about a person who supposedly said something like this: 'I can't define porn but I know it when I see it.'" It was a US Supreme Court justice, although I don't remember his name. He's dead now, which is a shame 'cause we've lost the only reliable way to separate porn from non-porn!

Gunslinger said: Jimmy, I believe it was Chief Justice Earl Warren who made the famous quote. I believe in the same decision he said that pornography contained no artistic value, but rather appealed only to the prurient interests of the viewer. I think that means when you see it, all you can think of is sex. Been to a mall lately? Times have changed since that ruling and the court is still reluctant to define it.

Anonymous said: I don't necessarily consider "pink" to be pornographic. It depends on the context, as does most everything.

Trekkie said: Love your commentary. Having grown up in a 'red state' (Kansas) I discovered how backwards a lot of community's can be which is why I hate 'community standards'

Because even in evolution hating Kansas there are bright spots of realists such as Lawrence, KS and the suburbs on the Kansas side of the Kansas City metroplex that are decidedly 'blue' in their political leaning. It's just that they don't have a crazy preacher of a shepherd telling them to go vote for the nut job, and thus you see what you get.

I've always enjoyed your commentary posts on G1 so good to see you have a blog to keep up with

James said: Sometimes when I crit images on PSig the art v. porn debate comes up. I believe that if you're going to mix the three P's into your art you have to make the artiness more identifiable. The viewer will decide if the image more likely to be displayed as art or used as sheet music for a one handed organ solo in a split second. That's how long you have to convey that there is a message in the piece if you want your work to be considered art while containing (or just hinting at) elements of porn.

Ed said: Are we assuming here, that porn is a negative or illegitimate thing? Pictures, made for a particular human response. Why isn't there a big debate about "commercial photography" vs. "art"? Those lines are most certainly blurred, too. You guys in your forums, stop feeling so guilty about the pictures you like to look at.

Ed, I agree. And just so ya know, I don't ever feel guilty about the pictures I like to look at or, for that matter, the ones I snap. (Well, most of the ones I snap... but that's for another update. Or, maybe not.)

The pretty girl at the top is Penthouse Pet, Tori Black, from a short while back. It's a non-porn pic from a set that, shortly thereafter, became porn pics.