Saturday, January 31, 2009

Always Have a Plan B

"Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."

You've heard it before. It's Murphy's Law and it too often proves true.

I shoot on location a lot. Murphy's Law takes on special meaning on location shoots. That's why I try to have a Plan B when shooting in places I'm unfamiliar with. What do I mean by Plan B? It means doing my best to be prepared for, ready for, Murphy's Law.

A big piece of Plan B, for me, means having back-up gear. I know that if some of my gear is going to go South or make life difficult for me, it's going to do so when I'm on location. That's why I have a back-up camera body, back-up glass, back-up strobes, back-up eye-glasses, back-up flash cards, and a way to back-up the photos. But sometimes, even with back-up gear, Murphy's Law finds a way.

Here's an example from a recent location shoot.

We were in an auto body shot. I set up my lights and shot the first set with the first model. Everything was running smoothly. But suddenly, my strobes seemed to acquire a mind of their own. They began firing, continuously and erratically. Okay. I figured there might be a short somewhere in my system: Either with the transmitters, receivers, or the strobes themselves. Since only one strobe, my mainlight, was being fired with a wireless system and the two others optically, I decided the short was, most likely, happening with the light that was part of the wireless system.

I swapped out the receiver. The strobe kept firing. I swapped out the transmitter. The strobe kept firing. I swapped out the strobe. The new strobe kept firing.

I was perplexed. I was also getting concerned. The strobes were firing or trying to fire on their own so often, about once a second or faster, they didn't have time to recycle. This was seriously messing with my game. Especially since my strobes were set to almost full power. (Increasing recycle time.)

Then, like a mini-epiphany washing over me, I thought, "I wonder if it's a frequency thing?"

I changed the frequencies on the transmitter and receiver of my cheap, Ebay-purchased, wireless system. (They are capable of 4 different operating frequencies.)


The strobes quit firing at will.

Whatever was interfering with the original frequency was not messing with the new frequency. Perhaps, earlier, when the strobes were firing away, I sub-consciously noted that when I pulled the receiver out of the strobe it didn't fire? I'll admit I didn't consciously think of that.

Okay. That worked.

But that's not the Plan B part. What if changing frequencies didn't work? What if I couldn't get the wireless system to work? I needed a back-up plan for if or when a complete failure of the wireless system happens.

Option: Have back-up transmitters and receivers. But I already do. Four sets in fact. So I needed another option.

Solution: A long PC sync cord: A cheap, low-tech solution. So that's what I did. I bought myself a 15' PC sync cord. If, for whatever reason, all my wireless systems fail on me, like in the event of an electro-magnetic pulse from a nuclear blast or for some other reason, I'll go hard-wire to my mainlight (I'm rarely more than 15' away from it) and let the other strobes fire optically.

The pretty girl at the top is Felony from the auto body shop sets. She was that "first model" I referred to above. She's also from the "the stills could'a been better" shoot I wrote about recently. I cropped it a little weird as I've decided to crop out genitalia for pics I'm posting to this blog. There's a bunch of reasons for doing this but I'm not going to go into all of them now.

BTW, speaking of "the stills could'a been better," I recently came across a quote attributed to photographer, Diane Arbus. She said, "I never have taken a picture I've intended. They're always better or worse."

Ain't that the truth!

Friday, January 30, 2009

One-Two Punch for Photographers?

The internet, affordable prosumer dSLRs, microstock and image hosting sites like Flickr and others, and a whole new generation of serious hobby photographers have taken it's toll on professional shooters. Suddenly, everyone with a dSLR and a computer is a pro, albeit a weekend, part-time, avocational pro.

Let's say you're someone looking for a photographer, for instance...

You need someone to photograph your wedding. No problem. There's thousands of shooters to choose from, many of them related to you or working with you on the day job or, at the very least, somehow connected to you by less than six degrees of separation: You know, those friends of friends and friends of friends of friends.

You need images for your new marketing strategy? No problem. There's millions (yeah, millions) of photos to choose from courtesy of the many microstock sites on the net. And best of all, many images can be had for a only a buck or two.

You need editorial imagery for a magazine article? No Problem. Flickr also hosts millions of images and many of the photographers who posted them would be thrilled, make that ecstatic, to license their photos to your prestigious publication... for free! They won't even ask for a tear. They'll buy your magazine and tear out their own tear. That's almost like them paying you to publish their photo!

These examples are the hard left jab to the right hook that's now pummeling pro shooters.

Right hook?

Yep. You guessed it. The economy.

As if everyone's cousin Albert's new-found love of photography, snap-shot-shooting soccer Mom's, weekend warriors with cameras, Digital Debbies, and GWCs weren't enough to make a grown, professional photographer cry, here comes the freakin' economy. Or should I say, "There goes the economy!" Suddenly, no one seems to have much money to spend on pro shooters who earned their bones the old-fashioned way. I'm talking about everyone from your friends and relatives who are about to get married to huge corporations who used to spend on experienced photographers.

Now I know many of you who read this blog fall into some of the categories I listed above. But just so you know, I'm not pissed at you guys nor do I resent or hold anything against you. Things are what they are. It's progress, I suppose, and I certainly can't halt progress. Besides, I completely understand how easy it is to fall hopelessly in love with photography. Photography captured my heart many years ago and still hasn't loosened its grip on it. I'm just ranting about business. Besides, I doubt anyone reading this blog has taken any bread off my table. Most of you didn't jump into photography because you thought it was all so very simple and you could easily undercut the guys doing it for a living. You jumped into it because it's fun, challenging, and creative.

Here's what does piss me off, including some of the folks who are causing... make that enhancing my angst.

First, I don't believe there's substantially less money available to spend on quality photography. I think that, if I may be completely candid, a whole lot of people are full of shit in a whole lot of ways. There's a big difference between not being able to afford appropriate and reasonable budgets for photography and refusing to spend on such budgets. Viewers have been dumbed-down when it comes to photography and buyers of photo art are well aware of this.

We live in a country where the most prosperous of our citizens are prospering nicely--incredibly well, in fact--while many of us, not just professional photographers, are taking it in the shorts. Not only are the prosperous prospering -- Mobil Exxon just announced record-setting profits for the 2nd year in a row of $45.2B -- they're thumbing their noses at the rest of us. Don't believe me? Here's an example I learned about just today:

While another 100,000 people lost their jobs just this past week, while so many hard-working Americans are losing their homes, AIG, the largest recipient of federal bail-out money, announced they're going ahead with plans to dish out $450M in bonuses to their execs, i.e., to those very same people who screwed up the company and, to some extent, the country. Four-hundred and fifty million dollars! That's a four and a five with seven zeros behind it! Are you freakin' kidding me?

To make matters worse, for me at least, it turns out that certain industries, i.e., those which were thought to be recession-proof, aren't recession-proof at all. The industry I often work in is one of those thought to be recession-proof. It ain't. It's in the toilet.

Just today I sent a text to the production manager of a company that is often cited as the most successful in the adult biz, the top of the "A" list. I haven't worked for them since just before Turkey Day. I read an interview with their CEO the other day who said, essentially, while sales have declined in certain sectors of the market, others are doing well and the decline in sales has had no effect on production or production plans.

"Anything on the horizon for February?" My text asked.

The response came within seconds.


The smoking girl at the top is Cytherea. Shot it two or three years ago. It was from a set I think of as studio-lit semi-candids. Cy wanted a smoke. I said, okay. But stay there and smoke while I shoot. She shrugged and lit up. They're not completely candid, of course, that's why I call 'em semi-candid. Obviously, she's playing to the camera... flirting with it... seducing it. I didn't say a word. I just pressed the shutter and watched her smoke. That glamour back-lighting sure comes in handy when you want to see the smoke.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Canon Sending Employees Home to Have Sex

Gotta love Canon! Now I know why I'm a Canon guy.

I was watching CNN this morning when a news(?) story ran about Japanese companies sending employees home early to procreate. Yep! That's right... "to procreate." Canon was featured as the corporate example in the story.

It seems the Japanese routinely work 12-hour days. As a result, according to CNN, the Japanese have one of the lowest birth rates in the world: One-point-four births per household or something like that. That statistic, CNN says, is less than what's required to replenish the population. All work and no play makes Hiro a dull and inefficiently reproducing boy, I suppose.

Leave it to the Japanese to attack a problem in such a pragmatic way. I wonder if they're offering bonuses based on impregnations achieved?

The story showed a clip of Canon workers leaving work early and heading home. I carefully examined the expressions on the faces of the workers for some indication of lusty anticipation. None could be discerned. They all looked as inscrutably stoic as ever.

But then, who knows what was going on in the minds of those Canon workers? The Japanese are a kinky bunch, after all.

I'm not sure how any of this will effect Canon's lofty position as a developer and manufacturer of quality cameras. Will Canon's workers be happier and, therefore, more productive? (Pun intended.) Will a more sexually-sated workforce contribute to Canon's bottom line? Or will Canon's workers simply go home early, scarf some sushi or noodles, pop the caps off a few bottles of Sapporo, and fall asleep in front of the tube? I guess time will tell.

But if Japanese photo-industry workers start popping out babies as quickly and efficiently as they pop out new camera models, Japan will be re-populated in no time!

The image at the top is Tera Patrick. The pic was snapped by LeesaJ who was assisting me on the shoot, shooting BTS, and snapping some images of Tera herself.

If many of those Canon workers have spouses with Tera's sex appeal, I'm guessing Canon's bold plan to help replace the Japanese workforce will be a resounding success! Of course, if that's true, 12-hour workdays probably wouldn't have had a negative impact on birth rates to begin with.

Here's a BTS shot of the lighting for those of you who like seeing this stuff. I used a Chimera medium strip, on the floor and on its side, for the main. The dork in the background, camera-right, adjusting that hair/accent light is yours truly. I attached a 30ยบ honeycomb grid to the small reflector on that strobe to keep the light controlled. On the left is a Westcott reflector, most likely with the gold side out, providing a little warm fill. The fan in the foreground provided a bit of motion to Tera's hair, keeping it off her face and making her hair appear fuller... not that she doesn't have a full head of hair. She does.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Stills Could'a Been Better

That's what I heard back from one of my customers/clients the other day, albeit I heard it second-hand. The subject-line quote is from the head of production from a company I recently shot for.

So here's the deal: Besides shrugging (due to the rhino-skin I've developed over a long period of time) my response is this: The stills could always be better.


But here's a couple of tips for those who sit in positions of authority over photographers or are in official positions to judge the snaps.

1. Define "better" because, frankly, I don't have a clue what that means. Better what? Better posing? Expression? Lighting? Exposure? Composition? Story? Environment? What??? (The photos certainly don't suck nor are they lackluster.)

2. Since "better" hasn't been defined, here's a few questions: "Should you have provided enough budget for an MUA?" How about, "Could you have provided enough budget to hire 'better' models?" (My version of "better" in regards to models would be prettier, hotter, more experienced, etc.)

3. Next time I shoot for you guys, since this was my first time with you, could you please offer me some direction or some ideas of what you look for in the stills? That could be as simple as showing me pics (by other shooters you've hired) you think are "better." I should note that I was also the video shooter on this particular production and, apparently, my video work was "better" or, at least, good enough and met expectations.

All this doesn't mean I'm absolving myself of responsibility for snapping pics that do not meet the customer's expectations.

I do, however, believe I know a good picture when I see one and I think the pics I provided were "better" than many of the pics--most all of them, in fact--I found on the web and that your company has has used for marketing your products... leastwise, from a purely photographic point-of-view. I am, of course, somewhat biased in this opinion.

The pretty girl at the top is another of Penthouse Pet, Shawna Lenee. It is NOT from the pics that are the subject of this update. The image is from a set during the first time I shot with Shawna. (Last August or September.) MUA was MaryAnne. LeesaJ assisted. You might notice that, in this pic, I've demonstrated that a well-placed fan can be used for other purposes, i.e., other than blowing the model's hair.

(Note: I didn't post a pic from the sets in question because that would require me to A) Go out to my car where the laptop (which currently and temporarily is storing those pics) happens to be at the moment; B) It's freaking raining out there; and C) I really don't feel like getting off my ass, getting dressed, getting wet, picking a pic, moving that pic to another computer (my laptop doesn't have image processing software installed) and processing the image. Sorry. I'll try to do "better" next time.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Today's Tip: Don't Believe Your LCD

I've learned not to trust my LCD. I'm talking, of course, about the LCD on the backs of dSLRs.

So often, what you see on the back of your camera looks great. But remember, that little LCD screen is back lit. The images are going to appear brighter than they actually are. The factory defaults on most dSLRs are showing you a brighter image than the image you've captured. That's why I keep my LCD's brightness level turned down a bit. Often, when you do this, the displayed image looks a little dull and the colors a bit muted but what you see will probably be closer to what you're going to get. In fact, with the brightness turned down you might be surprised when you load your images onto a hard drive and view them on your computer's monitor: The images might look better than you thought.

Since I don't trust my LCD screen, I rely on a meter and the histogram to tell me where my exposure is at. If you're serious about photography, a light meter is one of your most valuable tools. Also, learning to read histograms might be one of the best investments of your time you can make, i.e., the time you invest in learning about digital photography.

Here's a good starting point for your quest to understand histograms, assuming you accept the challenge and embark on the quest, Sir Snapper. A simple Google search will yield many more web pages focused on histograms.

As far as light meters go, there' s many to choose from. Their price points vary. I use a Konica Minolta Auto Meter VF: One of the more no-frills, inexpensive, meters available from many retailers. I've read reviews on this meter that express some concern that it feels a bit fragile but I've beaten the crap out of mine and it hasn't broken and keeps working just fine.

The pretty girl at the top is Shawna Lenee from last night's shoot. I shot two sets with Shawna-- One of them on the set depicted in the image and the other on a white cyclorama. No MUA. We didn't want her all glammed up anyway. In spite of that bra-n-panty set, we were looking for more of a girl next door look. Shawna, who is a Buckeye, was a peach to work with. (My second time shooting her.) She was the July, 2008, Penthouse Pet and a runner-up for Penthouse's Pet of the Year.

There's a slight red tint to the image. It drove me nuts during my brief time with the pic in Photoshop. I digitally messed with it for a short while then threw my hands up and said, "Screw it." Yeah. I get surly and impatient in post. "Dammit, Jim! I'm a photographer not a graphic artist!" There are three walls surrounding that set and they are painted red. Hey! There's another tip: Be mindful of the colors that are dominant in the environment you're shooting in, mostly when shooting indoors and with strobes. Those colors have a habit of reflecting and altering skin tones, especially when there's a lot of skin exposed.

Here's another snap of Shawna from last night that's a bit more, uhh... revealing. Not much post on this one. Yeah, I'm lazy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Rare and Completely Off-Topic Update

I don't usually go off-topic on this blog. Leastwise, not far off-topic. In fact, I don't remember ever going too far off-topic here, on the PGS blog. Today, I'm going to make an exception.

Yesterday was a truly historic day.

Whether you're an Obama fan or not, yesterday represented something that will be long remembered and, I sincerely hope, long revered.

If you follow my Twitter updates -- here on the blog or via Twitter itself -- you might have noticed I'm very taken with a phrase from President Obama's inaugural speech: "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals..."

When I was growing up, in the 50s and early 60s, my most impressionable years were, in large part, effected by what I saw on the tube. In television's version of America, at least back then, Americans were the people who wore the big, white, cowboy hats. We defended the weak and oppressed. We were a country of supermen-- We (figuratively) wore blue tights, a red cape, and we all had a big "S" emblazoned on our chests. We were the moral right in a world populated by so many who represented the moral wrong. From "Combat" to "Gunsmoke" to "Superman," and so many more TV shows, I was told, over and over, that right makes might -- not the other way around -- and that America always chooses right. I was led to believe that making the right choices wasn't something I, as a member of the human race, was supposed to do. I was taught to believe that, as an American, it was my obligation, my duty, to do the right thing.

And then JFK was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Later on, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were also struck down. The 60s was filled with so much that belied what I was taught by Hollywood's writers, producers, and actors, by my teachers, and by my family: The Viet Nam War, the attempted oppression, by our government, of lawful protests and freedom of expression, the attempts, by so many, to thwart civil rights and more. Even my father, who served in both WW2 (USA) and the Korean War (USMC), seemed to become disillusioned by America and what it seemed to be moving towards. And it wasn't a movement to the liberal left that bothered my father. I should also note that, with most things, my father was more than a little conservative and usually voted Republican.

Since the 1960s, in my opinion, it's all been a downward spiral for America's ideals and its principles. We have not represented the right stuff for a very long time, i.e., the stuff I was brainwashed into believing America was mostly made of. Sure, we became stronger and tougher. But not tougher on things that matter. Not tougher on preserving our ideals and principles. Instead, we became tougher like thugs, sacrificing what we know is right for the easy remedies of maintaining the status quo at any cost... sacrificing our principles, our ideals, even our constitution.

And I've felt disillusioned, betrayed, ashamed, cynical, bitter, and worse.

Until yesterday.

I had a medical appointment yesterday. I get my health care from the Veterans Administration. (Yeah, I'm a vet. USAF, 1969-1972.) As a result, I watched President Obama's speech on a TV at the VA. With me, watching in the waiting area, were about 40 or 50 other vets and employees of the VA. When Obama concluded, I was so moved. There were tears on my cheeks. No, I don't expect the impossible from the man. And I don't think he's a messiah. But his words to America seemed to lift a heavy burden, at least a big chunk of it, from my heart, my mind, my soul. A burden that has troubled me for a very long time. Obama's words offered hope for an America that just might have a chance at reclaiming some of those things the TV networks and others of the 50s and early 60s told me America was all about. In other words, a shot at redemption... for so many things and in so many ways.

My name was called almost immediately after Obama's speech concluded. I looked around. The room was silent and still. I couldn't wrap my head around the reactions of the others in the room. I really didn't know what they were thinking. It seemed odd.

After my time with the doctor, I came back out into the waiting area and looked up at the TV. I wasn't sure what was going on with the inauguration. Three vets, all about my age, were sitting near the TV and watching. With a big smile plastered on my face, I cheerfully asked them if Obama had been sworn in yet. One of them looked at me and said, "You mean your president?"

I was a bit confused.

"No. I mean our president," I responded.

"He might be your president," the vet scowled at me.

"Absolutely he's my president. Just like the last guy was whether I liked him or not."

The vet rolled his eyes.

"Dude. The fact that you're sitting here, at the VA, tells me you should know, better than many, that he's our president whether you like it or not."

The three vets, almost on cue, all turned away from me.

America has a long way to go.

But for the first time in a long time I have some hope.

Today, President Obama banned the use of torture. A first step towards reclaiming our ideals. Obama says he will offer a hand to those who oppose us if they will unclench their fists. How simple a gesture is that? And yet, how unusual for the vast majority of the presidents I've witnessed in my lifetime.

The pretty girl at the top is Aveena. I shot the pic, in spite of the copyright date, about 4 or 5 years ago. What? Just cuz I went off with some political stuff you thought I wouldn't post a pretty girl pic? Photographers please.

This blog will now return to its normally scheduled content.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Point Your Belly Button Over There!

People ask me about direction and communicating with models. You know, what kind of directions I give models and what words do I use when photographing them.

It's one thing to learn, master, or mimic lighting setups but, when it comes to communicating with models, you're usually on your own.

Wanna know what the kiss of death is when you're shooting some hot chick and you hope to get some hot snaps? Keeping your yap shut when she's out there, alone, in the lights.

I've said it before. It's lonely out there in the lights. When I'm shooting, it's (often enough) just me and model. If I shoot with my mouth shut it will seem (to the model) like it's just her... and just her... on the set or at the location or wherever it is we're shooting.

I try to avoid chanting those stereotypical photographer litanies. You've heard them before: "That's it! Beautiful! Sexy! Yeah! Great! Hot! Oh, baby! Sell it! You're killin' me!" I'll admit to occasionally falling into the trap of sounding that way. But that's mostly when there's no music providing "mood" for the shoot and I'm just trying to fill dead air when I'm not issuing specific directions.

Here's what most models want to hear, certainly what experienced models want to hear: They want to hear direction. They want to hear they look great, i.e., they like ego strokes. They want to hear things that tell them you're paying attention to the important shit and that you're not gawking... even if that important shit happens to be, at the moment, her tits.

Models want to hear things that say you're paying attention to detail--close attention to detail--as well as words that tell her you're on top of what your camera is capturing, i.e., you're on your game. Models want to hear things that might not always sound so polite or kind or genteel or PC... they want to hear honest stuff! Maybe not painfully honest but honesty that assures them you're doing your best to capture them at their best. You know, stuff like "Suck it in," referring to their tummies and even when those tummies are lean-n-mean.

Models don't want to hear these things in mean ways. They don't want to hear them in insincere ways. And most models definitely don't want to hear the words coming out of your mouth in ways that sound phony or faux-friendly or condescending or pervy. You don't need to become great friends with the model. You need to simply and quickly build a rapport--a friendly, temporary, almost intimate rapport-- but only for that sometimes-brief or sometimes-lengthy time you're shooting together.

Models want to believe you know what you're doing and that the images that result from the photographic intersection of you, the photographer, and she, the model, are going to be awesome!

Above all else and assuming you have the basics under control, this is the stuff that will make your pretty girl pics come alive.

The pretty girl at the top is Penthouse Pet (July, 2008) and Penthouse Pet of the Year (Runner-Up) Shawna Lenee.

And you know what? A lot of this same stuff even works when you're shooting -- Gasp! -- dudes!

Sorry. But I don't remember the dude's name. (Yeah, like you're all upset with that.) And sorry... for posting a dude's pic. Was just making a point, small as that point might be.

Monday, January 19, 2009

*POP* That Girl!

Rather than writing about me and what I'm up to, I thought I'd write about pretty girl shooting today.

"Whew! It's about time!" You might be thinking.

Shooting environments can be cool or they can be neutral. I've shot models in some fairly interesting environments and, at the other end of the spectrum, I've shot them plenty of times in front of neutral seamless backgrounds. Regardless, when shooting this type of glamour the model is (or should be) the focal point of the image. Either the composition, the background and/or environment, or the lighting should draw the viewer to the model. Ideally, a combination of these things, better yet, all of them should pull the viewers' eyes to the subject.

It isn't enough for the model to be beautiful, sexy, and naked to draw the viewers' eyes. Obviously, this isn't necessarily true when you're shooting a model as part of an editorial image, fashion, art, etc. But when it comes to glamour, leastwise, this type of glamour, it's generally the preferred way to go.

Good pretty girl pics often separate or *POP* the model from the background. The easiest way to do this is with lighting. It's my opinion the lights working from behind the model are, most often, the most important lights on the set when it comes to this genre of photography.

Separating models from the BG can be done subtly or quite obviously depending on the result you, the shooter, are looking to achieve. The highlights coming from behind can be hard, i.e., specular, or soft, that is, diffuse. It's simply a matter of metering those lights and increasing or decreasing their power output. There are no rules for what your meter should read. I can't simply say, "Increase the output by half a stop," or something similar.

You should have some understanding of Angles of Reflectance to better comprehend how the lights coming from behind, i.e., those coming from behind at various angles to the model, will reflect. That's why I can't tell you how much, exactly, you'll need to increase (if at all) the power from those particular lights.

You should also remember that back lights can cause reflective highlights and/or shadows where you might not want them. (BTW, for the purpose of this article, I'm mostly writing about working with strobes, not continuous light.) That's one reason why I like working with modeling lights. And I like having them set to "Track."

Strobes that allow you to "track" will increase or decrease the intensity of the modeling lights as you increase or decrease the strobe's power output. If you really want to see what your back lights are doing (assuming your lights have modeling lights) turn off the main light and you'll see them even better. When working without modeling lights, chimping and learning to use your camera's histogram is the next best thing. If you don't have modeling lights, try snapping a few without the main light turned on and chimp and check your histogram when you look at the results. If you're working with multiple continuous lights, some of these same techniques can be easily applied.

In the image of Rachel, seen above and snapped last week, the highlights on her body, i.e., those coming from behind her, are somewhat diffuse coming from camera left and a bit more specular coming from camera right. That was intentional. Often, I prefer not having the highlights that are "edging" or "rimming" the model to be equal from either side. Personally, I think it adds a bit more interest to the image. But maybe that's just me?

In the photo, you can see that Rachel is in a cluttered environment. That made it even more important to separate her, with the lighting, from the background. I also attempted to place her in that environment in a way that things in the background, i.e., the curves and lines of various things in the background, lead the viewer's eyes to the model. See that tire leaning against the car? I purposely set it there. I set it to lean at an angle that helps move the viewers' eyes up and towards Rachel. The curved line of the car's hood also moves the viewers' eyes towards Rachel. Rachel is leaning slightly towards the tire and away from the line of the car hood. That's also helping move the viewers' eyes where I want them to go.

In terms of composition, Rachel is off-set in the image. That makes the picture a bit more interesting and also works well with the lines, angles, and curves of various items in the environment. I also keep a wary eye out for stuff in the BG that might appear like it's growing out of the model's head. I'm not saying it's a particularly great image, but it does serve fairly well for this update.

Remember: When it comes to all this stuff about separating the model from the BG and moving the viewers' eyes where you want them to go, it's all deliberate. So much of this is about developing an eye for detail. Leastwise, it should be. An eye for detail needs to go beyond looking for stray hairs or clothing tags hanging out or other stuff like that. You should be developing a deliberate eye. An eye for detail, composition, lines, angles, curves, and, of course, lighting.

Rachel captured with Canon 5D, 28-135 IS USM zoomed to a focal length of 45mm, ISO 100, f/7/1 @ 125th. Not too much post. No MUA... Cheap client. Rachel did her own. I hate when there's no MUA. Oh well. Wha'd'ya gonna do? At least they paid me better than my normal daily rate.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Actually, it happened after I arrived at the forum. No, I'm not referring to Rome's famous coliseum, aka "the forum," nor am I writing about the Stephen Sondheim musical. The forum I'm referring to is a photography forum, specifically, the SuperShoots forum.

Yesterday, after logging onto the SuperShoots forum, I noticed a new thread with the subject title, JimmyD's Backyard.

"What's this?" I thought.

It turned out that another SuperShoots member, Ed Selby, had been in San Diego on business--Ed hails from Georgia--and he mentioned that he would have liked to have met up with me while he was here, in Southern California. Ed posted a beach shot that he had snapped. I made a comment which led to another comment by Ed with another of his snaps at the beach which, ironically, turned out to be a pic of a good friend of mine.

I don't know why I'm writing all this out. Just click the SuperShoots links I provided and read it for yourself. It's fairly Twilight Zone-ish.

The eye-candy at the top is Kinzie. I shot Kinzie yesterday for one of my regular employers. Haven't had time to carefully look at all the results yet. I shot Kinzie on both a black BG and on a white cyclorama with different wardrobe for each. (Not that the wardrobe in either set lasted very long.)

The above pic caught my eye during a quick perusal of Kinzie's pics. I was drawn to the way her body is producing all those angles, curves, and lines in that exaggerated pose. Expression could be better-- Her head dropped a bit with a coy smirk would, IMO, improve the image. Oh well. The planets don't always line up the way you want them to. Kinzie captured with my Canon 5D, ISO 200, f/8, 125. Standard 3-light lighting setup. She arrived at the studio made-up and ready to shoot.

Here's an accidental "art" pic of the lovely Kinzie.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

One Reality Show Shooting Another Ready for a Pitch

Another production shoot last night and the Hollywood Guys were, once again, there with their crew. Like Sunday's shoot, their crew outnumbered our crew. As I did last Sunday, I shot both stills and video and, once again, endured the joys of Lance, the world's clumsiest and most brain-dead (Hungarian) production assistant.

On another reality show front, I returned home late last night to find an email from Peter, my writer's agent/manager. It started out by saying he, Peter, figured I might be thinking he had forgotten about the Pretty Girl Shooters show (I didn't, just figured he was busy) but, instead, he was working it. In fact, he pitched the basic concept to the development honcho at a production company specializing in reality TV and the guy says he's more than a little interested, will be yakking it up internally, and will (sometime soon) be having Peter and I come in for a full pitch. That's way better news than the old, no news is good news thing!

Early last month, I completely rewrote the treatment for the Pretty Girl Shooters idea and sent it off to Peter. With the holidays and all, I didn't hear anything back from him until last night. BTW, this show idea isn't a vanity concept for yours truly. As written, I wouldn't be a cast member. Hopefully, I'll be a producer instead. The show (as written) would be cast with, well, with people just like many of you, this blog's readers. (Assuming your a hobby photographer, i.e., a pretty girl shooting hobby photographer.) Keep your fingers crossed.

As usual, last night's shoot started out as a fiasco with just about everything going wrong. For one, the female performer flaked. We weren't informed she was flaking, of course, until nearly an hour after her call time. Took another hour or so to book a replacement. (Rachel, seen above.)

A litany of excuses was provided by the originally-booked model. Her excuses ranged from the male performer being on her "No" list, her boyfriend having "issues" that prevented her from participating, a car problem, and some BS about a health matter. It seems we were suppose to take our pick of her excuses and accept whichever we liked best. We also had some confrontation with the guy who helped us book the location: Once again, the same auto body shop we shot at on Sunday.

Ya see, during Sunday's shoot, we cracked the windshield on a car being repaired in the shop and dented the hood. We also messed up the new primer on a vintage '66 Caddy that was about to be repainted. Some cash changed hands and the damage problem was put to bed. Hey! Wha'd'ya gonna do? Shit happens.

As mentioned, the pretty girl at the top is Rachel. I shot Rachel (with the Hollywood Guys' shooters shooting me shooting her) with my Canon 5D and my trusty utility lens, the Canon 28-135 IS USM, hanging off the front of it. I've mentioned it before but if anyone is thinking about purchasing some all-around utility glass for their Canon dSLR, and aren't looking to spend too much on one, I recommend this lens. It's sharp, focuses quickly and covers a wide range of focal lengths. If you're shooting with a small-sensor body, the 28-135 will crop your images to, what looks like, a 45mm to 200mm lens, rendering it somewhat less utilitarian.

Rachel captured in standard glam/tease mode at ISO 100, f/8 @ 125. As usual for this kind of stuff, three lights in a triangular configuration: Main light in front and a couple of edge lights coming from behind, either side of the model. How about those posts through the nipples? Ouch! They had'a hurt when they first went in.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reality Show Kicks Off (Sort of)

I'm trashed! I was on set for 18 hours yesterday, from 8:00 A.M. till 2:00 A.M. Normally, I wouldn't be quite so physically wrecked after a day like that but, for this production, I was shooting both video and stills. That meant I was working fairly hard and mostly continuously for those 18 hours. I shot about 5-hours of production video and 1200-1500 stills. The day's pay was good but I ain't getting any younger.

One thing, amongst many, that slowed yesterday's production down was the arrival of the Hollywood guys with a small production crew of their own. I say "small production crew" even though their crew was larger than our crew. Such is often the case when Hollywood meets the "other" Hollywood.

The Hollywood guys were there to shoot a short-form pilot (promo, teaser, whatever you want to call it) for their possible reality show I've previously written about.

As expected, the day was filled with more than its share of mishaps and unexpected twists and turns. For the most part, these screw-ups were funny and exactly what the Hollywood crew was hoping for. They didn't hang out for the full 18-hour day but they were there for at least eight of those hours: More than enough time for them to grab some footage that, when edited, will provide a funny and dysfunctional view of an often funny and mostly dysfunctional industry.

We shot in an automotive repair shop, a body shop actually. The place was fairly large so that made it easier to move gear and people around without everyone being on top of each other. (No pun intended.) We used Lowell caselight fixtures to light the video. (Think Kino Flo, color-balanced, fluorescent if you're unfamiliar with Lowell's less-expensive counterparts.) I used my monolights to light for the still photography. I was given an extra pair of hands (a production assistant) to help schlep the gear around.

My P.A. is a guy who redefines the words "clumsy" and "idiot." He was often more hindrance than help and, as a result, I wouldn't let him touch my strobes. (I let him move the Lowell lights around as they weren't mine.) I also forbid him to touch my Canon 5D and my Sony HVR-Z1U HDV video camera. Sometimes you have to assume the possibility of the worst and take preventative measures, especially when working with (marginally) functional morons. My so-called assistant, of course, was exactly what the Hollywood guys were hoping for in terms of our crew, including my less-than-sensitive treatment of him.

The pretty girl at the top is Felony from yesterday. Nothing criminal about women having Felony's assets. I've shot Felony before but that was more than a few years ago when she was 19. She's twenty-something now. I haven't spent but a few minutes going through yesterday's pics and this pic of Felony is one that kinda, sorta, half-way caught my eye. I put in a whopping five minutes or so of post on the pic. It could probably be much improved if I had the will or energy to do so. There's probably much better in the set. I'm just too freakin' tired today to look for them.

Felony has some really nice, big, uhhh... ears, don't she? Felony captured with my Canon 5D, 28-135mm IS USM, ISO 100, f/8 @ 125. Three lights illuminating her: Main light modified with my Larson Relectasol and two other sources, either side of the model and very slightly behind her, modified with small, shoot-thru umbrellas. Felony did her own makeup. No MUA on the shoot cuz, well, cuz it was quite the low-budget production... which often means I get paid more cuz they want me to do more. (Jimmy don't cut his rate when people cry poverty in one breath and then ask me to do more in the next... breath, that is.)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Unintended Retro

I took another look at the snaps I grabbed with the little Canon rangefinder I purchased not too long ago. More specifically, I was drawn to the lack of quality in the low-resolution scans made by WalMart when I had the roll processed. I decided the images had a fairly retro feel to them. Could be a new photo genre: Walmarta Obscura.

The pictures, the scans that is, almost look (to me at least) like they were snapped thirty or more years ago and with film that was a little past its expiration date. I dragged one into PS (pictured above) and cropped it a bit, screwed with the levels a little, (un)sharpened a tad, and added some sepia toning. This was the only pretty girl pic, BTW, that didn't have an overly-obtrusive flare from a back-light. (That rangefinder's 40mm glass, sans a lens shade, makes it tough to keep the flare-gremlins at bay.)

I'm somewhat taken with the retro look that's been created, not so much by me but by the camera, the film emulsion, and the sub-standard scanning. I didn't intend to give the images a retro look--all I was doing was testing the camera, insuring that it works--but now that I see the results, I might shoot some stuff with the intent of this being the outcome. I might, besides shooting with an eye towards a retro look, "dirty" the pictures up even more in post. I would also consider pushing the film well past its 400 ISO to increase the grain but I'm not sure WalMart's processor does that. Something to look into.

The picture at the top--once again, I cannot recall the model's name--looks (to me) like a snapshot of a 1970s era dominatrix feigning a bit of modesty. (Nipples covered to get past WalMart's censors.) It's not even close to being a memorable snap but it does look to me like it was shot years ago in a fairly non-descript bedroom with a low-end, point-n-shoot, film camera manufactured in the 60s... which isn't far from the truth, regarding the camera, that is.

Sometimes, new ways of doing things are born of crap.

And sometimes not.

Image captured with Canon Canonet G-III 17 w/fixed 40mm f/1.7 prime lens, Kodak BW400CN, f/8 @ 125. C-41 processing. Crap scan courtesy, Sam Walton.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Need For Speed

Over on David Hobby's most excellent Strobist site, there's an update about AnnieL shooting the founder of Profoto, The Light Shaping Company. There's even a video of Annie shooting the guy. I guess anything and everything the divine Ms. L shoots is worthy of a video, whether it is or isn't. (Worthy, that is.)

A big chunk of the Strobist update focuses on the lightning-fast recycle speed of Profoto's Pro-8 Air power pack. (Seen being used by Ms. L in the video.) Indeed, this baby is fast! Ultra-fast! And fast it should be with it's $11,000 price tag. I'm sure many Strobist readers will be chucking their Vivitar 285s and Nikon SB-800s and rushing out to buy a Profoto Pro-8 Air pack with some Profoto heads. (That was sarcasm if you haven't already figured it out.) BTW, heads for Profoto's Pro-8 Air power pack will run you another two-grand per head.

But recycle speed IS a big deal. Leastwise, for me it is. I want my strobes ready to fire in short order... frame after frame and snap after snap. It's how I roll. I'm an impatient sort and I ain't got time to wait too long for the freakin' strobes to recycle! Might miss something. You know, like some of those "decisive moments." (© Henri Cartier-Bresson.)

What? You didn't think there are decisive moments when shooting pretty girls? There's more of them than you might guess. Way more!

Okay, I'll admit I'm not willing to reach into my pocket and pull out eleven-grand simply to enjoy the pleasures of ultra-fast recycle times. (Like there's $11k in my pocket anyway.) But when shopping for lighting, the first tech-spec I look at is recycle time. That's why I often recommend to friends they think twice before buying any of those Chinese monolight kits you see on Ebay all the time. Sure, the price is right. Maybe even better than right. But that's the problem. The price is too good. Too good to be true, that is. Ya see, you get what you pay for with that stuff. And, with those instruments, you ain't getting much in terms of the quality, durability, customer service, and the recycle times associated with many of these inexpensive lighting products.

I have a buddy who bought some of those Ebay specials a while back. At first, he kept going on about how much money he saved. Then, one of them effed up and he had a heck of a time getting it fixed. In fact, I'm not sure he ever got it fixed. But, later on, he had an even bigger complaint: Their painfully slow recycle times, especially at higher power-output settings.

"I told ya so," I said.

I should note that I've shot quite a few times with Profoto gear. Specifically, their Profoto Acute 2 stuff. Gotta tell ya, I'm not overly impressed with the Acute 2's recycle times. I'm not saying they're annoyingly slow, but my (older) Novatron monolights recycle faster.

A couple of caged, Lithuanian, vampires at the top, shot... Sheesh! About 5 or 6 years ago! (And you thought vampires only come from Transylvania.) Anyway, the pic was captured back when my PS skills were seriously pathetic. (Like they're all that much better now.)

If any of you are thinking of purchasing a Profoto Pro-8 Air power pack and a couple of Profoto heads, and you read this and other blogs for the tips and techniques, i.e., to help you develop skills as a photographer, I've got a better idea: Buy some WAY less pricey strobes (strobes that are high quality in spite of their reasonable costs) and, with the thousands you save, hire me for some private tutelage. I guarantee you'll end up shooting better pictures after spending a day or two with me--even if you're using cheap, Chinese, Ebay gear--than you will by spending well over ten grand on that Profoto gear. BTW, if it makes you feel better to spend more, I'd be perfectly willing to charge you a BFF. (Big Fat Fee.) Of course, if overspending ain't your "thang," I'm also willing to be quite reasonable.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Lighting Evangelism

And God said, "Let there be light" and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3, 1:4)

"Lighting is everything." You've probably heard that said on more than a few occasions. I've said it myself even if I don't fully endorse this notion; not completely.

Apparently, neither does God.

I suppose that's why God, after creating and separating light and darkness, went on (according to the bible) to create other stuff, stuff other than light, that is. You know, stuff like the firmament and dry land and vegetation and swarms of living creatures and, finally, people who (also according to the bible) were created in the image of God.

All of the other stuff is really good because, without all those other creations of God, there would be no one to snap pictures and, even if there were, nothing for them to snap pictures of! In other words, even if God created light and photographers and nothing else, what would God's photographers point their cameras at other than light and darkness? How bad would that suck?

Smart God that God.

At the risk of this becoming a bible lesson which, trust me, I have absolutely no business conducting, let's get back to that part where God said that light is good. Applying a simple extrapolation, it's not a stretch to believe that if God were a photo-art critic (as opposed to art critics being gods) I'm pretty sure God would also say that good lighting, make that really good photographic lighting, is also a good thing.

I'll go with God on this one. When it comes to photography, especially when it comes to pretty-girl-shooting photography,, lighting, i.e., really good lighting, is a good thing.

But it isn't everything.

Obviously, good lighting being a really good thing is a given, a no-brainer. Nothing particularly new, epiphanistic (is that a word?) or unique in that view. But let's not forget that, for an image to be a kick-ass image, the really good lighting needs to be illuminating a subject that generates as much or more interest as the effective and excellent use of light generates.

Assuming the subject of an image, by itself, generates the appropriate response with viewers, we can take that subject out of this equation and now focus on lighting. At this point, lighting IS everything.

While creating or manipulating light in really good ways might be easy for God (being God and all) it may not be as easy for some of us mere mortals.

When God's really good lighting occurs, for example, in the form of an exceptionally beautiful and dramatic sunset, even small children, with their limited understanding of visual aesthetics, can perceive that sunset as stunning and dazzling with lots of "Wow!" value. That's why it's so important for photographers to learn to create really good lighting, that is, to be God-like in their ability to create and manipulate light and to separate light and darkness shadow in effective and visually pleasing ways.

It's not enough to work with a drop-dead gorgeous model in a really cool, edgy, or beautiful environment. It's also about using that environment's available light, or creating your own light, in ways that will separate your pictures from many others.

I don't know about you, but I've seen many gorgeous sunsets in my lifetime and none of them were individually memorable no matter how showy they might have been. Unless, of course, some other memory or context or other factor was attached to that particularly wondrous sunset. You know, something personal or some event that stood out or maybe something as simple as a gorgeous, alluring model on a beach with that incredible sunset in the background. Especially when the shooter applied some other form of light to pleasingly illuminate, showcase, and compare the beauty of the sunset with the beauty and allure of the model.

I'll tell you what: If there's one New Years resolution we all, as photographers, should be making, it's to continue understanding, learning, and honing our skills with light as they apply to photography. If we do so with determination, I believe that, later on and as we look at the results, we will all, like God, be able to say it is good.

Monica, who is today's eye-candy at the top, from a few months or so ago. I used God's ambient light to capture Monica, along with some human-made lighting, i.e., three strobes, one in front modified with a large, white-lined umbrella and the other two, set behind her and to each each side, modified with small, shoot-thru, umbrellas.

(Disclaimer: All claims expressed in the bible are solely those of its author[s] and promoter[s] and do not necessarily reflect the views of this blog's author.)