Friday, February 27, 2009

Secrets of the Pros Revisited

Back in 2006, when this blog was still in its infancy and in search of a few readers, I wrote an article I titled, "There Are No Secrets." In that update, I made a startling revelation! (Leastwise, it was startling to me.) The pros, that is those who principally make their livings as photographers, have no freakin' secrets.

When you see the words, Secrets of the Pros Revealed on the front of some photography rag, please note the only possible secret they might reveal is that there are no secrets. And I guarantee they won't be revealing *that* in the magazine. To be fair, there might be some good and useful information in a "Secrets of the Pros" article. It might even be information that's new to you and I. But secrets? Honest-to-God actual secrets? Sorry. That dog don't hunt.

There are no X Files in photography and the photographic community doesn't harbor Skull-n-Bones-like groups of shooters, pros or otherwise. If it does -- CIA & KGB surveillance aside -- it would be a well-guarded secret, probably not revealed, and certainly not in a photo rag. If it were, someone might have to kill someone.

You might wonder why I'm revisiting this subject? That's not a secret either cuz I'm gonna tell you why. (All the way back in kindergarten I learned keeping secrets wasn't nice.)

Just the other day, I discovered a new photography blog; not chronologically "new" but new to me. I discovered it by way of Scott Kelby's mucho informative PhotoshopInsider: A blog dedicated to sharing "Scoops, tips, and comments..." regarding all things Photoshop and, in the process, many subjects about photography as well. The "new" blog I'm writing about? Syl Arena's, PixSylated.

Syl, btw, is short for Sylvester. Pronunciation-wise, Syl rhymes with Bill and Phil. (Much like guitarist Steven Van Zandt's Sil, aka Silvio, on The Sopranos.) Thankfully, Arena doesn't go all Rocky Rambo on us and call himself Sly. I mean, how can you trust a guy named Sly?

You can't.

Syl is a California photographer. (I'm gonna go ahead and call him Syl because I like to appear like I know the people I'm writing about even when I don't.) He's one of those guys you'd call "a pro." But I'll bet ya dollars to doughnuts Syl doesn't believe he has mystical and magical photography secrets. He has what many "pros" have: mad skills and plenty of know-how born of experience.

Here's a snippet from Syl's latest update, focusing on a TED presentation by author, Elizabeth Gilbert.

All creatives dream. Photographers, writers, designers, musicians, dancers, chefs… dream of doing something so phenomenal that the whole world suddenly knows about it. We dream. We practice. We work. We think. When we’re lucky, we truly create.

Wow! Insightful stuff. And on the money! I read that and I felt better about myself.

Back to how I got turned on to Syl:

Syl was a recent guest blogger on Kelby's site. CLICK HERE to read his sage words. His contribution began with a picture of the PixSylator himself, peering through a DIY lighting contraption of, I'm assuming, his own design and fabrication. When I first saw the photo, I thought, "Puh-leez! That's just plain silly." Why so? Cuz there's perfectly good (and affordable) ring lights on the market that probably cost less than what it would take to build and operate that thing-- Ring lights that will deliver, pretty much, the same lighting effect.

Undaunted, cuz that's how I roll, I kept reading.

That's when I got hooked on Syl!

And that's how I found myself revisiting the subject of "secrets," i.e., that there are no secrets.

Syl wrote the following, his #8 amongst 12, equally-compelling, thought-provoking and insightful lessons:

“Coopetition” is a new business model that’s here to stay.

Competition + Cooperation = Coopetition. Old-school photographers (which has nothing to do with one’s age), keep their two or three secrets close to the vest. The rest of us understand the power of relationships and sharing. There are times when you have to compete. There are more times when it’s better to cooperate. Don’t hesitate to refer a prospect to a competitor if you are truly unable to accomplish the job. It’s quite probable that the next time your competitor can’t take a job because she’s already booked that your referral will be reciprocated. Share your knowledge freely and others will be glad to help you out when you ask.

What a simple concept! One I subscribe to myself. (Hence, this blog.) But I'd like to correct Syl on one point: Those "old school" photographers (of which I count myself amongst) do not possess two or three secrets they hold close to their vests. They don't even have one. They only *think* whatever it is their holding close is a secret. The not-so-secret secret is their egos have made them believe they know something about photography no one else does. Ahem. Sorry, guys. You doth delude yourselves.

I'll say it again: There are no secrets! All the so-called "secrets" are available and accessible to anyone willing to take the time to find them and learn from them. Some shooters might believe they have special, alchemy-ish-like secrets but truth and reality and their "secrets" aren't compatible. To use the same colloquialism I've already quoted in this article, that dog don't hunt either.

I'd strongly recommend reading all of the 12 lessons Syl shares on Kelby's blog. I'd also suggest bookmarking PixSylated and reading it regularly. I know I'm going to do just that.

And Syl? If you somehow end up reading this humble blogger's update, I also wanna mention I especially appreciated your #12: "Resist the temptation to become a pro photographer." It drove me to the dictionary where I discovered the etymology of the word, "amateur." It's French from the Latin, amator or lover. While I might make my living holding cameras in my hands, I now realize I remain an amateur, or lover of photography, as well as a professional shooter... and damn proud of it!

The mostly nude pretty girl at the top, shot for a Hustler project, is Kat from last year.

Innovatronix True to Their Word

The Innovatronix gear recently and generously offered to me arrived on Wednesday. I had been tracking it's journey on the UPS site. From Manila to Osaka to Anchorage to Ontario (CA) it flew half-way around the world. From Ontario, it was trucked to Sylmar, CA, and then put on a another truck for local delivery to my doorstep. Total shipping time? Somewhere between 36 and 48 hours!

Three of the four products offered to me were shipped and delivered: The Explorer XT, with an accompanying Auxiliary Battery, and the Air Blower. The fourth product they offered, the self-powered, remotely-controlled, smoke machine, will be shipped in a week or so. Glen, Innovatronix's marketing guy, advised me their engineers are making some additional mods to the unit's wireless controls and, as soon as these changes were complete, he would be shipping me a unit. The smoke machine, BTW, isn't as yet available for sale so I'll be receiving a beta unit.

I'm stoked!

Initial reactions, in addition to excitement and appreciation: This stuff looks and feels great! It appears ruggedly constructed and definitely falls into the category of professional photography gear. The Explorer XT comes with a cool carrying bag that is quite functional: It has flaps on the top and on each end for easy access to the controls and power inputs/ouputs as well as a shoulder strap and hand grip that allows for easy carrying or attachment to a light stand to stand-in for a sand or shot-bag. I also figure the bag goes a long towards protecting the unit from dust, dirt, sand, moisture, and other potentially unfriendly elements. Glen tells me the unit can remain in the bag at all times, during production or while its charging. So, I'm guessing the unit doesn't generate too much heat.

I'm a little curious why the Auxiliary Battery doesn't come with a similar bag? (It's a bit smaller than the XT altho it seems a little heavier.) A bag for the aux battery would complete the power-duo's pro appearance, protection from the elements, and overall ease-of-use and functionality. The XT's bag, BTW, is very pro cinema-gear-like.

The Air Blower. as stated, seems ruggedly-constructed. It's heavy-duty, painted red, and also has that pro gear look and feel. It only appears to operate with DC provided via the cable and connector to an XT or an aux battery and looks like it only has one speed. Ideally, I'd like to see this unit have a DC converter so it could be used where A/C is available, not requiring the XT or aux battery for power, and perhaps varying-speed controls. We'll see if these are true issues once I use it in production.

I'm excited to test drive this gear! I'm considering a couple of different photo-scenarios where I'll be taking this gear out for a maiden, production voyage.

I can't wait to put this stuff to the test!

The pretty girl at the top is Jennifer from a shoot last summer. We were on location in a car impound garage. I love shooting Jennifer and I've done so a number of times. Besides being a total sweetie, she can SOoo bust-out the moves and poses!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Photography Channel Coming to a TV Set Near You?

For those of you who can't figure out what Twitter is all about, that is, your response to it is, "I don't get it." One of Twitter's great uses, leastwise for me, is simply being put in touch with information I might not have been aware of but, once in touch with, discover it's info that interests or helps me. (Hint: It's all about who you follow and who follows you... or should that read "whom you follow?" Whatever.)

Case in point: This morning I awoke to a few more Twitter users who decided, for whatever reasons, to follow me. (A twitified Pied Piper is what I'm hoping to be. Should be no problem. I already have the "twit" part going on.) Anyway, one of them was the Photography Network or, as they're known on Twitter, PhotoNetTV.

"Hmm... These peeps might be interesting," I thought and clicked to follow them as well.

Following PhotoNetTV allowed me to see their Tweets.

"... looking for original and unorthodox photographers w/ passion to feature in upcoming shows on Any leads??" Was one of their announcements. "...looking for comments & reactions to Pilot Show promo for upcoming launch season of the Network," was another.

"Okay. I'll bite," I thought as I clicked on the link to their promo.

I was moderately impressed as I watched their clip. Maybe you'll be too? CLICK HERE to have a look-see and decide if you agree. Also, HERE's the front door to their website, albeit (unless I'm missing something) only seems to be a Flash home page with an intro, a give-us-your-email sign-up, and another clip 'splayning what PhotoNetTV is all about. And HERE's their blog with one, kick-off update. (I'm thinking they're a Feb '09 start-up?)

In 140 characters or less (that's all Twitter allows) I sent PhotoNetTV my take on their promo: "Pro produced. Grt prod and post value. IMO, needs more edge: A bit less G-rated, wholesome, and vanilla. Maybe I'm too jaded?"

I thought their promo was well done but came off a little too Martha-Stewart-does-photography for my tastes.

A few minutes later, PhotoNetTV replied, "Thanks for taking a look. Content will be broad and diverse. Global PG-13 will be more like it. From Novice to Pro. Stay Tuned!"

I will.

Maybe some of you will too?

The straight-forward, low-impact, standard 3/4 glam-pic at the top is, of course, the Goddess of Glam, Playboy, Penthouse, FHM, and High Times cover girl, Ms. Tera Patrick. (Bet ya didn't know Tera was recently on the cover of High Times, did ya? Not that I know anything about that insidious counter-culture rag.) MUA and hair by Jennifer Corona.

The Tera-pic is one of many from a shoot in '08. Purpose was for photo-content pimping Tera's lingerie line, Mistress Couture. Besides the Mistress Couture content, various pics in the set later emerged as a full-page 944 tear, fashion pics for those folks who use a bunny's head with a bow-tie as their logo, and packaging for Clavine, Europe's #1 male-enhancement herbal supplement, now available in the US.

Personally, when I need some enhancing which, lately, I've needed less often (not the enhancing part but reasons for the enhancing... Dammit!) I generally prefer herbal supplements of the kind hawked in High Times. But maybe that's just me?

Friday, February 20, 2009


Clicked an iPhone snap of a young lady I was shooting yesterday. At the time, I was recording video for mobile content with a Sony HVR-Z1U hi-def video cam.

Mobile content, leastwise the stuff I sometimes shoot for clients, includes sexy photos and video that are made available for viewing on cell phones. This is R-rated stuff: No full-frontal or overt sexuality and quite popular in Europe and other parts of the world. What else would you do with a cell phone? Make phone calls?

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

A week or so ago, when I found out I was going to be putting my grubby hands on an Innovatronix Explorer XT (courtesy of Innovatronix) along with some other cool gear the company manufacturers, my cell phone was really messing up. It kept turning itself off at the most inopportune moments! My phone, an LG, was something of a dinosaur in the world of mobile phone technology, i.e., it was over a year old. In terms of cell phone evolution, "over a year old" is the Jurassic period for many phones. That's how quick the technology changes.

One would think a piece of advanced technology like a 2007 cell phone would last more than a year? Apparently, not so. Personally, I don't think there was anything truly wrong with my phone. My theory is this: When cell phone companies changed over to their 3g networks, a whole bunch of phones (those not designed or equipped to handle 3g) took it on the chin and started acting weird, especially in terms of power consumption and related issues. I ain't no engineer but that's my theory.

Anyway, a day or two after finding out I was getting all that Innovatronix gear, I was on a shoot and one of my clients was trying to get a hold of me. Every time he got through my phone would turn itself off within a few seconds of me answering. Finally, we managed to text each other back a forth a few times. Later that day, I saw the client and he was complaining mightily about my phone. I shrugged. "Wha'd'ya gonna do?" I said. "The phone is screwed. I'll get a new one soon."

Well, "soon" wasn't soon enough for my client and, to make a long story short, he decided to give me a slightly-used iPhone he had as he recently purchased one of the new, 3g, iPhone models. (My "new" iPhone is one of the originals, an 8G model with very little mileage on it.) So, last week, not only did I find out I was going to be the appreciative recipient of some free gear from Innovatronix, I also ended up with a free iPhone! Cool, huh? I love free stuff. It's so... free.

Fast forward to yesterday...

I was shooting the pretty girl on a white cyc (cyclorama) when my iPhone alerted me to a newly received text message. I looked at the phone while still hand-holding the vidcam, read the text and, with the girl gyrating in front of me like I was seated in the front row at a strip club's stage with her wearing the tinyest-teenyest micro-bikini I've ever seen and using a ladder as a set-piece prop, I decided to snap an iPhone pic. Being a multi-tasking sorta guy, I held the Sony Z1U with my left hand, all the while recording the model, and held up my iPhone with my right, touch-screening a snap with my stubby thumb. (In spite of having stubby fingers, opposing thumbs are quite convenient.)

The cyc and girl were lit with tungsten, specifically, a couple of 1k Mole Babies. Later on, when I took a look (on my computer) at the iPhone pic I snapped, I realized the iPhone's little 2mb camera didn't do a very good job of handling tungsten's color temp: Way too orange and yellow with splotchy tints of green and magenta. That's why I converted the pic (above) to B&W-- the color looked that crappy!

But that's okay. Since becoming a proud iPhone owner, I've discovered there's a near-cult-like following of iPhone snapping iPhonographers out there. Go figure, right?

I've noticed the iPhone takes much better quality snaps in daylight. (What a surprise, huh?) I haven't tried it indoors with practical incandescent lighting a room but I'm guessing the results might be worse, color wise, than with the pro tungsten lighting I was using yesterday.

There are no controls on the iPhone's camera. You can't adjust ISO, aperture, shutter, color temp. You can't zoom in or out. You can simply snap pics and let the iPhone make exposure decisions. It's sort of like a digital pin-hole camera. There might be some apps that allow an iPhonographer to make some camera adjustments but I haven't researched that as of yet.

Yesterday's pretty girl was Cassidy, a Greek-extracted cornhusker from Omaha. Remember the term, "hardbody?" That's Cassidy. A total hardbody. Here's another pic, this time snapped with my Canon 5D and lit with strobes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Do You Tweet?

Twitter has become a daily part of my life. I only began Twittering about a month or so ago but it's now a big part of my daily e-diet. I even keep connected with my iPhone.

Twitter is unlike other social networking sites, e.g., MySpace and FaceBook. It asks one simple question: "What are you doing?" And it only allows you to elaborate in 140 characters or less.

Since many, make that nearly all, of the Twitter users I follow (or those who follow me) are related to photography, I've been able to network with many others who either share my love for photography and/or those who keep me informed about photo-related news and information. In real time!

For a while, I wondered why Twitter uses avian-related analogies and metaphors for it's name and user jargon. Then I realized they must have spoken with my Mom. How so? I'll tell ya how so.

Back in the day, when I was a little kid, whenever my mother seemed to know something that I couldn't figure out how she found out about, she'd simply say, "A little bird told me."

My Mom is now 82 and she continues saying that to this day!

That's how I think of Twitter: Whatever I learn via its users, I think to myself, "How do I know that? A little bird told me."

If you don't Twitter you might think about doing so. It's a great way to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances and, better still, those who you follow will keep you abreast of important news and info about those things you are most interested know, like photography!

Here's my Twitter account: pgshooter. If you want to hatch your own Twitter presence, you can sign up for a free Twitter account from my Twitter page. (No, I don't get a kick-back for this.) After signing up, you can add me (to follow) and also have a look at the folks I'm following. I'm pretty sure some of those I follow will be of interest to you and you'll want to follow them as well.

The pretty girl at the top, from a shoot last year, is... uhh... Damn! I forget her name! I do remember that she's from Brazil. Oh well. She's drop-dead gorgeous with or without a name. I posted a B&W version of the shot, with the model wearing a dress, so it would seem a bit more "high-brow." You know, me being a high-brow sorta guy and all.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ansel Adams, Digital Photography, Some Irish Guy, and Pretty Girl Shooting

Some title, huh? While it might seem too eclectic a mix of subjects to bridge, just watch me: I'm gonna bridge 'em!

For this update, we'll travel back in time, back forward in time, across the Continental U.S., over the pond to Dublin, back across the pond, back across the North American Continent to San Francisco and Los Angeles with a few side trips to other parts of the Great American West!

I read a post the other day on P. Salisbury's informative blog, Fotowired. Salisbury is an Irish, Dublin-based, photographer, writer and teacher. (Apparently, in that order since that's the order he lists his vocations on Twitter.) No additional info on Salisbury's drinking habits or possible affinity for spuds, the color green, and leprechauns, or whether he's a fan of Notre Dame football. (The dude is Irish, after all.) Anyway, Salisbury's post, which is excerpted from Ansel Adams' autobiography, is a good read as well as an instructive read. CLICK HERE to go directly to Salisbury's Ansel Adams post.

It seems, besides being an iconic photographer, Ansel Adams was also something of a prognosticator. (Whether he knew it or not.) In the excerpt, the master's words can be as easily applied to today's new generation of digital photographers as they could to film shooters back in the day. ( D'uh. Salisbury's update's instructive intent, no doubt.)

Here's an example--

Some guy, in 1984, speaking with Adams and questioning the modern relevancy of Adams' techniques: "I look around me and see hundreds of photographers relying on camera electronics or simply exposing with random repetition, bracketing exposures to cover mistakes. If this seems to be the modern approach, do you feel your system continues to be relevant?"

Adams responding to the guy: "Being trained in music, I was obliged to know my notes, to practice continuously so that the notes, phrase shapes, and dynamics would be securely established in my mind. My playing, therefore, was expressly intuitive, based on a thorough experience with the facts and structure of the scores."

My simple translation: Study and learn the old school basics. Integrate those rules and basics into your photography. Practice makes perfect. Then go shoot outside the box and declare yourself an artist.

Adams goes on to talk about the need to make the technical aspects of the photographer's craft "intuitive." (Something I've ranted on before.) Personally, I like to think of it as practicing the craft and technical stuff until it becomes automatic, much like the theme of that popular golf video of a number of years ago, "Automatic Golf."

In fact, when it comes to pretty girl shooting, until much of the tech and craft stuff becomes intuitive, or automatic, you'll be spending far too much time focused on those things rather than visualizing the shot, composing the shot and, perhaps most importantly, gaining rapport and interacting with the model. (Which, if truth be known, are the things you should be spending most of your time doing while shooting glamour photography. Especially that last part about rapport and interaction.)

Let's see if I covered all those things in my title: Ansel Adams? Check. Digital photography? Check. Some Irish guy? Salisbury... check. Pretty girl shooting? Me, this blog, the pic at the top, check!

As for the time travel, distance travel, and the various places I mentioned earlier on in this update? Well, you're all smart people. You can figure that out. Check!

The pretty girl at the top is Rebecca from a shoot last year. She's purdy, no? I wonder if Mr. Adams ever shot any pretty girl pics? You know, on the QT... near Half-Dome.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Down Low Photography

One way to shake-up your pretty girl shooting, you know, to kick it up a notch and add drama and interest, is by getting low. I'm not talking low-brow or mind-in-the-gutter low, although those mind-sets sometimes work, I'm referring to your shooting angles: Your position with the camera relative to the model, i.e., shooting up, rakishly up, from down low with radical, upward-looking, shooting angles.

I often shoot from somewhat low-ish angles. Sometimes, I shoot from way down low angles. That doesn't just mean plopping my ass on an apple box and shooting up. (Which I'm often prone to doing.) It also means dropping my ass even lower: On my back or on my belly low. (On my back tends to be lower than on my belly altho my diet has me in shrinking belly mode and, before too long, I should be good-2-go, belly up or belly down.) Also, placing the model on a riser in the studio with a seamless behind her or positioning the model higher (than you) on a slope when you're shooting exterior locations are a couple of other ways to capture down-low goodness. (Without the need to lie on your back or belly.)

Besides adding drama and interest, shooting from down low adds power to the model, i.e., makes her seem more powerful in the image. Conversely, shooting from high angles downward often has the opposite effect. Photographing models from eye-level angles can often be boring is kind of neutral in terms of sending subtle or not-so-subtle messages to the image's viewers.

For viewers, images shot from down-low (that is, shot from low with angles looking up) can make models really stand-out in a dominant way even when the background environment is dramatic and powerful, e.g., awesome sunsets or other dramatic skies, cool urban skylines, other breathtaking landscapes or really cool interiors. BTW, when I say "dominant," I don't necessarily mean it in a sexual sense -- although that can also be accomplished from down-low shooting -- I'm speaking more to the way viewers perceive the model when you're shooting from radically low positions and angled up.

If you want to go even further with this down-low stuff, try shooting from very low with Dutch angles. (A canted camera.) Doing so also produces really cool, less-often-seen, images.

Kayla, once again at the top, this time from down-low with her shining light on me. I gotta say, it's always a nice view when I'm down-low, between a hot model's legs, looking up. Yeah, I know, get your mind outa the gutter, Jimmy. But hey! I'm often being paid for having my mind in the gutter. It's part of my profession. It's like, when I'm on duty, I'm a paid perv. Besides, I'm a guy, right? A straight guy. I'm wired that way. So there!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Blogging Pays Off!

For the past three years, I've been pouring time into this blog like a degenerate, two-bit, gambler plunking quarters into a slot machine. Yeah, Lucky 7s have lined up a few times but the tangible payouts haven't been anything to crow about.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining! (Although it might sound like I am.) I enjoy writing. I especially enjoy writing about photography. Make that writing about pretty girl shooting photography. Plus, there's other kinds of payouts, i.e., intangible payouts like psychological, emotional, and ego-stroking payouts. Those kinds of payouts have been numerous. Too numerous to list. In a nutshell, I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of writing this blog and knowing people are reading it. Judging from the comments and emails I receive, many of you genuinely seem to appreciate what I'm doing here. That's very cool! Thanks!

More than a few of you purchase items from Amazon by using the link I've provided in the side column. My commissions, which I take in gift certificates, allow me to purchase a few things now and then... and at no cost to me and courtesy of you, the PGS blog's readers. Mostly, I purchase photography books that help me become more knowledgeable and that I later review. But not always. For instance, I purchased my little Canon Power Shot point-n-shoot with those gift certs.

Two days ago, I wrote something I called, "The Wall." I doubt it stirred anyone to any great extent. I felt I needed to write about something and, as a follow-on to my "The Old Man Who Lives on the Hill" update (which was only vaguely about photography and certainly not about pretty girl shooting) writing about the wall seemed to make sense. In retrospect, it turned out to be a blog update that is already paying off quite nicely.

That night, after writing "The Wall" update, I received an email from the marketing manager of a company called, Innovatronix. The company is HQ'd in the Phillipines and is the manufacturer of the Explorer XT portable power source I mentioned in the "The Wall" article. It seems a lot of you clicked on the link I provided and that got the attention of those 'Tronix people... half-way around the globe!

In the email, Glen, Innovatronix's marketing manager, offered to send me an Explorer XT (mine to keep) in exchange for writing a review of the product and providing them a pic or two -- SFW pics for use on their website -- from a set I might shoot utilizing the Explorer XT as a (no A/C available) location power source. How cool is that? Earlier in the day, I was writing about how much I'd like to have one of those babies for an upcoming shoot and, BINGO! By that night I found out I was gonna get one, courtesy of the manufacturer!

But it gets better.

An hour or two later I received another email from Glen. This time he tells me he had a meeting with 'Tronix's president and they've decided to not only send me an Explorer XT, but they'd also like to send me their Tronix Auxiliary Battery Pack, once again, if I'd later write a review and send them some pics.


But it gets better.

Glen and the president also decided they would like to send me their Tronix Portable Air Blower as well as one of their (as yet to be officially released) Tronix Vulcan Battery-Operated Smoke Machines! Yep! You guessed it! Also mine to keep and with the same quid pro quo conditions, i.e., reviews and pics.

Holy smokes! (Pun intended.)

But it still gets better!

In an email back to Glen where I thanked him and 'Tronix's president for making me an offer I can't refuse, I mentioned my plans to promote pretty girl shooting workshops. Late last night, Glen emailed back confirming my acceptance of their kind offer, asking for my shipping address and, once again, upping the ante: He advised me that Innovatronix would be very interested in becoming a sponsor of such events!

I am... really thrilled about this and looking forward to trying out Innovatronix's gear and developing an on-going relationship with them. (I'm already dreaming up some ideas for using a smoke machine and/or an air blower in places where they're normally not used. How so? Because I'll be able to use them without being tethered to an A/C outlet.)

If any of you are planning on attending the WPPI Convention at the MGM Grand Hotel Conference Center in Las Vegas this weekend, stop by the Innovatronix booth and say hi. I attended last year, thoroughly enjoyed it, but am unable to be there this time. Innovatronix will be in Booth 335. Please tell them JimmyD, the pretty girl shooter, sent you.

The SFW pretty girl photo at the top is Kayla from a shoot in 2008. Kayla's got a great profile, no? Here's another of Kayla from a different shoot. This time, with unusual processing (for me) but a more customary PGS NSFW pic.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Wall

So as not to be second-guessed, let me start off by mentioning this update has nothing to do with Pink Floyd. (Although it is true I'm a long-time Pink Floyd fan.)

Having said that, it is true this post is about a wall, that is, the wall my neighbors and I refer to as the wall.

Like the old man who lives on the hill (whom I wrote about yesterday) the wall also exists across the street from where I reside. For reference, the hill where the old man lives is to the left of where my little Canon point-n-shoot was focused when, just today, I shot the above pic of the wall.

The county built the wall last summer. Its purpose is to stop debris (from dead trees to discarded refrigerators) from washing down the canyon during a big rain storm. The canyon behind the wall runs for miles up into the hills and back-country, eventually leading to a lake and recreational area about 5 to 10 miles away. There's also a California condor sanctuary up there, not to mention deer, coyotes, mountain lions, and other fauna. The pic also looks towards the Pacific Ocean which is about 25 or 30 miles, straight ahead, that-a-way. Perhaps the wall is also designed to protect us from a really big Tsunami? (Which, according to the History Channel -- or was it NatGeo? -- isn't a matter of if it happens but when it happens.)

What does all this have to do with photography? I'll get to that in a moment.

To me, the wall looks like something out of that movie, "The Village." Or maybe something they built in "Jurassic Park" to keep dinosaurs contained. Either way, it's an interesting landmark. Most people comment on it when they come up this way for the first time. "What's that?" is the most commonly-asked question.

"The wall," I usually answer with a shrug.

Technically, I suppose, it's more a fence than a wall. But for some reason, calling it a wall has stuck with most folks up this way. Here's a closer look at the wall. For reference, the wall is about ten-feet high.

Walls and fences and such can be cool places to shoot pictures. I would love to shoot some pretty girl stuff in front of the wall but I don't think my neighbors would approve. I could go on the other side of the wall and get some pretty girl shots in relative privacy but the wall isn't as cool on the other side: Doesn't have those steel supports which, IMO, give it strength and character and visual interest. (Strength being the reason the county's engineers had them installed. I don't think "character" or "visual interest" was a consideration for them.)

In a few weeks I will be photographing an up-n-coming rock band for their publicity and art-work needs and I'm going to shoot them at the wall. The name of the band is "Paradise." They just signed a contract with some music company label. I'll be shooting Paradise, if all goes according to plan, late in the day. I'm planning to use strobes to fill the hard, shadowy, late-afternoon sun and for accent lighting. (Assuming it's a sunny day.) For some of the pics, I'll probably try overcoming the sunlight with my monolights. That should look cool, more so if there's some interesting clouds in the sky. Maybe I'll set a strobe behind the wall and throw some hard light between the horizontal planks? That might look cool too. Hmmm... Maybe some smoke from a fog machine? We'll see. Hopefully, we'll still be shooting when Golden Hour arrives. The sun will be setting behind the hills that are behind the wall, somewhat to the left-side of the canyon.

I didn't consider going the Strobist route while thinking about shooting the band. Strobist-style photography certainly has its place in the world of location shooting but it isn't all things to all shoots. Plus, waiting for small, Speedlite-type flashes to slowly recycle drives me nuts! I have a couple of Canon Speedlites in my bag, as well as a Vivitar 285 and a 283. They probably would might get this job done... barely. Instead, I'm going to string enough stingers together to reach from the garage, here at the house, to the wall. It's about 150 yards and, yeah, I have enough extension cords to get there. Man, do I want/need to get one or two of THESE BABIES for just this sort of work. Unfortunately, finances don't currently permit. (Without going the plastic route which I ain't gonna do.)

Since I'm writing about walls, here's a pic from a year or so ago shot against another wall, this one of a brick, Pink Floyd-ish, variety. I don't recall the model's name. I do remember that I used two strobes to light her. I think the pic reveals where the lights were (approximately) set.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Old Man Who Lives on the Hill

There's an old man who lives up the hill across the street from where I reside, like many people, in a nice, comfy, climate-controlled house with civilized (if not ritzy) amenities.

Someone once told me the old man's name. I think they said it was Ed or Jerry but I really don't remember for sure. The picture above, which I snapped just today with my little Canon point-n-shoot, is the view I see everyday when I get into my car and look straight out through the windshield. The arrow points to the approximate location where the old man lives, just below a knoll, out of sight from the street and prying eyes.

It's a much further hike up to that point than it might look in the image, photographs being two-dimensional and all. And the old man can't walk straight up that hill. It's a zig-zagging, sometimes steep, path he needs to negotiate while getting himself up and down, rain or shine, hot weather or cold. The old man is in his 70s, most likely nearing 80, yet I see him make that hike up and down the hill, zig-zagging his way back and forth, about two or three times a week. When he makes the hike back up the hill, he's usually carrying a couple of one gallon plastic containers of (what I assume is) water and almost always carrying another plastic bag which I'm assuming contains food. Where his money comes from I do not know.

The old guy doesn't live in a house or a trailer or shack up there. I'm told he lives under something more akin to a lean-to. He doesn't have electricity, running water, or anything else that most of us take for granted. Up to a few years ago, he did (I'm told) live in something that sort of resembled a shack but it burned in the wildfires that swept through here two years ago. I've lived here for just over a year and, up until 4 or 5 months ago, he was still building his new lean-to. I know this because, for months, I watched him carry the lumber up there, one two-by-four at a time. Neighbors offered to help, to at least help him get his building supplies up there, but he declined the offer. I guess that's just how the old guy rolls.

At night, I've never seen the soft glow of any sort of light coming from up the hill. I live out in the sticks, the "boonies" some would say. (Well, in a place as close to qualifying as "the sticks" as one can be living a half-hour North of cosmopolitan L.A.) It gets dark out here at night. Sometimes pitch-black dark. I would see light if there were any coming from up the hill.

The old man on the hill has an old, beat-up, red Ford pick-up he parks on the street. He drives off a few times a week and always returns before the sun sets. Neighbors tell me he usually goes to a grocery store as well as to a local campground where, I'm also told, he showers and shaves. It's gotta be a tough life up there but, I figure, it's the life he's chosen. Most folks around here are of the opinion the old guy owns that bit of property up on the hill. People also believe he's a Veteran and receives medical care from the V.A. If so, the old guy and I have at least one thing in common.

I'm not sure how long the old man has lived up there. I've heard at least 20 years. Whatever happened in this guy's life to drive him up that hill I do not know. For about a decade he was embroiled in a squabble with some other guy who owns the property the old man must cross on his way up the hill. Eventually, I was told, the old man won out and, ever since, goes up and down the hill with impunity.

I am immensely curious about the old man on the hill. One time, when I saw him hiking down, I decided to go for a little walk of my own: One that was timed to cross his path as he arrived down on the street. I was hoping to strike up a conversation with him. When he and I crossed paths and I was a mere few feet from him I smiled cheerfully and said, "Hi!"

He oh-so faintly smiled, nodded, and walked right past me without missing a step or uttering a word.

I've considered hiking up the hill to the old man's humble surroundings but that seems like an impolite invasion of his privacy. Besides, every time I seriously consider hiking up there, these things (pictured below and also shot today) don't seem to agree to "do their thing."

It's driving me mad. I so want to find out about this guy. I want to photograph him. I want to write a story about him and shoot his picture... lots of pictures of him, his environment, his life on the hill, everything.

But all the neighbors tell me no way. No way will he permit me to do so. And they are always quick to advise me that I shouldn't "Bother him."

These days, I wonder if, given the current economic crisis and in the not too distant future, there might be many more Americans living just like that old man on the hill? I hope no one I know or know-of is one of them. I hope I'm not one of them. But if there's one thing I've learned from the old guy on the hill it's this: If that's what happens to lots of folks, they'll survive. This old guy, after all, has survived up on that hill for a very long time.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Technical Perfection vs. Raw Visual Impact

Read an interesting, informative, and articulate article on Chase Jarvis' blog today. Chase's update was penned by Scott, Chase's #1 on his post-production team. For the most part, the update chronicles why Scott, the blog update's author, is decidedly luke-warm these days when it comes to stock photography.

But that's not what grabbed my interest. (I don't shoot no steenkeeng stock.)

Apparently, at Chez Jarvis, technical perfection now takes a back burner to raw visual impact. In other words, technically imperfect images have become, at times, Jarvis' snaps du jour.

Don't get me wrong. I'm confident Scott isn't advocating completely blind eyes when it comes to an image's technical elements. And I doubt I'm confident Chase Jarvis doesn't set out to shoot technically imperfect images. But these days, if a choice is to be made between visual impact and technical perfection, visual impact trumps technical minutiae.

This relatively new, Chase Jarvis & Co., way of making photographs kind of plays into the art v. crap debate. Jarvis' picture-making-machine doesn't churn out much crap if any at all. Leastwise, imagery that would be labeled as crap by most of us. But, according to Scott, art buyers are now looking at an image's visual impact first and its technical merits second. So now, I'm thinking, if an image seems closer to crap, at least from a technical POV, but has incredible visual impact, it is art. Maybe good art. Maybe even great art. Certainly, marketable and salable art.

Since I can't argue with Chase Jarvis' continuing success as a world-class photographer, I'm gonna learn from his post-guy's article and, perhaps, try to be a bit less technically-anal while shooting and become, if I can, more focused on visual impact. Of course, I don't have the post-prod skills to be technically-anal in post anyway. And my lack of PS skills also means that post won't contribute much to my images' visual impact--so nothing changes there--but perhaps my eye should be (way) more on the lookout for ways to enhance my work with visual power versus technical pursuit?

I hope my clients agree.

The pretty girl at the top is Kat, from a few years ago, snapped right after she whipped me at arm wrestling.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Broadening My Horizons

My whining the other day ("One-Two Punch for Photographers") has really re-energized my quest to broaden my horizons. Couple that with my next post ("Always Have a Plan B") and I realize, for a guy pimping Plan Bs, I didn't have much of a Plan B in place for going after work outside the niche I've made much of my living at.

Watching the back-and-forth scoring excitement of the Super Bowl yesterday also acted as a catalyst for believing there's always a chance way to get back in the game, even if one's current status in the game looks a bit dismal.

I've redoubled my efforts to get some training programs going. The DVD may have to wait a bit longer since there's budgetary considerations and, frankly, since it's gotten harder and harder to make a decent living, personal funds simply aren't available to finance a DVD project. I want to do it right, after all, and not scrimp (production-wise) in too many areas. No, I don't intend to make the "Gone With the Wind" of pretty girl shooting DVDs but I do want to produce something I'm (relatively) proud of. And doing so takes a few extra bucks.

I've also redoubled, quadrupled even, my efforts to broaden the types of work I hope to score. Sure. Sex sells. But it's harder to sell it when so much of it is readily available for free.

Here's the list I've put together for the types of work I'm now actively pursuing, and I do mean ACTIVELY pursuing: glamour (as always), fashion, corporate, commercial, and publicity, portfolio and headshot work for models, actors, actresses, entertainers, bands, corporate execs, and celebrities. Most of my current efforts are targeting those last types of work.

Yeah, I'm sure many of you might be thinking, "That's the kind of stuff we all want to shoot, Jimmy." But, frankly, I haven't gone after any of that work in a seriously pro-active and vigorous way.

All that's changed. I'm actively (and I do mean actively) pursuing all that sort of work. I'm putting as much effort and time and resources into scoring some of that other work, other than glam and tease that is, as I have with the 18+ stuff. The work is out there. No reason I can't grab some of it. I have the experience, gear, and know-how to produce good work in all those areas. And I'm gonna.

The pretty girl at the top, Bianca, is not a model or a performer. I shot her a few years ago in the studio. I guess it's sort of an art nude pic... make that a semi-nude art pic.