Saturday, March 28, 2009

Paradise with the ExplorerXT

Some of you might remember how I came to be in possession of my ExplorerXT gear-- Just rewind your brains a bit to a few months ago.

Back in late January or early February, I posted an update where I talked about shooting a band who had just signed a contract with a label and -- to make a long, already-told, story short -- I ended up with some really cool gear. In a way, the band is indirectly responsible for me receiving this gear. Thanks guys! And thanks again Glen! (Innovatronix marketing guy and a person who is more than indirectly responsible for me getting my grubby hands on an ExplorerXT and some other great gear.)

Anyway, the band I wrote about back then is called Paradise and, today, we spent an hour or two near my home making some photos.

I was already acquainted with Chris, Paradise's drummer. (He's the blond dude on the far right in the picture above.) It was my first time meeting the rest of the lads: Nick, Jordan, and, uhh.. Jordan.

Paradise didn't want me to shoot them in a style that evoked the typical, rock & roll, "Yeah, we bad!" look that's so common with many music industry marketing photos these days. They wanted something more fun, slightly cheesy, perhaps even a bit dumb and silly. No problem, guys! I can do cheesy. And dumb and silly? Well...

In spite of the lightheartedness the lads wanted in their pics, a name like Paradise (and all it conjures) still needs something more, you know, like maybe touch of visual symbolism for a few of the photos. So, that was the plan: Fun, cheesy, dumb and silly, with a lighthearted touch of something semi-symbolic. Nothing deep, dramatic, meaningful, or too artsy or mysterious.

BTW, the guys could only make it around mid-day, obviously not the preferred time to shoot, but with a little help from my strobes and the portable power gear, I made do with the overhead sun.

Because of my available time this past week, or lack of it, and since our little shoot was scheduled kind of last-minute-ish, I was able to do absolutely zero in terms of planning this shoot. (Other than the where and when it would take place.)

So there we were, me and lads, on a bright, sunny, day, with me finding myself in need of something, anything, to provide a touch of, uhh... something or anything to help photograph these band guys.

And then I found it! (Not by design, but by accident!)

Lying on the ground, right under my nose and just waiting for me to discover its existence, was an orphaned street sign. How that sign came to be lying on the ground right where we were going to shoot is a mystery but I'm glad it was there. Serendipity rocks! (Nothing like a good prop to help out subjects who aren't comfortable, or have little or no experience, get into the groove in front of a camera.

"Dude! Check that out!" I said as I pointed to the sign which was turned, graphics-side down, in some high grass.

We picked it up, turned it over, and there it was: A double-sign traffic pole that was perfect for what we wanted to do. Plus, it has a touch of symbolism when put together with 4 guys who call themselves "Paradise." (You all get the symbolism, right? I don't have to 'splain this stuff do I? And no, it ain't an Iwo Jima thing... altho the posing for the shot at the top certainly is Joe Rosenthal inspired.)

It was great fun spending a couple of hours with these young, talented musicians. Plus, what if these kids hit it big? I'll be the first guy to have shot them. Cool, no?

Just like my last time using it, the ExplorerXT (and it's Aux Battery pack) performed like a champ! I know I'm sounding like I'm pimping this gear a bit much -- and I swear I'm not getting commissions for any sales that might result -- I'm just very impressed with Innovatronix's portable power products. Not only does the ExplorerXT make life so much easier when shooting at locations where A/C is unavailable (especially when I need to use strobes that provide more Ooomph! than speedlites can deliver) it hooks me up with fast recycle times and, like the Energizer Bunny, keeps on going and going and going.

I still haven't put the Air Blower they provided me through its paces -- I plan to do so very soon -- plus Glen, Innovatronix's marketing guy, just advised me a few days ago they're sending me their Vulcan smoke machine in the next few days. Who knows? It might already be on the way! Apparently, the engineers completed whatever mods they were making and the unit is now good to go. (Hopefully, I'll have the smoke machine by next week. I have some plans for that bad boy!)

My apologies for the lack of updates. I've been working on a 6-day production shoot the past three days. Each day has been between 14 and 16 hours long! I'm freakin' exhausted. Tomorrow, I'm back on set for another three days. Hopefully, they won't be as long as the last three. I'll provide some pretty girl pics from the shoot as soon as I can. One of the babes I've already shot this past week is December, 2008, Penthouse Pet, Tori Black. Damn! She's pretty! In fact, the words, "smokin' hot" come immediately to mind.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The ExplorerXT Rocks!

Just a short update to mention that I shot some pretty girl pics last night using the ExplorerXT as my power source. It was my first time using the gear since receiving it from Innovatronix.

I plan to write a full review of the product soon but, for now, I just wanted to say how impressed I was with the gear.

I hooked up with model, Jessica Vaughn, after driving back from attending the Model Showcase Event in Torrance, California. We shot at my pal, Rick Head's, house. Besides the opportunity to shoot Ms. Vaughn, which was a lot of fun, I wanted to use the opportunity to try out the ExplorerXT.

It was cold and Jessica was a real trooper in front of the camera, exposed to the chilly elements, only wearing that skimpy, sexy blue ensemble. I decided to use the ExplorerXT, coupled to its aux battery, to power two, Novatron, monolights. (An M500 and an M300, both fan-cooled.) I gotta say I was impressed with Jessica as well as Innovatronix's portable power gear! I shot about 150 pics over the course of nearly and hour, never changing how quickly I was snapping the shutter from my usual rate of capture. There seemed to be no noticeable difference in recycle time (from using A/C) for either monolight and, even towards the end of the series, I could detect no change in the recycle time. Because of the cold, coupled with Jessica's scant attire, I didn't shoot more: I Would have liked to have seen at what point the batteries started wearing down. I'll save that for the next time I use Innovatronix's gear.

It was liberating not having to shoot with lights tethered to A/C, still able to use the power of studio strobes as opposed to speedlites!

Anyway, just wanted to say that I think Innovatronix's portable power equipment rocks!

Since it was a dark night and very little ambient light was available, the monolights were powered up fairly high but this didn't seem to have had any (noticeable) effect on the strobe's recycle times.

I'll write more about Innovatronix's ExplorerXT in a future update. Just wanted to take a moment to report my initial reactions.

Jessica lit with a Novatron M500 modified with a Mola 33.5" Euro (for my mainlight) and a Novatron M300, boomed over her from the front of the old Ford pick-up, modified with a small, Chimera softbox. Canon 5D, 28-135 IS USM, ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 125th.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Model Showcase Event in Torrance, California

Tomorrow, 03-21-09, Model Showcase Events will be hosting their 32nd Model Showcase Event at the Holiday Inn Hotel, Torrance, California. The event will be held from 11:00 A.M. till 4:00 P.M. and will play host to many glamour, pin-up, and erotic models mingling with photographers, as well as fans, of pretty girl photography.

I'm gonna be there and maybe so should you!

Besides their friendly smiles and skimpy attire, models will be competing for $1000 in cash prizes in a "people's choice" type of competition. (Nothing like cold hard cash to make these hot sexy models friendlier than ever!)

So, if you 're looking for something fun to do tomorrow, Saturday, 03-21-09, and you're within striking distance of Torrance, California, come on over and check out the models! If you spot me in the throng, shout out a hello! In fact, just walk up to me and say hi. I'm a very friendly guy.

(Please Note: I did NOT say, "If you see me in a thong." That would be scary!!! Anyway, I said "throng," i.e., crowd, whatever. LOL)

The pretty girl at the top is Monica from down-under.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Have Your People Call My People

Had Took a meeting with the Hollywood guys today. They just finished cutting the promo for the reality show and wanted to screen it for my buddy and I.

I'm stoked!

The promo (and the show) mostly centers around Rob, my long-time friend and partner in crime, but I guess it would be fair to say I'm the #2 guy in it -- Glover to his Gibson, Elwood to his Jake, Patrick to his Spongebob, Riker to his Picard -- albeit I get less screen time than those other #2's usually got, leastwise, in the short promo.

The Hollywood guys shot about 15 hours of footage and boiled it down to a 10-minute promo. They told us it killed them to cut so much great stuff out. They probably could have cut a couple of 1-hour episodes or more out of all they shot but they explained that potential cable and/or subscription channels don't like it when you put the style, content, and direction of the show in concrete: They want to be able to screw it up have their own creative input into the show.

I have one word to say about the promo: It rocks! (Okay, that was two words but I exaggerate a lot.)

It's funny, it's, uhh... funny, and it's freakin' funny! It blows the lid off one of the most tightly held secrets in the entertainment biz, i.e., that the adult industry portion of the entertainment biz, the "other Hollywood," is glamorous, wildly exciting, constantly fun-filled, and populated with tons of people making mega-bucks, driving stupidly expensive cars, living in big upscale houses, and having non-stop orgies. Yep, it's a bubble-buster. But a funny-as-hell bubble-buster!

Personally, I think this show is a slam-dunk.

But then, I am a bit biased.

I can't tell you too much more. Believe it or not, we had to agree to some confidentiality stuff. And I'm talking agreeing with paperwork to back up those agreements. Wish I could rip the DVD copy of the promo they gave me and post it on the web. But if something like that happens, it's for them to do, not me.

So, we'll see what comes of it. I'm more than ready for something really cool to happen in my so-called career.

The pretty girl at the top is another snap of Cytherea from the same set as my last update's snap. In fact, it was the very next snap after snapping that last snap that I posted in my last update. (Whew! That was 4 "snaps" and a "snapping" in two sentences!)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Felt Like an Idiot Last Night

Last weekend, I posted an ad on Craigslist for an extra light meter I had. The meter was a Minolta AutoMeter IV F and it was in like-new condition. (Plus I had the carrying case.) I also own a Konica Minolta VF, an almost identical meter, albeit it sold for about a $100 more than its descendant. The Konica Minolta is the meter I use nearly every time I shoot.

Don't ask how I ended up with two, nearly identical, light meters. It's a convoluted story: One that requires too much background and cast-of-characters explanation. Just know I came by it legitimately and I came by it for free. Also, having a second meter had nothing to do with carrying a back-up. I have back-ups for much of my gear but don't feel compelled to carry a back-up light meter. My opinion that two meters in my bag was one meter too many prompted me to sell it. Of course, a couple of extra bucks in my pocket for something I really didn't need also prompted me to place the ad.

I didn't receive any inquiries from the ad until late yesterday afternoon after returning from a meeting at Larry Flynt's corporate HQ in Beverly Hills. I wasn't meeting with Larry, though I've met him a number of times, but his head of production. (BTW, the meeting went very, very well.)

The man looking to purchase the meter wanted to hook up at a nearby Starbucks. "I'll see you there," I said.

I arrived at the Starbucks, light meter in hand, and we sat down. The guy, a retired Navy vet who works for the VA in HR teaching IT -- I love acronyms -- brought along a Nikon speedlite to test the meter. Ultimately, the fact that this guy is a Nikon guy made me feel even more like an idiot, given that I'm a Canon guy.

So I set the meter to ISO 100, non-cord mode, @ 125. I pressed the button on the side of the meter (just like I do with my Konica Minolta) and he fired the strobe, startling more than a few Starbuck's customers in the room. I looked at the face of the meter: Nothing!

We tried it again.

Again, nothing.

"I'm doing something wrong here, " I said to the guy. (Although I had no idea what it was I was doing wrong.) I should also add, up till this time, I had never tested the meter as a flash meter: I had only tested it's ambient-light reading capabilities.

We tried it a few more times. Still nothing.

I was beginning to feel like an idiot. I kept insisting I use the meter's predecessor, the Konica Minolta VF, all the time and had no idea what was wrong.

The guy was beginning to suspect I was trying to sell him a a bum meter, in spite of its pristine, as-new, appearance. (I guess that's why he brought along the speedlite. D'uh!)

I pulled out my iPhone, went on the web, and Googled the Minolta meter, searching for some instructional aid. (I didn't have the Minolta's user guide.) While I was iPhoning for info, the guy kept messing with the meter and his speedlite, flashing away in the Starbucks, and telling me how the last meter he purchased from someone on Craigslist turned out to be defective.

Oh great. I was looking like a meter hustler.

My iPhone Google search netted a bunch of results but Safari, the iPhone's browser, wasn't able to open any files that would shed light on the light meter issue. (iPhones aren't replacements for computers, even though they allow web access.)

Finally, the guy said, "I'm calling my friend. He knows what he's doing with these things."

"And what am I? Chopped liver?" I didn't say.

Long story short: For some reason, Minolta decided to change the way you capture a non-cord flash with this meter... this meter that looks and operates, in nearly all ways, like a clone of my Konica Minolta. It turns out, courtesy of the guy's friend, that instead of pressing and holding the button on the side of the meter to measure a flash, like one does with my Konica Minolta, the Minolta IV F has you press the button once, causing the non-cord mode icon to blink off and on. You then fire the strobe without keeping the button depressed and it measures the light's output.

Bingo! Worked like a charm. We performed the operation a number of times to verify it wasn't an intermittent success.

The Nikon guy smiled. (Did I detect a hint of glib mockery in his smile?) He handed me the cash, thanked me, and said goodbye, leaving me sitting in Starbucks, alone and somewhat bemused, feeling like a GWC idiot! (The "C" in "GWC" referring to Canon.)

But at least I was $125 richer.

The semi-artsy-ish pic at the top is Cytherea from a ways back.

Monday, March 16, 2009

I Canceled My MySpace Page

I canceled my MySpace account today. Why? No value added.

I don't "work" MySpace to further my goals, photography or otherwise. Never have. I don't particularly give a crap about its social networking qualities. When I network socially, I usually do it live and in person. Plus, there's other social networking web applications that suit me better, Twitter being the top of my list for doing that.

Twitter, in my mind, is more about business networking than social networking. I guess it depends on how one uses it. Certainly, plenty of people social network on Twitter. That ain't why I subscribe.

I use Twitter to gather information and to discover links that others provide. The vast majority of my Twitter contacts, i.e., those whom I follow or those who follow me, are photography related. That wasn't the case with MySpace.

MySpace is filled with SPAM. I'm not saying SPAM doesn't exist on Twitter, it does, but to a lesser extent. Plus, on Twitter, SPAMMERS only have 140 characters (or less) to attempt to cram their SPAM down your throats.

Often, MySpace seems like a bunch of people masturbating their egos. My MySpace page probably did the same thing. I haven't done anything with FaceBook. I have an account there but have never done anything with it. FaceBook just seems like another MySpace. Maybe I'm wrong about that but that's my general attitude towards it.

So, if you suddenly find me missing as your MySpace friend, don't take it personal. I'm just trying to clear out some of the clutter in my life.

The gratuitous pretty girl at the top is Charmane from some time back.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Yin Yang

The Chinese philosophical concept of yin yang is one I subscribe to. Take life, for example. At times, life is good. Other times, it sucks. Good times and bad, it seems, are interconnected. Most of the time, life falls somewhere in between good and bad. But the forces of each are always at work.

When considering #1 and #2, it's usually not that life is entirely good or it entirely sucks. It's that it is either mostly good or mostly sucks. I'm guessing the 80/20 rule applies to those first, two, yin yang qualities of one's current life. All other ratios fall under #3, i.e., life, in general, falls somewhere between good times and bad and, while it might hover closer to one extreme or the other, it doesn't quite equal the oft-proven 80/20 rule where people are most likely to say "Life's good," or "Life sucks."

This isn't meant to be a pity party update--as much as it might read like one--but since Fall, my life, from where I sit, has mostly sucked. Please don't even think about writing some "cheer Jimmy up" comments. I'm just saying. I'm reflecting. It is what it is and its been what its been. I think I wrote about this once before a few months back. Frankly, I can't believe I'm writing about it again! There's no way I thought I'd still be wallowing in this "life sucks" bullshit.

Do I feel entirely hopeless? No. Do I feel it's going to continue this way without end? No again. I mean, I sure hope not. Do I feel temporarily cheated out of a good life? Nope. Well, maybe but not really. Leastwise, if I'm being cheated, a fair portion of whatever life is cheating me out of is my own damn fault. Not all of it: There are people and situations that shoulder some of the blame or who were the catalysts for this bullshit. But those people and situations don't warrant all the blame. They aren't so responsible that I feel completely innocently cheated.

What really bothers me about this is the depression its caused. I don't like to think of myself as being depressed or being in a state of depression. In fact, I spend a lot of time convincing myself that depression hasn't manifested itself in my psyche.

But it has.

I've reached the inescapable conclusion that it has and, worse, my depression has made my life generally worse. Sorry if I'm sounding like a chick right now. I don't mean that in a derogatory way. It's just that many women are better at owning up to this kind of stuff... and verbalizing that "owning up." (Like I'm doing right now.) I mean, it almost sounds like an oxymoron to say a guy should "man-up" to depression. (As sorry as that is.) And I"m not sure what I'm doing here constitutes manning-up to anything. Again. I'm just saying.

I know there's a lot of folks out there, right now, who are in (or feel like they're in) the same, sinking boat. In fact, some of them are in boats that are sinking faster than mine. That should make me feel better, right? Wrong. Some people say (and believe) misery loves company. I don't buy into that notion. I take no personal solace knowing other peoples' lives also suck, regardless of whether they suck to the same degree or worse.

What bothers me the most about this depression thing is its impact on my ability to get things done. I keep asking myself why I'm not accomplishing things I need to accomplish? I'm not talking about goals and desires and those sorts of things. I'm talking about shit that needs doing. Shit that, ordinarily, I would take care of.

But I'm not getting the stuff done that needs getting done. Often, it's relatively simple stuff: Stuff that, normally, I would dive right into and accomplish. Things that need doing that, theoretically, might help ease certain situations that have caused (and are continuing to cause) my life to stay, 80/20, on the sucking side.

How pathetic is that?

Do you ever feel like you're holding out for a break? For something magical or unlikely or unexpected to happen that will pull you out of your doldrums? If only that break would come along all the other shit evaporates? Is that realistic? Even slightly realistic? Or is that a product of depression? Sheesh. I feel like I might be depressing others just writing about this crap.

Besides snapping pictures, writing is what I do. Both endeavors, photography and writing, are therapeutic for me. I search, with words and pictures, for some sort of catharsis. I don't know if I believe the answer to my depression lies in photography or writing. I only know that depression and the reasons for the depression sometimes compel me to use those two endeavors in some possibly Quixotic quest to turn my life around. Perhaps it's a comfort thing? Maybe writing and snapping pictures takes the least amount of effort so, by doing those things, I delude myself into believing I'm self-actualized? (When, in fact, being self-actualized, for me, is the furthest thing from reality these days.)

I'm staring at my Final Cut Pro editing system. It's sitting on a desktop next to the desktop the keyboard I'm tapping on rests. I've had that editing system for about two months now and I've done nothing with it. Nothing. For some reason, I can't make myself sit down in front of it and work with it. It can make me money. Money I certainly could use these days. In fact, I have work that's been given to me to edit. But still, it sits there: Unused, un-worked, and unable to fulfill the promise I thought it held for putting a few extra bucks in my pocket.

There's other stuff that sits here waiting for me. I just can't bring myself to do it. It's like I'm paralyzed when it comes to some of this stuff. Even though, by doing these things, there's a decent chance it will help out with some of the situations that are screwing with my mental and emotional health.

There are, of course, a few benefits to depression: Weight loss is much easier. I've been fairly successful at that. (30+ pounds since October.) Plus I don't spend much $ on anything fun. Apparently, I'm not particularly interested in fun. I wake, I do only what I absolutely have to do to survive, to minimally survive, I get back into bed and sleep, waiting for the next boring, unproductive, cycle to repeat itself... day after day, night after night.

And that, my friends, truly sucks!

The pretty-girl-gone-mad at the top is Cindi. I know I've posted this pic before. So sue me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Framing for Dummies

Framing can be tricky. I'm not talking about cropping. Framing and cropping are two different animals. Related, for sure, but different as well... leastwise, in my mind they are. (BTW, the "Dummies" in my title mostly refers to me.)

Just so we're all singing from the same hymn book here, framing, for me, refers to the way I compose an image in my viewfinder. Cropping, again for me, refers to how I crop an image in post. Maybe that's how you use the terms, maybe not. Regardless. For the purpose of this update, we're gonna use my definitions of framing and cropping. (Being the grand, high, exalted, mystic ruler of a blog does have a few perks... very few, unfortunately.)

Framing certainly effects how I crop. That's where I often get myself into trouble! I get into trouble in a number of ways, i.e., I sometimes frame in various ways that don't allow me to crop in other ways. In other words, I neglect options for framing that end up inhibiting the way I can later crop the image. Especially, since I almost always want to maintain an aspect ratio that makes sense in terms of the length and width of that image's sides.

This all might sound like Photography 101 stuff but, whether it is or isn't, I often neglect these basic concepts and I moved-on from Photo 101 a long time ago! I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in too-often neglecting the basics, whether amongst pros or hobbyists, or experienced or not-so-experienced shooters.

When I'm shooting, I might see a cool angle or a great pose or expression and I frame that angle/pose/expression in a way that seems appropriate. Well, at the time it seemed appropriate. Then, I get home, look at my images, pick one or two to post and, too often, it turns out I framed the pic in a way that doesn't allow me to crop in some other way. I HATE when that happens! I have a permanent bruise on my forehead from all the times I've slapped myself there. (Think, "I could'a had a V-8!") Obviously, I can't frame things in every way possible. But giving myself a few extra options will go a long way towards keeping my forehead bruise-free.

Take the image above. It's Lexi, from yesterday's shoot. I kinda liked the pose but I framed her too tight. When I processed the image, I couldn't crop it exactly how I'd like to crop it. Like a dummy, I framed it in a way that limited my cropping options. You might think the cropping works. You might think it sucks. I don't think either. I just think it could be better, much better, "compositionally" better.

Here's what I could'a/should'a done: When shooting and framing, I could'a/should'a had her hold the pose and snap off a few extras with different framing: Looser, wider, tighter, Dutch-angled, different angles of attacks, that sort of stuff.

But I'm an impatient sort. And I like moving forward. So, as is my way, I pushed on and moved on and didn't capture that pose in a couple of different ways. (As listed above.) Certainly, I could have done so if I took the time to think about what I'm currently taking the time to write about. Yep. You guessed it: If I thought about Framing For Dummies!

So do yourself a favor. When you're shooting, think about how you're framing and how it might, later on, effect your cropping. And remember that, sometimes, there are other considerations to think about: Like what the image might be used for. For example, is it going to be used as part of an ad? If so, are you leaving enough negative space for the elements a graphic designer will later be wanting to use with your photo? Lots to think about when shooting pretty girls! Beyond, of course, how pretty and, uhh... enticing they might be.

If you've been a PGS reader for a while, you know I'm a proponent of getting things right in the camera. But sometimes, especially when it comes to framing, composing an image limited ways - ways that you might think you're going to be happy with, creatively happy, that is -- might also end up biting you on the ass! Leave yourself as many creative options as time will allow. Other than the time constraints, most of us are shooting digital. It ain't like I'm suggesting burning lots of pricey film or increasing the tab for developing all that pricey film.

As mentioned, the pretty girl at the top is Lexi from yesterday's shoot. I shot Lexi in my friend's studio. Lexi hails from Dallas and is only here, in L.A., for a week or so. Lexi did her own makeup. (She's also an MUA.) She's somewhat of a semi-newbie, modeling-wise, but she was very user-friendly and an absolute peach to work with. In fact, we're gonna work together again next time she blows into town!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bazookas (and Other Fun Stuff)

My son and his friends, all in the 12 to 13 year range, are big fans of bazookas. Yeah. That's right. Bazookas. Those shoulder-mounted, mini-canons that fire explosive projectiles at tanks, armored vehicles, and other things. Their fascination and preoccupation with bazookas is closely followed by an intense admiration for medieval weaponry imbued with magical powers. I'm referring, of course, to the cyber-weapons they use while fighting the good fights on platforms like XBox and PlayStation.

I'm not sure why bazookas are their fave. It might be the word itself. Buh-zoo-kuh! It does have a cool sound to it and its kinda fun to say: "Buh-zoo-kuh!" There's even a bubble gum named after them! And there's a song named for the gum named for the gun: The Bazooka Bubble Gum Song!

I don't think bazookas are used much in modern warfare, leastwise by contemporary, technologically-sophisticated, fighting forces. Wasn't the bazooka a WW2 weapon? Hasn't it been replaced with things like shoulder-mounted Stinger missile launchers or some such things? I don't know. I'm not much of a student of the things men use to kill and maim his fellow man. At one time I sort of was, but that was years ago, when I worked for an aerospace defense contractor making marketing films and hanging out of chase-planes with cameras in my hands. (The aircrafts my ass was tethered to were chasing airborne weapons and surveillance systems: Mostly, RPVs and drones and those sorts of things.)

Some of the games my son and his friends play have their characters warring with quite an eclectic mix of weapons, from old-school to new. In one hand, their characters might be blasting away with laser-guided, semi-automatic, bazookas while, in the other, they're wielding magic daggers. Is there such a thing as a laser-guided, semi-automatic, bazooka? Or, in real life, are weapons like that as elusive and fantasy-driven as magic daggers?

Who cares? They're just games.

This old-school/new-school weaponry thing reminds me of the title character in the sci-fi movie, "Predator." In the movie, the alien hunter uses weapons that are both old-school and new: He fires beam-guided, explosive bolts of something from his shoulder, can detonate mini-nukes from a device worn on his wrist, and yet he also hand-hurls metallic blades, spears, and other old-school weapons at his prey.

These days, photographers are much like the predator and the characters in the video games my son and his friends play. We use tools, simultaneously, that are both old-school and new.

Our cameras, assuming you're shooting digital, certainly are part of a new-school arsenal of photographic weapons of mass capture. But then, many of us also (routinely) use stuff that is decidedly old-school in our efforts to make good pictures. The trick, of course, is to imbue those old-school tools with (seemingly) magical qualities in ways that compliment the new-school gear.

Take the simple, low-tech, reflector: Reflectors are about as old-school as lighting gear gets. Ancient warriors used their shields to reflect sunlight back at their enemies, effectively and momentarily blinding them. We, as photographers, do the same. Of course, our models aren't our enemies, except the ones who flake, and we're not trying to blind them. We only want to illuminate them in aesthetically-pleasing ways so that our new-school/high-tech cameras can artfully and beautifully capture them.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this post. It might be that "I'm just saying." I'm definitely the sort of person who notices (and thinks about) parallels and relationships in things, new and old. You might say I'm fairly fascinated by parallel tools and technologies, i.e., the relationships between the new and the old and how those new/old things can be bridged and utilized together.

Its occasionally been my observation that some new-ish, younger, shooters seem to shun the old. It's like they don't value what came before them. (Assuming they have much knowledge of what came before them.) Instead of using time-honored and oft-proven techniques and tools, they poo-pah them as "old school" and put them in a category of little relevance in terms of their use and effectiveness.

Dudes! If that's you, you are seriously screwing yourselves and your efforts to become stand-out shooters! It is so freakin' important to understand the basics, both in techniques and tools. I ain't saying it's mandatory you use those old-school tools and techniques all the time. Yeah, break the rules! Think outside the box! Push the envelope! But you barely know what the box looks like or where the envelope is without knowing the rules or about the stuff I'm talking about. Without that understanding, you're a photographic cripple! A snapshooter relying on post-processing tools and other trickery to add some wow-value to your snaps. You're shooting half-blind, ill-equipped, or with one hand tied behind your backs. (Metaphorically, that is.)

Here's the deal... and remember you heard it right here, from the horse's ass mouth: You might have a new-school eye and a new school style but its knowing that old-school shit which, often, will really help make your work sing!

The pretty girl at the top, the one with a butt suitable for resting a beer mug on, is Naomi. I'm shooting for some English blokes at the end of the month and, last time they were here and I shot for them, this pic of Naomi was one of the results of my endeavors.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Don't Whore Your Rate!

In these tough economic times, it's tempting to whore your rate just to keep busy or to make up for declining work. Clients are aware it's a bleak economic landscape out there for photographers and just about everyone. Always looking to save a buck or two, many of those who hire shooters are more apt to ask those photographers to discount their rates these days.

"C'mon! Do me a favor. My budget's tight for this one. Just knock something off your rate and I'll make it up to you next time."

Don't do it! They will not make it up to you next time or any time. They probably won't make it up to you ever! You just took a pay-cut, most likely a permanent pay-cut with that client. Why? Because you just re-set your rate with them. And you re-set it in the wrong direction.

Some of you might be thinking, "If you're work is good, they'll pay your rate." Well, that sounds reasonable. But the people writing the checks often tend to be less reasonable than the people receiving the checks in these matters. And while your work might be good, there's other shooters out there whose work is good as well. Certainly, good enough. And if they're willing to work for less, you might be out of a job with that client, especially if and when you give them a reason to go looking for your replacement; like when you balk at continuing to work for a discounted rate.

Here's what happens when "next time" comes around. You quote your usual rate, not the one-time discounted rate. They look at you questioningly.

"But last time you only charged me this much." They'll say.

"Yeah, but that was because you asked me to do a favor. 'Just this once,' you said."

"Why would I pay you more this time than I paid you last time?" They might ask, suddenly developing amnesia regarding the "last time" conversation.

"Because this is what you paid me all those times before last time," You might answer.

Their condition of Sudden Amnesia Syndrome continues to reveal itself.

You see where this is going?


Like I said, when you agreed to that "one time" discount, you effectively reduced your rate permanently. Certainly, semi-permanently.

I know a photographer who worked regularly for the same company for 5 or 6 years. They paid him a decent rate and worked him often. He decided to ask for a $50/day increase in his rate. Suddenly, someone else is shooting for that company. And I guarantee that "someone else" is working for less than the original guy worked for. The company wouldn't pay the lousy fifty-bucks and now they're probably saving another hundred bucks or more. Good for them, bad for the guy who gave them excellent service for more than half a decade.

Here's another risk when whoring your rate: People talk. Clients talk. Sometimes, amongst themselves.

"I used Jimmy for my last project," says Client A.

"What did you pay him?" asks Client B.

Client A mentions the rate, i.e., the discounted rate I worked for.

Here's what happens in this scenario: Client B now wants that same discount. And if Client B is someone whom I work for quite regularly, he or she is now pissed! So, the result might be even worse than suddenly having to work for two clients at the same discounted rate. I might lose Client B entirely!

Obviously, this update is targeted at shooters who work for the same clients repeatedly. I'm one of those guys. I don't know how many others there are like me out there but there has to be a few, probably more than a few.

Here's some advice for newer shooters: Don't offer to work for a ridiculously low rate just to get the gig! Yeah, doing so might score you that gig. But you also set your rate low. Probably permanently low. Once you decide to go after what you should be paid by that client, the client will start looking for some other dumb ass who will work for that stupidly-low rate that got you in the door in the first place. Remember: Your work should get you in the door, the numbers are secondary. Also remember that doors are used for entering as well as exiting! You suddenly might find yourself exiting through that same door you whored yourself out to enter if that's what mostly got you in there.

Here's a personal story that typifies what I'm saying here:

Many years ago, while attending film school, another student and I stumbled on an opportunity to bid on a local television commercial spot. It was for two, already successful, Beverly Hills attorneys and it would be their first-ever TV commercial. (Ours too!)

We bid low. Break-even low. We got the gig and did a great job producing the spot. A few months later, the attorneys wanted to shoot another spot. (The first spot netted them tons of new clients.) We, my friend/co-student and I, were ecstatic! This was it: We were on the road to success in Hollywood.

But this time out, instead of just breaking even, we wanted to, at the very least, make a couple of bucks for the many hours we would have to invest producing the new spot. Our bid was still low but not ridiculous low. We would end up making something less than the kid working at MickeyD's but that was okay. We were making television, not french fries. Long story short: Some other dumb asses ended up producing the spot, probably for less than we produced the first spot for.

So remember: Don't whore your rate! Doing so will cost you in the long run and make your Kung Fu weak.

The pretty girl at the top is Mika from about two or three years ago. Mika's Kung Fu is strong!

NOTE: Be sure to read the comments section for this update! A PGS reader provided some truly excellent and informative subject-related links to articles, by John Harrington, posted over time on his Photo Business News & Forum blog.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Resistance is Futile

Came across an interesting link today, courtesy of a Tweet a Twitter user posted. It seems a one-eyed Canadian filmmaker hooked up with a geek unemployed engineer to form the EyeBorg Project.

What's an EyeBorg? Well, if you're asking that you're not much of a Star Trek fan. Suffice it to say the Borg are all about integrating technologies and life-forms in the same host body. Oh yeah. They're also all about conquering and controlling and forcing into the "hive" just about anyone and everyone in the known universe. And they're fairly adept at doing so. Hence, the Borg's favorite thing to say, "Resistance is futile."

Back to today's update: The intrepid duo, filmmaker and engineer, are hoping to make history by embedding a small, transmitter-equipped, videocam in a prosthetic eye and replacing the filmmaker's non-functional, for-looks-only, glass eye with their invention. In this way, the filmmaker can be making a movie 24/7. Or at least during all his waking moments. It's sorta like a helmet-cam except, instead of the camera being mounted on someone's head, it's installed in someone's head. (Cue Twilight Zone theme.)

I was intrigued by this EyeBorg concept because, for about ten years or so, I was 100% blind in my right eye. And that was after many more years of the eye slowly going blind. The eventual blindness was a result of an injury (when I was a kid) that led to a "traumatic" cataract that turned the lights out in my right-eye.

I still worked as a photographer and videographer during my half-blind years. I did have to make some adjustments, e.g., I used my left-eye for looking into a viewfinder. I still do! Some habits die hard. But it was also a pain-in-the-keester as cameras tend to be ergonomically designed to accommodate right-eye viewing; more so with many pro video cams as their viewfinders are side-mounted, usually on the left side cuz the hand-grip is on the right side. It's a right-handed and right-eyed world it seems. Not sure if it's a mostly right-brained world.

During my monocular years, my world was mostly two-dimensional: It takes two eyes, i.e., binocular vision, to have an accurate sense of depth. Of course, two-dimensional sight matches the two-dimensional view that photography captures. So maybe it wasn't so odd being a one-eyed shooter? The vast majority of cameras are one-eyed, right? When playing poker, when it's my time to deal, I usually call one-eyed Jacks wild. Cuz that's how I once rolled: One-eyed and wild!

While cataract surgery is quite common if not routine, my cataract was unique, so the doctors said, and carried excessive risks when it came to its removal. Risks that included too-high odds of also losing the sight in my left eye. "Thanks Doc. But I think I'll pass on the surgery and make-do with one eye that still works."

Finally, just a handful of years ago, medical technology caught up with my eye and the cataract was removed and a synthetic lens was implanted. I call it my bionic eye. During the cataract surgery (in which the patient remains awake) and after a couple of hours into it, the surgeon told me she was having difficulty removing the cataract and she'd have to do it "the old fashioned way." Her words, not mine.

"You mean with a pick and shovel?" I asked.

She laughed, said "Yeah," and continued hacking and digging away at my eyeball.

The surgery was a complete success although it took about a month or so for my sight to return to normal, i.e., without having double vision. (An interesting way to view the world. But that's another story for another update.)

I'm only recounting my personal, one-eyed story because the EyeBorg guys got me to thinking whether I would've been willing to have a video camera installed in my eye-socket replacing my totally useless eye? Just before the surgery, my right eye had atrophied to the point where it looked as if it was looking "over there" instead of "over here," where I was actually looking. That was pretty weird and not something that did much for enhancing my vanity... which might have been a good thing anyway.

In my line of work, shooting tons of pretty girls, there's probably a few guys out there who would vote for me to have such a device installed, especially if I streamed what my Borg-eye was "seeing" on the internet. But that would make me a walking, talking, internet site! What if I forgot to turn it off during some, uhhh... private moments? Thank you. No. I'll pass on that idea.

Still, for those who have a blind-side, I mean an actual, visually-impaired blind side -- cuz plenty of people are half or completely blind in other ways -- replacing a useless eye, prosthetic or otherwise, with a video camera is an intriguing idea.

The idyllic-looking "pretty girl on a swing with faux flowers" is Chanell from... Yikes! About 5 or 6 years ago! Damn time flies! Anyway, this was during my heavy-handed processing days. (Hi! My name is Jimmy and I'm a Photoshopaholic.) Thankfully, I kicked the heavy-processing habit some time ago. Especially, Gaussian Blur! (The most over-used and abused of PS's tools.) Chanell captured with a Canon 20D or 10D, don't remember which and can't find the original to figure it out.

I lit Chanell with a single speedlite in front of her, for fill, and modified with a small-to-medium sized softbox. I also used a big, silver, shiny board behind her, reflecting Sol's magic photons.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Hybrid Hoopla and Camera Bubbles

How many (related) technologies should be packed into a single device? I haven't a clue. I truly love the multi-functionality of my iPhone. But when it comes to photography, the trend to produce more versatile and multi-functional dSLRs has me, uhhh.... yawning.

It's not that I'm not impressed with some of these technological marvels. I am. Take Canon's 5DmkII. Even sans the HD video capability it's a very sophisticated camera capable of producing incredible images. And the price is right. I can buy one for less than what I spent on my 5D not all that long ago, significantly less in fact. (That, of course, annoys me to some degree.)

When I purchased my 5D, there was one driving force that motivated me: The full-frame sensor. Prior to the intro of the 5D, my only full-frame-sensor Canon option was their 1D line. But, frankly, I didn't want to plunk down the bucks for a 1D. Why? Practicality and frugality. Having a 1D wasn't going to net me any more work. My clients seemed pretty satisfied with the images I was already producing with my Canon 20D. (It ain't all about the camera when it comes to making good pictures.)

Unfortunately for my wallet, I wanted full-frame goodness. I wanted my glass to behave like it was supposed to behave. If I was shooting at a focal length of 85mm, I wanted that focal-length reflected in the imagery reaching the sensor. If I wanted to crop, I'd be the cropper, not the camera's reduced-frame sensor technology.

Now, we're seeing these hybrids that have popped up in the marketplace. Sure, there's other good reasons to upgrade to, for instance, a 5DmkII--other than its video capability--but I can't shake the feeling I'm still paying for functionality that I'm simply not too interested in having on board a still camera. In fact, hybrid technologies seem more apropos for point-n-shoots, IMO, of course. Call me old-school. Call me whatever you'd like. I don't really care what you call me. I yam what I yam. (Courtesy, Popeye, TSM.)

I also make some of my living as a videographer. I have a video camera, a fairly decent one: A Sony HDR-Z1U. When I'm shooting video, I'll shoot video with my Sony Z-cam, thank you very much. Are there times when it would be handy and convenient to have HD video capture on board a dSLR? I'm sure there are and I'm sure there will be. Are those times so frequent that I need to spend on a hybrid dSLR? Probably not. At least, not at this time.

I'm not going to delve into the technical and functional pros-and-cons of shooting video with these new-breed dSLRs versus a dedicated vidcam. There's plenty of places on the web where that discussion is taking place. I'm simply interested in using the best tool for the job (that I can afford) and, at this point, shooting video with a dSLR is not the most all-around effective tool for my needs.

Hybrid cameras are innovative, at least from the perspective of multi-functionality, but are they truly innovative from a still photography POV? I suppose that answer varies depending on who is answering it. What would I like to see in still dSLR camera innovation? How about a medium-format sensor on board a dSLR and at an affordable price?

As for bubbles, I certainly ain't an economist. But I've blown enough bubble-gum bubbles to understand the dynamics of bubbles: They expand until they burst! And that's what I think is happening with digital photography, e.g., digital cameras. I'm not talking about the price and profit aspects that the term "bubble" most often refers to, but the availability of so many new cameras in the marketplace. Yeah, *that* camera bubble.

It seems like every week another camera manufacturer is announcing a new version of their old cameras with, supposedly, marked increases in performance and quality and capability. I'm reflecting on dSLRs as well as point-n-shoots. And you can certainly apply the bubble analogy to other photo gear, stuff like lighting and such. (Think the new breed of "digital" monolights.) At what point is the market so saturated with these repeated and new offerings that consumers simply decide not to buy? (i.e., not to upgrade from what they just bought last year/month/week.) Perhaps we've already reached this point? If so, camera and other photo-gear manufacturers are going to have less money available for R&D and other things. But then, how much more dR&D do we really need?

When I look at the work of the masters, I can't help but wonder if their work would have been improved if they had the tools available that we have today? I'm guessing not. A camera might be your third eye but, when it comes to photography, the eye that truly matters is the one in your head: Your mind's eye. That's where your artistic vision comes from. Not from a computer chip.

The pretty girl at the top is Alexa from a shoot last year, captured full-frame with my Canon 5D and an 85mm prime.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The OctoDome

One of my fave mainlight modifiers is my Photoflex 5' OctoDome. (Not to be confused with a ThunderDome, a la the Mad Max sequel.) It produces beautiful, wrap-around, quality-of-light and is appropriate for shooting headshots through 3/4 body shots and, to a lesser extent, full-body shots. They call it an OctoDome because of its 8-sided dome shape. (D'uh!)

The OctoDome is like a poor man's beauty dish, especially when compared to the price of a Mola dish. I have a 33.5" Mola Euro and, to be honest, it's my absolute favorite mainlight modifier. But the Mola doesn't collapse and fold up into a small bag, making it a bit unwieldy for transporting to and from locations. And, of course, there's the price: A new Mola Euro will run you about $650! A new 3' OctoDome will set you back a bit less than a couple of hundred bucks. The 5' Octo runs about $270. (Note: I scored my Mola used from a retired photographer. Paid him six Franklins but that also included a Matthews Junior 2-riser/wheeled stand, about $300 new.)

The Octo has removable internal strips--gold and silver--which allows adding or subtracting warming and/or specular qualites. They attach with Velcro. I sometimes mix 'em up, using the gold and the silver simultaneously. You can also leave out the strips and use it with its white, interior lining. The Octo also has a removable, Velcro-attached, interior baffle, further diffusing the light source. I always leave the baffle attached.

I'd love to have the fabric grid for my OctoDome but I have a hard time rationalizing buying one as it costs almost as much as the box itself! Why are grids so freakin' pricey? Must be all that sweatshop-sewing labor costs. (j/k) Mostly, I guess, cuz plenty of people will plunk down the big bucks for them. That wasn't meant to down-play the practical and effective use of grids. I'm just saying.

As is the case with all modifiers, the closer you place the Octo to the model the softer the light will be: Large aperture light source, relative to the model, being the driving force behind that result.

The Octo takes a bit of getting used-to in terms of assembling and disassembling it, i.e., attaching or removing to and from a speed ring. It's not the easiest thing to put together but, if you follow the instructions, it isn't overly ridiculous. (Being Mister Know-It-All, I ignored the instructions the first time I put it together. Bad move!)

If you're mostly shooting close portraits, the 3' Octo should serve you well. For lighting more area, I'd suggest the 5' version. I've never used the 7' OctoDome but my friend Evan recently scored one--he got it for free--and I'll be test-driving his real soon. How'd Evan get a free, new, 7' Octo? I'm still trying to get that out of him. So far, he hasn't explained much beyond, "I met this guy who works for Photoflex." But he wants me to hook him up with the Explorer XT people! Yeah. Ok, dude. I see how you roll. (j/k E.)

If you're interested in getting your hands on a Photoflex Octodome, you can purchase one from my Amazon connection by clicking HERE or from another retailer. (Oh no! I just pimped some photo gear! Well, at least I regularly use and stand behind this lighting accessory.)

The pretty girl at the top is Nautica. I used my 5' Octo for my main, set beside me, camera-right. Off to the left, coming slightly from behind, I set a medium Chimera strip for an edge. On the right, higher up than the strip and also coming from slightly behind, I set a small, silver, umbrella. I also used a Westcott reflector, under the Octo and angled up, for a bit of half-a-clamshell fill. I used a couple of gold strips inside the Octo to warm Nautica. Not that I need stuff like that to warm a model cuz I have a naturally warming effect on them anyway. (Yeah, right. I wish.)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Photo Gear Pimps

This is sort of a follow-up to my previous update, Secrets of the Pros Revisited. This time out, I want to talk a bit more about pro shooters, make that a few of the uber-shooters of photography and their possible love affairs with manufacturers and each other.

Catalyst for this update comes from photographer, blogger, and PGS reader, Tom. Check out Tom's blog. Some good stuff there!

Back to today's update: Tom left a comment to my previous post and it got me to thinking. Here's a snip from Tom's comment to kick this off:

...what I'm seeing so clearly now is that some of the select "pro's" have learned to partner and form this huge circle ... basically a big love fest partnership run by (the) mother ship.

Nothing surprising about that observation, Tom. Love fests (hate fests too) are often encouraged, sponsored, and underwritten by one mother ship or another out there. (Or should that read "up there?")

Tom continues:

This is a very specifically built business plan to write about the amazing trips and miracle "toys" they find helps them in their photography when it's basically a link with their ID code for commissions.

That's neither surprising nor fundamentally wrong, Tom. If some of the uber-shooters truly are pimping "miracle toys" and other things that help us out as photographers, sounds pretty Kosher to me. Perhaps we should be grateful?

But then Tom gets to the nitty-gritty of his concerns:

A lot of the "Pros" are leveraging the digital bandwagon right now and milking it. They have to, there is not much work out there for them. But I feel sorry for the new people entering the hobby side, getting milked bad...

Well, Hmm... You gotta interesting point there, Tom. When the things these guys and gals endorse are products they regularly use and truly believe in, I have no problem with that. I also don't have a problem with them getting paid to endorse those products. But when, as you seem to suspect and I do too, they're claiming this or that is a big part of their photographic bag of tricks and the product(s) in question scores somewhat low on the effective-and-useful scale, that's a whole different subject. Especially if and when these products' uses don't seem too evident in pictures featured in their online portfolios, i.e., it doesn't look as if the products were used to capture many, if any, of the pics. When that happens, my bullshit radar also starts bleeping like its having a spaz attack!

Many uber-shooters have blogs these days. That's great! Many other shooters, that is those who are serious about photography, enjoy and appreciate getting tips from these people. I know I do. After all, learn enough about how they do what they do and our pics might look very much like their pics, leastwise in terms of quality and creativity. Then, who knows? A few of us might end up in the fast lane to uber-shooter status!

Lately, it seems somes of these folks have decided to use their blogs to pimp all kinds of products: Sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes in obvious ways. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that. If you're an uber-shooter and you use whatever-from-whomever to get those killer shots, it only makes sense you might want to crow a bit about the products you use. And it only makes sense that the people who hold you and your photographic prowess in high esteem might want to purchase and use that very same gear. (Obviously, a marketing strategy that's been around a very long time.)

But I'm a bit of a cynic. Like Tom, I've become more than a little suspicious when it comes to some people's motivations for doing the things they do and saying the things they say. That includes a number of photographers whose work I greatly admire and whose careers I envy see as inspirational and motivating.

Did Babe Ruth truly enjoy and regularly munch on his namesake candy bar? I don't have a freakin' clue. Does so-and-so really use that gizmo on his or her speedlites? Again, I don't have a clue. Does so-and-so ordinarily uses speedlites in their professional work? Hell! I don't know that either, not for sure. Does uber-shooter "X" or uber-shooter "Y" really and truly believe we should all be dropping some very serious change on a new dSLR from Company "A" or from Company "B" that also captures HD video? Even if we recently emptied our wallets on last year's latest-and-greatest? Hmm... Again, dunno. It's not that I don't trust anyone specifically. It's just that my bullshit radar keeps going off more and more lately and I don't know who to trust. Maybe it's out of calibration? My bullshit radar, that is.

I'm not going to name names. And I don't hold it against anyone who scores an occasional payday by endorsing stuff they use and believe in. I have Amazon links on this site. Most of the specific books I recommend are in my personal library. If not, they're in the personal library of someone I know and whose judgments I trust. I wouldn't suggest them if I didn't believe they had value.

Recently, I accepted some gear from a Pacific-rim manufacturer in exchange for reviews and some pics of the gear in action. But here's the deal: Early on, when that gear was first offered to me, it was specifically stated that my honest opinions were sought. Further, even if I ended up having some unkindly things to say about this gear, that was okay. It was still mine to keep.

So here's the deal: Be careful what you purchase! Don't take anyone's word for it without doing some additional research. I don't care whose word it is! Just because someone whose work you admire is pimping a specific product it doesn't mean that product is all it claims to be, will positively help you with your photography, will open new opportunities for you, or that the endorsers regularly use the products themselves. There's a lot of crap out there that won't do anything positive for your photography in spite of what some manufacturers or their pimps might claim or infer. Like those mythical Secrets of the Pros, some of photography's so-called wonder-gadgets are equally mythical in terms of their effectiveness, usefulness, and marketing claims.

BTW, I'm not trying to sound cool or hip by using the words "pimp" and/or "pimping" when refering to some of the products that some people are endorsing. I think it's an appropriate analogy. When you hand over your cash for some of these goods, you're getting fucked.

The pretty girl at the top is Selena from last year. The image is definitely outside of the my normal style: One light, modified with a 4' Photoflex Octodome, filling the ambient coming in through windows. But not so much that it overpowered those streaks of light coming in and hitting the model and the wall.