Friday, July 31, 2009

Photography: Art or Craft or What?

Photography has always reminded me of the second child.. trying to prove itself. The fact that it wasn’t really considered an art.. that it was considered a craft... has trapped almost every serious photographer. - Richard Avedon

I agree with Avedon's words, vis-à-vis photography as an art or craft, except for his words being uttered in the past tense.

Personally, I don't think Avedon's notion exists in the past. IMO, not all that much has changed in terms of how photography's place in the art-world is often perceived... except by photographers, its critics and pundits and the like.

And that's okay with me.

I'm good with that.

I'm neither more nor less gratified should others consider me an artist, a craftsman, a specialist, a mechanic, or whatever other label they see fit to bestow upon me or my fellow shooters.

In my self-perception (as it applies to my pursuit of photographic nirvana) I do think of myself as a craftsman. The fact that, occasionally, I might produce work that some consider art is gratifying and, more often than not, downright surprising! Mostly, I suppose, because it's unintended... as art, that is.

I'm not particularly bothered when my work is viewed as neither art nor craft. It is what it is. Often enough, when my work lacks craftiness, it's sometimes the result of my clients' meddling direction. I shoot what they want me to shoot and, whether I agree or not, how they want it shot. That's not to say I'm not fully capable of shooting crap. I am. All photographers are. I'm just saying.

By the way, none of what I'm writing today should be construed as some sort of subtle or indirect apology for any aspects of my work. I don't apologize for what I do or what I shoot.

Neither should you.

When clients become over-bearing task-masters, or they don't provide me with the minimal time or resources the job requires, it allows little room for craft or art. No problemo. They, i.e., the clients, are the ones writing me checks. Sometimes fat checks, sometimes not so fat. They get what they pay for. And if they prefer to pay for crap, so be it. Besides, they rarely credit me when the work is published or used for whatever. So why the fuck should I care?

Actually, I do. (Care, that is.) But, technically, I shouldn't.

"Hell no! I didn't shoot that crap!"

Plausible deniability is almost always mine thanks to them, my clients, and their uncrediting ways.

For the most part, I try to approach photography with a craftsman's eye, touch, and sensibility. I know my craft. I've spent considerable time learning and practicing it; honing it, if you will. But that doesn't always mean art and craft are always apparent in the results.

Again, I'm okay with that. Shit happens.

Perhaps my 'tude about this stuff makes me something of a whore? A photo whore? Again, no problem. I'm simply like the whore who truly loves and craves sex and would engage in it, regularly and with many partners, with or without monetary compensation.

That I get paid to hold cameras in my hands, needing to do little or nothing else to earn my keep, is something I'm quite happy about. The thought of doing almost anything else to earn a living makes me physically nauseous. (With the exception of writing and a few other things that exist, mostly, in my fantasy life.)

Whether someone refers to me as a craftsman or an artist makes no difference. Either way, I'm good with it. I'd rather be a fat craftsman than a starving artist. For that matter, I'd rather be a fat hack than a starving craftsman or artist.

I guess it's how I roll.

Like a whore.

A camera whore.

Oh well.

What'd'ya gonna do?

Sorry Mister Avedon. While I most certainly consider myself a serious photographer, the art/craft trap you alluded to has never ensnared me.

Perhaps my skills and, more aptly, my ego still have much growing to do?

Time will tell, I suppose.

I was going to write Part 2 of my Day One account of the Pretty Girl Shooter DVD location shoot at El Mirage but yesterday was a no-holds-barred ass-kicker: 15 hours on set with Murphy's Law constantly making everything more difficult than it should have been. In a word, I'm toast today. Writing this little essay was easier than writing the other stuff. Plus, near the end of yesterday's shoot, with camera in hand, I got stung by a freakin' bee! I'm not whining about it. I didn't cry. I didn't drop the camera. (It was on sticks anyway.) It just pissed me off. It was, I'm sorry to say, a fitting end to a fucked up day with yours truly on the receiving end of its final affront.

The pretty girl at the top is another of Dalia from out on the El Mirage dry lake bed. I just now (quickly and minimally) processed this on my cheap laptop while sitting in my favorite, WiFi-equipped, coffee house in between typing the babble contained in this update. If that sounds like I'm making excuses for the processing or the text, I am. And I'm not. Like the words, the image is what it is. Regarding the picture, I'll see what it actually looks like when I get home and view it on a much better screen.

Or not.

Dalia captured with available light, Canon 5D, 17-40 L at a focal length of 29mm, ISO 100, f/8 @ 125.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

PGS DVD Production: Day One (Part 1)

On Sunday, we traveled about 70 miles Northeast of Los Angeles to El Mirage Dry Lake near Victorville, CA, for the first day of production of the PGS DVD project. I say "we" as our expedition force included a gorgeous model, a crew of four, and myself.

It was hot. Brutally hot. The closer we came to our destination, the higher the temperatures climbed.

For the last 5 or 6 miles of our trek we were on a dirt road. Actually, to call all of what we were driving on a "road" is a slight exaggeration. Some of it was more akin to off-roading. No problem. I was behind the wheel of my Toyota 4Runner. My son-in-law, Kyle, was driving a Toyota Tacoma pick-up. My pal Rick, a photographer who would "play" the photographer in the commercial spot we were also producing, was driving his restored, '67 Chevy pick-up. All the vehicles in our 3-vehicle caravan were suitable for the terrain.

Naturally, I had Dalia, our sexy, gorgeous, model, riding with me.

That's how I roll.

We arrived at our destination, Calloway's Ranch, about 10:30 AM. Immediately, we set up our base camp: A 10' x 10' pop-up canopy, table, chairs, two, large, ice-and-drinks-filled coolers, and a whole bunch of photo, video, grip, and lighting gear.

Did I mention how freakin' hot it was?

Well, it was.


Boil-your-brain hot.

There were also sporadic wind gusts, sometimes reaching (I'm guessing) 20 or 30 MPH, plus plenty of dirt devils reaching a hundred feet or more into the air and kicking up plenty of sand and dust. (I'm still cleaning my gear.)

George Calloway, who was our host for the day, is a friend of Rick's. His ranch is adjacent to the dry lake with its own entrance to it. The Calloway ranch is part ranch and part scrap yard. Actually, mostly scrap yard. There's plenty of interesting old relics scattered about: Mostly junked military gear and all kinds of bizarre, scrapped vehicles and other hardware from days gone by. Rangers control who does and doesn't get onto the dry lake bed. But they don't control it from Calloway's side of the dry lake bed. I had offered some cash to Mr. Calloway for allowing us to use his property as a location but, instead, all he wanted was a 30-pack of "Natural Light" beer. Ya gotta love that, right?

Our day's work had three objectives: Shoot content for an Innovatronix commercial spot, shoot content for the PGS DVD, survive the heat and have a fun time doing it.

I decided to shoot the driving footage for the commercial spot first. This meant going out on the dry lake bed with two vehicles: One would carry the "actors" and the other would be a camera car. Shooting the driving stuff included using a Delkin Fat Gecko camera mount on the vehicle that Rick, playing the photographer, would be driving with Dalia, playing the model, riding shot-gun.

I wasn't sure of the Fat Gecko's reliability--it was my first time using it--so, instead of risking my expensive Sony Z1U HD video cam, suction-cupped to a speeding truck on the desert floor, I decided to use another, older, smaller, cheaper, 3-chip mini-DV camera I have: A Sony DCR-TRV900. In the end, I could have used the Z-cam. The Fat Gecko performed like a champ and I was able to get some really cool footage with the video camera mounted, for various shots, on the hood and the sides of the truck Rick was driving, quite fast, on the lake bed. I also shot, with both vehicles moving, from the back of my 4Runner with the Z-cam mounted on sticks and a fluid head and set on a rack attached to my truck's tow-hitch, as well as lots of drive-by stuff with the camera stationary on the dry lake bed, again on sticks.

After shooting the driving sequences, we headed back to base camp and set up for the first round of shooting for the DVD. The BTS shot, above, is from that set up.

What I did, with Rick shooting, was demonstrate three different ways to light a model in an environment like the one we were shooting in. It was mid-day, with the sun overhead, when we shot these sets. BTW, I had Rick doing most of the photo-shooting for the video while I abused mentored him and our two, intrepid, video-cam operators, Kyle and Patrick, recorded the model, the lighting set-ups, Rick shooting (and profusely sweating in the hot sun) with me barking orders making suggestions to Rick, as well as commentary to the cameras... while I was sitting in a comfy folding chair, sipping ice cold beverages with a beach umbrella shading me from the broiling sun.

That's also how I roll.

First, we lit up Dalia naturally, using a flex-fill reflector and knocking down some of the sun with a medium (42" x 72") Scrim Jim. Next, we lit her with one-light, using a Buff/Zeus pack-n-head, modified with a medium softbox, overpowering the daylight ambient. Finally, we added a ring light into the mix, on-axis, for some gentle fill while still using the modified head for a main light. Each set-up yielded a distinctively different lighting-look to the images.

The Zeus pack, powering the head and the ring light, was efficiently powered by Innovatronix's ExplorerXT portable power system. (As seen in the image above.) BTW, that's Lewis, my partner in the DVD, holding the soft box & stand and preventing it from blowing over--even with the two 25lb. sand bags anchoring it--during the frequent wind gusts.

Well, that's all I have time to write at the moment. I'll continue writing up my account of our day at El Mirage in the next day or two, including our encounter with law enforcement while our model, Dalia, was posing, uhh... in all her glorious nakedness. Here's a shot of beautiful Dalia below. I snapped it out on the dry lake bed later in the day, sunlight only, with Canon 5D, Canon 17-40 L @ 40mm, ISO 100, f/8 @ 125th.

Friday, July 24, 2009

And the Beat Goes On

I'm one of those people who believe in cycles. Not just in terms of history and social trends, but in our personal and professional lives.

So many aspects of our lives are continuously up and down. If we take the time, we can chart these cycles in ways that graphically illustrate our health, our love lives, careers, happiness, security, just about everything and anything.

At times, many of the trends that reflect important aspects of our lives are simultaneously moving or remaining "up." Other times, they are universally "down." And still other times, probably most of the time, they reflect a mixed bag of "ups" and "downs" depending on what is being plotted on the chart.

I remember when the (hypothetical) concept of bio-rhythms was popular. Some called it pseudoscience. Others put much stock in its theorems. I tended, and still do, to more closely relate to the latter category of believers/non-believers.

It's not that I subscribe to bio-rhythms as a scientifically accurate predictive power. I don't. I do, however, believe it says something important (and occasionally semi-predictive) about our current and (possible future) states of being, i.e., while it doesn't necessarily predict future trends, it does, in meaningful ways, reflect the past and, more importantly, the present. By realizing where we are, bio-rhythmically, or cyclically in general, we can and should attempt to capitalize on those current cycles and use them to influence, if not predict, our futures.

It's like in baseball when a pitcher or a batter is either having a winning or hitting streak or they're in a slump. We never know when those streaks and slumps will end or if they'll ever return, but we do know that these trends, the streaks and slumps, mean something.

Many people, people other than those who are experiencing the streak or slump, use these trends to predict what, most-likely, will be the probable results of such trends.

Think gamblers, as an example.

It happens in photography too! As shooters, we sometimes find ourselves having good streaks or bad slumps where most all of what we produce either kicks ass or horribly sucks. I'm not saying these trends are purely chance. They're not. But they often seem to defy logical interpretations.

Currently, a fair amount of what's going on with me, from a professional POV, I would characterize as being on a streak.

But I'm old enough and wise enough and practical enough to understand that, for whatever reasons, the good streak -- leastwise, the good streak in terms of my career that is currently taking place -- doesn't necessarily predict that it's a continuously upward trend. I hope it is. And there are many indications that important aspects of it might be, at least for the foreseeable future, but nothing is certain.

The prophet, Yogi Berra, whom I met a number of times in my younger days, once said, "It ain't over till it's over."

That wisdom says a lot in terms of my beliefs regarding the lack of predictive power contained in life's observable rhythms and cycles.

I think Berra would agree that nothing means nothing. In other words, it's often true that some things means nothing.

We just never know about some stuff, do we?

But since, as Yogi also said, "90% of the game is half mental," I also believe that being aware of current trends in one's life allows us to Strike while the iron is hot! (I have no idea who originally coined that phrase.)

In other words, regarding striking while irons are hot, it's often a good idea to be aware of our ups and downs and to, somehow and in some way, use them as springboards or catalysts for, hopefully, positively effecting the odds of experiencing continuously trending "ups" or putting an end to those horrible "downs."

Sorry if this update has, again, become fairly random.

Besides recently doing quite well in terms of booking work and making money, I've finally, as regular readers know, been able to make production of the PGS DVD a reality.

Next on the hit-list are workshops and similar events.

I've recently been contacted with a proposition to visit Bali, in Indonesia, to conduct some pretty-girl-shooting training. I've also, as a result of another contact, started putting together an exotic destination workshop.

Anyone else think Costa Rica would be a great place to hold such an event?

As a result of a currently ongoing discussion with a Costa Rican glamour photographer whom I've known, cyber-known, for a number of years, Costa Rica is looking like the locked-in destination for an exotic-destination PGS workshop.

Please note that there are U.S. domestic locations also in the planning stages for fun PGS getaways.

Costa Rica, besides being an affordable and not-too-long-a-flight-away, has an abundance of unique settings for such a workshop: From pristine beaches to lush, tropical, rain forests and more. English is Costa Rica's second language. There's no political turmoil to speak of, it enjoys a low crime rate, has a big middle-class population, and is the #1 off-shore retirement destination for Americans.

Costa Rica also has more than its share of gorgeous, willing, enthusiastic, glamour models to shoot!

Here's the website of my friend Freddy: CR Model Place, Freddy is a most excellent pretty girl shooter and experienced model wrangler. The site is in Spanish but don't let that stop you. Check out some of the galleries: They're easy to locate in any language.

Here's another one of Freddy's sites, Costa Rica Dream Photo, albeit this one, and the idea that drives it, is still in a semi beta mode.

If you have current plans to visit Costa Rica, you might want to consider Freddy's services.

If you think a PGS getaway, where you learn and have fun, is something you might be interested in, hold on to your hats, we're putting that together.

Okay, back to work. Still have lots of prepping to do for this Sunday's PGS DVD shoot.

The pretty girl at the top is Aveena from 3 or 4 years ago. Like much of this update, it's selection for use in this post is rather random.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Prepping for the PGS DVD Production

Not quite as hot in my neck of LA's woods today. It's still freakin' hot but doesn't seem quite as hot as it was, if you get what I'm saying.

I'm not sure of the actual temps today but I'm convinced they're slightly less than what they've recently been. I believe this because the A/C in my car seems to be making a bigger dent in the heat.

It's not that there's anything wrong with the A/C in my ride, there's not, but sometimes, like yesterday and the day before, it was so damn hot the A/C really worked overtime battling the oppressive, triple-digit, heat. It might not have been Phoenix-heat or Vegas-heat or Death Valley-heat but it was brutal, brain-poaching heat, nonetheless.

And not the (supposedly) easier-to-endure "dry heat" either. Humidity has been between 25% and 50%. Very un-Southern-California-like

It still is. Just seems more bearable today.

I'm sitting in my favorite, free-WiFi, coffee joint writing this update. Instead of my usual cup o' Joe, I opted for an iced coffee.

Hey! Just trying to add a little color to the narrative of this update, okay? I'm not out of touch with the theme of this blog. My brain wasn't actually poached. I know no one gives a shit what kind of coffee I'm drinking or where I'm drinking it. I'm just saying... Is that alright?


I had to get out of the house. Not that the A/C in the house wasn't working well enough. It was. But by the time the clock was heading towards 4 P.M., I knew I'd had enough. I could sense an attack of cabin fever percolating! I'd been sitting, since really early in the really early morning, like a web-zombie, in front of my computer. Mostly, I was working on stuff for this weekend's shoot and for another, unrelated, upcoming shoot.

Today's work was mostly focused on casting and crewing-up and logistics for Sunday's PGS DVD shoot, as well as the other one. The unrelated one. In between that work, I was also Twittering about this and that and answering phone calls and emails and being half-aware of the TV providing noise in the background.

So, before (figuratively) losing my cool, I showered, dressed, headed out the door, jumped in my car and, well, here I am. Sitting with my iced coffee typing keyboarding a blog update in the get-outa-the-house environment of It's A Grind.

How was that for a droll preface to this post?

Yeah. Bored the bejesus outa me too.

We're shooting the first segment of the PGS DVD this Sunday. We're also shooting part of a commercial spot for our principal sponsor, Innovatronix, Inc. Like an idiot, I decided to shoot this stuff in the desert... the Mojave Desert... in July.

Not just in the desert, but on a dry lake bed in the desert.

BTW, there's a reason the lake is dry--it's been that way for, I don't know, maybe centuries or more--and it has a lot to do with how hot it's going to be out there this Sunday.

El Mirage Dry Lake is near Victorville, California. Hollywood producers use El Mirage as a location often enough. It's like a mini-Bonneville salt flat. There's nothing much there. Not much flora or fauna to speak of. It's just flat and dry and sandy and, in the summer, it's really hot.

Back in the day, I used to work for an aerospace/defense contractor as their shooter and filmmaker. We often used to test one of the company's products out there at El Mirage: a stealthy, airborne, RPV (Remotely Piloted Vehicle) that launched from a catapult and carried spy-gear on board: Stuff like FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) and conventional video and other exotic stuff that I'm still probably not supposed to talk about. Once the RPV was aloft, I'd climb into the chase plane, a Cessna 152 piloted by a retired USAF fighter-jock, which took off and landed on a bumpy dirt road adjacent to the dry lake. Once in the air, we would give chase!

They would pull the passenger door off the Cesna and tether me to something or other inside the cabin. I'd sit or crouch, sideways, and hang out the doorway, my legs sometimes dangling in the air, and shoot stills and video of the RPV as it flew above, below, and beside us.

It was fun!

Until the day we had a near-miss with an F-16 flying out of George AFB in nearby Victorville. The day El Mirage nearly became the site of my untimely demise.

Do you know what it feels like to be in a Cessna 152 while you're half hanging out the door and the jet wash from a near miss with an F-16 slams into the little, propeller-powered, single-engine plane as a fighter jet screams by from really, really, too close of a distance? When a small, two-seater Cessna suddenly loses about 500 feet or more of altitude in a few seconds?

Trust me. You don't wanna know.

BTW, not only was I tethered to the Cessna, but the cameras were tethered to me. If not, I definitely--besides nearly dropping one in my pants--would have dropped one or both cameras out of the plane. It took a few days or so for my ears to recover and my hearing (and heartbeat) to return to normal.

Back on topic...

To this hot and barren landscape, I'm going to bring a couple of equally-hot, tho probably not barren, models and an intrepid crew. Hopefully, no one heat strokes out on us. We'll have plenty of hydrating fluids, a couple of canopies to make some shade, food, and enough sunscreen to coat everyone's skin as often as they need it.

Part of the day, we'll be shooting the commercial spot. Should be fun! It's gonna include a female model playing what else? A female model. Also, we'll have a male actor who will be playing--yep, you guessed it--a photographer. (D'uh.) As a matter of fact, our actor playing the photographer actually is a photographer! How's that for type-casting? We'll be shooting the commercial spot footage out on the dry lake bed. Lots of high-speed moving shots from one vehicle to another, shooting with a camera mounted to the on-camera vehicle, and more. Leastwise, that's the plan.

The tag-line for the spot for Tronix's portable power gear is "Suddenly, the world becomes your studio!" Yeah. I know. Nikon uses a similar line in some of their print advertising. Screw them. I'm a Canon guy! And no, I'm not ripping off Nikon. I didn't even know about Nikon's use of a similar phrase, which is different than ours, when I wrote the words into our script. GMTA, I guess. (Assuming there's "great minds" at Nikon... j/k.) Besides, Nikon doesn't own those words. Certainly not similar words. And they definitely don't own me or my script-writing endeavors! (Altho I guess I could be for sale, for the right price.)

When we're not shooting the spot, we'll be shooting a segment for the PGS DVD. This segment, as you probably already figured out, will focus on exterior, daylight, location shooting. Besides talking about working with models, we'll be demonstrating the use of portable lighting, portable power, selecting and using modifiers, plus the use of reflectors and scrims that are appropriate to the location and time of day. We might even demo the use of a silk.

This ain't gonna simply be a talking-heads-in-a-studio instructional DVD. Yeah, there's gonna be some "talking heads" parts in it, but there's also gonna be more. Much more!

Alrighty then. I better get back to work. I still haven't cast this production. I've had over 50 hot models respond to my casting notice and it's tough whittling them down to two, pretty girls.

Speaking of pretty girls, the pretty girl at the top is my pal, Kori, from a couple of years ago. I shot the pic, you guessed it, out at El Mirage Dry Lake using available, late-afternoon, golden-hour sunlight. It was hot out there on that day too! I think I was way heavy-handed in post back then, especially with pushing the colors too hard. But since then, I've grown. As a PS processor. Honestly. I have. I think.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My New Zeus Ring Light

My new toy Zeus "Ring Master" ring light arrived a couple of days ago via UPS. Nothing broken or damaged. Thank you man in brown!

Although "Ring Master" sounds a bit circus-like, many of Paul C. Buff's products have creatively entertaining names: Think "Alien Bees" and "Moon Unit."

Moon Unit, BTW, is also the late Frank Zappa's daughter's given name. Paul C. Buff? A Frank Zappa fan? Possibly. If so, maybe Buff will come out with a Zappa Crappa strobe attachment? Use your imagination to decide how a product named Zappa Crappa would modify the light. I'm guessing the Zappa Crappa modifier would attach with a Dweezil.

Sorry for the detour. I sometimes become a bit ADD impaired.

Back on topic...

I haven't used the Ring Master yet, other than to assemble it and fire off a few pops to insure it works, but I do have some initial reactions. You knew I would, right?

While it's size is about what I expected, the unit is lighter than I thought it would be. That's a good thing for obvious reasons.

The removable attachment bracket is a clever design, enabling photographers to either mount a camera to the ring light, mount it--with or without a camera attached--to a tripod, mount the ring light to a stand or boom, or to hand-hold it with or without a camera on-board.

Build quality, however, is something I'm concerned about. Surprising, since the Ring Master is part of Buff's "Zeus" line, named for Greek mythology's King of all Gods and, by default and according to ancient Greek lore, the strongest and most invincible god chillin' on Mt. Olympus.

Perhaps it's the Ring Master's light weight that causes me to be concerned about its build quality? Some of this product is made of plastic. The chassis and reflector, OTOH, are made of some sort of formed (and painted black) sheet metal. I think it's light-weight aluminum: Al-loo-min-ee-um for any Brits reading the blog. But I'm not 100% sure on that one. (Dammit, Jim! I'm a photographer not a metallurgist!)

To be fair to Buff, build quality tends to be a wait-and-see kind of thing. Something that plays out in time. So, I'll reserve final judgment on this aspect of the product until it's been a contributing member of my overall lighting kit for some time. My gut feeling, however, is that I should handle this tool rather gently, carefully, and with semi-kid gloves.

I should note that my new Ring Master will be well-protected when it's not in use. I acquired a Pelican case the other day, specifically to store my Zeus lighting rig, including the ring light. Everything fits into the case neatly, albeit it's a somewhat tight fit requiring some degree of puzzle-assembling skills.

While the Ring Master's front diffuser offers some protection for the two, half-circle, flash tubes, as well as its eight, miniature, modeling lights, I'm thinking a separate, hard(er) plastic cover would do a better job-- one that snaps onto the outer lip of the reflector.

I'm also a bit concerned with the way the diffuser locks into place. More so since the diffuser, besides doing its diffusing thing, is the only part protecting the tubes and mini-modeling-lights. I'm using the phrase "locks into place" rather lightly because, in my view of things that lock into place, the diffuser doesn't truly and securely lock. The reflector, on the other hand, does lock into place and requires turning a locking mechanism to lock and/or unlock it.

In spite of my wait-and-see reservations regarding the Ring Master's build quality and flash-tube protection, I'm quite excited to put this instrument into play. I recently wrote about my thoughts and expectations for this new-to-me lighting tool. If you missed that, you can read it HERE.

The pretty girl at the top is Selena from some time ago. I mostly like this one because of the impish expression on her face.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Elinchrom's Ranger Quadra

FWIW: Most of the folks I follow on Twitter are fellow photographers or peeps who represent photographic businesses, e.g., manufacturers, service providers, photo-pundits, etc. so, today, early this morning actually, the photographic Twitterverse, leastwise, many of those I follow, were buzzing about Elinchrom's new Ranger Quadra battery-powered strobe system. (How was that for a long, run-on sentence?)

Anyway, I took the bait and decided to have a look-see at what the buzz was all about.

First thing I checked-out, since someone on Twitter was good enough to link to it, was Scott Kelby's "First Look" at the system.

You can view Kelby's video HERE.

In the vid, Kelby's guest is Bogen Imaging's Mark Astmann. As I recall from the video--I only watched it once and, at the time, hadn't yet been properly caffeinated with my first cup o' Joe--Astmann is a marketing dude with Bogen Imaging. Bogen, from what I further recall from my then, not-quite-awake, state, is the U.S. distributor for Elinchrom's products.

The Ranger Quadra system looks pretty cool altho Kelby's "first look" is a bit short on technical details: I don't remember there being much, if any, info about recycle times and power output and how many pops you can expect between battery charges. The video seemed more focused on the product's form and function which, in truth, is mostly why I think this integrated, portable, lighting system looks fairly cool. The marketing guy hawked mentioned the Ranger's flash duration a couple of times, if I remember right. I guess the product's flash duration is something Elinchrom or Bogen Imaging or both consider a big selling point.

Bogen Imaging should send me a try-it-out demo system and let me put it through its short flash duration paces with some pretty girls. (Hint, hint.)

I then checked out the Ranger's pricing on B&H and, while the Ranger Quadra ain't cheap, it ain't stratospheric either. As a comparison, I took a look at the pricing for a similar product, the Hensel Porty, which does approach the stratosphere in terms of price.

Besides the Ranger Quadra's small size and weight, which are big pluses for anyone who has experience schlepping gear to-and-from and in-and-out of less-accessible, walk-to-only locations, I was kind of taken with the system's LED modeling lights. I'm pretty sure they use LED lights because of their low power consumption. The system is running off a battery, after all.

How come someone doesn't manufacturer a line of LED modeling lights that screw or snap into other manufacturers' strobes? Maybe they do and I'm not aware of it? Those LEDs, if I'm not mistaken, are daylight-balanced instead of the usual tungsten or incandescent you get from most modeling lights. They also don't generate much heat and, at the risk of being redundant, they consume less power.

So there you have it: Elinchrom releases the Ranger Quadra battery-powered strobe system and I get something to write about today. BTW, the Ranger is being just-now released in the U.S. market... they've already been available in Europe.

One thing I have to say about photographic technologies: They're always marching forward with new products offered in the marketplace almost daily. I guess the economic downturn hasn't effected the spending habits of millions of photographers world-wide.

The gratuitous eye-candy at the top is Bella from a recent shoot.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

RIP Richard

A long-time friend and colleague passed away two weeks ago. He was someone I'd worked with a bunch of times. Someone who, for at least a decade, was my competitor, fellow pretty girl shooter, and my friend. His name was Richard. He was 53 years old.

I was supposed to meet with Richard the day of his passing. He had texted me the day before and asked if we could hook up. "Today," he said. "It's important."

Too important, apparently, to discuss on the phone.

But I couldn't meet with Richard that day and on such short notice. I was on a set, working. I texted back telling him the next day, "tomorrow," would be good for me if it was good for him. Richard agreed. "No problem" he texted back, adding that he'd call me sometime "tomorrow" to set up a meet.

But for Richard, "tomorrow" never came. Sometime, during the night, he passed. Alone. In his home.

I guess I'll never know why he wanted to meet or what was important enough that we had to meet in person.

The following day, when Richard didn't call, I thought little of it. It wasn't the first time he said he'd call for one thing or another and didn't. Because of my long-term experience with Richard, I knew that his version of "important" often wasn't, in fact, all that important. Besides, we were about to begin a long, holiday weekend. For all I knew, he had plans for the weekend and hooking up with me wasn't as truly important as he first indicated.

Richard was one of those guys who lived life in the moment. Leastwise, in terms of his work life. (I didn't know him all that well outside of work.) And, for the most part, he did so with blinders on.

What was important to Richard in one moment, the things he was momentarily and intensely focused on, often weren't so important to him a short time later; sometimes, mere moments later. I knew this about him. Knew it from having a long-standing acquaintanceship with him. It's how he rolled. Often enough, he rubbed others the wrong way with his bursts of intensity, extremely dry and jaded wit, and single-minded focus.

He often seemed, in many ways, the tortured artist.

Richard recently pulled me aside on a set we were both working, one where he was the main shooter so, technically, I worked for him. He informed me, in no uncertain terms, that he'd appreciate it if I would quit being funny and witty with the girls.

"There's only room for one funny person on this set," he said quite seriously and emphatically. "You're working for me today, Jimmy. So that person would be me," he advised me.

I smiled and nodded and said, "No problem."

And it wasn't.

A problem, that is.

I thought his words and exaggerated seriousness were funny as hell. Richard didn't mean it to be funny. He didn't mean it be rude. He just meant it.

And that was quintessential Richard.

I didn't hear from Richard over the weekend either. Again, I thought little of it. Then, come Monday, I received a phone call from the production boss at one of the companies I regularly work for. A company that Richard regularly worked for as well. (Think well-known high-profile company built on "pink.")

"Have you heard from Richard?" the production honcho asked.

I told him, basically, what I wrote above about Richard wanting to meet with me but never calling me back to set up the actual meeting. The production boss told me he'd been trying to get in touch with Richard for two days at the end of the previous week, as well as all weekend.

"It's not like him to not return my calls," the production chief said.

He told me that he'd thought it odd enough for him to go by Richard's house, which he did, on Sunday. He told me he knocked on the door, repeatedly, but there was no answer. He said that both of Richard's cars were parked in the driveway, the porch light was on, the drapes drawn, and that a couple of days worth of mail were in Richard's mailbox. He felt that either something was very wrong or that Richard got "lucky" for a few days.

This didn't sound good at all. In fact, it sounded ominous. Not that Richard wasn't capable of getting "lucky," but to not return phone calls? Phone calls that, Richard would most likely assume, meant some new work?

If Richard was "all about" anything, he was all about his work. He had no family.

The production boss decided to call the police. I wholeheartedly agreed it was the thing to do.

To make a long(er) story short(er), Richard, it turns out, was dead. Apparently, he died days before, most likely during the wee hours of the night before he and I were supposed to meet.

There was some concern, on the part the production boss, a few others, and myself, that Richard did not die of natural causes. That he might have either purposely or accidentally been the cause of his own death. You see, there were some things going on in Richard's life that were causing him intense stress. Only a few people knew about this stuff-- the production boss and myself being two of them.

Richard's recent problems weren't common knowledge around the industry. Those who knew about it, myself included, kept it confidential. And its been kept that way, even after his tragic death. For a few weeks before his death, people were guessing that something wrong, something troubling, was going on with Richard. But only a few knew the details. Only a few still do.

Just a few days ago we received word that Richard died of natural causes. It was a relief to hear this. According to an autopsy, he suffered a heart attack. Apparently, and also according to the autopsy, Richard had undiagnosed heart disease. Unfortunately, I can't shake the feeling that his recent problems greatly contributed to his sudden demise: He was only 53 and seemed in pretty good health despite the autopsy's results. I had just worked with him a week or so before his death, on a 5-day shoot, and he seemed just fine, health-wise at least.

The autopsy results were, in a sense, good news, i.e., in terms of our suspicions. That he died naturally was something good, welcome news, wrapped around something tragic.

Richard was a truly masterful pretty girl shooter. I'm not just saying that because he's gone. He was good. Really good. And he could deliver some of the best shooter-to-model banter, aka direction, I've ever heard, bar none! That skill, IMO, was his strongest skill as a pretty girl shooter. In fact, and I've said this before, once you've learned what you need to learn about lighting and exposure and all that, interaction with models is probably the most important part of your pretty girl shooting game.

And Richard had game. Top-notch game.

Memorable game.

Rest in peace, Richard.

Birth of a Ring Lord?

I've never been a big fan of ring lights. Why? For one, those doughnut-shaped catch-lights don't do much for me as they, often enough, look strangely alien to my eye.

Having said that, I should also mention I've never shot with a ring light. My perception of ring lights is based, wholly, on my reactions to the work of others who use, or have used, ring lights as part of their bag of (lighting) tricks.

But now that I own a Zeus lighting system, I figure it might be a good time for me to take the ring light plunge.

So I am-- plunging, that is.

I've ordered a ZEUS™ ZRM1 RingMaster ring light from Paul C. Buff.

Some of you, those who read this blog regularly, might have noticed I've purchased a fair amount of gear lately. In the past few months, I've bought three new lenses, two of them Canon "L" glass, a bunch of new grip and lighting gear, plus a pair of PocketWizard Plus II Transceivers as well as the new, PW, Flex TT5.

Not that I need to 'splayne, Lucy, but I will mention that I didn't go to Vegas and hit big on a slot machine. I haven't won a LOTTO payout. I wasn't given a new credit card. (I'm a cash guy-- I don't use credit cards.) No one died and left me money.

What's happened is this: The last 4 or 5 months have been very good to me, work-wise. Since I don't live a lavish lifestyle--that's a BIG understatement--coupled with my recent upturn in income, I've put some of this money back into gear. "Get it while you can" is my motto. Well, one of my mottos.

To help put things in perspective, the 3 or 4 months prior to the recent 4 or 5 months were kinda bleak and desolate in terms of work and income. During that period, I sold a bunch of gear, mostly grip. Fortunately, it was surplus grip gear I no longer had much use for due to the fact I no longer had a studio to equip.

But that was then and this is now and now I've bought myself, amongst other things, a ring light.

Personally, I consider ring lights as being fill lights. Yeah, I know, they're certainly used as key or main lights often enough, most notably by fashion photographers. I'll probably use mine as such from time to time but, for the most part, I see it as fill.

Since I also have an ExplorerXT portable power system, I'll be able to take my Zeus lighting system, including the ring light, most anywhere.

When shooting daylight exteriors, I'll sometimes be using the ring light as a powerful, on-axis, harsh-shadow-busting, e-z setup, fill light: Like on a beach, in the desert, up in the mountains, most anywhere. I'll also be incorporating the ring light's use into the PGS DVD that begins actual production in the next few weeks.

By adding to the ring light's use a second light source--yeah, the ExplorerXT can power multiple lighting sources, within reason--and/or perhaps some reflectors, scrims, whatever, I should be able to nicely capture some pretty girls in all kinds of environments where A/C isn't available and natural light just isn't going to cut it, leastwise, my versions of cutting it.

I'm fairly excited to have all these new capabilities. Not as excited as I am for simply and recently being able to afford new extravagances like my Zeus pack-n-heads system, the glass and the grip gear, the PWs, as well as the ring light, but excited nonetheless.

Money ain't the key to happiness but poverty ain't either.

The pretty girl at the top is Chloe from a month or so ago. I shot Chloe in a simple, straight-forward manner, in-studio on a white cyc, i.e., a white cyclorama. And yes, those chest puppies are all natural. No bolt-ons for Chloe!

Post Script: I'm probably done buying gear for a while. One possible exception: Another Pelican case to safely store and transport the Zeus system, including the ring light. I'll be keeping an eye on Craigslist for an appropriate-size Pelican. Pelican cases can take extreme abuse! They also float! (They are nearly, if not completely, air-tight and water-tight.) Used, beat-up, Pelican cases are often good as new in terms of functionality.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

He Drives! He Scores!

It was stupid hot in L.A. today. I mean stupid hot!

Got up and decided to drive to Pasadena where it might or might not be a tad cooler. I also went there for the monthly Bargain Camera Show.

I've been to this little gathering of photo-goods buyers and sellers a bunch of times before. More often than not, I've come home empty-handed. Not that there hasn't been plenty of stuff I wanted to buy, I just couldn't haggle a good enough price for the stuff I coveted.

The sellers at these shows are hawking everything from vintage camera gear to new stuff and everything in between. It's the kind of place where many photo-enthusiasts who are (most likely) long-time, card-carrying members of the Cult of the Photo Vest gather.

I brought enough cash with me to cover most anything, within reason, I might be moved to purchase. There are more than a few sellers at these little photo-flea-markets who take plastic, and ATMs are always nearby, but on-hand cash speaks so much more eloquently when you're haggling negotiating.

Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed was the parking lot was packed! They hold this monthly show at the Pasadena Elks Lodge: A big, old, three-story, white-painted wooden building which looks like it's been sitting there for a century or more. Anyway, the parking lot was packed and it probably has spaces for a hundred vehicles or more.

"Whoa!" I thought. "Looks like a few people had the same idea I did today."

Usually, when I've gone before, the parking lot has been half-full... or half-empty, depending on how you look at it.

I found a parking space, parked, walked in, paid my $2 admittance fee, and started browsing all the photography wares laid out on tables throughout the show's two, big rooms.

The joint was definitely packed: Not just with buyers but with sellers too. More sellers, in fact, than I can remember ever seeing there.

As I moved up and down the aisles, nothing really caught my eye. Yeah, there were hundreds of cameras and lenses, from vintage to new. Maybe even thousands of them! And boy! If I ever want to buy some used sticks, screw Ebay and Craigslist, this is definitely the place to shop. There were used tripods everywhere. I also noticed plenty of sellers trying to off darkroom gear. Good luck, guys!

I came on a table where the seller had two, Alien Bees carrying bags. Naturally, I figured there were some Alien Bees inside them.

"How much for the Bees?" I asked.

"Oh. They're not Alien Bees," the seller responded. "They're Zeus heads," he continued. "I have the whole kit, the heads and the Zeus power pack." He pulled out the heads and also showed me the power pack, a Paul C. Buff Zeus 2500WS. "I bought this stuff a while ago and only used it once, for 45 minutes."

I examined the gear: It looked brand spanking new! Not gently-used or barely-used but like-new... like it just came out of the freakin' box! I couldn't find as much as a fingerprint or a smudge on this stuff, much less a scratch, a ding, or whatever.

"How much?" I asked.

"I paid about $1500 for this stuff," he said. "You can have it for $750."

Before I could say, "Lemme think about it," the seller added, "I'll also throw in this brand new Paul C. Buff, folding, medium, soft box." He held up the soft box, in a PCBuff carrying bag.

"I gotta think about it." I said. "Let me walk around for a bit and see if there's something else that catches my eye."

The truth is, I wanted this gear. And I figured the price was right. Maybe more than right. Plus, having once been a buyer and seller of vintage, antique, and collectible things at flea markets, antique shows, and elsewhere, I knew a desperate motivated seller when I saw one.

I walked away.

I went to the other room, found a seat, sat down, and pulled out my iPhone. I went on the web to look up the retail prices for this stuff. In a moment, I realized the power pack and heads were, indeed, about $1400 new. Add to that the soft box, which retails for about $120, plus the carrying bags at $17 each, I was looking at a kit that cost, new, around $1550. (Plus shipping from Chez Buff's in Tennessee.)

I then read some online reviews about these products. This comparative test, reported at, comparing the Zeus with Broncolor, Dynalite, Profoto, and Speedotron gear, heightened my interest in buying this Zeus stuff.

I went back to the table where the Zeus seller was at. When I arrived, I spotted an adjustable scrim holder on his table. It looked new as well. I picked it up and toyed with it. (I'm always a sucker for interesting grip gear.)

"How much for this?" I asked, rather nonchalantly.

"You know what it is?" the seller asked.

I nodded.

"If you take the lights," the seller said, "I'll throw that in."

I looked up and studied the seller for a moment. This guy definitely needed to go home with some cash in his pocket. The scrim holder was probably worth about $25 or so.

"I don't want to insult you with a low-ball offer," I shrugged. "You're already selling this stuff for a bargain price."

"Make an offer," he challenged.

"Okay. $600. Cash. For all of it."

The guy neither flinched nor hesitated. "I had to rent a car just to get here today and make some money." He confessed. "Give me $650 and it's all yours: The pack, the lights, the soft box, the carrying bags, the scrim holder."

I smiled appreciatively and pulled out my wallet, counted out six Ben Franklins, two twenties, and a ten-spot, handed over the cash and the gear was mine.

"You just made my day," the seller told me with a smile.

Yep. I suppose I did. And he made mine as well. I scored!

BTW, when I got home I set it all up. Everything works like a charm. The reflectors hadn't ever been removed from their sealed plastic bags. Used once for 45 minutes? I totally believe that. In fact, this stuff doesn't look like it was even used once!

The Paul C. Buff power pack and 2-heads I bought today can be seen on THIS PAGE. I snagged the Z2500 Power Pack and two, Z2500SH Standard Flash Heads.

The pretty girl at the top is Cytherea from 3 or 4 years ago. Shot in my studio on a day when I was feeling slightly artsy.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Once You've Gone Full-Frame There's No Going Back

Yesterday, I needed to pull my 20D backup body out of my bag and use it for a 4-model shoot. Doing so made me realize that once you've gone full-frame there's no going back.

My subject title, of course, speaks metaphorically: Shit happens. When it does, as in the case of yesterday's shoot, I was forced to do what I had to do, i.e., pull out my 20D backup body and use it instead of my 5D.

Technically, my 5D is operational. It doesn't need repair or anything like that. The problem was bunnies-- dust bunnies on the sensor. I noticed the contaminants on the sensor and, not having my sensor cleaning kit with me, felt compelled to shoot with my 20D. (The 5D is notorious for ineffective weatherproofing and dustproofing.)

To be sure, the 20D is a sweet camera body. Before purchasing a 5D, I snapped many photos with that body and, for the most part, I was very happy with its performance. Back then, I also had a 10D, kept for a back-up. Then, Canon released the 5D and, since it was priced considerably below their 1D line of dSLRs while still offering a full-frame-sensor, I bought a 5D soon after its release. If I remember correctly, my 5D cost me around $3,600. (CA Sales tax included.) I think they now sell, new, for about fifteen hundred dollars less.

For yesterday's shoot, I was working in a fairly confined space. I still wanted to use a lens with some telephoto capability but even my Tamron 28-75 f/2.8, zoomed all the way out, made shooting full-body pretty girl pics--with the 20D's 1.6x crop factor messing with my photo-Zen--difficult in the space I was shooting in: There was barely enough room for me to get far enough away from the models to capture them, when they were standing, from head to toe.

I also missed the 5D's 2.5" LCD screen on the back of the camera. The 20D has a much smaller screen and this made chimping reviewing my shots difficult and eye-straining.

Again, I'm not badmouthing the 20D. It's a great camera! But also, like I said, once you've gone full-frame there's no going back. (Leastwise, it's somewhat exasperating when you need to do so.)

The pretty girl at the top, flexing her bicep, is Katarina. I snapped this pic of Katarina back in 2006. It was one of the first times I worked with my (then) new Canon 5D.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

iPhone 3GS In My Future? How About Yours?

I gotta say, I love my iPhone. It's not just a mobile phone, it's so much more.

I have an earlier iteration of the iPhone: An iPhone 8GB. The "8GB," of course, refers to how much storage is installed on my device-- 8 Gigabytes. I've thought about upgrading to the new 3GS but I've been more-than-happy with my early-gen iPhone so I've resisted the urge.

Now, I'm rethinking my position. Why? The new iPhone's upgraded camera and, more importantly and more exciting, the 3GS's video capabilities.

If you don't know what Apple has done with the new iPhone, video-wise, or what's (most likely) on the way for iPod lovers, check out this article from

(Thanks for Tweeting a heads-up and link, Mister Boudoir Photographer.)

It's one thing to capture noisy, lo-res video with your cell phone. It's quite another to capture near HD video AND edit your clips AND upload your finished video to YouTube or elsewhere, all on and/or from a single, mobile, device using available WiFi or the carrier's network!

I know, I know. This is a photography site. But photography and videography are merging like never before. You knew that, right? Plus, ya know how many of you say you enjoy the BTS shots I sometimes provide with my updates? How about short, BTS videos of the models, the lighting set-ups, and more?

iPhone pics have lately become quite popular with many photographers, from pros like Chase Jarvis to hobbyists. (Jarvis TwitPic posts new iPhone snaps quite regularly, sometimes daily!)

Imagine what's gonna happen if iPhone vids really catch on? These videos will be available on the web almost in real time!

I've been month-to-month with my AT&T service since February of this year. If I agree to sign up for a two-year contract, I can get the new iPhone 3GS for $199 or $299 depending on how much storage it has on board. That's a fairly sweet deal for a new iPhone 3GS! Yeah, it means being stuck for a couple of years with AT&T as my carrier. I'll admit AT&T kinda sucks as a mobile carrier. But maybe they'll improve the coverage and service? Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

The pretty girl at the top, wearing the rhinestone-encrusted, vinyl, dominatrix get-up is Regan. I snapped this pic of Regan in my studio about 3 or 4 years ago. I like the way her right eye peeks out and sucks you in.

Monday, July 06, 2009

A Belated Milestone

Just noticed a milestone I somehow managed to let pass, unnoticed: The PGS blog clocked it's 500th update a few weeks ago.

Currently, I'm at 514 posts. (Counting this one.)

Five-hundred-plus posts and still blogging!

Yeah! We bad!

Three years or so ago, I began writing this blog because I thought I might take a stab at writing a book. A book about photography, of course. Glamour photography to be more precise. But knowing myself the way I do, I knew I probably wouldn't manage to muster the necessary follow-through required to complete a book.

That's how I roll sometimes: With lots of non-rolling lapses in forward momentum.

But a blog?

That, I decided, I could do.

I figured I could write updates often enough. Then, I further figured, somewhere down the road it could all be put together-- All those updates, that is.

All I'd have to do, once enough words were written, is edit them, organize them, re-write them, expand them, condense them, toss out the trite crap, keep the decent stuff, decide which pictures belonged and which didn't and maybe, just maybe, have some sort of illustrated photography book ready to publish or be published.

I might be there now.

Five-hundred posts contain a lot of words, a lot of thoughts and points-of-view, lots of explanations and observations and photographic pontifications. In other words, perhaps enough "baffle 'em with bullshit" text plus (actual) good information to assemble pages and chapters of a book on the art and craft and business of glamour photography?


Maybe I could find someone else to edit all this stuff I've written? Someone who might actually know what they're doing when it comes to book-editing.

Regardless, I'm guessing I've got enough already written to either take a stab at it or have someone else do the stabbing.

Maybe I should seriously think about doing this? This book thing, that is. What's the worse that could happen? I invest the time and energy to put something together and it gets rejected?


I can deal with that.

Like many people, especially those who pursue creative endeavors, I have plenty of experience with rejection. I've grown some thick skin during my half-century-plus on this planet... some tough rhino skin! Besides, it wouldn't be like a personal rejection. You know, like when a woman has kicked me to the curb despite how much and how well I cared for her... Not that I'm sharing angst. I'm not. I'm just saying. Ya see, having a (would-be) book rejected would be a rejection of something that, while being born of me, created by me, isn't me. Me personally, I mean.

When it comes to rejection, I can differentiate between rejecting me and rejecting something made by me-- Like my photos, for instance. Something a few (or more) photographers on photo-forums could use a lesson or two in doing.

Like I said, I can deal with rejecting my work. I don't take it personal. I might not like it but, WTF, there's much I don't like but I don't automatically get all butt-hurt over it.

Wow! When did I develop such a healthy, if ambivalent, attitude toward shit like this?

I must be getting really old.

Or even more jaded.

The pretty girl at the top is Kayla. I snapped it a year or so ago when I was in my brown-tinted-naked-girl-in-front-of-stucco-wall phase. Like my red-and-yellow gel phase, it too was short-lived.

Thursday, July 02, 2009


While many of you will be remembering America's independence from the blokes this weekend--with too much beer, a smorgasbord of burgers 'n franks char-broiled on grease-fueled, fiery, bar-b-que grills, parades, fireworks, or a get-outa-town mini-vacation that might or might not include all of the aforementioned--times of remembrance can also include some self-focusing.

Personally, I'll be engaging in or witnessing all of the things I mentioned above except for, I'm guessing, a parade-- unless there's a parade on the beach. But before we go into holiday weekend mode, maybe we could take a few minutes to remember why we do this thing we do. Why we are photographers.

Linked below is a short, simple video that, pretty much, says it all, i.e., in terms of why we are photographers. It's a bit sappy but it's still worth the view. Special thanks to photographer, Ariston Collander, for Tweeting a heads-up on this video.

Hoping everyone has a safe and fun-filled 4th! I know I'll be doing the same. But before you get all festive and all, check out this nicely put-together vid, titled, "I Am a Photographer."

And while you're at it, assuming you have a few more minutes to spend, you might also take a look at photographer Zack Arias's most-excellent video, which I wrote about (and linked) some time ago. Maybe you've already seen it, maybe not. Regardless, it's an evergreen, good-for-the-soul, video for photographers. Here's Zack's video.

The pretty girl at the top is the Goddess of Glam herself, Playboy, Penthouse, FHM, High Times (and so many mags more) cover girl, Ms. Tera Patrick, snapped a year or so ago in front of her humble abode and her hubbie's Jesse James/West Coast Choppers-built scooter.