Sunday, September 27, 2009

Shooting Inside/Outside Other People's Boxes

When you're shooting for clients, whether the subjects in front of your camera are those clients or the clients are third-parties who have hired you, you're often tasked, like it or not, with thinking and shooting inside their boxes. Assuming, that is, you want to get paid and hired again.

Most clients don't want photographers thinking and shooting outside the box, make that too far outside the box, when they're working for them. Most clients don't want photographers testing the outer limits of their artistic visions, or suddenly trying out unexpected new techniques, styles, or whatever, on their dimes.

Clients, more often than not, have specific expectations for the images they've hired you to deliver. Those expectations are usually based on your previous work, work they've seen elsewhere, work that is similar to what they've already had other photographers shoot for them, work that reflects certain styles and approaches they believe works best for their uses of the images, any of the above, all of the above.

Yes, it's true, some photographers are given more creative license than others. Sometimes, way more! You see this often happening in the fashion world, the world of celebrity photography, and elsewhere. But you don't, for instance, see a wild array of photographic styles portrayed on the pages of Playboy or Maxim or in many, many other magazines, whether those rags are adult in nature or not. You also don't see it in the vast majority of wedding and event photos, senior pics, kid pics, or in editorial and commercial photography.

When a photographer is given, pretty much, carte blanche to produce whatever they want, that is, to produce in any way they want--Annie L or David L are possible examples--it has much to do with that photographer's status, rep, and juice and, usually, not because some clients are more daring than others or are art patrons. There are, of course, clients who are daring and offer patronage... but they're not in the majority.

Most of the work performed by paid photographers have specific guidelines for the shots; guidelines dictated by the clients. Those guidelines might be dictated directly or indirectly. As a result, assuming you shoot a lot of this sort of work, i.e., you're getting paid to shoot, full-time or part-time, you're probably going to feel your work is repetitive and often looks the same, albeit the faces and bodies change.

But hey! Which is better? Kudos for brilliant, unique, work posted on photo forums? Or, waiting on line, at the bank, to deposit checks you've been given as a result of your we've-all-seen-this-before photography?

Art vs. commerce: It's a battle where, if you're an artist, losing it sometimes means you get to pay your bills.

Certainly not all, but more than a few younger shooters, don't seem to "get" this. Instead of looking to older, more experienced shooters as mentors or people they can learn from, they accuse older, established photographers, of being "old school" (not in a complimentary way) or unable to be creative (because of their age) or worse-- I guess it's the arrogance of youth, naivety, or, sometimes, ageism at its ugliest... whichever applies. Sometimes, unfortunately, all of it does.

When I look at the work of others, especially work that is decidedly "outside the box," I can usually guess, with a fair amount of certainty and accuracy--unless the shooter is someone famous and/or very successful--whether that work was the result of the shooter being hired to produce it or whether it's personal work. The more "outside the box" it is, regardless of how good it is, the less likely it was paid work.

A photographer whose work often looks the same isn't necessarily a shooter who is photographically myopic, too old or out of touch, unwilling to stretch, or unable to think outside the box. It's often a shooter who is regularly delivering products a client asked for... make that, the products a client demanded, sometimes politely, sometimes not-so-politely.

In the world of paid photography, it is mostly clients, those paying for the work, who are responsible for so much of what looks the same.

I'm just saying.

The pretty girl at the top is Jana from a few years ago. Yep. Paid work.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

On Receiving Criticism

Yesterday, I posted something on a photo forum I regularly visit and participate in. The post was my take on some previous words and actions by a member of that forum.

The member had angrily deleted his thread and pics because he didn't like some of the criticisms he received, specifically, from the forum's owner and administrator, as well as yours truly. I didn't name names and few others on the forum initially knew who or what was the catalyst for my words--that member's post and pics weren't up for all that long--until that person jumped into my thread and, well, it all became much clearer.

Before long, the thread became something of a flaming free-for-all. The end result had the person who "inspired" my OP (Original Post) taking his ball and going home. (He deleted his account on the forum.)

I'm not smugly happy about the end result. I would have much preferred we all ended by putting our opinionated differences aside, agreed to disagree, and continued the illuminating and enjoyable pastime of sharing pics, discussing photography, and all that. But that wasn't to be. Wha'd'ya gonna do, right?

Anyway, I thought I'd reprint my forum post here, on the blog, as it serves two purposes: 1) It makes for a "makes-sense" Part Two to yesterday's blog update; 2) It saves me the time and energy required to write, from scratch, something completely new... leastwise for another few days or so.

Alrighty then. Here's my forum post from yesterday that created such a stir:

Crybabies, Whiners, Thin-Skinned Posters, and Harry Truman

"If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen." -Harry S. Truman, President, USA.

Plain-talking President, Harry S. Truman, was known for his home-spun candor. "The buck stops here," was another Trumanism that has survived time, changing social mores, an ever-evolving language, and is still oft-repeated in our (sometimes absurd) politically-correct society.

How do Truman's words apply to a photography forum?

Oh, that's easy.

If you're gonna post your photographic masterpieces on a forum, be prepared for some critical review. You might not like what others have to say, you might not agree with their critiques, but if you're gonna put your work in the public's eye, leastwise, a forum's eye, man-up (or woman-up) and accept it for what it's worth, whether you think it's worth much or worth little or worth something in between.

"If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen."

In other, other words, if you don't want to hear/read critiques of your work, if all you're looking for are "attaboys," "attagirls," ego strokes and pats on the back, or you're going to be a crybaby, a whiner, or a thin-skinned poster, do everyone a favor and don't bother posting your work.

I've learned more from the critical comments made by people viewing my work than I've ever learned from all the "attaboys" I've ever received. I didn't always like hearing/reading it, but it has always made me think... think and view my own work with more of a critical eye.

I've always tried my best to respond to criticism to my work in a positive or, at least, tolerant way, regardless of whether I thought such criticism was mean-spirited or well-intentioned. I may not have always been 100% successful at doing so, but I've always tried to be. Criticism of things like my political and religious views, of course, are a different matter. (As I'm always right.)

When it comes to your work, i.e., your photography, "the buck stops here."

It's your work. You're responsible for it. You snapped and processed and posted the image(s) without anyone forcing you to do so. You own it and you own the responses to it.

If you're gonna cry or get mad and take your ball and go home (e.g., by becoming angry, defensive, unduly argumentative, and/or deleting your post cuz you don't like what people say) save us all some time and don't bother sharing it.

If the only person you're work is supposed to impress is you, yourself, then keep it to yourself. You don't really want to hear what others have to say anyway... unless they're stroking your photographic-ego.

The pretty girl at the top is Devin from a couple of years ago. I'll resist the urge to make a pocket pool pun. Ooops! Guess I just did.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Importance of Critiquing the Work of Others

I'm pretty sure all of us are interested in improving our skills, whether they are photography skills or modeling skills. That's one reason why you come here, to the PGS blog: You're hoping I might accidentally write something that will help you improve. (You might also come for the pretty girl pics. Either way, it's all good.) And it's also why we visit photo forums, read other blogs, participate in workshops, read books and magazines that are on-topic to these interests, whatever.

Many of us who post images on forums, or show others our work, do so because we want feedback. Some of us share our work cuz we want pats on the back. Thoughtful feedback can be a valuable learning tool. Pats on the back feel good, but don't do much in terms of helping us grow our skills.

A lof of folks appreciate the constructive criticism their work receives. But what about giving critiques and feedback?

It's easy to give a pat on the back. It's easy to not bother commenting. What's a little more difficult is giving constructive feedback, whether you love the image or not. In other words, taking the time to detail, at least briefly, what you like or don't like about an image.

Let's get back to developing your skills. One of the skills you probably want to hone is your eye. You know, your critical eye, your eye for detail, your creative eye, all those eyes. Why? Because it's your eye, actually all those eyes I just mentioned, that will not only help you snap better pics but also help you edit your photos so that you choose the images that best reflect your work.

How do you develop your critical, detail-oriented, and creative eye? There's many ways. One of them, one big one, is by looking at the work of others and understanding what works and what doesn't work in those images. Yep, you guessed it, when you critique the work of others you're not only helping them, but you're actually helping yourself become a better shooter and editor. While critiquing the work of others helps them, more importantly, it helps you... maybe more than anything else in terms of developing your eye!

So next time you're gonna give an "attaboy" or an "attagirl" on some photo forum, take the time to say something that says WHY you like the image, not simply that you like it. When you do so, you're helping yourself become a better photographer or model while making someone else feel good and helping reinforce in them what works.

And when you're criticisms aren't so positive? Well, the same results occur when you provide constructive criticism: You develop and hone your own eye while helping others do the same.

Okay. That's it. I almost said, "Namaste" at the end of this but that would be so gay for me to do.

The pretty girl at the top is Katarina, flexing her stuff, from a few years ago.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

When Good Models Go Whacky

It's true there are some models who primp and pose with little going on behind the scenes, that is, there's not much happening, cerebral-wise, while they're pimping their stuff in the light. On the other hand, many models have Brainiac-like machinations constantly going on in their melons while seducing the camera with their charms and allure.

Personally, I think it's an 80/20 thing: The 80 referring to the percentage of models engaging in mental gymnastics while being photographed.

Most of us on the other side of the camera happen to be men, especially when it comes to pretty girl shooting. That means that most pretty girls shooters don't have a clue what's going in our models' brains, female brains, while we're shooting them. I'm certainly no exception to this general rule.

Fortunately, many models exhibit tell-tale signs that, assuming we take notice, are indicators that some extraordinary photographer-to-model finesse is in order.

A simple, uncomplicated example: Your model is wearing a very sexy get-up including a too-short skirt, stripper-pumps, a.k.a. CFMs ("Come Fuck Me" footwear) and an undersized halter top that causes her incredibly ample breasts to practically spill out in extremely enticing ways. You, the shooter, thinks she looks like the Goddess of Love in the outfit. The model, however, doesn't share your appraisal or optimism. She asks you whether you think the sexy micro-skirt she's wearing makes her butt look a little big. The model, BTW, has asked this probing (and perhaps misleading) question in a very casual, non-emotional, academic way.

Often, questions like "Does my butt look big?" have little to do with the anatomic Southern-region she has referred to. Instead, it is an indicator that the model, for whatever reasons, is feeling a bit insecure about her body's presentation in general.

Generally, this isn't a good sign, leastwise, in terms of how the shoot will progress.

There are few things that will kill your masterpiece shots of a beautiful woman than the woman experiencing insecurity about her body. Why? Because guess where that insecurity shows up in big ways? Yep. You guessed it. In her face, her eyes, her expressions.

"With a body like that, who's looking at her face?" you might wonder. Well, pretty much everyone, that's who.

The truth is, just about everyone who views a sexy image of a naked or semi-naked chick will still be drawn, almost immediately if not first, to the model's face and eyes and expression regardless of how hard or tight or curvy or sexy her body might be. (Unless her face is hidden or absent in the photo, in which case, we're probably talking about art nudes rather than glamour or tease shots.)

BTW, here's a short and incomplete list of why your model, no matter how gorgeous she looks to you, is feeling insecure:

1. She's in and around that time of the month and she's thinking "water-retention," i.e., she thinks she looks bloated. (I'm not sure whether menstruating women get bloated in their behinds but that doesn't matter; only what the menstruating woman thinks matters.)

2. Her boyfriend or husband recently told her that her butt is getting, or has gotten, large. (Note: Big Booty Syndrome is, more often than not, a self-esteem problem with white models. Black models often strut their bootyliciousness with pride.)

3. Worse than a boyfriend's or husband's callous ass comment is the same sort of comment coming from one of the model's girlfriends or female acquaintances: Her girlfriends, no matter how well loved, always represent competition in the world of women seeking approval for how they look. Often, they value the approval of girlfriends and other females over husbands, guy friends, and others of the male gender. Go figure, right?

4. Even worse than a girlfriend, husband, boyfriend, or complete stranger making an unkind comment about a woman's ass is the same comment coming from the model's mother. (Yes, I've heard of this happening to a model... more than once.) A mother's love is supposed to be unqualified and without exceptions. A daughter's ass, no matter how large it might or might not have become, does not qualify as an exemption to the sanctity of the mother/daughter "some subjects are off-limits" rule.

I'm sure there are more reasons I could have mentioned but the bottom line is, regardless of the "why?," you need to deal with the insecurity and you need to do so quickly and effectively. Otherwise, you're pics of your beautiful model are probably gonna suck or, worse, you might have an emotional, outa-control, whacky model on your hands. Neither of these situations is preferable over the other.

So here's the deal: Just like with cancer, early detection of the insecurity is a big plus. The quicker you notice something ain't right, the quicker you can begin the treatment and, thus, increase your chances of success. In other words, pay attention to what the model says, with words and body language, rather than gawking staring at her wonderfully sensuous form and thinking how awesome that form is going to look in your pictures.

Rather than trying to determine why the model thinks her butt looks big, focus on doing and saying things that tell her it ain't. I don't care if you have to lie, cheat, or whatever! You need to put those big-butt thoughts to rest and you need to do so immediately.

I can't tell you exactly what to say in situations like this, the situations are almost always different, but I do know that, like a doctor's bedside manner, your interactions with models usually make big differences in terms of good pics versus shit pics. Being a silent voyeur while photographing pretty girls reduces the odds of yielding good pics. When shooting pretty girls, you need to be a cheerleader with a camera, a therapist snapping photos, hypnotically Rasputin-like while making pictures of your beautiful muse as you mold her, physically as well as emotionally, like soft clay in your hands.

You're in charge! That is, you're responsible for the images that result. You need to quickly assess potentially damaging situations and make things right. Otherwise, no matter how well lit, exposed, and composed your shots might be, they're simply not going to "wow" anyone.

The pretty girl at the top is Kelly from earlier this year.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I've Been a (Blogging) Flake Lately

Haven't updated as much as usual lately. But there's a reason: I've been spending too much time with my newest crush, seen in the pic to the left. (Click to enlarge.)

Not such great images. I shot them, full-auto, with my little Canon Powershot point-n-shoot. They were for my insurance guy's files.

Besides working, I've been spending quite a bit of time with (and on) my new squeeze. If you're not too familiar with motorcycles, it's a 1999 Harley Davidson Dyna Low Rider. She's fast, sleek, loud and agile. I feel like a kid out on the road. And I'm not too modest too admit my baby turns a few heads. That's my Toyota 4Runner (grip truck) in the background of the pics. She's been jealous as hell!

I will (very) soon get back to the oh-so-serious business of regularly writing about photographing pretty girls. I also hope to get my bike into the studio or out on a location with a pretty, naked, chick draped across her... I mean across it.

Until then, I'll be working, playing, and out cruising on my new ride. I'll also be finding the time to do some on-topic writing for the blog and update more often.

I promise!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Simple Advice for Those Just Starting Out

A just-starting-out as a pretty girl shooter wrote me and asked for some advice. Since asking me for advice feeds my barely-constrained ego, I, of course, responded to him.

I thought I'd reprint his email, as well as my response, here, on the PGS blog. Why take the time to write an email that parallels the subject of this blog and not publish it on the blog? After all, I haven't updated in more than a couple of days. This makes updating easy, i.e., as it's almost already written. I'm real lazy efficient that way.

Here's what the aspiring, Jedi, pretty girl shooter wrote:

"I'm a young guy looking to get into erotic photography. I've seen you've got some real nice material both on your blog and on Photo Camel, and was just wondering what type of advice you've got as far as finding the right models, getting the right pictures, and finding one's self in overall success in the realm of erotic photography.

My new camera arrives tomorrow. I'll obviously be looking to learn the camera first, but it would be so much funner with some beautiful models on the other end of the camera.

Help would be appreciated.

Thank you kindly, sir"

Well, that was a lot to ask, especially that part about "...getting the right pictures, and finding one's self in overall success in the realm of erotic photography." There's no pat answer, no right or wrong way, when it comes to that stuff.

Still, I took a stab at answering his questions. Here's my response:

"Obviously, beyond learning your camera and lighting and posing and all that stuff, finding models will be a big priority... unless you already have a suitable one in the form of a significant other, a friend, whatever. Remember, as you're learning, you don't need a "Perfect 10" girl to learn with. In fact, you might want to start out practicing and experimenting with a subject who isn't a dedicated model as those girls will be expecting more than you know how to deliver, leastwise, at this point in time. When you're first learning to drive, you probably don't want to do so behind the wheel of a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. A compact, well-running, easy-to-handle sedan is probably the best car for learning how to drive.

Model Mayhem is one place to look for models in your area who will trade their time for yours. One Model Place is another such website. I would try to find a "starting out" model who is looking to learn while you're also learning. Basically, a "muse" relationship.

Once you have some pics you're relatively happy with, post them on some forums (like Photo Camel or Garage Glamour or and ask for critiques. Don't be thin-skinned about the criticisms. Learn from them. Keep an open mind. There's more to this than meets the eye. (Pun intended)

Good luck! Have fun! Stay focused! Make great pictures!"

Obviously, no Secrets of the Pros revealed in my response. Mostly, because there are no secrets. It's all out there: All the techniques and tricks and how-to stuff. All you have to do is search and find and learn.

"Getting the right pictures..." comes with time and skill and experience and talent.

"...finding one's self in overall success in the realm of erotic photography." Is a matter of determination, looking for opportunities and seizing them, and possibly a bit of luck.

The dude who wrote me is absolutely correct when he wrote, " would be so much funner with some beautiful models on the other end of the camera."

Yep. You're right, dude. It's always so much "funner" with hot chicks in your viewfinder. But it's also work and perseverance and making mistakes and learning from them. It's about learning and practicing and developing your "eye."

But again, he's right: Make it fun! Fun keeps you motivated and going for more!

The pretty girl at the top is Kimberly from earlier this year. I think the pic has a retro-bordello feel to it. The B&W conversion, of course, adds to that feeling, as does Kimberly's wardrobe as well as her sultry pose and expression.

Used three light sources: Main light modified with a 5' Photoflex Octo plus a couple of kickers, behind her on either side, modified with small, shoot-thru, umbrellas. I could have lit up the BG a bit but keeping it dark really pops Kimberly out and, IMO, adds more depth to the image.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

And Now for Something...

...completely different.

Shot some promo pics for a band this past Thursday night. The band calls themselves Tshizabi.

Tshizabi's leader, Matt, is a friend. Matt, who sometimes works as a production assistant on some of the sets I'm on, had asked me if I'd shoot some pics for him and his mates. They needed some new band photos as they've recently added a new member.

"No problem," I said. (I'm a nice guy that way.)

So, Thursday evening, I headed out for beautiful, downtown Hollywood.

Thursday was hot. Stupid hot. And it didn't cool down much in the evening. They said California's "Station Fire," still raging in the nearby foothills and mountains, was creating its own weather. That weather, created by the fires or not, was freakin' hot!

Tshizabi rehearses in an apartment building, not too far off the Hollywood Strip, where the (former) apartments have been converted into rehearsal rooms and other spaces for an eclectic mix of artists. There are a number of bands who practice there, as well as other artists and performers of all kinds working, practicing, and rehearsing in the building.

The band rehearses in a small space down in the building's subterranean garage. I parked my SUV in the garage and we decided the garage, itself, was an okay place to shoot. I was hoping the band might have a few hot groupies hanging out with them but that wasn't the case. It was just them... and me for the photo shoot.

One would think the garage, being subterranean and all, would mean it was cooler down there-- cooler, temperature wise, that is. But oh no! Instead, it was even hotter and way more humid. It was like a freakin' sauna in that place! I wasn't thrilled about that. I'm a cool-weather kinda guy. But, oh well! Wha'd'ya gonna do? Hot or not I had a job to do--freebie or paid gig, makes no difference--and I was gonna do it, hopefully, well.

Matt and his band-mates helped me unload my gear. Although I brought along my Tronix ExplorerXT so I could power my lights without access to A/C, it turned out A/C was available nearby so I didn't have to go the portable power route. I love being able to toss my ExplorerXT into the truck just in case I need power where it isn't available.

The band guys said they were looking for pics that were a little odd-looking, dark, and maybe even a bit creepy. Okay. I can do slightly creepy. And I can do odd and dark. (Although the parking garage's white ceiling created a bit more reflected ambient than I wanted.)

I decided to draw on just about every Hollywood horror movie ever made and place my key light low, on the floor in fact. I modified it with a medium soft box. This alone would yield a bit of creepiness.

Being predominantly a glam and tease shooter, my first instinct was to set some edge-lighting behind the band. But using two back-lights proved difficult in terms of controlling the spill and increasing the reflected ambient. I decided, instead, to just go with one, bare-bulb, back-light to provide some highlights and separation from the BG. I set the strobe so it was hidden behind a concrete pillar. I also used some black-foil to create a snoot and control the bulb's spill and keep its output narrow.

To add to the oddness of the pics, I shot most of them while lying on the garage's filthy, dirty, concrete floor, angling up, using a wide angle lens--a Canon 17-40 f/4 L--shooting much of it from this position while orienting my camera with pronounced Dutch Angles.

Hey! Ya want odd and creepy? I'll give ya odd and creepy.

In all, I was there about 4 hours. It was fun. Had some problems with my Pocket Wizards but, after a fair amount of troubleshooting, it seemed to be a faulty (brand spanking new) 1/4" cable running from the receiver to my Buff/Zeus power pack. I still think there was some weird frequency interference intermittently going on in that parking garage.

It's always sometimes fun shooting stuff that's not what you most often shoot... even if it means no hot chicks around.

Pic at the top is my friend, Matt. Usually those strands of hair on his forehead are spiked up into devil's horns. But it was so hot and humid down in that garage that Matt's trademark horns were drooping: Flaccid horns must be embarrassing for hard-core rockers sporting satanic hair-horns!

Matt captured with my Canon 5D w/70-200 f/4 L, ISO 100, f/8 at 125. Haven't had a chance to go through all the pics yet. Jimmy's been a busy boy! Just to prove I'm not heartless, posting an update without a pretty girl flaunting her stuff, here's a shot of super-sexy Tory Lane from a while back.