Friday, November 27, 2009

New Mola-Light Blog

From the good folks who brought us the Mola line of beauty dishes comes a blog with everything you ever wanted to know about Mola beauty dishes.

Actually, since the Mola Light blog is brand-spanking-new, everything you ever wanted to know about them probably hasn't been posted yet. But as the Mola-Light blog grows and evolves, everything and anything about Mola dishes will probably, eventually, be covered.

I'm a Mola owner. I have a 33.5" Mola "Euro." When I still had my studio, I shot often with my MBD. Since giving up the studio, I've used my Mola much less. That's mostly because it's not the easiest modifier in my lighting arsenal to schlep around with me. But still, for me, it's *the* modifier of choice when I really want some beautiful, soft, creamy, wraparound light. Yep. When that's what I want, my Mola is often my go-to modifier.

Check out the new Mola-Light blog. There's plenty already there to make your visit informative and entertaining. Tell 'em JimmyD, the pretty girl shooter, sent ya!

The pretty girl at the top is Roxy from a few years ago. Roxy captured in front of a green seamless using my Mola "Euro" as my main light modifier.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Meters v. Histograms

This isn't going to be one of those "old photographers do it by the meter," updates. It's not a rant. I'm not going to infer that, if you're not using a light meter, you're not a "real" photographer. I just want to point out a few advantages of metering over relying on histograms.

Let's say you shoot weddings. I don't but, for the sake of argument, let's say I do. I'd probably be using a light meter for, at least, the formal portraits. Why? Well, because wedding photographers are dealing with lots of whites, as in wedding dresses. Could I use a histogram to dial in those whites? Sure, but possibly at the expense of skin tones. When there's a lot of white in an image, a histogram is going to look like you might be over-exposed, with a bunch of peaks on the right.

On the other hand, a meter allows you to precisely know what's going on with those whites while, at the same time, letting you know what's going on with the skin tones. By metering (and lighting) you can strike a great balance between the whites and the skin tones. If you're really clever, you'll be able to light, meter, and expose for both the whites as well as those black tuxedos, showing detail in both.

Let's say you shoot art nudes. I don't but, once again, for the sake of argument, let's say I do. Again, I'd be using a light meter. Why? Well, because in art nude photography, shooters are often dealing with shadows. Lots of shadows. Shadows often approaching black. Once again, by metering (and lighting) you can strike a more precise balance between the models' skin tones and the shadows. If you're relying on a histogram to give you this information, the histogram is going to look like you're under-exposed, with a bunch of peaks on the left.

Histograms are great. They're helpful and can lead you to proper exposure. But there are enough situations where the histogram is going to be misleading. Sure, possibly as much as 80% of the time you can get a good exposure using a histogram alone, especially if you're experienced reading them. But for that other 20%, a meter is what's going to dial you into proper exposure. I know some of you are thinking, "No problem. I shoot RAW. I can fix my exposure fuck-ups when I convert."

True enough. Leastwise, much of the time... but not always.

You blow those whites completely out and no amount of RAW converting is going to recover detail that simply isn't captured. Conversely, same holds true with shadows, albeit to a lesser extent, i.e., there's often detail in shadows even when they look very black. But blown-out highlights? Fuhgetaboutit!

BTW, while histograms will get you through most any exposure environments in a pinch, relying on the LCD screen alone is, well, is too iffy even for government work.

Ever watch those BTS vids of notable pros shooting? If the vid's content has much depth, you might have noticed those peeps are most always using a meter. Leastwise, an assistant is wielding one. If you aspire to be the next Annie L. or Greg Gorman or David LaChappelle or any number of top-notch shooters, you might want to consider getting and using a light meter, assuming you don't already own and use one.

The pretty girl at the top, trying either to push her way out of the picture or keep me at bay, you decide, is Dylan from a few months ago.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tis the Season to Be Jolly! (Yes and No)

This week, the Thanksgiving holiday officially kicks off the Christmas season, leastwise, for most Americans.

Traditionally, it's always been my slow time of year. I don't expect the 2009 Christmas season to be any different. I'm not saying there will be no work. There will simply be less work. Significantly less work.

I'm not crying or whining. I've long been aware this happens each and every year.

Still, it's always "Ouch!"

If I were a more fiscally responsible person, I'd save more for the Christmas work doldrums. But me being me, that doesn't seem to ever happen. I had, for instance, enough cash to get me through this year's slow period with little concern but, of course, there was that Harley I couldn't resist. Paid cash for it! Also bought some new glass and lighting gear. Paid cash for that stuff as well. Doing so used up, pretty much, all my "rainy day" cash.

Oh well.

I guess it's how I roll.

For some photographers, this is probably a great time of year. What, with shooting family Christmas portraits, company parties and such. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on one's perspective, that's not what I do.

I suck at marketing and business. Truly suck! There. I said it! These days, marketing and business is probably a bigger part of making money off the family and event biz than being good at photography might be.

Again, I'm not whining or complaining. It is what it is and I yam what I yam.

None of this is to say I curl up in a ball and wait for the new year to arrive. I try to use this time of year to accomplish other things, things that might net me some cash down the road or stuff that simply interests me or things I've put off doing.

I haven't had a "day job" in about 20 years. In all that time, I've made my living, as a freelancer, with cameras in my hands and/or computer screens in front of me. It's what I know how to do. It's what I love doing.

In some ways, like many people, what I do defines me. Course, that Harley also defines me, albeit in other ways... as do other things in my life.


I'm just saying.

The pretty girl at the top is Alexa, captured during the same production and at the same studio location with, basically, the same lighting as the last image (of another model) I posted in my previous update.

Sorry for the somewhat "woe is me" update. Sometimes, I use this blog for angst relief.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Choosing Your Key Modifier

Decisions, decisions!

If you're at all like me, you have gear that offers more than one choice for a key light (main light) modifier. I'm talking, of course, about when you're using strobes.

There's all kinds of potential candidates for the key modifier job and different situations and/or environments might dictate which modifier makes most sense. Other times, the "look" you're going after pushes you towards one modifier over another. Still other times, it's simply about which modifier you feel like using for a variety of reasons-- including what might be the quickest and easiest to set up. (The last one often dictates my key light modifier choice... but I'm sometimes mostly lazy that way.)

Lighting manufacturers offer a big array of modifiers to choose from: From umbrellas to soft boxes to panels and scrims to ring flashes to beauty dishes and more. Of course, some people like to shoot bare bulb. Bare-bulbers, I'm thinking, might be photographers who are also nudists.

Just joking.


I'm not going to attempt to write about all the reasons you might choose one modifier over another. That's a subject that sometimes takes up a chapter or more in photography books. But I will mention a few things that might push you towards choosing one key modifier over another, especially if you're a pretty girl shooter.

When shooting beauty and a lot of glamour, soft is good. Soft lighting isn't always the way to go, depending on the look you want to give your images but, often enough, soft is the way many glam and beauty shooters go. Leastwise, for their key or main light. (Note: Just to make sure we're all on the same page, when I say "soft" I'm speaking to the quality of the light. I'm not talking about focus.)

If you're thinking soft, you're probably thinking bigger modifiers. You know, like BIG soft boxes and BIG umbrellas and BIG whatever you're using. The bigger the better if soft is your goal. When it comes to lighting, soft lighting, size does matter. If you don't have BIG, you should be thinking of moving your key modifier in as close to your model as possible. That way, the source becomes bigger by virtue of its proximity to the subject. It's kind of like those words printed on your car's side-view mirror about things appearing closer than they appear... sort of, in a round-about way. Or maybe not.


My two, fave, key modifiers, not necessarily in order of preference, are Octos and beauty dishes. I own a Mola 33.5" "Euro" and a 5' Photoflex Octodome. Through one of my regular clients, I also have regular access to a 7' Photoflex Octodome.

There are some distinguishable differences between the Mola dish and an Octo. Most notably, the Mola provides more "wrap-around" light while the Octos seem to produce less of that quality. I've never shot with a big parabolic but I'm thinking it also provides a lot of wrap-around light quality.

Many shooters use grids on their big light sources. Grids provide more control, i.e., less spread to the light. They also effect wrap-around quality as they make the light more directional. Grids, I should add, don't particularly reduce the soft qualities of a big light source. I mean, they might to some extent, but you'd probably need scientific instruments to measure a grid's effect on softness.

I should also note that I have a white, silk, baffle for my Mola but I almost never use it. The baffle, to my eye, alters the effect of the dish, turning it into something that more closely resembles a soft box in its light quality. If I want the look of a soft box I'll use a soft box.

I hear a lot of shooters say they're in search of their "style." Style comprises many elements, from composition to color and exposure, to so many other things. Lighting certainly is one of those elements. In fact, its a BIG element when defining one's style.

I suggest people experiment with using a variety of key modifiers until they find one or two that, for the most part, makes them happy. That's not to say that once you've found some favorites you should ignore all the other possibilities. Variety is the spice of life. Changing up your choices in this matter shows a greater range of lighting acumen. You probably don't want to appear static or stagnant in your lighting approaches in spite of your desires to create a definable and recognizable personal style.

The pretty girl at the top is Kat from some time ago. It was shot in a studio in North Hollywood, CA. I lit Kat with my 5' Photoflex Octo for a main, set slightly to my right at about the same height as me. (I'm 5'10") To camera-left, at about a 45 behind the model, I set a medium Chimera strip box on a stand with the top of the box about even with the top of the model's head. To camera-right, I used a small, silver-lined umbrella, boomed up fairly high also coming from behind Kat. I snapped the image with a Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime on my 5D.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Photography as a Profession: Its Future

...Or lack of one.

I don't envy young or new photographers starting out these days, leastwise, those with a mind towards making a career out of it. It's a tough business made tougher by the economy, technology, and more competition than ever.

It doesn't matter whether your hopes and dreams include being a photo-journalist or shooting editorial, fashion, glamour/tease, commercial, events, or most anything else. These days, the future for professional photographers looks like a bleak landscape, more so for those just starting out.

The economy sucks. No startling news there. Newspapers and magazines are shutting down in droves. Soccer Moms and Uncle Alberts are shooting weddings and events for near nothing. Everyone, it seems, is as good as the pros or think they are. What's happened to the career photographers who once owned these businesses and others? They're now competing with everyone else for whatever is left, photo-wise. It's like a pack of dogs fighting for scraps.

Photographic technologies have moved forward by leaps and bounds. Never has the technological state-of-the-art been so dynamic or seen such advances in such a short time! The results? Photography approaches no-brainer status, i.e., in terms of capturing images that are, or seem, competent in terms of their technical aspects.

Competition is overwhelming. Everyone, it seems, is a shooter. And many of them are shooting stock or posting pics on FlickR and elsewhere or giving images away for bragging rights, allowing the folks who once paid well for good images to pick and choose photos that are good-enough and pay little or nothing for them.

Of the many iconic photographers of yesteryear, how many of them would be able to make a dent in today's photo markets? Sure, talent is meaningful and the cream rises to the top. But when there's so little room for the cream to rise, and when so much cream (and other stuff masquerading as cream) is poured into the mix, the odds of standing out become longer.

From where I'm sitting, these trends will continue. For the career photographer, current or would-be, the future doesn't look so rosy. It looks more difficult than ever. Yes, some will always succeed. But the number of people who comprise those "some" are becoming fewer and fewer.

On the other hand, it's probably the greatest time ever to be a hobbyist!

The pretty girls at the top taking a bubble bath are dark-haired Sofia and blond Devin. Snapped that one in a house in Vegas in '07. The future didn't look so rosy then either, athough not as un-rosy-like as today. Image captured with a Canon 5D w/85mm prime. As I recall, I used a single light to illuminate them: A monolight with a Photoflex 5' Octodome to modify and, if I also remember right, a flex-fill reflector for some fill. (That bathroom wasn't very big.)

Note: This update is a cut-and-paste of a post I made on MM this morning. Since many of you aren't big fans of MM, I thought I'd re-post here. I was overdue for an update, after all.

The MM version of this update really blew up and it's still going strong. If any of you who read this blog are people who also participate on MM, and you responded thoughtfully to my MM OP, please feel free to follow my lead and cut-and-paste your MM response here, in the PGS comments. I'm sure there are some who visit here, and not MM, who would like to hear your thoughts on this.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

DIY vs. Paying for the Real Deal

I got sucked into a Model Mayhem thread recently that was about DIY gear (Do It Yourself) versus paying for manufactured equipment. I can't believe how easily I can be drawn into these things. As is usually the case with MM threads, it morphed and distorted and zig-zagged around the original subject but, at first, it remained relatively on topic.

The OP (Original Poster) was wondering if he should make/use DIY gear or should he save up and buy manufactured stuff.

I suggested he use whatever he could until he was able to purchase the real McCoys.

But since, as is often the case on MM, the thread got somewhat personal with a few people becoming asses assertive in their opinions, I might have occasionally raised my emotional level, just a hair, to make my points.

Please note these are my opinions on the subject. Some or many of you might disagree. That's the beauty of opinions: I can have mine and you can have yours and we all should still be able to peacefully co-exist, in the real world or the cyber world. I know. I know. How naive is that?


I have a fair amount of money invested in lighting and grip. I don't think I spent that money because I'm an idiot. (Altho me being an idiot is, at times, debatable.)

All lighting instruments are not created equal. Their qualities, other than simply producing photons, are varied: Power ranges, flash durations, recycling times, maintaining color temps throughout those power ranges, build quality and reliability, and more. If you want better performance, better quality, more versatility, you're gonna have to pay for it.

Example: Profotos versus shop lights from Home Depot? No brainer. Profotos versus crap from Hong Kong? Still no brainer if you're really serious about lighing and photography. (I don't mean to only pimp Profoto. There's plenty of great manufacturers of quality lighting instruments out there.)

All lighting modifiers are not created equal. Again, their qualities differ, sometimes immensely, sometimes in more subtle ways. The right tool for the job is key to modifying light. As an example, I don't own a Mola beauty dish because I'm too dense or narrow-minded to believe a big, modified, DIY'd salad bowl will get the job done equally well.

I don't own Chimera and Photoflex softboxes because I'm an elitist and stick my nose up at cheap-oh shit from Hong Kong, offered on Ebay, even though it's built to the same standards. (Yeah, right.)

All grip gear is not created equal. I don't use stands and arms and clamps from companies like Matthews, American Grip, Norms and others because I'm blind to the fact that wobbly, questionably constructed, cheap-ass, unreliable grip gear--stuff that can be bought for very little--is just as good as the pro gear or because I'm a gear-snob or because I don't know I can find things at Home Depot that might suffice.

Do I sometimes buy shit from Home Depot to use in my photography? Sure. Do I occasionally cobble stuff together to modify or control light? Absolutely. Do I think, because I can cobble or head over to Home Depot, manufactured gear is a waste of money?

Photographers, please.

The pretty girl pics at the top are a couple of more snaps from last week's shoot with Lupe. Three light sources: Two medium umbrellas, either side, from the front, and a shoot-thru, boomed high and from the side/behind, on the left. Canon 5D, 70-200 f/4 L, ISO 100, f/8 at 160th. Lighting is fairly flat across for my personal tastes but that's what the client wanted so who am I to disagree?