Friday, January 29, 2010

Which Comes First? Art or Science?

Photography is art and science. Few other visual mediums require as much attention to both these seemingly disparate sets of skills and knowledge requirements.

More than a few photographers are drawn to the science side of things. We see this in the many technical discussions on forums. (I wonder how much time painters spend discussing the technical merits of one brush over another?) I suppose it's the tech stuff that draws many people to photography, i.e., those who have technical and science related day-jobs. For those folks, it's a great creative outlet that also revolves around technical and scientific understanding. Unfortunately, science alone does not make great photos. To be fair, neither does art.

There's no best way to approach this Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? aspect of learning photography. That is, in terms of which one a new photographer should focus on first. Thanks to technology, the science side of photography can be employed with less technical knowledge than ever before. But who wants to regularly allow a bunch of programmed algorithms decide the technical aspects of one's photographs?

So what does this all mean?

Should new photographers spend more time developing their "eye" than developing their technical skills? Or, should they first focus on all things technical?

I don't know.

But here's what I do know. Leastwise, when it comes to photographing people.

To free yourself from paralysis-through-analysis, i.e., spending far too much time worrying about the technical side of things, you should develop your understanding and use of the technical or science aspects of photography to the point where that part becomes nearly automatic, second nature, transparent.

When you're fretting or stressing over lighting ratios, camera controls, exposure considerations, and other tech stuff that is grabbing too much of your attention, your ability to capture images with style, emotion, and story becomes impaired. Worse, the people you're capturing will feel secondary and merely adjunct to the process.

As you might guess, that's not a good thing.

As a pretty girl shooter, your attention needs should be mostly focused on the model. The more comfortable and automatic you are with the technical stuff, the more your focus remains on the model and, consequently, the more your creative juices are able to flow. The model's creative juices too. The juicier the better! This, more often than not, creates better pretty girl pics.

If you're just starting out, still developing your technical skills while searching for your style--and a long way from having the tech considerations automatic--reduce the strain on your brain. Try going with a single light instead of two or three. When one-light shooting becomes automatic, add a light or two to your setups and learn how to better modify and control the lighting. Or, focus on natural light shooting. Learn to find the ideal light, to "see" the light. Add a reflector and see how that works for you. Then, when you're comfortable with that, add another reflector or a scrim or start playing with your ability to manipulate depth of focus and other things that add value to your photos.

Learning is a step-by-step process. Don't come into the game thinking you need to quickly match the work of people who have been honing their skills for years. Take your time. Enjoy the journey. Be open to criticism but only adopt suggestions that seem like they'll work well for you.

Most importantly, have fun.

The freckle-faced pretty girl at the top is Faye, shot a couple of years ago outside her crib. It was night-time and I shot Faye in the courtyard of her apartment building. I used two lights: A main, modified with a large, white umbrella, and a monobloc from behind, controlled with a 30° honeycomb grid.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Anyone Can Do It

It's becoming an "anyone can do it" world. Not just with photography but in other careers as well. In some ways and in some endeavors, that world seems like it's already here.

For me it does.

For most of my career life, I've pursued vocations of a creative nature. Be it shooting a still camera, a video camera, video editing, or writing. The only endeavor that, so far, hasn't been replaced by "anyone can do it" technologies is writing. But writing, as luck's fickleness would have it, is the vocation I've made the least amount of money pursuing.

Here's what happened, leastwise, as it effected yours truly over the last ten years or so. I'm only using my case as an example. I'm not whining. I don't think all is lost. I have confidence in my ability to turn scars into stars. In spite of downward spirals, I'm a survivor. I always have been. No reason to think otherwise now. I'm just recounting history. My career history over the last decade or more.

First, it was video cameras. When cameras like Sony's VX1000 and Canon's XL1 and their successors came out, everyone was suddenly a pro vid-shooter or a movie-maker. How so? Because, suddenly, you could shoot broadcast quality video with a $3500 (or less) camera that could deliver a decent-enough picture in AUTO modes. So what's the first thing all these new vid-shooters did? They took the rates for shooting video into the toilet by whoring themselves out for shit money. You know, to get their feet in doors.

Next, it was editing systems. When people had to spend a $100k for an AVID digital non-linear editing system, the industry standard, only pros and real production companies had them. I had one. Actually, my partner and I had two. We spent well over $200k on those systems. We had to work them around the clock to pay for them plus the small facility we housed them in. Then, Final Cut Pro came along, knocked AVID off its pedestal, and suddenly everyone became an editor for a small fraction of many people's investments. So what's the first thing all these new editors did? They took the rates for editors into the toilet by whoring themselves out for shit money.

Finally, it was dSLRs. Suddenly, it didn't take much know-how to snap decent enough pics. Guys like me, with years invested in learning and gaining experience and know-how were faced with competition from everywhere. So what's the first thing all these new photographers did? They took the rates for photography into the toilet, whoring themselves out for shit money. Worse, many of them started giving it away for free... for bragging rights or whatever. Whoopee!

I'm perplexed.

As more and more vocations fall victim to the "anyone can do it" trend, how are many people going to make a decent living? Is a socialist world in our future? That's not very appealing to me. Too many strings attached to socialism. No such thing as a free lunch and all that.

On the plus side, the one thing many new, "anyone can do it," technologies offer, in terms of creating opportunities, is in education. But when the economy takes a nose dive, like it has, many people might think less and less about improving their skills through educational programs (that cost money) designed to increase their know-how using these new technologies. Instead, many are worried more about getting by. For those still getting by, they might be worrying they're not going to be able to do so in the foreseeable future.


Technologies give and take. Economies give and take. Lately, for me and probably for many others, they've both been leaning heavier on the "take" side. Hopefully, one or both are gonna give!

Oh well. What'd'ya gonna do? The world changes. Opportunities appear and fade and appear. Sometimes, new opportunities appear, only to be shot in the foot by economies.

What's next?

Wish I knew.

Here's a bit of advice from an old school guy for those starting out, trying to take advantage of "anyone can do it" technologies: It's pretty damn hard to raise your prices once you've set your rates low regardless of how much better the products and services you offer become. It wasn't always that way. For the most part, it is now.

The pretty girl at the top is Amber. Perhaps vid-shooting chicks like Amber are also a reason less opportunities are in my court and more in other people's courts... like Amber's court.

I'm not trying to be a downer. I'm just saying.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Best Advice is the Simplest

A handful of updates ago, I wrote something I titled, "10 Pretty Girl Shooting Suggestions for 2010."

It included some pretty simple advice. When I wrote it, I thought it might be too basic and too elementary to garner much attention. I kind of thought of it as a "filler" update.

I guess I was wrong.

I've received a number of requests to re-post my update elsewhere, on other sites, or to use it as a teaching tool. That doesn't happen too often. Almost never. I, of course, said "Of course!" to the requests to re-post or use it. I'm a nice guy that way. (As long as I'm given proper credit.)

There's an abundance of info on the web focused on photography. Abundance is probably an understatement. There is so much, in fact, that much of it becomes a blur and keeping up with it is like a full-time job. More than a little of that advice is fairly complicated, pimping step-by-step techniques and processes, and is either too technical or too esoteric to benefit, in easily-employed ways, many shooters. It seems people might appreciate the complicated how-to stuff but they also want plain and simple advice. Basic tips, rather than rocket science info, to improve their photography.

Frankly, I think that's a really good thing because photography, after all, isn't rocket science.

In many ways, the simplification of photography, from a technology POV, has made a fair amount of it more confusing, time consuming, and with a steeper learning curve. Photoshop, for instance, requires a great deal of learning-time to become an intermediate-skilled user, much less an advanced user. What do you gain if you quickly snap an okay pic in some auto-mode and then have to spend hours and hours processing it into some supposedly great work of digital art? I'm not dissing digital art. A lot of it is quite awesome. Become a digital-artist if digital art is what you're about.

Many people see cool pictures on the web and want to reverse engineer them. Often enough, in those reverse-engineering explanations, the instructions on how to recreate the image becomes so focused on the technical side--lighting, processing, etc.--that people lose sight of what might have given the image its power.

Image power can also come from much simpler things: Basic techniques or simply by clicking at that "decisive moment." Sometimes, it comes from volume, i.e., the more shutter-clicks, the greater the chance a winner will result. Some people call that the spray-and-pray approach to photography.

It seems to me that efficiency and simplicity might be the most important components of consistently good photography. When taking the step from hobby-shooter to professional shooter, whether it's full-time or part-time, efficiency takes on new importance. Unless you have a crew of assistants--I don't but maybe you do--simplicity improves efficiency and efficiency creates consistency and consistently good photos impresses clients more often than the occasional great photo does.

I know it's not pretty girl shooting related but that CEO or VIP you just got hired to shoot? You'll be lucky if you get 20 or 30 minutes, more like 10 or 15, to photograph him or her. But your client's expectations will be as if you had all day to shoot them. And they'll expect the photos to be as good or better than the photos in your portfolio that caused you to get hired in the first place.

Many photographers, IMO, focus too much on the technical side of things, both in production and post-production. All that tech stuff eats time and leaves less room for creativity. In production, the more of it you try to employ--the tech stuff, that is--the more focused you'll be on it rather than your subject.

I think more photographers should be focused on simple approaches to their photography. Especially when starting out! Why? Because there's less chance of missing those details that might ruin an otherwise good pic, or missing those "decisive moments" that are, so often, the biggest reason a great photo is snapped. In other words, you need more of your brain available for greater attention to what's going on in your viewfinder than what's going on with your lights and your camera controls.

Sure, the technical stuff is important. But it needs to become automatic, almost second nature. Rarely does the technical side of photography contain the elements that people will respond to with emotional enthusiasm. Instead, they're mostly wowed by the image's technical merits. Nothing inherently wrong with that. But an image's technical merits, for the most part, are but one element of a great photo... and not necessarily *the* element, especially when shooting people.

I suppose high-end technical stuff is quite important for some genres of photography. But for pretty girl shooting and portraiture in general, it ain't the end-all be-all. We see this all the time with heavily processed people-pics. They might look cool, leastwise, when they're done well, but they also seem somewhat contrived. They appear more fictional than real.

The plain truth is, no matter how much technical stuff you throw at a capture, you're not guaranteed a great photo. There's a certain amount of serendipity that often takes place when great photos are captured. Call it luck or serendipity, it is, unfortunately, quite fickle. No matter how hard we might try to align the stars and planets through methodical and complicated photographic techniques, serendipity may or may not smile on us. Conversely, the less time we spend trying to align technology with art, the same odds of serendipity taking place exists. Possibly better odds.

The pretty girl at top is Aleeta, another Eastern European model I shot not too long ago. Sometimes, when I'm in close for the shot, I just want to reach out in front of my camera and... uhh... nevermind. I won't go there. We're talking photography here, not raw human impulses.

P.S. My eBay-purchased Yashica Penta J arrived yesterday. It's in great cosmetic condition but it's inoperable. The camera body works, shutter and all that, but the lens does not: I can't focus or set the aperture with it. Those controls are frozen. That's okay. I bought it for sentimental reasons, not to shoot with it. It will look great displayed on a shelf and will be an enjoyable reminder of what I first used, camera-wise, as I began my life-long love of photography.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Photographic Nostalgia

It's been raining all week!

I can't remember the last time it rained this much, this consistently, and for this many days in a row in Southern California.

Generally, we're a fairly rain-starved state. Leastwise, in this part of California. And I'm sure there are many reasons this much rain is a good thing. But still... I'm so done with it!

Enough already!

Continuing rainfall like we're experiencing doesn't do much for my mood. Ongoing rain puts me in something of a funk. It makes me glum. It makes me pray for the sun and I ain't much of a prayin' person. There's no way I could live somewhere where rain is more the rule than an occasional condition. I might end up a suicide statistic. Okay. That's an exaggeration. But I'd be fairly depressed much of the time.

According to the weather prognosticators, the rain will last until the weekend and then it will clear out and our usual sunny conditions will return.

Can't wait!

Besides feeling generally funky and glum, a side-effect, for me, is nostalgia. When my mood dips, I find myself focusing more on the past than the present or future.

Photographically, for me, nostalgia goes back a long way. I became interested in photography at a fairly early age. It's been a life-long pursuit: Sometimes more active, sometimes less. But through the years, photography (and later, videography) have been a big part of my life, either as a hobby, an avocation, or a full-blown vocation.

When I was 12, that is, on my twelfth birthday, my Dad gave me my first camera: A Yashica Penta J. I have no idea how or why my father chose this particular camera. He might have come by one that "fell off a truck." Yeah, my Dad had some friends that were *those* kinds of friends. Not so unusual for back-in-the-day back-East Italian-Americans. Probably not so unusual these days either. (I have some of *those* friends myself.)

The Yashica Penta J was an all-manual, SLR camera. No auto modes. No bells and whistles. It didn't even have an internal light meter. Instead, Yashica produced and sold an accessory selenium meter that clipped onto the camera's front-side cold shoe.

In retrospect, it was the perfect camera to learn photography with. There was no way, other than accidentally or by sheer luck, a decent photo could be snapped with this camera without first learning the technical side of exposure or finding the right exposure in all kinds of lighting conditions. A few years after receiving the camera, in high school, I learned how to process film and make prints. (Fortunately, my high school had a good graphic arts department that included a well-equipped, if B&W only, darkroom.)

Back to the present...

My rain-inspired nostalgia caused me to peruse Ebay with the goal of finding another Penta J, one in operating condition. And I did! In fact, I found one, bid on it, and won the camera for five bucks!

Five bucks!

Such a deal.

It's already in the mail and heading my way. It should arrive by the time the rain departs.

I'm stoked!

I don't even know if I'll shoot anything with it. (I probably will.) But, for the most part, I just wanted one. It might end up displayed on a shelf: A reminder of what got me started with this life-long love of photography I've enjoyed so much.

Maybe there is a (personal) silver-lining to these rain clouds?

The pretty girl at the top is Cindy, snapped a few months ago. As I recall, she's from some Eastern European country, maybe Hungary or Romania. Nothing special photographically. Just some standard pretty girl pics shot for a client on a white cyclorama. Besides a small fan to blow her hair a bit, three lights were employed: A big main (5' Octo) and a couple of kickers behind the model, either side from above, modified with small, shoot-thru, umbrellas.

Here's a more revealing pic of Cindy. I never shot stuff like this, back in the day, with my Yashica. Maybe that will change sometime in the future?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An Imperfect Pursuit of Perfection?

Conventional thought says an image is only as strong as it's weakest part.

That's one big reason why so much post-processing is performed on so many images.

The digital world has left us intolerant of flaws and imperfections. We strive to capture perfection. When we fail, which is so often the case, we attempt to process perfection into that which is imperfect.

Perfection, like beauty, mostly exists in the minds of those perceiving it, trying to create it, or those hoping to benefit from it.

In other words, it's entirely subjective.

For most photographers who share their work with others, the notion of the perfect picture is the critic's playground.

"The strength of criticism lies in the weakness of the thing criticized." Henry Wadsworth Longellow.

Somewhere along the line, the concept of (photographically) capturing what is became the pursuit of creating what it could be or should be or might be. So much so, pictures without perfection-creating manipulation--certainly, when it comes to pretty girl pictures--garner less positive responses and, often enough, are perceived as weak, attracting criticism like a magnet held close to iron shavings.

I'm guilty of this myself. Both in my own work and when viewing the work of others.

Often, when editing my work, I'm drawn to images that contain, what I soon perceive as having, certain notable weaknesses.

I try to fix them.

I try to process the weaknesses out.

Unfortunately and for the most part, there's nothing with true strength to replace those weaknesses with. So, I eradicate the weaknesses, replacing them with things that, hopefully, draw little attention and go unnoticed. But, when I'm finished doing this, I often decide I no longer like the image and toss it into the recycle bin, casting it adrift into the vacuum of cyberspace.

Perhaps it's those imperfections that first attract me to an image? Maybe there's something more human about pictures of people that are imperfect? Something in those photos that stand out? Imperfect qualities that, in some way, reassure me that my own imperfections are simply normal and natural.

But then ego kicks in.

I have these tools at my disposal.

I can manipulate and recreate. I can fix and alter and massage perfection, leastwise near-perfection, into the picture.

I am God with a mouse and a computer and some software.

I am like Dr. Frankenstein, except what I create is beautiful, not ugly and monstrous.

But still, the results don't look quite right.

They don't feel right.

I'm cheating.

I'm committing photo-fraud.

And as for those I'm defrauding?

Usually, they embrace, appreciate, and are thankful for the fraud I've perpetrated.

Mixed emotions for me.

Sorry about the (somewhat) esoteric ramblings. It's a gloomy/rainy day out there.

I prefer the light of a near-naked sun.

The pretty girl at the top is Charlotte from 4 years ago. Some imperfect pursuit of perfection applied.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Suspension of Disbelief

Way back when, the English poet and philosopher, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, formulated the concept of "willing suspension of disbelief."

Coleridge coined the term as a means to justify the use of fantastic or non-realistic elements in literature. Since that time, the notion of "willing suspension of disbelief" has been applied to many things, most often in the realms of entertainment as well as con-artistry.

According to Coleridge's theory, suspension of disbelief is quid pro quo: Readers, viewers, audiences, and marks agree to suspend their judgment, i.e., what they'll accept in terms of believability, in exchange for the promise of something, either in the form of entertainment or personal gain, or something else.

Some Nigerians, the ones who send us emails notifying us we've either won a lottery we did not participate in or that we've been left millions of dollars by some African royalty, are attempting suspension of disbelief. Hollywood regularly attempts suspension of disbelief in big ways, whether it's a jarhead becoming an avatar in the form of an alien being on a distant world or Bruce Willis's "Die Hard" character engaging in all kinds of death-defying stunts that, in real life, would kill him quite quickly and easily.

Never, in the history of suspending disbelief, has it been more notably and routinely attempted than on the internet. Virtual anonymity is the Holy Grail of would-be belief-suspenders. When or where else have so many attempted such bullshit in so many ways? Whether it's in the form of them telling others who and what they are or in photos posted on forums and elsewhere.

The term "suspension of disbelief," as it applies to photography, takes many forms: From trick photography to manipulated alterations meant to dazzle, confuse, or simply make a subject look like something other than it was. (When snapped.)

In pretty girl shooting, we routinely use lighting, exposure, post-production, and more to engage viewers and, hopefully, convince them to suspend their sense of disbelief.

The real trick when suspending disbelief is in the SoD-artist's ability to suspend it without going over the top. In other words, most viewers will only suspend their sense of disbelief to a point. As a rule, the more or less informed a viewer might be about certain photo techniques, the more or less they are willing to suspend disbelief. Sometimes, of course, the attempt to suspend disbelief is quite obvious yet viewers are still willing to "believe" the image because it's cool, fulfills fantasies, or for other reasons.

These days, the more obvious the post-production trickery applied to a photo, the more obvious (to viewers) that trickery has been employed and, generally, the less able they are to suspend disbelief. (Like most rules of photography, this rule isn't etched in stone.)

For the most part, we see the results of shooters attempting to convince viewers to suspend disbelief through their use of post-production techniques. But there's a point where many viewers will refuse to suspend their sense of disbelief. Often enough, when a photographer has gone beyond that point, their work is criticized or questioned or worse.

Unfortunately, there is not a hard-and-fast rule that points to the line where suspension of disbelief becomes nearly impossible for most viewers. Photographers need to apply their own discriminatory and aesthetic abilities to determine that line or whether the line even exists given the general subject of the image.

Does the model's skin look nearly flawless yet still believable? Or, does she look like she's coated with some sort of poly vinyl material?

Is the model's shape truly near perfect? Or, has she been liquefied, modified, and unreal-ified to the point that viewers simply don't buy it?

Those are the kinds of questions and more you should be asking yourself as you are processing skin or making waists smaller and tits bigger or performing other manipulations in post.

In some ways, perfection is over-rated. Often, viewer's won't buy into the photo representation of a model that is, simply, way too perfect. Again, there's a point where people will accept those near-perfect aesthetics and there's a point where they won't. You need to figure out where those points are. Quite often, people who critically appraise your work will tell you, either straight-up or in more subtle ways, whether your work is believable.

Sometimes, it's a good idea to listen to them... whomever they might be.

The gratuitous pretty girl at the top is Chloe from last year. Very little processing performed on the image. Not much suspension of disbelief required. What you see is what she is: Pretty, friendly, with a nice shape and a natural, if slightly mischievous, smile.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

10 Pretty Girl Shooting Suggestions for 2010

One of the cool, if egotistical, things about writing a blog and having a fairly good-sized readership is it gives me, I think, a bit of juice, i.e., influence, with my readers.

I'm not saying I'm any sort of photo-guru, not even close. And I'm certainly not the last word in glamour photography: There are people who know more about it and who do it far better than me. Lots of people, in fact. But, since people are reading, I'm assuming they're also considering what I might have to say. Who knows? Some of you might even put into practice some of the stuff I suggest.

With that in mind, here's a list of photo-suggestions for your consideration, most of them you've probably heard before.

1. Learn the Front-End of Photography. By the front-end, I mean learn everything you can about the art and science of photography. Don't expect computer processing to make you a great photographer. Great photography begins with great photography. Computer manipulation is merely a tool and and adjunct to what you've already captured. To hear this said better than I could ever say it, watch and listen to what the late, great, Dean Collins has to say about this.

As an addendum to learning the front-end of photography...

2. Quit Over-Processing Images! Women have skin covering their bodies, real skin, not some artificial, poly vinyl, coating. Just like a Real Doll won't ever replace a real woman--except, perhaps, in truly desperate times--Barbie skin is neither sexy nor enticing. Sure, fix things in post. Enhance them. (Within the bounds of believability.) But quit processing women into something akin to a computer-generated character in a James Cameron movie.

3. Don't Play the Art Card. I wrote about the Art Card a few updates ago so I won't rehash it in this post other than to add: Accept criticism of your work with the same humility you accept compliments. If you don't accept compliments with humility, here's one added suggestion: Get over yourself!

4. Gear Doesn't Trump Knowledge, Skill, or Creativity. Yeah, we all want better gear. I know I do. But don't expect that new camera body or that faster lens or the latest version of Photoshop to automatically improve your photography. There is no replacement for taking the time to learn how to do things right, how to do them better. Each piece of gear is simply a tool. And tools, themselves, do not make exceptional craftsmen. Just because you own a hammer and saw, perhaps the best hammer and saw money can buy, doesn't mean you know how to build a beautiful home.

5. Improve Your Communication Skills.
Models want direction. Models need positive reinforcement. Models want to hear that they're not alone out there in the lights. Dead air is not conducive to great photography. You don't have to become Mr. Personality. You simply have to communicate.

6. Learn to Use One Light Before Trying to Use Two or Three or More. Besides the fact that a single light source can be very effective, learn how to manipulate, modify, control, and exploit a single light before moving on to multiple light source setups.

7. Resist the Urge to Use Cliché Props. Yes, I'm talking about items as diverse as angel wings, "caution" tape, and guitars. It's not that those things and others (you know what they are) are inherently bad, it's just that we've seen them used so often and in so many ways that their use fails, on a grand scale, to impress viewers. I can't remember the last time I saw a pic where cliché props were used in a truly unique and evocative way. If you're going to use props, use less-seen props in less-seen ways. If the urge to use cliche props is overwhelming, get it over with-- Use them once then move on.

8. Experiment! Try doing things differently. But do so on your own dime. If someone hires you to shoot, deliver what they expect. When shooting for yourself, develop other ways or approaches to your photography. When you've worked the bugs out of these new ways of doing things, share them with others for feedback. If people like what they see and once your comfortable with your new techniques, work them into your normal work flow.

9. Develop a Personal Style. But not at the expense of good and effective photography. Sure, you can break the rules in developing your style. In fact, you'll probably need to do so. Developing an obvious, unique, personal style, by the way, is not an absolute requirement for being a successful photographer. While there are plenty of successful photographers whose work is unique and identifiable, there are also many whose personal style is quite subtle and difficult to define or put a finger on.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice!
It would be nice if we all could shoot like masters the first time we picked up a camera but that's not how it works for most people. Yeah, some people seem to be born to do certain things. They have an innate ability to grasp and perform in exceptional ways right from the start. But these people are the exceptions, not the rule. For most of us, there's no replacement for practicing and honing our craft: Practice and repetition, like one foot in front of another, again and again, moves us ever forward on the path to photo-nirvana. It doesn't happen overnight. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and continues with many steps. Most importantly: Enjoy the journey. Have fun! Love your craft. It will love you back... long, long time.

The pretty girl at the top, turning her head for a sultry profile, is Kayla from a year or so back.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I'm Back!

I've been out of town since last Thursday. Travelled to Sin City for a work assignment. No still photography, just video: Shooting in and around the annual Adult Entertainment Expo.

As fun as that might sound, it was grueling. Fourteen or more hours a day, on my feet, a video camera hoisted to my eye, shooting all manner of, uhmm... interesting human behaviors. All of them, I might add, at public venues. And while it all included people with clothing on, i.e., to some degree, those interesting human behaviors remained interesting nonetheless. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, HD video in this case, what happened in Vegas won't stay in Vegas. Leastwise, some of the stuff I observed... and shot.

Now that that's over with, I'm ready to officially begin 2010.

I'm not going to predict exact time-frames for things I'm doing. Nothing seems to move forward as planned. The Pretty Girl Shooter DVD is a good example. I was hoping to have it completed by this time but that hasn't happened. Work continues on it but on an "as I'm available and able to" basis. The more I'm "available" the less I'm earning from my normal work endeavors. The less I'm "available" means I'm making a living but other things suffer, like the DVD.

Then there's the ups and downs and day-to-day of personal life and all the demands on one's time that includes.

I ain't saying any of this is unique to me. I'm just saying.

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions, they always seem to fall by the wayside, usually by early Spring or sooner, but one thing I'm hoping to accomplish this year is becoming more attentive to time management: That is, managing my time (and projects and goals and responsibilities) in such a way that more of my time becomes productive time.

Easier said than done.

Organizational and time-management skills have never been, nor are they, my strong suit. And that's an understatment!

Maybe I can do something about that?

Time will tell.

I shot the pretty girl at the top--whose name I'm completely brain-farting on--a couple of years ago. What looks like a window behind her was actually a set piece. I added the sky in post. I think the edge-lighting (a couple of strip boxes) matches well-enough with the faux-sky I added.

Monday, January 04, 2010


Serious photographers, i.e., folks with cameras who avidly pursue photography in its many forms, usually understand the differences between a snapshot and other forms of photography. While it's difficult to describe all those differences, some of them quite eclectic, most photographers, non-photographers too, quickly perceive a photo as either a snapshot or something else... something (supposedly) more.

Snapshots, like art and porn, tend to fall into that "I know it when i see it," hard-to-specifically-define, definition.

A snapshot, to me, is (more often than not) a spontaneously or impulsively shuttered photograph that, quite often, captures a candid moment that is not the result of much planning or staging of the image. It is a photo-document capturing a moment in time with much less thought or design thrown at the various elements contained in that moment-- Usually a photograph with less of a nod towards style, composition, and exposure, and a bigger nod towards simply capturing a moment. That definition, of course, is not etched in stone.

If it weren't for snapshots and snapshot takers, most camera companies would be out of business. In fact, they would have been out of business long ago.

Sometimes, photographers create images that are specifically designed to resemble snapshots. The work of fashion/celebrity/eccentric photographer, Terry Richardson, comes to mind. Richardson has turned the snapshot into something of an art form. No small feat.

Uber-shooter, Chase Jarvis, has lately been attempting the same with iPhone-captured photos.

In a sense, news photos are, quite often, snapshots. And so are the tremendous numbers of poorly executed photos we see featured on many FaceBook or MySpace pages. (That's not to say, in spite of many of those photos's lack of technical quality, they still can't delight us.)

We also see snapshots on photo forums: Photo forums mostly intended to celebrate the more sophisticated realms of the craft. Occasionally, those "forum" snapshots are quite good, other times not. Sometimes, they are snapshots masquerading as something else, something more.

Much like the "Art Card," which I talked about in my previous update, some photographers play the "Terry Richardson Card," or a card similar to it, when defending their work, i.e., defending work that is little more than a not-particularly-skillful photo, much less a good snapshot, quite often with a bunch of overly zealous processing thrown at it.

Snapshots aren't necessarily skill-less or amateurish or ineffective photographs. While often simple and basic, spontaneous and "shot from the hip," leastwise seemingly so, they can be very powerful and effective, aesthetically pleasing, and tell great stories. They often are impulsively clicked photos that aren't, in many ways, photographically excellent: Simple keepsakes or records of some random event or moment in time. Many family photos are the most precious and important photos in our possessions, regardless of their photographic quality.

You might be figuring out that I'm not bashing snapshots. You're right. I'm not. I snap them. I often love them! You probably do too. While I also pursue photography in other ways, e.g., portraits and other images that are carefully and intentionally planned, staged, lit, framed, and processed, snapshots might just be the the purest form of photography and, certainly, the most-often snapped.

Making great snapshots calls on many of the same skills required to snap great portraits or any other genre of photography. In fact, those who photograph things in more formal and skillful ways usually take better snapshots. It's an automatic thing, calling on skills, experience, and know-how, but often in an unconscious or semi-conscious way. Many wedding photographers sell their services based on their photo-journalistic skills. That's photographer-speak for "I can take really great snapshots that record the spontaneous and candid moments of your wedding in really cool ways."

Much like effectively breaking the rules or conventions of good photography, which usually requires knowledge of those rules and conventions, having the skill and experience to capture great images helps immensely when it comes to snapping great snapshots.

More reasons to hone you craft... even when you don't think you're being particularly crafty when clicking a shutter and taking a snapshot.

The quasi-snapshot at the top is model, Charmane, who I was photographing a set of pretty girl photos of, and my good friend and client, Evan Seinfeld. Evan arrived on the set and greeted and hugged Charmane, prompting me to take a few candid, if slightly staged, snapshots of them.