Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Finding a Niche

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking these days: Thinking about where I might take my photography career in these harsh times of shrinking rates and growing competition. It's giving me a headache!

I'm not much of a gambler. I've been to Vegas many, many times. Most often, for work related reasons. Sure, I've gambled a bit but not in a big way. Not even close. Gambling, in my mind, has too many inherent risks, not the least of which are the odds: They're way too much in favor of the house. It seems like sucker play. For the vast majority of those who visit Sin City, that's exactly what it is.

Sucker play.

But my thoughts revolve around something far more important than gambling in Vegas. Certainly, far more important to me.

My career.

My livelihood.

My goals and aspirations and where my quest to achieve them might take me. Make that, "How to get there." In fact, you could also make that, "Where to go?"

All this thinking is making me more timid in terms of the risk-taking aspects of how to get there or where to go. I'm not a young man. I ain't saying I'm a decrepit geezer. I'm not. Far from it. (Leastwise, I certainly hope so.) I believe I still have more than a few good and productive years left in me. But, unlike a Sin City high-roller with plenty of eff you money to risk, I don't have all that many years to blow. The choices I might make at this point in my life seem infinitely more important than they were ten or twenty or thirty years ago.

Maybe I'm having a 3/4-life crisis? (Note: My mid-life crisis was a blast! What with being a shooter of beautiful naked chicks and all. Just sayin.)

Anyway, that's what's making me think even harder and feeling a greater sense of timidity, and simultaneous urgency, about the directions I might choose.

BTW, I have no plans to give up shooting what I've mostly been shooting for many years. But these days, it simply doesn't pay the rent. Ergo, new directions, new choices, new ideas are in order.

"The times they are a changin'!" A great American poet sang. Fact is, they've already changed-- Dramatically!

An article in the New York Times the other day, "For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path," illustrates the current plight of those trying to make a living with cameras in their hands. It's apropos for both new photographers and long-time photographers as well.

So what to do? What directions to take? What new photographic genres should I explore or, more to the point, what photography niche would my skill-set be most suited to and, of those niches, which make most sense to pursue? (i.e., from the perspectives of demand, competition, and it being reality-based.)

Wedding, family and event work? Great demand, unbelievably crowded competition, certainly reality-based.

Commercial work? Fair demand, lots of competition, reality-based.

Editorial? Less demand than ever, leastwise for assignment work, plenty of competition (micro-stock, Flickr, etc.) and semi-reality-based.

Fashion and beauty? Marginal demand, plenty of competition, fantasy-based for most who pursue it.

I could name more genres but, truthfully, doing so also gives me a freakin' headache. Besides, what I'm looking for will be a niche under the heading of one of those genres. Such is the nature and place of niches.

Yep. I still keep coming back to this "niche" thing: Finding the right niche and taking a risk (a gamble) pursuing it is the key. Problem is, of course, sticking that key into enough locks to see if it opens the right doors. At my current chronological point in life, I feel I only have so much time to invest, that is, less time to try many locks on many doors... if that makes sense.

As usual, I'm mostly thinking out loud here. Thinking out loud gives me less of a headache than thinking silently. Go figure.

The fenced-in pretty girl at the top is Alexa from a few years ago.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

RIP Peter Gowland

In case you're unaware of it, photographer Peter Gowland passed away on March 17, 2010. If you're a pretty girl shooter, you ought to be acquainted with Gowland's work and his many contributions to photography, much of it to the art and craft of glamour and nude art photography.

I'd be surprised if you've never seen any of Peter Gowland's pictures, perhaps less surprised if you're not aware of who snapped them. Some of his work with Jane Mansfield is iconic. (Gowland was, I believe, the first to shoot her after she arrived in Hollywood from her home state of Texas.)

The most constant themes in Gowland's work were the beach and water. (Southern California beaches, of course.) Peter Gowland and his wife, Alice, lived for many years in their SoCal studio home quite near California's Will Rogers State Beach and spent considerable time there.

With Alice Gowland performing the writing chores and Peter doing what he loved best, photography, the Gowlands published 25 books: Many of them focused on glamour and nude photography.

The DIY crowd should also be impressed with Gowland's accomplishments. Gowland was famous for MacGyvering all manner of lighting and grip gear. He also designed and built cameras: The Gowlandflex is one example.

If you have some spare time, I recommend going through Peter Gowland's website. It tracks the photographic life of one of the most important contributors to this thing that so many of us pursue: this pretty girl shooting thing.

Rest in Peace Peter Gowland.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Photogapher's School of Performing Arts

I was cruising Twitter this morning and noticed that someone I follow tweeted, "Your confidence with a model will translate to their confidence in themselves which will translate into better photos."

(PGS hat tip to WeArePhotographers)

Good simple advice!

Ever notice how, when you're around a dog, and if you're acting nervous or lacking confidence being around that dog, it might effect the dog's behavior? It might get you snarled at or, worse, get you bit! Same with models, although maybe not bit. (Not that I'm comparing models to dogs. Dogs are often easier to train. Just sayin.)

But here's what sometimes happens: A model shows up for a pretty girl shoot. You're nervous and displaying a distinct lack of confidence with A) Being around a beautiful, perhaps naked and beautiful, model; B) Appearing as if you know what you're doing in front of said model; C) Anxious about the results of your shoot with the beautiful, perhaps naked, model; D) All of the above.

There's an old adage: Never let them see you sweat! Now, if truth be known, I often sweat when I shoot. It's not because I'm nervous or lack confidence. It's because I'm Italian. Make that I'm somewhat overweight and Italian. And Italians, overweight Italians, sweat. We don't perspire. We don't get moist on the forehead. We sweat.

But that's not what I'm talking about today.

Never letting them see you sweat is about appearing confident, whether you are or you're not.

Generally, models, make that women in general, have built-in pervdar. (That's like radar for pervs.) I'm not saying you're a perv but, if you're acting nervous around models, resulting from some lack of confidence, there's a chance those models are going to misread that behavior as an indicator of some pervy shit going on in your brain. If that's what they're thinking, i.e., how they're perceiving you, it's going to be tough-as-nails getting your models relaxed and comfortable in front of your camera. Unless, of course, you're shooting models who have a "thing" for pervs. (Which, unfortunately for some, ain't usually the case.)

A nervous, uncomfortable, model is a huge obstacle to capturing great photos!

Let's say, instead, the model is new and inexperienced. As such, she might not yet have a fully developed pervdar. Leastwise, when it comes to photographers. She's just, well, nervous and uncomfortable with this new thing in her life; this modeling thing. How do you suppose the shoot will progress if you're appearing nervous and uncomfortable as well? I'll tell you where it's not heading: It's, more than likely, not heading towards great pics.

It's like this: Whether you're nervous or you lack confidence matters less than if you appear that way. If you are nervous, or you're projecting a less-than-confident demeanor, you need to somehow conceal that from the model. The obvious way to do that, of course, is to gain experience and, as a result, gain confidence. (Wow! Stating the obvious is so profound!)

The reality is, in order to gain experience and confidence, you need to shoot. But if you don't have opportunities to shoot, and shoot regularly, confidence born of experience might be a problem.

If that's the problem, you'll need to develop your acting skills. Yep. You'll need to "act" like you're confident even if you're not. You'll need to put on an Academy-award-winning performance, playing the confident and experienced photographer of beautiful women. In other words, if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit and act like you know what you're doing in matters related to shooting pretty girls. That's not to say you should act cocky or arrogant. I'm talking about merely acting confident.

I know that might sound dishonest. Sometimes, like little white lies, a bit of dishonesty, for the right reasons, trumps honesty. Often enough, your dishonesty, exceptionally well played, will put the model at ease and, in spite of your lack of experience, you've just greatly increased the odds of snapping some pretty damn good pretty girl pics.

The pretty girl at the top is Kayla from a couple of years ago. Man! Time freakin' flies! I recall shooting that set like I did so just recently, instead of a few years ago.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Glam Lighting 1-2-3

When it comes to glamour lighting, I'm a 3-light kinda guy. It's basic. It's simple. It most always yields good, glamour-style, results.

While traditional 3-light setups, i.e., main, fill, and back light, have been around forever, I prefer a big main and a couple of back or side lights. To that mix, I sometimes add a reflector for some some gentle fill... or not, depending on how hard (deep) or soft (gentle) I want the shadows.

The photo (above) is a straightforward example of this lighting technique. Nothing fancy. Nothing special. Easy to employ. Gets the job done. Easily done.

I'm also a "get the job easily done" kinda guy.

Obviously, moving the lights around a bit, that is, "shaking up" the lighting, yields somewhat different results. For instance, I can adjust any of those lights by moving them into different positions. I can adjust their height, changing the "look." I can bring the back/side lights forward for a more side-lit look or I can move them back so they add edge-lighting without spilling onto the front of the model's face or body. Regardless, it all yields "glamour" style results.

In the example, I'm using a 5' Photoflex Octodome for my main and a couple of small, generic, white, shoot-thru umbrellas for the back/side lights. I've also placed a white reflector, opposite the main, for some fill.

How simple is that?

Very simple.

So easy a caveman can do it. (© Geico Insurance)

The beauty of simple, 3-point lighting, or any other lighting approach that is simple, easy, and straightforward, is it affords you more time focusing on the model. (I'm not talking about focusing your lens, BTW.)

It's been my observation that many beginners and novices spend far too much time messing with their lights and other technical things. All that stuff needs to become automatic. The easiest way to make those things automatic is to make them simple.

Keep it simple, stupid.

Good advice for many.

Good advice for pretty girl shooters.

Good advice for bloggers too.

The pretty girl at the top is Jennifer from sometime last year.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Nature of Light

It's Monday! Thought I'd start the week off with a boring physics lesson. Why not? Physics is an integral part of photography's art.

Here goes:

Light is a naturally occurring, transverse, electromagnetic wave that can be seen by humans and other species.

Light is produced two ways: 1) Incandescence, i.e., the emission of light from "hot" matter and 2) Luminescence, that is, the emission of light when excited electrons fall to lower energy levels. (Luminescent light occurs in matter that may or may not be "hot.")

Light is fast. Real fast! Galileo tried to figure out the speed of light but couldn't: "I have tried the experiment only at a short distance, less than a mile, from which I have not been able to ascertain with certainty whether the appearance of the opposite light was instantaneous or not; but if not instantaneous it is extraordinarily rapid."

We now know, of course, that light travels at 299,792,458 meters per second. (In a vacuum.) For all intents and purposes, leastwise for most people's photography, it might as well be instantaneous.

Intensity is the absolute measure of a light wave's power density. Brightness is the relative intensity as perceived by the average human eye.

Most light is polychromatic. There are exceptions. A laser, for example, can effectively produce monochromatic light.

There are many forms of light, e.g., infra-red, ultra-violet, but for our purposes visible light is the most important. It's how we see. It's what we capture and record on film or sensors.

It's fortunate the kind of photography most of us pursue, infra-red shooters aside, utilizes visible light. Yep! That's a good thing. It enables us to see what we're capturing or recording. BTW, we don't actually "capture" the light. We record it as it reflects and then interacts with various mediums like film emulsions or digital sensors.

As photographers, we manipulate light. We exploit it. We reflect it, diffuse it, and block it. We do this whether it's artificial light (technically, a contradiction in terms) or natural light.

When shooting using natural light, we look for places to shoot where the natural light, the light coming from our sun, is reflected, diffused, or blocked by things in our shooting environments and in ways that enhance, or make pretty, the light falling on our subjects and reflecting back on our recording mediums. We sometimes prefer to shoot when the light is angled or modified in aesthetically pleasing ways: Golden Hour and early morning sunlight are two such examples.

Also as photographers, we need to be observant, critical, examiners of light. To borrow from the religious-minded, we need to "see the light." I know that sounds overly simple and a somewhat redundant phrase. After all, if it weren't for light, we would not see anything at all. Still, far too many photographers don't seem to see the light, the good light, the best light, the cool light. I sometimes wonder if some photographers spend much time at all searching for it?

While it may seem that light is light, all light is not created equal. Leastwise, it doesn't appear equal. It certainly doesn't reflect and refract in equal ways. When it comes to photography, there is some light that is better than other light. Often times, far better.

Again, this stuff all sounds so simple.

But maybe it's not?

While this update might include more than you ever wanted to know about light, you are, as photographers, artists who use light instead of paint, pencil, chalk or pen. I think the more you know about light the better you can become as a light-painter, that is, the better you can become as a photographer.

The gratuitous eye candy at the top is Tori. Who knew a simple lesson in physics might also include a picture of a hot, sexy, half-naked babe? Betcha they didn't use visual aids like that one when you were in a high school or college physics class.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Zen and the Art of Photoshop

Gautama Buddha gathered his students for a talk. When all were gathered, the Buddha remained silent. Some students wondered if the Buddha was tired or sick as he remained completely quiet, merely holding up a flower and staring intently at it.

Many of the Buddha's students tried, without success, to interpret what this might mean? One student, a dude named Mahakasyapa, suddenly broke into a really big, fat, smile! The Buddha acknowledged Mahakasyapa's insight.

As I continue on my photographic journey towards photo nirvana, I find myself applying less and less Photoshop processing to my pics. Yeah, I still make adjustments to the levels and color. I crop. I cover blemishes. I sharpen the pics a bit. I might also convert the images to monochrome. But, for the most part, that's pretty much all I do these days.

It wasn't always that way.

There was a time I applied almost everything Photoshop could conjure in an attempt to make my pretty girl pictures, well, picture perfect. I sought Photoshop knowledge regularly. Every new tool or process or action or technique I found, I'd try out on my pics. Sometimes I liked the results. Sometimes I didn't. Sometimes, most times in fact, I was unsure of whether I liked what I had done, what Photoshop had done... or not.

These days, once I've edited my pics down to a few I want to play with, I find myself staring intently at them. More so as I consider what I might do, post-processing-wise, to enhance the photos. I use a few, basic, Photoshop tools and processes rather automatically, e.g., crop, basic adjustments, blemish removal. Then, I stare again. I usually try this and that but, more often than not, I end up deleting the layers that contain whatever I thought would make the photo better. Often enough, I do this even when whatever it was I applied does seem to make the picture "better." Last thing I do is sharpen the image a bit, then save it.

But what constitutes better? Is manipulating the image in ways that no longer reflects the natural beauty or allure of the model better? Better than what? Better than reality? Better than nature? Better than the model herself?

I suppose it often is.

Better, that is.

Leastwise, it's often better in the eyes and minds of the masses. After all, when it comes to pretty girl pics and the many people who enjoy them, fantasy usually trumps reality. We see those fantasy aspects played out in the model's poses and expressions, in the lighting we throw at our subjects, in the environments we shoot our models in and more. Why not also use plenty of post-processing to further create pure fantasy?

Sounds reasonable.

But then, as I sit and stare at my photos, I question whether exaggerating the fantasy aspects of my pretty girl pics, especially in post, makes the model too perfect, too unattainable, too unlike a real woman? So much so, that it creates a feminine image of someone who is quite unlike every pretty girl I see, every day.

And here's the rub, no pun intended, too much fantasy manipulation actually ruins the fantasies for me.

Who knew a sexy pic of a sexy chick could motivate such heavy, introspective, thinking?

I think the Buddha knew.

And I think the Buddha would approve.

As usual, I'm just saying.

The pretty girl at the top is Cytherea from a few years ago. Cytherea's modeling handle, BTW, is another name for the goddess, Aphrodite, of Greek mythology. Aphrodite is the goddess of love, beauty, and sexuality.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Chiaroscuro: Sounds like something you might order in a fine Italian restaurant, no? "I'll have the Pasta Chiaroscuro, please."

Italian food aside--Damn I love pasta! Too much, in fact--the word, chiaroscuro is an Italian word. Literally, it means light and dark.

In art, chiaroscuro techniques originated way back when, during the Renaissance.

During the Renaissance, artists began using light and shadow to convey a sense of three-dimensions in otherwise two-dimensional mediums like paintings, drawings, and printmaking.

In photography, chiaroscuro can also be used to create the illusion of depth or three-dimensions. More often, especially in people photography, it's used stylistically to create "drama" in a photo. Classic film noir lighting styles are sometimes used in still photography. Noir-style lighting liberally uses chiaroscuro techniques to convey a message or a feeling.

Chiaroscuro often screams, "Art!" That's one reason many art nude photographers regularly use chiaroscuro lighting techniques to enhance the perceived artistic value of their work.

Chiaroscuro is not confined to black-and-white photography although, admittedly, it often has lots impact when seen in B&W. Still, the same techniques are used in color photography and with great success.

When it comes to glamour photography, many photographers (and clients and customers too) shy away from shadows on their subjects. They love bright, specular, highlights, often on hair and to "edge" the subject's body. But, quite often, the rest of the subject remains evenly and flatly lit. The results "compresses" the subjects, notably their faces. Compressing (or flattening) the features of a model's face can enhance their beauty as perceived by the viewers. Nothing wrong with that. We certainly don't want to take away from the model's beauty, especially in glamour. Also, in fashion and beauty photography as well.

But those shadows, contrasted against the highlights, i.e., chiaroscuro, can often make your photos "sing!" If you're not purposely using shadows along with those glamorous highlights, maybe you should try it out sometime? I'm not saying it's always appropriate to do so. Obtaining good results in doing so, however, can add quite a bit of style-range to your portfolio.

The pretty girl at the top, bathed in shadows, highlights, and mid-tones using a chiaroscuro technique, is Paris... snapped a few years ago in my studio.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Detail, Details...

The Devil is in the details.

The Devil is well known, super-naturally speaking, for making life difficult in many small ways. Conversely, and also from a supernatural being point-of-view, the idiom, "God is in the details," expresses the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly, i.e. details are important!

When it comes to photography, either phrase is appropriate. There are few things that separate a good picture from a great picture beyond those small, pesky, details reflected in the pic.

We all strive to light and pose and expose and compose in ways that take our pretty girl photography into the realms of awesome pretty girl photography. But as important as those aforementioned factors are, they're not enough when it comes to snapping great pics.

Like God or the Devil, an image's greatness, coolness, wow!(ness) or lack of it, often lies in the details.

Too often, we don't notice the impact of those image-detracting details until sometime after snapping the pics. Yeah, many of those things can be fixed in post but is that what you really want to do? Spend an inordinate amount of time fixing things in post?

I know I don't.

For me, post should be mostly about enhancing an image, not fixing things you overlooked while shooting.

Developing an eye for details is as important as developing your creative eye. Unfortunately, while we're engaged and consumed in creative thought processes, details are more easily overlooked. I suppose we get so caught up in the big picture aspects shown in our viewfinders that we neglect the smaller, less-obvious, things.

Have you ever snapped what could have been a great pretty girl pic only to notice, later on while editing and processing, those small, seemingly trivial, details you overlooked while shooting and are now messing with your photo? Happens to me all the time. Apparently, while in production, I was so fixated on lighting, posing, exposing, and composing my model, my eyes failed to notice the little details screwing up my capture.

The good news is that, sometimes, those things can be fixed.

The bad news is that, other times, they can't be fixed. Leastwise, not easily or entirely.

Some shooters consider too much emphasis on details as nitpicking. Here's some advice: Become a nitpicker. When it comes to details, train your eye to be as critical as possible. I know this sounds contrary to creative thinking but, when it comes to still photography, everything an image says to its viewers is compressed into a very small fraction of time. Details that seem trivial when things are in motion around you become magnified many times over when what's in front of you is reduced to a single, static image.

Next time you shoot, make yourself pay close, nit-picking, critical, attention to the small, detail-oriented things in your viewfinder. I'm not suggesting you become consumed with this process at the expense of the creative flow and photographer/model interactive dynamics of your shoot. But some degree of anal retentive observation, while simultaneously looking at the big picture, the artistic picture, and maintaining great communications with your model, is oh-so-important to well-executed pretty girl shooting.

Hey! No one said this shit's easy! If it were, it would be less fun and challenging. There also wouldn't be much reason for photo blogs, tutorials, workshops, or helpful books like How to Photograph Nudes Like a Professional.

I'm just saying... and pimping. :-)

The gratuitous pretty girl at the top is Brazilian model, Paola, from a few years back.