Friday, April 30, 2010

Intent, Skill, and Consistency

Read an online article today about Photographic Standards. I'll rephrase that to "Photographic Standards of Excellence."

In a nutshell, the article recounted the three, major criteria Time-Life used when selecting photographers for its "Great Photographers" volume of their Time-Life Photography series. There were ten factors considered, but these three were foremost in the minds of whoever selected the shooters: Intent, skill, and consistency. (You might want to read the article, linked above, to read about all the criteria used.)

In the world of glamour shooting, intent is fairly obvious: To capture the allure of the model. This, of course, differs from most fashion work. In fashion, the intent is to capture the allure of a product, often with the help of an alluring model. Glamour is all about the model. Fashion, for the most part, is all about the product. In most fashion work, if the model upstages the product it's not considered a good thing, leastwise, traditionally and for the most part. That's one reason why fashion models don't often make eye contact with the camera. (Not saying there aren't exceptions to my observations. Just saying that's how it is for the majority of the work.)

Skill is fairly obvious: The photographer's skills should be evident in the photo. That includes everything from exposure to composition to lighting and beyond. I'm often harping, here on the blog, on developing your production skills first and your post-production skills second. You should note that post-production skills aren't even mentioned in Time-Life's criteria-- Not in their most important three factors nor any of the ten factors also mentioned.

Consistency is the third factor. What this means is it's not enough to occasionally snap a great pic. (By design, by accident, or by serendipity.) What is important is whether you, as a photographer, can consistently snap great photos, i.e., can you deliver the goods on demand each and every time you shoot.

In the professional world of glam shooting, consistency is everything. Clients want to know that, as a minimum, the photographer can capture good images--hopefully, great images--every time they're hired. A photographer might be hired based on the wow-ness of a single image in his or her portfolio. That has certainly happened to me on more than one occasion. But you're only as good as the last time you shot for any given client. That means you have to deliver, at a minimally acceptable level, each and every time you shoot for your client. And it's the client who decides what constitutes those minimally acceptable levels. That's why I mostly strive to exceed my clients' expectations. If I screw up, leastwise in my mind, the screwed-pics still usually meet the clients' minimal standards.

Well, there you have it. Whether you're hoping to someday be selected by Time-life's editors for inclusion in their "Great Photographers" book or not, I'd highly recommend trying your best and doing whatever it takes to achieve intent, skill, and consistency in your photography. And doing so in ways that are recognizable in your photographs.

The pretty girl at the top is Katarina, snapped in 2006 at a non-descript location in down-town Los Angeles. I'm not always in love with my own work, in fact I beat myself up over it often enough, but I do love this photo. Although it's a simple, no frills image, it remains one of my personal, all-time-favorite, pretty girl pics. Leastwise, of the stuff I've shot. Go figure, right? I wouldn't categorize it as glamour. I don't know what I'd call it. How about "whatever."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Observations From the Model Show

Yesterday's Women of Perfection convention was a great success! Congratz to my friend, Moses Marquez, and his crew, for putting together a terrific event. The big room with all the models and attendees was packed! Somehow, I never managed to go into that room. Go figure, right?

The workshop I hosted, I think, went quite well. Those who attended seemed to be having a good time and, hopefully, I passed on some tips and advice that will help them with their pretty girl shooting. Moses, the event's promoter, provided us with an awesome model, Maureen Chen.

Here's a couple of observations:

First, the majority of the photographers in attendance were hobbyists. The majority of those hobbyists also appeared to have better gear than I do! Leastwise, when it comes to cameras and glass and speedlites. What's with that???

I discovered I really enjoy running a workshop. It has re-invigorated my goal to start producing them. I was even semi-prepared! I had an outline AND a two-page handout! How's that for being a quasi professional instructor? While I didn't snap a single image--didn't want to horn in on the shooting time of those attending--I thought I played the role of photo-coach (during the shooting portion of the workshop) fairly well.

Anyway, thanks again, Moses! Had a super time. Looking forward to the next one.

The gratuitous eye-candy at the top is Devon from some time back. Snapped it at a location house in Huntington Beach, CA. Keeping platinum blonde hair from blowing-out is always a bitch. Just sayin.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Reminder: SoCal Model Convention Today

If you're in Southern California and you're a pretty girl shooter, or hope to become one, stop by the Ultimate Celebrity and Model Convention in Torrance, CA, for a thoroughly enjoyable, eye-candy-filled experience.

Beautiful, barely-legally-clad, glamour models, struttin' their stuff, plus an opportunity to learn some pretty girl shooting tricks from an old photo-dog. (That would be me, "Bow Wow!") What better way to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon?

Visit the Women of Perfection website for details:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Survival of the Fittest

Whether you subscribe to Charles Darwin's theories or not, you've no doubt heard of him and his ideas.

One of the best-known of Darwin's theories is "Natural Selection." In a nutshell, natural selection says that species who do the best job of adapting to their environments have the best shot at surviving.

Some people attribute the term, "survival of the fittest," to Darwin. Sorry. Darwin didn't coin that term. Herbert Spencer, a philosopher, coined it. Interestingly, Spencer was writing about economics when he came up with his four-word, oft-quoted, phrase. Spencer did, however, read Darwin's theories on natural selection and, it is said, was heavily influenced by them. Hence, Herbert Spencer's term, "survival of the fittest," was born.

I don't need to tell anyone the world of photography has dramatically changed in the last few years. Today, the environment photographers find themselves in is, in many ways, unlike any we've seen in a very, very long time, if ever.

First off, within many photographic environments, there exists more competition than ever before. Way more!

Darwin recognized the impact of competition between individuals of a single species. (Yes. Photographers are a unique species. Leastwise, from my POV.) Darwin theorized that, within a given population, the individual with, for example, the sharper beak, the longer horn, or the brighter feather might have a better chance to survive and reproduce than other individuals.

What do feathers, horns, and beaks have to do with photographers?

Perhaps not much, unless you're a nature photographer.

Or, possibly, a lot.

Brighter feathers can be related to standing out from the crowd with one's work. If you're shooting stuff that looks the same as much of what everyone else is shooting, there might be less chance your work will attract mates... I mean clients. Sure, sometimes clients expect results that look like what everyone else is shooting. But when it comes to attracting new clients, it's the work that resembles bright feathers, not dull, that often scores new gigs.

When I think of longer horns, I'm not thinking that shooters with really long, white, lenses are better able to survive. (Again, unless you're a nature photographer. Sports photographers too!) I am thinking that, with all the competition, longer horns relates to greater ferocity. In today's world of photography, being fierce will take you a long way.

Sharper beaks might be analogous to better skills and tools. Good tools, e.g., cameras, glass, lighting gear, and more, give many photographers an edge when competing in their photo environments. Whether those environments are wedding and event photography, nature and sports, commercial, editorial, or glamour, the right tools for the job will take you further. Skills are self-explanatory. Honing ones skills, like sharpening ones beak, will give most any photographer an advantage.

So if you're thinking it's getting more and more difficult to survive in today competitive photography world. (Something I think about constantly.) Maybe it's time to sharpen your beaks, grow those horns out, flap your wings and puff your chest with the brightest feathers you can make. Doing so might not automatically prove Darwin's theory... then again, it might. It might even help make you a buck or two.

I think Darwin would agree, the two pretty girls at the top, Charmane and Kita, wouldn't have much trouble surviving in many human populations and environments.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Are You a Better Shooter Than a 13-yr-old?

On a photo forum I frequent, a member posted a quite good landscape pic his 13-yr-old daughter snapped. His daughter, he said, has very little experience with photography and used his Nikon d200, for the first time, to snap the photo. The Dad explained that he did insist his daughter read the camera's manual. (+1 for that.)

What made the girl's image notable and interesting--it's a shot of a weather vane atop a tower--were its compositional elements: Interesting angle, leading lines, diagonals via a Dutch angle, negative space, a nod to Rule of Thirds.

The Dad later asked his daughter how she went about composing the image, i.e, what was going through her head and did she think about the diagonal lines and such?

His daughter looked at him quizzically, shrugged, and responded that she composed it in such a way that it "looked neat."

As impossible as it might be to get into the head of a 13-yr-old girl, or a 30-yr-old woman for that matter, I'm going to assume looking "neat" means it looked balanced and right, artistically right, and in an interesting and evocative way.

Which is exactly how her photo of an otherwise less-than-exciting subject looked.

Composition might be the hardest thing to teach/learn. Some people, whether they're young or old, seem to have a natural, intuitive, eye for it. Others have to consciously work to develop their composing eye, using rules and conventions to pave the way. Still others, unfortunately, struggle with composition; sometimes remaining relatively clueless in spite of occasionally and accidentally stumbling their way to snapping a well composed shot.

It's not enough to capture technically good images. Exposure and that stuff, i.e., the things that fall under the heading of the Science of Photography, are important aspects of the craft. But the artistic aspects, composition among them, are equally important and can take your photography from the Realms of Good to the Pantheons of Great!

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. Good use of composition doesn't automatically mean your images reach a lofty status, but good and interesting composition will certainly make most any photograph more appealing and appreciated by viewers.

So next time your lining up that pretty girl in your viewfinder (or anything else for that matter) and working the angles and composing the shot, think to yourself, before you snap the shutter, "Does this look neat?"

The monochromatic eye-candy at the top is Aurora from a few years ago, snapped in a friend's studio. The background is crumpled black foil.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Photography Then and Now

Thought some of you might get a laugh out of the pic on the left. That's me, about 25 years ago.

I look like Guido the Photographer.

I was shooting my cousin's wedding. One of only two times I've ever shot a wedding. (The second time being about 6 months ago... for friends.)

No disrespect to wedding photographers but that's two times too many from my POV. (Obviously, it's why I look so thrilled to be there in the pic.) My thoughtful daughter, btw, posted the pic on her Facebook page.

But it did get me thinking about what I've changed in terms of shooting techniques, i.e., shooting film versus shooting digital.

For the most part, the answer is "very little." In fact, almost nothing.

I still stalk light in much the same way. I compose most of my shots similarly. There's little difference in the way I interact with subjects. I might know more than I knew then but that knowledge, while often helpful, hasn't fundamentally changed my approaches to my photography. In other words, photography is photography regardless of the medium, film or digital, used to capture pictures.

Most importantly, the instant pudding character of digital photography, coupled with the easily-achieved fix it in post capabilities of digital post-processing has done little to effect my production techniques.

Why am I mentioning this?

Probably to, once again, underscore the importance of learning the front end of photography, that is, developing good photography skills versus simply or mostly focusing on post-processing skills.

I used to often hear a popular saying, "You are what you eat." In photography, your photos are what you shoot, not what you digitally manipulate.

I'm not bashing post-processing. I'm bashing the notion that post-processing trumps production when it comes to good photography. While digital re-touching can often achieve remarkable results, they aren't often transparent results. Leastwise, when it comes to the finished product.

As usual, I'm just sayin.

Just to prove I'm not cold-hearted, only posting that silly pic of myself, here's one of a semi-naked pretty girl I shot some time ago. Model is Missy. Lit her with my 33.5" Mola "Euro" beauty dish, camera-right, for the main, with a strip box, camera-left, highlighting from behind, also using a small box, boomed overhead and behind, for a hair light.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Last 3 Minutes

"The Last 3 Minutes" is a short film, written and directed by Po Chan, lensed by "Terminator Salvation" cinematographer, Shane Hurlbut. The short was shot using a Canon 5D mk2.

What sets this short "film" apart from others I've seen, i.e., where a 5Dmk2 was used to acquire the images, is the new 24p firmware upgrade to the camera: It delivers a very cool filmic quality to the imagery.

What also sets this short film apart is, well, is that, IMO, its better than many others I've viewed.

So far, I've resisted the urge to purchase a 5Dmk2. Mostly because I'm more than satisfied with my 5D. Plus, I own a Sony Z1U HD videocam and I'm also very happy with it. (Even though it's not 24p capable.)

Now that the 5Dmk2 is 24p capable, I might rethink my thinking on this. At the moment, I don't have a spare few thousand bucks to plunk down on one. I could, I suppose, sell my Z1U to offset the purchase of a 5Dmk2. Used Z1Us sell on eBay for over $2K. In fact, they sell for almost the price of a new 5Dmk2. But I use my Z1U as a source deck for my Final Cut Pro editing system. That would mean I'd also have to replace it with something to use for that process. My backup dSlR is a Canon 20D. Unfortunately, 20Ds don't have much resale value in the used camera market; maybe about $400.

Decision, decisions...

You can check out "The Last 3 Minutes" HERE. If you're interested in learning still more, you might want to visit Shane Hurlbut's blog.

The gratuitous pretty girl at the top is Andrea. Snapped it a few years ago in my (former) studio.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Boudoir Photography

Boudoir photography is similar, in some ways, to shooting glamour and tease. But you already knew that, right?

There are significant differences. Most notably, the subject is rarely a pro or semi-pro model, nor does she aspire to be one.

Instead, boudoir subjects mostly hail from the rank-and-file of everyday women. In fact, your next-door neighbor, the babe with three kids, two dogs, and a nice-guy hubby, the one you nod and say "Hi" to almost daily, might be secretly yearning for some classy, sexy, boudoir photos. (Please Note: I'm not saying boudoir subjects might not be as beautiful, alluring, and sensual as glam models, or have lesser status than models in general. I'm just, uhh... saying, I guess.)

Another notable difference: Boudoir subjects, for the most part, prefer their pics to remain private and only available (for viewing) to a select few. Sometimes, only to themselves.

A friend of mine, Ed Verosky, who is a fellow photographer and blogger, has put together a great e-book on the subject of boudoir photography: 10 Ways to Improve Your Boudoir Photography Now.

Don't let the title fool you! This e-book contains way more practical, useful, and idea-inspiring information than simply publishing 10 suggestions to improve your boudoir shooting.

I strongly recommend this e-book to anyone shooting boudoir or considering adding this genre to their photo-repertoire, either as a hobbyist or for those already, or thinking about, pursuing boudoir photography as a business.

Besides all the great info compiled in this e-book, plus the killer shots of some smokin' hot women, you can download 10 Ways to Improve Your Boudoir Photography Now for $5! That's right, a fiver, a fin, a five-spot. Half a freakin' sawbuck! That's about the price of a Big Mac Combo at Mickey D's... Super-sized, of course. Better still, you ain't gonna gain a pound or harden an artery chewing on all the great info and advice in Ed's e-book.

Hey! Don't just take my word for it. Do yourself and your boudoir shooting skills a flavor and purchase 10 Ways to Improve Your Boudoir Photography Now. You'll thank me in the morning. If not, what can I say? Roll over and go back to sleep or go get yourself breakfast at MacDonald's.

PLEASE NOTE: The special, introductory price of $5 was for a "Limited Time" only. Currently, the cost of the ebook is, as of Tuesday, April 13, 2010, at it's originally planned price of $9.95. It remains a great deal IMO! I should have mentioned, when I originally posted about this awesome ebook, that the price of $5 was only for a limited time. My bad. Sorry.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Women of Perfection

That's what we all love shooting, right? Women of perfection, that is. And in our quests to shoot those rare and sought-after women of perfection, we hope to shoot them, well... to perfection. I know that's always my goal.

On Sunday, April 25, 2010, from noon till 6 PM, I'll be in Torrance, CA, at the beautiful Holiday Inn, for the Women of Perfection-sponsored "Ultimate Celebrity & Model Convention."

Not only will I be there, ogling interacting with the many gorgeous models in attendance, I'll be giving a talk and hosting and mentoring a pretty girl shooting workshop. (I was going to say "giving a lecture..." but that's what my Dad always did. Lectured me.)

If you're a Southern California pretty girl shooter, or hope to become one, regardless of your level of skill or experience, you might want to jot down that date and stop by for a thoroughly enjoyable, photo-educational, eye-candy-filled experience. Visit the Women of Perfection web site and purchase an advanced ticket at $5 off the $20 door admission. Such a deal! Beautiful, barely-legally-clad, glamour models, struttin' their stuff, plus an opportunity to learn some pretty girl shooting tricks from an old PGS dog. That would be me, bow wow. What better way to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon? Okay, maybe I can think of a few but this one is right up there!

The workshop I'll be leading will include about an hour of talk with plenty of time allotted for questions and answers, then some pretty girl shooting demonstrations with ample opportunities for those in attendance to photograph a gorgeous model or two. I'll try to make the experience both entertaining as well as informative. After all, for those doing this thing we do, this pretty girl shooting thing, what's more entertaining than having a beautiful model posing in front of our cameras and following our directions? Okay. Maybe, once again, I can think of a few things but, short of those, glamour and pretty girl photography is as creatively satisfying as it is fun and entertaining!

Visit Women of Perfection for all the scoop on this cool, model showcase, event! This is a bring your camera opportunity! (Note: Restrictions apply. Read this page for more info on that.)

Hope to see you there!

The pretty girl pic at the top is Daisy from last year. I snapped this one, and quite a few more, after we hiked down into a ravine nestled in Topanga Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains and along the banks of a small steam. It's a simple, no-frills, candid and straight-forward photo. Natural light only: The sun behind her and a big-ass, white, reflector in front. (No. Me and my big white ass didn't stand in for the reflector... that would have me facing the wrong way to snap the photos.) Very minimal processing.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

And Here's to You, Mrs. Robinson

For readers under 30, perhaps even 40, who might not instantly recognize my subject title, it's the first line from the lyrics of an iconic song, Mrs. Robinson, by Simon & Garfunkle.

"Mrs. Robinson," you might or might not know, was the theme song for the 1967 film, The Graduate, starring Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman. The song was a huge hit as was the movie!

Suddenly, thanks to the song, the movie, and Anne Bancroft, young men everywhere were in praise lust with older women. 1967 was also the year I graduated from high school. As a result of Ms. Bancroft's smoldering and seductive performance, many of my friends and I were, probably for the first time in our lives, sexually-smitten by more than a few "older women," many of whom were closer to our Moms' ages than our own. In fact, some of them were our friend's Moms.

Today, of course, the legacy of Mrs. Robinson has become embodied by the acronym, MILF. You probably know what the letters M-I-L-F stand for. But since this is a wholesome blog (well, sometimes it is) I'll refrain from spelling it out for you.

While the majority of pretty girls I shoot don't qualify as MILFs, whether they are mothers or not, I sometimes shoot women of the MILFish variety. I've been asked, on more than a few occasions, if I do anything differently when shooting older women. I'm not talking about Grandmas, BTW, although I've shot a few Grandmas who didn't look at all like Grandmas. (Just sayin.)

From a glamour lighting perspective, the answer is, for the most part, "No."

Since some "older woman" models might not still retain the same skin texture as their much younger counterparts, I might decide to over-expose a bit. Also, I often opt for the softest, most wrap-around, shadow-free, light I can make, e.g., by using my biggest modifier and placing it as close to the model as I can. I'm also probably more apt to add a "from under" reflector into the mix. But that's about it.

Obviously, we live in a youth-driven culture. Especially when it comes to stuff like music, movies, fashion and, consequently, models. But that doesn't weaken the allure of Mrs. Robinson MILFs when it comes to pretty girl shooting and the women of many ages we love having in front of our cameras.

The Mrs. Robinson-esque pretty girl at the top, whose name I don't recall and don't seem to have a record of--I shot her for a client who has those records--was photographed in the backyard of an upscale home in the North San Fernando Valley. The image combines ambient daylight with two strobes: A mainlight modified with a 5' umbrella, and a kicker, camera-right, behind the model, modified with a small umbrella. Very minimal Photoshop was applied-- Just the usual adjustments.