Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy 1-1-11 and the Rest of 11 Too!

Well, another year comes to a close and, along with it, the first decade of the new millennium lies behind us as well. You'll have to wait a thousand years for another 1-1-11 to come along!

Here's wishing all of you the very best for the coming year and the coming decade and, well hell, I'll go for broke wishing that 2011, as well as all your years beyond, are all you hope them to be!

The pretty girl in the pic is Roxy, studio-snapped a while back. Shot her in front of a green seamless. I also clipped a piece of green gel in front of the kicker to the left to kind of connect her, lighting wise, to the background.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Photography and Instant Pudding

As the first decade of the new millennium comes to a close, I find myself asking where might it go from here? More importantly, at least to me, is where I might go from here? I'm guessing a few of you might be wondering the same; not about me but about yourselves.

The first decade of the 21st Century saw many changes in the world of photography: some have been exciting, some not so.

While photographic technologies leaped forward in amazing ways, the business of photography was pushed against a wall, certainly from the perspectives of many who ply the trade as their vocation. What digital photography has done for photographers is similar to what instant pudding must have done for those who practiced the fine, culinary art of traditional pudding making. That is, it put making good pictures into the hands of the masses much the way instant pudding put good pudding into the mouths of many more pudding lovers. Some see developments like these as being positive. Others see them from less appreciative perspectives.

Don't get me wrong. I thoroughly love many of photography's technological advances of the last decade. But, at the same time, these advances have made making a living with cameras in my hands much more difficult.

Sure, cream rises to the top. And if cream I be, I'll rise. Perhaps not to the very top but in a generally upward direction. I'm not sure where that rising will take me but, hopefully, somewhere that makes me happy and content.

I don't pretend to have an accurate crystal ball, one that allows me to predict where photography will go in the next decade. Every time I watch an old science fiction movie, movies I'm quite fond of viewing, I'm amused by their (more often than not) inabilities to accurately predict where technology has gone in the last 30 or 40 or 50 years. Sometimes, of course, the writers and producers of those movies saw the future and predicted it with accuracy. Often, they did not.

I do have a wish-list for the future of photography. It's not about cameras and software. Instead, it mostly has to do with consumers of the pictures photographers make. I hope that quality will again trump mediocrity. In other words, I hope those people who hire photographers will raise the quality bar (from where it's been lowered to) and appreciate and embrace the work and results of skillful shutter snappers. I'm not saying that appreciation has completely fallen to the wayside but, in many ways, it's nowhere near where it once was.

Anyway, just some thoughts that popped into my head.

The pretty girl at the top is Rosemary from last night's shoot. Rosemary is Indonesian and, as such, she popped my Indonesian cherry, pretty girl shooting-wise.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

*The* Photography Story of 2010

I came across the fascinating story of Vivian Maier today. Forget about whatever cameras or other gear were released this past year or the many incredible photographs that were snapped. In my opinion, this is *the* photography story of 2010.

The story is equally fascinating from two perspectives: 1) the photographic life of Ms. Maier and 2) how her work was discovered and what is now being done with it.

Ms. Maier, deceased, was a nanny, a globe-trotter, and an apparently solitary and private person who also took pictures. Thousands and thousands of pictures on the streets of Chicago and elsewhere.

Maier is described by those whom she once cared for (as a nanny) as a Mary Poppins sort of character. What few people seemed to know about her was that she was also a photographer-- a lone photographer who did not seem interested in sharing her work and, in retrospect, who may have been one of the greatest, most gifted (albeit unknown) street photographers of the 20th century!

I know this site is mostly about glamour photography. And glamour photography is what I shoot most. But I'm a photographer first and a glamour photographer second and when I come across an amazing story like this, well I can't help but be inspired, fascinated, and motivated to share it.

Here's a video segment from a Chicago TV program called "Chicago Tonight." I think you'll be as amazed as I was watching it. You can also learn more about the photographer by visiting the Vivian Maier blog.

The gratuitous eye-candy at the top is Dana from last night's shoot. It's certainly not street photography altho the location house where I set up the seamless and my lights and photographed Dana is, after all, on a street.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Inspiration Is For Amateurs

According to American painter and photographer, Chuck Close, "Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work."

Close's statement seems to reject the notion that a person (other than the artist himself or herself) or a thing or an activity is what inspires art. It also also seems to reject the divine as the source of inspiration.

If all that is true, where does inspiration come from? Is everything that might (seem to) inspire us already within us, somehow embedded in our psyches? Are we born with the seeds of inspiration already a part of us? Is basic artistic talent another way of explaining off what some might label inspiration? Are we simply waiting for the seeds of inspiration to germinate and bloom? Do we really just need to "get to work" and results that seem "inspired" will follow? Is inspiration something more easily recognized in the past tense? In other words, after creating something that seems "inspired," is it only then that we can recognize something external (from us) that might be responsible for a seemingly "inspired" creation? Or, is inspiration just a vague way of describing how we are or were moved to create something that already resonates in ourselves and then, through the "inspired creation," resonates in others?

Sorry. That was a lot of questions. And I'll bet each one could take a book to answer. If not a book, certainly much could be written in response to each of those questions. In fact, a lot has already been written which addresses those questions and more: It's called "philosophy."

Perhaps what Close meant was that artists (which include photographers) should simply get to work, get busy, get out and do it and, after it's accomplished, then worry or ponder whether whatever was created was inspired or simply happened as result of the effort?

A well-known phrase amongst photographers is the to-the-point adage, "Shut up and shoot." I think it closely resembles what Close was saying.

The pretty girl at the top is Tegan. She definitely inspires me! But more towards ideas and thoughts that are less of an artistic nature and more of a human nature. Just sayin.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pre-touch or Re-touch?

A friend sent me a link to a thread on Model Mayhem which in turn led to an interesting link that featured some photos with mark-ups for retouching. (For a few Playboy centerfold pics.)

In that thread, well-known glamour and fetish photographer, Ken Marcus, commented about his days shooting for Playboy. In his comment, Ken said, "During the 11 years (1974 - 1985) that I shot centerfolds, calendars, pictorials and editorials for Playboy, there was a policy against retouching anything except the cover (to make sure text would contrast properly and be easily readable) Our policy during those days was: Pre-touch, rather than Re-touch."

Ken's words got me to thinking about the current state of glamour photography (in the digital age) and it's seeming dependence on post-production tools for making, leastwise hoping to make, impressive images. Often enough, heavily processed and re-touch-driven images either go beyond my ability to suspend disbelief or they simply suck as a result of the excessive and ridiculous amounts of processing and re-touching some photographers apply to their work.

I've probably beaten this subject to death in the past but nothing in the present has changed my opinion in terms of re-touching-- That is, that less is often more.

What I mean by "less is more" has less to do with the time and effort spent re-touching images and more to do with its obviousness.

When I was an editor (I'm talking video editor) one of the important things I learned about editing, be it film or video, was that the best editing is invisible. In other words, great editing doesn't call attention to itself: Cuts and dissolves and other edits all flow naturally, seamlessly, and invisibly. That's why motion picture editing is often referred to as "the soul" of a motion picture. It's there but viewer's aren't overly aware it's there.

In more than a few ways, I think re-touching photographic images is best accomplished when the re-touching is nearly invisible, calls little attention to itself, and seems natural. There are exceptions, of course. But those exceptions, in my opinion, generally refer to images that are as much digital art, perhaps more so, than they are photographs.

In order to produce photographs of high-caliber, the emphasis should be, as Ken Marcus mentioned, on pre-touch rather than re-touch. What that means is photographers should be learning all they can about the front-end of photography and doing everything they can, while in production, to reduce their reliance on re-touching to improve the quality of their photos.

In other words, pre-touch rather than re-touch.

Henri Carier-Bresson said, "The picture is good or not from the moment it was caught in the camera." That simple statement holds much truth!

Cartier-Bresson also said, "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." So, with that in mind, be patient. Keep working at improving you production skills. It doesn't happen overnight but, if you keep at it, it will happen. When it does, I think you'll find that pre-touch will trump re-touch in terms of producing good photos, glamour or otherwise.

The pretty girl at the top is Alexis from a shoot last night. I had about 15 minutes with Alexis and spent less than 5 minutes re-touching the above image. Could I have done more? Re-touching that is? Sure. Would the image be vastly improved? I'm not so sure. Improved, yes. Vastly improved? I don't know. Sometimes, things like re-touching (photographically) adheres to the law of diminishing returns.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Stylistic or Not?

When I'm shooting for clients, I have to decide how stylistic my images should be or can be or might be. Another way to look at it is this: I decide what stylistic elements I might get away with, that is, sneaking them into my shooting approach, and I do so at my own risk.

Most of my clients aren't exactly art aficionados. They want to see pics of their models posed in sexy, seductive ways, well-lit and properly exposed. ("Well-lit" being entirely subjective from many points-of-view.)

My clients generally rely on their post-prod people to either add stylized elements to the photos or not. If I begin stylizing my photos to a noticeable degree, they might love them or hate them. Regardless, they prefer them not being too stylized. If I do add much in the way of style, I better do so in ways that allow their post-prod people to undo my efforts and return the images to un-stylized levels should that be how they want them. (And that ain't an easy thing to do.) I often feel like I'm teetering on a balance beam between infusing a personal style into the pics or shooting them in more generic ways.

Generally, my clients aren't big fans of shadows or too much contrast. Not all shadows and contrast: A modicum of shadow and contrast is okay. But too much emphasis on shadow and contrast and they're liable to freak out... unless they really love the images, shadows/contrast notwithstanding.

For example, if I want to add a fair amount of personal style, and if that personal style might include a fair amount of shadow and contrast, I risk my clients being unhappy with my work unless, of course, they happen to like what I captured with a specific model.... stylistically, that is.

Shooting brightly-lit models, near-shadow-and-contrast-free, is always the safe way to go. There's less for clients to dislike. In fact, if they don't like the flat, brightly-lit images, their dislike usually has more to do with liking or not liking the model than it has to do with liking or not-liking how I captured the model. And since they're the ones who hired the model, I'm generally off the hook, liking the pictures-wise.

On one hand, shooting safe might be a somewhat good idea from of a client-relations perspective but, on the other hand, it risks me, the photographer, becoming more replaceable in their eyes. In other words, practically anyone with a fair amount of photography experience can light up a model brightly and with little contrast, producing competent, if lackluster, images. Because of that, there's less impetus to hire me again simply because so many other photographers can easily produce the same (near-style-free) results. It's like a glamour photography Catch 22.

For those not familiar with Joseph Heller's novel, "Catch 22," think of it as being dammed if you do and dammed if you don't.

Anyway. Just sayin.

The pretty girl at the top is from last night's shoot. It's almost like she's doing a one-handed juggling act with her breasts, giving them an unusual lop-sided appearance. (Which their normally not... lopsided, that is.) Her name is Yurizan. (First time I've ever heard that name, Yurizan being her real name I should add.) For this gig, which is an ongoing gig, the models are all shot in front of a seamless. I usually have about 20 minutes with them. I went with a bit more shadow and contrast with Yurizan, adding some small amount of style to the images. We'll see what the client has to say after they see the pics.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blur-a-Holics Anonymous

Hi. My name is Jimmy and I'm a blur-a-holic. It's been 3 years since I used a total face or body Gaussian blur mask.

Sometimes it's hard. I look at my pictures and think, it's only going on the web. At 72 dpi, whose gonna notice? Besides, the women I photograph don't all have porcelain skin. What's a little virtual porcelain between friends? There's a reason Mattel has been so successful with their line of Barbie dolls. If people didn't like plasticized Barbie skin they would have already stopped appreciating (and buying) those dolls and Mattel would have already changed their manufacturing process and added pores to Barbie's skin, right?

Okay, I'll admit that sometimes... sometimes I might use a blurring tool on a pretty girl's skin. But only a tiny little bit and only in a few places. It's barely noticeable, if at all. What's the harm in that, right? It's glamour. It's all about fantasy. If a little blurred skin helps create the fantasy, what's wrong with that? It's not like anyone is getting hurt if I do. As long as her eyes are sharp and focused, right?

Besides, I don't always have time to carefully and meticulously "heal" every freakin' blemish on every model's skin. Dammit, Jim! I'm a professional photographer, not a plastic surgeon! Most of my models don't have sick skin anyway. They might have an occasional blemish, scar, pimple or other flaw, things that could use a bit of post-production TLC but, for the most part, there's usually not *that* much to heal. She is what she is!

A model's epidermis is her largest organ. Okay, maybe a few of my models have mammary glands larger than their epidermises but that doesn't mean their entire skin organ is in trouble. If the whole damn thing needs healing, her skin I mean, maybe she needs a doctor? You know, a dermatologist. Maybe she should take better care of her epidermis? Maybe she shouldn't even be modeling or I shouldn't be showcasing my pictures of her.

The model at the top is Bella from last night's shoot. No model was injured in the production of this photo. No post-production blur was used in the processing of the picture. (Not even a tiny bit.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Just Thinking Out Loud

Biz-a-ness first. Ed Verosky has a "limited time" holiday sale going on for all his ebooks. Use discount code N5H74 at checkout and instantly receive 30% off. I have all Ed's books featured in the right-hand column of this page. Click any of them to purchase. Use your discount code and receive 30% off! Or, click on any from these links:

Taking Your Portraiture to the Next Level,

100% Reliable Flash Photography,

0 Ways to Improve Your Boudoir Photography Now,

25 Amazing Boudoir Photography Techniques.

I have two projects I'm currently working on. One of them is all writing and the other is writing and shooting. I'll probably begin shooting for project #2 right after Christmas. As you might imagine, having two simultaneous projects is taking up a fair amount of my time. But hey! Business sucks. (In terms of being a "gun-for-hire") so I've got the time. Might as well spend it doing something productive, right?. In this case, doing two things at the same time that are productive.

I've been giving a lot of thought to expanding my photographic horizons and pursuing work other than glamour and tease. It's not that I don't love shooting beautiful, sexy women. I do! But there's less and less work coming my way so, beyond my personal projects, it's probably time to branch out. I mean to seriously look to branch out!

Course, I have no freakin' clue in which direction I might move. It's definitely not going to be things like weddings, family and event photography and that sort of stuff. I still shoot headshots as part of my quest to continue making a living with cameras in my hands. And I still get hired to hold a video camera. In fact, Next week I'm scheduled to shoot some web-commercials for a new dog-training device that will soon be marketed to consumers.

Still, my passion is photography and, beyond the decreasing glam work, the headshots, the video shooting, I think I need to figure out where, as a photographer, I want to direct myself. Suggestions, as always, are welcome even though it's unlikely anyone will suggest an area I haven't already thought about.

I would love, of course, to be shooting simply for myself. But I wasn't exactly Mister Fiscally Responsible for most of my life so I still need to earn. That's not a complaint, by the way. I'm ready, willing, able, and enthusiastic to continue pursuing a career. Authoring and selling ebooks has been great. I've done quite well with that so far. It's not enough, however, to support myself. Even with the shooting gigs I'm still getting there's not enough to comfortably live. I'm definitely at that age where comfort is important. That's why I'm looking outside my own, little, comfort box, hoping to expand to a bigger, wider, taller comfort box, if you will.

That's Tera Patrick up top in some very Xmas-ee lingerie. (Obviously, more "X" than "mas")

Sunday, December 05, 2010

What Our Photography Says About Us

Photographers are often going on about the story in a photo. You know, the editorializing the photographer engaged in when creating the pic. But if you step back and look at a photographer's work from a distance, as a body of work, does it say something, perhaps a lot, about the person with the camera in his or her hand?

Generally, I divide photographers into two, overall categories: Those who observe and document and those who observe, document, and express. That's not to say there's not an abundance of gray between my general binary perceptions of photographers, often there is, but sometimes it helps to categorize and generalize for the purposes of sharing personal observations.

Photographers who observe and document seem less interested in style. That's not to say some amount of style doesn't exist in their photos but, for the most part, they seem less interested in expressing style than they are in documenting an event or a thing. Photo-journalists often fall into this category as do those who shoot nature. Certainly, all photo-journalists and nature shooters aren't merely style-free documentarians but many of them seem to be.

Photographers who observe, document, and express are looking to share something beyond documentation. They're as interested, if not more interested, in developing a personal style or using stylistic elements or points-of-view that add expressive nuance to whatever it is they're photographically documenting. In this way, they are often saying something about themselves as much as they are saying something about what's in front of them.

When viewing a photographer's portfolio, the first thing I notice is if there's an overall theme to the photographer's images, a common denominator. It doesn't matter what genre the photographer mostly shoots although a photographer's preferred genre might also be revealing in terms of who the photographer is and what he or she might be about. At the very least, it poses questions about the photographer-- Questions that might, themselves, be revealing.

Is someone who prefers to shoot landscapes or still life images also someone who is less of an intimate, social, or people person? Edward Weston photographically bonded with peppers. What does this say about Edward Weston? Was he more an observer than a participator? How do you participate with peppers beyond growing them or eating them? Weston found a way.

These sorts of questions are the kind of stuff that has always made, and continues making, photography so fascinating to me. Not just as a photographer but as a viewer as well.

I know I'm generalizing but sometimes generalizing allows us to discover truth. That's probably why truth is so often described in general, universally-applied and non-specific terms.

The truth is rarely pure and never simple. - Oscar Wilde.

Or to bring it home to the art and craft of photography, leastwise a specific genre of photography: It seems dangerous to be a portrait artist who does commissions for clients because everyone wants to be flattered, so they pose in such a way that there’s nothing left of truth. - Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Cartier-Bresson, recognized as the father of modern-day photo-journalism, certainly included much expressive style in his work. Yet, in the quote above he (in a sense)
takes style to task, complaining that it obscures the truth. A very complex man, Henri must have been.

But Henri's right: Style obscures the truth! (Not that that's necessarily always a bad thing, certainly not in the world of photography.)

My apologies if I seem like I'm rambling on, writing in an eclectic style, searching for a point to make. But then, a photographer's life is rather eclectic. One of constantly being on the look-out, in search of, a point to make with each photograph we snap. Sometimes those points are obvious, sometimes they're subtle, sometimes they indicate what we're searching for even if whatever that thing is remains elusive and undiscovered.

It is exciting, of course, when we discover what we're looking for and artfully make our points: Points that hope to tell some truth even if that truth might be shaded (with expressiveness and personal style) in ways that obscures other truths. At the same time, obscuring truth with expression and style reflects something about ourselves. In other words, through photography, and beyond the techniques we use to snap our subjects, we also capture some truths about our attitudes and perceptions about whatever is in front of us.

Other times, of course, we simply make seemingly pointless photographs of whatever we momentarily deem "interesting" or, perhaps, are commissioned to shoot. I suppose that says something about us as well. What, I'm not sure.

The gratuitous eye-candy at the top is Aleta. Does the pic say something about me? Perhaps that I'm a gratuitous eye-candy kinda guy? Regardless, the pic was captured with my Canon 5D and a Canon 17-40 f/4L. I used a wide-angle lens to slightly distort the perspective. I suppose that was my way of further distorting the truth about who this model might be. You know, to further help the model's pose and expression and wardrobe (or lack of it) remove, as Cartier-Bresson said, some truth about her. (Although removing the truth about how sexy Aleta is would be fairly difficult.) Two lights were employed: Mainlight modified with a 5' Photoflex Octodome and a back/side light modified with a small, shoot-thru, umbrella. ISO 100, f/8 @ 125.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Diagonal Lines

Edward Weston once said, "Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk."

Point well taken.

Composition, good composition, is one of those things that, for serious photographers, should become instinctive and automatic: You know, like one foot in front of another without, prior to walking, feeling the need to brush up on Isaac Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation

Although we don't need to learn the laws of gravity in order to walk, it's a pretty good idea to know something of the rules of composition -- what works and what doesn't work -- in order to, at some point, become photographers who naturally, instinctively, and automatically apply the rules of composition (or break those rules) in effective ways.

In both my ebooks, Guerrilla Glamour and Guerrilla Headshots, I wrote a fair amount about composition. While going on about the various elements of composition, I placed special emphasis on diagonal lines. Not simply because I tend to incorporate diagonal lines in my images whenever I can, but because diagonal lines are, in a word, powerful. Make that, visually powerful.

The power of diagonal lines can be obvious or subtle. Regardless, they add much value to almost any photograph-- whether they're applied to genres as diverse as architectural photography and glamour photography or even, when they can be, employed when snapping headshots.

In glamour photography, backgrounds, shooting environments, wardrobe and accessories aside, diagonal lines can be produced by pose. People have arms and legs. Those arms and legs, in their most basic state, represent lines. The lines represented by arms and legs can be directed to create diagonal lines within the vertical and horizontal rectangular dimensions of your viewfinder. Those diagonal lines help lead the viewer's eyes to where you want them to go. In fact, they nearly force the viewer's eyes in certain directions. That's why diagonal lines are such powerful constructs to apply to your photos.

Getting back to Edward Weston's quote, calling on the rules of composition (diagonal lines included) doesn't need to be something that is consciously considered. In fact, the more instinctive and second nature it becomes, the more it seems a natural element of the image rather than something that is forced or obviously intentional. (That's not to say forcing compositional elements or having them appear intentional can't be done to great effect.)

How do employing compositional techniques like diagonal lines become automatic? Well, the same way, as babies, we learn to walk. At first, our minds and bodies are carefully, purposefully, and cautiously taking steps. Soon, those steps become more fluid and natural. Finally, walking becomes near thoughtless and automatic. The same chronology applies to employing effective composition. After some time of consciously and purposefully framing your pictures with nods to various compositional techniques, you will eventually begin automatically framing your images and directing your models in ways that reflect those "rules" of composition without even thinking about them.

The pretty girl at the top is another of Faye. (I used a Faye pic in my previous update, "Focus.") This image of Faye, unlike the previous, is a one-light shot using a 300WS monolight in front, modified with a shoot-thru umbrella. Faye has posed her body in a standard, "S-Curve," glamour pose. There are a number of diagonal lines represented in the image. They all work to add visual value to the photo. The diagonals formed by her arms lead the viewers' eyes to her very pretty, freckled face.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Manipulating focus is a great way to force your viewers' eyes where you want them to go. D'uh, right?

Yet, I see so many glamour images that could have been greatly improved with a bit of focus manipulation when the photographer was shooting. I know, I know... it's a creative decision and those photographers chose not to use depth of focus as one of their creative tools for that shot.

Sorry, I don't buy that. I don't think all of those photographers much considered how they might exploit focus to enhance their images. I'm guessing many of them decided to shoot at small apertures because they were thinking more about keeping their models in sharp focus. Unfortunately, a lot of stuff in their backgrounds was kept in nearly as sharp focus. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, it's the right thing to do. Other times, it keeps the photo in the realm of mediocrity.

For glamour photography, make that for the majority of people photography, sharp focus on the models or subjects is often important. (Unless you're going for a fuzzy, soft-focus, artsy look.) Usually, the sharpest focus should be on the model's eyes. (D'uh again.) We sure don't want blurry glimpses through those windows to the soul even if the models' souls aren't what many viewers of glamour images are gawking at.

Personally, it's rare for me to shoot a model above f/8 unless I'm purposely looking for more depth of focus... which isn't that often. I mostly prefer in and around f/5.6, plus or minus a stop, and, occasionally, wider than that. The more open the aperture, of course, the shallower the focus. The closer my framing, the more I generally prefer a shallower focus.

Just because your powerful strobes can deliver plenty of lighting power, allowing you to shoot at very stopped-down apertures, doesn't mean you should always be using that power. The most powerful monolight I own delivers a mere 500WS of power and I rarely have used that strobe at full capacity. In fact, the strobe itself gets used less than my 300WS strobes because I can't dial it down enough while keeping it in close to my models and still achieving very soft lighting. (Which most of my clients prefer when I'm shooting glamour and tease for them.)

Just some Hump Day tidbits for thought regarding the role of focus in glamour shooting.

The pretty girl at the top is Faye. I used two lights: A 300WS main light in front modified with a small, shoot-thru umbrella and a 300WS bare-bulb strobe from behind for highlights. For glass, I was using a Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime. Exposure was ISO 100, f/2.5 with a 200th of a second shutter. Mark Twain might have been talking about Faye when he said, "A face without freckles is like the sky without stars."