Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mirrors of Time

Last night, I watched a flick called "Jar City" on Netflix streaming. It's a foreign film shot in Iceland with an all-Icelandic cast. The dialogue, as you might expect, is spoken in Icelandish or whatever they call the language of Iceland. Since I'm a competent reader of English, I was able to follow along thanks to the subtitles, of course.

I gotta say, whatever they call whatever it is they speak in Iceland sounds about as foreign to me as most any language I've ever heard. I've watched plenty of foreign films. Many of them made in places like Norway, Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spanish-speaking countries and elsewhere. All of those languages (none of which I can speak) have words you can pick out that sound a little English. Not so for Icelandish. Just like it's not so for most any Asian, Middle-Eastern, or African country. (Except South Africa.)

But Iceland isn't in Asia, the Middle-East, or Africa. It's technically Europe... I think. Anyway, you've heard the phrase, "Sounds Greek to me," haven't you? It refers, of course, to someone or some thing you can't understand at all. Well, I'm changing the phrase to, "Sounds Icelandish to me." Iceland, if you didn't know, has a bleak, barren, and alien-looking landscape. No wonder they invented a language so alien sounding.

"Jar City" is a pretty good murder mystery thriller revolving around the well-deserved demise of some old scumbag with a very heinous past. The protagonist is a conflicted police detective who has lots of personal shit going on in his private life. (Sounds very Hollywood-familiar, doesn't it?) The film also has to do with a rare brain disease passed on by paternal parents and grandparents; a disease that often manifests itself in the very young and is lethal.

Part of the murder mystery focuses on what happened to one of the dead scumbag's old friends who disappeared years before. His disappearance holds a big clue to the murder mystery. It turns out the friend (who had disappeared) was an avid amateur photographer. The detective discovers this when he interviews the missing dude's elderly mother. When asked what it was her son so loved about photography, the old lady says her son used to often say, "Photographs are mirrors of time."

Those mirrors of time, it turns out, play a big part in unraveling the mystery.

I'm sharing this because I thought it's a cool and somewhat different way of describing photography or, rather, photographs. Often -- especially thanks to Kodak who may not be around much longer -- the ways in which photographs are often described tend to be about the memories associated with them rather than time. Calling them "mirrors of time" almost makes time sound like something tangible. I kinda like that. Sure, photographers talk about those little moments in time captured by the clicks of a shutter. But it seems like photographs themselves are more often associated with memories rather than time itself. It's all semantics, of course... and metaphor. But I enjoy different sorts of metaphors, analogies, and the kinds of semantics which can be used to describe things. They can be very thought-provoking.

BTW, my next post, which will be in the very early part of next year, will have everything to do with glamour photography and nothing to do with foreign films from Iceland. I promise.

The pretty girl at the top is Paris. It's a mirror of time when I still had my own studio. That was then and this is now but I still have plenty of mirrors of my time spent in my own studio.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wish List for 2012

Like many of you, the end of a year always has me thinking and planning for the upcoming year. Unfortunately, what starts out as ambitious resolutions too often ends up as a bunch of broken promises; promises made to myself, that is.

Instead of calling them resolutions, I've taken to calling the things I plan (and hope) to accomplish in the coming year a Wish List. In other words, I hope and wish I'll manage to find the resources, energy, determination, and good fortune to make good on those things I plan to do in the coming year.

You might be thinking, "C'mon Jimmy! That stuff shouldn't be labeled as wishes. You're in control of what you do and what you accomplish!"

That's true enough. Getting things done or not is completely in my court. But, at my age, I've grown to know myself pretty well and I know, for whatever reasons, I'll not do/accomplish some of the things I hope and wish and set out to do. I'm not making excuses. I just know it will work out that way. That might seem a negative outlook but, personally, I prefer calling it a realistic outlook.

That's the bad news to myself. The good news is I know I'll accomplish some of the things I'm hoping to get done. In other words, some of my wishes will come true.

Here's what I know I'll accomplish:

1. I'll continue updating this blog, hopefully providing readers with ideas, information, guidance and more which, as a result of people reading this blog, will play some part in helping them realize their photography goals. (Something I find personally rewarding in so many ways.) The Pretty Girl Shooter blog, BTW, will celebrate it's 6th year in existence come next July. To date, I've authored over 800 posts. I think I still have a few more in me.

2. I'll author a minimum of two e-books in 2012. I've already begun writing my 4th e-book: Flash-Free Model Photography. I'm not exactly sure when I'll complete and release it as I have many custom photos to shoot for it. Hopefully, I'll have it out in February or March. That will leave me 9 or 10 months to complete yet another e-book in 2012. (Subject to be determined but I have a few ideas I'm kicking around.) If I can't produce a 2nd e-book in the 9 or 10 months remaining in 2012, that is, after my next e-book is released, something is definitely wrong with me.

Now, here's what I'm hoping I'll accomplish but can't guarantee, to myself or anyone else:

1. I'll finally begin producing workshops! I'd say there's at least an 80% chance this will happen. Hopefully, some of you will be interested in attending. I've been working with a good friend (and partner) to get the workshops going. We've been communicating with a potential sponsor and, if we succeed at getting them on board, it will be a very cool thing! The sponsor is not a gear manufacturer or anyone like that. I'm not going to reveal who it is but I'll simply say that, if it goes down the way we hope it will, it will add something very special and unique to the workshops, including some incredibly hot models. That's not to say that without the sponsor I'll be unable to procure some incredibly hot models to participate -- I'm confident I can do so -- but if things go according to plans, hot models are only one part of the deal. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

2. Produce a video, hopefully a series of videos, on shooting glamour models. I realize I've been talking about videos for a couple of years and that's because it's been on my Resolution Wish List for those years, but I'm still hoping to accomplish it. I give the videos a 60% to 70% chance of coming to fruition.

Well, those are my plans for the coming year, leastwise as they apply to this blog, e-books, workshops, and videos. BTW, I'm not making any plans which go beyond next December 21st just in case the people predicting catastrophic significance to the ending of the Mayan calender are right. My gut tells me it's bullshit but, you know, who knows, right?

The pretty girl at the top (click to enlarge) displaying her full-frontal assets is Charmane. I've shot Charmane a bunch of times and it's always been an easy shoot thanks to her beauty, sensuality, modeling skills, and terrific attitude on sets.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Joe McNally's New "Sketching Light" Book

I hope everyone had a terrific holiday. 2012 is nearly upon us so I'm also hoping and wishing for an awesome new year for all.

A friend of mine wrote to me this morning telling me about Joe McNally's new book: Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash, which he purchased and is now reading. My friend tells me he's more than half-way through the book's 400 pages and, to steal from a couple of movie critics, gives it a big thumb's up.

My buddy says the book is filled with great advice and pictures amplifying the author's words. He says it's a truly entertaining read with plenty of humor and clever metaphors, diagrams further underscoring the how-to aspects of the book, warnings about pitfalls and things to watch out for, and that it's grounded in realism. McNally, my friend tells me, offers up the gear he uses to make the shots included in the book, but also discusses alternate equipment approaches to the images. My friend says the book is well-organized, coherent throughout, nicely laid-out, and a fun read.

Joe McNally, of course, is a well-known photographer and, lately, has become an equally well-known photography educator. Last year, he and David Hobby (the Strobist) set out on a whirlwind national tour (on a tour bus, no less) to preach the gospel of small flash lighting. I understand they're planning to reboard the bus to reprise their lighting revivals.

Anyway, just thought I'd share a bit of what my friend has to say about McNally's new book. If you're interested in getting a copy for yourself, you can click here: Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash.

The eye candy at the top is Bree Olson. (Click it to enlarge.) Bree earned herself ten or fifteen minutes of fame in 2011 as Charlie Sheen's "goddess." I shot this pic of Bree while all the Charlie Sheen stuff was in the papers almost every day.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

So You Wanna Assist? (Part Deux)

I spent most of my last update writing about some of the reasons I rarely allow volunteer assistants or visitors to attend my shoots. In Part Deux, I'm gonna talk about what I expect (or don't expect) from those I do allow to volunteer their time assisting or merely to visit one of my pretty girl photo shoots.

As you might guess, the numero uno transgression on a pretty girl shooting set is drooling, gawking, or otherwise ogling the models. Eyes popping out is also verboten. If you cannot be around beautiful, sexy, alluring, naked models without engaging in behaviors that even remotely resembles anything I listed above or in ways best reserved for strip clubs or bachelor parties or in any other ways similar, as an example, to the Roger Rabbit image I've posted to the right, you definitely have no business being at my shoots.

Assuming you're there to assist, I expect you to work, not merely to watch. I expect you to work hard for me even though you're doing so without compensation. That means you'll help carry gear and perform other duties often handled by pack mules. You'll also help set up gear and generally be at my beck and call to assist me in a myriad of ways for the duration of the shoot.

You'll also remain within close visual range and/or earshot of me unless I've sent you elsewhere on the set or at the studio. I don't expect you to be a highly skilled assistant -- you're there on your own time after all -- and I will treat you according to my knowledge or perceptions of what you know how to do. For instance, if you know how to hold a light meter and to read it, I'll probably have you do that. If you don't know how, I may even take a few moments to teach you how to do so. Hopefully, you're a quick learner because, like I said, I'll only spend a few moments teaching you how.

There are only two egos permitted to play, duel, whatever, on my shooting sets: Mine and the model's. If the client is present, there may be three egos at work or play. If I don't seem to be utilizing you to the fullest extent of your creative and technical know-how, go get your own gigs and you can use your personal skills and artistic capabilities to their fullest extent while you're shooting for yourself or for your clients. Quick story: I was the Director of Photography on a video shoot one time. As is my way, I was joking around with some of the cast members, mostly the females. The director approached me and asked if he could have a word with me. He pulled me off to the side. "There's only one funny person on my sets," he told me. "And that's me." With that, he turned and walked away.

If I ask you to find somewhere else to sit or stand while I'm shooting, A) Please don't take it personal and get all butt-hurt and B) always place yourself somewhere where the model can see you. Nothing worse than an assistant or visitor who parks themselves somewhere behind the model. The model will become apprehensive if you do so and the last thing I need are apprehensive models when I'm shooting them. I once allowed a friend of a friend on one of my sets. I knew the guy but not well. I asked him to find himself a place to sit. He found a chair, carried it back to where I was shooting, put it on the floor -- on the seamless actually -- and right next to me. He sat down and stared at the model. Needless to say, he was told to move his ass somewhere else.

As I mentioned in my last update, please don't make suggestions or tell me about some great idea you have. Save your great ideas for when you're shooting for yourself. I might sometimes ask what you think of something and, if I do, by all means, be honest and tell me. You can volunteer what you think about what I'm doing, without me asking that is, but if you do please only do so if you think what I'm doing is awesome or cool or terrific. If it's critical, keep it to yourself... especially when we're shooting. After the shoot, you can ask me whatever you want or tell me what you thought. You know, as in when we're alone and shootin' the shit. That's not to say I expect you to be a JimmyD cheerleader when I'm shooting. I don't. But if you feel you must occasionally comment, only do so if it's positive. To be truthful, I'd prefer you to keep your comments, positive or otherwise, to yourself.

Also, as mentioned in my previous post on this subject, please don't engage my clients, my models, or others on the set with much more than pleasant niceties. If I spot you, as an example, off to the side in a deep, heavy conversation with my client, right or wrong I'll probably assume you're pitching him or her on your work, that is, you shooting for them. Yes, that's happened in the past. More than once I might add. Also, please don't bring along your portfolio stored on an iPad or iPhone or other device and show it to others. I will not appreciate you showing your work to my clients or models. You're there to assist, not to show off you work. I'm a great believer in photographers networking in order to help themselves get work. There are appropriate times and places to do so. While you're assisting is not one of those times or places.

Before you're even on my set, i.e., if you're there to assist, I will already have tried to ascertain what your skill level is so that I can take full advantage of it. I'm happiest when someone who really knows their shit is assisting me. I'm happier still when they know their shit better than I know mine. BTW, everything I listed are my personal expectations for assistants or set visitors. But I'll bet many of them will apply to most any photographer you might be assisting or whose set you might be visiting.

The pretty girl at the top is Penthouse Pet, Tori Black.

Monday, December 19, 2011

So You Wanna Assist?

A lot of guys ask me if they can assist. No surprise there. I'm usually shooting hot chicks in various stages of undress.

I'm guessing more than a few red-blooded males would pay an admission fee to watch me shoot... more specifically, to watch the models being shot. After all, those sexy models call to them, like they call to me, like the sirens of yore called to brave Ulysses and his lads.

Still more guys, i.e., photographers on the uphill side of the learning curve in particular, will gladly barter their time and sweat to assist me. Plus, who knows? There might be something for them to learn by assisting. Assuming, of course, they're paying at least as much attention to what I'm doing and how I'm doing it as they are to the hot models who are selling their allure in seductive ways and, as the shoot progresses, wearing less and less.

I don't often permit visitors, volunteer assistants or otherwise, to attend my sets. There's a couple of reasons for that: A) My clients are usually on set and, for the most part, they aren't generally too tolerant of visitors; B) the shoot might be negatively impacted for a variety of reasons, all stemming from a visitor or an inexperienced volunteer assistant.

Here's how the shoot might be negatively impacted as a result of visitors or volunteer assistants who aren't accustomed to being on a professional set, especially sets which feature nudity:

1. The visitor/assistant weirds out the models. As much as many of the models I shoot are accustomed to getting naked in front of strangers, they have a finely-tuned ability to sense when or if those strangers are unaccustomed to being around models, especially naked models. When they sense that's the case, there's a decent chance it will weird them out. Weirded out models don't generally make for good models who achieve the goals of the shoot.

2. The visitor/assistant doesn't understand set protocol. While I'm the kind of guy who generally appreciates good ideas and suggestions from others, I don't appreciate them being offered while I'm shooting. Unless the visitor/assistant notices something is amiss, perhaps something that could pose a danger to others or is obviously out-of-place and I don't seem to notice it, I really don't want to hear anyone's great ideas or suggestions. First, it undermines my position as *the* photographer. Second, since the visitor/assistant might not be aware of any special requirements or expectations of the shoot, there's a good chance his or her great idea or suggestion does not meet those requirements or expectations. Third, it's simply not kosher.

3. If an assistant doesn't have much experience working with equipment like cameras, grip, and lighting, why would I want them assisting me on a set? The whole idea of an assistant is to assist. Assisting is meant to make the shoot move forward more efficiently. If an an assistant can't help make that happen, they're likely to be of little, if any, help. Worse, they might slow things down or impede the efficiency of the shoot. While I consider myself something of a mentor and/or teacher, that's not what I am when someone is paying me to shoot.

4. I've spent lots of money on my gear. Someone who is unaccustomed to handling gear represents someone who is more likely to damage my gear. Certainly not intentionally but that person's lack of experience increases the odds they might do some unintentional damage to my equipment.

5. More set protocol: Visitors and volunteer assistants may not understand that being a helpful fly on the wall is part of their duties. Visitors and assistants should refrain from engaging my clients or the models in too much, if any, conversation. If those people engage the visitor/assistant, that's one thing. The visitor/assistant engaging them is another. Even when the visitor/assistant is engaged, they should keep it polite, simple, and not overly engaged... if that makes sense. Once again, making suggestions or sharing ideas, in this case with my clients or the models, is off-bounds. It will likely guarantee the visitor/assistant will never be a visitor/assistant on any of my future sets.

There's more rules to abide when you're a visitor/assistant on a professional set but the few I've provided should give you an idea of what's expected. HERE is another photographer's take on assisting.

I'm not trying to sound like a prick but this is how I make my living and it certainly isn't in my best interests to do things, like allowing visitors or inexperienced volunteer assistants on my sets, where they might, inadvertently and potentially, negatively impact my relationships with clients and models or do others things which are not in the best interests of my shoots.

On the positive side, in the past I have allowed a number of people to either volunteer assist me or, in rarer instances, simply be a visitor on one of my sets. It doesn't happen too often and it would take another blog entry to list the reasons I might have done so or might do so in the future.

The pretty girl at the top is Nikki. (Click it to enlarge.) I shot Nikki last night for a client's project. I even found some time to shoot Nikki wearing one of my Pretty Girl Shooter t-shirts... you know, being the self-promoting sort of guy that I am. If you're of a mind to purchase one, there's a banner in the right-hand column you can click to do so.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pretty Girl Shooter T-Shirts Now Available!

Over the years, a bunch of people a bunch of times have suggested something like this: "Jimmy! Why don't you make some pretty girl shooter t-shirts? I love shooting pretty girls and I'd love to wear one!" Well, I have and HERE they are.

Recently, I had dinner with a good pal, one who's a graphic designer and whom I've known and worked with over the years. He told me he's been doing custom t-shirts. "Really?" I said. (I hadn't seen him in quite some time.) "How about you design me a Pretty Girl Shooter tee?" I asked.

And so he did!

CLICK HERE (if you didn't click above) to get yours. I've priced them economically at $15 (USD) and I think you'll dig them. I wore one to a shoot just the other night and my Pretty Girl Shooter tee didn't go unnoticed. In fact, I heard words like "cool t-shirt" way more than once.

So what are you waiting for? CLICK on over the Official Pretty Girl Shooter T-Shirt page and get yours!

The pretty girl above, the one who just happens to be wearing an Official Pretty Girl Shooter T-Shirt because I just happened to have one with me when I recently shot her and who also just happens to be featured in last post before this one -- wearing significantly less -- is Alexis.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

4.5' Seamless Redux

About three weeks ago, I wrote about shooting models on a 4.5' seamless. At that time, I hadn't shot the models yet so my thoughts were more anticipatory. HERE is that post if you didn't read it and/or might want to.

Anyway, that was then and this is now and now that I've shot about a half-dozen models on the 4.5' seamless I can honestly say it's a pain in the ass. I definitely prefer more "elbow room," as Daniel Boone used to say.

My goal throughout has been to keep all the models' body parts in front of the seamless. Since there isn't much room in the space my clients have had me shooting this stuff in, that's mostly meant shooting 3/4 body shots or images framed even closer with the models remaining near-perfectly centered on the seamless. It's also kept me in one spot to shoot from. I don't much care for being inhibited that way and neither have the models.

It's also caused me to have to pay way too much special attention to what's going on in my viewfinder regarding keeping the models in front of the seamless. That's not that big of a deal but I found myself constantly giving directions like, "Can you scoot your feet about six inches to the right?" Again, not that big of a deal but, often enough, I had to say those sort of things after the model was already posed in one pose or another. Having to do move her spot on the seamless a few inches this or that sometimes seemed to ruin the natural flow of things. I hate when flows are ruined!

The next time I'm called on to shoot on a seamless in a fairly confined space where a 9' seamless is too wide for the room to handle it, plus my lights and stands, I'm going to use one anyway. I'll simply make use of a fine-tooth saw and lop off two or three feet from the width of the seamless roll.

The pretty young thing at the top is Alexis. (Click it to enlarge it.) For the most part, it's an out-of-the-camera image. I left my framing intact and just shrunk the entire image so you could see how little "elbow room," either side of her, there was on that 4.5' seamless. If you're wondering, the things around her wrists are little bungee cords. Some of the photos were intended to have a semi-bondagey feel to them and, for this model, the photography brain trust (my clients) thought they'd shake things up a little and use bungee cords instead of the handcuffs or shackles we used for some of the pics of the other models. I tried to tell them I didn't think the bungees visually (or practically) worked so well but hey! What do I know? Maybe there's lots of people out there with a bungee fetish?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Composition and the Fibonacci Spiral

No. I haven't gone all Dan Brown/DaVinci Code on everyone. Sure, Brown used Fibonacci numbers as clues in his best-selling religious thriller but that has little to do with photography.

Or does it?

Fibonacci's ratio can be geometrically translated a number of ways. One way is into a spiral called, as you might have already guessed, the Fibonacci Spiral. It's a spiral almost identical to another cool spiral called the Golden Spiral. In nature, these spirals are seen often enough. For instance, we see them in spiral galaxies, leastwise in pictures or through a telescope, and we see them in some sea shells. Spirals like these are also seen in photographic and other artistic compositions. Some call it "Divine Composition." Divine Composition is like the Rule of Thirds gone god-like.

There's an entertaining, quick-read, blog post about this Rule of Thirds and Fibonacci stuff (as it applies to photographic composition) on photographer Jake Garn's web site. Click Here to check it out.

BTW, I'm not suggesting you come up with some sort of a Fibonacci overlay template when fine-tuning your work. (Via cropping in post.) Doing so, leastwise for me, would be adding a way too scientific and technical aspect to that part of my work I consider the art part rather than the science part. Still, I often pose, frame, or crop my models with an obvious nod to the Rule of Thirds and, who knows? Maybe the spirit sometimes moves me to apply a bit of Divine Composition to some of my pics? Perhaps even without realizing what I'm doing? You know, sort of like being possessed, albeit not demonically possessed.

Wait! Maybe I am demonically possessed? Especially considering the content of much of what I shoot. Plus, there's all that photography stuff about the Devil being in the details. And I'm definitely a guy who pays attention to the details in my photography work. Oh well. It doesn't really matter if I'm divinely inspired on occasion or the Devil makes me do it as long as my pics turn out okay and the checks clear.

There's no Fibonacci Spiral evident in the full-frontal nude pic of Jayme I attached to this update but, I have to admit, she both divinely inspires me while simultaneously eliciting some devilish thoughts in my head.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Lens Flares: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Lately, more and more, I see photographers embracing lens flares. I don't know if this is an across-the-board trend/fad/whatever, encompassing portraiture, nature, et al, or it's limited in its scope to pretty girl pics. For the most part (and for some odd reason) I find myself mostly viewing photos of pretty women. Certainly more often than admiring, as an example, well-executed landscape images. But maybe that's just me?

There's nothing new, of course, about seeking lens flares rather than avoiding them. The trick, of course, is capturing the perfect lens flare and in ways where the flare adds an interesting creative touch without ruining the intent of the photo. I see some photographers making terrific use of lens flares. Others make ugly, bad use of them. Course, who am I to judge? Just because I think one use of a lens flare adds to an image while another subtracts from it really doesn't matter. It's a subjective call. It's simply my opinion and we all know what opinions are like.

I'm not convinced everyone who posts an image with a lens flare -- good, bad or otherwise -- purposely captured the lens flare. Sometimes, I'm guessing the lens flare was unintended and unnoticed when the image was captured. Later, while processing the images, the photographer noticed the flare and thought, "Gee. That's looks kinda cool. I think I'll keep it."

I've shot both kinds of lens flares: Intended and unintended. Heck, there's been times I've taken advantage of a third kind of flare by adding a faux-flare in post. I'll also admit to liking some of my unintended lens flares and, later, when others expressed some kind words about the image, neglecting to tell them, "Well, you see, I actually fucked up and didn't notice the flare when I was shooting but, later on, I thought it was pretty cool so I went with it."

None of this is to infer that shooters who post flare-adorned photos are all capturing unintended flare-adorned photos. Some photographers go out of their way to capture the perfect flare and some of them do it near perfectly.

In my e-book, Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography, I mentioned an old Egyptian proverb a few times: A beautiful thing is never perfect. I wrote a fair number of words discussing that notion as it applies to portrait photography. Some photo-purists act as if lens flares almost always represent unwanted imperfections in the technical quality of a photo and, often enough, I suppose it's true that they do. Obviously, those folks aren't aware of that bit of Egyptian wisdom I just mentioned here and in my e-book, especially when they seem to label most all photos which include a lens flare as being imperfect... and not in a good way.

The key to great lens flares, of course, isn't so much about the technical aspects of the flares themselves (although, to some extent, it is) but whether the flare helps make for a better image or if it detracts from what could have been a good image. As with many of a photo's elements, that's a personal and subjective call.

It's a bit hard to teach someone to have a good sense of artistic aesthetics. For many people, they either have it or they don't. That's not to say shooters can't increase the likelihood of their artistic judgment being effective. To do that, they probably need to spend some time learning what works and what doesn't and why: Viewing the work of photographers whose images are generally considered to possess terrific artistic elements will help photographers learn what works and what doesn't. Reading about why one thing generally works and another doesn't is also helpful. Feedback from your images' viewers should also help hone one's artistic sensibilities, assuming you try to learn from the feedback rather than simply gloating over it when it's good or getting defensive about it when it's less than positive.

Back to lens flares: In my opinion, lens flares, at a minimum, work well as often as they don't. The intent of a photo should dictate when and how a shooter might use effects like lens flares. Since all the photos you snap don't have, as their primary purpose or intent, a requirement that says you must always showcase, in quite obvious ways, your artistic sensibilities, there are many photos, especially in portraiture, where including a lens flare might not serve the photo well. While it might make you feel all artsy, you feeling all artsy doesn't always make for a photo that meets or exceeds the intent of all your images.

As I sometimes do, I'm brain-farting on the name of the model I'm featuring with this update. Also, my apologies for posting a pic which doesn't include a lens flare; intended, unintended, or faux. I wanted to post a lens-flare adorned image (even though I don't shoot them too often) but that would mean rummaging through a bunch of hard drives and folders to find one that's suitable. I'm simply feeling a bit too lazy to do that at the moment.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Nothing Trumps Consistency

I'm sometimes asked what I think is the most important characteristic of good glamour photographers. My answer is always the same: Consistency. If anything sets glam shooters, if not all photographers, apart it's their ability to consistently produce good images.

Notice I didn't say anything about amazing photos? That's because very few photographers, pro or hobbyist, consistently produce amazing photos. (Not Facebook user-dubbed amazing photos but truly amazing photos.)

Sometimes, I get hired because of a single image I've snapped. Usually, that's because whoever is doing the hiring thinks the photo at the heart of their hiring decision is something akin to an amazing photo. They might think that for all kinds of different reasons. Whether the photo truly is an amazing photo or not -- it's often not, leastwise in my estimation -- doesn't really matter much. What matters is the person hiring me thinks it is.

Most often, I'm hired by reputation. My reputation influences many different sorts of clients: Those I've worked for previously as well as potential clients who might be new to me. They hire me, for the most part, because of things like who I know, my ability to get along with others, my work ethics, and the fact that they either know or have been told I can consistently produce good images... not most of the time, but every time. That's not to say, of course, that every photo I snap is a good photo. It's only to say that there's always enough good photos amongst those I do snap to satisfy the needs of my clients. Sometimes, it only requires me to produce one, good, exceptional image. Other times, about twenty good images. If I had to consistently produce truly amazing photos, whether it be one image or twenty, I wouldn't get much work. Very few people would.

There are many facets to consistently producing good images. All of them include the word "consistently." For instance, when I'm shooting I consistently try to get along with others. I consistently apply the same work ethics to every gig, big or small, well-paid or not so well-paid. I consistently do my best to snap good photos. I consistently apply the same knowledge, skills, and techniques; that is, I don't experiment on my client's dime.

I see some photographers who are constantly trying out new things and new ways to photograph those in front of their cameras. I'm guessing they do so in their quest to shoot an amazing photo. Nothing inherently wrong with that. In fact, it's usually a good thing. Sometimes, a very good thing. Everyone should be pushing their own envelopes, shooting outside their personal boxes, trying new ways of doing things outside of their comfort zones, and moving forward, ever expanding their photo-snapping horizons.

But here's a caveat of sorts, actually two of them: Don't attempt expanding your horizons on your client's time and dimes, and do spend enough time working and practicing at becoming consistently competent when shooting one way before you move on to shooting in other ways. Otherwise, there's a good chance you'll remain a jack of all shooting styles and techniques and a master of none.

The pretty girl at the top is Vanessa, snapped in the backyard of a location house up in the Hollywood Hills some time back. I used one, large umbrella, probably a four-footer, and let the sun do the rest.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Steps Can Be Misleading

I regularly see posts, articles, and other sorts of advice provided in a multi-step format. It seems to me that breaking things down into steps somehow infers near-guaranteed results will result from following the steps listed. Steps might contain five steps to accomplish this or ten steps to get you to that. Five-step advice and ten-step advice seems the most popular number of steps to break things into, step-wise. Three-step advice probably comes in third... naturally.

Generally, and regardless of the number of steps provided, the stepped advice I most regularly see all cover the same subjects over and over: Better exposure, better lighting, better composition. The steps all, we're told, equal better photographs. But the question remains: Better than what? Better than photos that suck? Better than photos that look amateurish or were shot by a 5 year old? I should hope so. From those perspectives, steps help... possibly a lot!

There's nothing inherently wrong with breaking things down into steps. They often accomplish (to varying degrees) the results they claim. But breaking advice down into steps, in my opinion, isn't generally conducive to realizing distinctive photography. Same holds true for most other art forms. While "sorta" nice paintings (sorta not, actually) can result from paint-by-number kits, paint-by-number kits don't produce outstanding paintings. Same holds true for photography. Shooting by the numbers doesn't produce an abundance of distinctive work. If anything, it produces an abundance of work that mostly looks the same. I'm certainly often guilty of doing that. But I do it on purpose. I get paid to produce an abundance of work that mostly looks the same. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Most of you have probably seen many of these steps regularly offered up. Interestingly, I keep seeing the same steps listed by a multitude of different step providers. Sometimes, the various step-providers alter the order of their versions of the steps. They do that, of course, when the steps don't need to be connected in a chronological or particularly orderly fashion. I suppose that's why many purveyors of steps prefer stand-alone steps: Mixing up the order of the steps helps make the step-providers look like their steps are original or unique. Leastwise, I assume that's why step-providers often change the order of the steps they list.

Personally, while I appreciate receiving advice, good advice, I take some issue with calling them "steps." I know it sounds like I'm complaining about semantics here, and I guess I am, but semantics are important to me. Semantics are all about meaning. Words like "steps" infers a guarantee: If you follow these steps, success is guaranteed. That's what steps sorta mean.

While most of the stepped advice I see includes relevant and factual information, there aren't any guaranteed steps to great photos. Much like joining a 12-Step program doesn't guarantee someone will become or remain sober, following various photographic steps doesn't guarantee you'll become a good photographer or produce great photos. Generally, the steps offered are steps in the right direction but they're not guaranteed steps to success as they seem to infer. Good photography is a result of much more than following simple, recipe-like, steps.

Take things like lighting and composition . The steps someone might provide, while probably being good steps, aren't guaranteed steps to great composition and lighting. The best they might be are guaranteed steps to varying levels of competent lighting and composition. Nothing wrong with competent. But transcending merely competent photography is, I assume, something most photographers aspire to.

Sure, I can give advice, make suggestions, offer tips, and try to point people in the right directions. But advice, tips, and suggestions aren't bullet-proof. They include plenty of gray area not covered in any of the steps I, or anyone else, might offer. Advice, tips, and suggestions are soft and flexible. They're subjective. They're neither hard nor fast and they're certainly not guaranteed to always work. leastwise not in exceptional ways. While advice, tips, and suggestions might be worthwhile, they don't, by their labels, infer guarantees. Following steps, on the other hand, seems to claim following the steps are guaranteed ways to get to wherever the steps lead. Unfortunately, they don't. Not always.

Those who rigidly follow exact steps or photographic recipes are likely to capture plenty of competent, although mediocre and pedestrian, photos. Yes, following steps and recipes can be great ways to begin learning. And, they'll occasionally produce awesome photos. They also might produce technically perfect photos. But technically perfect photos, while being technically perfect, can easily be boring as hell. Following steps and recipes are good ways to begin one's photography education, but to continue unwaveringly sticking to them, once a certain level of competency is achieved, doesn't lead photographers further up the stairway to photo heaven.

Photographers often love bandying about notions like shooting, "outside the box." I sometimes do so myself. Unfortunately, there are no steps to shooting really cool, "outside the box" photographs. If there were, I suppose those photos wouldn't enjoy having an "outside the box" status.

I think the multi-step advice spread around by photographers to photographers should be labeled in ways that better reflect what they actually are: Ideas, suggestions, tips, and advice. That way, it doesn't sound like they include guarantees. Again, I know I'm arguing semantics, and possibly trivialities as well, but meaning (for that's what semantics are all about) is important to me. Meaning, in my opinion, is not trivial.

Okay. I'm off my "semantics" soap box. The pretty girl at the top is Cytherea. I went a tad "artsy" with this one which meant my client (not the model) hated it. (Click to enlarge.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

For Whom the Camera Loves

I'm often amazed at the truth contained in the often-heard statement, "the camera loves her." I've shown up on sets and been introduced, for the first time, to a model I'm about to shoot and thought, "she's hot but nothing special." A bit later, when the model who failed to elicit an overly positive response in my head is in front of my camera and, after taking a few shots and chimping the results, I've then thought, "Wow! The camera really loves her!"

There's no absolute way to figure who the camera might love and who it might not love. The term "photogenic" is used to describe people who photograph well. Some photographers claim they can spot "photogenic" with their eyes. I can't. I doubt they can either. Not really. Not with nearly-guaranteed accuracy. It usually requires snapping a few and viewing the results before I apply the word, "photogenic" to someone.

I've shot women who, in real life, were absolutely stunning head-turners. Tens! Put them in front of the camera and, while they're still hot, they just don't photograph like the dream dolls they are in person. For whatever reasons, ten drops to eight in the photos. Sometimes, less.

Often enough, the opposite is true. A model who fails, at least in my opinion, to project a head-turning aura in person, who might even appear somewhat plain and rather average, (let's call her a seven) lights up in front of the camera and looks like the most beautiful, sexy, alluring woman on the planet. Course, things like makeup and hair and more effect that, often in huge ways. But the same makeup and hair and more on the already stunning dream-doll doesn't produce the same effects in the photos or prevent their real-life "ten" status from dropping a few digits. Go figure.

I'm not going to name names. There are a few models I've shot who occasionally read this blog. I'm not going risk the off-chance that one of them, that is, one who might fall into either category I mentioned above, especially the first category, is reading this. Next thing you know I'm getting a nasty email or phone call or they're bad mouthing me to people who might be clients. Plus, I don't roll that way. I don't like hurting people's feelings or bruising their egos. (Unless they deserve it.) So don't ask cuz I'm not gonna tell.

There was a time I chalked up "the camera loves her" concept to things like facial bone structure, neck length, body shape, and those sorts of things. I gave up on that theory a long time ago. Now, my theory is that whatever that thing is that makes the camera love one person more than others isn't a concrete and steadfast thing. It can be many things. A combination of things. An infinite combination of things. Plus, I think you have to add some ethereal aspects to it. People say true beauty comes from within. Usually, they're not referring to physical beauty when they say that. And they're right. There are many kinds of beauty which come from within. But I also think there is something that comes from within that does impact physical beauty and the camera sees it and records it. I wish I could suck whatever that is out of every model I photograph.

The gratuitous pretty girl at the top is Penthouse Pet, Celeste Star.(Click to enlarge.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

A 4.5' Seamless?

I'm going to be shooting some stuff off-and-on over the next few weeks for a client who is also a good friend. He's the producer of the project although, normally, he's not a producer. I'm helping him with some things that he's not overly familiar with. It's not that he hasn't been around productions before. He has. I'm just making sure he doesn't overlook things. When people show up on a set is not the best time to discover what's been overlooked.

I'll be shooting the stills in the garage of a location house. I've already been to this house so I know what it looks like. It has a two-car garage but not a very large 2-car garage. Plus, there's lots of boxes and other crap stacked against all the walls of the not-especially-large garage. My friend wants the pretty girl stills shot on a seamless. "Great!" I told him. "That makes things easier for me."

I asked my pal to ask his art guy if he wants me to use a standard white seamless or something else; some other color, that is. I'd prefer gray and asked my friend to mention gray but the art guy, as expected, said white. No problem. I can do white. After all, I've only done white about a bazillion freakin' times.

It's a small production so my friend, the producer, is also the production manager, production assistant, occasional gopher, and more. My friend is also in possession of the production funds and will be cutting the checks. That still makes him the boss regardless of what other production tasks he might choose to perform in order to keep costs down.

My buddy asked me where he should go to get the seamless. I directed him to a local camera store: One I know carries a good supply of seamless rolls. "Do they come in different sizes?" he asked. "If so, what size should I get?"

I told my friend to get the smaller width, not the 9' width, because the garage we'll be shooting in is kind of cramped. I could fit a 9' in there but then my lights would have to be on the seamless and I'd be dealing with light from my rear accent lights bleeding onto the background. I can certainly deal with that but I'd prefer not to have to.

Somehow, I thought the smaller width rolls were 5' or 6' wide. I was wrong. They're 4.5' wide. I've never shot with a seamless BG other than with the 9' rolls. Not once. Ever.

At first I thought this might be a bit of a hassle. But then I thought, "Why do I care if my shots are wider than the seamless?" After all, when putting together the art work, the art guy is going to cut the models out of the shots anyway. All I'll have to do is keep the model, including her arms and legs, inside the width of the seamless and not worry about seeing the seamless (or the stands holding it up) in my frames. Plus, the majority of my shots will be 3/4 body shots so that helps too. The garage doesn't have a finished ceiling but, like most garages, it has rafters and they are only just over 8' high. I'd prefer more height but I'll deal with the height issue easily enough. Being adaptable is key to any photographer's abilities to get the shot.

Anyway, not much of an update. Just talking about something new. Leastwise, for me it's new... shooting with a 4.5' wide seamless, that is.

Model at the top is Charlotte. She isn't particularly small, the chair is particularly large.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Are You Fluent in Lighting?

I read a short article today in which the writer wonders why so many photographers seem to fear shadows. He calls it being "shadowphobic." He believes much of today's photography has become mundane because of this near-universal outbreak of shadowphobia.

The writer takes aim at all kinds of photography, from portraiture to HDR and it's ability, through multiple exposures of the same image, for capturing a dynamic range which allows us to see "...every single pixel in every single shadow."

Regarding HDR, I'm not an HDR photographer nor am I a particularly big fan of the technique. I've seen some HDR images that are very cool. I've seen plenty that are not so cool. Personally, I've never attempted HDR. It's not that I'm down on HDR. It's cool when it's cool. It just doesn't much interest me. That might have something to do with me being a portrait photographer and HDR's fairly narrow and limited use for most portrait shooting.

So, let's get back to this shadow thing and photographers being "shadowphobic," as the writer of the article contends: First off, I'm not sure it's a fair assessment to say many shooters have shadowphobias. What I do think is going on is that many photographers, especially newer photographers, shy away from shadows because they're not yet fluent in lighting.

The language of lighting is one which nearly all people, photographers or not, naturally understand. Far fewer people, however, know how to speak with lighting. Lighting fluency doesn't automatically happen. Just because we naturally understand the language of lighting doesn't mean we naturally know how to speak with it. Hey! It takes time to learn to speak with light! It takes time and study and practice. A lot of practice!

Many photographers seem to think that finding or creating beautiful light (whatever that is) is the goal. For me, beautiful light covers such a broad spectrum of lighting. Beautiful light can be soft and creamy. It can also be harsh and specular. Beauty, as they say, is in the minds of the beholders. When I'm looking to create or take advantage of beautiful light, it's the intent of the image and the context of the emotions and attitudes of my subjects which makes me decide what kind of light is most beautiful for any given photo. There are times, of course, when I let whatever type of beautiful light that's available, via the natural or environmental light that's present, dictate the emotions and the attitudes I direct my models to project.

Low-key lighting employing a heavy dose of shadows, for example, says one thing to viewers while high-key lighting, nearly void of shadows, says something entirely different. Viewers naturally understand what's being said whether they're able to verbalize their understanding or not. The more fluent in lighting a photographer becomes, the easier it is for viewers to understand what's being said with the lighting the shooter employed or took advantage of. (When such lighting is naturally present.)

You see, the language of lighting doesn't speak with words, it speaks with emotions and feeling. If the writer of the article I read is correct, i.e., he's correct about so much of today's photography being mundane, it's not necessarily because photographers have become shadowphobic. It's more because photographers don't work hard enough at becoming light-fluent. (As well as fluent in the other languages used in photography.) Consequently, many images end up being short on feeling and emotion. Sometimes, even when the subject is projecting plenty of feeling and emotion! That, above all else, is what makes many photographs mundane, certainly in most any kind of portraiture.

If you want to learn more about becoming fluent in lighting and in the other "languages" used by photographers, my e-books, Guerrilla Glamour, Guerrilla Headshots, and Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography all include much in the way of helping you learn to become fluent in the many ways photographers communicate with their imagery. My books might not be the "Rosetta Stone" of photography's many languages but, in more than a few ways, they try to be.

Sorry for the shameless plug.

The pretty girl at the top is my friend, Kori. (Click to enlarge, right-click and open for an even larger pic.) I snapped it in my studio a while back. (When I still had a studio.) As cliche as boas are, I had a white one and a black one I had picked up at an estate sale. They were probably from the 1940s, possibly earlier. The feathers were real, unlike many boas you find these days. I thought they were kinda cool -- I'm into vintage stuff, tho not necessarily vintage chick stuff -- so I bought them and decided to use them a couple of times... as cliche as they might be.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So, What Are Highlights? Chopped Liver?

Syl Arena, photographer, author, blogger, and guy with curly, red, Art Garfunkel-ish hair says: “If you want to create interesting light, you have to create interesting shadows. So, look at the light and think about the shadows.” If you don't know who Art Garfunkel is, think Larry from the Three Stooges when envisioning Arena's red hair. BTW, I'm not saying Syl is stooge-like. I'm just providing a visual reference point.

I think Syl is a terrific photographer. He's also a witty and entertaining writer and blogger. But I can't completely agree with SeƱor Arena on this one. While shadows can play an incredibly important part in making interesting photos, I don't feel I have to create interesting shadows to make interesting light. Highlights can be equally important in creating interesting light. Sometimes, they do more than simply creating interesting light. Certainly, when it comes to glamour photography. When shooting glam, highlights are often more important than shadows.

When I'm shooting beautiful and sexy women for glam and tease shots, I always pay attention to shadows. Sometimes, I even go out of my way to create cool shadows, especially if I'm going for mood and drama with my pics. More often than not, however, I'm paying more attention to the highlights. Highlights can create every bit as much interest in a photo as shadows might create. They also can say as much about a photographer's skillful use of light as shadows do.

We all know the brightest parts of a photo draws viewers' eyes and tend to grab their attention. Often, highlights are some of the brightest parts of a photo. That's why I don't simply use highlights to edge a model (i.e., to pop her or separate her from the background) or to add generic visual interest, I also use them to draw viewers' eyes to parts of the model that are important in terms of glamour and tease shots. Granted, some of those body parts I might highlight are, on their own, parts of the model which will automatically draw viewers' attention. Especially when the viewers are guys. (Yeah, you know what parts I'm talking about.) Still, I think it's generally effective to further highlight those obvious attention-grabbing parts of a female model's anatomy.

For me, the use of highlights, just like shadows, are equally important techniques I might utilize to make almost any photo more visually appealing. As photographers, shadows can be your friends. Sometimes, your best friends. But highlights ain't exactly chopped liver.

BTW, if you want to know where and when you can learn more about Syl Arena's take on the importance of shadows for creating interesting light, CLICK HERE. (Pssst... Don't tell B&H you heard about this from me. Those B&H folks have big "issues" with blogs that feature scantily-clad and/or naked models. That's why they 86'd me from being one of their sales affiliates. )

The sexy girl at the top is Rebecca. It was an interesting shoot as Rebecca didn't speak much English and I don't speak much Spanish. I used a lot of improvisational sign language and pantomime to direct her. You should'a seen me demonstrating that pose she's striking in the pic. Talk about comedy!

I think the pic is a decent example of using both shadow *and* highlight to enhance visual interest and create interesting lighting. Course, the fact that Rebecca is a hottie and wearing very little also helps the visual interest. BTW, the photo is not a natural-light, window-lit, shot. Except for some ambient daylight courtesy of an overhead skylight, the lighting is artificial.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What Came Before

A Midwest friend of mine gave a presentation at a local photography workshop the other day. The workshop was focused on shooting models: glamour, fashion, and more. Prior to his presentation, he had emailed me his fairly detailed outline covering the topics he was planning to speak about. For the most part, it was Photography 101.

"What level of photographers will be there?" I asked after having a look at his outline.

"Mostly beginners and novices and maybe a few intermediates," he said.

I made a couple of suggestions, mostly that he shit-can those parts of his outline which, I thought, seemed to get into way too much minutiae. (Think stuff like Ansel Adams' Zone System and more.) Anyway, my suggestions weren't anything major. Overall, it was a very well thought-out outline.

My friend tells me his presentation went very well. He had also prepared some hand-outs to go along with his words. In the handouts, he listed some suggested reading material. He was nice enough to include my e-books in his suggestions. One of the attendees mentioned he had already purchased my book, Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography. The person told my friend (who then told me) that he had printed the e-book out and that he liked it so much he read it twice. Twice! That's the kind of compliment all writers love hearing!

During my friend's presentation, he mentioned a few iconic photographers. Specifically, photographers noted for their pictures of women. George Hurrel and Helmut Newton were two he mentioned. To my friend's surprise (and to mine as well after he told me about this) not a single photographer in the room had ever heard of Hurrel or Newton.

Wow. Just wow.

"And these were a bunch of new-ish, but serious, photographers hoping to learn about pretty girl shooting?" I asked.

"Yep," my friend told me.

Throughout most of my childhood, I spent a lot of time living and breathing baseball. (Much like so many other boys.) Each year, I could hardly wait till baseball season arrived because it meant two things: 1) I would be playing on a youth team and, later, on a high school age team and 2) my beloved New York Yankees would return to the field wreaking some serious havoc in the American League and, hopefully, come the Fall, in the series.

Almost as soon as I began my love affair with baseball, I realized I wanted to know everything about it. Not just how to play the game, but it's history and more. Sure, players I idolized -- players like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Roger Maris and more -- were in the current line-ups. But I also wanted to know about many of baseball's greats. Especially, of course, Yankee greats. From Ruth to Gehrig to DiMaggio and more, I soaked up all I could about my new-found heroes from baseball's past. I'm not just talking about stats and the records they achieved. I also wanted to learn how the greats played the game. You see, even at a young age I came to understand the importance of learning something about, make that a lot about, what came before in baseball; including whatever I could learn about how the greatest players became so great. (Through their skills and abilities and more, that is.)

Baseball may be worlds apart from photography but the importance of studying and trying to learn from those who came before is as true for photography as it is for baseball. For those of you who are serious about your photography, it's not enough to simply learn the "how-to" steps to better pictures. It's not enough to learn why you should do certain things or when you should do them. It's equally important to learn from, and study, what came before. And the best way to do that is to study the work of the greatest photographers who came before. Certainly, those of them who are well-known for shooting whatever it is, whatever genres, you might be most interested in shooting.

I'm not saying your work should mimic the work of those who came before. (Although there's lots to learn from attempting to do so.) But there's nothing wrong with letting that work influence your work. In fact, I doubt you can avoid having it do so. Besides, your work is probably already influenced by the work of others whether you realize it or not. And don't feel like that's a bad thing. It's not! It never has been. Much of the history of great art, from painting to sculpture to music to literature and, yes, even to photography, is built on artists being influenced, often heavily influenced, by other artists who came before them.

The pretty girl at the top goes by the name Ash. (Click pic to enlarge it. Right-click and open to enlarge it even more.) Obviously, it's a high-key shot. I used a 46" Photek Softliter for my main with a Lumopro Lite Panel for fill. I also used a couple of small, shoot-thru umbrellas, either side from behind, for highlights.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Capturing Motion With Motion

Photographer Vincent Versace once said, "A still photograph is called a still photograph because the picture doesn’t move, not because the objects in the pictures are not in motion.” Versace added, “The photographer's mission, should he decide to accept it, is to capture motion with stillness."

Conversely, photographers shooting video need to adapt to capturing motion with motion when shooting video. I know it sounds simple, even similar. And, in many ways, it is. But in many other ways it's not.

With all their similarities, even if you're using the same camera to capture stills and/or video, the two are as different as they are the same.

I wrote a bit about the differences and similarities between still picture production and motion picture production in my latest e-book, Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography. I didn't write about them in the "how-to" sort of way. The book isn't a "how-to" book. Instead, I discussed them in more aesthetic ways. There's plenty of "how" available on the subject. There's somewhat less regarding "why?"

While it might seem a book about portrait photography is an unlikely place to include anything about shooting video, the recent convergence of stills and video obliged me to do so. Fortunately, I've been shooting video since the late 70s. That's about as long as I've been a photographer; a paid photographer, that is. My video shooting experiences have also been, for the most part, paid experiences. So, I felt I have enough professional background in both photography and videography to write about both and to compare the two.

In one of the chapters of my e-book, a chapter titled, "Good Photography Speaks With Silence," I related an experience I had working with an accomplished photographer. He was a guy (now deceased, RIP) who had spent many years as a staff photographer for a quite famous magazine aimed, principally, at men. It was his first time trying his hand at shooting video. He did so employing the same sort of beautiful and sexy women he had photographed for print. I was editing the project for him.

When we first began in the editing room, he was quite proud of the way he lit and composed his models. He lit and composed them much the same way he had lit and composed so many models before. He was all smiles when we first began viewing the clips... until the models moved.

Somehow, I think he half-expected the same beautiful lighting he worked hard to create and the artful composition he used to initially frame his models would magically follow them as they moved about his set. Obviously, it doesn't work that way. He asked if I thought, once some sexy music was added to the sound track, it would make up for the failure of his lighting and photographic composition to follow his models around. He wasn't heartened by my answer. I don't want to sound like the man was stupid or that he had unreal expectations. Neither was true. There were simply too many variables he didn't take into account due to his inexperience shooting video versus his experience shooting stills. His sharp eye for detail, razor sharp from working so many years as a photographer, meant he began noticing the problems almost instantly even though it was his first time shooting video.

Making a successful transition from stills to video isn't simply about making changes to lighting and the way you compose your frames. Obviously, those things will also have to change in some ways but there's a lot more to it than that. If you hope to be successful making the stills-to-video transition, you're going to have to go back to school. I'm not necessarily talking about attending an actual school, but you're going to have to school yourselves, or get schooled, in the many differences between shooting kick-ass photos and shooting kick-ass video.

Shooting stills includes much about learning to capture motion with stillness. Shooting video includes much about learning to capture motion with motion. Some, make that more than a few, of the same skills apply. But you're going to need to learn new skills you've likely never used before when you're shooting video. Leastwise, if you want to do it well.

The pretty girl at the top is Jenna. (Click it to enlarge it.) I snapped it in a studio in North Hollywood. Used three lights: 5' Photoflex Octa for my main. Couple of strips boxes, either side, for some edge lighting. I probably had a reflector also in use. I often do to provide a bit of fill.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Knowledge is Power

The famous English author and philosopher, Sir Francis Bacon, coined the term, "Knowledge is power." Sir Francis wasn't a photographer. Hell, there were no photographers back in the 16th century. Photography had yet to exist. But Sir Francis' phrase is well applied to the art and science of snapping photos.

Try as modern cameras might, and no matter how automated they become, powerful photography will remain a product of knowledge, not gear.

Sure, there are other factors beyond knowledge. Stuff like creativity and imagination are critical components to powerful photography. And yes, the right gear often goes a long way towards creating photos which resonate in powerful ways with viewers. But knowledge remains, as always, the primary key to powerful photographs.

I don't care how creative someone might be. I don't care how high-end their gear might be. If they don't have the knowledge to transform their creative visions with that gear, the photos they're hoping to create will not result unless Lady Luck smiles on them. Personally, I've never counted on Lady Luck to help me make my photographs.

More than a few people, that is, those who call themselves photographers these days, seem to count heavily on gear and luck to achieve good, if not great, photos. I don't really blame those folks. Equipment manufacturers and their marketing teams have been working overtime to convince the masses that good photography is a product of gear, their gear, rather than knowledge. A more recent term, certainly much more recent than Sir Francis Bacon's "Knowledge is power" quip, is "no brainer."

I don't know about any of you but, when it comes to my photography, I prefer not to think that what I'm doing is no brainer. I'm fairly proud of my brain. I don't know what I'd do without it. The term, "no brainer," seems to infer I don't need my brain. When it comes to things like photography and my ability to use and apply my brain, not merely some camera's computer chip, is something I take pride in. And what would my brain be without knowledge? Not much more than a computer chip regulating the functions of my body.

It's the knowledge packed in my brain which allows me to use my brain in photographically creative ways. If photographers don't need knowledge packed into their brains, everyone and anyone could be a photographer. I think, in fact, we've been seeing more than a little of that these days.

While it's true anyone can snap a picture, even a baby if their finger finds itself pressed to a shutter button, snapping terrific pictures requires brains loaded with some amount of photographic knowledge stored in them. Unfortunately, these days, there's plenty of people calling themselves photographers -- worse yet, some of them calling themselves professional photographers -- who are seriously lacking in much actual knowledge of photography. Instead, they count on no brainer gear and, I guess, luck and/or dim clients to achieve the results they're hoping for.

My advice? Anyone serious about photography should seriously strive to pack as much photography knowledge into their brains as possible. I'm not talking about knowledge resulting from questions like, "What's the best camera or lens?" I'm talking about knowledge that goes way beyond that: The kind of knowledge that serves photographers in ways that consistently helps them shoot terrific pics even if they might be using the worst camera or lens... if that makes sense.

Knowledge is power.

Knowledge makes better photographs.

Knowledge makes the photographer; gear doesn't.

The gratuitous, freckle-faced eye candy at the top is Faye. (Click it to enlarge.) I snapped this one in some sort of procedure room just down the hall from the old morgue in the basement of an abandoned hospital in East Los Angeles. It was kind of creepy down there. Snapped it with my Canon 5D w/ a 24-105 f/4 L mounted and zoomed in to 70mm . Shot at ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 100th. I used three lights: Main light modified with a Photoflex 5' Octa and a couple of kickers, either side, using small shoot-thru umbrellas. The shiny tiled wall made controlling specular reflections on it a bit tough but, you know, knowledge stored in my brain helped me out a bit in doing so.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

How Well Does Your Photographic Memory Lie?

Some people claim to have photographic memories. I'm often amused by this statement. As a photographer, I'm well aware that photographs lie. If photographs lie and routinely misrepresent the truth, why should photographic memories be trusted?

Photographer David LaChapelle once said, "People say photographs don't lie. Mine do." I'm happy to say mine do too. I totally endorse LaChappelle's words. Personally, I have no problem, none whatsoever, admitting to the lies, deceit, exaggerations and misrepresentations of the truth contained in most of my photography. While I'm not a surrealist photographer like LaChappelle is -- most of us probably aren't-- I still used LaChapelle's simple yet insightful words as one of my chapter headings for my latest e-book, Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography.

The freedom to lie with our photography, especially glamour and other forms of portraiture, is probably the single most important aspect of our work. Lies enables us to make photographs that are more memorable: Portraits that resonate with viewers in the ways we intend them. Lies might not be a positive trait for people in general but, in many areas of photography and for many photographers, it is. It's a very important and positive trait. In fact, I'd say it's a required trait.

When it comes to glamour, fashion, beauty, and other types of portrait photography, as well as more than a few other genres, the better a photograph lies, the better the photograph. I'm not talking, for the most part, about big whopping lies. (Although big whopping lies can sometimes be effective and work well too.) Big whopping lies don't usually make for portraits that achieve the photograph's intent. Rather, I'm talking about small lies and exaggerations of the truth; the lies in a photograph which are often lies of omission. After all, in photographs we don't see the whole picture. We only see a limited, rectangular or square view or portion of the big picture. As photographers, we let others see only what we want them to see and in ways we want them to see it. What we want others to see includes all kinds of lies of omission and exaggerations or misrepresentations of the truth. I wrote a fair amount about this in Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography.

Besides saying someone has a photographic memory, photographic memories are also words used to describe photography itself. Kodak built most of it's marketing strategies on the idea of photographs being the tangible equivalents to memories. A photograph is, after all, a remembrance of a time already gone: A picture reflecting a tiny fraction of a second depicting some past moment. With photography, we both document and re-create the past while photographing in the present. This might all sound very philosophical but, I think, good photographers should, besides being creative and skillful, be philosophical about photography. Being that way helps us better understand what we're doing, as well as becoming more effective and accomplished whenever we raise cameras to our eyes.

The pretty girl at the top is my friend Jamie from a few years back. Jamie wasn't really pursuing modeling as a career of any sort. She just enjoyed getting in front of the camera occasionally. I love having attractive women like that as friends! I was playing around with some yellow and red gels and snapped this one of Jaimie straddling my pal, Rick's, orange Kawasaki.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Choosing Who You Learn From

A few years ago, I allowed myself to get sucked into a rather heated debate in a Model Mayhem forum. It quickly became me versus some arrogant asshole of a commercial photographer from Chicago. I don't remember his name so, if you're curious, I can't provide it. (Not that I would anyway.) Besides, I can't remember half the names of the gorgeous models I've shot, I'm certainly not going to remember some jerk's name from an internet forum. He was, as I recall, a very active, long-time, MM member. His photography, I'll readily admit, was quite good and he was looked up to by many other photographers on that site.

The thread had to do with the (then) current state of professional photography from the perspective of career opportunities for photographers-- both new photographers and already established photographers. My position was the industry was shrinking rapidly and there were fewer opportunities than in recent memory. Leastwise, regarding more than a few photo genres. His basic position, since it seemed he had not yet felt a decline in his personal workload, was that the problems, if any, were the photographers themselves: Those having problems getting work simply didn't have the chops to be pros, regardless of skill or ability.

According to him, there were as many opportunities as ever for commercial photographers, editorial photographers, fashion, beauty, and glam shooters, and others. Also, according to him, it didn't much matter if there were many more photographers competing and vying for the work that was available. "The cream always rises to the top!" he announced. He then added something about photographers whose work wasn't cream-like should pursue other careers because those people were, rightfully, shit out of luck.

I don't know about any of you but I've seem more than a little less-than-creamy work coming from some very successful and continually working photographers. I've also seen some absolutely stellar work from photographers who couldn't manage to get themselves hired to sweep out a photo-booth at a kid's arcade.

Quickly, the Windy City photographer ran out of evidence to support his contentions. Mostly, because he had none. All he had to go on was what he was experiencing in his own, private little world of photography. At that point, he resorted to name-calling and trying to convince others that whatever I had to say had zero relevance due to the content of my work, i.e., because I mostly shoot glam and tease and naked women.

His change in approach backfired on him. Instead of scoring allies, even from those who were, up to that point, kind of agreeing with him, he ended up alienating himself from many of the photographers participating in the forum thread. (It was Model Mayhem, after all. A site mostly aimed at pretty girl shooters of all sorts.) Abruptly, the guy quit MM and canceled his long-time account. Personally, I didn't feel at all sorry for his sorry ass. He took the coward's way out in my opinion. Undoubtedly, he was once one of those kids who took his ball and went home when he didn't like something that took place in a game.

Flash forward and here we are: It's a few years later and it seems many opportunities for photographers have melted away faster than the ice caps. This, in spite of global-warming as well as today's "photography as a highly rewarding business is in deep Bandini" deniers. I guess both Mother Nature and today's realities of the photo-biz climate have a way of ignoring lies, bullshit, and denials.

Sure, if you're shooting weddings or families and events, or a few other genres, there's still work. Perhaps plenty of it. To score much of it, though, most photographers will have to seriously cut their asking prices. I'm not talking about everyone. I'm merely addressing about 80% or so of the folks pursuing photography as some sort of a career, myself included. There are still those doing quite well and charging hefty rates. I'm guessing those folks and/or their rates are also melting away, although that's purely speculative. I don't shoot those things.

On the other hand, it's been and continues to be an incredibly exciting time for hobbyists! All the advances in photo-technologies, from the gear to software to learning opportunities, have been and continue to be positively awesome! The learning curve has been dramatically flattened by many of those technologies and photographers with less and less real experience are often able to put out work that rivals people who have been doing the same sort of work for many years. Again, myself included.

There are a few things, however, I find curious. As you probably know, there are now plenty of successful and talented photographers writing how-to books and putting on workshops and seminars. Never before have so many novice photographers had so many opportunities to learn from the pros. Course, if you're wondering why so many successful pros are suddenly sharing their secrets, you only have to go back to my forum debate with the jerk from Chicago.

If you believe many of these successful shooters are suddenly rubbing elbows with all the newbies because they suddenly woke up one day feeling like they needed to become some sort of altruistic guru, you're wrong. A decline in available work has hit them hard as well. It's not that they have no work of the sort they spent most of their careers shooting. It's that a substantial amount of the available work they once relied on has also receded like the ice caps. And what work there is for them often pays less. Too often, significantly less.

As a result of all these newly-minted mentors and gurus, I have some advice: If you're seeking to learn from the well-known guys -- and this, in some ways, goes back to my previous post about vetting e-book authors -- you might want to, in specific ways, vet the photographers who have written the books or are hosting the workshops you plan to spend your money learning from. I'm not talking about vetting them in terms of their so-called sense of morality or other crap like that, as discussed in my previous update, but in terms of other qualifications: Their genre-specific qualifications.

Here's an example: Just because someone is a rather well-known nature photographer, it doesn't suddenly mean they know much about shooting portraiture-- glam, fashion, editorial, or other sub-genres. Sure, they know the gear. They also know something about lighting. And they know much of the technical stuff. But that's mostly all they know in terms of genres outside of what they normally shoot or have shot for most of their photo lives. Someone who is a successful and often published nature photographer probably knows little about working with and shooting models. Even if, believe it or not, they write a book or suddenly begin conducting workshops on the subject. I'm not naming names but I see more and more well-known photographers from other genres acting like they are experienced at shooting genres they, frankly, barely know squat about. (Not that they'll admit that.)

Yes, part of the reason I'm writing this update is self-serving. I am, besides being a long-time photographer, also a photography book writer. But I haven't written any books that don't specifically target the genres of photography I know best. Genres I've worked in for many, many years.

In the world of photography, my name is far from being a household word. But in the world of pretty girl photography, I've shot more models than most or that most will ever shoot: Literally, a few thousand of them. Certainly many, many, many more than most of the guys who have shot umpteen covers for Outdoor Photographer magazine. BTW, if you don't think many of my clients aren't as picky and as tough to please as the photo editors at Outdoor Photographer, you are sadly mistaken. That aside, I'm pretty sure after shooting so many beautiful and sexy women, and shooting them in so many ways in in so many places, I might know a thing or two about doing so. If I don't, I'm either a complete moron or I have a severe learning disability.

All I'm saying is if you're of a mind to learn, learn from those who know a lot about what it is you specifically want to learn, and not from those who know something else best but suddenly have proclaimed themselves, by words or actions, experts in areas of photography where, frankly, they barely know shit. And yes, I'm a bit annoyed with some of those folks. In my mind, they're simply trying to fool people, trading on their skills and notoriety in one area and trying to play them off like they really know what they're doing or talking about in another. I call bullshit on that! Just because someone is an expert in one type of photography, they're not experts in all types.

Ok. I feel better getting some of this stuff off my chest. If you want to learn something about shooting glamour and you're up for learning some of it from an e-book on the subject, I suggest you purchase my e-book, Guerrilla Glamour, or some other e-book authored by someone who has actually shot tons of glamour for a very long time. Someone who knows, from oodles of experience, WTF they're talking about. I'm not claiming I'm the only one who knows what they're talking about with glamour. I'm certainly not. I'm merely trying to share some straight-up and sensible advice for choosing who you might learn from for any specific type of photography.

It seems the model at the top whom I chose to accompany this lengthy rant update is one whose name I do remember: Paris. I shot Paris in my studio on a gray seamless with my 33.5" Mola "Euro" beauty dish for a main light and a couple of medium, Chimera strip boxes, either side from behind, to "edge" her and separate her from the background. There probably was also a white board reflector involved.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Vetting e-Book Authors

I'm always on the prowl for potentially lucrative affiliates for my e-books. I'm not complaining about the sales of my e-books, I've done fairly well with them, but I know those sales could be much greater if I could get my books in front of more people. Web marketing is about reaching a big audience. Not just in terms of numbers of people, it needs to be a specifically targeted big audience. People don't buy things, potentially interested in them or not, that they're unaware of. D'uh, right?

Most of the time, when I send an email of inquiry to a potential affiliate -- someone or some site I believe could generate significant sales -- I'm ignored. I've spoken with other e-book authors and they say they regularly experience the same thing.

Just the other day, I sent an inquiry to a fairly well-known site that pimps more than a few e-books, books, and other photography training and education media. They wrote me back. (I did appreciate not being ignored, BTW.) But in their response they cited the content of one of my books, Guerrilla Glamour, as not being appropriate for some of their site's visitors and, because of that, they felt they must decline.

"No problem," I told them in a follow-up email. I have two other e-books, Guerrilla Headshots and Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography, and both of them are "G" rated and would be a perfect fit (and should be no problem) for anyone on their mailing list.

"Well," they told me, "The problem is we Googled your name and email address and a number of the "hits" were flagged by Google for content inappropriate for children and some others.

I politely responded that Disney produces "R-rated" movies (and has for some time) and that simple fact doesn't seem to effect the marketability and sales of their traditional "G-rated" children's fare. I'm sure there's a few people who began boycotting Disney once Walt's company got into the "R-rated" markets but I stress the words, "few people."

Although they admitted they could probably sell a ton of my "G" rated e-books to the tens of thousands of people on their mailing list, they still told me, "Thanks but no thanks." According to them, they didn't want to risk any of their people Googling me and discovering links with "content problems" attached to some of the results of such searches.

Obviously, their business is their business. They can choose to support or not support anyone they want and for any reason they deem appropriate. It's a free country, right? Well, it's sorta free, at least it used to be, but you get my drift.

I am, however, rather bemused that someone or some site might not support "G-rated" photography books because the author has written an "R-rated" photography book. I could name off any number of books authored by high-profile photographers which include plenty of not-for-kids or not-for-church-ladies content. Would they, the site I was going back and forth with, turn down a book by a successful contemporary photographer like Michael Grecco, as an example? How about one by an iconic fashion shooter like Helmut Newton? I'm certainly not putting myself in the company of those two great photographers in terms of their successes, but I think the comparison is still valid. Significant amounts of nude and/or erotic work are part of those two photographers' resumes.

I also question how many of a website's followers or subscribers would actually take the time to research an author on the chance he or she might have written other things or, in the case of photography, shot stuff that doesn't fit into their personal, tidy, moralistic view of what's right or wrong? I don't know about you, but when I purchase books, books of any sort, I don't do background checks on the authors. Authors don't need to be vetted for me to want to read their books or look at other work they may have done. For whatever reasons I might buy a book, any book, the author's personal sense of morality, supposedly represented by portions of their work or history, or his or her background isn't on any of my lists of reasons to buy or not to buy a book. Maybe I'm just unique that way? (Although I think not.)

The pretty girl at the top is one of my favorite models to work with, Faye Reagan. We were shooting in a loft in downtown L.A. I used the sunlight coming through the big bank of windows plus a reflector and an HMI to light her.