Thursday, March 31, 2011

Headshot Tips

I know, I know, this is a blog about glamour and tease photography, not headshots. But I did author an ebook on shooting headshots, Guerrilla Headshots, and I did so because I've shot more than a few of them over the years.

The photo on the left is my ex. It's a scan of a photo I snapped of her, circa 1980, in my garage/studio and processed and printed in my little home darkroom.

Kathlyn, my ex, was pursuing an acting career back then and decided she needed an "evil bitch" shot to add to her portfolio. Unfortunately, the acting career didn't go as hoped. Today, she's a dean of a high school. She's also a psychologist and family therapist with a small practice. (Somewhat to my occasional annoyance, I seem to remain her favorite person to "shrink." But that's not part of this update.)


I thought I'd share some shooting tips for those of you who did not read my Guerrilla Headshots ebook but are interested in headshot photography. Remember, I'm talking about headshots, i.e., those mostly used by performers and business people and others to put their faces in front of others. It's portraiture but it's a different sort of portraiture, one with specific goals: usually to get the subject hired for something or to help sell the subject's products or services or talents or whatever.

1. Backgrounds and Locations: Avoid backgrounds or locations that compete with the subject. Avoid environments that are cluttered, are busy, or might somehow “upstage” the person featured in the headshot. Backgrounds should compliment but should never distract.

2. Props: While props might sometimes be something the subject prefers to use, they should generally be avoided. More often than not, props compete-with and distract from the subject's face and the intent or purpose of the image.

3. Wardrobe: Much the way props and locations can be distracting, so can a person's wardrobe. Wardrobe generally works better when it's closer to neutral in terms of colors and patterns and, to some extent, style. Wild, outrageous, or overly trendy attire also risks being distracting. Fad wardrobe can become quickly dated. While wardrobe can speak eloquently and can sometimes send a desired message to the photo's viewers, it should not compete with the subject for the viewer's attention nor should it be (for most of the headshots you'll probably be shooting) more interesting or dynamic than the subjects themselves. That's certainly not the case for most fashion photography but headshots are not fashion shots.

4. Use the Rule of Thirds: You don't have to use it in obvious ways but subtle nods to this compositional element is often a great idea, adding value and interest to your photos!

5. Be Aware of Symmetry: You might have to make posing adjustments to balance the symmetry in a person's face. You might also exploit asymmetry to add tension and, consequently, more interest in a photo. Remember the equation, Symmetry = Beauty. Since many of your subjects will wish to be photographed in ways that make them appear as beautiful or as handsome as they can be, S = B is a formula that might help you accomplish that.

6. Take Advantage of the Power of Diagonal Lines and Shapes: Lines are the most powerful element of design and diagonal lines are the strongest of the strong. That holds true for shapes as well. A canted camera, that is, shooting with Dutch angles, can also add diagonal dimensions to your headshots. Those diagonals, while not competing with the subject, can increase general interest in your photos and help direct viewers' eyes to where you want them to go: directly to your subject's face.

7. Consider Perspective When Shooting: Consider whether it makes most sense, aesthetically and from the perspective of the “message” the headshot hopes to convey, where you should be shooting from: From below, at equal eye-level, or even from above. For the most part, avoid extreme angles when shooting headshots.

8. Use Easy-to-Employ Lighting Gear Whenever Possible: Unless you're a high-priced pro (I'm not one, by the way, but wish I were) you probably won't be shooting headshots with assistants helping you. Don't allow gear, i.e., more equipment than you need, to multiply difficulty beyond necessity either in its deployment or use. Unless I'm shooting in the luxury of a studio, I try my best to keep my lighting-gear use to one-light or sometimes two. Better yet, if I'm shooting in exterior daylight and I'm able to get by simply employing a single reflector or a single lighting instrument, coupled with direct and ambient sunlight, that's the approach I'll try to take. When it comes to lighting gear for headshots, less can be more.

9. Call on Classic Portrait Styles: Learn the classic portrait lighting styles and how to create them, but don't let the classic nature of those portrait styles trump a contemporary “feel” and “look” to your headshot images. A subtle use, rather than obvious use, of classic portrait-lighting is generally preferable. There's classic for the ages and there's classic for today.

10. Low-Key vs. High-Key: For many headshots, lighting that approaches high-key or is high-key often seems preferable. That's certainly not always true but, often enough, it seems that way. Shooting high-key is not to say you should be photographing your subjects in front of a white or bright background. I'm talking about a reduction in contrast and shadow on subjects' faces for the purposes of the headshot. Low-Key lighting can be used effectively as well but, generally, low-key sometimes seems overly formal or artsy (headshot-wise) and might create unintentional downbeat moods.

11. Go Easy on the Post-Processing and Retouching: How much post-processing and retouching you apply to your images says much about you as a photographer-- more so now in the digital age than ever before. Many photographers' personal styles are built almost entirely on processing techniques. Still, I suggest resisting the urge to be heavy-handed when processing and retouching headshots. While there's a time and place for highly stylized work and utilizing less seen post-production techniques, most of your clients want headshots that reflect their appearances in ways that remain within the boundaries of reality and believability. Excessive processing can create suspicion: Suspicion amongst viewers of the headshot. Suspicion that they're looking at a photo that doesn't honestly reflect the subject's true appearance. Yes, help your clients look as good as they can but don't process and retouch their headshots to the point they no longer appear like themselves. Remember that skin looks like skin! It doesn't resemble the kinds of synthetic materials often used as “skin” on toys and dolls or in the manufacture of plastic trash bags.

Here's another scan of a print of my ex from way back in the day. This one casts her in a friendlier and nicer way.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New eBook Coming Soon

I've been working on another ebook. This time out, it's a very different kind of ebook, certainly much different from the two I've already authored and released. This one is called, "Zen and the Art of Glamour Photography."

Yeah, I'm obviously borrowing inspiration (leastwise, title wise) from Robert Pirsig's 1974 best-seller, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." Pirsig, of course, likely borrowed his title from Eugen Herrigel's popular 1948 book, “Zen in the Art of Archery." And Herrigel likely borrowed his title from, uhhh... well from many writings by practitioners of Zen. So I don't feel as if I'm plagiarizing.

My new ebook has nothing to do with motorcycle maintenance (not that Persig's did either, at least in a big way.) Nor is it about bows and arrows or using archery as metaphor. In fact, this new book has little, if anything, to do with the actual practice of Zen... other than in terms of seeking enlightenment. In this case, photographic enlightenment.

I'm not writing this book in a way that attempts to set myself up as some sort of photo guru or photographic leader on the path to that enlightenment. I am, however, relying on the words of more than a few people who were gurus in the world of photography. People like Avedon and Arbus, Cartier-Bresson and Adams, Eisenstaedt, Feininger, Steichen, Newton and more.

What I'm doing is using the insightful words and ideas spoken by many true masters of photography and then, with those words and ideas in mind, sharing my personal photography experiences and thoughts and ideas in ways that, hopefully, will underscore and validate the words of the masters. I also hope the book will provide more than a few modern-day insights into the many ways photographers might approach their work.

The ebook's focus is mostly on glamour photography, more so than other genres, because that's what I've shot most and know best. But I think photographers who pursue almost any genre might benefit from this book when it's complete. I know I'm benefiting simply by writing it: it's forcing me to put some things in perspective that I might not have consciously thought about or integrated into my photography. Positive things. Possibly game changing things. I should note I'm working to keep the text light and sometimes humorous because I think that's what people expect from me, writing wise, and, more importantly, it's mostly how I roll. This new ebook is more than half-way complete, btw.

Here's a few extracts from the book's intro. Maybe this will give you a better idea of the territories I'm covering in this new ebook:

"The masters of photography, those of whom I've quoted in this book, weren't necessarily speaking directly to all the subjects I'll be covering in this text. Nor were they likely thinking their words might apply to more universal themes. Still, their wisdom rings clear, providing perceptive insights into the many genres of photography and, occasionally, to life itself. Such is the way, I suppose, when true masters speak."

Here's another paragraph excerpted from the book's introduction:

"The chapters of this ebook do not include photographic techniques or lighting diagrams. They don't include gear suggestions or “how-to” tutorials. Instead, they attempt to discover some aesthetic, philosophical, and enlightening truths about this thing we do, this photography thing. I've expressed my version of these truths through personal experiences, observations, and with my opinions. I hope these truths, if truths they be, spark some level of enlightenment within you, helping you integrate into your photographic life the lessons I'm attempting to share and, consequently, help you achieve greater success in all your photography endeavors."

I'm guessing this new ebook won't be for everyone. For starters, it includes no pictures and, as mentioned in the intro extract I just copied and pasted, no lighting diagrams, how-to stuff, or gear touts. But hey! There's no shortage of books that do that! I've even written a few of them and I'm planning to write a few more of those types of photography ebooks. (One of them, already outlined in fact, I plan to begin shooting custom photos for in the next few weeks or so.)

What "Zen and the Art of Glamour Photography" will do, at least I hope it will, is arm you with ideas and insights, photography philosophies and different, more thoughtful ways of approaching your work: ways you might not have previously considered and which might spark a personal renaissance of sorts in your work. We can all use a personal, artistic renaissance once in a while, right? I know I'm long overdue for one.

The three, gratuitous, half-naked, pretty girls at the top (click to enlarge) are (from l. to r.) Ally, Layla, and Ariana. The pic is from a shoot a couple of months ago.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Chi Factor in Collaborating

Photographing models is a collaborative effort. (D'uh.) The collaboration can be between as few as two people, model and photographer, or might be a team effort between a photographer, a model, MUAs, art directors, stylists, assistants, graphic artists and retouchers, as well as clients all collaborating to produce great images.

It's true that photographers get the lion's share of the credit for those images. It's much the same way with motion pictures where most of the credit goes to the director even though so many others were involved: writers, actors, producers, plus a vast array of technical and crafts people.

The Chinese word Ch'i or qi (pronounced "chee" so I'll spell it, "chi") refers to the natural energy of the Universe. While practitioners and proponents of chi might be as diverse as acupuncturists and New Age spiritualists, a key component of chi is harmony. Harmony, as you're probably aware, is often a key element for successful collaborations, including those between photographers, models, and other artists and crafts people.

While it's sometimes easy to think of models as simply subjects (even props) used by photographers to help fulfill their photographic visions -- I'm sometimes guilty of that myself -- subordinating models to that status risks losing the potential of chi (think "harmony") and its impact on producing excellent work. Even inexperienced, first-time models can be valuable team players contributing to a photographer's (and the images') success.

The ancient Chinese sage who came up with the concept of "chi" probably wasn't thinking about photography when contemplating chi but some of the tenets of chi still apply. If you're a photographer and you're leading a team, you should also be working to create harmony amongst that team, that is, working in ways that allows chi and harmony to manifest itself in the process. It can be key to producing awesome photos of models.

How can you, the photographer, promote harmony?
I write a lot about the importance of developing rapport with models. But models aren't the only people you should be developing rapport with when there are more than just you and the model involved in the process. Simply acknowledging the positive contributions of other members of the team can go a long way towards encouraging those people to apply themselves harder (and in more successful) ways to the end result. Listening to suggestions is another way of doing this. That's not to say always incorporating those suggestions is a good idea, it's your vision after all and how you realize it is (or is not) likely going to be (mostly) by your way. That's also not to say you should give away your role as the team's leader. But letting other people know that you consider them valuable assets, even when it comes to their suggestions, even when those suggestions aren't practical or workable or likely to produce the result you're looking for is a good idea for helping to maintain working harmony.

Treating those on your team as important contributors to the overall effort, rather than a bunch of minions or servile pairs-of-hands, can yield very positive results.

Sorry for going all "New Age" on everyone today. For some reason, I'm craving a cup of warm green tea and a bowl of rice for lunch.

The pretty girl at the top is Tara from a shoot about a month or so ago. (Click to enlarge.) She can have chi (and tea) with me any time she'd like.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Stupid Models Rock!

Stupid models rock! I'm not talking about models who are stupid, I'm talking about models who get stupid in front of the camera... although probably not in the way you might think I'm saying.

I get asked, often enough, about working with inexperienced models. To be sure, they can be a challenge. Even those of them who are so drop-dead gorgeous that you (are I) might think, "How can anyone screw up snapping a pic of a goddess like this?" (Assuming the photo is close to being properly exposed and in focus.)

The truth is, while there will always be some viewers who could care less about any element of a pretty girl's photos other than the "goods" being displayed by the pretty girl herself, they are not the only audience I'm hoping to reach with my glamour and tease photography. I'll bet lots of you are reaching beyond that group with your pretty girl photography as well.

I am, of course, talking about the more subtle elements of glamour and tease photography: pose, expression, attitude, and more. Those are the things that often separate sexy snapshots from engaging glamour and erotic photos. Add to those elements things like lighting, style, environment, makeup, and more and you're on the way to snapping some really great glam and tease shots.

But let's get back to the posing and expressing and that sort of stuff. When models are new or less experienced, that stuff can be a challenge for them to "nail it" and/or for you to help them "nail it."

Obviously, the more you, the photographer, knows about what makes for good poses and expressions and such, the better your chances are of helping the model achieve good poses and expressions and such. Often, what's standing in the way of inexperienced models "nailing it," beyond a simple lack of knowledge and skill, is insecurity. They simply don't want to look stupid. (Because those poses and expressions make them feel stupid when they're doing them.) So they often are unwilling to let it go, get in the groove, drop their inhibitions, and strike poses and expressions and attitudes that makes for winning shots. (No Charlie Sheen pun intended.)

Fortunately, a newbie model's concerns about feeling and looking stupid can be your secret weapon! In other words, your weapon becomes helping her embrace feeling stupid and using those feelings of feeling stupid to own the poses and expressions that make her feel that way... if that makes sense.

I've said this many times: building rapport with models is a huge part of snapping great glamour and tease pics. When I sense a model is holding back because A) she's inexperienced and doesn't really know what to do and B) she's insecure and C) she's feeling stupid when she poses or engages in those model-like poses and expressions and attitudes, I encourage her to really go all out, that is, to go over the top with the poses and expressions that are making her feel stupid. In other words, to really get stupid in front of my camera! (BTW, they rarely will go too far over the top because, after all, the poses are still making them feel stupid even though I've, hopefully, made them feel somewhat relaxed enough to appear stupid in front of me and my camera.)

I explain to them that, with my camera, I'm only capturing a very small fraction of a single second and, although they might feel dumb when engaging in various poses and expressions, those tiny slices of time are where the really cool pics are hiding even though it often feels totally weird and dumb when they're busting those moves and expressions. I let them know that when a bunch of pics are captured in and round one-hundredth of a second there usually lies, in the many pics frozen in those tiny fragments of time, some really great stuff and I ask her to trust in my experience and skill in finding them.

Have you ever seen the movie Zoolander? Yeah! That's what I'm talking about. If I can get a beautiful, sexy, inexperienced model to go over the top in pose and expression the way Ben Stiller's "Zoolander" character does in that flick, as stupid and silly as some of the poses and expressions Stiller mimicked in that film might be, I know I'll get some great pics!

The pretty girl at the top is Lexi from a shoot a month or so ago. (Click to enlarge.) She wasn't overly experienced but she wasn't overly inexperienced. She ain't stupid either... although I asked her to go ahead and act a little stupid.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Factoring Blondes

As you might know, I shoot a lot of pretty girls. A lot of them are blonds. They range from dirty dishwater blondes to shiny, near-white, platinum blondes with all shades of blonde in between.

As you might also know, I shoot a lot of glamour and tease. Shooting glamour and tease means I often shoot with accent lights. Those accent lights require factoring in things like hair color (and more) when I'm setting and adjusting my lights. Blondes often present the most challenging subjects when it comes to accent lights.

The blonder the hair, of course, the easier it is to blow it out, exposure wise. Yet, I usually want to see pronounced highlights in that hair, even when it's platinum blonde hair. I'd like to say I'm always successful at doing so but, unfortunately, I'm not. Because of that, I'd rather err a bit on the side of under-exposure when I'm shooting blonde chicks. More so the blonder she might be. I should also note that it's fairly common for blondes to have paler skin. Often, the blonder the paler. Another reason erring on the side of under-exposure can sometimes be more of a blessing than a screw-up.

Digital photography is less forgiving than analog, especially when it comes to highlights. With digital, if you blow out the highlights there's usually nothing left, in terms of detail, to recover in post. That's one reason depending on RAW converters, rather than production exposure, will often fail you. This holds true whether you're shooting landscapes or female bodyscapes.

Here's a couple of things I usually do when I'm shooting blondes:

First, I try to keep my accent lights closer to the model than I might do if she's darker-haired. While that might sound counter-productive to not blowing out details in the highlights, remember that the bigger the light source (relative to the subject) the softer the light. That holds true for accent lights just like it does for main lights. If the light source is smaller (like it becomes the further the light is moved from the subject) it also becomes harder, harsher, and increases specular values. (You might also review Angle of Incidence/Reflection to help you understand how specular highlights work and what you can do, via positioning your lights, to mitigate them.)

Next, since the blonder the hair, the softer I generally want to see the highlights, it also means, (beyond keeping those accent lights closer to the subject) that I'll probably be using modifiers that are large enough to also help keep the light on the soft side. (Again, bigger being softer.)

Finally, the intensity of the light usually needs to be dialed down a bit. When shooting blondes, the contrast values I can get away with are generally lower than when I'm shooting darker-haired models. Why? Well, that blonde hair is often going to exhibit specular reflectivity in more obvious ways than dark hair will. That means greater probability of blowing out the highlights. I'm sometimes surprised, BTW, with how much light I have to throw at some dark-haired models to get some decent highlights going in their hair. That dark hair can really suck up an awful lot of the light! More so the darker and less shiny it is.

Anyway, just some stuff to consider next time you're shooting a blonde model, especially if she's more to the platinum side of blondishness.

The platinum blonde pretty girl at the top is Paris. I had to be careful to keep her hair from blowing out yet still maintaining some highlights in it while also providing distinct highlights on her body. For this set, I used medium-size strip boxes, either side from behind, for those accent lights. Obviously, I was also interested in enhancing the chiaroscuro factor. BTW, here's a short but good article on what constitutes good exposure. Click Here to read it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

How Not to Suck at Photography

Are you shooting more yet not seeing much improvement? Do you invest more and more time and money into your photography yet don't see the results you're hoping for? Do you sometimes feel like your spinning your photographic wheels? Maybe it has less to do with being determined to improve and more to do with how you're going about the task of improving?

Below are some myths I hope to either dispel or put into context as a means of helping you not suck at photography. Even if you don't suck, but you recognize there's room for growth and improvement, you might find these notions helpful. I know I do. You might have read some of this before, here or elsewhere. Repetition isn't necessarily a bad thing. Certainly not when it comes to learning and improving our skills.

1. Better Gear = Better Photographs: The only people who believe that (and I'm not convinced they really believe that... not really and truly) are the people making and selling that gear. Better gear is cool and it can help you become more efficient and offer you more choices and capabilities but, when it comes right down to it, better photos are products of creativity and skill, not better equipment.

2. Experts Are the Only People Worth Learning From:
While it's true there's much to learn from the experts, there's also much to learn from photographers of all levels of skill and experience. There are more than a few non-expert photographers who are playing around with ideas and techniques and approaches to photography which might be non-expert or lacking in experience or technical know-how but might still include ways of doing things that are fresh and original and capable of sparking some cool ideas, perhaps even an occasional photographic epiphany, in your head.

3. Practice Makes Perfect: There's a lot to be said for the value of practice. Everyone needs to practice. But there are different ways to practice. If you're practicing doing what you're doing the same way, over and over, you'll probably get good at doing things that way but you won't grow and you won't learn how to do things differently. You probably won't produce different results either, including better or more exciting or rewarding results. You might even practice your way into being the best at shooting photos that suck! Instead, try practicing doing things differently. And when you discover different ways to do things that yield promising results, practice doing those things that new way. Then, when you've become comfortable with doing things that new way, move on to something else that's new. (A caveat: If a client hires you to shoot in ways you're quite practiced at, it might not be a good idea to suddenly surprise them with a new style or approach.)

4. Auto Modes Make Photography Simpler and Easier: That's definitely true, especially if your goal is becoming the king of mediocre and pedestrian photography. Yeah, there's times when shooting in auto mode is your best choice for more than a few reasons. But always shooting that way stymies your growth as a photographer. When you move into the worlds of semi-auto (like aperture or shutter priority) and manual, it forces you to think about light and exposure and aperture and shutter speed and many things that will enhance your work. Shooting in semi-auto modes or in manual is the surest way to learn what works, why it works, and how to make things work.

5. Invest As Much Time As Possible Mastering Photoshop: It's true that in today's digital photography world, knowing your way around Photoshop or other processing software is important, but not at the expense of knowing your way around your camera, lighting, and production in general. If you're spending most of your time trying to process photos that suck, or photos that aren't that good, into photos that are, good that is, you're not progressing on the photography learning curve. You'll probably spend most of your time frosting turds or trying to dress-up otherwise lackluster photos. That might be fun for some... but a good photographer it does not make.

The demurely posed naked pretty girl at the top is Arianna from a shoot about month ago.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Faith and Photography

Mark Twain said, "Faith is believing something you know ain't true."

I think there's much truth in that observation. While Twain likely wasn't speaking about photography, his words still ring true if you apply them to it.

These days, the faith many photographers have is that gear, be it the best cameras, glass, lights, software, whatever, will make them better photographers. That definitely takes a lot of faith--especially since that faith is being put in inanimate objects--but if there's one thing humans are particularly adept at, even humans who are photographers, it's having faith.

The apostles of gear-faith are, of course, the manufacturers and marketing people who hope to sell you all that faith-inspiring gear. They go to great lengths to foster and promote your faith in equipment. If photography had its own bible, one that was similar in form to Christianity's New Testament, it would include the Books of Canon, Nikon, Sony, and so many more. These books would all be saying, essentially, the same thing: The path to photography heaven lies in the tools you use. And, of course, each book would convey the words and ideas of each apostle--Canon, Nikon, and more--and reveal that truth according to themselves and in such a way that it sets their words (and gear) as gospel.

This kind of faith isn't too hard of a sell. The apostles are well aware the masses of photographers yearn for this sort of faith-- They continually hope their prayers for better and more god-like gear and tools will be answered and that it will take them closer to photo-heaven. They seek the light and the light lies in the words of the photo-gear apostles and the equipment they evangelize.

All this is likely the reason why so many believers, so many of the faithful, continue to make offerings to the instruments of photo-God by buying into (and then actually buying) all the new gadgets and gizmos, cameras and more that photo-God, through photo-God's infinite wisdom as spoken by photo-God's photo-apostles, makes available to them. They look at everything new as if it's a gift of photo-God's bounty and they have been personally invited to sit and partake of photo-God's bountiful table.

Far be it for me to be a heretic or to blaspheme or to question the wisdom of the photo-apostles, but it seems to me that the God of Photography already abides in you, not in your gear. And all you have to do is seek the photo-God that's in you.

As usual, I'm just saying. Actually today, it's more like I'm just preaching. Sorry about that.

The model at the top, one who truly speaks beauty and sensuality and more, is Madison. (Click to enlarge.) About a month ago, I worshiped Madison's allure with my gift of photo-God's bounty, in this case a Canon 5D. (It wasn't actually a gift. In fact, it was fairly expensive when I bought it.)

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Celeste (Again)

Another of Celeste from a shoot two weeks ago. I posted a few of her last weekend but thought I'd post one with a B&W conversion. I really loved working with this model and hope to do so again. When I manage to put together a workshop, Celeste said she'd like to participate as a model. (Click to enlarge.)

Friday, March 04, 2011

An Overlooked Detail

I'm the first guy to say it's all in the details... your best work, that is. And I pride myself as being someone, leastwise being a photographer, who pays attention to those details. But sometimes, it seems, the mind doesn't accept what the eyes see.

Last week I decided to buy another Photek Softlighter. This time, I wanted a smaller one to use either for closer-up portraiture, headshots, whatever, or for use as a kicker from behind. When I looked to buy another from Amazon, however, I discovered they were out of stock on the 3' version of the Softlighter. Bummer. Worse yet, the listing said Amazon didn't know when (or if) they would have one in stock again. Double-bummer.

As luck would have it, I stumbled across a Softlighter knock-off. Best of all, it was less than half the price of Photek's product. Cool! For that price, I decided to buy two of them. That way, I could use the same model of reflective brolly-box as kickers on each side from behind my model. This would be great since I've been shooting on a white seamless quite a bit lately and, having the black-side of the modifier facing in the general direction of the seamless, I wouldn't be bleeding light onto the seamless. (Something I wanted to contain and my shoot-thru umbrellas weren't accomplishing too well because of space limitations.)

So, I bought two of them. The price for two was a little less than the price I would have been spending on one, equal-sized, Softlighter. My biggest concern, of course, was that these other units were constructed half-way decently. But the user reviews for this unit, called a PBL Photo Studio 40" Reflective Umbrella Softbox, were pretty good so I decided to go ahead and purchase two of them for about twenty-bucks-and-change each. Better yet, I had some Amazon gift certs earned from those of you who have purchased Amazon products through links on this blog (thank you very much!) so the purchase didn't cost me anything.

Yesterday, the UPS guy delivered my stuff. I opened the box and pulled one of the units out and opened up the umbrella. It did indeed seem fairly well constructed. Very cool. For that ridiculously low price, I was glad I bought two. I pulled the second one out and opened it up to look for any manufacturing defects. It was fine. Then, I noticed there seemed to be something else inside the box. That something else turned out to be two more of these same reflective umbrella soft boxes.

At first, I thought Amazon made a mistake and sent me four units instead of the two I ordered. I double-checked my order with Amazon to make sure I didn't mess up and accidentally order 4 instead of 2 but quickly determined I had bought 2 of them as I intended. Something told me to take another look at the Amazon advert for the items I purchased and that's when I discovered what they were actually selling was a pair of these modifiers for that $20. Wow! An overlooked detail! That means instead of $20, a very modest price, they're actually like $10 each!

American manufacturing is truly doomed if they (the Chinese, no doubt) can make and and export these decent-quality products for a low enough price that a retailer can sell them for about $10 each and still make a small profit.

Anyway, so now I have 4 of these units. I guess if one or two of them breaks after some amount of use--I don't expect that to happen too easily or quickly--I have a pair of backups.

The rear-view/derriere shot at the top is a model who goes by the name of Puma which I think is like a cougar... both her and the animal. Captured it about a month ago.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

New Camera Placebo Effect?

Since the digital photography revolution began, there's a big reason camera manufacturers have released so many new cameras in fairly quick succession. (I'm mainly talking about professional caliber cameras here, mostly of the SLR variety.) Certainly, that reason has much to do with breakthroughs and advances in digital technologies. But there's an even greater force driving the new camera market: Photographers buy them.

Nothing wrong with that.

Why so many photographers continue to purchase new cameras so often is a fairly no-brainer question: They do so in hopes of improving their photography.

Again, nothing wrong with that. Most all photographers want to improve their photography and, if you look at the advertisements that accompany new camera releases, improving the user's photography leads the campaigns to sell new cameras.

But does the hype match the results?

Sometimes, perhaps it does. Other times, not.

I am mostly of the mind that a photographer's skills (existing skills and improving skills) coupled with creativity are the two biggest factors in making great photos. I think most of you would agree with that.

There's no doubt that many new cameras will make "better" photos. Leastwise, from the perspectives of things like resolution, fidelity, and more. (Glass, of course, also contributes quite a bit to these technical attributes.) But will the best-of-the-best in cameras and glass guarantee great photos? We all know they will not; not on their own they won't.

But in the same way placebos seem to sometimes improve some patients' health when pharmaceutical companies test new drugs and medicines, I wonder if new cameras sometimes improve a photographer's results (in more than technical ways) via some placebo effect? In other words, I wonder if some photographers--that is, those who believe his or her new camera will automatically make better pictures--actually realize more great images? I'm talking more great images from the perspectives of creativity and, what appears to be, photographic skills.

There's much to be said for a photographer's level of confidence translating to better photos. That's especially true when shooting people and probably even more so when shooting models. If photographers truly believe they can snap a better picture, regardless of why they believe it (you know, like because they have that new camera) some of them might actually become better photographers simply because they believe they are better photographers with that new camera in their hands.

Go figure, right?

Anyway, just some stuff that popped into my melon today. I think I'm going to go take some sugar pills and see if they help me out with a few of the things that ail me.

I can't recall the name of the model above. (Click to enlarge.) It's one from a commercial/fashion shoot some time ago. All natural light aided by a couple of reflectors.