Saturday, April 30, 2011

Guerrillero Heroico

“Forget the camera, forget the lens, forget all of that. With any four-dollar camera, you can capture the best picture.” - Alberto Korda

For those of you who might not know who Alberto Korda was, I guarantee you've seen his work. Leastwise, you've seen one particular image from his work. It's a portrait: a portrait that became the most reproduced photograph in the history of photography.

Interestingly, the portrait was snapped by a guy who traded in his exciting, party-filled life as a successful glamour, fashion, and commercial photographer to pursue something that held more meaning for him.

Yep. Alberto Korda was the guy who snapped the most iconic photo in history. The image was the second of only two 35mm frames he shot of his subject that day. Korda snapped it while he was standing in a large crowd in front of an outdoor podium. He didn't use artificial light. He wasn't able to pose his subject. He simply snapped two pictures.

The photo? It's called Guerrillero Heroico or, in English, Heroic Guerrilla. It's a candid snapshot, I should say it's *the* candid snapshot of Ernesto "Che" Guevara-- an Argentinian doctor, author, revolutionary, guerrilla leader, and both an international symbol of rebellion as well as a pop-culture insignia for just about anything. It's ironic that Che, an anti-capitalism revolutionary, has had his image capitalistically embraced like no other photo in the history of photos. From posters to tee-shirts to Swatch watches to vodka labels to baby clothes and more. Much more. Some might think of this as transmogrification in the extreme. I know I do.

Korda didn't snap his "Che" image with a four-dollar camera. It was 35mm, probably 50s vintage, and probably a Leica with a long lens hanging off the front. His point, however, is well taken. It's not the camera, it's not the lens, it's not the gear, it's the photographer.

I'm not going to harp on this notion of best pictures and $4 cameras. I've done so before. Both my ebooks, Guerrilla Glamour and Guerrilla Headshots spend a fair amount of time talking about gear and how the best gear isn't always, well, the best gear. Besides, I think I'm going to save some of what I might say about Korda's words for a chapter in the new ebook I'm writing, Zen and the Art of Glamour Photography, which is nearing completion.

The pretty girl at the top wearing fatigue pants and nothing else is Cassandra. It's one from a short set of test shots I did with her in my studio... when I still had a studio. Cassandra is my idea of what South American guerrilla fighters should look like. But maybe that's just me?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pose, Light, Clown, Shoot, Simple

George Hurrell, who many regard as the guy who invented glamour photography, once remarked, "Its all so simple. No one believes me. You strike a pose. Then you light it. Then you clown around and get some action in the expressions. Then, you shoot."

I don't do it in exactly that order. The order I do things swaps the first two of those steps around. I light it first. Then I have the model strike a pose or two. Then I clown around and get some action in the expressions. Then I shoot.


Hurrell believed the most critical part of "sexy" happens in the face. That would be those "expressions" he sought after some clowning around. I talked about that at some length in the most recent podcast I did with Ed Verosky. It's all in the face, mostly in the eyes, regardless of what the model is wearing, not wearing, or how hot or not she might be. And it's not about getting clowning around expressions. The clowning around is all about relaxing the model, helping her feel at ease, helping her get into the groove where she'll express herself with her face and eyes, loosening up her inhibitions and going with the flow.

Famed fashion shooter, Richard Avedon, once said, "A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he is being photographed." The trick, in my opinion -- obviously, in Hurrell's opinion as well -- is to help bring the model to that place where they forget, or nearly forget, they're being photographed. That's where the clowning around part can be so effective. It helps break down the photographic barriers of self-consciousness in the minds of your models.

Of all the tools in my photographer's bag of tricks, I think humor and clowning around are the most important and most effective. Clowning around doesn't mean you need to be a comedian. My father was a serious man. He didn't often engage in anything I'd call "comedy." But he could sometimes clown around.

If you're shooting glam or most any other kind of portraiture and you treat the process as if someone's life depends on getting the shot, you have a better shot at not getting the shot then if you treat it much more lightly. (Treating things somewhat lightly generally goes hand-in-hand with clowning around.) I'm not saying be a clown. Being a clown doesn't often work well. But clowning around is not the same as being a clown.

Course, if you're shooting portraits of clowns, being a clown yourself might work. But if I was a photographer of clowns, I still wouldn't be a clown. I wouldn't want to have to deal with that big red clown nose getting in the way of holding the camera to my eye. Plus, I wouldn't want grease paint getting smeared all over my camera.

There are, of course, many ways to clown around and help get the model relaxed, loosened up, and forgetting she's being photographed and I'm CERTAINLY NOT ADVOCATING or recommending the method depicted in the candid, behind-the-scenes shot I provided above. (I wonder if I should submit it to a stock photography site as a "lifestyle" image?) BTW, the model above is NOT a pothead. She lives in California. That makes her a patient, not a pothead... California's medical marijuana laws and all that. Hey! I'm just sayin! :-)

Speaking of BTS, i.e., behind-the-scenes shots, I just created a Flickr group called "FYI BTS." I'm hoping it will attract some photographers willing to share BTS shots from their photo shoots or simply discuss some of the stuff they might see in the BTS shots. You can find and join this new, public Flickr group by CLICKING HERE.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Another Podcast With Ed Verosky

Last week, Ed Verosky and I recorded Part 2 of our two-part podcast, "Working with Models." It's now available online and you can listen to it by clicking HERE.

This time, we focused on posing models: From various angles you might be shooting from to physical poses (including its relationship to an image's overall composition) to expressions to props, wardrobe, and more. The conversation is about 25 mintues long so it won't take up too much of your time.

If you're interested in learning more about posing or just curious about what Ed and I might say on the subject, give it a CLICK and a listen!

The pretty girl featured in this update is one I snapped of adult star, Jenna Haze, about a year or so ago. (Click to enlarge.) It's studio shot using three lights: A 5' Octodome for the main and a couple of small kickers, either side, from behind her.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What If?

Iconic photographer, Diane Arbus, who some called, "the photographer of freaks," once said: "The thing that's important to know is that you never know. You're always sort of feeling your way."

I couldn't agree more. Perhaps more so because her words have a vaguely Yogi Berra-ish quality to them and I'm a long time Yogi, as well as Yankee, fan

Personally, I've been doing this photography thing for a very long time and although there's much I know that I know, I also know there's much I don't know and that's why I often ask myself, "What if?" You know, like "What if I do this?" or "What if I do that?" or "What if I snap a picture of this or that?"

It seems to me a lot of photographers these days want everything laid out for them. Instead of experimenting and engaging in "what if?" photography, their ideas of new things are the new things they might simply learn from someone else or from the many "how to" tutorials or photos available on the web or in books or on DVDs. In other words, they're simply trying out things or shooting similar pictures to what someone else discovered when they asked those "what if" questions. And if that "new" thing is a technique or a way of doing something, they're happy as clams learning from someone who worked out the bugs and then shared the results along with some "how to" info so the happy clams can be even happier trying out the same thing.

Don't get me wrong, there's much that's right with learning to do so many things that way. It's a big part of the learning process for everyone. It's part of what gives photographers a solid foundation and a sense of what works and what doesn't work and all that's a good thing.

But learning from others aside, I think it's also important to sometimes ask those "what if" questions all on your own, hopefully discovering for yourself what works and what doesn't work. By doing so, perhaps you'll also discover some things you didn't find in the many "how to" tutorials and books and other places that type of information resides. Doing this might mean some of that "what if" stuff you'll shoot will suck. Oh well. That's part of the learning process as well. But it also might mean some of it will be incredible. And if it is, it will be incredibly yours!

Yep. Arbus was right-- there are many times we simply don't know. (D'uh!) Yet one way to know some of the things we don't know -- there are many ways, of course, to do that -- is simply by feeling our way towards those things: learning and discovering and sometimes stumbling onto stuff we had no idea we might find, whether it's a new way of doing things or simply ending up with an incredible photo of something we had no idea might be so incredible.

The gratuitous eye candy at the top is Paola. Shooting Paola included much I did know, that is, I did know some sexy pics would result... and knowing that was a no-brainer.

Monday, April 18, 2011

My Favorite Photo

Iconic American photographer, Imogen Cunningham, was well known for her botanical photography as well her portraiture and nudes. When asked about her favorite photo, she answered, "Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow."

Spoken like a true master!

Considering the infinite number of photos photographers could possibly capture, it's no wonder a singular favorite is hard, if not impossible, for any of us to decide on.

Let's say, as an example, you're shooting a live model at 1/100th of a second and you've captured, what you might think, is your best and most favorite photo ever! That's way cool. But remember-- There were 99 other photos you could have captured in that single second you captured your favorite. Sure, those other 99 would all have been nearly identical but there still would have been tiny differences, perhaps imperceptible differences, between each of them.

So let's say you spent one minute shooting a model and came away with your fave photo ever. That's great! But there were still 3,599 other photos you could have captured in that one minute. Could one of them been even better than the one you deemed your best or your favorite? Maybe. Maybe not.

Let's say you spent an hour with a model and came away with your favorite photo ever. Awesome! But there were 215,999 other photos you might have snapped with a shutter of 1/100th of a second within that hour. Could one of them had been even better than the one you believe is now your best or favorite? Again, maybe. Maybe not. But the odds are improving there might have been a better or more favorite photo amongst the 215,999 you could have snapped in an hour's worth of shooting time (at that shutter speed) versus one minute of it. And that's only considering the differences between which moment you clicked the shutter and all the other moments you could have clicked it! Obviously, there's way more differences that could have been reflected in the image, altering the singular capture you've crowned your favorite. Way more!

I'll admit this is mostly a semi-photo-philosophical "what if?" exercise. Possibly an absurd one. But lots of photography revolves around a "what if" approach, i.e., what if I do this or what if I do that? Somewhere, amidst all the "what if" possibilities photography offers us, our best work, possibly our one, singular, all-time favorite photo might reside. Maybe that's why Ms. Cunningham was always looking forward to that photo she had not yet captured as one that might be her favorite? (Even though, I'm guessing, she knew there would never be one, singular, photo that would or could ever be her ultimate favorite.)

The photo at the top (click to enlarge) is one of my personal, favorite, pretty girl pics I've snapped (for a variety of personal reasons) although I can't say it's my all-time favorite. There are others that are favorites of mine as well although none of them qualify as my all-time favorite either. Like Imogen Cunningham, I believe my favorite remains to be shot. It's amongst those I've not yet captured. And even if, at some future time, I come to believe I've snapped one that becomes my all-time`favorite, I know there will still be more unsnapped photos that will trump it or others I might capture. I guess that's one reason I keep doing this photography thing. It will always be more about what's still to come... way more so than what I've already done.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Please Don't Burn Me at the Stake!

Hopefully, I won't be stoned or worse for this update. Some newer photographers definitely seem like zealots when it comes to their speedlites, speedlights, small flash instruments, whatever you want to call them. I mean, the small flash religion even has its own apostles, you know, like Saint Joe and Saint David. Those two have hopped on a tour bus and are out there traveling the highways and byways of America like revival tent preachers spreading the gospel of small flash photography to the masses. Betcha they're even healing some old school shooters who have resisted seeing the light of small flash photography and reciting the small flash prayers inspired by Canon, Nikon, Vivitar, Metz, and more.

Watching some of those old timers converting from their packs-n-heads and monolights to small, portable, flash photography must be a wonder to behold! A truly religious experience! I can just imagine those old dudes getting baptized in the "new light." I can almost see and hear them after their miraculous conversions, working with their subjects, lighting them for the first time with small flash units and speaking to them in tongues.

Now I sure don't want to be labeled a heretic. And I'll even admit to sometimes using small flash instruments myself, leastwise, when they're the right tool for the job. And like I already said, I sure as hell don't wanna get stoned or burned at the state or worse. But I gotta share one thing with all of you, as heretical as it might sound: I'm not giving up packs-n-heads or monolights when shooting in a studio or in many interior locations. Nope. I'm not gonna do it even if it makes me some kind of photo-pagan. And while there's a whole bunch of reasons I'm not going to do that, here's one of the really big ones-- If there's one thing I'd sorely miss, it would be that modeling light on my main light.

Yep. That's it. Pure and simple. As far as I know, and I could be wrong cuz I'm not omniscient and all-knowing like some photographers are, but as far as I know those Canon speedlites and Nikon speedlights and small flash units from Vivitar, Metz, and others don't come with modeling lights. And I love me some modeling lights!

As usual, I'm just saying. And I sure don't mean any disrespect to Joe McNally or David Hobby cuz the truth is, I respect what they've done and what they do immensely.

The pretty girl at the top is Devin. Devin is lit with, dare I say it? Three monolights and a bunch of ambient daylight coming in from an outside-the-perimeter-of-the-shot window above and behind her. (Click photo to enlarge.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Clarity of Vision

I was reading an article today about the latest in-demand fashion shooter and, in it, they talk about his exceptional "clarity of vision." That got me to thinking and asking myself, "Do I have clarity of vision?"

I've been a photographer, on and off, either as someone taking his first steps, a hobbyist, a part time pro to a full time working shooter, for the better part of half a century. (Beginning when I was 12 or 13.) After all these years and so many, many photos snapped, I'm not sure if I have any sort of personal vision which I believe has clarity.

So what is clarity of vision? I did some quick Googling to see what the consensus might be and it seems "clarity of vision" refers to a person's ability to communicate his or her vision. Okay. I can do that. Leastwise, I can photographically communicate someone's vision, usually my clients' visions of what my work should communicate. But is it *my* vision and do I even have one?

To be honest, I don't think so. Usually, someone else expresses to me what the vision is, what it includes, what it should say and, in many ways, how it should say it. By the way, I do know I have clarity of purpose: to continue earning a living via photography.

"Vision" is a word that is bandied about amongst photographers regularly. It's one of those buzz words that somehow refers to a photographer's work, albeit in somewhat vague and ethereal ways. It alludes to some creative and imaginative process that is unique to an individual photographer. I suppose "personal style" is also a phrase that has something to do with "vision," although it seems to refer to the way in which a photographer realizes his or her visions.

When it's said that certain photographers have "clarity of vision," does it mean they simply know how to take the image from inside their heads and translate it to a photograph? I suppose so. I'm happy to report to myself that I think I can do that well enough. But does it also mean I'm free to pursue whatever visions pop into my head? And with even more freedom to execute them, photographically, in any way I want? Obviously, the answers to those questions are no and no.

Personally, I don't think too many pro photographers get to pursue visions of their choice except when it's personal work. Hobbyists, of course, are free to pursue personal visions to their heart's content. With working photographers, a huge part of the "vision" most often belongs to someone else, either an individual or a group of individuals. Think clients. The working photographer's job is to take those peoples' visions and, with as much clarity and skill as possible, and adding their own personal styles, embellish them in crafty ways thereby turning the visions of others into great photographs for their use or enjoyment.

Let's say I'm a fashion shooter. Do my visions include a beautiful woman? Often, they probably will. Do my visions include a beautiful woman holding a Gucci purse? Probably not. But the visions of my client, in this case Gucci, certainly will.

I have no clue where I'm going with all this other than to say I think we, as photographers, often take part in a giant circle jerk. We take (or are given) full credit for things like "vision" when, in fact, that vision usually isn't 100% our own. In fact, that percentage is often significantly less than 100%. I don't know about any of you who also do this photography thing for pay but I've found I don't often get to pursue visions of my choice, that is, I don't get paid to shoot whatever I want to shoot however I want to shoot it. In other words, I don't get to simply pursue my own visions, whatever they might be.

I apologize for my cynicism to you true visionaries out there.

Before shooting the photo at the top which, I should note, is an example of personal work, I had a monochrome vision of a sexy, freckle-faced girl holding a cigarette with a bunch of back-lit smoke next to her.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Oh No! Not Another Podcast!

Yep. I did another podcast interview with About Photography's Ed Verosky. This time out, Ed and I talked about working with models, mostly from the viewpoint of new(ish) models and/or photographers who are new(ish) to working with models.

If you have about a half-hour free to listen, check it out. You can listen to the podcast by CLICKING HERE. It's free to listen so all you're investing is a bit of time.

Ed and I decided this subject would be a two-parter. For Part One, some of the things Ed and I discussed are: 1) Being honest about your level of experience; 2) Watching your demeanor; 3) Collaboration and letting the model help you; 4) What to do when you’re doing your best but still need more from the model; 5) Having fun with every shoot; 6) Finding candid looks; 7) Giving the model constant feedback; 8) Not shooting for too long; 9) Recognizing when the model hits her stride and more. Quite a bit more.

Part Two, BTW, will tackle the more physical elements of posing and probably get into things like attitude and emotion as well. We haven't recorded Pt. 2 yet. We plan to do that in a week or so. But, in the meantime, the first part is online and ready for your ears.

The sexy thing above is Alleta from Hungary. Some of those Eastern Euro girls really know how to turn it on... and how to turn guys on!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Longer, Closer, Wider

When it comes to shooting glamour, headshots, as well as many other types of portraiture, two factors often come into play in big ways for producing great results: focal length and aperture. Actually, I should make that three factors and add the distance between the subject and the camera into the mix.

It's no secret that telephoto lenses are preferred by many photographers shooting many types of portraits. Often, those "longer" lenses tend to be in the 70mm to 200mm range. That means they include all the medium telephoto lenses up to the beginning of the really long telephoto lenses.

Longer lenses tend to compress the image, including the subject's features, thereby reducing the illusion of a third dimension in photos, i.e., the illusion of depth. That kind of compression often yields very pleasing results in terms of beauty, glamour, and other attributes. Longer lenses are also used to help isolate the subject from the background and foreground. When longer lenses are used at shorter distances from the subject, that compression become even more pronounced.

Yeah, there's other ways to control the illusion of depth. Perspective is one such way, although perspective is most often used to enhance or extend the illusion of depth. But for this update I'm focusing on compressing the illusion of depth with focal length, aperture, and distance-to-subject as it relates to many types of portrait photography, glamour as well as other genres.

Photographs, as we all know, are two-dimensional. Photographs that appear to have dimensional depth still remain two-dimensional. The illusion of depth can be enhanced or reduced. One of the ways to reduce the illusion of depth is by using longer lenses at shorter distances from the subject and at wider apertures. Hence, my subject title: "Longer, Closer, Wider." Compressing (the illusion of) depth is an oftentimes preferred characteristic in many types of portraits.

I'm not going to write a mini physics lesson here. I'm a photographer, dammit! Not a physicist. I'm also not going to delve into other sciences with explanations of how and why the human eye and brain perceive things like depth. Again, I'm a photographer, not a scientist or a doctor. Aside from curiosity, I really don't care all that much why these things work the way they do. I mostly care that they work the way they do. I also care about knowing how to control and manipulate these perceptions, i.e., the perception of faux-depth (or lack of it) in two-dimensional imagery. Mostly, I care about their uses in various types of portrait photography.

I'll make this compressing depth stuff real simple, boiling it down to its essence, that is, to three ingredients. If you want to reduce the illusion of depth in a photo -- something portrait photographers of all types often want to do -- do three simple things: 1) Use a medium to long-ish telephoto lens and, if that lens is a zoom with focal lengths ranging from wide to telephoto, mostly shoot at the lens's longer focal lengths; 2) Position yourself closer to the subject (rather than further) while still being able to frame as much of the subject as you feel is appropriate for whatever it is you're shooting; 3) Use wider apertures, that is, the widest (most open) apertures you feel comfortable using while still being able to maintain critical focus, usually on the subject's eyes.

Certainly, depth isn't the only factor important to great portraiture. But doing those three things, in addition to all the other stuff you're (hopefully) doing in your quest to capture great pictures, will generally yield portraits that are better received by its viewers.

The B&W headshot at the top is one of Ms. Tera Patrick from a few years ago. I thought the picture decently illustrates this blog update. I captured the image with an 85mm prime lens at f/4. It's not cropped much. The image is pretty much the way I framed it in my camera so, even using an 85mm prime (on a full-frame sensor camera) it meant I was in fairly close to Tera. (And I'm certainly not complaining about that!)