Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who is Your Favorite Photographer?

Earlier today, someone on FB, actually, someone who runs one of the many photography pages I "Like" on FB, asked, "Who is your favorite photographer?" I thought about it long and hard and it seems I don't have a favorite. Not one, individual, single favorite.

I do have favorite photographers, as in more than one. But their "favorite" status isn't necessarily etched in stone. For me, my faves tend to go in and out of most-favored status. There's also photographers who intrigue me for varying lengths of time, but those shooters may or may not make it to my personal fave list.

When I'm especially intrigued by an individual photographer, my intrigue might be for a contemporary photographer or for one who has come and gone. Photographers who intrigue me might be wildly popular and well-known or they may be much less so. It's enough for me that I discover or re-discover a photographer's work and that the work, for whatever reasons, fascinates me.

For the last week or so, I've found myself especially intrigued by the photography of Ralph Eugene Meatyard. Meatyard, you might know, was famous for using masks in his photography. Halloween, BTW, has nothing to do with my current fascination with Meatyard's work.

For me, it's not simply a matter of admiring or being intrigued by a given photographer's work. I always hope I'll learn something from his or her work and that it might inspire me in some ways. I never intend to mimic or clone a favorite or intriguing photographer's work. Rather, I hope I might be influenced, in positive ways, or that I might incorporate some aspects of that work, in big ways or in little ways, into my own work; be it visual aspects, emotional aspects, or in some other ways.

Personally, I think it's very important for photographers to spend as much time developing lists of favorite photographers or discovering photographers who might intrigue them in various ways -- and then studying and learning from those photographers -- as they do learning new skills or how to use different kinds of gear. It's all of those things -- learning new skills, honing them, and studying the work of others -- which ultimately comes together to define your work and your style.

As usual, I'm brain-farting on the model's name pictured above. (Click it to enlarge.) Hey! You try keeping track of all the names of as many models as I've shot. We're talking a lot of them! Maybe I should get myself a bottle of Gingko Biloba?

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Summer I Got Tall

My really good pal, Lewis Adams, has written a book! It's titled, "The Summer I Got Tall," and it's available on Amazon. (It's a book, BTW, not an e-book although it's also electronically available for Kindle readers.)

This isn't a book about photography. It's a non-fiction, personal, roller-coaster ride through the less-seen back streets of one of society's most popular -- although not always admitted to being so popular -- and sordid industries. The book is poignant, heartfelt, and punctuated with plenty of humor! Did I mention yours truly is mentioned a few times on its entertaining pages?

If you thought you already knew something about some of the adult industry's famous (infamous?) smut peddlers -- guys like Larry Flynt (of Hustler fame) and Bob Guccione (of Penthouse fame) -- or of bullshit peddlers like attorney Gloria Allred, you'll find you know less than you thought.

Lewis recounts his personal story. It's the story of a young, well educated, buttoned-down kinda guy who walks away from a promising career in NYC's banking district to follow his dream: A dream of eventually making it big in the entertainment industry. Instead, through an unforeseen series of events, he lands a temp job in an entertainment industry of another kind. Soon, his temp job becomes a full-time career as a marketing director for Larry Flynt's Hustler empire.

For a young man with plenty of hormones to spare, Lewis believed he had landed the ultimate dream job, one which more than a few young men would give their left-nuts to have. But what begins as an unexpected and incredible dream turns into something else after Lewis begins dating Flynt's beautiful and sexy executive assistant. Quicker than you can say, "Condoms? Who needs condoms?" Lew finds himself about to become a Dad. That one big step in life also results in Lewis suddenly finding himself out of a job. A situation he refuses to take lying down.

If you like books which make you root for the little guy, books that do so in entertaining, witty, and heartfelt ways, this is one of them. For a good read as well as a seldom-seen view of the business of sex, I enthusiastically recommend The Summer I Got Tall.

The gratuitous eye-candy at the top is Jenna H.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Practice of Practice

Photography, like many other things in life, requires practice... and plenty of it!

There's good reasons the world's greatest athletes practice regularly. They never stop practicing, superstar status or not. Excelling at photography is no different regardless of the kind of photography you pursue. It takes practice and, like I already said, plenty of it.

Learning, of course, is also wildly important. And there's so many great ways to learn! There's workshops and seminars you can attend, books to read like those I've written or the many others authored by other photographers, blogs with shooting and processing tips, tutorials, video course-ware like Phil Steele's How to Shoot Professional-Looking Headshots and Portraits on a Budget with Small Flashes and so much more.

Still, learning isn't enough. You need to practice what you've learned. The cool thing about learning and practicing is the more you practice what you've learned, the easier it is to learn even more new things and work them into your workflows. That's how it generally works. But it still takes practice, whether it's practicing something new or practicing what you already know.

Although the more you learn and practice, the easier it becomes to learn even more, practice remains the key to working new knowledge into your photography. Not only is practice important for the new things you might learn, it remains important to continue practicing what you already know how to do. Even if you feel you've practiced those things a lot and know how to do them inside out, practicing them remains incredibly important.

The same learning/practicing cycles hold true for gear. Whenever I've gotten a new light modifier, for instance, I could already call on my existing skills and knowledge working with similar modifiers. But it still took time practicing with the new modifier before I could make it work really well for me. You might think, "Dude! A soft box is a soft box. Learn to use one and you know how to use them all." That's true in some ways and not so true in others. There's a reason I bought the new soft box even though I already had others. Likely, that reason can be found somewhere in the fact that all soft boxes don't behave the same or produce the same results. No matter how well I already knew how to use my existing soft boxes, it took practicing with the new one, whether that new one was different in size, shape, or in some other way from the others I already had, before it became a tool I truly knew how to employ for maximum results.

Learning new skills and ways of doing things, or learning to use new gear when you've added new gear to your shooting arsenal, are very important aspects of growing and maturing as a photographer. But none of what you've newly learned will do you maximum good until you've practiced those new skills, ways of doing things, or the use of a new piece of equipment. I've said it many times before: The biggest part of getting good at photography revolves about practice... and more practice and more practice.

As usual, I can't remember the name of the pretty girl at the top. She's busting a fairly artsy pose and, personally, I like it... a lot!

UPDATE: One of my super terrific readers correctly identified the model in the photo above as Madison Young. I love my readers!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How Do You Prefer Learning?

Some people mostly prefer learning by reading. Others prefer watching and listening. Still others enjoy any number of the many ways available to enhance their photography skills: e-books, hard-cover books, tutorials (video or other), workshops, seminars and more. If you're a long-time reader, you know I'm not a guy who pimps too many products on this blog. Mostly, when I've done so, its been about books, e-books, either my own or a select few authored by others.

I know many of you are committed to, amongst other things, learning as much as possible about creating beautiful light with minimal gear. That's why I'm writing today to tell you about Phil Steele's online video course called "How to Shoot Professional-Looking Headshots and Portraits on a Budget with Small Flashes." Phil adheres to the same guerrilla-shooting approaches that are the foundations of my first two e-books, Guerrilla Glamour and Guerrilla Headshots.

Like my e-books, Phil Steele's programs do their best to keep it simple or, as Albert Einstein once said, " simple as possible but not simpler." Phil, like me, is also an Ockham's Razor devotee: He's dedicated to doing things in ways which avoid multiplying difficulty beyond necessity. Yeah. That's what I'm talking about.

All the above and more is why I thought you might appreciate knowing about Phil's online video course. Steele's course-ware includes most everything you need to know to know about lighting models with off-camera flash. And he does that by keeping things simple, without multiplying difficulty beyond necessity. As a bonus, you'll get some great post-production tips as well! As an additional bonus, I did some hard-core negotiating with Phil. (I made him an offer he couldn't refuse. Trust me, you don't wanna know what that was.) Anyway, I scored everyone a 10%, limited-time, discount. How's that for looking out for my friends?

So what are you waiting for? CLICK HERE and be magically transported to Phil's preview page for his course, "How to Shoot Professional-Looking Headshots and Portraits on a Budget with Small Flashes." There, you'll learn so much more about Phil's program. More than I can tell you on this blog page. If you decide to purchase, when you click the "Add to Cart" button you'll be automatically discounted 10% off the regular price. (For a limited time only, that is. Make that for the limited time of the next 7 days only.) BTW, You can also click on the banner in the right-hand column, the one with the flashing strobe, if you're more of a right-hand-column-clicking kinda person.

So don't wait! Timing is everything! Get 10% off Phil Steele's lighting program now!

Speaking of timing, would you believe that Daisy, the pretty girl in the pic at the top, suffered a wardrobe malfunction a brief moment before I snapped the shutter?

No? Neither would I.

Wardrobe malfunction or not, the visual result is still sweet.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Art of Peopleography

If you're a portrait shooter, regardless of whether you shoot glamour, fashion, head shots, business or family portraits, whatever, you're both a photographer (someone who writes or paints with light) and a peopleographer (someone who writes or paints with people.)

The photography part of your craft has much to do with things like lighting, exposure, composition, and so much more. The peopleography part of your craft has much to do with things like rapport, trust, direction, and so much more. When both photography and peopleography skills meld or fuse in skillful and excellent ways, the person wielding the camera's best work is realized.

Considering today's technologies, the photography part of the portrait equation has become more and more no-brainer. From a purely photographic standpoint, today's new photographers seem to go from beginner to something so much more with lightning speed. Because of this new ease of technical craft, gaining peopleography skills should become the most important part of your learning curve. The best portraits, regardless of genre, don't just look great, they feel great. Leastwise, they make viewers feel something. The more your photos evoke feeling, the better they are. That's basically true almost regardless of genre.

When I'm editing a set of images searching for the keepers, I have both photographic and peoplegraphic criteria for selecting the... well, the selects. I'm not simply looking for the images which might be "the best" photographically, I'm looking for the images which also speak to me in other ways, that is, in ways that speak of other things other than my photographic skills. Hopefully, they will speak to viewers in much the same way as they speak to me. Often enough, I'll turn a blind eye to technical flaws if I think the image speaks louder in more human ways.

While the Art of Photography uses exposure and lighting and more to shade it's subjects in aesthetically memorable ways, the Art of Peopleography use human emotion and other things to create feeling or to tell stories. The feeling or story might be obvious or it might be subtle. But for a people portrait to truly excel, those elements, emotional or story elements, need to be there. They need to be perceptible. They need to communicate to viewers.

I see a lot of photographers who seem so consumed with the technical aspects of photography at the expense or neglect of the peoplegraphic elements. It's why I so strongly agree with Andreas Feininger's observation that, "A technically perfect photograph can be the world's most boring picture."

I'll be real honest: Technically perfect photos don't impress me at all, especially these days.

Technical perfection, or something close (enough) to it, has become, quite simply, too easy to achieve. There was a time when technical perfection was harder to come by. That was then, this is now. Never in the history of photography has technical perfection been so easy to achieve... and it's getting easier every day! The more familiar photographers become with whatever modern image-capturing device they're using, coupled with post-production technologies, the more fool-proof and easily attainable technically perfect photos have become.

I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I'm not being an old school elitist. I'm simply noting that, since technical perfection in photography (or something close to it) is now so easy to come by, one would think people photographers would spend more time on the peopleography elements of their images rather than the technical elements.

But that doesn't seem to be the case. When I go on forums and view the comments made by other photographers, so many of those comments -- the vast majority of them it seems -- appear mostly concerned with the purely photographic elements of the images. I'm certainly not saying achieving near-technical-perfection doesn't require skill or isn't important. It does require skill and still is important. But today, it requires less skill to achieve than ever before and it's importance might be somewhat diminished. Shooting for the web, as an example, definitely reduces the importance of technical perfection.

My latest e-book, "Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography," could have just as easily been titled, "The Art of Peopleography." Frankly, that's what it's mostly about: Helping portrait photographers become better peopleographers.

Because of today's technologies, the photography learning curve hasn't simply been flattened, in some ways it's nearly been squashed. I know that might not seem the case for those just starting out on their photographic journeys. Many of those people don't really have much to compare it to. (In terms of what it once took to produce technical perfection in photographs.) But if you stay at it for some time, a shorter time than ever before, and you do so with some appropriate level of dedication, you'll find, thanks to today's many new technologies, it becomes easier and easier to achieve.

The peopleography learning curve, on the other hand, remains a bit more challenging. My advice is this: As your technical skills increase and become ever less daunting -- and they will -- your focus on learning about and working to attain exceptional peoplegraphy skills should increase exponentially.

Generally, I'm an 80/20 kinda guy. It's a ratio I often mention. When first starting out, I advise spending 80% of your time learning the technical side of photography. As you become more and more familiar and skilled with the technical side of photography, flip the ratio around and spend 80% of your time learning and gaining the appropriate people skills. Then, bring to bear those newly learned peopleography skills to your work. Consequently, your portrait work will improve dramatically. That a guarantee!

The gratuitous pretty girl at the top is Kayla. She's a model I truly love working with and, I'm happy to say, I've done so a number of times.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Do You Shoot It All?

Photographers can be divided in many ways. One way to divide them is into two, broad groups of generalists and specialists. What I mean is they either shoot, almost exclusively, one genre of photography or they try, or are willing to try, to shoot it all.

Me personally, I'm definitely a specialist. If or when I'm asked to shoot outside the realms I know best, i.e., the people portrait realms, I openly admit I'm a novice and more than a little unsure (and insecure) about what I'm doing. I might take stabs at other genres but they remain stabs. Obviously, some skills in my personal skill-set transfer to other genres of photography but, for the most part, I don't have a clue what I'm doing beyond how those transferred skill-sets might help me.

One might think if someone is a portrait photographer and has really good lighting skills they should be able to shoot, as an example, product photography about as competently as they do people. After all, most of a portrait shooter's lighting skills should transfer to shooting other things besides people. Personally, I don't think it works that way, at least not automatically. Sure, a portrait shooter can bring to bear their lighting skills on a piece of jewelry or a plate of sushi and the results will probably be okay but those results aren't likely going to be extraordinary in other ways, that is, without the photographer learning some new skills regarding shooting jewelry or food, coupled with plenty of practice.

People who aren't photographers don't quite understand why a photographer, pro or hobbyist, might not "rock it" when shooting outside of what they truly know how to shoot; not even close. Some photographers themselves don't understand why they don't rock it when shooting outside of what they're mostly experienced at shooting. Worse, some photographers don't recognize they're not rocking it: They think they are when they're not.

I sometimes get asked to shoot things I don't really know how to shoot. Make that things I don't know how to shoot with any high level of skill or experience. When asked to do this, I might give it a shot but, when I've done so, the results weren't anything to write home about. The results were okay but just okay doesn't cut it for me and it usually doesn't cut it for many clients.

When I'm asked to shoot outside my comfort knowledge range, I usually tell whoever is asking me that they'd probably be better off getting someone who knows how to shoot those things. Certainly, someone who knows how to shoot them much better than I know how to shoot them. "You're a photographer, aren't you?" is the reply I've often heard. Well, yeah. I am. But being a photographer doesn't mean I know how to shoot anything and everything, certainly not anything and everything in terrific ways. I could probably learn to shoot whatever it is (outside of my norm) I'm suddenly being asked to shoot but clients aren't generally interested in funding or subsidizing my photography education.

It's not that I'm trying to talk myself out of jobs. It's simply that I feel my reputation is always on the line regardless of what I'm shooting. It's a small enough world that failing to deliver good work in one area of photography might somehow, later on, bite me on the ass in terms of getting hired to shoot what I do know how to shoot. More so since the reason I probably was asked to shoot what I don't really know how to shoot was the result of someone recommending me. That someone was, more than likely, somehow connected (sometimes in big ways) to the work I normally perform.

Just because someone is an accomplished French chef doesn't necessarily mean they're capable of shaking up the culinary world of Chinese cooking. I'm sure a much heralded French chef could give Chinese cooking a damn good try but he or she would still be no match against a highly skilled and experienced woksman.

I'm aware that more than a few photographers will take on nearly any assignment. I know more than a few who do so. I've seen the results of some of that work and, frankly, it wasn't too impressive regardless of how impressive their usual and customary work might be. That's not to say the outside-their-normal-box work sucked. It's only to say it wasn't as extraordinary as the work they normally produce.

IMO, the bottom line is this: If you're going to branch out into other areas of photography where your skills and experience might not be so awesome, be prepared to find yourself -- once again, and just like you were when you first began shooting what you do have experience and mad skills shooting -- being something of a novice and on the uphill side of the learning curve. You might thoroughly believe you can shoot it all but shooting it all -- shooting it all really, really well -- is another story.

Once again, I've posted a pic of a chick whose name I can't recall and, also once again, I can't seem to drum up the motivation (for a variety of reasons) to spend time hunting down her name in my paper records.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lighting Sandwich

German photographer, Michael Zelbel, on his blog, Smoking Strobes, has come up with a clever way of describing one particular style of glamour lighting by calling it a "lighting sandwich." I love that! It's such a visually descriptive analogy! Saying the lighting is used to 'sandwich' the model nearly speaks for itself.

Personally, I do a lot of sandwiching when I'm lighting models. (I also do a lot of sandwiching in my personal life which isn't always a good thing. My belly will attest to that.)

Sometimes, when I sandwich with lights, the sandwiching is quite obvious and dramatic, much the way it is in Michael's description and video tutorial on his Smoking Strobes blog. Other times, as revealed in the photo of Dana I've provided for this update, the sandwiching is much more more subtle, barely noticeable in fact, and only targeting specific areas of the model's body.

Whether you sandwich in obvious or subtle ways, sandwiching your models with light is a very effective glamour lighting setup. In fact, it's often used and for good reason: Highlights resulting from the sandwiching are sexy, they call extra attention to the model, they add more interest to your photos, and they go a long way towards creating fantasy in your glamour photography. Sandwiching is also quite simple to employ -- I'm all about keeping it simple -- especially when working on a seamless where you don't have to worry much about your lights bleeding onto areas in your images you don't want to illuminate. BTW, sandwiching is also very effective for other types of portraiture beyond glamour.

Michael says he's going to update every first Thursday of the month with a new video showing various lighting setups. Sounds like a good reason to bookmark Michael's blog or subscribe to his feeds.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Show Offs: Who's More Important?

There are two people showing off in every glamour photo: The model and the photographer. The trick, of course, is to find a balance between the two. How effectively that's done rests in the hands of the photographer.

Glamour photography is, in a nutshell, about showing off the beauty and allure of the model. But the photographer, of course, also wants to show off their skills and know-how. Problems sometimes arise when the showing off is lopsided.

Obviously, as a photographer, you want your images to reveal your photographic abilities. How evident those abilities are revealed can be the difference between a decent glam photo and a great one. Photographers who work too hard at showing off their own skills can inadvertently defeat the purposes of their photos. Those purposes, of course, include an important one I've already mentioned: Showing off the beauty and allure of the model.

This might sound like I'm splitting hairs and maybe I am but I've seen plenty of glamour images which were so obviously about the photographer's skills, the photographer showing off, whether through production or post-production techniques, the models nearly became irrelevant. That might be a positive thing for the photographer but it's not so positive a thing for the model, especially if the photos are designed to "sell" the model to an agency or potential employers of some sort.

If you're shooting models for the sole purpose of showing off your photographic skills, being the principal show-off in your photos probably isn't a bad thing. But if you've been engaged, as a photographer, to capture the beauty and allure and marketability of a model, you need to strike a balance between your abilities and the model's beauty, skills, or potential as a model.

While much of glamour photography is about creating fantasy, that doesn't necessarily mean the fantasy should be at the complete expense of viewers being able to recognize the model when she's not participating in the fantasy you're working so hard to create. Sure, that might work for some photos but it doesn't work for all of them. In fact, it might work for less of them than you think. It all revolves around who's more important in terms of showing off, the model or the photographer? Most the time, I believe the two should be equal.

The pretty girl on the staircase is Devin. I used my 5' Photoflex Octodome for a main light and let the natural light coming in from a bank of large windows above and behind her do the rest.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Like a Sales Tax Pawn

Some of you might have noticed I haven't had an Amazon link featured on my blog for a while now. If you didn't notice, that's cool. Be advised this blog has been Amazon-free for some time.

It's not that I gave up on Amazon, it's that Amazon gave up on me... plus thousands of other Amazon affiliates. You see, for some time, Amazon and the State of California, the state where I reside, have been squabbling over collecting California sales tax on all orders which result from the efforts of their California affiliates.

Some of you might be wondering, "Why should I pay California state sales tax? I don't live in California."

Well, Amazon agrees with you. And so do I. But the State of California believes otherwise. The state contends if an Amazon customer makes a purchase as a result of clicking a link to Amazon from a website, like this one, where the site's owner is a resident of California, you should have to pay California sales tax regardless of where you reside and regardless of the fact that Amazon does not sell and ship products from the State of California. Anyway, that's their beef in a nutshell. (My apologies to vegans for stuffing meat in a nut in my last sentence.)

As a result of this Amazon/California sales tax feud, one in which neither party would give any ground -- sound familiar? -- Amazon decided to dump all of it's California affiliates and offer a big GFY to the State of California.

Some time later, cooler heads prevailed: California and Amazon kissed and made up, at least temporarily. Apparently, they forged some sort of deal which includes putting off the sales tax issue for two years.

Now, of course, Amazon is saying to all it's former California affiliates, "Hey guys! C'mon back! We love ya!"

Although thousands of California Amazon affiliates, myself included, have been played like virtual pawns in this Amazon/California sales-tax chess game, I'm not a grudge-keeper. While I don't make much pimping Amazon, I do make some -- which I take in the form of gift certificates rather than cash -- and so, in the spirit of reconciliation and gift certificates, I'm gonna take the high road, be the bigger man, and embrace Amazon again.

My Amazon link is now back in the right-hand column. If you click on it before going to Amazon, I receive a small commission (and some gift certs later on) from whatever you might purchase. Doing that helps keep me motivated to author this blog. I'm not saying I'd quit authoring it without some sort of monetary motivation. I'm certainly not authoring this blog for Amazon's sake or simply for the sake of anything else I might "sell" via this blog. I authored this blog for four years before I ever sold, for instance, a single e-book from it's pages. I find authoring it personally rewarding in many ways beyond earning a few bucks with it. Still, added rewards are added rewards and, like most people, I like being rewarded in many different ways.

Sorry but I don't recall the upside-down model's name seen at the top. I could search my records for her name but, frankly, that sounds a little too much like work at the moment.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Finding Your Photographic Voice

As a human, a photographer, and a writer, I have three voices: The voice that comes out of my mouth, the voice I use as a photographer, and my writing voice.

Like you, unless you're a mute I suppose, I was born with my vocal voice. I didn't need to go in search of it. It was just there. A smack on my butt moments after I emerged from the safe confines of my mother's womb and there it was: My voice. Also like you, I've spent the subsequent years defining, refining, and using my voice. Sometimes I overuse it. Occasionally I don't use it when I should. At times, I've used it wisely and at other times not so wisely.

My writing voice is one I had to go in search of: It wasn't natural. Sure, there are writers whose writing voices seem as natural as their speaking voices but I'm not one of those lucky few. At least not yet. My writing voice is still a work-in-progress. Besides writing about photography, I've applied my writing voice in other areas over the years, sometimes successfully and other times not. Like my speaking voice, my writing voice is heard. You aren't hearing my physical voice as you read this but you're hearing a "voice" in your head saying my words.

My photographer's voice is another matter. It's not heard at all. Still, it speaks. It might not always speak to everyone but it speaks to me. In my mind, photographers are like mimes. Mimes communicate visually and with visual cues. You don't need to hear a mime with your ears or via a "voice" in your head but you understand what they're saying whether you hear them or not. Good photographers do the same. In some ways, good photographers are a lot like good mimes.

Someone once said, "Good photography speaks with silence." I couldn't agree more.

Although I use the word, "style," often enough when describing a photographer's methods of silently communicating -- as in a photographer's "personal style" -- I only do so because it's commonly understood what I'm referring to. Beyond that, I don't much like using that word to describe a photographer's work. Mostly, because it sounds so purposeful. It also sounds a little highfalutin. I've seen photography which truly excelled in many ways yet was anything but highfalutin, style notwithstanding.

Besides, we're not born with style. Style is something we develop and use and it's not wholly our own. It's generally developed or applied as a result of trends, fads, and the influences of family, friends, peers, people we look up to, cultures, software developers, equipment manufacturers, and more. We are, however, born with a voice. We are also born with the ability to create other voices, sometimes voices which are as easily heard as our vocal voices: Voices like writing voices and artistic voices.

A lot of photographer's go in search of their personal styles. Unfortunately, when personal style is perceived as something external and something purposely created, photographers often spend more time looking for tools, techniques, and other things outside of themselves to apply to their work in order to bestow something on that work that seems personal and stylistic. What they're really doing is applying those things, things which are often created by others, and claiming them as their own. That's not always a bad thing. In fact, it can be a good thing, especially when trying to satisfy clients or customers, but it's often not a unique personal style. More often, it's a copied style. A mimicked style. Worse, an often and much copied and mimicked style. It's possible, of course, to have a style without having a voice. You might even get by on style alone. Plenty of photographers do. But when you add a voice to style, you might get by even better.

Finding your photographer's voice is something entirely different than applying style. First off, it's yours. Second, it doesn't require applying external things to your work. Third, and most importantly, your voice doesn't have to be obvious in order for it to communicate. Like your speaking voice, it can whisper or shout. It can hum or sing. It can speak eloquently or coarsely. But above all, it's yours and speaks of you as well as what you're pointing your camera at.

How do you find your photographer's voice? Well, much like when you're speaking or writing, it helps when you're photographically expressing things which are meaningful to you. We all love speaking of the things we love. We enjoy talking about the things that interest us. Photographers should do the same. They should photograph what they love. They should shoot what they're truly interested in. In so doing, they will generally add personal passion to their photography. Not simply their passion for photography itself, but a passion for the things they photograph. That passion will be evident beyond the stylistic tools and techniques they might apply. Their pictures won't simply express style, they'll express it with a voice. A passionate voice. Their voice.

There are other types of photography I could easily apply my skills and knowledge to but they don't generally interest me much. My photographs of those things might be technically good but risk being generally boring or without much passion, mostly because I simply wouldn't have much interest in them and, because of that, they wouldn't include a passionate voice used to express them. I often hear things like, "You're a photographer. You should be able to shoot anything." There's both truth and a lack of it in that statement. I can cook, for instance, and some of the things I cook I'm passionate about. But I don't have passion for all of the things I might cook that, say, many great chefs have. Nor do I have passions for many foods others might have. Consequently, I don't cook those foods even though, like so many people, I'm generally passionate about food. Sometimes, a little too passionate as my belly will attest.

One of the really big things my new book, "Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography," tries to help photographers discover is their voice: Their portrait shooting voice. I don't always express it in the book as a "voice," but helping others discover their photographic voices is what it hopes, in many ways, to achieve.

The photo up top is Nautica. My client (not the model) hated it, asking me, "What am I supposed to do with this artsy shit?" But it speaks to me. And, according to Nautica, it speaks to her. I wouldn't be surprised if it speaks to others.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

10 Pretty Girl Shooting Suggestions Redux

I wrote these 10 suggestions to improve your pretty girl shooting almost two years ago. Thought I'd re-post them since, IMO, they haven't lost any of their potential usefulness. Most of them apply to all genres of photography.

1. Learn the Front-End of Photography. By the front-end, I mean learn everything you can about the art and science of photography. Don't expect computer processing to make you a great photographer. Great photography begins with great photography. Computer manipulation is merely a tool and adjunct to what you've already captured. To hear this said better than I could ever say it, watch and listen to what the late, great, Dean Collins had to say about it.

2. Quit Over-Processing Images! Women have skin covering their bodies, real skin, not some artificial, poly vinyl, coating. Just like a Real Doll won't ever replace a real woman--except, perhaps, in truly desperate times--Barbie skin is neither sexy nor enticing. Sure, fix things in post. Enhance them. (Within the bounds of believability.) But quit processing women into something akin to a computer-generated character in a James Cameron movie.

3. Don't Play the Art Card. I wrote about the Art Card a few updates ago so I won't rehash it in this post other than to add: Accept criticism of your work with the same humility you accept compliments. If you don't accept compliments with humility, here's one added suggestion: Get over yourself!

4. Gear Doesn't Trump Knowledge, Skill, or Creativity. Yeah, we all want better gear. I know I do. But don't expect that new camera body or that faster lens or the latest version of Photoshop to automatically improve your photography. There is no replacement for taking the time to learn how to do things right, how to do them better. Each piece of gear is simply a tool. And tools, themselves, do not make exceptional craftsmen. Just because you own a hammer and saw, perhaps the best hammer and saw money can buy, doesn't mean you know how to build a beautiful home.

5. Improve Your Communication Skills.
Models want direction. Models need positive reinforcement. Models want to hear that they're not alone out there in the lights. Dead air is not conducive to great photography. You don't have to become Mr. Personality. You simply have to communicate.

6. Learn to Use One Light Before Trying to Use Two or Three or More. Besides the fact that a single light source can be very effective, learn how to manipulate, modify, control, and exploit a single light before moving on to multiple light source setups.

7. Resist the Urge to Use Cliché Props. Yes, I'm talking about items as diverse as angel wings, "caution" tape, and guitars. It's not that those things and others (you know what they are) are inherently bad, it's just that we've seen them used so often and in so many ways that their use fails, on a grand scale, to impress viewers. I can't remember the last time I saw a pic where cliché props were used in a truly unique and evocative way. If you're going to use props, use less-seen props in less-seen ways. If the urge to use cliche props is overwhelming, get it over with-- Use them once then move on.

8. Experiment! Try doing things differently. But do so on your own dime. If someone hires you to shoot, deliver what they expect. When shooting for yourself, develop other ways or approaches to your photography. When you've worked the bugs out of these new ways of doing things, share them with others for feedback. If people like what they see and once your comfortable with your new techniques, work them into your normal work flow.

9. Develop a Personal Style. But not at the expense of good and effective photography. Sure, you can break the rules in developing your style. In fact, you'll probably need to do so. Developing an obvious, unique, personal style, by the way, is not an absolute requirement for being a successful photographer. While there are plenty of successful photographers whose work is unique and identifiable, there are also many whose personal style is quite subtle and difficult to define or put a finger on.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice!
It would be nice if we all could shoot like masters the first time we picked up a camera but that's not how it works for most people. Yeah, some people seem to be born to do certain things. They have an innate ability to grasp and perform in exceptional ways right from the start. But those people are the exceptions, not the rule. For most of us, there's no replacement for practicing and honing our craft: Practice and repetition, like one foot in front of another, again and again, moves us ever forward on the path to Photo-Nirvana. It doesn't happen overnight. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and continues with many steps. Most importantly: Enjoy the journey. Have fun! Love your craft. It will love you back... long, long time.

The pretty girl at the top is Selena. Sometimes, I have this weird effect on models. Please visit my Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography web page. Purchasing and reading the book might not have a weird effect on you, but it might have a positive one.

Friday, October 07, 2011

For Whom the Bell Tolls and Why

For the past 3 or 4 days, I've been having a back and forth email conversation with a well-known publisher of photography books. They were interested in my next book for possible publication, that is, as a hard-bound, paper book. They also wanted electronic rights, of course.

While that's all dandy for my ego, I had questions I politely asked them. I didn't expect them to tell me exactly what I'd earn, I understand there are many variables. I did ask simple questions like what is the average retail price of their books and how is that determined? What is their standard author's share versus publisher's share and re-seller's share of revenues? How long after I did my job would it take to publish the book? Those were the sorts of questions I asked. I hardly think those are state secrets. Apparently, to them they are.

They steadfastly, although politely, refused to divulge any information whatsoever regarding the business side of publishing my next book. Not a single thing! Zero transparency! All they remained focused on was whether I could produce 25,000 words, 250 photographs, and would I give them an in-depth outline ASAP. They kept harping on these things even after I told them my first e-book is over 28,000 words, my 2nd is more than 35,000 words, and my latest, "Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography," exceeds 37,000 words. I also reminded them I've produced hundreds of thousands of photos in my career and snapping 250 useable images didn't seem to represent a daunting or Herculean task.

They did, in the end, tell me their authors earn anywhere from a few thousand to one-hundred thousand dollars. (Wow! That certainly narrows it down.) With a $100K carrot dangled, they returned to harping on their 25,000 word, 250 pic, give us an outline dialog.

When I then asked if their high-earning authors were well-known photographers or if those books were part of a popular series or what they represented -- 1-in-5? 1-in-10? 1-in-20 of their catalog of photography books? -- they wouldn't divulge that either. I reminded them, again politely, I could easily produce and sell e-books generating a few thousand or more in revenue. Actually, a fair amount more than a few thousand. I also mentioned the money would be instantly in my account. I told them I can produce and release my own e-books in a fraction of the time it might take them to print and release a book. I also advised them that, if I were interested in seeing my books in actual print for vanity reasons and, if that was my primary motivation, I'd simply self-publish hard-bound versions of my books and sell them myself.

They then politely blew me off.

That's right. As a result of my polite requests for some simple, non-binding, answers to some generic, business-related questions, they blew me off.

Did I mention they also told me sales of my book would have a lot to do with how successfully *I* market the book? No? Well, that's also something they said.

If, in addition to writing the book and shooting all the pictures, I'm responsible for a big hunk of the marketing, WTF do I need them for? Their sales people are going to get me better placement on bookstore shelves? I seriously doubt it.

In my opinion, it's more than competition from electronic media that's tolling the death bell for a big chunk of traditional book publishing. It might also have something to do with their reluctance to be up-front and honest with prospective authors. The word, "arrogance," comes to mind.

The pretty girl at the top is Aneesha, a mainstream actress and model. (Click the pic to enlarge.) She was in my studio for some headshot and portfolio pics. Aneesha was unsure of whether she should go with a party-girl look, wearing that sexy, black, cocktail dress, or should she don the leather and beret and go for a tougher, street-wise look. I suggested we try to incorporate both into the same picture for some of the shots.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

When Good Photographers Make Bad Pictures

We've all done it. We've all made photos that suck. We always will. Thankfully, the many genres of portraiture and other types of photography offer second chances.... and third and fourth and many more additional chances to snag a great image within of a set of images that mostly aren't so great.

You think every time a superstar shooter like Annie Leibovitz or any of her photography peers snaps the shutter an incredible photo is the result? Yeah, well, if you believe that I'm the real Obi-Wan Kenobi.

In today's digital photography age, there are only three things that truly matter: 1) snapping your photos; 2) editing your photos; 3) processing your photos. The order I listed those three skill-sets reflects their order of importance. Please note I didn't include gear as one of the Big Three.

Snapping Your Photos: #1 is #1 for many reasons. Your best photos will always, as always, be created while you're clicking the shutter. I don't care how much processing you throw at an image later on, a picture is terrific or not (and everything in between) the moment, as Henri Cartier-Bresson famously said, you capture it.

Editing Your Photos: This is as important as capturing your photos. You might snap a hundred images of a model. There might only be one in that hundred that is truly outstanding. Your ability to recognize and identify that one is as important as snapping it.

Processing Your Photos: This one generally runs a distant third. (Digital artists excepted.) I don't care how much cool processing you lay on a photo. I don't care which of the latest fad treatments you apply to it. A boring or average or crappy photo is a boring, average, or crappy photo and will remain that way, regardless of your attempts to alter that fact. You might, in post, make it less it less boring, average, or crappy but, in truth, a silk purse isn't made from a pig's ear. They may someday genetically modify pigs to grow silk ears but that day hasn't yet come. You might fool some people with all that processing and image manipulation but you won't fool everyone. In fact, you might be fooling less people than you think.

So, what does all this mean? Well, you could certainly be a spray-n-pray shooter, hoping there will one great photo amongst the many you capture. And there might be! Course, if that's your modus operandi, I strongly suggest you hone your editing skills to high levels of ability. You will, after all, have to find that photo amongst your many... assuming it's even there.

Personally, I strongly believe your best bet is to focus on the front-end of photography: Learning, applying, and practicing as much and as often as possible. After that, focus on your editing skills. Why is one photo so much better than another even when that other is only barely different? Your ability to answer that question may be paramount to your success.

Finally, learn to process your images in ways which best achieve the goal or intent of the photos. Gratuitously adding cool treatments rarely makes a great photo. Processing or manipulating your photos to achieve some sort of perfection doesn't generally meet the intent of many photos. An old Egyptian proverb says, "A beautiful thing is never perfect."

If you're making glamour pics, for instance, working overly hard in post to make everything about the model "perfect" rarely results in perfectly executed photos. People aren't perfect. (That includes the most beautiful models.) Some of their imperfections are appropriate to manipulate, remove, change, whatever. But doing so in heavy-handed, overly processed and overly manipulated ways, removing every imperfection in an attempt to create beings so apparently perfect, so without flaws, so un-human-like, generally does not yield photos viewers find truly beautiful or memorable.

The pretty girl at the top is Penthouse Pet, Celeste Star.

BTW, I've been getting some great feedback on my latest e-book, "Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography." If you'd like to learn more about it, perhaps purchase, you can do so by CLICKING HERE or on the graphic in the right-hand column.

Sunday, October 02, 2011


Jessie, the young lady in the photo above, showed up in front of my camera so full of physical energy it was difficult to bring her down to manageable`shooting levels. And no, there were no tell-tale signs of any tweaky drugs involved. It was just her. When she walked out in front of me in bra and panties and wearing those beat-up Converse sneaks, it should have been my first clue.

I didn't want to relax her too much. I definitely wanted to take advantage of her energy. But keeping her in one spot long enough to snap a few images was difficult. I'm not a sports photographer.

I'll admit her energy was contagious. Almost at once, my ass was up off the apple box it's usually plopped on and I was moving about, trying snag some pics. Unfortunately, it was like herding a cat. She was so energetic! I could barely keep her in one spot long enough to focus, much less keeping here where I needed her to be for my lights to do their jobs the way I wanted them to perform.

Don't get me wrong, I was loving her energy! I simply would have loved it more if I could capture it in focus and close to a spot where one or more of my lights weren't over-exposing her. She was on a 9' wide seamless and the seamless was in a room that didn't afford much space to get my lights very far away from her, especially my back lights set on either side, just off the seamless.

I decided to wear her out a bit. "Let's see you jump," I said.

"Jump?" she asked, a bit of a confused look on her face.

"Yeah, jump. Jump as high as you can from a standing position. And give me some kind of a pose and a great expression while your up there." I told her, pointing towards the top of the seamless with my index finger.

So, jump she did.

"Jump again!" I directed her. She jumped again.

I kept having her jump until she started jumping a little less high each time. And boy! That took more jumps than I thought. I would have been worn out after two or three. But an eighteen year old can jump a lot before tiring.

My client wasn't looking for jumping shots of Jessie. My client was looking for sexy, glam shots. Regardless, I snapped my shutter each time she jumped. I'm a photographer, right? That's what we do. And it was fun doing it! Jessie was also having a blast jumping while I was having a great time photographing her in seemingly gravity-defying ways.

Soon enough, I told her she could quit jumping. I offered her a bottle of H2O and she gulped some of it down while she caught her breath. In a minute or two, we were back making pictures. This time, she kept on her mark yet still displayed plenty of energy: Her energy was now manageable. It was also more emotional and much less physical. We had a great shoot together!