Monday, November 28, 2011

For Whom the Camera Loves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

A 4.5' Seamless?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2011

Are You Fluent in Lighting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry for the shameless plug.

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So, What Are Highlights? Chopped Liver?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What Came Before

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow. Just wow.

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

"Yep," my friend told me.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 11, 2011

Capturing Motion With Motion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Knowledge is Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowledge is power.

Knowledge makes better photographs.

Knowledge makes the photographer; gear doesn't.

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

Sunday, November 06, 2011

How Well Does Your Photographic Memory Lie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Choosing Who You Learn From

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Vetting e-Book Authors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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