Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mirrors of Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wish List for 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Here's what I know I'll accomplish:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 26, 2011

Joe McNally's New "Sketching Light" Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 22, 2011

So You Wanna Assist? (Part Deux)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 19, 2011

So You Wanna Assist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pretty Girl Shooter T-Shirts Now Available!

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

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

And so he did!

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

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

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

Thursday, December 15, 2011

4.5' Seamless Redux

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 12, 2011

Composition and the Fibonacci Spiral

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

Or does it?

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 09, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 05, 2011

Nothing Trumps Consistency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Steps Can Be Misleading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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