Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Instagram Has a Holiday Gift For You!

I'll bet plenty of you are Instagram users, members, whatever people who use the Instagram photo sharing app are called. I'm not, by the way... a user, member, whatever.

I never felt inclined to join up with Instagram. My continued lack of interest in doing so hasn't had anything to do with any particular issue with Instagram. I just never bothered. For whatever reasons, it just didn't appeal to me enough to take the time to join or use.

But now there's a very good reason to not join Instagram.  And because of this reason, I'm quite happy I never hooked up with them. You see, Instagram has announced it has the right to sell your photos. And guess what else?  They're claiming the right to sell them without paying you a penny! Nope. Not one red cent. Not only that, they say they can do so in perpetuity and without any notification at all.   Nice deal, right?  I mean, you know, nice deal for Instagram.

Don't believe me? I don't blame you. I didn't believe it either until I read THIS ARTICLE on C|NET's web page.

As you might imagine, I'm now very happy about my ambivalence and lack of interest in joining Instagram.  Oh! Did I mention that Instagram says you have no right to opt out?  You know, now that they've decided they can sell your images? Well, that's what they say.

That's Mia at the top pulling off one of her white satin gloves while wearing some sexy and festive Christmas/Xmas/Solstice/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Holiday/Whatever lingerie. (Click it to enlarge.) I shot this one and some others of Mia just last night. Oh yeah. I shot two other pretty girls as well. But they weren't wearing gloves or sexy and festive holiday wear. In fact, they were wearing even less than Mia. Yeah. My job sucks. (Not.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Are You Guilty of Using Post-Prod to Excuse Poor Camera Work?

No sooner do I write and post my last update, The War on Photography, do I discover an almost simultaneously posted article on nearly the same subject on the Light Stalking web site. Must be something in the air wafting about. You know, something to do with photography and post processing and digital art and that sort of stuff.

On the Light Stalking site, British-born-but-now-living-in-the-Ukraine travel photographer, Jason Row, penned an article -- should that read "keyboarded" an article? -- titled, "How Much Post Production is Too Much?" While my War on Photography update generally speaks to portraiture, Jason's article is more about photojournalism and landscape photography. But who cares? Photography is photography and post production is post production and, these days, the twain often do meet in humongous ways, for better or for worse regardless of genre.

While my article on the subject seems to trump Jason's short article in word count, who's counting? Not me. It's the thoughts that count and Jason's thoughts are, well, thoughtful. They also ask some pertinent questions about post production. Questions many photographers should be considering when applying varying amounts of post processing, manipulating their photographic images into things other than what the camera actually captured, and regardless of those images being landscapes, portraits, or just about anything else. As I mentioned in my article on the subject, I'm not down on heavy-ish post processing and photo manipulating. I'm not down on digital art. I'm about knowing when it's appropriate to use that stuff in major (and often obvious) ways and when it's not.

One of the more important questions Jason asks is: "Are we guilty of using post production to excuse poor camera technique and, if we are, is that a bad thing?"

From my perspective, the answer is yes... and no. 

Post processing is a wonderful thing! And it certainly allows us, beyond many other uses, to frost turds. Turd-frosting can, thankfully, save an image. And there are times -- no matter how good or celebrated a photographer might be -- when they snap turds. In fact, it happens more than some people might think. Still, if turd-frosting is all that's left to save the image, and you really do need to save that image, well, frost away.

But, if you're a photographer who cares little about camera technique and learning the craft of photography because, in your mind, you can always add enough wow value in post, you can't really call yourself a photographer. You are a digital artist. Whether you're a good digital artist, i.e., a creative and highly-skilled post-production aficionado, is another matter. The goal for good digital artists who are lousy photographers, I suppose, is to be one who is able to routinely produce silk purses from sow's ears. That can certainly be a good thing. A very good thing. (Even if it takes quite a bit of work and digital effort.) But personally, I think that people who are able to produce silk purses from swine ears would be way better off learning how to produce silk in the camera before making those purses in post... you know, silk purses from silk, if that makes sense.

Anyway, just a bit more random thoughts on the subject of photography versus digital art and the pros and cons inherent in these two elements of modern day digital photography.

The naked chick at the top, the one covering her nether-regions-lady-parts with her hands and fingers while quickly snapping her head from one side to the other, seemingly trying to give herself whiplash, is Cameron. (Click image to enlarge.) I shot Cameron last night during one of my ongoing, twice-weekly, gigs I've been shooting lately. I only had two models to photograph last night during my 25 minutes with camera in hand.  (As opposed to 3, 4, or 5 of them.) So, they weren't the usual 5-minute sets I've been shooting for this gig. Last night, they were more like ten or twelve minute sets. Consequently, that gave me a bit more time with each of the models, i.e., a bit more time to get the job done a bit more right and maybe just a bit more creatively. Here's another shot of Cameron from last night.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The War on Photography

There's a war on photography going on and it's being fought by photographers on both sides of the battle lines. No, I'm not talking about the war on photography as perceived by the folks at PINAC. (Photography Is Not A Crime.) In that war, it's photographers vs. cops, not photographers vs. photography.

My metaphorical War on Photography is a bit similar to Fox News' imaginary War on Christmas. But my war on photography isn't imaginary nor do it's legions of soldiers hold enmity towards each other. In fact, most of them enjoy each others' company and are enlisted on both sides of the conflict. But it's a war all the same. Well, sort of.

What's this War on Photography all about? Well, I'll tell you what it's all about. It's all about the differences between images which still look like photographs in their final form and images which more closely resemble digital art.

Where does the line or point exist where an image, one that began as a photograph and later, via digital manipulation and post-processing, become digital art?  I can't specifically say. But like the Supreme Court of the United States once said when trying to define the differences between generic and acceptable porn, i.e., legal porn, versus porn that is obscene and likely illegal, "I know it when I see it."

Now don't get me wrong. I don't find anything obscene about digital art. I like a lot of it. In fact, I like it very much. But there are a lot of images floating around out there, images intended as portraits of one sort or another, which are no longer images that seem to be photographs. What they seem to be are unrealistic digital images of people who no longer look like real people in a photograph. Instead, they more closely resemble images of faux people created solely on a computer. (Even though I know the images were first created with a camera.)

So, what's wrong with depicting people in images which have been magically transformed into, what looks like, digital art? Especially, if you're really good at doing so? For the most part, nothing... depending, of course, on what the intended use of those final images happens to be.

I'm a guy who has snapped an awful lot of photos of people who intended to use the images I snapped (or someone else intended to use them-- a company, an agent, etc.) to "sell" the people depicted in the images. In my case, the images might be used by an actor, a musician, model, porn star, nearly any sort of entertainer. And I know that if I turn those images into "photos" which more closely resemble digital art, there's a good chance (depending on the actual intended use of the photos) that those of them which appear more like digital art pics rather than photographs often won't do the client or customer much good. Leastwise, in terms of selling the person in the photo... selling their appearance, that is, their physical reflected image.

You see, while some of those digital art images might look really, really cool, and they might showcase the photographer/digital artist in positive ways, they may no longer look close enough to being true, photographic, depictions of the subjects, the people in font of the cameras, for use as a head shot, a commercial portrait, or many other uses. Why? Because when those images have been digitally manipulated and processed into, what appears to be digital art, the people they're submitted to -- people who may be in positions to hire or effect the hiring of those entertainers -- don't believe what they see. In a nutshell, they don't believe the images are true enough reflections of the entertainer or other person. Instead, they look fake, phony, and unreal.  And that's because those people, those people who hire entertainers and others, also know the differences between photographs and digital art. They might not know why or how they know but, like Supreme Court justices, they know it when they see it. And when they see "photos" which look more like digital art, they're less inclined to hire that entertainer or call them into an audition based on the images that have been submitted to them. Why? Simple. They don't believe what they see.

So here's my advice: Always consider the end use of the pictures before deciding how much digital manipulation and processing you will apply via your considerable skills at transforming photographs into digital art.  There's nothing wrong with being on both sides of the War on Photography but you need to know when to be on one side or the other. You might be able to turn, via digital processing, an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan but the person you photographed remains, in reality, an ugly duckling. Believe it or not, there's a lot of entertainment work out there for ugly ducklings, but only if the people hiring for that work are aware, by looking at the photos of your subjects, that they are, indeed, ugly ducklings... or something in between ugly ducklings and beautiful swans... and not an unreal, almost surreal, image of a person you digitally created.

The pretty girl at the top goes by the name, Sage. (Click image to enlarge.) I shot Sage last week during one of those 5-minute sessions I've talked about. Not a lot of processing on the image... not that I ever overly process my images. Perhaps I would if I was better at doing so? Or, maybe not. I'm a photographer, dammit! Not a digital artist.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Rules? We Don't Need No Steenkeeng Rules!

Famed artist, Pablo Picasso, once said: "Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist."

Whenever I hear a photographer disparage "the rules," it usually tells me one or two things about them: 1) the person bad-mouthing the rules is either a new-ish or less-experienced photographer, and/or 2) the person is making excuses for the aesthetic quality of their work.

Picasso often defied the conventions of art but he knew when and how to defy them. He understood when and how to defy the rules because he knew and understood the rules. And he knew and understood them well. You know, like a pro.

These days, these digital days, it seems more than a few less-experienced photographers believe or subscribe to the notion that the rules are old fashioned, unimportant, are yesterday's rules, or they're simply not worth learning and practicing.

If you're a photographer who believes the rules are unimportant and not worth learning and practicing, you're flat-out wrong. Or, as the French politely say, "Au contraire, mon frère!"

It might be true that photographic prodigies occasionally come along and routinely snap killer images which often defy conventions, regularly break the rules, and seem to do so without said photographic prodigies having much understanding or knowledge of the rules and conventions, but the truth about photographic prodigies is that they are extremely rare and might even be mythical.

In my e-book, Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography, I devoted one of its twenty chapters to rule-breaking or, what it's sometimes called, "Shooting Outside the Box." In it, I don't come down on rule-breaking or shooting OTB. In fact, I endorse it... but with a few caveats about learning the rules before breaking them and having plenty of knowledge about that "box" some people might think they're shooting "outside of."

One of the most important elements of rule-breaking, leastwise successful rule-breaking, is knowing when and how to break the rules effectively or artistically. The only way you're going to do that, as Picasso tells us, is by learning the rules (like a pro) and then breaking them. (Like an artist.)

The gratuitous eye-candy at the top is Yurizan from one of my twice-weekly, 5-minute-session gigs I've been shooting and that I've recently written about. (Click image to enlarge.) No rules broken by the photo. It's not an outside-the-box image. It's simply a decent pic of a hot and sexy woman. And I'm all about photos of hot 'n sexy women! And yes, they're real.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Portraits Aren't Made in Cameras

Edward Steichen once said, "A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it." 

On the surface, Steichen's words seem simplistic and obvious but, if you consider them for a moment or two, you realize how succinctly he described photographic portraiture in one, short, single sentence.

Nothing is "made" in the camera. Images, portraits or otherwise, are recorded with a camera.  A painter makes a portrait. A photographer records an image. For that photographic image to be a portrait, the elements of it, i.e., those elements which can be described as being "made," are made on both sides of the camera and not by the camera itself. Painters can make portraits without subjects in front of their canvases. Photographers must point their cameras at subjects to record them and make portraits.

Painters don't necessarily need to coax, cajole, direct, or motivate poses, expressions, attitudes, and emotions from their subjects. Photographers need to be instrumental in helping their subjects project those things. Painters don't need to consider backgrounds, environments, wardrobe and more. They can simply and imaginatively paint whatever of those elements they wish to include in their portraits. Photographers, on the other hand, can only record what's in front of them. Sure, they can later change or modify those elements, but changing or modifying those things isn't the same as making them. You know, from scratch.

Painters can creatively "make" whatever kind of imaginary light they wish to appear in their portraits. Photographers must use actual light -- either natural light, artificial light, available light (natural or artificial) or a combination of any or all of them -- to record a portrait image.

In terms of form, function, and creativity, one of the few things both painters and photographers similarly do (or make) is a portrait's composition. Still, that composition isn't made in the camera. It's created or "made" by the person wielding the camera or the paint brush.

It seems to me that many photographers must think portraits, good portraits, are mostly made in the camera. Why else would so many of them go out and purchase just about every new version of camera their preferred camera-makers release if not because they believe better images, make that better portraits, are made in the camera?  Course, that begs the question, "What constitutes better?"  If things like higher resolution, ability to handle color and contrast, and other technical abilities of a camera are the hallmarks of "better," then I suppose "better" cameras make "better" portraits. 

But if you believe, like I do, that the hallmarks of great portraiture have little to do with the technical capabilities of a camera. If you also believe, like I also do, that the most important elements of a portrait aren't made in or by the camera but are made, as Edward Steichen observed, on either side of the camera, then you're likely on the road to being a photographer who "makes" great portraits if you aren't already someone who does.

The young lady at the top is one I photographed last week in one of my 5-minute sessions. (Click it to enlarge it.) I doubt my client will use that photo or the few others I snapped which aren't the kinds of images they hired her and I to make. But sometimes a few deviations from expectations can be a good thing, even if it's mostly only a good thing for the two people responsible for making those brief deviations.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Belly Button Guide to Glamour Posing

Omphaloskepsis is the contemplation of one's navel. The word also refers to navel-gazing. When I'm shooting glamour, especially when the model is naked or semi-naked, I engage in a fair amount of omphaloskepsising or navel-gazing. Course, it's not my navel I'm contemplating or gazing at... wouldn't want to scare the models, after all. No, it's the model's belly button grabbing my attention.

I don't have a navel fetish or anything like that. (Not that a navel fetish would be all that weird, I suppose.) You see, for me the model's belly button is a terrific point of reference I almost always use when giving physical posing directions. Actually, it's the model who gets to use her belly button as a point of reference when posing. I just tell her where I'd like it, i.e., her belly button, to be pointing. For the most part, the last place I want her belly button pointing is directly at me.

It's no secret that Mother Nature generally bestows wider hips on most women then those she gives to men. There are very good anatomical and biological reasons for that and, if you don't know what those reasons are, I suggest you take a class in Human Reproduction 101.

While a woman's hips are very sexy and alluring, they can sometimes add unwanted weight to a model or give her a slight pear shape. Leastwise, a visual  perception of added weight or pear-shape even when the model isn't particularly overweight or extra hippy. (Hip-ish?) BTW,  I'm not meaning to infer anything negative against curvy women. I love curvy women. But sometimes, the curves created by a woman's hips can stand being toned down a bit, you know, for the purposes of a glam photo.  The easiest way to do that is by having the model point her belly button, one way or the other, away from the camera.

Here's how I generally do it, not that I'm saying my way is the only way: As silly as it sounds, I like asking the model to pretend there's a laser beam shooting out from her belly button. Then, I tell her where I'd like that laser beam to strike. I might, for instance, hold out one of my hands and ask her to shoot it with her navel-beam. Or, I might point out a piece of furniture or a light stand and have her point her belly button laser beam at it. Obviously, the further her belly button points away from the camera, the more slimming the effect.

Often, when shooting what amounts to a full frontal shot, I only have the model shoot her navel-beam slightly to one side of me or the other. Then, I might ask her to bring her shoulders back perpendicular to the camera, making sure her belly button (and hips) remain pointed away. In this way, it appears to be a full-front shot but, with her navel and hips "cheated" somewhat away, and her shoulders and upper torso twisted back perpendicular to the camera, it still appears to be a straight-on shot but with the added benefit of toning down the width of the models hips plus creating the appearance of a slightly slimmer torso.

Anyway, people sometimes ask me about posing directions and this is one of them I routinely use.

The model above -- click to enlarge -- is one I shot last week but whose name I've already forgotten. (It sucks getting old... and forgetful.)  As you can see, for this pose I had her point her belly button quite a ways away from the camera but didn't have her bring her shoulders and upper torso back perpendicular the camera; although I did have her twist her head/face back to the camera. In that way, I could see both of her eyes, her entire mouth, and also without permitting her nose to extend beyond her cheek.

There's no single way to place a model's belly button or how to have her arrange the rest of her body once the navel is pointed where I want it pointed. I simply like using the navel-pointing thing as a convenient starting point for most front poses. Once her belly button and hips are where I want them, I then have the model twist and turn other parts of her body until the physical pose is one that looks good to me. An added benefit of directing the model's belly button: Her hips are never mentioned and, in that way, you don't run much of a risk of the model thinking that you think her hips are too wide. You know, and possibly causing her to feel a bit insecure about her weight or body shape.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Higher Expectations Equals Higher Output?

In my last update, I talked about the time constraints placed on me by the twice-a-week evening gig I'm now shooting. But most all of what I wrote focused on my duties and the possible difficulties of achieving my goal of snapping some decent photos in a very limited period of time.

Having shot under these time-intensive conditions a few times now -- the other night I shot 5 models in 28 minutes -- I've realized I'm not the only one who feels the pressure of time and the need to rise to the occasion regardless of how much time is (or isn't) allotted to do so. The models feel it too and, so far and to their credit, they're nailing it regardless of how little time we have to get the job done.

Some say necessity is the mother of invention and the necessity to "get their acts together" and sell themselves in the photos, with little time to do it, has already proven to be a positive thing in the three or so times I've now shot in these time-challenging circumstances.

I'm certainly no stranger to being given too little time -- leastwise, in my mind -- to capture what I hope to capture. Whether I'm given 5 minutes or 5 hours I often feel like I could have done a better job if only I had more time to do it in. But honestly, what would I do with that extra time?  Shoot more images? (Many of them being more of the same.) Keep changing my lighting setups or exposure settings?  Spend more time doing whatever I can to help the model get into her groove?

In this new gig I'm shooting, the models are well aware of the time constraints we're under and, I'm happy to report, suddenly seem able to "nail it" without going through whatever they might usually go through to find that place where it... well, where it all seems to come together for them. I'm not really sure how they're doing it or what they're doing, internally that is, to get it together in such a brief period of time. And I'm certainly not taking personal credit for their sudden ability to do so. But, so far, they're all managing to meet the demands of having very little time to find their groove by getting into that groove in minutes if not seconds. 

I've heard it said that many people only work to about 50% of their abilities or output and, in order to get them to achieve 100% of expectations, they need higher expectations set for them. In that way, if the expectations are twice as high and even if they continue working at 50% of what they're capable of doing or performing, 50% of their abilities suddenly equals 100% of the previous or original expectations. I don't know if that's absolutely true or not -- I'm not a psychologist or labor analyst or anything like that -- but, in my recent experiences shooting this new job, I've learned that it sure seems like it's true.

The pretty girl at the top is Elaine -- click it to enlarge -- one of the 5 models I had in front of my camera for about 5 minutes the other night. She was the least experienced of the 5. Sure, the photo's style (and more) is nothing out of the ordinary for glam pics, but it and the other pics I snapped of Elaine (as well as the other 4 models I shot) met the expectations of the client, in terms of content as well as time to capture them, and that's what mattered most for both the models and myself. MUA was Julia. I used a 46" Photek Softliter for my main and a couple of smaller, Photek knock-offs, either side from behind.

Elaine asked if I could pop off a couple of head shots for her. Here's one I snapped. Pretty face, no?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A New Gig... Sorta

I scored a new, regular, gig recently and, if any job calls on my skills at keeping things simple and avoiding complexity, it's this one.  This job, in big ways, forces me to utilize many of my "Keep it simple, stupid" techniques and maintain an Ockham's Razor mindset like few others... you know, those streamlined, guerrilla-style, approaches to the work I'm often touting here, on the blog, and which are the major themes of my first two e-books, Guerrilla Glamour and Guerrilla Headshots.

It's not a completely new gig for me. I've worked for this client on a semi-regular basis for a couple of years now. I started with them, two years ago, as a glamour photographer. That lasted about 6 months. It was a great gig: Three evenings a week, about one-hour's worth of work, paid each night before I walked out the door.

Then, as good things often do, it came to an end. The company decided they weren't going to use a photographer any longer. (Budgets and all that.) I did, however, continue with them as their back-up video shooter, i.e., whenever their regular shooter couldn't work I'd get called in to replace him... which has been fairly often. I guess when some good things come to an end it's not always a total and complete end. You know, like Miracle Max says, "There's mostly dead and there's all dead."

The work is for an online, adult, streaming company. The company is the largest adult-streaming company on the web and this particular show has become the #1 online-streaming adult show on the internet. Leastwise, that's what the company's higher-ups tell us... while also telling us production is still in the red. Regardless, I've worked long enough in this business to know that "production is in the red" and long-term profits are mutually exclusive data.

Currently, the show live-streams two nights a week. It's a one-hour program and is produced like a live TV show with a host and guests. The crew includes a producer, makeup artist, a camera person, a technical director sitting in a control room switching between cameras and overseeing the digital storage for each camera's feed plus storage of the "switched" rough-cut version of the show. Another tech person mans (in this case "womans") the computers. This 2nd tech person not only controls the internet feed and performs other computer-related duties, she also interacts with viewers in a chat room as well as performing pre and post show "production assistant" chores.

Everyone has multiple monitors to view the live feed, including the producer, host, and guests. Besides seeing the live feed in real time, the host and guests (and the camera person) can also see what's going on in the internet chat room via a big screen mounted on a wall in the room that houses the show's simple set: A big couch with drapes behind it and a few other set pieces. The set remains permanently pre-lit with multiple Kino-flos. Sound is recorded with stand-alone microphones mounted on short booms with shock-mounts which are secured to the ceiling. In all, it's a fairly high-tech production utilizing all the same production techniques as most any live show on television would.

The live show utilizes three video cameras: one mounted to the ceiling offering a bird's eye view of the action, another cam on sticks (a tripod) pointed at the small set in a static wide shot, and the third camera operated, hand-held, by a camera person.... that would be me or whoever happens to be the camera person for any specific show.

Anyway, back to how this show calls on my skills as a "Keep it simple, stupid" photographer...

Recently, the show's producers decided they needed to again start shooting still photographs... glamour photos, that is. Yep. All of a sudden they again needed photos of all the show's guests. (They're getting ready to release a slew of "Best Of" DVDs cut from the many episodes of the show already "in the can" and those we have yet to record.) Beyond the stills I had shot some time ago during that 6-month stint, they were considering using "screen caps" for the artwork for the DVD compilations of sequences they had no photography for. (A "screen cap" is taking a single frame of video and using it like a still photograph. The quality of most screen caps suck, BTW.)  Anyway, their distributor balked and put the kibosh on the screen cap notion. Leastwise, for future production. The show's producers, however, still had budgetary restraints. So, they asked if I'd be interested in shooting the stills as well as shooting the show and to do so as the regular person, not the backup. (Fortunately for me, the regular shooter is a video guy only, not a vid-shooter and photographer.)  "Sure! No problem," I told them, in spite of not being 100% sure the "no problem" part would prove to be no problem. But hey! Work's work! And they pay me fairly well. They also pay me each night before I walk out the door. There's a lot to be said for getting paid COD or "net zero" or however you want to describe getting paid immediately after the job is done. So, it's a Win/Win for everyone, in my opinion. They save some of the costs of bringing in a dedicated photographer to shoot the stills, and then paying a video shooter separately. (Yeah, I give them a pretty decent discount for taking on both roles.) I become the regular shooter for the show.

So what are the potential problems in accomplishing my twin-job job? Well, truthfully, there's only one potential problem: Time.

This show, like any live TV show, is very time-driven. The internet feed always begins exactly on time, to the minute and second, each night it streams. It ends the same way as well. The segments within the show are all on a stopwatch and begin and end at exactly, or nearly exactly, the same times during each episode. Everyone who works the show needs to be punctual and get their work done, before and during, in a very time-sensitive manner.

To make a long story short, I've ended up being allotted 28 minutes, no more, to shoot the glamour stills for between 3 and 5 models each night the show streams. The show begins at exactly 7:30 P.M. That means, at no later than 7:28, I need to be on the video set, with the camera in my hands, switched on, and ready to shoot. It also means the first two models must be out of the makeup chair and dressed in their wardrobe (usually lingerie) and ready to have their photos snapped by no later than 7 P.M.

I arrive at the shooting location at 6:50. I ride share with the show's production assistant/computer person as her home is very near my home and we both live about a 1/2 hour or so drive from the set. It wouldn't be fair to ask her to leave earlier just because I suddenly have more work to do than I did before they re-added still photography to the shooter's chores. Plus, the models wouldn't be ready any earlier anyway. What that means is this: When I walk in at 6:50, I have to immediately go onto the video set, put a fresh battery in the video camera I'll be using, turn it on, stuff a tape into it, check that it's working properly and then turn around and go to another room and set up my strobes -- 3 lights with modifiers which I keep stored in a separate room at the location, already mounted on stands -- and be ready to shoot stills at 7 on the dot... and all in no more than ten minutes. The location, BTW, is a residential house. It's city permitted and all that.

After I'm all set up and, assuming everyone else is being as time-diligent as I am, the first model is in front of my camera at 7 P.M.  Depending on how many models I need to shoot -- three, four, or five -- I have between five-and-a-half and nine minutes to shoot each one of them in order for me to be on the show's video set and have that video-cam in my hands, ready to shoot, at 7:28. The show goes live at exactly... five, four, three, two... 7:30. Whew! That leaves no margin for screw ups or extra time to cajole a model into her groove or futz with my camera or the lights or anything else. Trust me, later on when the company's art people begin working with the photos, no one is going to cut me any slack because I only had 6 to 9 minutes with each model. As you might have already guessed, the only way this works is for me to keep everything as simple as possible and to avoid anything that adds complexity to getting the job done.

The pretty girl at the top is Mia. (Click to enlarge.) I shot Mia just the other night for the web streaming show I just described. I had 6 minutes with her. In that time, I snapped about 35 or 40 captures, approximately the same as a roll of film back in the day, which is my goal for each model. That means at least one of the photos from the quick sets I'm shooting needs to be a useable "keeper" for whatever art work, packaging, ads, or whatever else they put together and use it for. Hopefully, I'll regularly deliver to my client more than a single keeper from each mini-set of each model.

BTW, have a happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Whoa! My Interview On PhotoWhoa Is Up!

If you're not familiar with PhotoWhoaDOTcom, you should be. Why? Because it's a great site for finding super deals on many photography products. I'm talking about some GREAT deals with some those photography products listed up to 90% off! Whoa! 90% off! Such a deal!

Recently, the good folks at PhotoWhoa asked me to do an interview with them. Being the bighearted guy I am, plus someone who likes seeing his words in print, cyber print or otherwise, I agreed. For the interview, they asked me to "demystify the mysterious world of erotic photography."  I don't know how well I demystified it. I'm not even sure it's all that mysterious to begin with. But I took a shot at answering their demystifying questions.  I suppose they thought my demystification attempts succeeded on some level because, well, because they published it.

If you'd like the mysterious world of erotic photography demystified (to some degree) CLICK HERE to read my interview.  And when you're done being demystified and the world of erotic photography seems somewhat less mysterious, check out some of the deals listed on PhotoWhoa. It's very likely you'll be happy you did.

The pretty girl above is Faye. (Click it to enlarge.) The pic was snapped in a warehouse studio in downtown LA. I messed around with some effects, something I don't often do, to produce this finished result of the capture. The image might look as if it's all natural light but it's not. Some artificial light, using an HMI, was added to provide a bit of illumination where the sunlight, streaming in through the window behind the model, didn't reach. In other words, I wanted to light up some places where the sun didn't shine. And just in case your mind might be in the gutter, I'm talking about lighting her face.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I'm Baaaaaack!

Well, I'm back.

Actually, I've been back for a week or so but I'm just now getting around to updating the blog. Where was I? I was back in my home state of New Jersey. I arrived there nearly a week before super-storm Sandy ravaged the NJ and NY coastal areas. I was supposed to fly back to sunny California a few days after Sandy hit but that didn't happen. They cancelled my flight. I couldn't get another until 5 days later. I couldn't even return my rental car, which meant I had to pay for it while it sat in the driveway of my cousin's home in Fair Lawn, NJ. (Where I stayed for the extended part of my stay.) Why wasn't I driving it around for those extra days? Gasoline. Couldn't get any.

Still, in spite of the storm, my trip wasn't bad. In fact, it was great! My trip, I mean. Not the storm. I had such a good time visiting family and friends. I hadn't been back to NJ for 35 years! Course, some of my friends blamed me for bringing Sandy with me but I denied any and all allegations of that sort. It simply wasn't true!  I'm innocent, I tell ya! Innocent!  I mean, why would I bring a hurricane with me to screw with my long overdue visit home?

You see, I was not guilty of any meteorological crimes against my home state. In fact, I wasn't guilty of any crimes at all while I was there!  Well, except maybe that toll booth I ran on the Garden State Parkway. But hey!  Is it my fault there were only two toll booths on that exit? One of them for "Fast Track" or something like that... which is something you stick on your car and it reads or senses  something and lets you go through. The other booth was "Exact Change Only," which I didn't have. Neither booth had a live human being in them. (So much for job creation.)  So what was I supposed to do?  I stopped. I pondered. People started honking and yelling obscenities at me. I hit the gas pedal.

Finally, there was that other accusation I heard-- one I only needed to defend once to one person. My answer is the same now as the answer I gave my accuser: No! In spite of what I do for a living, I did not make a pact with the devil! (You know, as Pat Robertson said the Haitians did, resulting in that earthquake a while back.)

We were all eating dinner at my other cousin's home in HoHoKus, NJ, when the storm actually hit. (Her Baked Ziti was awesome, BTW, as were the meatballs and sausages.) In all, she and her hubby lost five trees on their property. Five big trees!  But not one of them hit her house or any of their family cars. Sure, there were a couple of near misses but no damage. The same can't be said of their vacation home down the shore in Lavalette, NJ. It's still standing but with some damage, albeit not excessive damage. Unfortunately, the row of houses directly in front of my cousin's beach house weren't so lucky. My cousin's beach home is in the second row of homes from the beach front. All the houses on the beach front in front of my cousin's home are gone. Swept away. History. Finito!  Suddenly, my cousin has beach front property... not that she or her family would ever want to suddenly have beach front property via other people's misfortunes but that's what they've been left with.

Have you seen the pics of Seaside Heights? You know, with the roller coaster in the water?  I spent many fun times at Seaside Heights when I was a kid: riding the rides, walking the boardwalk and more. Now, much of it has been damaged or destroyed. But have no fear! Seaside Heights, indeed all of the Jersey Shore, will rise from the waves like some mythological water-Phoenix and be reborn from the sand and water of New Jersey's Atlantic coastline. That's how we roll in New Jersey.

I'll get back to writing about photography with my next update which, weather permitting, will be real soon.

The pretty girl at the top, the one feigning a semi-sense of modesty with her pose, is Ali.  (Click it to enlarge it.) At last year's Cannes Film Festival, it was announced that Ali was going to be the new Emmanuel for a comeback series of Emmanuel films. (Assuming you remember the Emmanuel films which began in the early 70s starring Sylvia Kystel. Unfortunately, Ms. Krystel recently passed away. RIP, Sylvia.) Anyway, I don't know if the new Emmanuel project ever moved forward or not.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Right Tools for the Jobs

Everyone knows there's a right tool for every job. Photography is no exception. Today, we have more tools than ever to accomplish our photography jobs. Some of those tools have been incredible boons for photographers. Others are all hype and bullshit and, frankly, aren't worth much in terms of being the right tool for just about anything, photographically speaking.

When I talk about photography tools, I'm talking about everything from cameras to glass to lighting gear to accessories to software to gadgets and gizmos and beyond. Some might argue that any camera is the right tool for the job. I disagree. While the best camera might be the one you have with you, and it's true any camera will let you snap a photograph which, in the broadest sense, is the job, it's not accurate to say all photographs snapped with any camera are equal to a job well done... depending on what, specifically, that job might be, of course.

Some photographers are generalists. Others are specialists. Most of them probably fall somewhere in between those two, descriptive, words. Me? I'd say I'm a specialist when it comes to 80% or more of what I do, what I work at, as a photographer. The balance, of course, could be labeled generalist work.

Since 80% (or more) of my work is specialist work, the tools I own -- from cameras to glass to lighting and more -- are tools which best serve me, i.e., they're the best or right tools for the job; the job of doing the kinds of specialty work I most often perform.

I often see other tools which look cool and I'd love to have but, before getting my hands on them, I always ask myself if that cool tool will be a great tool for the jobs I most often perform. If it doesn't pass that test, there's little chance I'll purchase it.  I have purchased gear that, at the time, I thought would be cool to have and use but, in the end, if it didn't turn out to help me perform the work I usually perform, I ended up selling it on eBay or via Craigslist. I mean, why hold on to something that doesn't really earn it's keep in my bag of tools? Just to have it?  I guess some people have that point of view but, since money is always an object, leastwise for me, I need to be selective in what I purchase.

Take cameras, for instance. I still shoot with a Canon 5D. The original, not the follow-ups. Would I like to have a 5DmkII or mkIII You betcha. Do I need one to do my job effectively. Nope. Are there other cameras I'd like to have? Yep. Do I need any of them? Again, nope. Same holds for glass. There's a lot of lenses I'd love to own. But I have to ask myself, "When doing my job, how often will that lens get pulled out of my bag and slapped on my camera?"  If the answer is "rarely" or "not too often," there's little chance I'll purchase it.

A few years ago I purchased a Canon, wide-angle, "L" lens. It was for a specific job I was going to do. The job fell through. I still held onto that lens for a year or so. I shot with it a couple of times but more for "grins" than anything else. Mostly, it sat in my bag. So, I sold it. The good part was I sold it for about the same money I paid for it. (Thanks to a rebate special Canon was offering when I purchased the lens.)

If there's a point to this update, it's that there are right tools for the job, wrong tools for the job, and tools which might occasionally be right but probably not often enough to warrant a spot in your bag. Then, of course, there are tools which, for the most part, are worthless when it comes to most any photography job you're likely to engage in.

Course, if you have plenty of F-U money to spend, go for it. If I had money to burn, I'd probably need a large room just to store all my photography gear.

The pretty girl at the top is one whose name I can't recall. (Click to enlarge.) It was one of those gigs where I shot about a dozen models, all of them in front of that stucco wall (where they told me to shoot) and all of them with a production manager constantly telling me to hurry up.  It was a mix of natural daylight and a couple of strobes.  I used a 5' Octa for a main, although I used it more for fill than for being a key light. I also used a medium-size strip box as a kicker, camera left. The sun did the rest of the work.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Are You an Artist or Craftsman?

As a photographer, do you consider yourself an artist or a craftsman?  A lot of photographers will likely say they think of themselves as both. I'm not sure how someone decides when they're being an artist and when they're being a craftsman. I'm guessing it has something to do with subject, that is, what they're shooting at the moment or the way in which they're shooting that subject.

For the purposes of this blog update, I should probably define an artist versus a craftsman.

An artist is someone who, by virtue of imagination, talent, or skill, creates works of aesthetic value. An artist is a person whose work shows exceptional creative ability. An artist can also be someone who is adept at a specific activity, especially one involving trickery or deceit, you know, like a con artist or a photographer who overly relies on image processing software to embellish, alter, modify, or re-create what they've photographed.

A craftsman (or craftswoman) is someone who practices a craft or works at a skilled trade and does so with great skill. A craftsman is an artisan, i.e., someone who practices a craft and is highly skilled in the techniques of that craft. Artisan, of course, isn't a word that's used much these days. It's a rather antiquated word which refers to a skilled workman or craftsman. When I go grocery shopping at Ralph's, for instance, they call the specialty breads they prepare, bake, and sell in the store "Artisan" breads. I suppose that makes the people working behind the bakery counter at Ralph's, "artisans." I'm not necessarily comparing skilled photographers to skilled bakers... well, maybe I am. Some might say being a skilled photographer is so much more artistically satisfying than being a skilled baker. Whether that's true or not I don't know. I'm not a baker; an artisan baker or otherwise. Since I don't bake, I have no idea if bakers find the products of their work as or more satisfying than photographers do.

When it comes to photography, I consider myself a craftsman and for good reason. I make my living with cameras in my hands. People don't pay me to make art. Not ever. Not once. Instead, they hire me for my skills and ability to snap the kinds of photos they want. In other words, when they're looking for a photographer, they're looking for an artisan, not an artist. That's not to say I've never snapped a photo that might be considered art. I think I have. Maybe even a couple of times. But, when I snapped those photos, my intent wasn't to create art. It was, as always, to shoot a good, skillful, photo... hopefully, a great photo. One which reveals my hard earned and much practiced skills and, to a lesser extent, my creativity and artistic sensibilities.

None of that is to say there aren't photographers who are artists and who pursue photography as purely an art form. Some of them even make a living at it. A few, very few, make an exceptionally good living at it. Personally, I would love to be a successful art photographer but the truth is there aren't many who can do that, myself included. It's not that there aren't photographers who are really good artists. There are. But like many artistic pursuits, only a few of them -- not many in the overall scheme of things -- manage to take their art to the top.  Many more, however, take craft to the top. It doesn't matter if the artist's art is painting, sculpture, writing, music or anything else. All of those artistic endeavors have their own great artists, albeit not an abundance of them. They also have many more craftsman and artisans amongst them. My guess is that more of them, i.e., those who make a living or some part of their living from artistic pursuits, are better defined as craftsman compared to the few true artists who manage to do the same thing.

The pretty girl at the top, naked and smoking a cigarette, is Cytherea. I used three lights: A main light modified with a Mola beauty dish positioned camera right, and two strip boxes, either side from behind. I set the beauty dish a little low to add a bit more overall drama to the shot. The strip box coming from camera right is cranked up to add more obvious highlights. I did that for the same reason I kept the Mola low.

Monday, October 01, 2012

The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same

Here's a fun-to-watch 1940s film about careers in photography. You might notice that, no matter how much the technology of photography has changed and evolved, so much else about it has remained unchanged.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Art of Self-Critcism

Author Joyce Carol Oates once said, "Self-criticism is an art not many are qualified to practice." For anyone pursuing artistic endeavors, whether it's creative writing, photography or any of the visual arts, music and more, Ms. Oates' words are dead on.

Some people believe, when it comes to critical appraisals of their work, the only critiques that truly matter are the critiques of others; that is, what others think of their work is what matters most. Conversely, some believe what others think of their work doesn't really matter. If they, as producers or authors of the work, think it's good, bad, or something in between, that's what it is. Personally, I don't agree with either of those views. They're too one-sided and intractable. For me, valid criticisms of my work falls somewhere between those two extremes; somewhere between my own self-criticisms and the criticisms of others... unless it's a client who's doing the criticizing. In those instances, my self criticisms matter so much less than the criticisms of my clients.

But how can anyone know which criticisms are most valid? Should we put more weight on our own criticisms or the criticisms of others? In other words, which should we count on most in order to determine the relative value of the aesthetic qualities of our work or a specific example of our work?  That's a tough question to be sure.

I've heard some photographers suggest it doesn't matter what others think of their work. What each of us thinks about our own work is all that matters.  That sounds terrific and very reassuring even if Ms. Oates' astute observation doesn't quite bear it out in terms of it being the better way to go. Still, I'm confident there are some very successful photographers and other artists who wholeheartedly subscribe to that idea, giving it much credit for their personal successes.

On the other hand, I'm also sure there are many more unsuccessful photographers and artists who, likewise, advocate that notion. When others don't agree with their self-criticisms, they simply chalk it up to others not understanding or appreciating their art. Those people are gifted artists, leastwise they've convinced themselves they are, and no one else knows nothing when it comes to their work. Worse yet, I'm pretty sure there are more than a few photographers whose work, for lack of a better word, sucks -- leastwise, in the eyes of most others -- and they wholeheartedly believe their self-appraisals of their work is all that's important and it always trumps the criticisms of others. For them, their work only sucks when they say it sucks... something they rarely, if ever, say.

I don't believe there's a sure-fire way to learn the art of self-criticism. Unfortunately, we all have something that can get in the way of learning to become good at self-criticism. That something is an "artistic ego." For some, it can be referred to as a "wildly inflated artistic ego."  Some of you might know a few people who suffer from that affliction. I know I do.

There are those who seem to have a natural knack for the art of self-criticism. I wish I had that knack. For most of us, however, self-criticism is a tough and difficult art to master, if it's even master-able.   Still, there's techniques, ways, steps, rules, whatever you want to call them, which may help you become more accomplished at criticizing your own work. Here's five of them I've come up with.

1. Practice your art often. The more you do so, the better you become-- both at it and at evaluating and appraising it.  Yep, the more you practice, the better you'll probably become at deciding what's good and what's not so good in your work.

2. Be honest. This is where you have to really work at keeping your artistic ego in check. Somehow, you need to learn how to remove the rose-colored glasses when you're looking at your work.

3. Don't make excuses. In other words, don't blame others (for example models) or circumstances (like the environment you're shooting in) for less-than-good work. Learn to deal with inexperienced models. Learn to shoot in less than ideal locations. Learn as much as you can in terms of how to deal with less than optimum conditions when shooting. Don't make excuses for yourself or your work.

4. Evaluate the work of others.  Look at the work of other photographers and, in a sort of semi-formal way, evaluate/critique it. That doesn't mean you necessarily have to share your critiques of other people's work. You're simply doing it to practice critiquing your own work. After you've critiqued another shooter's work, compare your critical appraisals of their work with your critical appraisals of your own work. Are you tougher on others than you are on yourself?  When being critical, are you more lax and forgiving with the work of others than you are with your own work? Is the level of detail in your critiques greater when you are criticizing other people's work? Conversely, is there less detail in your self-criticisms?

5. Have others critically evaluate your work. You don't have to agree with their critiques but I think you'll learn a thing or two about self-criticism when you compare your self-critiques with their critiques. This might require growing some thicker skin, but thicker skin is generally an asset when it comes to both accepting criticism, as well as developing your own skills at self-criticism.

The gratuitous pretty girl at the top is CJ from about 5 years ago. (Click pic to enlarge it.) I think she's waiting for dinner to be served.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Five Years Ago on Pretty Girl Shooter

I thought I'd occasionally reprise some of the posts I've made in years past. There's certainly plenty of them, what with the PGS blog being well into its sixth year. So today I'm climbing in  the WABAC machine. (Pronounced "Way Back" in case some of you don't know what the WABAC machine was or who normally operated it.)  Specifically, I'm heading back 5 years to September of 2007. If any of you decide to look this post up, you'll probably find I've done some small amounts of editing on it. Why? Simple-- I think I've become a slightly better blogger than I was 6+ years ago. You may or may not agree.  Anyway...

WORKING WITH FIRST TIMERS              (Reprised & Edited)

While I was in Vegas this past week, some of the models I shot were first-timers. To be sure, working with first-timers can be a lot of fun but they sometimes present special challenges. Here's a few examples:

Deer Caught in the Headlights Syndrome: Models beset by this affliction step in front of the camera and, although they may each have been Little Miss Personality while getting ready for their shoot, they suddenly go stiff, become filled with anxiety and dread, and begin posing as if a taxidermist had arranged their bodies and molded their expressions.

I've Watched Every Episode of America's Next Top Model Syndrome: These first-timers know it all. They paid close attention to every bit of advice Tyra Banks and her panelists and co-hosts offered to every contestant ever appearing on the show. They won't make the same mistakes those (losing) contestants did! Unfortunately, they're working too hard at putting the knowledge they gleaned from Ms. Banks' TV show into practice and their poses and expressions are often way over the top.

I'm Not a First-Timer Syndrome: These models have spent some serious time in front of cameras. But the people holding those cameras were boyfriends with point-n-shoots or cell phone cams. While these first-timer's boyfriends are all, according to the models, extremely creative -- after all, they're someday going to be A-List actors, superstar rockers, celebrated poet rappers, or even famous photographers -- they somehow weren't able to produce work that matched their creative prowess. Obviously, leastwise according to the models, only due to the limitations of their gear and not, of course, in any way associated with limitations of skill, talent, knowledge, and/or experience.

Yep, working with first-timers can be a real challenge. Here's some of my best advice for doing so:

1. Spend less time focused on craft, i.e., the photography tech stuff, and more time focused on the model. (That's why the craft stuff needs to become as  automatic and second-nature as it can be for you.)

2. Always keep the communication lines between you and the model open and going on at all times with a free exchange of ideas for poses, expressions, and more.

3. Give direction. Plenty of it and even if some of it becomes repetitive. If you find you're giving the same directions over and over, that probably means they're making the same mistakes over and over. Sooner or later, you keep giving that same direction and it will sink in.

4. Do your best, your very best, to gain rapport with the model. Say things (often) that build her confidence and stroke her ego. Again, repetition is a positive thing when it comes to stroking the model's ego.

5. Pay attention to details! Both in your viewfinder and in general. Especially in your viewfinder! You don't need to chimp every shot. Trust your eyes without always resorting to an instant replay by chimping the back of the camera. When you do, it sometimes makes the model think you're the inexperienced and insecure one!

6. Don't wait for the model to accidentally trip and fall into a decent pose. Shooting pretty girls isn't gambling. Good captures don't happen by accident. (Well, sometimes they do.)  But don't count on photographic lightning to strike all by itself. You're not Ben Franklin with a key and kite waiting for nature to happen. You're a photographer. Your job is to make things happen, not to wait for them to happen.

7. Always remember: It's lonely out there in the lights! More so if the photographer is mostly quiet and seemingly preoccupied with everything but the model while adjusting this or messing with that. (Note: If you're having a problem with exposure or anything else related to the tech stuff, let the model know that's what's going on. Otherwise, sure as shit, they're gonna think the problem has to do with them.) The best way to NOT capture the shots you hope to capture is to stand there, camera raised to your eye, silently keeping most of your attention focused on all the tech stuff,  all while an inexperienced model is emotionally squirming and melting in the lights.

The first-timer pretty girl at the top is Tina. (Click to enlarge.) MUA was Eva. Tina started out with Deer Caught in the Headlights Syndrome. Fortunately, she wasn't too difficult to loosen up. Image captured with a Canon 5D, 85mm f/1.8 prime, f/5.6 @ 125. Three source lights--a 5' Octodome and two strips--and a reflector were used.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Knowledge and Practice

Hat tip to my friend and fellow photographer, Tom McElvy, for the Beethoven quote. Click the pic if you can't easily read it. Old Ludwig B, as well as Tom, provided my personal inspiration for writing today's update.


The two best ways to improve your photography is via knowledge and practice.... knowledge and practice... k-n-o-w-l-e-d-g-e  and  p-r-a-c-t-i-c-e.

Growing your knowledge about photography is a never-ending pursuit. Practicing photography is a never-ending drill. Together, they represent the key, the combination, to unlocking photography's secrets and producing your very best work.

Whenever I learn something new about photography, something that really grabs my interest, I put it into practice. I don't mean I simply try it out once and Bingo! It's part of my repertoire. If I really like it, I practice it over and over till I nail it, till it becomes nearly automatic. I might have to practice it a few times or many times but I rarely try out new, unpracticed knowledge on a client's dime. Instead, I wait until practice and repetition, on my own dime, time, whatever, makes me comfortable with incorporating what I've newly learned (and practiced) into my production work-flow.

Someone once said, "The eyes are useless when the mind is blind."  When photographic knowledge is a scarce commodity in your brain, your eye, which is your greatest photography tool, might as well be blind. Some might say your mind is your greatest photographic tool. There's a whole lot of truth to that, but try snapping great pictures without your eyes.

Learning new things, gaining new knowledge, and practicing that new knowledge begets even more knowledge. In other words, the more you practice what you've learned, the more you learn even more. And that often occurs simply from practicing what you've already learned. Cool, ain't it? It's an awesome never-ending cycle!

These days, photographic knowledge is so easy to come by. There's no excuse for anyone to pretend knowledge is hard to come by. There are thousands of books, web sites, blogs, other photographers and more to learn from.

Today, photographic knowledge is like a tree with its branches hanging low from the sheer weight of all the Fruit of Knowledge hanging from it. And it's all within arms-reach! In fact, as a metaphor, merely comparing today's abundant availability of photo knowledge to a single fruit tree doesn't adequately cover its scope and breadth. It's more like there's an entire orchard of photographic-knowledge fruit trees beckoning you to come choose and pick all you want. From the perspective of developing and enhancing your photographic skills, it may be the best time ever to be a photographer!

Just so you don't think I'm blind to the fact that I didn't post one of my customary eye-candy pics at the top, here's a couple (below) of Anna I snapped a few months ago.  (Click to enlarge.)

Saturday, September 01, 2012

My Way vs. Other Ways

Being it's the Labor Day holiday weekend, I thought I'd write a little bit about labor. More specifically, the amount of labor, work, and so forth it takes to snap some decent pretty girl shots.

There are many ways to approach and succeed at capturing a good glamour shot. For instance, there's my way and then there's other ways. At the risk of sounding a bit full of myself with that "my way" and "other ways" stuff, let me clarify: My way always tries its best to be the shortest, easiest, simplest way to get the job done. Other ways often take other paths: complex and circuitous paths, time consuming and tiring paths, which may or may not be the shortest, easiest, simplest ways to accomplish the very same thing and arrive at the same destination; the destination, of course, being a competent glamour photo.

Some of you have read either or both of 2 of my 3 eBooks, Guerrilla Glamour and Guerrilla Headshots. If you have, you know I'm a huge fan of the KISS approach to photography, i.e., Keep it simple, stupid!  KISS is a well known acronym/term coined by Kelly Johnson, Lockheed's famous "Skunkworks" lead engineer.

The other concept I'm a big fan of is one called Ockham's Razor, sometimes spelled Occam's Razor.  Ockham's Razor postulates, Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. The theory driving Ockham's Razor was first put forth in the 14th Century by a Franciscan monk, William of Ockham.  Waitaminute. What? You don't savvy Latin?  Sorry. In English, Ockham's Razor translates to, "Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity."

In a nutshell, the good friar's observation simply means this: The simplest explanation (method, process, or way to approach something) is usually the correct one. You might even make that, "...is usually the best one."

I like to think that my way, whatever way "my way" happens to be at the moment -- and there's more than a few ways which are "my way" depending on the circumstances and given whatever it is I hope to accomplish -- "my way" always hopes to conform to both the KISS and Ockham's Razor concepts.

Take yesterday, for example. I was booked to shoot at a house high up in the Hollywood Hills. Even though the location's altitude might make one think the temperatures would be somewhat cooler than down in the valley, they weren't.  While the house was air conditioned, I was mostly shooting outdoors. And it was freakin' hot out there!

Realizing the heat was going to be a factor, probably a negative factor for both the models and myself -- although I'll admit I was mostly concerned about myself and my comfort -- I decided the best approach (in order not to wear myself out prematurely or end up with heat stroke or something) would be too lighten my load. In other words, to get by with less gear. Even less gear than I normally try to get by with! Rather than shoot with my customary lighting set-ups utilizing three lights and a reflector mounted on a stand, I opted to go with one light and no reflector. This, of course, meant I only had to trudge through the thick, oppressive, triple-digit heat carrying one light, one stand, one modifier and one stinger (extension cord) versus three lights, four stands, three modifiers, extra stingers and other stuff. While this might not sound like a huge personal stamina savings in terms of surviving the heat, trust me... it was.

Did that mean I sacrificed anything in terms of the quality of the photos? I don't think so. While I personally prefer the look those extra lights deliver in terms of highlights, there's nothing wrong with one-light portraits... and glamour shots certainly are portraits.  I might not regularly be a one-light shooter but when the temperatures trump 100° and I'm outside in it, you can rest assured I'll suddenly become a one-light shooter if it means better surviving the heat. Better surviving the heat means my energy level remains up and when my energy level is up I'm better able to focus on the things that are important, which mostly revolve around keeping my attention on the model and interacting with her in ways that improve my chances of capturing some good stuff.

The model above is Adriana, one of the pretty girls I shot yesterday.  (Click to enlarge.) As already mentioned, I used one light. I modified it with 4' Photek Softliter.  I was shooting ISO 200, f/11 at 125th.  Hope everyone has a terrific holiday weekend! I'm going to try and do the same.

Monday, August 27, 2012

In Praise of Golden Hour

When it comes to outdoor natural lighting, there isn't a time of day I like shooting more than Golden Hour. My main regret is that it never seems to last long enough.

Golden Hour, as you're probably aware, is that magical time of day occurring for an hour or so before the sun sets and the color temperatures become warmer and warmer, casting a very appealing golden hue. (It's also called Magic Hour, especially by cinematographers.) Golden Hour is a particularly awesome time of day for shooting portraits of all kinds. The warm tones of Golden Hour can be especially dramatic and alluring when shooting nudes, what with all that skin showing and all.

More often than not, I shoot at Golden Hour with the sun behind the model. Doing so creates beautiful, warm, glowing edges around them.  Occasionally, I shoot with the model facing into the sun, as seen in the image of Dahlia (left) I snapped at El Mirage Dry Lake, Victorville, CA, a year or two ago.

Bringing along a reflector is a good idea for Golden Hour shoots. Often, when orienting subjects with the Golden Hour sun directly behind them, you might need to bounce back some of the sun's waning light to get the kind of exposure you're looking for. Doing that, of course, depends on the look and feel you're hoping to achieve with your images. I often use a gold reflector to further enhance the already golden hues of the sun at that time of day. If, like me, you have a fold-up reflector with more than one surface color, you might experiment with gold, silver, and white surfaces reflecting the light back at the model. This will let you see how each one effects the model in different ways, color-wise. You can also shoot with the help of a strobe for fill. If so, you might want to gel the strobe with something warm to match the warm colors of the day. CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gels are one such choice. There are other gels, like Bastard Amber and Straw, you might decide to use.

Shadows during Golden Hour are long and pronounced and can add terrific aesthetic value to Golden Hour images. For those of you who like capturing distinctive flares, Golden Hour offers exceptional opportunities to do so when the sun is somewhere behind your subject and you frame and compose to capture flares.

During Golden Hour, as the sun continues to move lower and lower in the sky, lighting conditions can change quickly. You'll likely need to make periodic adjustments to your exposure to compensate. Course, that's part of what makes it so much fun to shoot at this time of day, besides the cool photos you will snap.

Below is a Golden Hour shot I snapped of Roxanne about ten years ago. (Ten years ago? Holy crap!)  I used a gold reflector to enhance the already golden hues which are abundant in the image.  Wow! My Photoshop hand was fairly heavy back then, especially applying Gaussian Blur to the model's face. (Click either image to enlarge.)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Multi-Style Shooters: A Good Thing?

These days, you know, these digital photography days, many shooters appear to have two or more styles: Their shooting style and their post-production style(s). I find it interesting that, for many bi or multi-style photographers, their shooting styles often have little to do with their post-processing style(s).  Possibly because, when they're shooting, they don't yet know what kind of post-processing style they're going to apply to their images. You might call this the "Instagram Syndrome."

Let's say you've developed a distinctive style in the way you light, compose, and capture your images. (I'm talking about with a dSLR, not an iPhone.) That's cool! As a photographer, it's something you should be doing in order to set yourself apart, even if your distinctive production style is subtle and doesn't knock itself over viewers' heads.

Then along comes your post-production style(s), often an inconsistent mix of Photoshop tools, 3rd party software, actions, apps, treatments and what have you. For some reason, whatever many photographers suddenly decide to apply to their style-driven, out-of-the-camera photos, that is, once those photos are loaded into their computers, often seems more influenced by whimsy than anything else. "Oh! That effect looks cool on that photo. I think I'll use that one!"

I've had clients who have asked me to emulate photos they've seen elsewhere. Usually, the photos they've seen elsewhere have distinctive looks, both in terms of production and post-production styles. Most of the time, I have nothing to do with the post-production. I just hand over the images I've captured.

Since, as a rule, I don't perform the re-touching, processing, or FXing for the photos I've snapped -- that's just how it works in the industry I often work in -- I know the things I do in production can either help the people who will be doing the post-prod stuff, i.e., help them do their jobs more efficiently and in-line with the client's visions of ripping off borrowing some other photographer's style they've seen elsewhere, or my work can hinder those folks. Hindering them, depending on what it is the client is looking for in the finished images, might be something as simple as me shooting in my usual and customary style with little regard for the client's direction and expectations for the finished images.  As you may have already guessed, shooting in my usual and customary ways when the finished photos are supposed to look decidedly different than my usual and customary work is not something that goes a long way towards getting me re-hired in the future.

But I'm getting a bit off-topic-- something I sometimes do. Sorry. Back to single-style production shooters who are multi-styled in their post-production efforts.

Why do so many photographers shoot with a rather consistent shooting style, and then process their images in ways that reflect any one of a variety of styles? That is, in whatever manner of style the style-spirit magically moves them towards in post?  I'm not questioning this because there's anything horribly wrong with doing that, you know, especially if you're doing it for yourself, but please don't tell me you were photographing your "vision" when, in fact, your so-called "vision" was subject to change, sometimes big change, and without notice once your shooting visions are loaded onto your computer, opened in Photoshop, and ready for your post-prod vision(s) to be applied to it... whatever they might be.

If you have a style for your vision in mind, shouldn't you do everything in your power to feed that style from the git-go?  Shouldn't you be shooting your visions in ways that enhance your ability to apply a pre-envisioned style in post? Shouldn't both those things work together instead of independently? Trust me when I tell you that shooting your source image, your out-of-the-camera image, should be done in ways that augment what you hope to achieve in post, whatever that might be. Lighting, BTW, is probably the most important element -- although certainly not the only element -- which will impact how your post-prod style tools, apps, actions, whatever effects your image.

I harp a lot about consistency on this blog. That's because consistency is what gets me hired and re-hired, not my ability to show incredible range of styles. The great artists throughout history -- and I'm not saying I'm an artist, great or otherwise -- had consistency of style, at least throughout different periods of their artistic growth and evolution. We know Picasso by the consistency of his style, regardless of the subject. When someone says, "Picasso," most people think of a certain style that was Picasso's, leastwise the style that Picasso is best remembered for.

Photographers, in my opinion, especially those hoping to make all or some part of their living via photography, should be working towards developing a singular style, one that defines them stylistically, and one that is represented both in the ways and manner in which they capture images with their cameras, and in terms of how they process those images in post-production. It also means these two, separate-but-equally-important aspects of their photos -- i.e., what comes out of their cameras and what comes out of their computers -- should have a symbiotic relationship. They should be interdependent on each other, not two, separate things that stand apart and have little to do with each other. It's that consistent singularity of style that will make you stand out, not some hodge-podge of post-production styles you whimsically apply to your photos, hoping some of them will garner some fleeting "Wow!" or "Cool!" status.

BTW, I'm not saying photographers shouldn't experiment with various styles, both in production and post. They should. They absolutely should!  Doing so is one way to discover styles which may set them apart from the pack.  But ultimately, most well-known photographers are known for single, recognizable styles. Those who aspire to becoming well-known photographers, whether it's within smaller communities or larger, should take heed of why and what famous photographers are famous for shooting, style-wise. Offhand, I can't think of one photographer who became famous because of his or her inconsistency of style.

Anyway, just a weekend, "just sayin," kind of update; hopefully one which, whether you or agree or not, provides some food for creative thought. The pretty girl at the top is Charlotte. (Click to enlarge.)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

dSLR Camera Focus Tips - Free Video Tutorial

FYI: My friend, Phil Steele, posted a terrific, free, online video tutorial on dSLR camera focus tips. Phil is an excellent photographer as well as a dynamic leader in photography training and education. His online courses can be incredibly helpful for many photographers. Check out Phil's free video tutorial below. You might also be interested in Phil's training programs, Lightroom Made Easy,  Speedlite Portraits, and Photoshop Basics for Photographers. You can also find links to Phil's courses in the right-hand column of this page.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Joke of the Day: The FBI's Anti-Piracy Seal Will Protect Your Work

The FBI has announced that any and all copyright holders, including photographers, can now use their official, anti-piracy, warning seal on their works as a way of deterring would-be copyright infringers.


Besides the obvious question most photographers should be asking, "Do I really want that gross and ugly government seal marring my otherwise beautiful photo?" Does anyone really believe posting the FBI's warning seal will deter anyone intent on ripping off your work?

Here's a bit of FYI for those who might think posting the FBI's seal amounts to anything more than "squat" in terms of protecting your work: The likelihood the FBI will investigate any claims you might make against someone who has ripped you off remains... drum roll please... zero.

The motion picture industry has been using the FBI's anti-piracy seal on their video releases for many years. Last time I looked at piracy problems in the motion picture industry, the problem remains a big problem. In more recent years, what with the web and all, it's probably a bigger problem than ever! And that's in spite of their long-standing use of J. Edgar's seal. That's an industry, BTW, with billions of dollars behind it. You know, billions of dollars they can draw on for lawyers and investigators and, well, wielding the FBI's seal like it's some magical Hogwartian spell protecting against copyright infringement.

The adult film industry, an industry I know a little about from first-hand experience, has been using FBI warnings on the fronts of their video releases for at least twenty years and guess what? The adult film industry is in the toilet. Why? You guessed it: Piracy.  So much for the FBI's seal  or supposedly intimidating warnings having any juice or effect when it comes to taking a bite out of intellectual property crimes.

I certainly don't have any *REAL* solutions to the problems associated with piracy but I know that one such *IMAGINARY* solution, i.e., the FBI's anti-piracy seal, is just that: An imaginary solution. In fact, it's a freakin' joke.

Gosh, I feel so much safer and secure, copyright-wise, with that ugly-ass FBI seal on my photo of Sasha above.(Click to enlarge.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New Innovatronix Photo Contest

If you're into photo contests, my good friends at Innovatronix are about to begin their 3rd such endeavor.

This time, the contest's theme is night-shot portraits.  I think that's an awesome theme! Shooting portraits at night can present special challenges for photographers. When they're done well, night portraits can be especially cool, dramatic, and have plenty of "Wow!" value.

Submissions for entries in Tronix's new photo contest begins August 22, 2012. The contest will run till October 22, 2012. You can have a look at the contest's rules by CLICKING HERE.

BTW, Innovatronix also has a Facebook page. Check it out and give it a "Like!"  Keeping up with their FB page means you can also keep up with all kinds of stuff Innovatronix is doing. Have a look at Tronix's FB page by Clicking Here.

Besides the fun of participating in this contest, here's one of the best parts: If you're the First Prize Winner selected by the judges for creativity, originality, and adherence to the contest's theme and guidelines, you'll be winning a Tronix Explorer XT/XT SE.  If you don't already have portable power, I guarantee you'll be thrilled to own one of these popular and terrific units. I have one and I love it!  Innovatronix is a world leader in portable power for photographers. That's not merely their sales and marketing guys talking. That's also me talking.  

In addition to the first prize winner, there will also be a "Public Vote" winner. That's right, you and everyone else can vote for their favorite night-shot portrait.  The talented photographer who wins the public vote will also receive a cool prize: The Innovatronix SpeedFire.  The SpeedFire is a practical and useful accessory, powering your Canon or Nikon flash guns without batteries and when A/C is available. 

So get with it!  Start shooting some night portraits or going through what you've already shot and enter the contest. What do you have to lose? There's no cost for entries.

The candid, night-shot portrait with just a touch-of-tease is one I snapped of Faye a few years ago right outside her apartment. (Click to enlarge.)  I used two monolights: One in front for my main light, slightly camera-left and modified with a medium-sized shoot-thru umbrella, and one placed as a kicker, quite a ways behind Faye, with a 30° honeycomb grid mounted in front of the strobe's bare bulb.  I shot it with my Canon 5D with an 85mm prime lens mounted on front. (Not the "L" version -- I wish -- but the consumer version.) 

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Shape Shifting Your Model's Face

Shape shifting isn't merely something we see in Sci-Fi & fantasy films and TV shows. It's a big part of photography, especially when shooting portraits of most any kind. The kind of shape shifting I'm referring to is how a lens's focal length will shape, reshape, or misshape a model's face. 

Years ago -- more years than I care to admit -- when I was regularly shooting head shots for lots of Hollywood hopefuls, I quickly discovered the impact of focal length on my subjects' faces as well as it's relationship to the success of my photos and, consequently, the success of my business as a headshot shooter. What I'm referring to is the manner in which lenses of varying focal lengths will distort (or not distort) the shape of a subject's face depending on the lens's focal length.

In a nutshell, the wider or longer the lens, the more it will distort a subject's face. Sometimes those distortions are preferred and desired and sometimes they're unwanted and undesirable. Lens distortions might be obvious or they may be subtle. Regardless, they represent yet another tool or "trick" for photographers to call on.  While my words about distortions might seem to imply that a 50mm lens, i.e., what's called a "normal" lens, would be an ideal lens for headshot photography, I quickly realized -- back in the days when I first pursued headshot photography and, according to my 16-year-old son, a time when dinosaurs still roamed the planet -- that wasn't the case. Instead, a medium telephoto lens is generally thought of as the lens of choice for most portrait photographers, specifically (leastwise, in my opinion), lenses that fall between 85mm and 135mm. For me,  a prime 135mm lens is my personal favorite for headshots or other portraits which mostly or predominantly feature a subject's face.

None of that is to imply that focal length is the only lens-related consideration when shooting portraits. Aperture certainly is a big consideration, as is the distance between the model and the camera.  I prefer to shoot headshots, especially when they're of females, employing wide apertures. For me, the narrow depth of focus at wide apertures is preferable. It helps to further compress the face and, with tack-sharp focus on the eyes, viewers' attentions are drawn to the subject's eyes which is usually where I want them drawn to. When using a 135mm lens set with a wide aperture of, say, f/2.8, the end of the subject's nose is out of focus drawing further attention to the subject's eyes.

Here's a short video tutorial by photographer Jay P. Morgan on the impact of focal length on a model's face. I'm a big fan of Jay's videos. He always does a great job of explaining and illustrating many concepts and techniques, from lighting to lens selection and more, all designed to help you improve your photography.

BTW, I still have a few t-shirts left from the batch I put up for sale the other day. If you're interested in purchasing a Pretty Girl Shooter t-shirt for yourself or someone you know, PLEASE CLICK HERE.
I'm guessing they're going to all be gone very quickly.

Also, if you're interested in enhancing your skills and improving your efficiency as a headshot photographer, you can purchase and download my eBook, Guerrilla Headshots, by CLICKING HERE.

The pretty girl headshot at the top is one I snapped a few years back of the Goddess of Glam, Tera Patrick.  (Click it to enlarge.)  I'll readily admit it's hard to take a bad picture of Tera. The camera just loves her. I used an 85mm prime for the photo.