Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Girly Photography of a Different Kind

I suppose it was inevitable, what with so many women joining the ranks of pro, semi-pro, and hobby photography these days. There was a time when photography was a very male-dominated craft. In truth,  much of it still is, leastwise amongst professionals. But that's changing. Today, we have more female photographers than ever before and their numbers continue growing.

While there have been more than a few women who have made indelible marks on photography:  Margaret Bourke-White, Diane Arbus, and Annie Leibovitz (to name a few) come immediately to mind, the advent of digital photography has dramatically increased the numbers of females who are now pursuing photography in one way or another.

Personally, I'm thrilled to see so many women discovering and pursuing photography.  After all, so much of photography calls on the photographer's point-of-view and photography, as a whole, is incomplete without female points-of-view. Apparently, as a direct result of the influx of women photographers, we now have Pix, Photo District News' new photography magazine for women.

You've come a long way, baby... photography-wise.

Or have you?

Pix sounds like a natural, no? I mean, with so many women shooting cameras these days, and I'm not just talking about simple point-and-shoots, savvy marketing types recognize there's now a larger segment of the "serious photographer" population who are female and, as a result, it might be a profitable time to exploit that demographic with a targeted photography periodical. Targeting women certainly works for so many other magazines. It always has. Probably always will. So, why not a female-centric photography magazine? Makes sense to me.

But what is it, besides the possible differences in gender-driven photographic points-of-view, which might differentiate male photographers from female photographers? I thought about this for a while. I thought and I thought and I thought. Finally, the answer was revealed to me, possibly in a cosmic or divine revelation. Or, possibly because the answer is so freakin' obvious, regardless of the thought put into seeking it. And the answer is, drum roll please,  "Practically nothing."

That "nothing," however, isn't stopping the publishers of Photo District News.They've decided the stuff that separates the men from the girls, at least when it comes to photography, includes truly important things like smudge-proof makeup and other makeup tips for long days behind the camera. Pix also reviews seasonal flats which "will keep your feet covered, comfortable, and cute while you're on photo shoots." And let's not forget accessory gear. You know, like camera straps which are stylish yet still tough. After all, we all know -- I mean it's common knowledge -- that snapping better pictures, especially if you're a female, is a direct result of things like smudge-proof makeup, cute-n-comfy shoes, and tough-but-stylish camera straps.

Oh? You don't believe me? Well, don't take my word for it. Just ask the people behind Photo District News' new photography magazine, Pix, They'll set you straight.

Did I mention that Jezebel, a most excellent, female-targeted magazine of a different sort, published their take on PDN's Pix? Well, I am now. You can CLICK HERE to give it a read.

The gratuitous pretty girl flexing her bicep at the top is Katarina. (Click to enlarge.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Boosting Your Creativity

I've been going through Ed Verosky's new eBook, 15 Projects That Will Boost Your Creativity, and it has really got me thinking about the creative process in general and, more specifically, how and why we call upon it in our photography.

Obviously, the importance of being creative in our photography can't be undervalued or understated. And it doesn't just happen! We have to work at it so we can better employ our creativity in both the artistic elements of our photographs as well as their technical aspects.

In my eBook, Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography, I wrote a fair amount about creativity. Since boosting creativity is the subject of Ed's new book, I thought I'd also share a few snippets from my book -- they're the italicized paragraphs for the purpose of this blog update -- to help underscore the importance of doing whatever we can to boost our creativity and help make us more creatively-driven photographers. BTW, being a creatively-driven photographer doesn't mean everything we shoot is creative art. It simply means we're actively employing a creatively-driven process in order to snap the photos we hope to capture. We accomplish this by calling on our physical eyes as well as our creative visions and more, even when art is not the intended goal.

Although to my knowledge he wasn't ever a photographer, Mark Twain said something that is quite appropriate for photographers: "You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." In other words, seeing reality is not enough for most photographers. Your imagination needs to also see it. Then, camera in hand, have it's way with it. It doesn't matter if you're shooting landscapes or bodyscapes.

In a nutshell, that's what Ed's book sets out to do by providing those 15 excellent projects which are designed, amongst other things, to help get your imagination in focus.

Renowned street photographer, Gary Winogrand, once said, "The photograph should be more interesting or more beautiful than what was photographed." Winogrand's observation is such a simple, no-brainer, Zen-like notion: Creative photographers make photographs that are more interesting or more beautiful (or containing more of many other qualities) than, well, than what reality reveals or what we think we merely see with our eyes." 

Ed's 15 projects, IMO, are mostly about helping your photographs be more interesting or more beautiful than what you're photographing. After all, unless you're a forensic photographer or merely documenting something without regard to aesthetics or style, that's what's photography, creative photography, is mostly about.

In my line of work as a glamour photographer, Winogrand's advice, as you might expect, is especially important. My job is to make the models in front of my camera more beautiful, more alluring, sexier, more seductive and appealing then what stark reality might reveal. It's not that I try to tell bold-faced lies with my glamour pics. Rather, I bend the truth. I stretch it. I embellish it-- hopefully in positive and successful ways. (At least in terms of the purposes of the photos.)

Making photos more interesting or more beautiful doesn't just happen. (Except, of course, when it does so by luck or accident.) It mostly happens when photographers skillfully add their unique creative visions, their photographic selves, their focused imaginations into the mix of reality. It's those human abilities that make beautiful, interesting, creatively-realized, imaginatively focused photographs. It's what makes portrait photographs more beautiful or more interesting or memorable than the people being photographed might ordinarily be.

And how do we learn to do that? Well, for starters, we learn as much as we can about the craft. And we continue learning via as many opportunities for learning as we can embrace. We also learn how to use the tools at our disposal. And then we practice, practice, practice! A good way to practice is by taking on projects or exercises like those in Ed's book.

Creative photographers not only see the world as it is, they see it as it isn't. Creative portrait photographers see people as they are and they see them as they are not or as they might be. Photographers cannot see those things, however hard they try, if their imaginations are out of focus. If their imaginations are out of focus, they will fail at making something more beautiful or interesting than what their cameras are pointed at.

Boosting your creativity isn't simply about enhancing your technical skills. And it certainly isn't about what camera or other gear you're using. Boosting your creativity is about finding ways, be it through practice (with the help of projects and exercises like those in Ed's book) or by taking a different, more open-eyed and open-minded approach to your photography. Superstar photographer, Annie Leibovitz, says she uses her camera "in a Zen way." That doesn't mean either Ms. Leibovitz or myself are encouraging people to become Zen disciples. We're not. Certainly, I'm not. But here's where I'm coming from and, I think, what Annie Leibovitz is talking about when she says she uses her camera in a Zen way: Zen, while not a religion, is a way of looking at life and the world around us. Photography, like Zen, is also a way of looking at life and the world around us... and capturing it!

CLICK HERE to learn more about Ed Verosky's new eBook, "15 Projects That Will Boost Your Creativity." If you're also interested in learning more about my eBook, "Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography"  you can CLICK HERE.

The vision of beauty at the top is Charmaine. I didn't have to bend, stretch, or embellish truth in very big ways to capture it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

15 Photo Projects That Will Boost Your Creativity

My buddy, Ed Verosky, has come out with another most excellent e-book: 15 Photo Projects That Will Boost Your Creativity

I don't know about any of you but if there's one thing my photographic creativity can always use, it's some extra boosting. To help with that, Ed has put together 15 projects which are guaranteed to do just that!

Creativity is often misunderstood. A lot of people think it either comes naturally (for some) or it's something we have to wait around for until it strikes. You know, like a bolt of creative lightning.   I couldn't disagree more. While it's true there are a select few who are appear lucky enough to be naturally creative, or so they seem, or that it's sometimes like an "out of nowhere" epiphany -- which it sometimes is -- creativity is more often a process: A process which requires work and practice and more practice.

To that end and, as a means of helping you call on your creative juices when you need to, Ed's book provides 15 projects, or creative exercises, which will help you hone your creative abilities.

If you'd like to learn more about Ed's new e-book or purchase a copy for yourself, CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Photography Ain't What It Used to Be

To say, "Photography ain't what it used to be," is an understatement. A colossal understatement! Discussing all the many things which have profoundly changed photography in the last decade or so could fill volumes. (No revelation there.)

While I appreciate, enjoy, and regularly employ so much of what's new or newer to photography, most of what's changed in the way we do things and the gear we use to do it doesn't mean much to me in terms of personal satisfaction. In spite of photography's more recent abilities to easily alter and manipulate images, the only thing that still tweaks my pride, just as it always has, is producing photographs which are -- on their own and without much in the way of digital additives -- good photographs.

Now don't get me wrong. None of that is to say I don't take advantage of what's new or different or changed. For example, I regularly alter or manipulate images to varying degrees after I've snapped them.  It's also not to say I'm not appreciative for the ease in which I can take an "okay" image and make it a bit more "okay" or even take a good image and make it better than good. I am. But when I do so, and I do so quite often, the resulting images don't make be beam with pride. Instead, I simply feel like I've snapped something that's merely "okay" or "kinda good" and later made it a cut above "okay" or "kinda good." I do so, of course, by digitally re-working those original photos. Yes, there's satisfaction in doing that. But it's not the kind of satisfaction that feels exceptionally satisfying if you get my drift. Instead, if feels kind of fake, like faking an orgasm fake... not that I've ever faked an orgasm. Faking an orgasm is not generally, you know, a guy thing.

Many of today's photographers, myself included, are a bit like magicians. Magicians don't really perform magic, not genuine, bona fide, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry style magic. Rather, magicians perform tricks and slights of hand and create illusions. That's what digital manipulations of photos feel like to me: Slight of hand tricks and illusions. As such, they can certainly be entertaining and perceived as being really good but, in the end, I know they represent trickery and false illusions. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. Half the time, perhaps most of the time, those who are being entertained or impressed by digitally altered images don't have a clue-- a clue that they're looking at a magician's illusion that is. I'm just saying.

On the other hand, whenever I capture an image that's a pretty good image, one that is, like all photographs, akin to an illusion (when compared to reality) but one that, later on, requires very little massaging or frosting or adding other things from a photo-magician's bag of digital tricks, I generally feel prouder of myself. You know, as a photographer with a camera... period.  Admittedly, it doesn't happen as often or as consistently as I'd like but it happens often enough to remind me that the true satisfaction I get from photography has little to do with photography's evolution or the amount of instant-pudding digital trickery I'm now able to easily whip up.

I've seen images I've snapped where either I or someone else, some retoucher or digital artist, has transformed it into a really cool digital image. And yes, I get a kick out of that. But that kick, that little jolt of excitement which might make me pat myself on the back, is relatively short-lived.  For me, and probably for many other photographers, there's not much in the way of a digitally-altered nature, especially in terms of post-production, which can replace the more lasting good feelings and sense of accomplishment obtained by producing a cool photo the moment it's snapped. That's why I pride myself in being a photographer first and a magician second... or third or fourth. Actually, I'm not really sure where "digital magician" resides on my personal pride scale.  While digital manipulation and trickery might make (what appears to be) great looking photographs, I know in my photographer's heart of hearts that's not what they truly are. They might be great digital illusions in their final form, but great photographs they are not. Leastwise, not always or too often.

The pretty girl at the top is Jenna. (Click to enlarge.) I snapped it a while back in a studio with my Canon 5D sporting an 85mm prime. My camera settings were ISO 100, f/5.6 at 125th. I used three lights, i.e., monolights. My main light, set camera left at about a forty-five, was modified with a Photoflex 5' Octodome. The kickers behind and on both sides were Chimera medium strip boxes. The one on the left provided some soft fill and a few highlights while the one on the right was cranked up for more obvious highlights and for creating some chiaroscuro on her back, adding a bit of lighting "drama" to the shot.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Being an Expert in One Photo Genre Doesn't Make Someone an Expert in All Genres

Wow! There's certainly no lack of photography experts these days. Heck, I've even set myself up as one! (At least in terms of glamour or, as I like to call it, "pretty girl shooting.")

I don't think I'm being egotistical by considering myself as having "expert status" when it comes to pretty girl shooting. Nor is it an outrageous claim. While it doesn't mean I'm the best at shooting pretty girls, it does mean that, when there's a glamour model in front of my camera, I know WTF I'm doing.  At the risk of sounding all full of myself, I can light, pose, compose, and interact with glam models in expert ways. I've got game. I've got expert game. BTW, I didn't learn my game overnight. It took years. Quite a few years. After all the many pretty girl models I've shot, if I hadn't risen to an expert level I'd have to wonder if I might have a serious learning disorder.

None of that means I always produce photos which look they were snapped by a gifted expert. Having expertise doesn't include those sorts of guarantees.  My images are competent. Perhaps better than competent. More importantly, they are consistently competent (or better) with occasional bursts of way better than competent.  Consistency, if you weren't aware, is a hallmark of expertness. Consistency is what experts are known for, leastwise by their clients. No one consistently produces absolutely incredible images. Instead, experts consistently produce competent if not better than competent images. My ability to consistently produce competent or better than competent images is why my clients hire and rehire me, not because I sometimes produce images here and there with true "Wow!" value.

I've been professionally shooting pretty girls for quite a long time and the numbers of models who have found themselves in front of my camera is well into multiple 4-digits.  But that doesn't mean I think of myself as an overall expert on photography in general. Or, that I'm an expert in genres I've never (or have barely) worked in. While my expertise in pretty girl shooting certainly bleeds into a few other genres and, in so doing, gives me some amounts of expert or semi-expert skills when shooting those other genres, I don't think of myself as a true expert in any photo genre except that which I shoot most and shoot best.

What kind of rankles me is the current preponderance of photographers, those guys who made names for themselves in one genre of photography or another, who now seem to be also branding themselves as experts in genres they don't have much experience shooting. Or worse yet, as experts in nearly all genres of photography.  I have to call bullshit on that.  Just because a photographer made his or her bones shooting editorial or nature, food or sports, or nearly anything else of a specific type, it doesn't mean they're experts at shooting other genres outside of the genres they're best known for.

Obviously, like me, some of those folks' expert skills in one genre bleed over into other genres. But that doesn't make them true experts in all genres or even those genres where their expert skills prove very useful.  If you're like me and you follow quite a few expert photographers on Twitter, for instance,  you might have noticed the numbers of overall expert photographers, i.e., photographers who became expert in one or two genres, and who now peddle themselves off as experts in many if not all genres. 

Course, those shooters are generally the people who hope to sell you things like books or various manufacturers' products, or they're producing workshops or seminars. Nothing wrong with selling books or products or producing seminars or workshops providing, of course, the people selling or promoting those things actually and truly know, make that expertly know, what they're talking about.

Here's an example: Let's say a well known wedding photographer starts promoting their own workshops  focused on shooting glamour or fashion models. Sure, plenty of what it takes to produce excellent wedding photos bleeds over onto those two other genres... but plenty of it does not! And if they haven't spent an abundance of time learning to shoot glam or fashion models, trust me, they're not experts at it and probably not qualified to be teaching others beyond the most basic approaches to those genres. Unfortunately, I'm seeing more and more experts (in one genre) targeting genres they really don't have much more experience shooting than a lot of the people they're targeting with the things they're hawking.

Here's my advice: If you're going to buy a book or a product, attend a seminar or a workshop, spend some time vetting the photographer who wrote the book, endorses the product, or is putting on the workshop or seminar. If their backgrounds and experience makes them an expert in one genre, but not the genre their book, product, or workshop happens to be about, I'd recommend passing on parting with your hard earned dough. Chances are, those people don't really know much more about those subjects than you do. Leastwise, not expertly so.

The pretty girl at the top is Faye. (Click to enlarge.) I snapped this one on the walkway just outside her apartment's front door. I used two strobes: My main light modified with a medium-size shoot-thru umbrella, the other rigged with a 30ยบ honeycomb grid set some distance behind her, camera left. Snapped with my Canon 5D with an 85mm prime, ISO 100, f/2.8 at 200th.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Once but No Longer Money Cam

There was a time, not too long ago in fact, when my camera was a money machine. Don't get me wrong, I've never made Annie Leibovitz money, not even remotely close, but my camera(s) afforded me a pretty decent living. Unfortunately, that was then. As for now? Well, let's just say I get by. I just get by.

What happened? It's not like I forgot how to do all that I know how to do. It would be easy to simply blame the digital revolution but the truth is I made even more money after SLRs (and video cams) went digital. I think what happened is perceptions changed.

Which perceptions?

Those perceptions which some people (clients) had about a photographer's skills and the relationship between those skills and a photographer's ability to snap the kinds of pics they needed for their sales and marketing efforts. (Or, for that matter, anything else.) It's not that they (clients) no longer needed photographers, it's more that many of them came to believe it really doesn't take much skill or experience to shoot the kinds of competent images they wanted, especially since (in their minds) digital made everything so easy and nearly no-brainer. Worse yet, their newly born ideas about what constituted competent photos became not far off from their own, previously stated, ideas of what constituted incompetent photos. In other words, they lowered their own bars. And they lowered them significantly!

I have to tell you, it's tough competing against incompetence (via inexperience or otherwise)) when incompetence, suddenly and magically, becomes perceived as competence even though the poor quality of the photos themselves -- snapped by either incompetent or inexperienced photographers -- hasn't much changed. (Assuming it has changed much at all.) In other words, at least in my mind, the same elements of a photo which may have made it suck then still make it suck now. The only difference on the Suck-O-Meter is that some peoples' (clients') versions of what sucks and what doesn't suck has changed. It's like they've recalibrated the Suck-O-Meter to make it show something as "not sucking" when, previously, it would have registered well into the "Sucks" portion of the meter. Either that or they know the work still sucks but they really don't give a rat's ass because they've decided the consumers of their products can't tell the difference between a good photo and one that sucks. Or, they decided consumers won't be more inclined to purchase simply because the artwork selling the product is good, or less inclined because elements of the artwork, like the photos, now suck.

So this new acceptance of what was previously deemed unacceptable meant the only thing that matters is price. I don't mind competing with price as long as the pricing games are played on something marginally resembling level playing fields. Unfortunately, and often enough, it's not that way. With true quality and photo excellence being removed from the equation, leastwise removed to great extents, the only thing left in the equation is $$$.

Sure, if I were to cut my rates by significant amounts I could accept jobs I wouldn't have considered accepting, even for a moment, just a few years ago. Course, that would mean I'd have to work twice (if not more) often and twice (or more) as hard to earn the same amount (or less) I made not long ago. Call me lazy or whatever you will, I have two words to explain my feelings about this brave new world of cheap "professional" photography: "Fuck that."

I'd rather starve than trade all my years of learning and practicing and adapting my photography skills just to eat beans, regardless of the fact that I generally like beans and I could eat as many of them as I'd like even while working for beans, beans being cheap and all. And if and when starving isn't something I'm idealistically willing to do, I'd rather do something else in order not to starve. Something other than snapping pics, that is.

You see, in my mind, it makes a mockery of a lifetime of working hard to become good at something. Perhaps I'm being just plain stubborn? You know, by refusing to work for half or less of what I once routinely charged. Oh fucking well. Call it what you will but I still won't budge.

Some of my clients are puzzled why I won't work for ridiculously low rates. They seem to think I'm being ungrateful or something else because I won't budge on my price by 50% or more. After all, there's not as much work as their once was and I should be kissing their asses because, for old time's sake I suppose, they're giving me first crack at the work... even though the work pays like shit. Here's some 411 for those people: Don't do me any favors. I'll get by with or without your cheap-ass help. And just so ya know, I noticed you aren't charging much less for the products my work helps you sell. If drastically cutting your prices is unacceptable to you, I really don't understand why you think drastically cutting my rates should be acceptable to me... what's good for the goose and all that.

I should mention that all my clients aren't acting this way. But some are. One of them recently became enraged with me because after they hired another photographer instead of me, one who was basically clueless when it comes to shooting glam models, and the work he turned in was incredibly bad and amateurish, they came back to me for help. Not only would I not reduce my rates by as much as a penny, I charged them more than I have previously charged them for the same work. They still hired me to save their sorry asses (they were kind of in a bind and all) but they'll probably never hire me again. Oh well. Just because they don't have any principles doesn't mean I have to forget about mine.

BTW, for those who are scoring gigs because guys like me won't work for what you're willing to work for, odds are you'll never get paid much more than the low rates you've set for yourselves in order to get the work, whether you're actually qualified for some of that work or not. Rates may not return (in big ways) for guys like me but, for many of you who are willing to work for shit, there's a good chance you'll never know what it's like to get paid to shoot what you're worth as a shooter... even once your skill levels are good enough to warrant such pay. And you'll have no one to blame but yourselves. When you somehow helped clients set the quality bar low, you also helped them set the pay bar low.

Okay. I'm done ranting. Here's a pic I snapped of Nautica a few years back. (Click to enlarge.) I used a couple of strobes to help out the natural light. One was modified with a 5' Photoflex Octa for my main and another outfitted with a small umbrella working as a kicker from behind the model and camera-right.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Your Photos Suck. Welcome to the World of Noted Photographers

It's likely some of you are aware of the brouhaha going on over photographer Joe Klamar's photos of Olympic athletes. If not, you can take a look HERE or Google for more.

It's not every day a photographer's photos go viral because they, well, they suck... at least in many people's minds.

Or do they? Suck I mean.

Klamar is now being touted as either an atrociously bad photographer, a genius who created purposely flawed images which then created purposely intended buzz, and just about everything in between.

Most photographers prefer to travel the time-honored path of working hard to produce great imagery in hopes of reaping the rewards of becoming a photographer who can produce great imagery. I don't know much about Joe Klamar -- I've never heard of him before these images were released to the public -- but assuming he has, in the past, produced great photographic imagery, it seems it may have done less for him than producing imagery which many people think sucks. Go figure, right?

Terms like "great" and "sucks" are, of course, at opposite ends of the viewer-appreciation spectrum as well as being incredibly subjective, mirroring the concept driving that old, old saying: "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder."

Here's an example: (I'm ashamed to say) I spend a lot of time on Facebook. Too much time. But there, on Facebook, I regularly see lots of photos which I think either suck or are entirely unmemorable but which many other people seem to think are positively awesome given their comments about the pics. (Feel free to replace the word "awesome" with similar words like amazing, fantastic, terrific, etc... especially if you're non-photographer Facebook user.)

In the case of Joe Klamar, I'm not sure what the typical Facebooker's reaction is to his Olympic photos as mentions of his photos have yet to show up from anyone on my news feed. So here's what I'm wondering: Are those who are even marginally a "serous photographer" unimpressed (if not horrified) by Klamar's pics and, conversely, are your average, non-serious-photographer types thinking his images are amazing? (Assuming they're aware of them.)

I really don't know. (I'm not even sure I care)

But here's what (I think) I do know: Generally, the less a person knows about what it might take to produce something like an awesome photo, the more easily they are either impressed (or put off) by it for reasons which only they can explain, and those reasons likely have little to do with photography as a craft.

I guess the bottom line is this: Those of us who produce photos, either for a living or as a serious avocation, simply have to go with what we think works... for us. While others might near universally think that which we produce sucks, there are times when producing sucky work might make you famous... at least for a while. Just ask Joe Klamar.

The crazy model at the top is Sadie. (Click to enlarge.) Sadie was fun working with but I must emphasize the word "crazy" when describing her. Since trying to get Sadie to a level of less-craziness was a nearly insurmountable task, I took the path of least resistance while photographing her and just let her do a bunch of her usual, zany, crazy stuff. I should add that my description of "crazy" when describing Sadie is based on more than her being in front of my camera just one time, although it's true she has only been in front of my camera one time. Ya see, sometimes I do socialize with the people who end up in front of my camera which then might give me better insights into their personalities than the simple act of photographing them might provide. Just saying.