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.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

The Rule of Cool in Glamour Photography

The Rule of Cool states, "The limit of the willing suspension of disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to the element's awesomeness."

In glamour photography, the Rule of Cool is easier to stay within providing you have a model who naturally appeals to many viewers regardless of those viewers' usual and customary willingness to suspend disbelief. No brainer, no?  The hotter the model the less the photographer will be called out on elements of the photo which, in other circumstances or with other models, might result in violations of the Rule of Cool. In other words, viewers' attentions will be less focused on elements, like too much or too little post-processing for example, which may make it harder for those viewers to suspend disbelief when viewing the image.

Add too much post-processing to the image of an extremely hot model and viewers are more likely to be okay with that because, bottom line, the model remains seriously hot almost regardless of the level of post-processing applied.  Apply too little post-processing, even when the out-of-the-camera image literally begs for some "fixing" and "frosting" and the image still has an excellent chance of achieving cool and awesome status per the Rule of Cool simply because the model is so freaking hot that her hotness shines through even if the photographer did an otherwise piss-poor job of capturing said hotness.

I know. I know. It ain't fair. But who says life is fair?  Especially the lives of glamour photographers! Not me, that's for damn sure.

I see this Rule of Cool stuff come into play with more than a few of the models I've shot. There are times when I think I've done an exceptionally terrific job of capturing a model who might score somewhat lower on the "Hot Scale" and I don't get much of a response out of viewers. But other times, when I've felt like I've done a less than adequate job shooting some outrageously hot model and, even though the photos might score significantly lower on my personal, self-evaluated, photographic assessment, viewers go out of their way to tell me how "cool" or "awesome" or "beautiful" the photos are.

Funny how that Rule of Cool sometimes works, especially with photography and even more especially when it's a photo of a knock-down, drop-dead, gorgeous model versus one who is not so knock-down, drop-dead, or gorgeous.

Anyway. As I often do, I'm just saying.

The pretty girl at the top is Madison. (Click to enlarge if you're so inclined.)

Limited Supply of PGS T-Shirts Again Available

Some time ago, I ran out of Pretty Girl Shooter t-shirts and quit offering them for sale on this blog. My thinking at the time was I'd make them again available as the winter holidays approached.

Although I quit promoting the shirts and removed the link from the PGS blog, a reader recently purchased a couple of them from the shirt's "sell" page which I had neglected to remove. So, I placed a small order with my supplier for some additional shirts, that is, in addition to the shirts the reader purchased. As a result, and for a limited time -- limited by the number of shirts I have on hand -- you can, once again, get your hands on a Pretty Girl Shooter t-shirt. Course, if I get a really good response, I'll order even more from my supplier.

So here's the deal: I have a small number of shirts available but only in sizes Large, Extra-Large, and 2XL. If you're interested in purchasing one, CLICK HERE.  Please remember: I only have them in L, XL, and 2XL.

The photo above was sent to me by Chicago-based glamour and portrait photographer, Joe Asencios. (Click to enlarge.) Lookin' good, Joe! You do that PGS t-shirt proud!  More so with a beautiful and alluring model happily standing next to you. Joe tells me her name is Chelsea and that she's an absolute treat to shoot!  Anyone curious to check out Joe's photography page, you can do so by clicking here. Joe also has a Model Mayhem page with some definite hotties in his portfolio. You can check out Joe's MM page by clicking here.