Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Developing Your Photographic 6th Sense

We humans all have something we call a 6th Sense. Actually, what we have in terms of a 6th Sense are other senses (or abilities) all bunched together in something collectively called a 6th Sense. This 6th sense is not a specific sense like the other five, you know, sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. Instead, the term 6th Sense can refer to many different things; different additional senses as it were. Some people think of our 6th sense as being comprised of instincts and intuition. Others think of it as ESP, clairvoyance, and more of that ilk.

As photographers, we often use something akin to a 6th Sense, at least partially, to tell us when to snap the shutter. We also call on another sense, sight, to tell us when the shutter should be snapped. But seeing the right moment to snap a photo isn't always enough, especially when shooting models or other people subjects. With people photography, we often call on our 6th Sense to help us decide when those "decisive moments" are either about to take place or are taking place.

Since shutter clicks are often measured in such small fractions of a second, and the windows of opportunity to snap a photo at those "decisive moments" are generally fleeting, there's not a lot of thinking time between the moment your eyes tell you to snap a photo and your brain instructs your finger to depress the shutter. That's why I believe some sort of 6th Sense is sometimes involved. This photographic 6th Sense gives photographers a barely conscious heads-up to when those decisive moments are about to occur, reducing the number of missed opportunities to capture the best moments. I should mention I'm not trying to sell you on some mystical mumbo-jumbo to enhance your photography. The photographic 6th Sense I'm referring to has nothing to do with supernatural abilities like ESP or clairvoyance. It's all about instincts and intuition, which are things that can be enhanced and learned. In other words, we learn, subconsciously, to instinctively and/or intuitively know when to snap the image.

How do you learn how to develop or enhance your photographic 6th Sense? Through practice and repetition. The more you practice photography, especially people photography, the more your photographic 6th Sense becomes an integral part of your work. Practice helps to sharpen and finely hone your photographic 6th Sense.  The more you shoot models or other people, the more your instincts and intuitive abilities will direct you to know precisely when to click the shutter in order to greatly increase your changes of capturing those magic moments. The obvious results? Better photos which resonate in more powerful ways with viewers.

The pretty girl at the top is Alexa.(Click to enlarge.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Actors Headshots

Way back in the day, when I was regularly shooting tons of head shots for actors, one of the really big goals of my work was to photograph my subjects in the best possible light, real and figurative, and in ways that did a great job of "selling" their looks and personalities. This needed to be accomplished in ways where my subjects also remained easily recognizable as, well, as themselves.

This was back in the film days. As such, there were more limited ways to effect the final images then there are today with digital post processing. Still, good photographers had a few tricks up their sleeves-- tricks which could be employed to enhance or alter the look of the person being photographed. Those tricks were mostly employed in production rather than post-production which, back then, meant a darkroom. Some of those tricks were created with filters and optics. Some with lighting and exposure. Things like hair, makeup, wardrobe, environment and, of course, attitude and emotion also played big roles. They still do.

The worst thing an actor's headshot could do, can still do, is make them into someone who, in person, doesn't much resemble their headshot. After all, many actors are called in by casting directors to "read" based on their headshots and little else. If an actor is called to audition for a role and, upon arriving at said audition, they don't much look like the headshot that got them called in to begin with, it can be the kiss of death in terms of being cast in that project, which generally is a process of getting "called back" for subsequent auditions.

Let's say a casting director sees an actor's headshot and, based on what he or she sees, decides to have the actor participate in the first-round of auditions. Often, these first-round auditions means calling in a fair number of actors. Actors sometimes call these group auditions, "cattle calls."

Cattle calls aren't always well organized. Appointment times are fairly loose. Because of this, actors often find themselves sitting in rooms with a group of other actors waiting to be called in for their chance to meet the casting director (and others) and to show them what they've got. If you're an actor and your sitting in such a room, and the casting director or an assistant comes out to call you in, often holding your headshot in their hands, and that person can't recognize you sitting in the room from the headshot held in their hands, you've got a big problem. Sure, they will call the actor's name, but the actor now has a big problem: They don't look much like the person the casting director originally thought would look good for the role. (Which is why the actor got called in the first place.)


Today, of course, it's incredibly easy to effect the look of the person, in post, whom you're photographing, by changing many aspects of their appearance and making them look really good... perhaps even too good. Through the use of software, photographers can shave years off their subjects. They can digitally shed pounds off them. They can effect their subjects in so many ways, making more ordinary-looking people into extraordinary-looking people. When doing so, you might be pumping up the egos of your subjects -- actors being a class of people well-known for egos -- but, if those subjects are actors, you aren't doing them any favors. While you may have turned them into people who appear to look good for certain kinds of roles, the headshot is not close to what they look like in person. Sometimes, not remotely close. Because of this, the new person you digitally created might get called in to audition for certain kinds of roles but they also might never land those roles. Why? They simply don't look like what the casting people thought they looked like in the first place. You see, you might have shot and digitally manipulated the headshot into a really beautiful image that might look good in *your* portfolio but you didn't do your headshot client any favors. As far as useable and productive headshots go, you may have given them a headshot that, in other ways, sucks.

So here's some advice when shooting headshots for actors, models, and some others: Make them look good, really good, but keep them looking, for the most part, like themselves. I know that sounds so simple and no-brainer but I often see many headshots where the photographer simply got carried away with all the digital tools at his or her disposal and, by not exercising the proper amount of artistic restraint, took inappropriate amounts of artistic license and turned their subjects into people who appeared to be someone other than themselves.

BTW, if you're interested in learning more, much more, about headshot photography, I just so happened to have written an e-book on the subject. (What a surprise, right?) It's not just about shooting headshots for actors. Instead, it's entirely devoted to the craft of shooting good headshots, headshots that don't suck, for all kinds of people. You can learn more about my e-book, "Guerrilla Headshots," by clicking HERE or on the graphic for it in the right-hand column of this page.

Sofia, the pretty girl at the top, is a model, not an actress.  (Click to enlarge.) As such, the headshot I snapped of her is something of a hybrid between a headshot and a beauty shot. I can assure you, anyone could pick Sofia out of a group of people based on what they see in that photo.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Photo Gadgets, Gizmos, and Accessories

Digital photography, coupled with the ever-growing numbers of people pursuing photography either as a full or part-time career or an avocation, and regardless of whether they're doing so with high-end dSLRs or iPhones, has been a boon to the photo gadget/gizmo/accessory industry. Without a doubt, there's more photo-related accessory items available than ever before. And photographers are buying them in greater numbers than ever.

I used to play golf. Back then, I thought golf was very nearly the undisputed leader in gadgets, gizmos, thing-a-ma-bobs, and accessory items. If you're a golfer, you might know that novelty golf gadgets have a long history, certainly dating back into the 19th century. And you probably also know that golf accessories number in the thousands. These days, however, I think digital photography has trumped golf in sheer numbers of available accessories, novelties or otherwise.

One thing that hasn't changed in the world of accessories is how you never know how useful or practical all those gadgets, gizmos, and  accessories might be until you've bought them and begin using them. (Or not using them.) Since I'm talking about digital photography, I'm also going to count most apps and various sorts of software as accessory items. After all, there's some software you actually need as a digital photographer. But the vast majority of what's available isn't necessary or required to produce great photos. They're simply what some might call, "luxury items," rather than must-have items.

I'm certainly no photographer's version of Inspector Gadget but, generally, I like photo gadgets, gizmos, and various sorts of accessories. I liked many golf-related accessories when I was golfing and I've always liked many photo-accessories as a photographer. I especially like them when they make my job easier and more productive and efficient. Wireless triggers are a good example. Could I get by without them? For the most part, yes. I could always go back to hard-wiring a strobe to my camera and then counting on internal, optical slaves to fire other strobes not hard-wired. For me, wireless triggers are VERY useful and practical accessories. They make some aspects of my job so much easier and more efficient. They allow me to use flash lighting in environments which would otherwise be very difficult to employ without wireless triggers.

But then I think about other accessories I was sucked into buying by either creatively crafty marketing people or my own errors in judgment regarding their usefulness. I probably, as an example, have about a half-dozen camera bags of different sizes and shapes, but I only use one. I'm not talking one at a time. I'm talking one, preferred, practical camera bag that I always use in spite of the others collecting dust in a closet. When I purchased those other camera bags, whether I bought them new or used, I was sure I had good reasons for doing so. But time and actual need has proven my reasoning wrong.

Here's another random example: The Hoodman "HoodLoupe" LCD screen loupe. Yep. I bought one. It cost about $75. It even came with its own nifty little case. I think I've used it a grand total of twice in the two years since I purchased it. Why did I buy it? Because the LCD screen on my Canon 5D sucks when trying to view it in sunlight and I got sick of finding or making some shade to view the screen. So, I bought the HoodLoupe. Does it work? Yes. Quite well, in fact. Why don't I use it? Because when I'm setting up in exterior daylight, I rarely think to pull it out of my bag, then out of its case, and then hang it around my neck. After not doing those things, it's generally more expedient to simply find shade or somehow shade the LCD like I always did before -- before being a proud owner of a Hoodman HoodLoupe, that is -- rather than trekking back to wherever my camera bag might be, which is usually locked in the back of my SUV. Besides spending $75 on a gadget I rarely use, I can't even say the Hoodman earns its keep in my camera bag where real estate is at a premium. Still, I keep it crammed in my bag. Who knows? I might someday begin remembering to pull it out before I set up my gear and begin shooting in bright daylight.

I have other gadgets and such which I make good use of, as well as plenty of them which, regardless of their level of practicality, I seem to never use. But every gadget, gizmo, and accessory item I own, whether I make good use of them or not, I own because, at one time or another, I was thoroughly convinced I couldn't make do without them.

I can't recall the name of the pretty girl at the top. (Click to enlarge.) Maybe there's a gadget which will help me remember all these models names without going out of my way to track their monickers down in my records? Anyway, I used three lights for the shot: A 5' Octo for my main, a strip box camera left, and a small umbrella, boomed a few feet overhead and camera right. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Red Dot Fever?

I've pretty much hated every compact point-n-shoot I've ever owned/used/whatever. Why? I could write quite a bit on that subject. Let's just say none of them have met my expectations in too many ways. But that's all changed now. Recently, I picked up a Leica D-Lux 3. This little guy is an absolutely amazing example of ultra-compact digital camera technology in spite of it being released in 2006 and its technology being six years old. Those crafty German engineers! Day-am! (Admittedly, Japanese engineering gets some credit for this camera as well.)

Although my new Leica is used, I mean previously owned, it's in pristine condition. Better yet, I picked it up for a can't-say-no price!  Sometimes, it pays to regularly peruse Craigslist.

While there's a very similar Panasonic version of this camera -- Leica and Panasonic partnered up to produce these ultra-compacts -- and the Panasonic LX-2 is a less expensive version of almost the same camera, the key word is "almost." I've done some homework on my little Leica. The Leica D-Lux 3 is smaller, lighter, has a better sensor, better glass, and is manufactured to tighter specs than the Panasonic. Because of those specs, for instance, the glass on the comparable Panasonic is ground robotically and simultaneously in batches. The lenses used on the Leica need to be ground individually, i.e., one at a time, because of the closer tolerances in the specs. More recent versions of Leica's D-Lux line have hot shoes, something I wish my little Leica had. It's not that I would want to attach a speedlite or other flash to it, but being able to mount a PocketWizard would be nice and occasionally convenient and/or fun.

I purchased the camera for less than a comparable, used, Panasonic version. Cosmetically, it is in mint condition. I'm not sure it was ever used before I got hold of it. It looks brand new. However much it was used, it was barely used, and I mean barely. So, in a sense, I got my hands on the red dot without paying the premium for the red dot. To be more specific, I paid $200 for it from someone who was very motivated to quickly turn it into cash. It occurred to me it might have fallen off a truck or been procured in some dishonest way but, frankly, the guy I bought it from didn't strike me as dishonest.

I just happened to be perusing Craigslist's photo gear ads (looking for nothing in particular) when the seller posted his advert for the camera. Had I not refreshed the page before logging off, I would have missed it. I called the guy within minutes of him putting it up for sale. Within a few hours, I met up with him at a nearby burger stand, inspected the camera, offered $200 cash, and he took it. (He was asking $260, itself a good price for the camera.) Whether you look on eBay or Amazon, a used D-Lux 3 will set you back between $400 and $600.

If any of what I just wrote sounds snobbish or gearhead-ish, and it probably does, it likely means I've been infected, to some extent, with red dot fever. I keep my newly-acquired little Leica in the glove compartment of my vehicle so it's always ready for spontaneous action. Photographer Chase Jarvis is fond of saying, "The best camera is the one you have with you."  I tend to agree. But it sure doesn't hurt if the camera you have with you is a better than average camera, which I think this Leica qualifies as being, certainly amongst ultra-compact point-n-shoots.

Here's a shot of the lovely Persia from last year. I like her name which reflects her ethnicity.  I like it so much better than if her name were "Iran," which would refer to the same ethnicity and place but wouldn't sound as pretty. (Sorry for the geography lesson. I don't mean to insult anyone's level of knowledge.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Test Your Skills

An awesome capability of digital cameras is being able to get instant feedback via the LCD screens on the backs of cameras. Not only can you see what you've just shot, dSLRs display histograms which give you even more feedback. I probably wouldn't be going too far out on a limb by saying these features have saved plenty of photographers' photos and asses, pros and hobbyists alike, on a fair number of occasions. I know they've done so for me.

While all that instant feedback is much appreciated by photographers, myself included, it sometimes comes with a price: a learning price. At the risk of sounding overly old school, there's much to be said for shooting film -- especially with an all manual camera -- in terms of honing your skills. After all, when shooting film you don't get to immediately see what you just shot unless you're shooting Polaroids. Because of that, you need to rely on your technical skills in order to be confident your pictures are properly exposed.

 Personally, I think many photographers who have never shot anything but digital might benefit from spending some quality time with a film camera. Still, I'm not suggesting that everyone logs onto eBay or checks out Craigslist in order to buy, and then shoot, with a film camera. You already have a camera which will help you do that, that is, act somewhat like an old film camera-- it's your dSLR.

Here's a really simple exercise to help increase your technical skills. It's especially helpful if you have a light meter. Learning to use a hand-held light meter is another great way to increase your understanding of exposure. You don't need a modern, highly sophisticated, light meter. If you're shooting available light, the simplest, old, analog, light meters (not necessarily a flash meter) will do the trick.  It's likely your dSLR also has an exposure meter visible in the viewfinder which you can use.

Step One: Find something to attach and cover the LCD screen on the back of your camera. Example: Cut a 3x5 index card to the size of your LCD screen and attach it with some tape so it covers the screen.
Step Two: Set your camera to "M" for manual exposure. You can also practice this way using the aperture and/or shutter priority functions.

Step Three: Spend some time shooting in manual or shutter/aperture priority without the benefit of instant feedback via the LCD screen and the histogram.

Step Four: When you're finished shooting, THEN review all your images.

I think you'll find this little exercise will help develop your technical skills as well as your creative skills. The sudden removal of instant feedback forces you to pay more attention to exposure, the details in your viewfinder, and more.

The pretty girl at the top is Tori from a shoot the other day.  (Click to enlarge.)  Tori donned some boxing gloves and posed as if ready to punch me out. If you're wondering what's gong on with Tori's expression, it's because I said to her, "Can you give me some Rocky lips?"  She said, "Rocky 1 or one of the sequels?"

Here's another. This time, Tori assumed the character of a sexy baseball player.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Moving From Stills to Video (Part Three)

Here's some simple, basic, Guerrilla Production 101, suggestions for shooting video, that is, capturing things in motion with motion as opposed to capturing single, frozen moments of things that are in motion. (As is the case with still photography.) When shooting with a video camera, whether it's a dSLR or a traditional vidcam, you have two, obvious, options for any shot: 1) capturing it with a static camera; 2) capturing it with a camera in motion, whether the camera remains in one spot or is moving about.

When shooting a static shot and you're not approaching the shot stylistically with a style that dictates a hand-held camera, the best approach is to either mount the camera on a tripod or monopod whenever possible. There are few things that say "amateur" louder than shaky, hand-held, shots. Again, unless you're hand-holding for stylistic reasons or some other reason, e.g., a POV shot where you're mimicking what's seen through the eyes of some person or creature, mount your camera on sticks or support it some other way.

Even when mounted on sticks, the camera might be in motion in the form of pans and tilts. If that's the case, I strongly suggest you use a camera support with a fluid head. Using a non-fluid head support can also shout "amateur" because your camera's pans and tilts won't be, well, they won't be fluid. They'll be jerky. If your camera is mounted on a tripod and it will be locked down, i.e., it won't move, pan, or tilt during the shot, a non-fluid head will work just fine.

Beyond pans and tilts with cameras that remain in the same spot, there are other shots where the camera is in motion, that is, where the camera is moving about. For these sorts of shots, and again, unless you have a specific intent achieved by hand-holding the camera, I suggest you use some sort of rig that steadies the camera. There are many available "steady-cam" rigs on the market. Some are quite complex and expensive, others are simple and cheap. And, of course, there's everything in between. Lately, a variety of rigs designed for use with video-capable dSLRs have appeared in the marketplace. Generally, the more complex the rig might be, the steeper the learning-and-practice curve for getting the kinds of shots you hope to capture.

As I'm often working as a keep-it-simple, guerrilla shooter,  I employ as many techniques as possible which add a professional touch when capturing the video, even when there's not much production money available to achieve those shots in slicker, more "professional" ways; you know, with jibs, cranes, professional dollies, steady-cam rigs, and that sort of stuff. One way to simply and inexpensively accomplish this is by mounting your camera on a monopod-- a monopod which you've weighted to steady it out while you're moving about with the camera. All you need is a monopod and one or two of those wrap-around weights (which secure with Velcro) that runners and others use by wrapping around their ankles or wrists. They sell them in sporting goods stores and elsewhere and they're cheap. Simply wrap the weight(s) around the bottom of the monopod. When you hold the monopod and begin moving about, you'll immediately notice how much it steadies your camera. A steady camera often says "professional" in big ways. Monopods, by the way, might be the most versatile piece of gear any keep-it-simple, guerrilla shooter might employ.

An extended monopod can also mimic a jib. Simply extend the monopod to its full length, angle the camera downwards or upwards with the monopod's head (depending on what angles you're looking to capture), lock it in place, hold it over your head or below you, and voila! You can capture some very professional-looking, jib-like, shots. Sure, you're limited by the length of your arms coupled with the length of the extended monopod but you can still get some very cool shots by employing this simple technique. Standing on an apple box or step-ladder can take your camera higher and higher.

Sometimes, you want to shoot dolly shots. There's a lot of guerrilla film-making techniques to accomplish this. Again, the key to professional-looking dolly shots is the smoothness or non-jerkiness of the imagery. It doesn't matter how you accomplish the dolly shot. Your project's viewers don't see how you did it. All they see is the shot as the camera moves, hopefully smoothly, from Point A to Point B. There are many types of dollies available. Like steady-cam rigs, some are expensive, some are not. Some are pro gear, some are DIY type gear. Some ways of doing this are cheap, some not so cheap. Here's a couple of the ways I've captured moving shots when shooting guerrilla-style, moving shots that appear like they were captured using a dolly, that is:

1. Sitting in a wheelchair, hand-holding the camera or using a monopod while someone wheels me around, or mounting the camera to a wheelchair. Wheelchairs generally move smoothly, especially when they're moving on smooth surfaces. Here's a tip: Generally, it's a good idea to begin your dolly moves before the point where you think the editor will cut or make some other transition to it, and end them beyond where you believe the editor will cut away from the shot. In film-making in general, it's always a good idea to leave wiggle-room for the editor to choose the edit points. The most jerky-prone parts of any dolly shot, even when using a pro dolly, is when the dolly begins to move or comes to a stop. If you intend to use a dolly shot where the cut will take place sometime before the camera begins moving or sometime after it stops, then it becomes a matter of how smoothly the person(s) moving the dolly begins or ends the movement, regardless of the gear you're using to accomplish the dolly shot. BTW, I've even used a grocery cart in a pinch, but I wasn't enamored with the results.

2. Securing a camera to a skate board and either pushing the skateboard-cam across a smooth surface or using some string to pull it across. Most of the time, when doing this, I lay a sand bag on the camera to weight it and the skateboard down. That helps yield a smoother shot. Speaking of skate boards, there are a number of dolly products which utilize a small, dolly-like, camera support equipped with skate board wheels which run on tracks, often those tracks being made of PVC. They're not overly pricey and can yield some great results. The fact that high-quality video cameras, whether they're more traditional or are dSLRs, have gotten smaller and lighter has meant many more ways to accomplish dolly-like moves.

Vehicle-mounted shots can also add quite a bit of production value to your project. There are many ways to mount a camera to a vehicle, some of them expensive, some of them quite inexpensive. I have a Delkin Fat Gecko mount and I've used it to get some cool shots. They don't cost much and I haven't had a camera fall off the vehicle when I've used it, and I've used it for every thing from road driving to off-road. I've not only used it to secure a camera almost anywhere on a moving vehicle, but I've used it to get some of those seemingly impossible angles by securing it to all sorts of surfaces, provided those surfaces allow suction cops to operate properly.

As sort of a footnote, even if you don't use any of the techniques I described above or others like them and you'll be hand-holding the camera, there are ways to hold the camera which will minimize unnecessary shaky-cam footage.  Here's a couple of them:

1. Cradle the camera in your arms or keep it closer to your body. The more your arms are extended while holding the camera, the more unwanted shakes and moves will be telegraphed to the camera and the shakier the motion pictures you capture will appear. Image stabilization, on board many cameras, can only do so much. That's not to say you should never extend your arms while holding a camera. Example: I often find myself holding the camera high over my head and pointed down. When I do that, I try to lock my arms in place and spread my feet a bit to steady my body. I also generally wear bright-colored footwear when I'm shooting. This helps avoid accidentally including my feet in the shot. My red "sneaks" are perfect. It's hard to miss them if they "sneak" into the shot.

2. When possible, sit on an apple box or chair and, ideally, have the camera resting on one of your thighs. This not only keeps the camera quite steady, you can pan one way or the other by moving your leg right or left, rather than panning with your hands and arms. It will be a smoother pan than those performed with your hands and arms only. This kind of shooting, of course, means you'll be shooting from a somewhat low angle... unless you're seated on something higher.

Bottom line, the smoother and steadier your camera remains, leastwise for the most part, the more professionally captured your footage will appear.
The pretty girl at the top is Lupe. (Click to enlarge.)

Friday, May 04, 2012

Moving From Stills to Video (Part Two)

As I mentioned in my previous update, one of the big differences between shooting video and shooting stills is in learning to capture things in motion with motion, rather than capturing single, frozen moments of things which may or may not be in motion.

I wrote about this stuff in my e-book, Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography. In it, I mentioned contemporary photographer, Vincent Versace, who once said, "A still photograph is called a still photograph because the picture doesn’t move, not because the objects in the pictures are not in motion.” Versace added, “The photographer's mission, should he decide to accept it, is to capture motion with stillness."  Conversely, a videographer's mission, should he or she decide to accept it, is to capture motion with motion. D'uh, right?

I'll share a personal story which might help underscore this; a story I also wrote about in my e-book and in the same chapter as the Versace quote.

About ten years ago, I was editing videos that were produced, shot, and directed by a well-known photographer whose work appeared regularly in a world-famous magazine known for high-quality photographs of exceptionally beautiful, sexy, and alluring women. (He has since passed away. RIP, my friend.) It was his first venture into the world of video. He painstakingly, artfully, and beautifully lit, posed, and composed his models for the video. In fact, he did so in the same skillful ways that he had done with so many models for his photographs. While we sat in the editing room viewing the clips he had shot, he seemed quite happy with his work... until the models moved, that is. He lamented that his hard work at presenting the models in exactly the same sort of light, real and figurative, as he would for his photographs suddenly did not have the same impact and appeal as when he photographed them in identical ways. He asked if I thought once music or other elements were added in post-production the impact he was hoping for would then be achieved or reinforced. I told him those things will certainly help, but he wasn't overly encouraged by my response.  It wasn't that I thought he'd done a bad job lighting his models, he didn't, even when his models were moving, but he seemed to expect them to be perfectly lit at all times. That just ain't going to happen, nor should it.

From a lighting perspective, shooting stills and shooting video isn't all that much different other than the lighting gear you might employ. (Unless you're already using continuous light for your still photography.) The big difference comes when you're shooting video and the subjects will be moving around. With video, you're not always lighting them as if they'll remain in the same spot for the duration of the shot. Another "D'uh," right? The good news is this: If those you're lighting for video will be moving around, your subjects don't need to be lit in the same precise way you probably light them for still photography. Unless, of course, you're shooting an interview or other static shot where the subjects will remain in the same spot. You see, in real life, people move in and out of shadows, the light changes from one spot to the next, and so on. While you definitely want to set your lighting so it looks good throughout the shot, it doesn't need to look perfect, for lack of a better word, as they move about. Video often allows for more "reality" being on display than many still photographs allow for. I will say that I often direct those in front of my video camera to "cheat" to the light or be mindful of the the light but that doesn't mean I'm looking for perfection throughout the shot. I simply want them to be aware of the lighting, perhaps where the best lighting is, and in ways which present them in the best light when it counts. I do this even when I'm shooting in natural light without much of anything helping out, lighting-wise.

Composition, framing, angles, and camera moves are extremely important when shooting video. Unlike using Photoshop in your still photography where framing and composition can be changed, video post-production offers less opportunities to do this. Yes, some editing programs allow you to re-size the shots but it often negatively impacts the resolution. All that preaching I've constantly done about getting it right in the camera takes on whole new meanings when it comes to shooting video!

With video, things like composition, framing, angles, and camera moves go beyond aesthetics. They can be incredibly important elements in terms of communicating to the audience, whether you're leading viewers to something or purposely misleading them or creating different emotional responses. Those elements of camera work are key, often more so than with still photography, in terms of telling the story. There are few things which will set your video apart and make it look professional than good camera work. In my next update, I'll talk about some techniques for taking your camera work to a professional level.

The pretty girl at the top is Ally from a somewhat recent photo shoot.(Click to enlarge.)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Moving From Stills to Video (Part One)

With so many photographers now interested in learning video production skills, especially since the advent of video-capable dSLRs, I thought I'd write a bit about that today. In addition to my photography, I've been a working video guy since the early 80s. I've shot video from planes, trains, and automobiles. I've also shot from helicopters and on boats and motorcycles. I've shot at numerous sound stages and studios all over Southern California, at more location houses and other location buildings than I can recall, from offices to warehouses, factories to strip clubs, and out in the great outdoors shooting at exterior locations of all sorts in all kinds of weather.

My good buddy, Dan, is an attorney.  He's also a photographer and, beyond his license to practice law, he  has credentials shooting professional sports in the mid-western city where he resides. Dan, I should add, also shoots pretty girls whenever he has opportunities to do so.

Dan's law practice has him traveling all over the country on a very regular basis. He flies into Southern California every couple of months and usually stays from between a few days to a week. Whenever Dan's in SoCal, we hook up at a local eatery near where I live. The restaurant we meet at is called the Saugus Cafe. It's been around a very long time. The menu and the ambiance makes Dan feel right at home: It's very old school mid-western-like.

Lately, Dan's been picking my brain about shooting video. You see, some time ago Dan joined the crew of a small, independent, low-budget feature film. He's their stills guy. They mostly shoot on weekends even though Dan told me they have a 55-day shooting schedule in spite of it being a very low-budget film. Weekends fits Dan's schedule fairly well.

They're using a video-capable dSLR to shoot the film, uhhh... video... I mean film. Recently, the film's DP (Director of Photography) left the crew. The director has been trying to fill in as both director and DP but it's been quite difficult for him to wear both those hats. (It is. I can testify to that.)  So, he asked Dan -- Dan being a good digital photographer and all -- if he could sometimes fill in as DP and also shoot camera, video camera that is. Such is the way of very low-budget films. Dan said, "Hell yeah!" He saw it as both a challenge, an opportunity, and a helluva lot of fun.

The first thing Dan figured out is that shooting video can be as much like shooting stills as it can be unlike shooting stills. The camera operation, since Dan was already an accomplished digital photographer, hasn't been a problem for him. After all, whether shooting stills or shooting video, he's using a dSLR for both.

Where the differences lie, as Dan quickly discovered, is mostly in three areas of motion picture production, leastwise in terms of the shooter's job: 1) learning to capture things in motion with motion, as opposed to capturing single, frozen moments of things that are in motion; 2) creatively and competently capturing many, many short video clips that are, essentially, like jigsaw puzzle pieces which, later on, an editor will assemble into the finished product; 3) using other tools, especially those which overcome or enhance the ergonomic and other short-comings of dSLRs which, frankly, weren't designed (mostly from a form rather than function perspective) for shooting video.

This is going to be a fairly long subject to cover. I'm only going to do so on the blog in an overview sort of way. In fact, I might start alternating between blogging about photography and blogging about video. Maybe I should write an e-book on the subject? A photographer to videographer primer or something like that. After all, I have nearly as many years working as professional videographer as I do a professional photographer.

The pretty girl at the top is Alexis. (Click to enlarge.) You might have noticed I shoot a lot of models in front of a seamless, most often a white seamless. When I'm lighting, I generally don't care much about making the white seamless white. That's because the majority of my work is headed to some art department or graphic design guy who is going to cut out the model from the background and use it as a graphical element in the design of a DVD cover, a poster (sometimes called a "slick"), a piece of advertising, a photo element on a web page, or for other stuff.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Model Mayhem Sued

The owners of Internet Brands, Inc., who own and operate more than 100 websites including ModelMayhemDOTcom, are being sued by Jane Doe #14, a  model, for failing to warn its users about the potential threat posed by two guys who have since been convicted of drugging and raping models they contacted via Model Mayhem.

In her complaint, JD#14 says Model Mayhem was aware of the rape scheme, that she was drugged and raped as a result of that scheme, and that Model Mayhem users were purposely kept in the dark about the rape scheme.

Here's an article regarding the case published just yesterday on Courthouse News Service.

That there are sexual predators in the world should come as no surprise to anyone. That a few of them might be masquerading as guys with cameras seeking models to shoot should also come as no surprise.  What comes as a surprise, if it's true, is that a web site like Model Mayhem would have information regarding a sexual predator scheme, one played out by at least two of its users, and do little to nothing about it. Most importantly, by warning its model members of the potential threats to their safety regarding those two scumbags.

The pretty girl linebacker at the top is Mika from a shoot this past Sunday. (Click to enlarge.) If I was paying better attention to details rather than other stuff, I probably would have had Mika remove the necklace. Removing it via Photoshop, of course, is an easy fix.