Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Belly Button Guide to Glamour Posing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2012

Higher Expectations Equals Higher Output?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A New Gig... Sorta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BTW, have a happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Whoa! My Interview On PhotoWhoa Is Up!

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I'm Baaaaaack!

Well, I'm back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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