Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Instagram Has a Holiday Gift For You!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The War on Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Rules? We Don't Need No Steenkeeng Rules!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Portraits Aren't Made in Cameras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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