Friday, March 22, 2013

Makeup Artists Are a Model's Best Friend

When it comes to glamour models, it isn't diamonds that are a girl's best friend. It's makeup artists. And when it comes to glamour photographers, makeup artists are a shooter's best friend too.

Melissa Murphy is a makeup artist I've worked with a bunch of times. Most often, when I was shooting regularly for Vivid Entertainment. As a makeup artist, Melissa is good. She's really good. She's self-taught and takes her job very seriously.

Recently, Melissa gained some notoriety when a number of news outlets stumbled on her Instagram pics. It seems Melissa has been snapping before and after photos of her subjects, mostly adult entertainment models, for some time.  Melissa's snaps went viral.  All of a sudden, the fantasy girls of adult entertainment became more human, more ordinary, less different from so many other girls. Leastwise, in terms of their natural appearance and excluding their perspectives on sex. Personally, I think it's a good thing. Instead of being women who appear very different from so many other women, they became, in Melissa's pics, who and what they are: Regular looking girls instead of fantasy sex goddesses.

Melissa, when all made up, looks like a model herself. For that reason, she included before and after photos of her own face on her Instagram account. It was the right thing to do and I credit her for doing that. All the models knew why Melissa was snapping those photos and they agreed to allow her to reveal them.  If you look at some of them, you'll likely find the models' transformations amazing striking. You can see some of Melissa's before and after pics included in an article published by the Huffington Post in their "Style" section by clicking HERE.

The pretty girl at the top is Jennifer. I snapped that one of Jennifer a few weeks ago. MUA was Melissa Murphy. Here's Melissa's before and after pics of Jennifer... altho they weren't snapped at my shoot two weeks ago.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

It's Amazing How Often Amazing is Used to Describe Photos

One of my personal (and curmudgeonly) pet peeves is the word "amazing." Mostly, because it's so often used to describe photographs which, frankly, aren't so amazing at all. In terms of photographs being amazing, my peevishness about the word includes photos that I, myself, snapped. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever snapped a truly amazing photo and I've snapped an awful lot of pics.

I see the "A" word attached to so many photos, especially on social media sites like Facebook, on photo forums, and elsewhere.  Every time I do I cringe a bit-- not a big cringe but a little cringe. I cringe because so many of the photos described as "amazing"  are anything but... amazing that is.

All those supposedly amazing photos run the gamut of images that "suck" to images that are very, very good. Still, it's the rare photograph that I would use the word "amazing" to describe it, even when said photograph is a really, really good photo.

The dictionary defines amazing -- when it's used as an adjective, which it is when describing photographs -- as something that causes sudden wonder, astonishment, or great surprise!  Synonyms for amazing include astonishing, surprising, and awe-inspiring.

Do people, photographers as well as others, sometimes post photos that are astonishing, surprising, or awe-inspiring? Yes, occasionally they do. Do they post them regularly and routinely? That is, are astonishing, surprising, and/or awe-inspiring images commonplace? I don't think so. Not even close.  If they were commonplace, they wouldn't be so amazing would they? It seems to me that when the word "amazing" is so cheaply and regularly applied to describe photographs, it dilutes the relative amazingness, astonishment, surprise, and inspirational awe which rightfully should be attached to those very few photos which actually do qualify as amazing.

A lot of very good photographers get the word "amazing" thrown at their images fairly often. Usually, by viewers who either aren't particularly amazing photographers themselves, or by those who know little to nothing about photography.

There are three kinds of amazing photos dubbed as such by those who routinely describe photographs as amazing: 1) Photos labeled "amazing" because of their (supposed) technical amazingness; 2) Photos labeled "amazing" because of their content or emotional appeal; 3) Photos dubbed amazing for both their technical merits and their content.

As guy who knows and understands a fair amount about photography and what it takes to produce almost any photographic image, it's the very rare photo that I'd call amazing because of its technical merits. Certainly, there are technically difficult-to-produce photos which, to various degrees, produce awe in me or that I find inspirational or motivational, but they're not amazing in the true definition of the word. They're simply difficult to produce. Yet, bottom-line, I know I could produce them, i.e., reverse engineer them, if given the same tools, resources, shooting environment, crew, time, money, and more to do so. To wow me, a photographer needs to produce an image that stymies me in terms of how it was produced. To say that doesn't often happen is an understatement. I'm not bragging. But the technical stuff is all about knowledge and resources. Knowledge I've learned and retained while available resources aren't things I have an abundance of at my fingertips.

As for content or emotional appeal, truly amazing photos are often products of serendipity, luck, or being in the right place at the right time with a camera hoisted to one's eye. That's not to say a photographer cannot set out to purposely produce an amazing photo with amazing content or emotional appeal. They can. And they sometimes succeed at doing so. But it's not something that can be routinely and consistently accomplished.

Photos which qualify as amazing for both their technical qualities as well as their content or emotional appeal are the rarest of all. They don't happen frequently and, often enough, luck plays as important a role as everything else a photographer might throw at producing such an image.

So, next time you think to apply the word "amazing" to a photograph, you might consider using some other word or words because, odds are, the photo is not as amazing as you might, at first, believe that it is.

And so ends today's rant, as non-amazing as it might be.

The image at the top, one I snapped a month or two ago, has had the word "amazing" tossed at it a few times. (Click it enlarge.) You might not agree with those who labeled it amazing and, to be honest, I don't either. It's a decent enough nude image of a pretty model but, trust me when I tell you, there's nothing amazing about that photo. From a technical perspective, it utilizes my standard lighting setup against a neutral, seamless, background. I didn't do much processing to it. There's little emotional appeal and, while the image is somewhat dramatic, it's content is nothing special, rarely seen, astonishing, surprising, or awe-inspiring. In short, amazing it ain't.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Are the Morality Police Losing Their Grip on Photography Websites??

I was a recipient of a bulk email today from a well-known photography website in which they're pimping an ebook on boudoir photography. Course, they had to sort of apologize for doing so although I'm pretty sure they won't be sheepish about accepting the money they'll be making off sales from the book.

In their email, they wrote: "This is sort of a new one for us, we have never mentioned a deal on boudoir photography before (please avoid if you are offended by boudoir photography). But many readers have requested articles on it."

Oh? You think many readers might be interested in articles or an ebook about boudoir photography? You suddenly fucking think so?

I say "suddenly" because...

I've authored three ebooks on photography. And I've done pretty damn well with them. But this particular website, along with a number of other big and well-known photography sites, previously declined to be sales affiliates of mine because, as they all told me in one way or another, they have readers who might be offended if they hawked an ebook on glamour photography. (BTW, I could tell you all the differences between boudoir and glamour photography in about a paragraph or two, probably less, but that's not what I'm writing about today.)

Anyway, in response to those websites who rejected me, I politely proposed, "Well then, don't sell my glamour ebook, Guerrilla Glamour. Just sell my other two ebooks: Guerrilla Headshots and Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography. Those ebooks are entirely "G" rated."   (My glamour ebook being, at worst, "R" rated, at least in terms of some of the photos in it-- none of which being "X" rated.) But they still declined, citing the mere connection between those two ebooks and my glamour ebook -- that connection, I suppose, being me, the author -- might be enough to offend or put off some of their readers.

You spineless, ball-less, fucking douche-bag wimps! I did not say to any of them, although I certainly wanted to say something along those lines.

In today's email, the website went on to state: "Although boudoir photography is as old as the camera itself, it’s only in the last decade that it has become a popular and legitimate art form that many women seek out as gifts for their spouses. Many photographers have made a lucrative career out of it and portrait photographers often offer it as a secondary service to supplement their income."

Here's some 411 for you websites who pretend you're such total experts on photography and photographers: Much like nude photography, boudoir photography has not only been around since photography has been around, it's been a legitimate art form throughout all that time, not just in the past ten years.

On the plus side, perhaps the self-appointed Morality Police and their church lady cohorts are finally losing their juice with these big photography websites who pretend that certain photographic genres -- genres which are also as old as the camera itself -- aren't things that many, many of their readers might be interested in learning how to shoot? 

Okay. I've gotten that rant off my chest. The pretty girl at the top is Kayla. (You can click it to enlarge it.) I snapped that one of her, as well as the one below (and more) a few nights ago. It ain't boudoir. It ain't porn. It's glamour. Nude glamour. BTW, if I modified the lighting a bit for the shot below, instructed the model to avoid eye contact with the camera, and processed it black-and-white it would pretty much qualify as an art nude. And I'll bet there are many, many photographers who would love to learn how to shoot models like Kayla in the glamour, boudoir, and/or art nude genres who wouldn't feel "offended" or put off by some vanilla photography site selling instructional ebooks on how to do so. Maybe those websites should focus their marketing on the masses instead of worrying about the asses?

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Lighting 101: Three-Point Lighting

As a glamour shooter, I'm a three-point lighting guy. Just about every glam and tease model I shoot, I utilize three lights. Most of the time, I use those three lights in the same or similar configuration, i.e., a key light and two rim or highlight lights, which is a variation of traditional three-point lighting.

Traditionally, three-point lighting consists of a key light, a fill light, and a back light.  I learned to use traditional three-point lighting way back when while going to film school and taking classes in cinematography. That was also a period of my life when I began shooting lots of head shots for Hollywood hopefuls. So, naturally, I began using traditional three-point lighting for that work. Leastwise, when shooting with artificial lighting in my studio... I mean my garage which doubled as a makeshift studio via a simple, seamless, backdrop.

I didn't own any strobes when I first started shooting studio head shots. I had hot lights. But that didn't matter. I'd simply set my hot lights up in the traditional three-point lighting setup and the results were pretty good. After all, what's a head shot but, generally, a portrait of someone's head, face, shoulders and neck? And portrait photographers have  been using traditional three-point lighting for a long time. Many still do. Later, when I began shooting glamour, I modified the traditional three-point lighting setup to one where I sacrificed the fill light and moved it behind the model to one side. My back light also moved to the side.

In a geometric sense, all I'm doing is rotating the traditional three-point lighting setup on the axis of the model. I can change the look of the lighting by simply moving the rim lights forward or backward. If I feel I need some fill, I usually provide it with a reflector in front of and to one side or the other. The effect of the lighting also changes depending on how I orient the model to the camera and the lights.

In my opinion, this is the quickest, easiest, and simplest way to shoot glamour models and get some good results.  It can also work nicely for other genres of people photography, depending the lighting-look you want to capture. I often see the work of commercial photographers -- in magazines, on the web, and elsewhere -- who are using this sort of lighting setup.  You've likely seen plenty of examples of it as well. 

The photo of Aubrey above, one that I shot just the other night, is straight out of the camera except for resizing and just a very small bit of "Curves" adjusting.  (Click to enlarge.) You can see that, from the front, she's nicely lit. You can also readily see how the rim lights are providing nice highlights on either side of her body and on her face and hair, i.e., providing a glamour element, and making for a nicely-lit, semi-nude, glamour shot. Some might call this "old school," which it certainly is... but then, what can I say? I'm kind of an old school shooter.

Here's another snap of Aubrey from the same night. It was only her third time in front of a camera. I asked her to bust a "fashion" pose. So, here's Aubrey's version of a full-frontal fashion-posed nude. I love working with models who just "go with it."