Monday, April 29, 2013

Kaizen, Baby! Kaizen!

The Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, literally “change good,” should be in the hearts and minds of every photographer.  I'm not suggesting that photographers should constantly and routinely engage in changing the ways they do things or their styles or that such changes are always good.  What I'm saying is that being open to change, whether it's new techniques, new approaches to one's work, new styles, new ways to modify or simplify the workflows you engage in (whether in production or post) and a willingness to try new things out, things that are a change from the ways you normally do them, can net good results. Sometimes, better than "good" results. Occasionally, fantastic results. (That is, compared to your normal results.)

As photographer, I admit to being mostly guilty of a certain reluctance to embrace the ways of kaizen.  Philosophically, I'm all for it. I'm in, babe! 100%!  But, in practical terms, I'm an old photo dog and often find myself hesitant, reluctant, or too lazy to change much of what I do and/or how I do it. "If it ain't broke don't fix it," comes to mind. So does remaining in one's comfort zone. But just because something isn't broken doesn't mean it can't be improved or approached differently. And no matter how warm and fuzzy feeling we might be in our comfort zones, i.e., our ways of shooting photos, it's important to sometimes dip our toes in other waters. Perhaps even, on occasion, to dive-in head first.  Ignoring the value of kaizen, BTW, can lead to one's photography becoming stale and repetitive.... which is how I often feel, but at least I'm getting paid for shooting the same stuff in similar ways over and over and over.

The phrase "outside the box," has gotten a lot of play in recent years, especially in the idiom of photography. OTB isn't simply a way to describe a photograph that appears less-seen or one that breaks  rules. It can also be applied to how a photographer approaches a shot, any shot, and the methods and tools the photographer utilizes. Art is product of our minds. Craft is a product of our skills, experiences, and know-how with a variety of tools; tools which are used to realize our art, i.e., to make visible that art which dwells in our minds.  If photographers don't sometimes attempt the Kai in Kaizen, they might find that some of the art they envision in their minds remains there and won't ever become visible for others to see. And why else do we practice photography but for others to see?

Okay, that's enough philosophy for one day. Probably enough for longer than that.

I've been working on my next ebook, both writing and shooting pics for it. Most all of the photos for the book are being custom shot for it.  My subjects, that is the people in front of my camera, aren't the usual victims suspects. (Usual for me, that is.) For my next ebook, I'm shooting everything from kids to seniors (high school) to actual models to senior citizens and beyond! (I don't really know what "beyond" might mean yet, it just sounded good in that last sentence... but I'm hoping to discover shooting something beyond.)  I'm even lining up a ninety-something-year-old woman for one of the book's custom shoots. I've mentioned this book before.

My next ebook is called Flash-Free Model Photography, assuming I don't change the title, and it focuses on shooting people, all sorts of people, using natural light and with (although occasionally without) the help of tools like reflectors, scrims, flags, and more. It also gets into stuff like exposure, glass, filters, techniques, and beyond. (Obviously, I like using that "beyond" word... tip of the hat to Buzz Lightyear. )  Anyway, no artificial light! No strobes!  I mean, c'mon-- Does the world of photography really need yet another book on how to shoot with flash instruments? Small flashes or monoblocs?  Personally, I don't think so. I think the subject has been adequately covered. Make that more than adequately covered, way more, exhausted some might say, and by more than a few book-authoring photographers.

Below is a photo (not for my new ebook) of  Bree. Remember, not so long ago, when Charlie Sheen was going through all those antics when he left the TV show, Two-and-a-half Men?  And remember his "goddess" he kept mentioning?  This is her.  This is she? Whatever. He was referring to Bree.(Click Bree to enlarge her.)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Terrorism is a Crime. Photography is Not!

This is off-topic for this blog but it's related to photographers, nearly all photographers, and it really pisses me off!

Last week, when pretty much everyone was glued to the news about the Boston bombing and the subsequent search for the culprits, law enforcement was literally begging people to come forward with any photos or videos they might have which could possibly help them identify and apprehend suspects.  But just one day after the bombings, the FBI, along with the DHS (Department of Homeland Security), released a statement reiterating their bullshit about photography leading to terrorism.

How come, as an example, when someone bursts into an elementary school and uses guns to kill innocent children, it's got nothing to do with America's many, law-abiding, gun hobbyists in general?  But when terrorists use cameras to document potential targets -- something authorities have said has happened a few times in the past -- we need to be reminded that photography and photographers might be potential terrorists? By the way, there's been no announcement or indication that's what happened prior to the Boston bombing, but some people at the FBI and DHS still decided to make generic, fear-producing, noise about the threats photographers pose.


Why is the 2nd Amendment so inviolate but the 1rst Amendment is not? Photography, and your right to pursue it in public, is protected by your rights of free speech.  (Part of the 1rst Amendment.)  But pick up your camera, go out on the street, and shoot? Oh! Look at that photographer. That's suspicious activity! He or she might be a terrorist. We better do something about their suspicious activities... like call the FBI, I suppose.


That kind of thinking really pisses me off, more so me being a photographer and all. If you're a photographer it should piss you off as well. It should piss everyone off! Why? Because these days, just about everyone is a photographer of some sort or uses a camera in public, even if it's their cell phone's camera. But according to the DHS and the FBI, everyone and anyone shooting pictures in public places might be terrorists. In other words, per the government, everyone is a suspected terrorist!

I don't about you, but if I see someone in public brandishing a gun, I'm going to be automatically suspicious. I'm also likely going to put some added distance between myself and the gun bearer.  But when I see someone with a camera, it doesn't even occur to me the photographer is someone I should be suspicious of... even if the photographer is wearing clothing that gives them away as Muslim.

The fear mongers are winning, people! It's up to all of us to try to do something about that.  You can start by supporting PINAC.  (Photography Is Not A Crime.)

Just when you thought I was so PO'd I forgot to post a sexy, pretty-girl pic... here's one I snapped of the gorgeous goddess, Tera Patrick. (Click it to enlarge.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New Camera = Better Photographer?

Recently, on a photography group on Facebook I participate with fairly regularly, one of the group's members posted something that spurred a pretty good discussion: "I spoke with a photographer today who said his photography will be better in 2013 as he has a new camera."

The original poster didn't mention what kind of new camera the photographer obtained. And certainly that could make a difference. If the photographer upgraded from, say, a cheap point-n-shoot to a good dSLR, his or her photography might become better -- the notion of the best camera being the one you have with you aside -- at least in terms of the technical elements of his photographs. But that's about it. No guarantees beyond that.

The thread settled into a pretty good discussion debating the pros and cons of upgrading cameras, and some humorously sarcastic comments punctuated the responses:

"I got a new Fender Stratocaster today! Now I'll be able to play all those Stevie Ray Vaughan tunes!"

"I should go out and buy new pots and pans....I'm already a great cook but dang I'd like to be a chef now!"

"I'm heading out to buy a 1D-X in a few minutes. Then I'm off to shoot a project for National Geographic. Turns out my old 40D was holding me back."

"My friends tell me that my dinners are much better now that I have a new stove."

What this subject turned out to be is a question of expectations as much as it was a discussion regarding the relative worth of upgrading one's camera, i.e., whether buying a new camera will truly make a positive difference in terms of helping someone become a better photographer.

Personally, I think it depends. And it depends on a number of things.

First off, if you buy a new camera and that new camera is a major leap forward from the camera you've been shooting with, you might become a better photographer. But that's assuming you take the time to learn how to use your new camera really well, you experiment with many of the new (to you) capabilities your new camera possesses, and you creatively and artfully apply those new capabilities to whatever it is you are pointing your new camera at.  If you do that, your new camera may indeed help you become a better photographer... or not.

If you believe your new camera will make you a better photographer simply because it's newer and more advanced and has many more capabilities  -- yet you don't work hard to learn how to take advantage of some of those new capabilities suddenly held in your hands and pressed to your eye -- you'll likely be disappointed. That's because the only gear that will truly make you a better photographer is the gear you were born with-- the gear that's housed in your noggin! The camera is merely a tool. While better tools may make you a more efficient photographer with more options, they won't necessarily make you an overall better photographer.

Sometimes, a new camera will take your photography to a few new levels. For instance, upgrading a dSLR to one with a full-frame sensor will mean the glass you're using will suddenly behave as it was intended. That's because your 50mm prime lens, as an example, wasn't intended to be automatically cropped (in every photo you use it to capture) by a factor of x1.6. It was intended to capture a 50mm's field of view rather than mimicking an 80mm lens's field of view.  Other factors a new camera might include which might take your photography to a new level are things like higher ISO/less noise, faster focusing, and more. But none of those things make you a better photographer.  Again, they simply make you more efficient with more options.

The only way to become a better photographer has little to do with the camera you're wielding and everything to do with what you learn and how often you practice what you've learned. That goes for any camera: new, old, analog, digital, high-tech, low-tech, and any level of tech in between. It's not enough to capture a technically perfect photo -- and I'll admit there are cameras which help you do just that -- because technically perfect photos can still be totally boring photos. A good photo is one that eloquently communicates something to its viewers. And it communicates with light, composition, environment, emotion, story, and more. All of them being things which have little or nothing to do with the camera you're using.

The gratuitous eye candy at the top is Allie. (Click pic to enlarge.) She's easy on the eyes, no?

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Modeling is Acting Without Words

It's not enough for models to simply be beautiful, especially in glamour photography where eye contact with the camera is so often seen. Sure, a lot of pictures of beautiful models seem only designed to capture a model's physical beauty and allure, but the best photos of any glamour model will be those where the model is silently acting, i.e., conveying emotions, stories, or ideas without words.

Words might not be secondary to the story in most movies but, in terms of viewers' perceptions of the actors portraying the characters in a movie,  the things those actors do, i.e., how well they act out their roles beyond the words they're given to say, are generally paramount to an actor's success in the role of the character he or she is playing.

The famous British actor, Sir Laurence Olivier, once said, "You know it's all in the eyes."  Olivier, of course, was speaking about acting. In a sense, Olivier was saying that the words an actor might voice are kind of secondary to the messages communicated via the actor's eyes.

Personally, I often find it amazing how a model's eyes can convey so much in a still photo without the help of words or movement. The best models are those who can use their eyes to communicate all kinds of emotions and more, just as the best photographers are those who direct, encourage, and inspire their models to silently communicate within the confines of that very brief moment in time captured in a photo. And what's the best way for models to communicate in many photos?  With their eyes.

Sure, other elements of a photograph support the messages the eyes convey -- lighting, composition, environment, pose, other elements of expression, that is, other than the eyes -- but in the end, and for the most part, the eyes say it all. Or, as Olivier observed with simple insight, "It's all in the eyes."

When I'm shooting models, I'm always encouraging them to "act" in front of my camera. I want them to say something to viewers beyond "Look how hot I am."  I'll readily admit I'm not always as successful as I'd like to be as a photographer-slash-acting-coach.  And when I'm being a photographer/acting coach I'm often directing my models to portray rather random emotions or "roles." In glamour photography, the goal is to capture images which do competently say, "Look how hot and alluring I am!" (or something similar.)  But that doesn't mean the emotions communicated in the photo cannot say something else or something more, even something conflicting or seemingly juxtaposed with the picture's intent... you know, emotion-wise.

Often enough, that "something else" will result in the best photos from any given set of photos, regardless of whether that "something else" makes much sense to the basic purpose of the photograph or not.

Next time you're shooting a model, any kind of model, remember that the emotions, stories, and ideas your model conveys, even if those things don't necessarily make sense to the overall purpose of the photo, are easily understood, or are quite subtle will generally yield more interesting photos. And that's what it's all about, right?  Snapping photos which aren't merely good from a technical perspective or that wonderfully capture a model's beauty and/or allure -- both of those things being very important -- but are also terrific in terms of drawing viewers in. And amongst the many ways to draw viewers in, whether it be lighting, composition, environment, pose and more, I think you'll find it has much to do with how well the model communicates with viewers or "acts" for them. More often than not, that communication/acting is "all in the eyes."

I can't recall the name of the model at the top whom I shot a few months back.  She certainly conveys a sense of mischievousness in the image.  I do remember that I asked her to "smirk" and act mischievous before snapping that one. How easy is that to help your model add a level of interesting emotion to a photo? All it takes is a word or two.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Clam-Shell Lighting

Although I generally use more than one or two lights when shooting models -- for the most part I use three lights with one in the front (being my key or main light) and two behind, i.e., one on each side as highlight lights or "kickers" -- I often configure my key light (main light) in what's called a "clam-shell" configuration. I rarely clam-shell two, separate, lights like some people do. Instead, I use a single light with a large modifier, plus a reflector to bounce in some gentle fill from below. Together, the combination of a lighting source and a reflector makes the two parts or "shells" of the lighting clam-shell.

Sometimes, when placing my two kicker lights behind and on either side of the model, I'll set them in a way to produce a clam-shell-ish effect as well. (Some people would call it "book-ending," but what's in a name, right?) Instead of of my (book-ending) clam being similar to a clam with its shells opened up top and bottom, my kicker clam-shell is more like a clam turned on it's edge, providing clam-shell-style light from either side. I do this by moving those lights forward, towards me, so that rather than coming from approximate 45 degree angles behind and to the sides of the model, they're nearly on the axis of the model, i.e., they're about the same distance from me as the model.  Deciding to do so is all about the lighting "look" I'm going for in any given lighting set-up.

About a year or so ago, the good folks at LumoPro sent me one of their 5-in-1 Light Panel kits to play with.  LumoPro's light panel made it even easier to set-up clam-shell style lighting for my key light and I use it quite often.  All I do is set my main light, then quickly assemble the LumoPro's light panel, set it under and in front of my main, angled upwards, and Voila! Simple clam-shell lighting.

A big reason I like using clam-shell lighting from the front is that it provides more even lighting up and down my models' bodies. Probably 80% of what I shoot is framed in 3/4 body shots. But I do shoot full body shots as well as 1/2 body and head shots. Clam-shelling my main light with the LumoPro or any sort of reflector means I can shoot from full-body to head shots with little or no adjustments to my lights.

The eye candy at the top is Penthouse Pet, Celeste Star. (Click it to enlarge.) As you might guess, for my main I used clam-shell lighting employing a single light source and a reflector to capture the images.There's also a pair of kickers working from behind and on either side.