Friday, July 19, 2013

Practice and Repetition: The Keys to Better Photography

Every time I shoot, it's kind of like (in some ways) I'm practicing for the next time I shoot. Every time I write, it's like I'm practicing for the next time I write. Practice and repetition are the things that advance or have advanced my skills like nothing else. Better than new gear, learning new techniques, better than anything else. The more you do something, the better you get at doing it. (Theoretically, at least.)  While this may sound overly obvious to many of you, I still think it bears repeating for those who somehow expect their photography to be akin to instant pudding in terms of development.

In pro baseball, the best sluggers still do batting practice.  Pro basketball players still repeatedly practice shooting hoops. If you're a golfer, there's always value in spending time on a driving range no matter how good a golfer you are or how low your handicap happens to be.

The same holds true for photography. Practice and repetition are the keys to better photography. Practice and repetition keeps you on your game. The more you shoot, the better you get. The better you get, the more you shoot.  It's a never-ending loop that benefits all who are caught in the loop. Getting caught in the loop, of course, is a good thing. A very good thing! (Assuming you're interested in becoming a better photographer)

People who watch me shoot glamour models sometimes say things like, "You make it looks so easy."  Well, that's because I've done it so many times and every time I've shot, the act of doing so became (in some ways) another practice exercise.  In other words, the more pretty girls I've shot, the more practiced at shooting pretty girls I became.  Take me out to a ball game, for instance, with a front-row field-level seat and have me shoot the game and you'll see how difficult I would make that look. That's because I've never shot a baseball game from a front-row field-level seat, much less spent any time practicing it.

By the way, there's a difference between practicing and experimenting.  While experimenting is important to a photographers' growth and development, it involves doing things in new ways or shooting different sorts of things than what you're most practiced at doing. When you experiment, you're not practicing what you already know how to do. You might be exercising some of what you already know while applying those skills to something different, but that's not practice.   If every time you shoot it's an experiment, a new experiment, you'll never get good at it even if you were lucky enough to snap an awesome pic or two during your experiment.  Being good at something means you can do it, whatever "it" is, repeatedly and consistently and with the the same or similar results. Practicing what you already know to do will likely do more for your overall skills and abilities than constantly engaging in experimentation.

Can too much practice make you too good? Photographer, please. In photography, as with many other endeavors, there's no such thing as being "too good," I don't care who you are or what you've already accomplished. You might be good, but you'll never be too good.

The pretty girl at the top is Aurora. I snapped it about 5 years ago. While it's said a picture can tell a thousand words, sometimes it only takes two words to explain a picture.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Three Act Model Photography

Whenever I'm shooting glamour/tease models, I take them through a range of physical poses and projected emotions. I'm guessing many of you do as well.  In spite of the overall range I take them through, I don't usually begin a shoot with too many directions that have much of an emotional context.  I'll admit that when I'm shooting glamour and tease the range of emotions (which make the most sense for the genre I'm shooting) aren't too varied or extensive.  The images are intended for fairly narrow purposes, after all. But there's still plenty of wiggle-room, emotion-wise, to include a decent-sized range of emotions.

For the most part, I don't begin my shoots with much in the way of emotional directions. Instead, I work my way towards adding emotions later in the set. For me, my shoots have distinct beginnings, middles, and ends. I like to think of them as shooting models in three acts. (Hey! Whatever works, right?)

Generally, when I begin shooting a model, I just want to start out by seeing (or getting a feel for) the model's skill, experience, and level of comfort in front of the camera. This represents the first act of my shoots.  During this first act, this Act One, I've found most models don't offer too much in the way of emotion anyway; they simply bust what they think are their best moves and poses. And, at this point, I don't ask or direct them towards much emotion.  Act One is kind of a warming up period or the getting-to-know-each-other portion of the shoot. (If that makes more sense.) I figure the beginning of the shoot is simply a time to allow the model to start getting into her groove and become accustomed to the flashing lights and the talkative, ego-stroking, guy with a camera pressed to his eye in front of her. (That would be me stroking their egos, not me stroking mine.)

Things change, of course, as shooting continues. At some point -- I can't say exactly when or put an elapsed time to it -- I sense the time is right to begin directing the model in more specific and descriptive ways, albeit it's still mostly in terms of physical posing. This represents, in my head, the beginning of Act Two.

Act Two is usually the longest act of my shoots. During Act Two, many models will begin displaying emotions all on their own. (Via expressions and body language.)  It's almost as if they suddenly remember there's something missing in their posing performance (emotion) and they instinctively and automatically add it to what they're already doing in front of the camera.  This isn't true for all models, of course. But I'd say it's true for the majority of them. It's also my cue to begin directing them in much more specific ways.

Once the model seems to be responding more easily and effortlessly to my Act Two directions, I add an emotional context to what I'm asking them to do. In other words, Act Three begins.

It's all fairly calculated. It's almost by-the-numbers in a progressive or hierarchical sort of way. It's not that models can't emote earlier-on during the sets. They can. It's simply that, from where I'm standing with my camera, their emoting often appears forced or contrived and less natural until they're ready to let it happen more naturally. (Most of them aren't ready until sometime further in to the shoot. Leastwise, that's been my observation.) The best projected emotions, of course, are those that appear most honest even if they aren't truly honest. It's the acting part of modeling. Act Three, in a sense, is when I'm looking for good acting, that is, believable acting in terms of body language (physical posing) as well as emotional projection.   It's not like all models have to suddenly become great actors. Their "acting," after all, only needs to happen in tiny spurts of no more than small fractions of a second at a time.

For me, Act Three is generally the most important part of my shoots and it's when I often capture the best images. That's not a rule set in stone but it seems to work out that way much of the time. Act Three also has it's own progression in terms of the range of emotions I direct my models towards. When I first being giving directions that are of an emotional nature, I usually start with upbeat emotions. Why? Because upbeat emotions tend to be the easiest for many models to project in honest and natural ways and I want to start them out with the simple stuff first. Conversely, the darker or more intimate emotions, those low-key and subtle emotions, are the most difficult for them to honestly portray. But, once they're in that groove, that physical and emotional groove, it's very satisfying how well some of them pull it off, even much less experienced models.

In the end, it's up to the photographer to elicit, direct, encourage, inspire the kinds of poses, expressions, and emotions that make for great portraits, glamour or otherwise. For all kinds of portraiture, it's not simply about lighting and composition. It might be that way for landscapes and still life and other genres of photography, but for shooting people the added elements of pose, expression, and emotion are often more important -- certainly equally important -- to lighting and composition. That's why communication between photographer and subject is of paramount importance.

The low-key head shot of the pretty girl at the top utilized three lights: A Mola beauty dish for the main and a couple of kickers, in the form of strip lights, either side from behind. I'm not a fan of the finger-in-the-mouth schtick but, for some reason, at least for me, Aveena makes it work without it being too cheesy.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Strong Sales for New eBook!

I'm happy to report that, in the first two days of its release, sales of my new eBook, Flash-Free Portrait Photography: How to Shoot Awesome Portraits in Natural Light, have exceeded my expectations by a long shot! In fact, in the first 48-hours of its release -- which  is still a few hours away at the time of this writing -- sales of my new eBook have surpassed the first 48-hours (of their releases) of my previous three eBooks combined. Not only that, but I'm getting really good feedback from some of the people who have already read it. All that has me anxious to begin writing my next book. (It was nearly two years since the release of my last eBook and this new book, by the way.)

I was going to next author an eBook on video production techniques for photographers but that idea is now moved back. I'm still going to write that eBook, but not just now. Instead, what I've decided I'm going to do is write something of a sequel to my new natural-light portrait book. A "Volume 2" if you will. (Hey! Hollywood makes sequels all the time. Why not me?)  Anyway, I'm going to author a new book that takes all the information in the natural-light portraiture eBook and then adds artificial light into the mix.

It seems to me that, these days, many newer photographers kind of have it backwards in terms of their learning goals. Instead of learning to shoot with real skill using natural light, they almost immediately jump into flash photography. Call me Old School Jimmy but doing so seems to me like putting carts before horses.

I'll bet some of you older, more experienced shooters learned to shoot in natural light, i.e,. you honed those skills, before you jumped into flash photography. I'm not talking about snapshots with flash, but more formal portraiture of all kinds.  What some newer photographers don't seem to fully appreciate is that much of the basics of flash photography is rooted in natural-light photography. Understanding light begins with understanding natural light. Then, equipped with that knowledge and know-how, it makes more sense to move on to integrating artificial light with natural light, and then learning to shoot with artificial light on its own, e.g.,  in a studio. Call me crazy but that sort of progression makes more sense to me; more so, that is, than learning to shoot with strobes and flashes first and then moving (backwards?) to natural light+flash and then, finally, learning to shoot (with skill) with natural light alone.

My next eBook will not include shooting with artificial light in studios or other interior locations. Rather, it will be solely focused on integrating artificial light (by using small flash instruments or larger strobes) with natural light.

Like my latest eBook, the next book will be useful for photographers shooting all types of portraits-- from seniors to business portraits, head shots for actors to babies and kids, engagement and wedding photos, fashion and glamour, family portraits, images for social media and so on.  In fact, I've already started writing it. (As well as planning for the custom photos I'll be shooting for it.) I hope to have my next  eBook (which I don't yet have a title for) completed by this September.  It's going to be my exciting summer project!

Monday, July 01, 2013

New eBook Released: Flash-Free Portrait Photography

Time to kick back and relax a bit. Why? Do I need a reason to do that?  Normally I don't but tonight I actually have one. A good one! After a few months of hard work, I finally released my new eBook today, "Flash-Free Portrait Photography: How to Shoot Awesome Portraits in Natural Light."

So far, I'm happy to report, sales are kicking butt! Plus, I've already received some most-excellent and near-instant feedback from a few people who purchased it and gave it a quick peruse. I think I'm going to celebrate while I'm relaxing. Yeah! Party time with me, myself, and I. And my cat too! Trust me when I tell you, my cat is a party animal! A feline ball-of-fur who knows how to have a good time.  And don't take that the wrong way! My cat and I have a totally normal cat-human relationship. Some might call it a platonic-catonic relationship. I'm her favorite human and she's my favorite cat. Actually, she's my only cat and I'm her only human but what difference does that make?  Plus, as far as the "I'm her favorite human" part, well, that's mostly driven by the fact that I cater to her every enigmatic cat-whim. But I don't care.  It still is what it is.

Yep, the cat and I are gonna get silly! And we're going to do it with refreshments. I rarely drink and tonight will be no exception but I'm still going to imbibe something extra special: An ice cold, 12 oz. Coke or two. What? a couple of Cokes doesn't sound too exciting? Before you make that call, know that they're not just any Cokes. They're Cokes in glass bottles! You know, like all Cokes used to be when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and my cat's ancestors still had saber tooths. (Saber teeth?)

My cat, of course, won't be sipping any Coke. She doesn't care much for soda no matter what brand or flavor. For her nocturnal party-time enjoyment, I'm going to raid the catnip stash. It's the good stuff!  The primo imported stuff!

Once I've hoisted a few glass-bottled Cokes to my parched lips -- it's been hotter than you-know-what in Southern California the last few days -- and my cat has had her way with the 'nip, I might even pull out the laser pointer and watch my all-wound-up kitty do circus tricks darting about the room like Sonic the Hedgehog while trying to catch the little, green, laser dot.

Anyway, if you'd like to learn more about my new eBook, perhaps even purchase a copy, CLICK HERE!  I'm signing off. My cat and I have some serious partying to do.