Saturday, August 31, 2013

Your Lighting Isn't Static Even When It Is

I never treat my lighting setups as if they are static.  They usually are static in terms of I rarely move my lights around once they're set. But in other ways, they're not static because my models don't have to remain static. I can move them around with simple verbal directions, re-orienting them in different ways to the (static) lighting I've set.

For glam, I mostly light in ways that act as if my models will remain perpendicular to my camera. That, of course, doesn't mean my models will remain perpendicular to my camera. I can orient them, all of them or portions of them, in various ways to my lights. I can even orient them in ways where one of my kickers sort of becomes my main light and my main light becomes a fill light while my other kicker remains a kicker. (If that makes sense.)

By the way, if you're not sure what I mean by a "kicker," kickers are what I call the lights I use to produce specular highlights, edge lights, rim lights, simple highlights, whatever you prefer calling them. I just call them kickers. Others might call them something else. What's in a name, right?

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you're likely aware I mostly prefer three-light setups for glamour: a main light plus two kickers, either side, from slightly behind. That's my go-to glamour lighting. It's simple and efficient to set up and use. (I'm all about simple and efficient.) It has the added benefit of producing the kinds of results my clients prefer, as lacking in creativity as my clients often tend to be. But hey! They're writing the checks. My job is to deliver what they want. If they want something different, which they rarely do, they simply tell me what that is... which again, is a rare occurrence. 

As lacking in creativity as many or most of my clients might be, one thing they do know is what works.  Either that or they employ others, besides myself, who know what works. Since they're in the business of using glamour and tease photos of pretty girls to produce revenue, they are rarely interested in experimenting or altering what they already know works. Money on the line sometimes has a way of making people less daring, less willing to go outside the box whatever box it is... assuming you subscribe to all that "box" stuff, which I don't.

I sometimes see other photographers being a bit too cautious, leastwise in my opinion, about moving models around within the confines of their perfectly planned lighting.  Leastwise, in their minds it's perfect. Personally, I think that's a big mistake. A very limiting mistake. Why? Because I know some of my best photos often get snapped when my models aren't perfectly aligned with my so-called (self-delusional)  perfect lighting. (There's no such thing as perfect lighting, IMO. But that's, perhaps, a subject for another blog update.)

I know a photographer, another pretty girl shooter, who had a large, power-operated, turntable in his studio. Sort of like a big Lazy Susan, if you know what a Lazy Susan is. He'd set his lighting, have his models stand on top of the big Lazy Susan, and then have it slowly spin and turn as he snapped away, all the while directing his models to assume different poses. He could even put a chair, a couch, or other some other piece of furniture on top of the turntable with his models lying or seated on that stuff. Yeah. It was a fairly large and heavy-duty turntable. I have no idea what it cost but I'll bet it wasn't cheap.

Every shot he snapped had his models oriented differently to his lights. He's a very successful pretty girl shooter, by the way. His work, at one time or another, has been featured in just about every higher-end men's magazine, both here and abroad, that features glamour images of beautiful women in various stages of dress and undress.

I used to envy him for his turntable, mostly because I saw how simple and efficient it made the process of re-orienting models to static lights, making it all so much more dynamic with the simple push of the turntable's power button.

I forget the name of the pretty girl at the top. (Click to enlarge.) I snapped it about 6 months or so ago and I'm too lazy to dig through my stuff to find her name. As you can see, I partially re-oriented her so that my kicker, camera-left, became something of a main light for her face -- not really but kind of -- but remained a kicker for the rest of her body.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Are You Trying Too Hard to Make Great Photos?

Just about every day, I look at a lot of photos snapped by a lot of other photographers. I'm not just referring to other pretty girl shooters, but all kinds of photographers.  And I don't merely look at the work of photographers who are particularly notable for their photography. I expect those people to consistently show good work.  I like viewing the work of all kinds of photographers who are at all points along the learning curve. Often enough, I've been inspired by beginners, not simply by the very experienced shooters.

When I view the work of someone who is at the early stages of their photographic development (film pun intended) I'm not so much looking at the technical merits of their photos. (Or lack of them.)  After all, they are people who are just starting out. As such, they haven't amassed much experience. Of course their images are going to be  rough around the edges, technically speaking. Instead, what I'm checking out is how their eyes, their photographic eyes, are revealed in their images regardless of the technical expertise the images reveal.

A good eye, regardless of experience and level of technical skill, will most always reveal itself whether the person behind the camera is a beginner or someone much more advanced. It's a natural thing that the technical stuff, even when it's not yet where it should be or will be, can't hide.That's not to say a naturally good eye won't develop and get better with time, practice, and experience, it will, but you can often spot a good eye in the work of newer photographers even it's not yet developed. I suppose it's one of those diamond in the rough kinds of things.

One observation I've made, however, is that more than a few newer photographers seem very impatient to produce stand-out work. They seem to be working too hard to show off, i.e., to make great photos -- be it with the camera or in post-production -- rather than being focused on learning how to consistently produce good work. Notice I said, "good work," and not great work.  There's nothing wrong with aspiring to produce great work, but it shouldn't be at the expense of routinely and consistently producing good work.

If you're personally satisfied snapping one great photo out of hundreds and hundreds of not particularly good photos, I guess what I'm saying isn't for you. But if you're working to consistently produce good work, I think you'll find the number of great photos you snap (when you reach a level where you're shooting hundreds and hundreds of good photos) will be significantly increased. By the way, when I say "great photos" I'm not talking about images destined to become iconic or legendary. I'm simply referring to photos that are better than good. Sure, that's a subjective thing, but I think (leastwise, I hope) you get what I'm saying.

So here's my advice, a bit of FYI or however you want to take it: Some of you should quit trying so hard to produce an occasionally great photo (however you're trying to do that or with whatever tricks and gimmicks you're throwing at your photos in order to do that) because there's a good chance you're doing so at the expense of producing many more good photos. If you focus on consistently snapping good photos, those great photos will follow suit and they will do so more often.

Here's a little more advice, FYI, whatever: Even when you're consistently producing good photos, you might not end up with as many great photos as you'd like or had hoped for. Sorry, but that's just how this photography thing works. When it comes to great photos, more than a small amount of serendipity often needs to take place to produce those great photos. The serendipity factor is why beginners sometimes produce great photos, even those who barely know WTF they're doing. But if you're routinely and regularly producing good work, you'll give serendipity a much better chance to work its magic.

The pretty girl at the top is Sunny. (Click it to enlarge it.) It's certainly not a great photo but it's a good photo given its intended purpose.  At the risk of sounding a bit full of myself, I can consistently shoot good photos day in, day out, every day if need be. *That* ability is what gets me hired, rather than the occasional great photo I might snap. Consistency should be your goal without relying on serendipity. It takes a while to learn (and practice at) becoming a photographer who can produce good work on demand just about whenever it's demanded. There's no magic involved. Special natural-born talents aren't required. It's simply a product of learning, practicing, experience, and skill, which means anyone, if they're willing to invest what it takes to do so, can become a photographer who is a consistently good photographer.

Note: I have a special discount going on with my eBooks right now. The discounts are actually for a promo Ed Verosky put together to go with his latest newsletter, but even if you don't get Ed's newsletter, feel free to take advantage of the discounts anyway.  (I recommend signing up for Ed's free newsletter-- I think you'll enjoy it and your photography may benefit from it as well.)

I'm offering 25% off my Guerrilla Glamour, Guerrilla Headshots, and Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography eBooks. Click the graphic (in the right-hand column) for the eBook you're interested in purchasing. The link will land you on my sell page. When you get there, click to buy and you'll be magically transported to a shopping cart. There's a place on the shopping cart for you to enter a discount code. Use the code, edsale and $2.50 will be deducted off your purchase price for any of my three eBooks I mentioned above. I also set up a 10% discount on my recently released Flash-Free Portrait Photography book. For that one, use the discount code, flashfree and $1 will be automatically deducted from your purchase price. These discounts are ongoing until this Sunday at midnight, 09-01-13.

Another Note: A personal friend of mine, a photographer named Kirk (no relation to the captain of the Enterprise-- Kirk is my friend's first name) will be the instructor of an upcoming photography education class at Calumet University's Los Angeles campus. The class is called "Understanding Lighting for Making Great Portraits." (Click the title I just provided to learn more.) Kirk's class will be held on September 7, 2013.  And yeah, I'm well aware Calumet isn't a real university and its "campus" is a large retail photography store but that doesn't really matter. There are many ways to engage in formal education and they don't all take place at actual colleges or universities.  If you're an LA area photographer looking for a course like this or you think it may benefit you, check it out!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Perimeter Scanning Your Frame

We all know that old adage about the devil being in the details. It's something that applies (in big ways) in photography. I'm sometimes asked to critique other photographers' images, usually less experienced photographers, and when I do I often finding myself having something to say about an unsightly detail or two in the images. Those details almost always subtract points from the photo's overall score. (Not that I provide a numerical score, but you get what I'm saying.)

If you're a red-blooded straight guy shooting pretty female models, it can be easy to miss details because, since you're one of those guys, you're eye is automatically and continually drawn to certain areas of your frames where the model resides.

I'm as guilty of that as anyone. You know, me being a red-blooded straight guy and all. But let's say you're a red-blooded guy of another sort and you're shooting pretty male models. Same problem I'm guessing. In fact, the same problem probably occurs if you're a red-blooded female photographer with an alternate life-style and you're shooting  pretty female models. It's all about the laws of attraction and how those laws govern or attract where our eyes tend to be drawn.

But none of that means you can't overcome the effects of drawn-eye. Drawn-eye, in my opinion, can be a big problem when it comes to overlooking details in your photo while shooting pretty models.

So here's a tip to help you reduce the possible negative effects of drawn-eye. It's something I forced taught myself to do quite a few years ago and it took a while, requiring conscious effort, until it became nearly automatic for me to do this. (Please note what I'm about tell you doesn't guarantee you'll miss unwanted details you should have spotted, but I believe it will definitely reduce their occurrence.)

Instead of continuing to allow my natural tendency to miss some details as a result of drawn-eye, I began consciously making myself first look to the upper-left corner of the frame and then move my eye around, counter-clockwise, the perimeter of the frame. It probably doesn't matter if you move your eye counter-clockwise or clock-wise although since we read left-to-right, it seems to me that moving your eye right-to-left helps you to better notice things that shouldn't be in the frame or that need some adjustment. (Proofreaders often read copy right-to-left in order to better spot errors and typos.)

After I've done my counter-clockwise perimeter scan, I move my eye to the top of my model's head and then scan around the perimeter of her body, face, form, whatever parts of my model that are revealed in my frame. I also perform this eye-scan in a counter-clockwise way. While this might seem like a lot of eyeball scanning, I should note that I do it very quickly, like in a second or two. I should also note that, when I'm shooting a set of images where the model remains in the same spot, I only have to perform the perimeter-of-the-frame scan a few times in order to be fairly confident there isn't something there that shouldn't be there or that needs my attention. Leastwise, assuming nothing changes in those outer areas of the frame while I'm shooting.

It took a while for this scanning stuff to become automatic for me but it finally did. After a while, I barely noticed I was performing the frame scans. Give it a try. You'll be surprised how quickly and easily you get used to scanning the frame this way in your viewfinder. I can't say this has meant I never miss things in my viewfinder I should have spotted, but I'll bet the times I miss those details has been reduced by quite a bit.

The pretty girl at the top is Jennifer. Snapped it with a Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime on my 5D. ISO 100, f/7 at 125th sec. Here's the lighting setup which I just happen to have a photo of.  I was shooting in an auto impound garage. As you can see, it's a pretty basic and simple 3-light setup with a reflector added for a bit of fill.  Photoflex Medium Octo for my main plus two shoot-thru umbrellas for kickers. You can click either photo for larger views.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Preferences in Modifiers is Modified from Time to Time

I don't know about any of you but when it comes to modifiers I don't have long-term loyalty to any specific type or brand. I don't think I'm a fair-weather friend to my modifiers, I'm just ever-evolving as a photographer. Leastwise, I like telling myself I am.

That's not to say I'm routinely fickle about the modifiers I employ. I'm not. Generally, I stick with one modifier or another for a fairly decent length of time. But then, at some point, I decide to move on to something different and whatever I move on to becomes my modifier of choice for a time.  Currently, and it's been this way for a while now, my main light modifier of choice is a Photek 4' Softlighter.

I have three major criteria for my choice in modifiers: 1) The "Quality of Light" they produce; 2) The ease in which they are set-up, broken-down, stored and transported; 3) Price.

Not too many years ago, my main light modifier of choice was a Mola 33.5" "Euro" beauty dish. I love my Mola!  It produces and exceptional quality of light. Unfortunately, it doesn't score highly on my 2nd and 3rd criteria:  It's easy enough to set-up and break-down, altho it's a bit heavy, but schlepping it around is a pain in the you-know-what. It's cumbersome and takes up way too much room in the back of my Toyota 4Runner. When I'm working, I carry a fair amount of gear: stands, arms, modifiers, sand bags, apple box, stingers (extension cords), portable power unit (if I need it), reflectors, scrim, bag full of clamps and other small grip gear and, of course, my camera bag. My Mola dish barely fits in the back with all that other gear stowed. As for my 3rd criteria, well, Mola beauty dishes are on the pricey side. When I purchased mine, I bought it used from a retiring commercial photographer. I paid $600 for it, altho he threw in a used Matthews "Junior" stand which was worth a couple of hundred so it was a pretty good deal, all things considered.  At the time, I think a brand spanking new Mola Euro was somewhere nearing $1k.

I then moved on to a Photoflex Medium OctoDome.  My Photoflex Octo scores high on my "Quality of Light" scale-- not as high as my Mola but pretty high, nonetheless. It's also easy to transport and stores away efficiently. Price-wise, it's not ridiculous but it's not inexpensive either.  Where my Photoflex Octo scores miserably is in the set-up and break-down category. It's a pain-in-the-ass performing either task. In fact, breaking it down is often harder than setting it up and setting it up isn't easy, leastwise doing either without bending one of its eight rods.  (I think at least two of my Octo's rods are permanently bent to some extent.) There's a trick to setting-up and breaking-down the Octo and every time I think I've completely mastered it, the next time I use it I discover I haven't.

Finally, and most recently, I discovered the Photek Softlighter. (I became aware of it watching an Annie Leibovitz behind-the-scenes video on YouTube.)  My Softlight scores just behind my Octo in Quality of Light... although not by much. It's quick and easy to set-up and break-down and it stores away requiring even less room than my Octo. Price-wise, it's the cheapest of mythree go-to mainlight modifiers and that's why, as of now, my Photek Softlighter is my preferred main light modifier.

But who knows? That could change.

The pretty girl at the top is Kayla. I love shooting Kayla! She always rocks it in front of the camera. My main light for this one was my Photoflex Medium Octo.  I also set a couple of small kickers, either side of her slightly from behind and on the higher-up side so they'd also act as decent hair lights. Not a lotta processing, but you probably noticed that.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Can't Even Give Photography Away

The photography biz, at least from my perspective, has gotten so bad, is so in the toilet, you can't even give it away. I don't know if that's true for wedding shooters or those people photographing babies, kids, and seniors -- I rarely shoot that stuff -- but for a lot of other genres, perhaps most of them, things aren't looking rosy. In fact, if it was ever rosy, the metaphorical roses haven't simply wilted, they've dried and rotted.

Here's why I'm on a rant about this subject today: I need a few models for my next eBook. They don't need to be experienced. They don't need to be super-model material. They don't need to get undressed for my camera. (In fact, they won't be getting undressed for my camera. My next eBook, like the one I recently released, will be G-rated.) They just have to be willing to invest a few hours of their time in exchange for some pics. Probably some good pics. Possibly even a few of those Facebook "Amazing!" pics. Oh. Wait. Facebook "Amazing!" pics might not even be good pics. So, make that "Possibly even some terrific pics!"

I've tried contacting numerous "models" on Model Mayhem. I mean a bunch of them. Generally, I choose "models" who live fairly close to my home, within a 10 mile radius. (There's plenty of them on MM who list their locations within 10 miles of where I live. I mean plenty!)

I sometimes choose models who have photos in their MM portfolios that mostly suck or are "selfies" or whatever. That accounts for a lot of models, by the way. That criteria doesn't reduce my choices a whole lot.  Anyway, I often choose models with little to no experience -- not always but often enough -- and those who state they will pose for TFP or for "any" compensation. I choose models who claim they are really interested in adding to or building their portfolios. Apparently, I also choose models who aren't interested in responding to messages.

I would chalk this lack of responsiveness up to a few dipshit wannabees who are in love with the idea of saying they're models rather than doing anything that actually makes that self-adhered label true, but the thing is I've sent a lot of messages to a lot of models and out of all them, only two responded. Their responses claimed they were "very interested" in shooting with me... and that's the last time I heard from them in spite of me responding to their responses.

Okay. Fair enough. Fuck Model Mayhem's models. I'll look elsewhere.

So, I posted ads on Craigslist offering free head shots to actors or free portfolio shots for just about any other group of people whose career-hopes have something to do with getting in front of a camera at some point or another. I posted these ads in Craigslist's "Creative Services" section. Responses = Zero.

Maybe I'm doing something wrong? (I have no idea what that might be, but maybe I'm doing it... whatever "it" is.)  I think I'm going to resort to simply approaching total strangers. I'll bet that will yield better results than the internet. Either that or I'll pay a few models some minimum rate. Course, if I do that I won't share the images and, when we're shooting, I'll work them like they're model versions of Tennessee plow mules. Trust me. I know how to do that. Plenty of experience doing that.

The pretty girl at the top is Jennifer. (Click to enlarge.)  No problem getting Jennifer in front of my camera. She was getting paid to be a glamour model version of a Tennessee plow mule. (Actually, Jennifer is Hungarian, not a Tennessean, mule or otherwise... like that matters much.) 

ISO was 100, aperture f/8, shutter 1/85th sec. I was shooting with a couple of strobes, three of them actually, but I slowed my shutter down a bit to reveal more of what was outside the window.  For those of you still learning, not that we're all not still learning, remember this: When mixing daylight with flash, aperture controls the exposure from your flash and shutter controls the amount of ambient reaching the sensor. Shutter has no effect on the exposure generated by your strobe(s).