Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When One Teaches, Two Learn

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"When one teaches, two learn." ~Robert Heinlein

I saw this quote on another photographer's FB page-- a photographer who, beyond their work, conducts workshops. I couldn't agree with Heinlein's quote more than I do. When I'm authoring my ebooks -- and I'm currently working on my 5th one-- it's an incredibly positive learning experience for me. Not so much in terms of how to author an ebook, although that's part of it too, but in terms of my personal photographic knowledge plus my abilities to shoot the sorts of photos I hope to capture.

Some people might say that those who can shoot, shoot.... and those who can't teach. I don't agree with that sentiment at all. There are plenty of really good photographers out there who are shooting and teaching. In fact, it's the results of their shooting that awards them the credibility to teach, whether they're teaching via workshops and seminars, or videos and ebooks and more.

You don't have to be a politician to teach Political Science but you better be a photographer (and a competent one at that) to teach photography. Leastwise, if you expect other photographers to perceive you as a teacher with something valid and informative to offer.

Every time I've authored an ebook I've discovered (through research and more) things I didn't know. Each time, through the process of breaking down what I do when shooting people, I've also learned from myself. That's because I have to ask myself questions while I'm writing. Questions like, "Why am I doing this when I want this result?"

Both in my ebooks and here, on my blog, I've often talked about learning and practicing to the point that much of what you do (when shooting) becomes automatic, no-brainer, instinctive. I say that because when the craft of photography becomes more automatic and no-brainer, you're freer to focus on your subjects rather than your gear and the techniques you're employing.  I'm happy that a lot of what I do when shooting has become automatic and I don't have to think much about a lot of the tech stuff. It's very freeing.  But when I'm working on my ebooks, I have to think about those things I do that I don't really think about when I'm shooting. I have to think hard about them. And when I do that, I often discover ideas and chunks of useful knowledge that, perhaps, I've been overlooking when shooting.  At the very least, the process often validates how I do what I do, i.e., the way I do it.

You  can teach old dogs new tricks. In fact, old dogs can sometimes teach themselves new tricks. It all depends, I suppose, on the old dog.

The pretty girl at the top is Rebecca. The room I shot Rebecca in was a large entrance-way with big French windows spanning one of the foyer's walls. The front door to the home was camera-left, out of frame. The light in the room was about as soft and creamy as it gets because, overhead, there was a very large skylight letting plenty of ambient sunlight in which was bouncing off all the white walls. I set a single monolight, modified with a Photoflex 5' Octo, on the other side of the French windows to front-light Rebecca. The rest of the lighting was courtesy of the skylight, the ambient, and the ambient reflecting off the white walls and floor.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Take My Photography to the Next Level?

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I often think some of the most uncreative minds work in the marketing departments of photography-related businesses, whether it's gear or software. Why? Because they so often use the same bullshit lines to hawk their wares.

Case in point: "Take Your Photography to the Next Level."

First off, how is my photography, you know, my personal skill at shooting pictures, taken to some next level if that next level is nothing more than a piece of gear or software?  If I buy into that bullshit, it isn't my photography that's being taken to the next level, it's merely some next level of equipment ownership  with said equipment producing pictures that some might think are next-level worthy.  But then, if a thousand other photographers also purchase that same equipment or software, are they now at the same "next level" as me?

I wouldn't be ranting about this oh-so-common advertising line if it weren't so... so freaking common!  I see it everywhere. It's like photography magazines who put "Secrets of the Pros Revealed" on the front cover of their rags. I've seen that a gazillion times as well. There are no secrets of the pros. There's only lesser known techniques that fewer people are aware of but that everyone can find out about whether or not they buy the magazine that is supposedly revealing those well-guarded secrets or not.

I don't have any replacement marketing lines for these common lines but then I'm not a copywriter in some marketing department of a photographic gear or software company. I'll admit these same, often-seen lines must work to some degree or so many wouldn't be using them over and over. But there are people whose jobs it is to come up with this stuff and, frankly, I can't believe some companies are paying them to regurgitate the same tired words as their competitors also regularly spew. Where do I get a job like that?  Call it "bullshit envy" but I want someone to pay me a regular paycheck to simply copy what others are doing and saying without the slightest deviation.

Anyway, that's my mini-rant for the day. I think I'll go back to thinking of ways to actually take my photography to the next level and/or to help others do so...  i.e., to an actual and real next level.

The photo at the top is one I snapped over a decade ago and just came across the other day. It was taken not long after my conversion from film to digital and during my very early days of learning to use Photoshop. Apparently, I was somewhat into producing app-like faux-film-grain on digital images in spite of just recently going from film to digital or how many previous levels my photography was at during that time period.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Things to Consider Before Your Next Pretty Girl Shoot

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I don't often get to pre-plan my shoots. In my work, it's usually a case of me showing up with my gear, told where I'm going to shoot the stills, setting up and waiting for the first model to appear in front of me. Often enough, I venture over to where the MUA has set up. I generally get a chance to do a bit of bonding with the first model on my dance card (who is likely sitting in the chair) but that's about all the influence I'll have with how the model looks when she arrives in front of my camera.

I do often get to influence wardrobe decisions. (if it's not something already etched in stone for one reason or another.)  And I sometimes make suggestions to the MUA. But since it's glam and tease I'm shooting, the MUAs generally know how the model should be made up. Generally, I have more to say about how the model's hair will be done rather than the makeup. So, I guess my input (in order from most to least) is, for the most part, 1) wardrobe, 2) hair, 3) makeup.

But let's say I had much more to say about these things. Let's say it was purely *my* shoot (and not some client's shoot) and I got to make all those sorts of decisions. Then, I'd... waitaminute! My friend in Prague, Dan,  just wrote a cool blog update on just this subject.  An update with plenty of great photos of some truly beautiful nude and glamour models.

If you're a pretty girl shooter, you might want to check out Dan's Studio Prague blog.  Dan puts a lot more time, work, and effort into his blog posts than I do so I think it will be well worth checking it out.

BTW, if you're interested in any of Dan's ebooks and/or posing guides, just click on the links to them in the right-hand column of this page.

Alright then... here's the link to Dan's latest blog update: The Nude Body – Things To Consider Before Your Next Shoot

The pretty girl at the top is Jennifer. Jennifer is from Hungary which is almost where Dan lives in the Czech Republic, leastwise both countries are in that part of the world. I snapped this pic of Jennifer in a location house in the oh-so-hipster community of Silver Lake, CA, near downtown L.A.   I used two lights: a 5' Photoflex Octo modified my main, plus one with a shoot-through umbrella, camera-left and a bit beyond her, for some edge lighting. I really liked the way the window acted as a gobo for the sun, casting a cool pattern on the hardwood floor. (ISO 100, f/8, 85th sec.)

Thursday, November 07, 2013

What Are the Most Important Elements of Any Photo?

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I find myself thinking about what I consider are the most important elements of a photo. Are they mostly a photo's technical and craft aspects? Or, does a photo's story or emotional context trump the technical/craft stuff? Are both of those general categories equal? Does it change from photo to photo? Perhaps depending on genre or something else? (Degrees of importance, that is.)  I mean, it's all important, the technical/craft elements as well as the story or emotional, but is one often more important than the other?

I guess I should explain what I mean by technical/craft versus story/emotional elements.

To me, the technical and craft elements include everything from exposure and post-processing to things like composition, lighting, and style. Story and emotional context has to do with how the photo makes viewers feel. How they perceive the subject(s) in the photo, that sort of stuff.

I've snapped photos that I considered to be quite good in terms of their tech/craft elements but were, in my opinion, lacking in emotion, story-telling, or presentation of the subject.  Conversely, I've captured images I thought were flawed (in quite noticeable ways) for their depiction of tech/craft yet were quite good in conveying emotion, feeling, or story.  And because of that, I thought they were good photos in spite of their technical and/or craft problems. The key, I suppose, is knowing when one set of elements or the other (when one set is lacking) is good enough, powerful enough, to make up for the flaws in the "lacking" elements.  It' s not enough to say, "I know this image is over-exposed and the colors are off but the story it tells (or the emotions it conveys) makes up for it."

Instead, I would have to be able to say, "I know this image is over-exposed and the colors are off but the story it tells (or the emotions it conveys) is truly remarkable and makes that other stuff so much less important."

That sort of thing doesn't happen often, of course. Not often at all. Luckily, in terms of editing the keepers from the non-keepers, I rarely snap a photo that obviously sucks from a tech/craft perspective but is so damn good in terms of story/emotion that it's an automatic keeper. (Or vice versa.) If or when I do, I have to slap myself upside the head, hard, for messing up the parts that suck. Nothing worse than shooting a half-awesome photo or one that sucks in one way but is most excellent in another.

Anyway, just thinking out loud.

Pic at the top is from a couple of years ago: the exceedingly curvaceous Madison. 5' Photoflex Octo for my main. Couple of kickers either side. Snapped in the living room of a residential home with the front drapes pulled closed. (Fairly busy street out front. Didn't want to possibly cause a car crash or invite the cops courtesy of a neighbor.)

Friday, November 01, 2013

Let me tell ya 'bout eBooks (Épisode Deux)

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Someone in a Facebook photography group (I regularly participate in) read my recent update on eBooks and asked if I might share my thoughts on pricing, pricing for eBooks that is. So here's what I think (and what I've done, pricing-wise) and please remember this is purely my opinion. There are no rules for pricing eBooks that I know of.

When I authored my first eBook, Guerrilla Glamour, I barely had a clue what I was doing... not so much the writing/authoring part, but the marketing and sales part. So, I did some research.  One of the many things I wanted to learn about was pricing. How much should I charge for my eBook? Was there some standard pricing guides that many eBook authors relied on?  Turns out, there aren't. Not really. But what I did see was a number of so-called eBook gurus saying that $6.95 was a good price.

Some of the gurus offered examples of eBooks priced at $6.95.  Many of those example books they provided were of the how-to-get-rich-on-the-web genre, or they were about investment strategies, self-help, those sorts of subjects.  And, of course, all the eBook gurus who were offering free advice on eBooks also had their own eBooks they were selling, mostly with titles along the lines of How to Get Rich Writing/Selling eBooks.  Their eBooks, as you might guess, were mostly priced at $6.95.

I then started looking at eBooks covering the eBook beat I was pursuing, that is, photography-- more specifically, those of the photography "how-to" variety.  What I discovered was that prices seemed to be in a range from about ten to thirty bucks.

I'm not sure how various photography eBook authors decided whether to charge $10, $30, or something in between. It seemed rather random, like a number plucked from the air. I suppose some authors value their advice and knowledge more than others. Others seem to base their price on their own famousness as a photographer. (Is famousness a word? If not, it should be.)  Also, page count sometimes seems to be a factor: the more pages, the more the eBook costs. (Even though eBooks, technically, don't have real pages... you know, paper pages.)

At this point in my research, I still didn't feel like I had a true (and too-knowledgeable) a handle on what I should charge for my eBook so I sort of arbitrarily decided on $9.95, the lower end of the photography "how-to" eBook price range. (There are, of course, eBooks of this sort priced even lower, but the majority seem to be in the ten-to-thirty-dollar range. )

I didn't decide on that lower-end price because I didn't think my advice and knowledge regarding pretty girl shooting had less value than the advice and knowledge of other photographers selling similar eBooks. I simply thought it was a good price, one that potential buyers wouldn't have to think too long or too hard about regarding whether or not my eBook might be worth ten bucks.  You see, I also learned that many eBook buyers purchase rather impulsively when they see an eBook with a subject matter they may be interested in. I figured $9.95 wouldn't be an impediment to following through on an impulse buy. I know many things I purchase (i.e., the things I purchase rather impulsively) that are priced in and around ten bucks don't require me to engage in much thought about the price.  So, that's what I did. I priced my eBook at $9.95 and, subsequently and so far, have priced all my eBooks the same.

The pretty girl at the top proudly letting the dogs out is Daisy. It's an outdoor shot combining daylight and artificial light. She's placed mostly in the ambient shade of an overhanging roof so that the sun, coming in from high-ish and camera left, could be used as a hair/accent light. I set my 5' Photoflex Octo opposite the sun for a main light.  ISO 200, f/9 at 125th. The image is mostly straight-out-of-the-camera except for a crop, slight levels adjust, and a couple of small blemishes removed.