Thursday, December 26, 2013

Learning and Practicing: The Keys to Better Photography

Click to Enlarge
Earlier today, I made my rounds of the photography group pages I frequent on Facebook. A number of people had already excitedly posted some pics that utilized some new piece of gear they had received as a holiday gift. On one particular group page, a photographer posted a very pleasing portrait of a young woman, head-shot framed, fairly traditional one-light lighting, one where he had tried out his brand-spanking-new beauty dish he received for Christmas.  Another photographer in the group suggested that, in his opinion, "short lighting" would have improved the portrait. The person who posted the portrait responded with, "Thanks. What is short lighting?"

I jumped in, being something of a Mister Know-it-All and all, and offered a brief explanation of short lighting. I went on to also offer a short definition of broad lighting. I then noted that the lighting style the original poster had used for their portrait, purposely or without knowing it, was an example of "butterfly" lighting.

The original poster thanked me for my educational contributions.  I mentioned to him that the surest way to become a better photographer, especially if you're shooting portraiture, is a two-fold process:  learning new things and then practicing what you've learned. I told him that learning, coupled with practice and repetition, is the surest way to improve one's photography regardless of any new gear he might suddenly be employing.

Personally -- and this is kind of a side bar discussion -- I'm already developing my lists for New Year's resolutions. I have two lists: one is personal stuff regarding things like my health and more. Besides the usual New Year's stuff like losing weight, exercising and all that, I'm toying, for instance, with the idea of shearing my locks for the new year. My hair is quite long. I've worn it long for much of my adult life. I've always related to the notion of letting my "freak flag fly," as David Crosby sings about long hair. But every so often throughout my life, I get a wild hair (pun intended) up my you-know-what to cut my hair short. I'm currently having one of those wild butt hairs about my wild head hair. (Well, I don't actually think my head hair is wild but some people do, especially when it's not tied in a pony tail.)

My other New Year's list has to do with photography, that is, my photography and whatever I'm doing under that broad umbrella of "my photography." First off, I need to motivate myself to get my next ebook complete and released. I've written much of it already but still have a bunch of photos to shoot for it. I've been dicking around and not getting it done and my #1 New Year's resolution is to get the book done! Another resolution is to try things out I've never tried to do much in the past, snapping photos wise. I'm not going to go into detail on what those particular things might be although I will say they revolve around lighting. Some of them involve new gear and others are new ways to employ gear I already own. It's going to take some learning and, more importantly, practice and repetition to nail those "new things to try out" down.

Anyway, to somehow connect my comments on Facebook today with my New Year's resolutions, leastwise my photography resolutions, I'd like to encourage all of you to make learning a big part of your photography plans in the new year. No one is so good at this photography thing we do that they can't benefit from learning new techniques or ways of doing things or that there aren't things they still have to learn. Whether you prefer learning by watching instructional videos, by reading books and ebooks, attending workshops, one or all of those things, learning is as important, make that more important, than any new piece of gear you might acquire. Equally important is practice and repetition. Practice what you learn. Practice it till it become second nature. That's how you improve your photography better than with any new piece of gear, whether it's a camera, a lens, lighting, or something else.

Yet another reminder about Dan Hostettler's terrific posing guides. If you're at all interested they're still on sale till end of the year.   CLICK HERE to learn more about Dan's guides or to purchase them. Use Discount Code PGS33 to receive 1/3 off at checkout.

The gratuitous eye candy in her birthday suit is Ash.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Good News and Bad News About New Gear for Christmas

Click to Enlarge
Some of you, perhaps many, will be on the receiving end of some new photography gear for Christmas. (Or whatever other Winter Solstice-based holiday you celebrate at this time of year.) Very cool! Enjoy!  Who knows? Santa might even have a little photographic something for me as well!

Although this update's title begins with, "Good News and Bad News..." I'm going to kick off what I have to say about holiday gear with the bad news. Yep. I'm going to get that part out of the way right up front. I'm going to cut to the chase... the bad news chase. So, here it is: Whatever you get for the holidays, whether it's a new camera, lens, lighting gear, grip equipment, processing software, whatever it might be, it's not going to make you a better photographer.

Sorry about that. It sounds so harsh at such a festive time of year. But, if the thought of some new gear has sugar plum faeries singing and dancing in your head, and the words to their songs include something about how you're suddenly going to be a better photographer because of your new (gifted) photography gear, it simply ain't going to happen. Holiday swag isn't going to make you a better photographer no matter what the merry swag happens to be. It just ain't. No way, no how. Leastwise, the gear on its own won't be doing that. The only thing that's going to make you a better photographer in the coming new year is you, yourself, regardless of the toys you receive for the holidays.

Now for the good news...

What those new and exciting holiday gifts can do is make you a photographer with more options, more versatility. A photographer who can then shoot a greater variety of photos and possibly do so more easily than you could before receiving the new swag.

Let's say you only had one light, one single strobe or flash prior to receiving another as a gift. Suddenly, you go from a shooter who only snaps one-light photos to one who snaps two-light photos. Trust me when I tell you, multiple light sources opens up whole new things you can do with lighting. And assuming you take the time to learn how to employ multiple lights in your lighting setups, and you practice doing so, you will become a better photographer.

Let's say, prior to receiving a gift of a new lens, you only had one lens for your camera.   And let's say your one lens was a normal lens, say, a 50mm prime lens. Can someone with a 50mm prime lens shoot fantastic photos? You bet they can. Are they limited in what they can shoot? Yep. In terms of focal length they're definitely limited. But what if you receive a new lens as a gift and that new lens is a fast, 70-200mm zoom lens and, suddenly, you can fill your frame from a greater distance? What if you can zoom in at a wide aperture and blur the background so much more so than you could ever do with your 50mm prime lens?  Does that open up more opportunities for the sorts and the "looks" of photos you can suddenly begin snapping?  You bet it does.

So here's the deal: Don't rely on your new gear to automatically make you a better photographer.  It simply ain't going to happen. But do rely on your new gear to open up new avenues, opportunities, and photographic genres and styles for you to  pursue.  Learn how to use your new photo toys. Practice, practice, practice with them, whatever they might be.  In so doing, your new holiday swag will, eventually, make you a better, more multifaceted photographer.

Reminder:  Dan Hostettler's photo guides are still on sale at 33% off from now till the end of the year.  CLICK HERE to learn more about Dan's guides or to purchase them. Use Discount Code PGS33 to receive 1/3 off at checkout. And have a merry, happy, joyous, incredibly wonderful winter holiday celebration, whatever you're celebrating, doing, or however you decide to have fun for the holidays. I know that's what I'm going to try my best to do!

I dug way back into the JimmyD archives for the pretty girl pic at the top.  It's from 2006. The model went by the name Paris.  It's not a Yule-time holiday photo per se, but she's wearing the right color for the season even if she's wearing it in a way that doesn't cover a lot... but she's still wearing it nonetheless. I snapped it in my studio (when I still had a studio) in front of a dark grey seamless using a cropped-sensor Canon 20D with an inexpensive Canon 28-135 f/4-f/5.6 kit lens zoomed out to 40mm. Camera was set to ISO 100, f.5.6 at 125th. I lit Paris with my Mola "Euro" beauty dish for my main, a couple of medium strip boxes working from the sidelines for kickers, and a small, rectangular, soft box boomed overhead.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

33% Off Posing Guides!

Click to Enlarge
My colleague in Prague, glamour & nude photographer Dan Hostettler, is having a 33% off, end-of-the-year sale on his terrific posing guides!  I love using the word, "colleague." It makes me feel like a professor or a scientist in some old , B&W, movie.

Dan's end-of-the-year sale doesn't "officially" begin until the day after Christmas.  That's when Dan is going to announce his end-of-the-year sale to his peeps and other colleagues. But since I'm his extra-special photo-homey colleague in the states, he's allowing me to offer this special sale price to anyone visiting my blog.... starting NOW! 

If you want to save 33% Off Dan's "Studio Prague" glam & nude posing guides from now till the end of the year, all you have to do is use special discount code PGS33 when you check-out in the shopping cart. 

To learn more or to purchase Dan's guides, CLICK HERE.  If you decide to purchase, don't forget to use discount code PGS33 at check-out and 1/3 Off  will be automatically deducted from your total purchase price.

The Yule-time babe at the top is the Goddess of Glam, Tera Patrick, from a holiday-themed shoot about 5 years ago. I needed to pull this out of the pretty girl shooter archives because, if truth be known, I don't have too many photos with that particular theme and it is that particular time of year. I would have liked to post something more recent but I don't seem to have anything much more recent. So cut me some slack! What am I? A Christmas card company?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Shooting Outside One's Comfort Zone

Click to Enlarge
Sometimes, when I'm shooting for a client, I get opportunities to shoot outside what some would call my "comfort zone." That mostly happens when I get more time with a model than usual, which means it doesn't happen too often. But when it does, I really enjoy it. 

I define my comfort zone as shooting glam and tease models in ways my clients expect.  My comfort zone is mostly comprised of repetitive lighting styles, repetitive framing and composition, repetitive direction. (Given to the models.)  Why is so much of it repetitive?  Because I shoot what my clients want me to shoot and what they mostly want is the same lighting, composition, and poses and expressions I've delivered before.  My clients aren't art patrons. They're business people who know how to sell their products and they don't like to deviate much from what they know works in terms of the photography.

Many of the models I shoot are porn stars. (No surprise there if you've read this blog a few times or more.)  Like me, my models have comfort zones as well. Unless they're brand new, they know exactly the sorts of poses, expressions, and attitudes they're expected to put on display for the camera and, as a rule, they're very comfortable doing so.  Most of them have done it many times before.  So much so, peeling their clothes off and posing provocatively for some old geezer with a camera (or a young one) becomes their comfort zones as models.

Actually, now that I think about it, the term "comfort zone" is something of a misnomer as it applies to photographers.  Leastwise, as it applies to this photographer. When I shoot outside my so-called "comfort zone," I'm not any less comfortable doing so. As a photographer, I'm just as comfortable shooting outside my comfort zone as I am shooting within it. (Unless I somehow find myself shooting a wedding, and then I'm VERY uncomfortable.) Not only am I just as comfortable shooting outside my comfort zone, I'm generally more enthusiastic about it. Shooting outside one's "comfort zone" can often be more challenging,  rewarding (artistically), and fun!  Generally, I've found the same holds true for the models I shoot. Most of them love having opportunities to model in ways that are outside of the ways they're mostly asked to model. They find it more challenging, rewarding, and fun to do as well!

Like most professional photographers, I also shoot stuff that's very different from the type of things I most often get paid to shoot, i.e., in my case, glam and tease models in various stages of dress and undress.  When I say different, I don't mean different in terms of what's in front of my camera but rather who is in front of my camera. You see,  I consider myself, first and foremost, a people photographer.  That's what I love shooting best-- people! All kinds of people. My love of photography, that is, my love for snapping photographs revolves almost exclusively around shooting people. It doesn't matter if the people I'm shooting are models or any other types of people. I love it all. Occasionally, the Great Photo Spirit moves me to photograph things other than people, but not too often. And that's okay with me. I'd rather be photographing people than anything else.

The model in the photo above is Sasha Gray. (Who also happens to be the subject of the photo in my last post.) I was hired by a production company to shoot stills for their project.  It was a terrific gig! We shot 12 days straight at a variety of locations.  Showtime, the subscription cable channel, made a behind-the-scenes reality show from the production. Showtime had almost as big a crew on set every day as our crew was. I never saw the reality show which is just as well as I heard it totally sucked.  Sasha, by the way, was the "star" of the movie. For the photo above, we were at a location in Hollywood-- a private sex club.  I had already snapped all the glam and tease content my client expected me to shoot and had some extra time.  So, I grabbed a couple of lights and Sasha and I ducked the reality-show crew and headed down a dark corridor (with black painted walls) to shoot some more pics.

Since I already had everything I needed for the client and I also had a naked, made-up, beautiful model in tow, I decided to shoot some stuff I knew the client would likely never use. Generally, my clients shy away from dark(er) photos, like the pic above, which make heavier use of shadow rather than heavier use of highlights. They mostly like their glam and tease photos more brightly and evenly lit with plenty of accent lights. Anyway, Sasha got into it and we had fun shooting a short set of low-key photos that, in my opinion, fall somewhat outside my usual and customary "comfort zone" photos... even if my model was, as is usual for many of my models, naked and posing seductively. (Which definitely is well within my comfort zone.)  Two lights for this one:  My main light camera left and a boomed hair light above and just slightly behind her.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Glamour Photography is a Misnomer

Click to Enlarge
Photography has many genres. Some are quite specific while others are broad, vague, and cover a lot of ground. In general, people have a need to label things. To clump them together in a way that (to varying degrees) makes sense to most. It doesn't mean all labels are necessarily accurate. Instead, they are words which become accepted in terms of describing things.

Personally, I'm not big on labels except when they describe things in fairly specific terms. Wedding Photography is a label that works well. We know exactly what it is: It's a genre of photography that documents weddings.

Labels are often dynamic and evolutionary. What was once called "glamour photography" bears little resemblance to the genre we now consider Glamour Photography.  The evolution of this particular label is one that's become broader, vaguer, and sexier. It encompasses a lot of real estate.

Glamour photography was invented by Hollywood. Hollywood had its actors and actresses who were its luminaries and, because of their lofty statuses, were labeled, "stars."  Stars were marketed as being glamorous, especially Hollywood's female stars. A star's aura of glamour set them apart from mere mortals and, when it came to photographing its glamorous stars, Hollywood opted for photographic styles that were worthy of the star's glamorous star status. Glamorous hair styles, makeup applications, wardrobe, lighting and more were all elements of glamour photography. What was mostly missing, leastwise when comparing glamour photography then with glamour photography today, were things like nudity and obviously sexual or sensual poses and expressions.

But that was then and this is now.  Now, glamour photography has a much broader meaning. It has something to do with the subject's allure, make that sexual allure, and any sort of stardom (by Hollywood standards) is no longer a prerequisite for being the subject of a glamour photograph. In more recent times, even the word, "star" has been diluted and more liberally applied.  That's how we have "porn stars."  Porn stars don't even have to be porn's version of stars in the traditional sense of the word.  The very first time a woman engages in sex in front of a camera for commercial purposes, she qualifies as a porn star. No actual stardom (porn or otherwise) is required.

The words star and stardom are a bit reminiscent of comedian George Carlin's genius take on the word "shell-shock" and how it has evolved, been diluted and de-humanized to its current euphemism, "post-traumatic stress disorder."  In the case of the words star and stardom, however, the words haven't changed, its their meanings that have changed or been expanded.

BTW,  PTSD has lately gotten a lot of press, negative press, and because of that I expect we'll see a new term entering the lexicon in the not too distant future. One that's softer and even less serious and human-affliction sounding. Perhaps something along the lines of "Accidental War By-Product." After all, soldiers who come home from war totally fucked-up in the head are merely accidental by-products of combat and their war experiences, not much different than getting an itchy rash from accidentally brushing bare skin against poison ivy is an accidental by-product of that personal experience... or so they'd like us to believe. (Whoever "they" are.)

Back to glamour photography.

These days, glamour photography is defined, at least by something I read that was put out by Princeton University, as a genre whereby "...the subjects, usually female, are portrayed in a  romantic or sexually alluring way. The subjects may be fully clothed or semi-nude, but glamour photography stops short of deliberately arousing the viewer and being hardcore photography."

Say what? While I agree with the first part of that definition, as well as its final few words, glamour photography does not stop short of being deliberately arousing, leastwise the way I shoot it it doesn't. I mean, I hope my brand of glamour photography doesn't stop short of that. I want my glamour models to arouse the sexual interests of viewers. That's the whole fucking point of it, isn't it?  A pretty girl in varying degrees of dress and undress, posing provocatively and often with "come hither" expressions on their faces and, more importantly, in their eyes.

Glamour photography, in my mind, is a misnomer. Personally, I think "tease" is a better word to describe much of what I consider as being glamour photography these days. While tease photos may certainly have elements of glamour attached to them -- you know, glamour as in the definition, "an exciting quality that makes certain people or things seem appealing or special" -- it's main purpose, these days, whether you call it glamour or tease, is to arouse the senses. To make its subjects appealing or special in a decidedly sexual way. Glamour or tease photos might not arouse viewers the same way viewing hardcore pornography does, and it certainly has (or should have) elements to it that transcend porn or overtly prurient interests,  but it arouses or should arouse viewers nonetheless.

The pretty girl with the pink wig at the top is Sasha Grey. Sasha was, indeed, a star in the porn biz. Sasha left porn and has gone on to a mainstream career as a model, an actress, and more. While I wouldn't label Sasha a "star" in her current iteration as a performer and more, she certainly qualified as one within the confines of the porn industry.