Sunday, January 27, 2013

Some Cons of Shooting With Pro Gear

Back in the mid-90s, two video cameras were released that shook up the world of videography like no other vidcams before them. They were Canon's XL1 and Sony's VX1000.  Both cameras were released as "prosumer" cameras, meaning they were aimed at higher-end, yet not traditionally "pro," consumers... hence the term, "prosumer."

Both cameras had many professional camera features, the most popular being their wallet-friendly, three-chip, image capture technologies. What that meant was, for the first time, broadcast-quality video -- albeit minimally-acceptable broadcast-quality video -- could be produced with cameras with price-tags closer to consumer, non-broadcast video cameras rather than via the hefty costs of their full-tilt, professional, 3-chip, vidcam cousins.

Canon's XL1 and Sony's VX1000 sparked a revolution in independent, video-based movie-making and some industries, like the adult film industry and a few others, jumped on these new cameras so quickly and so completely that, for a while, one of the hardest things to find at photo and video retailers, leastwise in and around the City of Angels, was blank tape stock for them.

An interesting and ultimately important element which differentiated these two cameras, one that had a big impact on their successes, had little to do with which was the better camera. Most experienced videographers considered Canon's XL1 to be a superior camera to Sony's VX1000 for a variety of reasons, especially since the Canon had interchangeable lens capability which the Sony did not. Yet Sony's camera beat Canon's in sales and it did so in a fairly notable way. (Which is not to say Canon didn't sell a whole lot of their XL1s... they did.) Certainly, Sony's VX1000 was more popular amongst shooters in the adult industry -- an industry where shooters soon were expected to own their own cameras, leastwise for lower-budget productions -- and probably likewise amongst more than a few independent low-budget and micro-budget film-makers of all sorts. You know, those legions of guerrilla film-makers who inhabit the jungles of Hollywood:  A place where a popular and often-seen tee-shirt around that time read: "What I Really Want to Do is Direct."

The Sony, as it turned out, became more popular amongst those who really wanted to direct because the Sony did not appear to be, at a glance, a professional-looking camera... and yet it was one.

That might sound strange, especially considering the inflated egos of a lot of people who really want to direct, but the problem with Canon's XL1 was that it looked so damn professional-- So cool! So sleek!  So professional! Sony's VX1000, on the other hand, did not look like pro gear. It wasn't particularly cool looking or sleek. Leastwise, not at a quick glance.  Yet, for many guerrilla-style shooters, it made more sense to keep their egos in check because of the fact that the Sony did not look like a pro camera. Appearing like a lower-end consumer camera, at least to most people's eyes was, in fact, a big plus!

What the "big plus!" meant was that, in a city like Los Angeles and it's surrounding cities and burbs, a locale where movie-making is so often seen on the streets and where every cop patrolling those streets is, beyond crime-fighting and traffic enforcement,  also looking to insure movie-makers, no matter how small, amateur, or independent, have the proper permits and such -- The city always wants its money! -- shooting with Canon's XL1 became a potential production-stopping liability. The camera's cool, sleek, professional design virtually guaranteed that most cops who spotted anyone shooting with one, even if it were just one person shooting another on the street, would stop and ask to see a permit. For whatever reasons, the same two people shooting with a VX1000 stood much less of a chance, practically none at all, of having the cops stop and ask them for their permits. (Permits being something guerrilla filmmakers don't often bother obtaining because, well, because permits cost money. A fair amount of money.) Yep. It was all about perception, make that other people's perceptions, people like cops.... and it was also about money. The city's money. 

Today's professional digital still cameras sometimes have similar problems. Not so much with law enforcement, although that sometimes is still a problem, but with the public in general.  (FYI: I've never had a police officer ask me for any sort of permit while shooting photographs on the street.) But I have had members of John Q. Public suddenly become benign inquisitors or worse: not so benign inquisitors.

It's like this: Occasionally, not as often as I'd like, I go out and do a bit of street photography. But it's been my experience that, when I do, and when I do using my Canon 5D, I attract so much more attention than I do when, for instance, I go out with my little Leica D-Lux 3 digital point-n-shoot. Given the right conditions, I can use my little Leica to produce photos that are as good as those I shoot with my 5D, but that's not the point I'm making.  Anyone who shoots any street photography knows that being a "low-profile" shooter, a fly on the wall,  can often be a big help in getting many shots. Shooting with cameras like a 5D, or nearly any other dSLR, is not very conducive to remaining low-profile or fly-like. In fact, it can draw much unwanted attention.

Certainly the fact that my little Leica is, well, quite little, goes a long way towards helping me maintain a low-profile shooting persona, fly-like or otherwise. But it's not simply a matter of size that matters, although I think it mostly is a size thing. (I guess size does matter.)  My little Leica, even if it's noticed by people I'm pointing it at, and probably because of it's small size and lack of external, professional-looking controls and accessories, doesn't seem as threatening or as big an invasion of their sense of privacy as it does when I point my Canon 5D at them. It's a lesson I've learned well, especially that time when a group of angry homeless people in downtown LA chased me and my 5D off with threats of violence. They might not have liked me pointing my little Leica at them but, if so, I bet they would have merely perceived me as some errant tourist unfamiliar with the local natives or some rude shutterbug. In that case, they likely would have told me to "fuck off," but in a far less threatening way.

Still, I prefer shooting with a dSLR over a point-n-shoot no matter how good that point-n-shoot might be. I suppose I could shoot with my iPhone but, for whatever reasons, shooting with an iPhone doesn't interest me much nor does it get my photo juices flowing. That's why I'm considering purchasing a Fujifilm FinePix X100, albeit a used one in excellent condition. In fact, even though I'm not in a huge rush to get my hands on one, I'm currently bidding on one such camera on eBay and have a few others on my "Watch" list. So, if I can score a barely-used one at a really good price, I'm probably going to get it. I might then sell my little Leica and recoup some of the costs of the X100.  Or, I might not. I like that little camera.

Much like my 5D, the X100 is a high-tech digital SLR. Actually, it's a digital rangefinder but I figure with it's retro, analog, SLR/Rangefinder look -- most non-photographers don't know the difference between an SLR and a rangefinder anyway -- it's not going to call too much attention to itself like my 5D does when I'm roaming about shooting with it. It might garner a bit more attention than my little Leica does, it is a bigger camera after all, but I doubt it will call that much more attention to itself than my Leica. Who knows? If I get an X100, I might find myself more motivated to haul my lazy ass out the door and pursue other genres of photography which interest me, you know, beyond shooting pretty girls. Leastwise, that's my theory in spite of my laziness when it comes to shooting for me versus shooting for money. (A syndrome that often exerts quite a bit of power and sway over me. Occupational hazard I suppose.)

The kind of artsy semi-nude portrait at the top is my friend, Kori. I snapped it a few years ago when I still had my studio and Kori was still doing some modeling. (Click it to enlarge it.) Kori is now happily married, she's a Mom, and she works full-time so she doesn't have much time for stuff like modeling.  BTW, in spite of my general practice of not using cliché props (which I mostly consider boas to be... cliché that is) I still had her wear that (real feathers) feather boa which, at least, wasn't a faux, costume store, boa. It's also a genuinely old vintage boa so it gets props (no pun intended) for that.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Elements of Style

Occasionally, other photographers have said to me, "I can usually spot one of your pretty girl photos," or something to that effect. I suppose there's a number of reasons some people say that, not the least of which being I've posted a lot of pics of a lot of pretty girls on the internet-- either on photography forums, via social media, and/or on this blog.

Another reason, I suppose, is that, in some people's eyes, I have a discernible and recognizable style. I think that's a good thing. It's certainly a good thing in the eyes of my clients. They like my style, otherwise they wouldn't rehire me, and they're looking for consistency. The last thing they want to see in the photos I shoot for them is me suddenly reinventing myself, i.e., reinventing my shooting style whenever the style spirit moves me.

So, I got to thinking about the stuff that makes up my style, that makes up any people-photographer's style, whether they're shooting glamour or fashion or just about any genre of photography which involves models or people as the subjects in front of their cameras. Here's my list of those elements. Leastwise, from my perspective and in terms of my photography:

Lighting: Beyond the model herself, the first thing most other photographers notice about any sort of model photograph -- and I use the term "model" to refer to any posed portrait regardless of genre -- is the lighting the photographer employed or, in the case of all natural lighting, took advantage of. If a photographer regularly employs the same or similar styles of lighting, that lighting is going to be associated with the photographer as being part of his or her personal style. That's not to say photographers who often employ the same or similar lighting styles don't ever deviate from those styles. They do. I do too. Well, sometimes I do. But for the most part, I use nearly the same lighting setups in most of my glamour model photography. I'll admit doing so has more to do with the expectations of my clients and not because I don't know how to light models in any other way than the way I most often light them.  I should add that my usual and customary lighting style, while possibly being perceived as repetitive, not only satisfies my clients, but it generally satisfies me. It might be one of those, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," kind of things. Besides, the way I set my lights allows for subtly different lighting impressions depending on how I orient my models to my lights.

Composition:  Generally, I frame most of my images similarly. That framing usually includes a small nod to the Rule of Thirds. I don't conform in big ways to the Rule of Thirds when I'm shooting models. It's more subtle. That's why I call it a "nod" to the rule. How much I conform to the RoT has much to do with whether I'm shooting full body shots, 3/4 shots, half-shots or head-shots. The more the model's body is included in the frame, the less subtle my nods to the RoT.  If I'm shooting a model against a seamless, I generally fill the frame with as much of her as possible whether I'm shooting a full, 3/4, 1/2, or a head shot.  When I'm shooting them against backgrounds other than a seamless or one that is uniform, I frame more loosely to allow more options when cropping in post.

Posing: Since I'm shooting glamour, much of the way I direct models to pose includes similar aspects of posing. For instance, for front shots I generally have models turn their hips slightly away from me while turning their shoulders back to me. I also remind them to form "S" curves with their bodies. I like having them form diagonal lines with their arms, legs, or all of their limbs. Diagonal lines are powerful elements of any photograph. Lines are often perceived as the most powerful element of the Six Elements of Design and diagonal lines are the most powerful of the powerful. There's a lot more to my posing directions than that, things like arching backs, pushing out butts, and twisting torsos till it hurts. I often find myself telling models: "If it doesn't hurt, you're not doing it right." Another thing I often say: "If the pose feels stupid, it probably looks good."

Attitude and Emotion: I'm a big fan of models displaying attitudes and emotions that can be labeled or recognized. Course, better still are those rare captures where those things are mysterious and enigmatic in ways that draw viewers in, but I'm not lucky enough to snap those images as often as I'd like. Since I mostly shoot glamour and tease, the attitudes and emotions I direct models to evoke revolve around things like sensuality, sexual allure and sexual come hither attitudes, and those sorts of things. If you're shooting other sorts of portraits, I don't suggest directing models to display the sorts of attitudes and emotions I encourage them to display in my glamour and tease photography. It's not likely those things are going to be appropriate for senior or wedding pics, or most commercial photography and other portraiture. But directing models and subjects to create certain other types of attitudes and emotions, via their expressions and pose, are always a plus for any sort of portrait, leastwise in my opinion.

The eye candy at the top is Lexi from a bit more than a year ago. You can click the pic to enlarge it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Who is Alexandra K. Trenfor?

Although I was only half-paying-attention while perusing Facebook today, I still managed to spot a great quote attributed to someone named Alexandra K. Trenfor.  Here's the quote: The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see.

Having no idea who Ms. Trenfor is/was and having never heard her name before, I went in search of this obviously insightful person. Unfortunately, nothing turned up to shed any light on who this woman might be or might have been.

I'd like to think she was/is a photographer because those words, her words, speak so eloquently to photography, especially in terms of photographers whom other photographers might choose to learn something from.

Photography isn't merely about capturing who or what is in front of you and your camera. It's about what you see and how you perceive those things in front of you. It's also about how you then decide to capture those things. Unless you're using photography to document things in ways that most accurately resemble reality, your perceptions of those things in front of you -- your internal vision of them and the way in which you photograph them -- are what puts you in the photo. It's that thing that reflects and represents you, the photographer, i.e., your style and your vision. In order to learn how to capture your vision and develop a personal style, assuming you choose to do so with the help of a teacher, mentor, or whatever you want to call such a person, you must choose someone who, while sometimes showing you where to look, won't ever tell you what to see.

Anyway, thanks Ms. Trenfor for your photographically insightful words whether you're a photographer or not. They are certainly worth thinking about. More so considering how many photographers these days, worthy or not,  have set themselves up, in one way or another, as experts, gurus, and teachers.

The sexy Cuban pretty girl at the top goes by the name Luna. (Click it to enlarge.) Wow! I finally remembered one of my pretty girl subjects' names! Must be that gingko biloba I've been taking.  I snapped this one of Luna, plus a few dozen or so others, last week. It was only Luna's third or fourth time in front of a camera but she certainly appears to be a quick learner! Especially in terms of selling it to the camera. (And we all know what "it" is.... or we should.)

By the way, if anyone knows who Alexandra K. Trenfor might be, please let me know in the comments. I'm definitely curious about her.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I'm Still Shooting With an Original 5D

I spend a fair amount of time keeping tabs on what's going on in the world of photography. I do that by following hundreds of photo sites, photographers, and others on Twitter and Facebook. I also regularly read articles published by photography magazines and web sites and more. As a result, I've come to a very obvious conclusion. If the Tweets, FB postings, and content of the majority of articles I read reflects the current state of photography, there's way more photographers overly interested in photo gear than they are in the art, craft, techniques, and practice of photography.

As a rule, I'm not an overly judgmental person but I will say this, as judgmental as it sounds: If most of your world of photography revolves around gear, i.e., the latest cameras, lenses, lights, software and more, it's a very small and sterile photographic world you live in. 

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not looking down on the gear we all use to do this thing we do. And keeping abreast of what's going with gear -- what's new and different, what will help you become a more efficient and productive photographer -- is important.  But if all you mostly know about (or care about) is the latest equipment coming onto the market and you're less interested in the creative aesthetics of photography and how to achieve those aesthetics, you're going to be, or mostly remain, a fairly sterile photographer in terms of the creatively satisfying output of your camera.

I bought a Canon EOS 5D when it was first released. At the time, I think it cost somewhere around $3500 or $3600 with tax. I did so because it was the first Canon camera with a full-frame sensor that I could more easily afford. If I remember correctly, that was in 2006. Guess what? It's 6 years later and I'm still shooting with that same Canon 5D. Why?  Because the subsequent, next-gen, Canon cameras won't make me a better photographer and they won't improve the output of my camera in the ways that truly matter to me. Because of that, I haven't seen why I should have spent the money to upgrade. In other words, if it ain't broken, don't fix it or replace it. I don't consider the aesthetics of what I produce to be broken. More importantly, my clients don't see it that way either. So why should I fix it or replace by upgrading?

That's not to say that, since purchasing my 5D, I haven't purchased any other gear. I have. I've purchased glass, lights, grip, and more. But a camera body? Nope. No reason to do so. And until my 5D decides to stop working (It has hundreds of thousands of shutter actuations on it) I'm not going to upgrade it. When it does quit on me, I'll probably have it fixed and relegate it to a backup. At that time, I will possibly purchase one of the next-gen 5Ds. Or, maybe not. I might simply purchase another original 5D, a much newer one or a brand new one (if I can find one) from some seller's old stock because, frankly, for me, the Canon 5D gets the job done. I'm not being negative on the newer camera bodies but, honestly, there's not a thing those next-gen Canon camera bodies (like the Mk II or Mk III) do that I truly need a camera body to do for the kind of work I perform. Not a freaking thing.

The pretty girl at the top is one I snapped a couple of weeks ago during one of my "shoot 5 girls in 25 minutes" sessions. You can click the pic to enlarge it if you're so inclined.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Photography is Not Dead-- It's Not Even Sick.

I read an article the other day which asks (or wonders) if photography (as we know it) is done. Well, maybe not done but approaching done-ness. You know, as in toast.

The reason the article -- posted by a well-known photography site -- wonders if photography is done is because there now exists motion capturing devices which have become so good at capturing high resolution imagery that a single frame, i.e., a still image, can be lifted from the motion captures (the video) to produce an image that equals, rivals, even trumps still images captured by still cameras. Leastwise, from a technical standpoint.

In my mind, the writer must have either been reaching for something to write about or his/her wonderment was born of a singular lack of understanding of photography as a unique medium. The writer's article subtly (perhaps not-so-subtly) puts stuff like image resolution and other technical aspects of a photographic image ahead of just about every other aspect of photography, e.g., the artistic and emotional aspects of the image, not to mention the creative input of the photographer.  In fact, I'll go a step further and call it yet another article which puts gear and technology in front of craft and art.

Gear and the technical stuff will never, I repeat WILL NEVER, replace the art and craft of photography. If it ever does, which I don't believe it will, that gear and technology will also replace photographers. Gee! That sounds like something to look forward to... not!

Gear and technology might be able to create technically perfect images with little or no creative input from the photographer but, lest anyone forget, technically perfect images can be the world's most incredibly boring photographs! There's an old Egyptian proverb which says, "A beautiful thing is never perfect." Man oh man! Does that ever hold true for photography.

This whole business of searching through frame after frame of video to discover and lift a single frame for use as a still photograph is the same as photographers using the spray-n-pray approach to their photography. In other words, shoot enough stills or capture enough video and there's bound to be a decent photo in their somewhere. Man, if that's what photography is headed towards count me the eff out. That's got to be the most boring, creatively unfulfilled art/craft on the planet. It's nothing more than photography for uncreative techno-geeks. Even if you pull a killer image or two from a clip of video with thousands of images, would anyone truly feel any creative fulfillment from doing so? I know I wouldn't. But maybe that's just me? (Hopefully, it's not.)

Okay. That's my mini-rant for the day. Move along now. Nothing to see here....

...except maybe the model with the great natural chest puppies at the top who I shot last week and whose name I already can't remember. (Click the pic to enlarge.) I can remember, however, how I shot her: I used a 4' Photek Softlighter for my main (with me and my ass perched on an apple box directly in front of it and her) plus a couple of much smaller, Photek knock-offs on either side of her from slightly behind. I also used a cheap house fan to push her hair back a bit.  The background is the wall of a small living room. That's the color the wall is painted, BTW. The model is about four or five feet in front of the wall. The room has 8' ceilings. Yes, it's cramped. But no problemo.  I'm a guerrilla photographer.  I make do. Also, not much post processing applied to the pic. I'm not much of a "much post processing" kind of guy.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Back From the Dead

I'm back from the dead. Literally. Almost. I caught this year's influenza or super-cold or whatever it is and I can't ever remember being this sick in my life! Well, maybe one other time but that was a long time ago in a far off country when I caught something that Dr. House wouldn't have been able to figure out WTF it was.  Back then, like now, I also had to make a dramatic, back-from-the-dead, comeback.

I won't get into the lurid details of my recent suffering which began about two weeks ago. Suffice to say, cleaning up after coughing up a lung or two on a daily basis ain't fun. The intense pain of feeling like every one of my ribs were cracked from the inside out during my coughing jags was a special added bonus. And then there was my ability to breathe... or lack of it. If I ever felt like I needed to have an oxygen tank with me 24/7, or maybe an iron lung, it's been in the last couple of weeks. But now I'm back. From the dead. And I'm ready to tackle 2013. (Cue the applause, please.)

Holy crap! I can't believe it's 2013! Shouldn't we all be flying around in saucer-shaped cars like the Jetsons do by now? Sure seems like we should be.

Anyway, I'm not going to write anything about photography right now. If truth be told, I still feel like shit: Just not as shitty a shit as I have been feeling. I'd say I'm currently operating at about 70-80% of normal. That's good, considering I was operating at about 1% or less not too many days ago. But it's still not good enough! Good enough, I expect, will still take a couple of more days.

I snapped the sexy pic of Cameron (above) on New Year's Eve. (Click to enlarge.) Yes, in spite of my illness (and nearness to death) I dragged myself to work on New Year's Eve. What can I say? I'm dedicated to my craft like that. Plus, we all know a photographer's work is never done. When I return to the blog, which ought to be in a couple of days, I'll be writing about photography again. Until then, stay healthy my friends! And, if you haven't already done so, you might want to consider getting a flu shot. The season ain't over... and I'm not talking about the Holiday Season. I didn't get a flu shot and, in retrospect, I wish I had.