Monday, December 22, 2014

Play-by-Play of a Commercial Nude/Glam Shoot

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Got myself booked for a shooting gig this past Saturday.  A little extra cash for the holidays is always a nice thing. I went with one light, a single main light, which is fairly uncharacteristic for me. Normally, when shooting glam/tease, I'm a three-light kinda guy. Sometimes four lights or three with a reflector. Apparently, I can be flexible, lighting wise. Who knew?

My model for the day, seen in the photo on the left, was certainly easy on the eyes. Plus, my client had a terrific MUA working her magic on my soon-to-be victim. I was going to be shooting on a white seamless in a small-ish studio. The shoot was a product-related affair. The images will be used for web and print ads. The product is a new and rather unique adult product for men. Beautiful, sexy, models sell everything from automobiles to adult products to men... to women as well. Duh, right?

I schlepped my gear into the studio and found that the seamless was already lit with Kino-Flos. (Daylight balanced florescent lighting fixtures.)  I asked my client if the seamless would be used in the ads or if the model would be cut out from the background. "Cut out," is what he told me. Cool! Thanks for enabling my proclivity for being lazy, dude.  I love when that happens!

Being a KISS shooter, you know, a Keep It Simple Stupid, I mean Keep It Simple Shooter kind of photographer, I immediately realized I wasn't going to need to light the seamless any more than it was already lit. Okay. So technically it wasn't a one-light shoot because there were three, pre-set, Kino-Flos lighting the BG and I was going to take advantage of that. But they weren't lighting the model so I'll still call it a one-light shoot.

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Regarding those Kinos, I'm happy to say I didn't need to be concerned about balancing the color temperature of the Kinos to my strobe. You can readily see the difference in color temps produced by my strobe versus what was produced by the Kinos on the BG.  So, my only consideration, florescent versus flash wise, would be insuring there was good separation between the model and the background (to aid the graphic artist in cutting her out when putting together the ads) and providing good color tone for the model's skin. Actually, vice versa in order of importance. But hey! No problemo! I can do that!

Once I decided to go with one light instead of multiple lights, I whipped out a Photogenic monolight I brought with me, plus my 5' Photek Softlighter to modify it. I decided on going with a slightly harder light than usual so I removed the front baffle from the Softlighter turning it into something akin to a Hardlighter. Plus, this particular model didn't need any skin-softening lighting. For all intents and purposes, my Softlighter was now a 5' umbrella. (I love gear that you can adapt and convert!) I didn't care about controlling the spread of the light because, well, because the BG was simply white. (Actually, a bluish/magenta-ish white courtesy of the Kinos, but that wasn't going to matter.)

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I set my light and mod on a stand, a "baby" stand I have with wheels which makes it easier to move around a bit if need be. I shot everything either with the light immediately to my left or right, nearly on-axis with the model, and raised up a bit and angled down. I was now ready for my model as soon as she was out of the chair. The makeup chair, that is.

My model for the day wasn't overly experienced and that, my client told me, was one of the factors for hiring me. He allowed to me, after the shoot, that he considered shooting it himself -- he's a hobby photographer -- but because, he told me, I'm so good with the models, especially newer models, he thought it better to have me shoot it so he would be sure to get the pics he needs.  (I love ego strokes! Especially, when they also come with a check!)

The image just above on the left is one I snapped with the model posing with the product. I don't think you need to call on your imagination much to figure the purpose of the product and its design. It's battery operated by the way, so it's similar to many adult products for women from that perspective. (Nudge, nudge, hint, hint, know what I mean?) Now, you might laugh at that gadget and think it's silly or whatever, but if so, it's probably because you know little about the adult "toy" industry. There's a decent chance my client might put his kids through college off of what he makes selling that red hand.  Course, first he's gonna have to put the red hand down long enough to make some kids but that's another story.

Most of what I shot was either with the model in bra and panties or implied nudes. That's because a fair amount of the places my client will be advertising and marketing his product doesn't permit nudity. Implied nudes? They're okay, as is lingerie. Full nude? Nope.  And no, I didn't take the product out for a test drive. Just saying.

Except for some cropping, the pics above are all 98% SOOC. I did remove a few blemishes in case the model sees this and I get a pissed-off phone call saying, "You couldn't remove a zit or two? You had to post them completely natural that way???"  I also wanted to show them (basically) SOOC so you could readily see the difference in color temp between the Kinos illuminating the white seamless and my single strobe lighting the model.  I set my White Balance to Manual for the shoot, dialed in to 5500 Kelvin. That's a WB setting, 5500K that is, I often use whether I'm shooting with flash or not, indoors or out.  Everything for this shoot was snapped with my Canon 5D2 with a Canon 70-200 f/4 L for about 60% to 70% of the images, and either my Canon 50mm f/1.8 or my Canon 35mm f/2 primes for the rest of them.

Oh! One more thing: Before we wrapped, the guy who's studio it is -- not my client but the studio owner -- stepped in to demonstrate how this latex, red-hand product, "The Handie," might also come in handy for air guitarists. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

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Two more weeks till Christmas. That doesn't give me much time to figure out what I'm going to give myself... make that what Santa is going to bring me.

I've got children and grandchildren but they're fairly easy to shop for. For my two kids, both young adults, money works. For my two grand-kids, who are 8 and 10, a quick question-and-answer session always yields more than a few options for potential gifts from Papa. But for myself?  Hmm... There's so many things I might want and, while they're all photography related, I'm still unsure what my Christmas gift to myself might end up being.

I don't need a new or another camera. Glass? I just bought myself a Canon 20mm f/2.8 prime about a month or so ago.  My main camera bag, while continually getting more and more beat-up looking, is still functional and holds what I need it to hold. Plus, I have three or four smaller camera bags for those times when I'm traveling light or lighter, gear wise. I have a pretty decent tripod, two monopods, and a pair of different heads. I have plenty enough lighting and grip for just about anything I might shoot. Modifiers? I'm flush with them. That leaves accessories.

I plan to do some photo road tripping in 2015. Not merely some, but a fair amount of it if all goes according to plan. No, I'm not taking to the highways and byways to shoot pretty models. My plans are to embark on a journey of discovery shooting landscapes and seascapes and, hopefully, shooting many of them in ways less seen; not in ways previously unseen -- there's nothing new in terms of techniques and approaches to to just about any photo genre -- but in less seen ways. And, in ways that only need to satisfy me, not some client. I've spent nearly two decades shooting pretty girls for others and that's always meant being somewhat inhibited in terms of many things. Clients want me to shoot what they want me to shoot and, generally, in ways they want me to shoot... not in ways I might want to shoot. I guess that's the price one pays for someone else paying a price to have you shoot for them.

The stuff I want to shoot will be all new for me as, for all intents and purposes, I've never shot, or even tried to shoot, a serious landscape or seascape in my life. I've been more of a bodyscape kinda guy.  I've been spending a lot of time recently reading, learning, watching videos and all that to prepare myself for my outings. I don't want to go out there and learn by trial-and-error. Sure, there will be plenty of that even after immersing myself in learning media but I won't be clueless. I might not be abundantly knowledgeable when I get out there but being clueless just ain't my style.

I'll likely also document my journeys, to some extent, in ways other than the finished photos. What I'll do later on with that documentation -- whether it's written, behind-the-scenes photo, video, whatever -- I haven't yet a clue. Well, maybe I have a clue or two but nothing in concrete. I did, however, begin shooting behind-the-scenes photos of my lighting setups before it even occurred to me to begin writing a blog. So, some documentation might later come in handy for something or another.

Back to a possible Christmas gift for myself. The more I think about it, the more I think I'm thinking accessories.  But then, I already have a bunch of accessories: I have ND filters, including an ND 3.0 (that's -10 stops.) I have two, maybe three circular polarizers.  I have ProMist filters, an FL-W filter (for shooting during the Blue Hour) and some other filters as well. I have two remote shutter gadgets. I have all the editing software I need. Hmm... Nothing comes to mind. You know what? Maybe I don't need anything? Maybe I should just save my money for some of the road trips I plan on taking? Yeah. That's it! That might be the best, makes-most-sense Christmas present I can give myself... or not give myself, depending on how you look at it.

I don't recall the name of the pretty girl at the top. I snapped it just prior to last Christmas while working a gig for a client. (Or was it the Christmas before last? Sheesh! Keeping track of time becomes more and more difficult the older I get. I could look at the date on the photo's data but I'm too lazy to do so at the moment.)

Anyway, it wasn't a Christmas-themed shoot. She was one of three models I shot that evening and she happened to have that outfit with her. Being it was about a week before Christmas -- at least I remember that much -- I asked her to put it on. I only snapped a couple of dozen pics or so of her in it. As you can see, it's one of those outfits (two pieces plus the gloves) that goes-on and comes-off fairly quickly and easily. Unfortunately, we ran out of time while I was shooting her in it so there wasn't time for it to come off, as quickly and easily it coming off might have been.  Oh well. Sometimes, time is the enemy.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Shooting on Sticks

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Do you shoot on sticks? If you're not sure what I'm asking, "sticks" refers to a tripod. It's a word often heard in film-making but possibly to a lesser degree amongst still photographers. No matter. Using the word "sticks" to refer to a tripod has been around for a very long time.

Lately, I've been shooting on sticks more often than I have in the past. One reason is because my current favorite lens for shooting many types of people portraits, whether it's glamour or something else, is my Canon 70-200 f/4 L non-IS. I've gotten rid of my other zoom lenses and the 70-200 is the only zoom I now own. Yep. These days I'm exclusively a prime lens guy, except for my 70-200.  Why's that? Well, there are a number of reasons, personal choice reasons, and perhaps I'll write about those reasons in a later blog update.

Being a non-IS version of Canon's 70-200 line-up is why I almost always use sticks when I'm shooting with it. If and when I don't, I'm likely going to have to toss out a fair number of captures because they're going to be ever-so-slightly soft around the eyes, where I nearly always focus. Soft focus on the eyes is not the sort of thing I want for most of the people portraits I shoot. I'll bet you don't either.  Sure, I do things like shoot at higher shutter speeds to reduce the likelihood of soft-around-the-eyes pics. I also try my best to hold my camera steady, real steady, when using it. Even then, I end up with more than a few photos that aren't usable.

I should also note that, except for its proclivity for slightly-soft-focus when I'm hand-holding the camera when using it, especially when it's zoomed in and I'm shooting wide open (which I mostly always am when using it) I love the lens!  Unlike it's IS version siblings, especially the f/2.8 IS, it's not a heavy lens.  In fact, it's not heavy at all. I've shot with the 70-200 f2.8 IS L, not with the camera on sticks, and boy did it wear out my arms! So, to make sure my focus is nearly always nailed-down when shooting with this particular non-IS lens, I generally, almost always in fact, put my camera on sticks (or sometimes a mono-pod) when I'm shooting with it.

One of the things I've noticed about shooting on sticks is it slows me down, that is, it slows me down in good ways. When I'm working with my camera on sticks, I notice I'm a bit more, I don't know, methodical and deliberate. I tend to pay better attention to things like framing and composition. For some reason, it makes me more thoughtful while shooting. I don't feel like I'm shooting from the hip like some trick-shot gunslinger. Those are all good things that often yield more and better "get it right in the camera" results.  Shooting on sticks also helps me resist the urge to over-shoot. I generally end up with less snaps from a set, but a higher number good snaps, i.e., keepers. Fewer images also generally aids in editing -- fewer frames to go through -- so, there's a post-production-efficiency gain when shooting on sticks, leastwise that's been my experience when doing so.

Certain genres require shooting on sticks. Long exposure and many types of land/sea/cityscape photography come immediately to mind. And, of course, there are genres, like street and event photography, where shooting on sticks isn't practical. 

Because of the positive things I tend to gain from shooting on sticks, I'm now using them more often than before and with other lenses-- lenses that are much more reliable than my 70-200 non-IS in terms of focus even when shooting at slower shutter speeds and with those lenses wide open or nearly wide open.  Why? Again, for many of the reasons I've already noted. Especially, the part where doing so slows me down and forces me to shoot a bit more methodically, deliberately, and thoughtfully.  And please don't confuse methodical and deliberate with being somewhat anal retentive and overly intent on the the tech stuff at the expense of the creative stuff. If anything, shooting slower and more methodically and deliberately seems to stimulate even more creativity in my brain. Go figure.

By the way,  I'm not saying everyone should suddenly start shooting everything on sticks. I'm not doing so either.  I'm simply suggesting you might want to give it a try if you're not somewhat regularly or semi-regularly using a tripod or a mono-pod. Who knows? You might see an improvement in some of your work. What do you have to lose by trying it out? A small amount of time? That's a small price to pay for, potentially, better pictures assuming better pictures result.

The pretty girl at the top is Paris. The lighting is somewhat different from the lighting I often employ for many of my pretty girl shoots. That's because the particular client I was shooting for was okay with me -- in fact he encouraged me -- to go a bit outside of the standard glam-and-tease box (lighting-wise) that many, if not most of my clients prefer to me to shoot within. I used four lights for the image: 1) a Mola  33.5" "Euro" beauty dish for my main, set camera left and kept in close but also set low and angled up; 2) a small soft box boomed overhead and from behind for a top-of-her-head hair light; 3) a medium-sized strip box, camera right and from behind; 4) another medium-sized strip box, camera left, set a bit higher than the strip on the right and also from behind. I didn't shoot Paris with my camera on sticks.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Some Things Ain't the Way They Used to Be

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Before I say what I have to say today, an FYI on something free to download. It's the TLS Digest. What's a TLS Digest? Well, the TLS FB page, (aka The Light Side) is a terrific photographer's forum-style page on FaceBook. It's mostly comprised of British photographers but I don't hold that against them. The guys who administrate TLS decided to transform some of the really good threads there into a periodic digest and make it available to, well, to everyone. Check it out!  You can download the first TLS Digest, a free PDF, by CLICKING HERE.  Also, if you're a Facebook user and you think you might want to join TLS, here's the link to the page. It's a closed group with more than a few very accomplished (and helpful) photographers participating, as well as plenty of shooters who are there to share and/or to learn. As it's name suggests, The Light Side is mostly focused on all things lighting... without taking itself too seriously.

Anway, here's today's post...

The world of professional photography has dramatically changed in recent years. Duh, right? These days, mostly because of new technologies, many more people are interested in photography then ever before. Not only that but many of those who have more recently found interests in photography can produce images that are quite good. Often enough, awesomely good!  I'm often blown away by the quality of photographs I see coming from hobbyists.

Not only are many of those newer-to-photography folks able to produce great images, but many of them have (or are trying to) turn their passions and skills in photography into something that generates personal income.  Nothing inherently wrong with that. But here's the deal...

These days, becoming a working photographer -- you know, one who gets paid to shoot -- has so much less to do with their photography, i.e., their skills, talent, and the pictures in their portfolios, and so much more to do with their abilities to market and brand themselves that the photography itself seems to have become a less important trait or factor in their abilities to become working photographers.

Do you know or know of any photographers whose work, in your opinion, isn't so great and yet they seem to have work, paid work, and clients or customers coming out their ears?  Guess why that is. Yep. Marketing and branding.

None of that is to say you shouldn't work hard at becoming a good photographer. But if you're doing so at the expense of also learning to become a good or great self-marketer, well, odds are no one is going to notice how terrific your images are, leastwise in terms of seeking you out so they can start giving you tons of work. It just doesn't work that way. In fact, I'm not really sure it ever worked that way.

I do know that ten, fifteen, twenty or more years ago being able to produce work that truly stood out counted for more than it does these days.  Whether that's a good thing or not depends on who you are.  If you're a shooter who routinely produces average, pedestrian work, but are really good at marketing and branding, it's likely a good thing. If you're a photographer who regularly produces terrific, even awesome photos but you kind of suck at marketing and branding, it's probably not such a good thing.

I'm mostly writing about this stuff today because my email's "in box" has been cramped full of Black Friday offers for deals on gear, software, instructional programming and more, but I haven't seen anything offered that deals with helping photographers become better self-marketers.  That's not to say those products aren't available. They are. But I guess they're not sexy or popular enough to waste a Black Friday on.

The pretty girl at the top is Jamie. Snapped it on a standing set in a loft studio in down-town LA. Used a 5' Photoflex Octo for my main, plus a medium strip box behind her and to camera left for some subtle edge lighting.  Converted to B&W with Photoshop's simple tool for doing such things. Plus, I added few other digital ingredients to it. If you read this blog somewhat regularly, you know I'm partial to converting images to B&W in various ways.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Beyond Mundane

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I was reading an article about portfolio websites today while eating lunch. The article was published in a well-known photography magazine. Yeah. I'm old school. I still read magazines and periodicals of the non-cyber kind. I even read the occasional book, i.e., a printed-on-paper book.

Mostly, I read magazines about photography or I read one of two other, non-photography rags: Archaeology and Smithsonian. Occasionally, I'll read Vanity Fair but not too regularly. Also, like today, I mostly read magazines while eating lunch alone at a restaurant. Today's lunch alone was sushi. Yum! Sushi! Who needs lunch company when you have a good magazine and sushi? Not me.

The magazine article I read provided helpful tips on creating visually notable portfolio websites. It also included some words on how to get your website mentioned or showcased in the magazine's future articles on photographer websites. Some of the generic tips about websites included suggestions like not using black backgrounds because white lettering on black backgrounds is hard to read. You know, like the design of this blog page of mine with its black background and white letters.

I don't personally have an online portfolio but I'm often thinking I should have one if for no other reason than my photographer's ego.  Anyway, to get to the point of this update, the two things the rag article's writer mentioned regarding getting one's online portfolio showcased in the printed magazine are: 1) A great design and 2) Photos that aren't mundane.  (With extra-special emphasis on #2.)

Just so we're all on the same page with this mundane stuff, let me define the word for you, not that I think you don't know what it means. In the context of portfolio websites, I take the word 'mundane' to mean: Lacking interest or excitement; dull; common; ordinary; banal; unimaginative photographs.

Many of us who are photographers earning all, much, or even small parts of our incomes routinely shoot mundane photos. Mundane photos are most working photographers' bread-n-butter. Mundane photos represent the lion's share of their work. Mine, yours, most shooters' work. How's that, you ask? Because most clients, be they commercial glamour clients or wedding and event customers and beyond want, whether they know it or not -- and they usually don't know it's what they want -- mundane photos.

Don't get me wrong, those clients and customers who want mundane photos want terrific mundane photos! Stand-out mundane photos! But in terms of most other aspects of the photos, they want what everyone else wants, only better, that is, better in terms of quality and all that stuff. You see, what most of them don't want are photos unlike those that other photographers provide except in terms of quality. And by quality, I'm not simply talking about good exposure and in focus. They want, for the most part, images that are exceptionally well composed and lit with good emotional content. Hence, they want really good mundane photos. All that's why I sometimes go out and shoot photos for myself. 

When I shoot photos for myself -- I usually refer to doing so as shooting photos "just for fun" -- I try to shoot photos that aren't mundane. Leastwise, photos that are less mundane. Photos that are unlike those I normally shoot for pay. Images that are less-seen and somewhat uncommon. (Even if the genre I'm shooting is, basically, common.) Why? Because I want my personal work to be super expressive and super-expressive isn't as common as many photographers think it might be or claim their photos happen to be.  You see, I want to shoot stuff that's, well, that's different. If I go out and shoot landscapes as an example, I want to shoot them in less-seen ways utilizing less-seen techniques and from less-seen perspectives. It's not about what I might point my camera at -- let's say, for the sake of my example, a pristine lake with majestic mountains in the background -- but it will be about where I point my camera from, where I place it, how I angle it, what filters I might use, how I shoot it, and what I might include along with whatever it is, in the bigger picture sort of way, I'm pointing my camera at... if any of that makes sense.

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Here's a pic on the right I shot not long ago just for fun and just for me. It and others I snapped that day may not be ready for prime time in some gallery. It  might not be one I'll choose to include in some future, online, portfolio I may or may not create. And it might not appeal to too many people's discriminating tastes. Whatever. But whatever it is or is not, it expresses something I wanted to express and it's not mundane. Leastwise in my opinion.

Hopefully, in the not too distant future, I'll have a pretty good stockpile of non-mundane images I can choose from to put together an online portfolio; one that has a good design and includes more than a few images that aren't, for the most part, mundane. I might even go for broke and not make the portfolio's background black with white lettering. 

Course, every photo I use likely won't be non-mundane. And then there's the notion that one shooter's super-expressive photo is another shooter's "ho hum" pic. But I'm hoping more than a few of the pics I'm going to shoot will be of the beyond the mundane variety, especially any pic I might use for my portfolio's splash page image plus the first one or two in each individual category or gallery -- within my overall portfolio -- I might create. 

The pretty girl at the top is Alexa. It's not my usual pretty-girl-on-a-seamless that so many of my clients have me shooting. Ergo, it's a bit less mundane than much of my work, owing largely to the environment she's selling her allure in. I lit Alexa with three lights: A 5' Photoflex Octo for my main, set just a bit to my right with the center of the modifier just above the model's eye-level. I also used a medium strip box, camera left from behind, plus a small rectangular soft box boomed overhead from behind Alexa and just slightly camera right. ISO 100, f/5.6, 125th, manual mode on my 5D1 with a Tamron 28-75 at 60mm.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Angle of Attack

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I like to refer to a photographer's shooting position, i.e., whether their camera is pointed up, down, or remains mostly level, as their "angle of attack."  It's a term I first learned while working (for more than a decade) in the aerospace industry as a corporate film-maker and photographer.

In aerodynamics, the angle of attack specifies the angle between the line of the wing of a fixed-wing aircraft and a vector representing the relative motion between the aircraft and the atmosphere... if that makes sense.  In photography, in my mind at least, angle of attack represents the angle (relative to, say, a level floor) which indicates an up or down angle between a photographer's camera and the subject of his or her photo. Hopefully, that makes more sense.

Course, most photographers simply call (what I call) their angles of attack their "shooting angles."  But a shooting angle is a bit vague and can be applied to other positions a photographer might be shooting from when shooting anything. You know, like, "I need to get this angle from over here or that angle from over there."  Saying things like that doesn't refer to an actual angle, i.e., an up or down angle relative to level. It refers to virtually anywhere a photographer might be shooting from, not just angles like high angles pointing the camera down or low angles pointing the camera up or even a lack of an angle when keeping one's camera level in the "X Axis" when shooting. (In aerodynamics, the X Axis is referred to as pitch, that is, it refers to a plane's nose pointing up or down or being level. The two other axises are yaw and roll. Aren't I smart? Who knew?)

Okay. Now that I've spent three paragraphs explaining my use of the term, "angle of attack," I'll get to what I'm writing about today: Using low angles of attack for dramatic or psychological impact and giving more "power" to your models.

I received an email from the good folks at Picture Correct the other day, as did about a hundred thousand or more other photographers. It was all about low angle photography tips. If you're not on Picture Correct's email list you might want to go there and sign up. They regularly send out some terrific info. And it isn't just promotions for stuff to buy even if they do promote a few of my ebooks from time to time, as well as those from other photography authors.  Anyway, this particular email got me to thinking I should write an update about shooting models from low or lower angles versus level angles that are, for the most part, snapped from eye level.

There are a couple of reasons why I shoot the majority of my pretty girl pics from lower shooting angles. Make that I shoot with an angle of attack that has me shooting from low rather than eye-level or higher. While I don't often shoot from dramatically low angles of attack -- unless I'm purposely looking to produce a fairly dramatic image -- I am, for the most part, shooting from below. By below I mean I'm generally shooting from belly-button level. That would be the model's belly button, not mine.

Shooting from a belly button angle of attack means my camera is pitched or pointed up, but not overly or too dramatically angled up. It's just enough of an up-angle to give the model a bit of psychological "power." Leastwise, in terms of how viewers perceive the images. In other words, it awards the model a subtle sense of dominance over the viewers. Conversely, if I want to create a sense of subservience or submissiveness, I'll opt to shoot from higher angles with my camera pointed or pitched down.  Yep. Angles of attack can have a lot to do with how viewers perceive images, and not just in terms of whether it's a generally good or not-so-good image.

The other other good thing about me shooting from an approximate belly button height is it means I'm usually shooting with my ass plopped on an apple box. But that's a more personal thing cuz, personally, I can be a bit lazy when shooting.

My laziness aside, a variety of types of people photography -- include many types of portraits -- aren't the only genres where shooting from low angles, often from dramatically low angles, can make your photography more, well, more dramatic. Many landscape photographers, for instance, capture images from quite low angles of attack, sometimes nearly ground level, even though their overall images are big and wide vistas snapped with wide angle lenses. Shooting models from a very low angle of attack with a very wide angle lens can create a sense of distortion -- an uber-wide angle lens combined with a low angle of attack, that is -- which may produce some very cool and memorable images!

The pretty girl at the top is Charmane. I snapped it and a bunch of others of Charmane from my usual sitting-on-an-apple-box angle of attack. Since making eye contact with the camera is oft-seen element of glamour photography, my shooting position forced Charmane to look down on me. (Physically look down on me, not the other kind of looking down on me that some people sometimes engage in.) She's not overtly or too obviously looking down in the image. Rather, she's doing so in a somewhat subtle and natural way. Again, having models look slightly down to various degrees gives them a perceived sense of power and dominance in the photos.  By the way, that doesn't mean I'm a submissive person in other ways, if you get my drift. We're just talking about photography and angles of attack here, not me personally and/or other types of human relationships... other than your usual and customary photographer/model relationships.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Green and Blue for B&W

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I've been known to use colored gels on more than a few occasions when shooting pretty girls. Often enough, I've utilized Rosco's Bastard Amber or Straw to warm the skin of more than a few sexy models. The two other gel colors I've often employed are CTB (Color Temperature Blue) and CTG. The latter being -- Yeah. You Guessed it. -- Color Temperature Green.

Green and blue aren't gels used to warm skin. (People aren't Smurfs or green-skinned alien creatures, after all.) But they can be used effectively in glamour and nude photography in a variety of ways. One such way is with images intended for B&W conversion.

How so? Well, since human skin doesn't include blue or green in its skin tones, the green and blue in an image can be easily manipulated without effecting the skin tones. One such manipulation where using green or blue gels can come in handy is when you're converting to B&W.

In the image above from a set I snapped a while back, I was shooting with model Faye in a small apartment against a bare wall. The wall was texture-coated and painted off-white. I used two lights: a main light set camera-right about head-high and modified with a medium-sized, shoot-through umbrella, plus a bare-bulb strobe on the floor behind her, angled almost straight up. I metered my main light for a good exposure but cranked up the back light to create a very hard and obvious edge around her and to back-light the smoke so it would be well portrayed in the image. I also gelled the back light with CTB for some of the captures.

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The image on the right is the SOOC (Straight Out of Camera) capture for the photo above. (Re-sized, not cropped, for the web.) The blue-gelled back light has its own "cool value," in my opinion, and also affords me the ability to manipulate it in post -- manipulate it quite a bit, in fact -- when converting to B&W.

Because there's no blue to the model's skin tones (or her scant wardrobe for that matter) I was able to easily adjust the levels of the background in post by simply choosing the color blue as my "key" for such adjustments.  For the image above, I brought the tone of the blue way down, i.e., darkened it quite a bit, in order to further "pop" the model from the background and to add some interesting value to the bare wall. I was also better able to accentuate the texture of the wall working in B&W.

Manipulating the blue for a B&W conversion isn't the only thing I could do with that blue. Since the blue isn't part of the model's skin tone, I could manipulate the blue in various other ways for color versions of the image. I could have done the same thing with a green gel as green isn't present in skin tones either. That's why, of course, when they're producing many special effects for motion pictures, they utilize "green screen" and "blue screen" backgrounds because it allows the film-makers the ability to "key in" other things while not effecting the images of the actors or other subjects, props, foreground sets, etc. that don't contain the colors green or blue, whichever they chose for their background key.

I'm a big proponent of experimenting, not on my clients' dimes but when I'm shooting for myself. You might want to try introducing green or blue gels into you pretty girl shooting or for almost any portrait work that's captured against a seamless, neutral background, especially if you intend to convert those portraits to B&W.  I don't suggest you first try doing so if you're hired to shoot portraits for a client or customer but, once you've gotten comfortable using such gels and techniques, you might want to sometimes work into you productions workflows, including your paid-work workflows.

Model Faye, seen in the images above, is someone I've worked with a fair number of times. I've shot her in "just for fun" pics, as well as commercial glamour, tease, and also some fashion work for an LA clothing designer. As a teen, Faye was an American Apparel model and, combined with her subsequent volume of glam and tease work, it's all helped make her a very experienced model: Easy to shoot with (user friendly, as I sometimes like to say), easy on the eyes, and a model who knows how to very effectively "work" her side of the camera. The image I used for this update was captured with an 85mm prime lens on a Canon 5D1, ISO 100, f/6.3 at 100th.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Garbage In/Garbage Out

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Yesterday, a fairly well-known photographer said on his page he believes Photoshop is the greatest tool we have as  photographers other than our eyes and our knowledge of light and cameras. A lot of people, he said, feel that PS is an over-used tool and that we should get it right in camera. A statement like that, of course, is like a personal, monogrammed, invitation for me to jump in and comment.

"Getting it right in the camera," I remarked, "doesn't necessarily mean no Photoshop. It means if you choose to process the image with PS, doing so will generally be easier, quicker, and more hassle-free."

The photographer responded with, "I gotta be honest. I don't  understand what 'getting it right in the camera' even means. I Photoshop every single image that I shoot because the images coming out of my camera are only the base of the image, the foundation, they're not the house." Someone else then chimed in with, "What comes out of the camera is not necessarily the vision you had."

I certainly couldn't argue with that other commenter's observation. I've seen plenty of images where, in my mind, it seemed painfully obvious the photographer didn't execute their vision the way he or she envisioned it and then tried to "save it" with a post-production replacement vision. (I don't, of course, think that's how the commenter meant his statement but what the hell. I replaced it with my meaning... sorta like a replacement vision.)

"Getting it right in the camera generally means good exposure, proper color balance, something closer to the final crop rather than further from it, images that are in focus and have the amount of DoF the shooter was looking to produce and more of that stuff." I wrote.  "I don't think any of that is vague, mysterious, confusing, or impractical. They're simply good photography practices." I added.

Regarding vision, I simply said, "If you need to completely alter your vision in post because what you snapped wasn't close to your original vision or didn't come out the way you saw it in your head, you might rethink how you're executing your visions when you're shooting them.  Otherwise, good results (via revamped visions) of poorly executed images are more often happy accidents, require a lot of processing, or both... none of which I personally rely on."

After a bit more online banter, I added, "If you're a shooter who generally gets it right in the camera, there's a point in time when you're not even thinking in terms of getting it right in the camera. It's simply what you do, automatically and consistently."

None of what I said yesterday or what I'm repeating today is intended to down-play the importance of post-processing for many photographers' work. Photoshop and other image processors are certainly important tools in the digital photography age. Wonderful tools! Tools that offer creative opportunities that were once very difficult if not impossible to achieve. But even still, I can't agree that image manipulating tools, combined with a photographer's skills in using them, are *the* most important tools at most photographers' disposals. (Note: I'm referring to photographers, not those who would be better categorized as digital artists. Those folks aren't always one and the same with those of us who are, for the most part if not all parts, photographers.)

In my mind, the most important tools photographers possess are in their kits and in their minds with or without the addition of image altering software.  That's why I believe knowing how to get it right in the camera (and doing so near-automatically) generally trumps your skills and use of Photoshop and the like.

If you're starting out as a photographer or still have a ways to go developing your production skills -- not that any of us don't -- I recommend prioritizing learning how to get things right in the camera as your #1 priority before  investing considerable time and resources into learning how to use Photoshop or any other post-processing software.  When you're then learning and practicing processing your images, you'll be starting out with better images to process. (That sure makes sense to me.) Otherwise, odds are you'll more-often, perhaps too often, be victims of that old adage, "Garbage in/Garbage out."

The pretty girl at the top is Dahlia. It's not a glam pic per se, but more of an art nude I suppose. Snapped it and others of Dahlia at El Mirage Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert a while back. I really like the angles created by her arms and legs and how they produce a bit of symmetry with the diagonal lines of the clouds (or chem-trails or whatever they are) and her shadow, all of which even more accentuated by my very low shooting angle. Yeah. I was lying in the dirt to get that snap. Boy! The things I do for my art! You know, things like lying in the dirt with a beautiful, naked, female model towering over me out in the middle of Nowheresville.

I shot the image with my Canon 5D1 and a Canon 17-40mm f/4 L at a 30mm focal length with all natural light and manual settings of ISO 100, f/8, 125th for those of you who like knowing the tech stuff. 

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Uber-Dramatic Lighting

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There's a time and place for dramatic lighting but it's not for all the time and for all places. Just because you can do something, even if you can do it well, doesn't mean you always should.

I regularly view a lot of images on the web and one thing I've noticed is that many photographers seem overly preoccupied with producing rather dramatic lighting with their people images, glamour images and otherwise. It's as if they believe their images won't get noticed if they don't utilize dramatic lighting techniques when snapping them.

By dramatic lighting techniques, I'm referring to things like constant use of HSS (High Speed Sync), high contrast noir-like approaches, images that seem to live permanently in some shadow world, overly obvious (and excessive) use of chiaroscuro  and other ways of making photographs appear overly dramatic from a lighting perspective.

Sure, those dramatic lighting approaches can yield cool photos. And there are accomplished shooters who regularly employ high-drama-lighting for their usual and consistent styles, sometimes gaining their notoriety from using such lighting styles and approaches. Nothing inherently wrong with any of that. But if you're still learning about lighting and suddenly you learn how to shoot with uber-dramatic lighting techniques, even if you learn to do it well, you still should continue learning various other lighting techniques, styles, and strategies rather than suddenly deciding your lighting education is complete because of the cool, dramatically-lit photos you now can snap. Dramatic lighting is not the zenith or pinnacle of lighting techniques. They're simply sometimes effective techniques and styles amongst many other effective ways of lighting your subjects.

Here's an FYI for some of you: Overly dramatic lighting isn't for everyone. It can come off as over-done when it's over-utilized. By "everyone," I'm not speaking about the photographers who use such techniques regularly, even always, themselves. I'm referring to others, perhaps customers and/or clients, or viewers and/or potential users of the photos.

While some of those others, perhaps quite a few, will be wowed by your ability to produce dramatically-lit images, there are as many who appreciate photos with more substance than dramatic lighting alone can produce.  That's another thing I've noticed: more than a few shooters who seem to shoot all their portraits, glam and otherwise, with dramatic lighting approaches seem less interested (or appear to have spent less time) focused on the emotional appeal of their images or the story if a story of sorts was intended. Yes, dramatic lighting certainly contains emotional appeal on its own. It can also be a key component of an image's story. But if the emotional appeal or story told by the lighting doesn't match the emotional appeal or story that's intended or expected, the subject of the image (or the story or both) doesn't often make sense... if that makes sense.

The more tools you have in your bag of tricks, the more flexible and adaptable a photographer you'll be. I don't mean gear or equipment in my mention of "tools" in the previous sentence. I'm referring to soft tools, intangible tools, e.g., techniques, approaches, styles, strategies, that stuff.  The more of those you can call-on with, at least, minimal levels of expertise, the generally better photographer you'll be, regardless of what you're shooting.  Don't be a one trick pony lighting-wise! Even if some lighting approaches don't ordinarily match your vision, it's good to know them and how to use them because you never know when they'll come in handy or even be required.

The model at the top is Tera Patrick. She's rather simply lit with two lights and a reflector: A big main light in front, modified with a 5' Photoflex Octo with a 3' white reflector underneath and angled-up for some gentle fill, plus another light at the top of the stairs modified with a small shoot-through umbrella, angled-down providing a hair light. Could I have lit Tera on that staircase more dramatically? Sure. No problemo! I know how to do dramatic lighting, even uber-dramatic lighting. I have more than a couple of lighting styles in my bag of tricks. But dramatically-lit wasn't the style the client wanted.

I learned my lesson years ago about making cool (IMO cool) dramatically-lit glamour images that weren't in the style the client wanted. Upon seeing one such set of images, I received a none-too-appreciative phone call from my client saying, "Jimmy! What am I supposed to do with this artsy shit?"  Yep. "Artsy shit." That's what he said. Exact words. And he even went on to tell me the photos were really good in an "artsy shit" sort of way, but that's not what he wanted. Leastwise, in terms of the lighting approach he expected me to utilize when shooting for him. Did he want mediocre photos? No. Flatly-lit, low-contrast photos? No again. But he didn't want artsy shit either.

So, here's a bit more FYI for some of you: Everyone, i.e., customers and clients and others, doesn't want or particularly care for artsy shit. Perhaps more don't than you might imagine.  Course, if you're simply shooting for yourself, you might want artsy shit for all your work. If so, have at it. But even so, if you like sharing your images with others and especially enjoy getting viewer's pats on your artistic back, also know that all viewers of your images may not appreciate your artsy shit the way you do.  I suppose it all depends on what it is, or how it is, you want to present yourself as a photographer and/or an artist-- as a 100% "artsy shit" shooter or something else. Perhaps, something more?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Throwback Thursdays

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Throwback Thursdays on FaceBook are kind of fun because I sometimes use them as reminders to look at images I shot 5, 10, or more years ago and see how my style has changed, if it's changed much at all.

I snapped the image on the left of Charmaine in early 2006. Wow! Almost a decade ago!

First thing I noticed is it's warmer than most of what I shoot these days. That's because, back then, I often used gels on my lights, mostly my key or main light, to warm the models.  I generally used a small piece of Roscoe Bastard Amber to slightly warm the light. Occasionally, I used Straw. Some glamour photographers routinely warmed their images with CTO (Color Temperature Orange) but I always thought CTO was too, well, too orange for my tastes whereas Bastard Amber and Straw yielded a more golden hue, rather than orangey.

My general lighting setup style hasn't changed all that much. If anything, the biggest changes have occurred with the modifiers I mostly use. Back then, I was more apt to be using my Mola 33.5" "Euro" beauty dish with a couple of Chimera medium strip boxes for kickers on either side and from slightly behind the models. These days, my main light modifier of choice, for the most part, is a 5' Photek Softlighter. I also tend to use a pair of small-ish brolly boxes replacing the strips. The brolly boxes I use are knock-offs of Photek's Softlighters.   Going from a Mola dish and strips to Softlighters (knock-off or otherwise) has mostly been the result of me getting lazier becoming more efficient in terms of using gear that's easier to transport, set-up, and strike.

For a while, I had replaced my Mola dish (for many shoots) with a Photoflex 5' Octo but, while it's a good modifier producing pleasing portrait lighting, it's a pain in the you-know-what to set-up and strike. I've shot with the Photoflex 7' Octo and that's an even bigger pain to set-up and take-down. Besides, the Softlighter produces almost the identical quality of light as a Photoflex Octo but is way easier to set-up and take-apart. The Mola dish, btw, fell out of favor with me simply because it's cumbersome to transport and most of my work was taking place at practical locations rather than in a studio. I still love the light the Mola dishes produce. But laziness efficiency has mostly prevailed. One thing hasn't changed: I still carry a full apple box for almost everything I shoot and my ass is plopped on it... nearly always. Course, I only sit on it when I'm shooting models because I like the slightly upward angle it has me shooting from... wink, wink -- bullshit -- wink, wink.

I've also gotten better (I think) at Photoshop over the years, albeit I'm anything but an accomplished PS user. Still, I get by with my limited PS skills... just.  For the most part, my images are processed by others, i.e., art departments, re-touchers, and graphic artists. But for the images I post here on the blog, as well those I use in my eBooks, I'm the art department/re-toucher/graphic artist and, trust me when I tell you, those who do that sort of thing for a living have nothing to worry about from me in terms of competing with them in the marketplace. I used to do everything in PS but, more recently, I've added a couple of other processing tools to my post-production workflow. Leastwise, when I choose to use them. They are OnOne Software's "Perfect Effects," which I use rather sparingly, and Zoner's Studio 15, which I use a bit more. Both were freebies made available by those companies otherwise I doubt I would have purchased them.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Learning New Things

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Just because you get pretty good at one or two types of photography doesn't mean you're automatically an all-around good photographer who can produce good images shooting almost anything outside what you're already pretty good at shooting. (Sorry for the excessive "goods" in that sentence.)

For instance, while a fair amount of my skills and knowledge would translate to shooting weddings, I don't know jack about shooting weddings and wouldn't agree to take someone's hard-earned cash to document and shoot what will be, for many, one of the most important days of their lives.

Does that mean I could never shoot weddings? No. Of course not. What it means is I would never present myself as a legitimate wedding photographer before doing lots of homework and paying my dues, probably in the form of being a second photographer working with an experienced wedding shooter at a number of weddings. When I finally felt I had some real and meaningful experience to offer, then I might sell myself as a wedding photographer. Until then, I'd be little more than a wedding shooter version of a GWC (Guy With a Camera) in spite of my lengthy experience shooting glam and tease models and other sorts of portraiture.

Lately, I've become fascinated, intrigued, interested in, and generally enamored with long exposure photography. (Both daylight and night-time long exposure photography.)  To say this sort of photography is far from what I usually shoot -- even farther away than shooting weddings -- is an understatement. In fact, the more I learn, i.e., by doing my homework, the further from my photographic comfort zone long exposure photography appears to be.

But that's okay! I love a challenge and I love learning new things! I'm confident that, when I get my ass out there and try shooting some LE (Long Exposure) photography after doing said homework, I'll be prepped, informed, and have a clue about what I'm doing. Probably more than a single clue. Perhaps a bunch of clues!

I've broken down my homework into two, general, categories: gear and techniques.

Gear: What will I need that I don't already have to begin my LE journey? Been reading and learning a lot about that. Once that's determined, I'll decide what specific types and/or brands or models of that gear seems right for me in terms of quality, functionality, and budget. You see, my kit (as it is right now) isn't an LE photographer's kit. Heck. It isn't even a landscape photographer's kit for that matter. Sure, some of my gear will work just fine, e.g., the camera bodies I already own and a few other things. But in terms of glass, filters, and more, well, I'm going to have to open my wallet and buy a few things... which I've already begun doing. In fact, the only thing I still need to purchase (to get started) is a good wide angle lens. It looks like, after a fair amount of research and asking around, I'm going to go with Canon's venerable EF 20mm f/2.8 prime. (Which works nicely into my current gear preferences as I'm getting rid of my zoom lenses, except for my Canon 70-200 L, and becoming nearly an all-prime-lens guy. But that's another story.)

Techniques: Just because I add the necessary gear to my bag to help me shoot LE images, coupled with my long-time experience shooting models in studios as well as at practical locations, daylight or otherwise, doesn't mean I automatically know how to make best use of that gear or my skills in order to produce decent, hopefully better-than-decent, LE images. So, in order to elevate my knowledge -- that is, to get a clue, perhaps more than a clue -- I've been reading lots of articles, plus a few ebooks, as well as watching a variety of educational videos on the subject. I've also gone online and viewed many, many LE images, both the best of the genre as well as some of the worst. (Yep. You can sometimes learn a fair amount by looking at poor examples of various types of work. Occasionally, believe it or not, you can learn more from viewing some of the worst examples of something than from viewing some of the best. But that's also another story.)

Once I get my gear together -- and I'm saving for that lens, it's about $500, because I don't like banging credit cards for gear if I can avoid doing so or be patient enough to wait which sometimes I can, but only sometimes -- it will be time to get out there and try out what I've learned. As I've said many times on this blog and in my ebooks, getting good at shooting something requires learning and then practice. Plenty of practice. Practice, practice, practice! (And more practice!)

The pretty girl at the top is Paris. I snapped it in studio against a grey seamless. I used three lights: Main light camera-right, about eye level, modified with my 33.5" Mola "Euro" beauty dish, plus a couple of medium Chimera strip boxes, either side from behind for some highlights.

Friday, October 17, 2014

My Hierarchy of Gear Obsessions

As photographers, we're all (to varying degrees) obsessed or obsessive about gear. Whether those obsessions revolve around cameras, lenses, lighting or other stuff, our gear obsessiveness often dominates our thoughts when thinking about photography, especially in terms of how we might improve our personal photography or venture into new shooting genres. That's not to say we're all gear-heads but, as photographers, there's a little of bit of gear-head in all of us.

When I had my studio, which I had for about three years, my gear obsessions were different than they are today or they were prior to having a studio.  My studio was about 2,500 square feet, most of it comprised of a big warehouse-like space with high ceilings. There was also a small office and an equally small reception area at the front entrance. The studio also had a large, metal, roll-up, garage-style door which opened to the main part of the studio.

Inside the studio, in addition to a few standing sets I built, I constructed a small dressing room and a mezzanine over it with stairs leading up to it. The mezzanine was about 15' x 15' and was my no-walls bedroom. (I constructed a guard-rail around it since I'm rather clumsy, especially when I first roll out of bed.)

Why a bedroom? Well, because I lived in my studio for about two or more years of my time having one. There was no kitchen but I had a fridge, a microwave oven, a hot plate, and a barbeque grill.  I either ate out, ate take-out, or cooked something in the micro, on the a hot-plate, or on the grill. (Which I'd wheel out the garage door, smoke and all.) My studio's good-size bathroom had a shower. The mezzanine I built extended over the bathroom as well as the dressing room. I decided to live in my studio because A) I was there most of the time anyway, B) Why pay two rents? C) It was fun!

Getting back to the subject of this post...

When I had my studio my gear obsessions were different than they are today. The hierarchy of my gear obsessions are easily illustrated by the graph on the right. As you can see, my #1 gear obsession (when I had my studio) was grip, whether that grip consisted of stands, arms, booms, and an assortment of clamps and other things designed to set lights, reflectors, scrims, and flags. I also had apple boxes, sand bags, and a bunch of expendables.

After grip came lighting: Monoblocs a.k.a. studio strobes, for the most part but also continuous lighting instruments since I was also shooting video in the studio. Plus, a wide assortment of modifiers, reflectors, scrims, and flags. I also had a decent amount of electrical gear: break-out boxes, stingers (extension cords), and a Variac, (To control AC which I usually used to either slow down the blades of a fan or to dim some of my continuous lighting gear.)As you can see by my hierarchy graph, I wasn't too concerned with lenses and cameras. At the time, I already had what I felt I needed to get the job(s) done.  "Other Stuff," by the way, refers to things like props, wardrobe, and set pieces

When I gave up my studio -- that's a whole other story; why I gave it up that is -- I sold off a lot of my gear, especially grip and lighting, albeit mostly the continuous lighting. Without a studio, I really didn't need much of that stuff.  And without a studio, my hierarchy of gear obsessions began to change as depicted by the graph on the left.

To this day, my gear obsessions are about the same although the portions of it that reflect lighting, grip, and other stuff are are even less important to me. (These days, my lighting obsessions are mostly focused on speedlites and other small lighting instruments.)

In other words, my current gear obsessions revolve mostly around glass and cameras with glass being significantly more important to me than camera bodies.  Why glass? Because, to get back to my opening paragraph where I talked about improving our personal photography or venturing into new shooting genres, glass is generally more important to those two hopes and desires than camera bodies are, even if it often seems that photographers are more obsessed with all the new camera bodies the big manufacturers regularly announce and release.

The pretty girl at the top in the behind-the-scenes image is Jana. I snapped it on a very simple set I put together in my former studio with a seamless, a few set pieces I had laying around, and a smoke machine. Here's one of the resulting images from the set.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Let's Hear It for MUAs!

When shooting glamour, beauty, fashion, any of that sort of stuff, credit for the pics usually goes first to the photographer, next to the model, and finally to others who may have been involved in the creation of the images, assuming those others get any credit at all.

I'm often guilty of not providing credits to those others who contributed. It's not that I don't value their contributions -- I do! -- but later on when I'm sharing my images I often neglect or forget to credit them.  Plus, given my more recent status as a bonafide geezer, my memory doesn't always work so well so I might not remember who did what; you know, as in the names of the people who did whatever they did on one set or with one model or another.

Generally speaking, the "others" who contribute most to the majority of my pics are the makeup artists (MUAs) who performed their magic on the models I've shot. I've not always had an MUA present on all the sets or with all the modlels I've worked on/with and there certainly are more than a few models who are quite good at applying their own makeup. For the most part, though, when an MUA is on the set my photos will be noticeably improved.

MUA Jennifer J. doing a quick touch-up on a fashion shoot I worked
My photos aren't simply improved because of an MUA's skill, although that's a big part of it, but also because having an MUA says something to the models-- something silent yet positive. Having an MUA generally makes models feel better about themselves, more confident and special.

When I'm shooting, my mouth is often running at high speed, delivering one esteem-building compliment after another. It's rote and repetitive and often comes off as anything but genuinely sincere -- although I try my best to make it all sound sincere -- yet models still want to hear it, genuine and sincere or not.  But even all that on-set ass-kissing doesn't necessarily or automatically trump the positive impact of having an MUA on the set.

If you're a professional pretty girl shooter, or perhaps a hobbyist or something in between the two, I highly recommend engaging an MUA for your shoots whenever possible or practical. Your images will not only be improved simply because a good MUA will make your alluring models even more  alluring, they will be improved because having an MUA says something positive to the models. Something silent yet still loud and clear.

The pretty girl at the top -- featured before makeup, after makeup, and a production image -- is Penthouse Pet, Tori Black. The before/after pics are cell phone snaps taken by the MUA. Tori is certainly plenty cute without the makeup but she's devastatingly sexy and gorgeous after sitting in the chair. The MUA who performed the magic was Melissa Murphy, a most excellent MUA whom I've worked with more than a few times. CLICK HERE for an article from the Huffington Post about Melissa's on-set habit of snapping before and after pics of the models she's worked with. After watching the video, you'll definitely understand the value of an MUA.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Personal Styles: Creation or Evolution?

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Photographers sometimes talk about personal styles and the importance of developing a personal style, one that is somewhat identifiable, unique or individualistic to various degrees. I've mentioned this as well, a number of times... you know, for the benefit of newer (new-ish?) photographers.

I'm sometimes told I have a recognizable personal style.  I posted the triptych of the model above on a photography forum this morning and someone, almost immediately, mentioned how those three images are *so* Jimmy's style.

I'm occasionally perplexed by comments like that because I don't think about my personal style much, whatever it might be, nor do I recognize it as being particularly unique to me. It just is. (Is what it is, that is.)  I never went out of my way to develop it that I'm aware of. There was no develop a personal style strategy I undertook earlier in my career. Like most everyone's personal styles, mine has been heavily influenced by other photographers' works and styles. We all tend to mimic what we like whether we're consciously aware we're mimicking or not. Perhaps "mimic" isn't the right or best word to describe the process? How about words like moved, shaped, or swayed?

For most photographers, personal styles aren't stylistically static. Rather, they're dynamic. I believe, for just about everyone, personal styles change via an ever-evolving process. (Even if that evolutionary process is slow and barely noticeable over the short term.) Whatever my personal style might have been a decade ago, it's not my personal style today. There are probably elements of my former personal style still found in my current style but, overall, my current style has changed evolved. I'm guessing ten years from now my personal style will be different, changed, and evolved as well. I won't set out to make my style different, leastwise I don't believe I will, but it will likely be different nonetheless. Same holds true, I'm pretty sure, for most shooters.

I'm pretty sure, for the most part, personal styles change rather slowly and not deliberately. I don't recall any sudden or abrupt changes to my personal style in the past, consciously undertaken or otherwise.  I definitely don't think I've ever had a style epiphany of any sort. If I did, it was a sub-conscious epiphany... Wait. Do sub-conscious epiphanies count as actual epiphanies?  Probably not.

Unlike the evolution of species, I have no hard, scientific evidence to prove my theory about the evolution of personal styles.  I am, however, convinced that I'm correct in my evolution of personal styles assumptions and observations. That's right, I believe personal styles are evolutionary rather than the product of some creationism process.  I also believe personal styles evolve as a result of natural selection of small and cumulative variations that increase a photographer's ability to compete, survive, thrive, and excel in their chosen shooting environments, businesses, or most-often-pursued genres. You know, much like that other evolution some people argue and fight talk about.

Does that make me the Charles Darwin of personal photographic styles theories?


So, what kinds of things make up a photographer's personal style?  Oh my! (®George Takei) There are so many factors involved. Here's a few of them, certainly not all, just a few and just the big ones:

Lighting: Preferred or often-employed lighting techniques can be a huge component of many photographers' personal styles. I think it's a fairly major component of my personal style, leastwise when I'm shooting pretty girls as well as other sorts of portraits.

Composition:  Again, this is one that's often a big part of most photographers' personal styles, mine included. I tend to compose images, via viewfinder framing, cropping, or a combination of both, in similar (and thus personally familiar) ways. You might do the same and it's likely you often do, even if you're not doing so consciously.

Poses, Expressions, Attitudes, and More: When it comes to glamour photography, make that portraiture in general, I have preferences, go-to poses, expressions, directorial attitudes and more that I often call on with my models. Because of that, I think the manner in which my models generally project themselves in my photos represents a big part of my personal style. (Coupled with their own personal modeling styles, of course.) Again, this is something that's probably the same for many of you whether you're aware of it or not. I'm probably aware of it because I think about this kind of stuff often, me being a photography blogger and eBook author in addition to a working photographer.

Shooting Environments, Wardrobe, Props, etc.: Many photographers have definite preferences when it comes to things like shooting environments, suggested or directed wardrobe, use of props and that sort of stuff. Example: Some photographers prefer shooting outdoors to shooting in studio or in interior locations and nearly all their work seems to reflect that preference.

There are certainly more components to our personal styles than those I've listed but I think I've covered the big ones, i.e., the most obvious and identifiable components of most photographer's personal styles.  By the way, you know how some shooters talk about shooting outside the box?  Well, in my estimation, the only boxes most of them are shooting outside of are their own personal boxes -- which may also represent their personal styles -- not some universal box or style which metaphorically represents an inhibiting box that encompasses all photography in general.

Here's another snap of model, Ash, featured in the triptych at the top. This one from later on in the same set after most of her wardrobe had somehow magically disappeared.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Wildly Creative Photography

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Everyone wants their photography to stand out, to be perceived as unique, special, and wildly creative. To achieve this, many photographers resort to all kinds of approaches and techniques to make that happen.

Some photographers rely on wardrobe, props, shooting environments, and hair-and-makeup to make their images stand out. Others count on dramatic lighting to accomplish their goals of shooting unique images. These days, perhaps most shooters utilize post processing of one sort or another to make their photos special, be it via their uses of Photoshop and other general purpose photo editing software or by applying pre-packaged treatments to their images.

In my opinion, what often enough becomes a casualty of more than a few photographers' quests to have their pics deemed unique and uncommon is good, simple, basic photography skills.   Here's an FYI for any of you who believe the only way to get noticed (as a photographer) is by producing images that are decidedly less seen: For the most part, you're wrong. Nothing trumps consistently excellent yet basic photography skills in your work.

Sure, occasionally producing those sorts of less-seen images is a good thing. A really cool thing. A thing that often gets you noticed in special ways. Sometimes shooting those images might even be a requirement of sorts.  But when you become obsessed with trying to produce those sorts of over-the-top, stand-out pics in everything you shoot, you'll not only fail at doing so, leastwise doing so with everything you shoot, but it's likely that you'll be engaging in exercises of futility as you regularly attempt to do so. Worse, those efforts might start to become gimmicky and/or repetitious in a "we've seen this before" kind of way.

I don't care how well thought of you are as a photographer because of the wildly creative photos you sometimes produce and share with the world, you will still shoot plenty of throw-away images if producing wildly creative pics is always your goal. And I'm not simply talking about those frames from your wildly creative sets of pics that aren't keepers. I'm talking about entire sets where "wildly creative" is your #1 goal.

For most photographers, it's your ability to consistently produce good photos, I mean very good photos, photos that don't constantly try to rely on wildly creative approaches but are consistently competent in terms of basic photography skills, coupled with a good eye, that will award you status as a good, make that an excellent photographer, be it a professional status or hobbyist status.

So of course, when it comes to wildly creative approaches to your photography, give them a shot. Give them a shot somewhat often. Those sorts of pics most definitely have a place in your portfolio. But don't do so at the overall expense of basic, simple, and straight-forward photos, photos that shine, i.e., photos that make you shine because of their obvious and consistent displays of elemental and essential skills. They are the foundation and back-bone of most photographers' work and they will go a long way towards making your occasionally "wildly creative" efforts stand out even more. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Curate This!

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Lately, I've noticed the words "curate" and "curator" showing up more and more on photography pages on the web. Whenever I see either of those words used on a photography site or FB page or whatever, the first thing I think of is Inigo Montoya from the film, "The Princess Bride," when he says to Vizzini, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

"Curate" and "curator" can be pretentious words. Some of you might be thinking it's a bit pretentious of me to use the word "pretentious" on a glamour photography blog but here's where I'm coming from:  Unless you're an actual and bonafide curator at, say, a legitimate museum of art somewhere, referring to yourself or to some unknown people who are moderators or administrators or even simple contributors to your photography page as "curators," or that someone has "curated" the photos, is way more pretentious than me using the "P" word on this blog. Way. More.

I had an experience not too far back where my contact guy at a web site that does NOTHING BUT PIMP SHIT TO PHOTOGRAPHERS, declined to promote one of my more recent eBooks because, he explained, his "curators" didn't think some of my photos were quite good enough. Good enough for what?  You're selling museum quality shit now? Excuse me but who the fuck are your curators and what the fuck are their credentials qualifying them to "curate" my pics or those of anyone else?

By the way, this was the same guy who, a couple of years ago when he was just kicking off his photo-stuff-sale-site, begged me -- begged me! -- to let him pimp my first eBook, "Guerrilla Glamour."  (Which I was more inclined to say no to because there were some questionable issues regarding his program and how sales were tracked and accounted for.) But he begged. And I gave in. And guess what else? He's made some decent bank off my book over the last three years! (I've done okay with him as well. But I still don't like the way authors can can't track sales, independently of his "word," that is.)

It's now three years later and I still get monthly pay-outs from him. How honest they are I still don't know. But I am, for the most part, a trusting sort of guy... which hasn't always worked out so well for me in the past, but that's another matter. And let me assure you that when he rejected one of my recent eBooks, there was no begging or anything remotely close to it on my part.

Because now he has "curators."

And who can argue with curators? Especially "curators" who have zero known credentials as curators.

So, pardon my born-and-raised in New Jersey/Italian-American crudeness but I can't help but grab my crotch with one hand, push my hips forward, and say to this dude, "Curate this!"

For today's exhibition at the JimmyD Museum of Pretty Girl Shooter Glamour Photography, I pretentiously curated the photo of the pretty girl at the top. She's Penthouse Pet, Tori Black. This humble curator hopes she  meets your "refined" photographic tastes.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ed Verosky's New eBook

My good friend, Ed Verosky, has just released a new ebook: "Introduction to Close-up and Macro Photography."  I had a chance to read it before it's release and, frankly, I had no idea there was so much more to close-up and macro photography than I might have imagined there was.  (I guess I've been living in a glam photography bubble or something.) That aside, I was quite impressed at the way Ed broke it all down, making it easy (as possible) to understand and, more importantly,  the way he provided me (and all of you) with all that I or you will need to know (and need to have) should I/You/We decide to begin shooting close-up and macro photos.

From close-up product photography to macro-shooting bugs and beasties, flowers, and all sorts of other things,  it's all between the virtual pages of Ed's new eBook.  If that's something that interests you, Ed's book is what you've been waiting for. (Even if you didn't know you were waiting for it.)

If you're interested in learning more about Ed's cool new ebook, just CLICK HERE.  Better yet, if you decide you're interested in purchasing a digital copy for yourself, you can do so and receive a 33% off the already low price of $15. But you'll need to act fairly quickly! Ed tells me the special discount code will only be good for a week. So, if you're interested in Ed's new book, and you want it at a terrific discount, simply use the discount code, DISCOUNT, in the shopping cart when checking out. (How's that for a clever discount code? DISCOUNT.)

You know what? As long as I'm telling you about great deals, I think I'll up the great-deal ante here and offer you another great deal.  From now till the end of September, you can purchase any (or all) of my ebooks for 25% off! That's right, 25% off the purchase price of any of my ebooks. All you need to do is provide that clever discount code, DISCOUNT, in the shopping cart for any or all of my ebooks as well. Links to all my ebooks are provided in the right-hand column of this page. If you've thought about buying any of my ebooks, now's the time. I haven't run a discount on them for quite some time and I have no plans to do so again in the near future. So get 'em while the getting is good!

Anyway, that's it. Check out Ed's terrific new ebook by CLICKING HERE. Purchase any of my ebooks for 25% off. Don't forget to use that discount code, DISCOUNT, for a 33% discount on Ed's new book and a 25% discount on any of mine.

So you can't say I withheld posting some eye candy because I was pimping a close-up/macro photography ebook, or even my ebooks for that matter, here's one from a while back.  It's the lovely and sexy Jenna Haze. Jenna scores high on my personal Pretty-Girl-O-Meter. I'll bet she pushes the needle in a very positive direction on your pretty girl meter as well.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dutch Angles

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We all know what Dutch Angles are, right?  For those who aren't sure, a Dutch Angle is one where you cant or slant your camera to varying degrees, to one side or the other, when you frame and snap the shot. You can also crop images that weren't snapped with a Dutch Angle in order to produce the same result. (Although I'm much more a Dutch Angle guy when I shoot my images, rather than when I crop them.)

Personally, I like shooting images with Dutch Angles. I don't shoot them that way all the time, most of the time, or regularly for that matter. But when it makes sense to do so, when I want the image to benefit from being somewhat and obviously off-kilter, i.e., not level or plumb. When that's what I'm looking for, it's a Dutch Angle I might decide to use.

How do images benefit from shooting with Dutch Angles? Generally, Dutch Angles add interest to photos simply because they reflect a small piece of photo-documented reality (within the perimeters of the photos) with intentionally unreal, out-of-sync-with, or less-often-seen perspectives.

Naturally, all your images won't benefit from Dutch Angles. Dutch Angles are very subjective in terms of their effectiveness. When Dutch Angles work well, they can work really well. When they don't, they don't.  There is no objective way of "grading" a photograph's merits based on the use of a Dutch Angle. It works or it doesn't.

Some genres of photography generally benefit more so from Dutch Angles than others.  Portraits of most any kind can benefit from Dutch Angles.  Landscapes and seascapes, on the other hand, are less apt to work well using Dutch Angles. That's not to say landscapes or seascapes can't ever benefit from shooting with Dutch Angles, but they're less likely to do so and that's why they're less seen. I've seen more than a few cityscapes, however, where Dutch Angles were used to great effect!

Mostly, Dutch Angles work best when they're intentionally composed and snapped that way and the intentional canting or slanting of the camera works. (For lack of a better word.)  A seascape, for instance, where the ocean's horizon is somewhat out of level because the photographer did not frame or crop the image level isn't an example of a Dutch Angle. Rather, it's mostly an example of a photographer not paying enough attention to detail when they shot or cropped the image.

How do you know when an image will benefit from a Dutch Angle?  You don't. Not entirely and not in a 100% guaranteed sort of way. Instead, effectively utilizing Dutch Angles are mostly a product of your style and personal sense of visual aesthetics, much like all the rest of the elements of your compositions whenever you're snapping pics, glamour pics or others.

When I decide to snap photos utilizing Dutch Angles, I usually look for lines in the images that will be strengthened by becoming diagonal lines within the photo's composition. Obviously, turning level and plumb lines into diagonal lines is easily accomplished by slanting or canting our cameras when we're shooting. For photography, much like most all visual art forms, lines are not only the most basic elements of the work, they're often (potentially) the strongest elements of them; of their composition, that is. In fact, I'll go as far as to say that lines are often  *the* strongest element of many images. And diagonal lines, more often than not, are the strongest of the strong!

Lines are one of the classic, Six Elements of Design. The Six Elements of Design are: Line, Shape, Color, Form, Space, and Texture.  All six of those elements can be (and often are) used quite effectively within the composition of almost any photograph you might capture. If you haven't spent some time learning about the Six Elements of Design, I suggest you do so. Your photography will benefit greatly from the time you invest in that part of your photography education.

The pretty girl at the top of this post (as well on the top of a pool table) is Penthouse Pet, Tori Black. I snapped the pic at a location house high in the hills above Studio City, CA.  For that particular photo, I decided a Dutch Angle would add power to the image, more so since the otherwise level lines of the pool table would magically become diagonal lines, strengthening (with the Dutch Angle) the image in general, and also by underscoring Tori's sexy, predatory expression and cat-like, pose.