Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Art Trap

In one of his famous songs, Rod Stewart croons "every picture tells a story don't it?" And you know what? Rod's right. Every picture does or should tell a story. But not only does every picture tell a story, every picture also sells something, something about the subject or the content of the photo. Glam & tease photos sell something: they sell the model. They sell the model's allure, sensuality, sexiness, beauty, personality, and more.

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When I'm shooting models, one of my go-to lines is, "C'mon! Sell it! Sell it!"  The models always know exactly what it is I want them to sell-- themselves. Mostly, the sex appeal of themselves. There's always a market for that. Sex sells. It sells models and it also sells clothes, perfumes, automobiles, you name it, sex sells it.

I'm sure this is the very first time you've heard anyone tell you that "sex sells." (That was sarcasm, by the way.) But even a guy like me, someone who has photographed I don't know how many sexy women, has to remind himself that it's the sex that sells. You know why that is?  You know why I have to remind myself of that? Because I, like many other photographers, occasionally fall into the art trap.

This art trap might simply be something that glam and tease shooters mostly have to worry about. Well, come to think of it, that's not true. Most any time a portrait photographer falls into the art trap and makes the portraits more about them, as artistic photographers, and less about the subjects, the people in front of their cameras, they've fallen into the art trap.  (Unless art is what they signed on to produce.)

What? You're still not sure what this art trap thing is I'm talking about?  Okay, here's an example using myself as the example: When I'm shooting sexy women (and I'm supposed to be shooting them in sexy ways-- sex sells, right?)  I sometimes fall into the trap of trying to make pictures of them with excessive artistic elements that show off my artsy skills. Nothing inherently wrong with that, right? After all, I should always be showing off my artistic skills as should most photographers.  But I/we shouldn't be doing so in ways where the art trumps the sex if we're shooting photos that, specifically, are supposed to use the "sex sells" thing as the driving force unless that's the specific intent.

When I'm shooting beautiful, sexy women, I sometimes get personally conflicted over whether my photos should be more art and less sex or more sex and less art. It's an ego thing. And my ego sometimes clouds my judgment.  And that, of course, is when I'm prone to falling into the art trap.  Suddenly, I find myself working harder at making art than working at making sexy pics of my sexy models.  It's a line that gets crossed. I can't tell you exactly where that line is but I know it when I see it in front of my feet and, sometimes, I step across it even though I know that's not what I'm being paid to do or that I should cross it.  Like I said, "ego."  Artistic ego.

My clients, of course, aren't conflicted at all about this art versus sex thing. I've yet to have any of my clients, leastwise those who hire me to shoot sexy women for sexy photos, say to me, "Hey Jimmy!  Forget about capturing sexy photos of this model. We want you to capture art photos of her. It's all about art and you're a damn artist Jimmy!"

None of this is to say that art doesn't play a role in the photos I capture. It does. But it's a matter of degrees. There's a ratio. A sex-to-art ratio.  I'm not sure what the ratio is or should be. 50:50? 70:30? 40:60?  Different ratios for different models? Different ratios for different shooting environments? I think I usually have a handle on what the ratio should be, I just can't put numbers on it or tell you exactly when or why the numbers change.

As usual, I'm just thinking out loud here. Blogs are cool that way.

The image at the top is one my client liked but didn't have a freakin' clue what to do with on their adult web site. "What am I supposed to do with this, Jimmy?"  (grumble)  Obviously, I fell into the art trap when I shot that one and some others like it. The art/sex ratio for that image wasn't what my client was looking for.

Here's another of the same model below. This one is way more in line with what the client wanted.  Near perfect sex/art ratio for that particular client. No art trap was fallen into. I did some processing on the image on the top, not much though, but some.  The image below is very nearly straight out of the camera. All I did was re-size it for the web (no cropping, that's how I framed it when I shot it), a curves adjustment, fixed a few skin blemishes and sharpened it a tad. That's it. Period. Done. Get it right in the camera, right?  Not to mention good enough for government work.  Hmm... I guess I just did. Mention it, that is. Oh well.

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sexy Is As Sexy Does

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My clients generally want me to shoot sexy pics of the sexy girls they hire me to shoot. I don't always think the sexy girls they hire me to shoot are all that particularly sexy but that doesn't matter. I'm hired to shoot sexy and sexy I'll shoot, whether I think any given model is particularly sexy or not.

Sexy, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. One person's sexy is another person's not so sexy. Generally, the moment I meet one of my victims models, even before she opens her mouth, I decide if she's sexy or not. It's not like I have a checklist or anything. She either strikes me as sexy or not, that is, she's either sexy TO ME or not. Which doesn't necessarily mean she is or isn't sexy.  It's a personal thing, that sexy thing.

A model can be attractive, beautiful even, leastwise attractive and beautiful to most including myself, but still not be particularity sexy to me. Sexy and beauty aren't always one and the same. Sex appeal is a funny thing that way. I've met more than my share of beautiful women who didn't make me conjure thoughts of sex in my head. I've also met plenty of women who weren't so beautiful, physically beautiful, who made my brain go all lust-filled almost immediately. Nope. Sexy is not universal, even when the person in question is quite attractive. All women aren't sexy to all guys.  (BTW, If you're a guy who is sexually attracted to all women, you're basically a dog. Just saying.)

Sexy is such a vague word. It really doesn't specify what might be sexy about a person.  It's sort of like the U.S. Supreme Court's take on obscenity:  I know it when I see it.  What makes one woman or man sexy to another?  I have no clue. Well, that's not true. I have plenty of clues, we all do, but those clues don't always answer the question of why I might find one beautiful woman not sexy and another, perhaps much less beautiful woman, sexy. Pheromones maybe?

Back to photography. Glamour and tease photography.

It doesn't matter whether or not I find the model in front of my camera to be sexy. I'm going to do my best to shoot her in ways that, I believe, feature her as sexy or make her sexy.  After all, she's sexy to someone out there. Hell, she might be sexy to many out there even if she's not sexy to me.

There are plenty of ways to make models sexy in photos. That's because there are many different elements of the photos that work together to make sexy women out of almost any model. Things like wardrobe, makeup, hair styling, setting, lighting, composition, mood, pose, expression, post-processing. If you're thinking those are all the same things that make almost any photo of a person a good or bad photo, whether "sexy" is the goal or not, you'd be absolutely correct. The only difference is when shooting sexy, there should be a sexy component to those things. And fortunately, many of those sexy components are rather universal in their appeal. Put a woman in lingerie... lingerie shouts sexy. Shoot a woman with a "come hither" expression on her face or part of her body language... sexy. Subtly soften her skin with lighting and/or post-processing... sexy. And, of course, the list goes on.

Since many of my models are "models," I don't often have to work all that hard to make them sexy or feature them in universally sexy ways. For one thing, they generally know how to be sexy, that is, how to project sexy in rather universal ways.

But take boudoir photography as an example. Boudoir photographers often shoot images somewhat similar to mine but they aren't working with models who are well aware of how to project sexy. Their subjects are women, of course, and most women know how to project sexy when they want to project it at someone in particular. But that doesn't mean they know how to project it to a camera and the person behind it. That makes boudoir shooters' jobs a bit more difficult. Leastwise, in my mind.

Personally, I've never shot any boudoir. No particular reason other than I haven't. Besides, I'm not sure I'd be all that good at it. Sure, many of the same "sexy" elements I integrate into my work are similar to that of a boudoir photographer's work, but the big differences are the subjects in front of the camera. Boudoir requires a very different approach in terms of the photographer's interactions with the subject. I'm pretty sure a lot of my manner, words, and more that I use with models might not fly so well with many boudoir subjects. Or, maybe not? I suppose if I ever pursue boudoir photography, I'll find out. After all, both genres -- boudoir and glam/tease -- are much about sexy and there's lots of ways to make sexy in a photo, whether the photographer finds the subject sexy or not.
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The sexy pretty girl at the top and to the right is a model I found rather sexy  the moment I met her while she was sitting in the makeup chair.

She's quite attractive, but not necessarily in the stereotypical, "drop dead gorgeous," ways that make many models sexy. That's why I shot some pics of her in decidedly non-sexy ways. Leastwise, from pose and expression perspectives. But you know what? Even though she's exhibiting an expression and pose  that isn't particularly sexy, at least in a more universal sense, I still find her sexy in the images even though she appears somewhat nerdy.

Go figure.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

So, You Wanna Become a Better Photographer?

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Becoming a better photographer-- That's the bottom line for a lot of us who do this thing we do, this photography thing.

Sure, some of us do it for money and some of us do it for fun and some of us do it for both those reasons but, beyond accolades, ego strokes, money and some other things I may have failed to mention, we all do this thing, we all keep doing this photography thing, to become better at it.

I hope none of us ever arrive at a point where we truly believe we've pursued photography long enough and hard enough to convince ourselves we do it good enough, that is, we do it so well we couldn't possible do it any better. Why? Because it simply wouldn't be true. Plus, I have empathy sympathy for photographers who lie to themselves or are delusional about their photography. They also annoy the crap out of me. (BTW, if you do believe that, three words: Get over yourself.)

Becoming so good a photographer that you can't get any better would be like arriving at Photo Nirvana.  But the thing is, Photo Nirvana isn't something we actually ever arrive at. Leastwise, you'd be hard pressed to name a photographer who's ever truly arrived at it. Some have gotten close, but I don't think anyone has ever actually gotten there.

Instead, Photo Nirvana is something we strive for. It's a journey. And it's the journey that counts.

But let me let go of the Buddhist analogies and get back to becoming a better photographer: that state of photographic betterment we all chase.

There's a few things that will help you on your journey to becoming a better photographer no matter where you currently are on the path or how far you've already traveled to get there.  They are like axioms or maxims. They're truisms. They're not theoretical. They are universal truths in photography's universe.  Here's a few of them. It's certainly not a complete list. I'll provide the only one that talks about how not to become a better photographer first:

1. More or Better Gear Will Not Make You a Better Photographer.  Sure, gear can make you a more efficient photographer. It can make your photography easier. It can often simplify the way you capture what you're trying to capture. Some gear can go a long ways towards making you better equipped to engage in certain genres of photography. But gear, on it's own, will not make you a better photographer.  If you think otherwise, you're not as far along the path towards Photo Nirvana as you might think you are. In fact, you might not have even begun moving and stumbling upon it.

2. Knowledge Will Make You a Better Photographer.  The greater your photographic knowledge, the more that knowledge arms you in terms of becoming a better photographer. Knowledge spawns more knowledge. The more of it you have, the more likely you are to seek even more and the more it manages to find it's way into your photography. Sometimes, you don't even realize how knowledge is constantly integrating itself into your photography. It just does.

3. Experimenting With New Techniques and Ways of Shooting Will Make You a Better Photographer.  Some photographers make a living constantly shooting in the same or similar ways. I'm one of those photographers. But that doesn't mean I don't experiment with new techniques and more. I just don't do it when I'm hired by someone else to produce the sort of imagery they expect from me. My experimentation is always on my own time and, leastwise at first, for my personal work. If I get good at something new I've tried out, I might incorporate some of it into my paid work. But mostly I do so after I've already captured what my clients want me to capture. If they like the new stuff, and they're a client who hires me again, it's usually they who ask for more of what I already offered them a glimpse of.

4. Practice Will Make You a Better Photographer.  There's a reason the best hitters in major league baseball still spend time practicing their swings or in batting cages. There's a reason the best pro golfers still spend time on the driving range. Practice.  There's an old adage we've all heard: Practice makes perfect.  I'm not sure if perfection is ever attainable, not true perfection, but practice goes a long ways towards getting us closer to perfection. Leastwise, as perfect as we can get.

The pretty girl at the top is Dylan.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Head Shots: The Essence of Them (Parte Seconda)

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Before I get into my part two about head shots, I want to mention that I've gone international with my cyber chatter. My photographer friend, Dan Hostettler of Studio Prague, asked me if I'd be interested in penning keyboarding an occasional article for his popular glamour/boudoir/nude blog. I was. Interested, that is. And that's just what I did.

Fortunately, I didn't have to write it in Czech. That would have been a big problem. I don't think I know a single word of Czech. Czech is what they speak in the Czech Republic, right?  Well, whatever they speak there, I wrote my first contribution to Dan's blog in English. I titled it "Model Lines." No, it's not about models who snort white stuff up their noses. It's about the lines -- as in dialogue, words, phrases and such -- that I sometimes use when I'm directing models and when and why I might use some of them. If you're interested in reading it, you can do so by CLICKING HERE.


Back to head shots:

I left off my previous update on head shots talking about the importance of capturing a subject's "essence" when shooting their head shots.  Essence refers to the basic nature of a thing -- in this case, the thing being a person -- and the qualities that make a person who they are. Obviously, all the things that make up a person can't be captured in a single photograph.  So, photographers, when shooting head shots, should be on the lookout for those things or qualities that best represents their subjects. In other words, a photo that contains, in strong, condensed, boiled-down form, the special qualities of the thing (person) from which it is taken. (Snapped)

I try to divide those qualities, the subject's "essence" I'm hoping to capture, into two categories:  1) Physical Appearance and 2) Personality/Character Traits. I then try to capture photographs that simultaneously best reflect a person's physical appearance and their general personality and/or character traits.  By character, I'm referring to a person as a character, not their moral character. (Unless their visual character traits and apparent moral character traits seem to be one and the same, in which case I'll try to capture both.)

Physical Appearance: The first rule (and probably the most important rule) for head shots is they should look like the person who was photographed. D'uh, right?  Well, while this might sound like a no-brainer rule, I've seen far too many head shots that didn't resemble their subjects so well. Head shots that, if I were to try to pick that person out, one I was unacquainted with and who was seated in a room full of other people, and it isn't a quick and easy thing to do, you can count that photo as a failed head shots... no matter how terrific a photo it might be.

Head shots should look like the people in the head shots. They should look like really good versions of those people but they must remain recognizable to a stranger.  A casting director, as an example, must be able to quickly and easily recognize an actor from a bunch of other actors at a "cattle call" by simply looking at their head shot while hurriedly scanning the room.  Shooting and processing head shots is not the time for photographers to show off their overly-artistic and creative skills. Please note I said "overly."

Personality/Character Traits: Once you've determined the best personality or character traits to incorporate into a subject's head shot, there are many things which can reveal that personality and/or character traits.  Here's two of the most obvious of them:  expression and wardrobe.

Both expression and wardrobe say a lot about the person in the head shot. Expression is chiefly responsible for the emotional context of the image.  If an actor, for instance, mostly sells him or herself as a comedic actor, you probably won't want to go with serious, intense, brooding expressions for that person. Wardrobe should match the upbeat expressions you'll likely capture for those sorts of actors. For them, colorful, lighter-colored wardrobe will probably play better than dark, muted clothing.  BTW, be careful the wardrobe doesn't "upstage" the subject. The people who cast actors are looking for "types."  And those types are generally represented by their faces, i.e., what they look like in general terms, as well as their expressions in the head shots and not by what they're wearing. Course, if you're shooting a head shot for a circus clown, and they wanted to use the head shot to score more clown gigs, you might want to have them dress as a circus clown. Just saying.

You know what? I just realized I could easily go on and on about all this head shot stuff. I could probably turn these blog updates on head shots into a freakin' book!  Oh. Wait. I already did that.  And it's RIGHT HERE.

The pretty woman with the platinum blond hair at the top is Heather. I mention her hair because platinum hair can be a challenge when lighting those who have it. There you are trying to get a good, overall  exposure and that platinum hair really, really wants to blow out. But then, often enough, challenges like that are what makes shooting head shots so much fun.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Head Shots: The Essence of Them (Part One)

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Before I became a glamour photographer, I was a head shot photographer.  Actually, I never stopped being a head shot photographer. I still shoot head shots to this day, albeit not as often.

Back in the day, I'm talking 30+ years ago, I began shooting head shots for actors.  My ex was an actress who, like most of Hollywood's hopefuls, needed to upgrade her head shots somewhat regularly. But the more of them she went out and posed for, the more I became upset at the quality of the head shots other photographers were producing of her.  None of them seemed ever able to capture her in ways that I thought would score her auditions. She was a terrific actress who did well in auditions. But to get those auditions, she needed terrific head shots. Head shots that featured her in the right ways. Compelling ways. Ways that captured her essence.

We were both young then and didn't have much money. (I still don't have much money. And now I don't have the young part either. Sucks, right?)  Anyway, we were regularly forking over our hard-earned cash for head shots that mostly sucked. Leastwise, in my opinion they sucked.  So, I decided to shoot her head shots myself. Course, at first my head shots of my then wife sucked way worse than anything produced by the other photographers we paid to shoot them. But I was determined. Plus, I had a live-in guinea pig, I mean model, to practice with to my heart's content. And practice I did!

My ex had lots of friends who also were actors. It seemed like every friend she had was an actor. That's how actors roll... in groups or cliques or  herds or whatever you want to call them. But for me, what I saw wasn't a herd of actors. What I saw was a herd of guinea pigs!

If you stay at something long enough and practice it often, you'll probably get good at it. Fairly good at least. (Or so conventional wisdom says.) I like to think that's what I did: I stayed at it, I practiced often, and I got good at it. Others seemed to think I got pretty good at it too,  i.e., other actors who weren't part of the immediate herd my ex rolled with. So, before long, I was shooting lots of actors. I even converted my dingy dusty garage into a dingy dusty makeshift studio. There was a small work shed on the property at our home. It had been built by the previous owners and it had water piped to it and a drain to the city sewer. I have no idea what the former owners were doing in that shed or why they needed water-in and water-out but I knew what I needed it for:  I needed to convert it to a darkroom, a B&W darkroom, and that's just what I did.

Flash forward 30+ years: I'm still shooting head shots. (Although not nearly as often as I once did.) I no longer have a wife. (Currently, I don't even have a girl friend.)  I no longer have a dingy dusty studio, makeshift or otherwise. (These days, the world is my studio. Leastwise, the world within a reasonable driving distance.)  I no longer shoot film. (Well, occasionally I do. But not for head shot work.) I no longer have a darkroom in a shed out back. (It's in a computer on my desk.)  Some things change.

But other things don't change. Things like the need to capture the essence of the person you're shooting head shots for and so much more. How head shots are produced these days may be different in some ways, but they're the same in many other ways. Same as they were 30+ years ago.  That's one of the reasons I wrote an ebook on shooting head shots: Guerrilla Headshots.   It doesn't just cover shooting head shots for actors. It's about shooting all kinds of head shots: from actors to business people to, well, to just about any sort of head shot. And, it's aimed at just about any photographer who wants to learn to shoot head shots that don't suck.

The pretty girl at the top isn't an actress. She's a glamour model. As such, I took a different approach to her head shot than I would if she were an actress trying to score theatrical or commercial auditions with an image I might capture of her. I wrote about that sort of stuff in my ebook as well. And a lot more.  For those of you who also include head shot photography in your work, perhaps even head shots for actors, here's a short video clip with some words of wisdom from a casting director regarding what she looks for in head shots. I'm going to write a part two to this update because, beyond glamour photography, head shot photography is also a genre I love to shoot and to share about.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Are You a Type A or Type B Photographer? (Personality Wise)

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We've all heard the terms "Type A" and "Type B" regarding personalities.  Although Type A and Type B theories have been widely criticized and, in many ways, discredited, I'll still use them as examples of two kinds of photographers I run across.  (I've never let criticism or something being discredited stand in the way of a blog update.)

In a nutshell, people with Type A personalities are often described as being aggressive, ambitious, sometimes overbearing, and often insensitive to the feelings or needs of others.  Type B people, on the other hand, are often described as being more laid back, enjoying achievement but not becoming stressed when they do not achieve, people who are concerned about the effects of their words and actions on others. (Those are the pop culture definitions, BTW. Not the original definitions put forth by whoever first put them forth.) 

I've been around model photographers who mostly bark all their directions at the models. These are the Type A photographers. They do offer some positive feedback while they're shooting, but it often seems like they're begrudgingly offering it. Type A shooters seem to have attitudes regarding models that say, "Hey! If they can't stand the heat, get out of the freakin' fire."  The "fire," of course, being the fire of the light(s) in front of a camera.  I'm generally talking about pro models, by the way, or models who are very serious about modeling for whatever reasons and regardless of whether they're being paid to model or not, not most other portrait subjects who, technically, are modeling for the camera but they're not models, per se.

Conversely, Type B photographers seem to handle models with kid gloves. They are kind, patient, and understanding. Often, too much so. I've seen more than my share of Type B shooters being walked on, i.e., walked all over on, by models; especially more experienced models.

Interestingly, I've seen as many Type A shooters get terrific results as I've seen Type B shooters get them. Go figure, right?

You might be wondering what kind of personality type I am when I'm shooting pretty girls. Well, I've developed the ability to be either of them.  Choosing which I'll be during a shoot depends on the model.  I'm talking in generalities, of course. I'm not either a pure Type A or a pure Type B personality when I'm shooting. Plus, there's plenty of personality behaviors lying in between those two somewhat extreme types and I can be almost anything in between them. (As needed or required.) A lot of photographers are also that way. Still, I've witnessed more than my share of photographers who seem, in general, to be purely one type or the other.

You might be thinking that the more experienced a photographer may be, the more likely he or she is, or becomes, a Type A shooter. That seems logical in many ways. Photographers who are less experienced, especially when working with models who will be removing their clothing during a shoot, may be a bit more timid about being (what they perceive as) forceful or overly assertive. And there's certainly a fair amount of truth to that.

Some photographers seem to think they need to show the model who is in charge. They do this by being something less than a "nice" person with their directions and when interacting with their models. Some photographers go the other way and are too "nice," that is, they're too careful about being or appearing like Mr. of Ms. Nice Guy. Neither of these approaches, IMO, reflect photographer behaviors that are inherently good or bad.  Like I said, either can yield great photos.

What I've found is the best way to be or to act, personality-wise, is "professional."  I know, I know, WTF does that mean? Professional, to me and in terms of shooting personality, is someone who knows what they're doing (or appears to know) and who knows what they want to capture with the photos and knows how to do it and how to get their models to model in ways that best get the job done. They are neither overly friendly and nice, nor are they overly bossy and mean. They are something in between. Where they are in between changes from shoot to shoot and model to model. The more experienced most photographers become, the more they know (or should know) where they need to be between the near opposites of Type A and Type B, and that's how they'll roll when shooting. Unless, of course, they are naturally overly nice or routinely overly mean people and then they rarely adapt their behaviors to various situations and different models.  They simply remain... themselves.  For better or worse.

The pretty girl at the top whose pose and expression looks as if King Kong's hand is about to come through the window is Ally.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Happiness is a New Camera?

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I'm not 100% sure why, but it always seems like the broker I am the more I want to buy some new photography gear, be it a camera, a lens, lighting equipment, whatever.  On the surface, it seems to me the reasons I want to invest in more gear -- often gear I don't need and/or can afford -- is probably due to a number of different reasons:  most if not all of those reasons likely being psychological.

Just yesterday, a photography Facebook page I follow posted this: "Money can't buy you happiness but it can buy you camera gear and that's pretty much the same thing."

And you know what? They're right. Whether I'm broke or flush, buying camera gear (with money I have or don't have) does bring me happiness.  It even brings me happiness whether I actually need or end up using the gear I buy or not. Go figure, right?

Perhaps this explains why so many photographers purchase nearly every new upgrade the big camera companies come out with, and they do so whether that new camera will make any difference to their photography or not. They just want to be happy. And what's wrong with that? Everyone wants to be happy, right?  Even manic depressives want to be happy whether they know it or not.

The Beatles sang, "Happiness is a warm gun."  That might be true for some people -- definitely not for me -- but for many photographers, myself included, happiness is a new camera. Happiness is a new lens. Happiness is new lighting equipment. Happiness is new...?

Fortunately, I have this thing called self-control. I'm not saying I have it in spades but I have enough of it to control my impulses for buying new gear, especially when I can't afford to buy new camera gear. I even manage to control my gear-buying impulses in spite of having some credit cards with enough of a balance on them to make the purchases, a PayPal "Buy it Now, Pay Later" account in good standing, and a relatively decent credit rating. (Probably for the first time in my adult life.)

I'll admit my level of self-control isn't driven by practicality or good sense.  I'm totally capable of buying gear (or many other things) I neither need nor can afford and have done so often enough. And I haven't been Mister Self-Control my whole life. In fact, for much of it I've been anything but.  But the older I get the more self-control I seem to possess.

My Dad was a master of self-control. Especially, when it came to money and buying things. He tried his best to teach me to be the same way, although he wasn't very successful at it... until now.  Apparently, I was slow to respond to his teachings. Very slow.  But the older I get the more I must be turning into my Dad, leastwise in terms of self-control and, more specifically, buying control. And that's a good thing, I think, because there's a couple of things I'm really tempted to buy right now, camera gear things, and I've been doing an excellent job resisting those temptations.   Perhaps this update is something of a self-pat on the back? And you know what? I deserve it. The pat that is.

Well, that's all for now. I want to log onto eBay and check on the camera gear I've been watching.

The pretty girl at the top is Faye (again.) I love that girl. If I were ever lucky enough to have Faye test my self-control, I would have none of it... self-control, that is.  You might remember I also featured Faye in my last update if you read that one as well. This is another photo from yet another set we shot that same night at Faye's digs just for fun. 

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Doctor of Photographicology?

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Wizard of Oz
        Why, anybody can have a camera. That's a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous 
        creature that crawls on the earth or slinks through slimy seas has a camera! Back where I 
        come from we have universities, seats of great learning, where photographers go to become 
        great photographers. When they come out, they take great photographs with no better camera 
        than you have. But they have one thing you haven't got: A degree! Therefore, by virtue of 
        the authority vested in me by the Universitatus Committeeatum E Pluribus Unum I hereby 
        confer upon you the honorary degree of Ph.D.


Wizard of Oz
       Doctor of Photographicology.

Okay, maybe I doctored the dialogue a bit.  (Pun intended.) Perhaps I even doctored it a bit more than a bit?  But I think it works nicely -- dare I say cleverly? -- as an intro to this update about (if you haven't already guessed) photography degrees.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm all for higher education. I'm a huge supporter of higher education. I've even pursued some higher education myself. And I've encouraged my children to do the same. But I keep seeing many ads hawking schools that offer degrees in photography -- some excellent schools and some of dubious credentials -- and while I'm not putting down anyone who has or is pursuing a degree in photography, what will that degree do for you? Is there a single job in the world of professional photography that requires applicants to have degrees in photography?

I know actors with degrees in theater. I know film-makers with degrees in film-making. I know photographers with degrees in photography. But I don't know any with degrees in any of those fields of study that have turned their degrees into jobs, that is, actual paying acting jobs, film-making jobs, or photography jobs.

I'm not saying their formal educations, their paper chases, didn't help them in whatever careers they pursued, including careers that matched, directly or indirectly, their university degrees. But none of them, not one, regardless of the Wizard's proclamation to the Scarecrow about seats of great learning and degrees, needed that piece of paper, that officially-bestowed degree, to land or pursue their careers as actors, film-makers, or photographers.

Personally, if I were going to pursue an actual degree in photography, and I have thought about doing so a few times in my life, it would be purely for personal satisfaction. It would represent a challenge with a personal reward, the degree, as its goal. It would look good on my wall and might even come with a few bragging rights. But would it score me any photography jobs? I doubt it.  In fact, I'm nearly positive it would not. It might help me be better able -- through knowledge, education, and more -- to pursue a photography career but, bottom line, as photographers we are judged by our photos, period, and not our educations.

Anyway, as usual I'm just saying.

The freckled-faced, ginger-haired, pretty girl triptych at the top is Faye in her pink polka-dot dress. This set, and a couple of others we shot that night, were all shot for fun. No client parted with any money in the production of these images. These particular images were shot on the walkway right outside her apartment's door. In total, I shot 11 frames with the pink dress. When you know you've got the shot(s) what's the point of shooting more? Even though we were shooting for funzies, and shooting with Faye is always a blast, we had some other stuff we wanted to shoot. i.e., some interior images. Plus, a few of Faye's neighbors were getting a little too nosy.

I used two lights for the set above: A 500ws main light (monobloc) modified with either a 24" or 30" diameter shoot-thru umbrella (can't remember exactly which one but it was a small-ish shoot-thru)  and a bare bulb 300ws back light set about 20' behind her. I'm pretty sure I had a honeycomb grid on the bare bulb. I used my Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime on my 5D classic. All three were snapped ISO 100 and in and around f/2.8 to keep the BG soft. Not a whole heck-of-a lot of processing on any of them, although I did punch up her hair a little (color-wise) and accentuated the freckles a bit. I love Faye's freckles!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Quit Trying for Perfection

Click to Enlarge
First things first: Happy New Year and welcome to 2014!  I hope this new year turns out to be all you wish it to be.  2014 marks my 8th year writing this blog. Eight years! Holy Moly! Who would have guessed? Not me.

I decided a perfect way to kick off 2014, blogging-wise, would be by kicking it off with an update about perfection. Photo perfection. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I got the idea for this update from a photographer on one of the Facebook photography forums I frequent.  She posted some words about how much she loves her new camera. Here's what she wrote: "The new camera arrived last Friday! Oh, I'm in love with the lens it came with. Oh, heck, I'm in love with the camera! (Canon 6D) Haven't done much with it yet, but did some quick photos of the pups with low light in the living room. My XTi would never been able to capture the images so clearly! These are SOC. (Straight Out of Camera) I wasn't trying for perfection, just playing..."

"I wasn't trying for perfection."

I'm confident she didn't intend those words as advice for pretty girl shooters. She posted a couple of pics of her dogs after all. But I think it's terrific pretty-girl-shooting advice nonetheless.  Quit trying for perfection! 

There's an Egyptian proverb that tells us, “A beautiful thing is never perfect.” While that bit of wisdom from the folks who gave us the pyramids and the Sphinx might not be entirely true for all things -- precious stones like diamonds and other gems are worth more the less flawed (less imperfect) they are -- when it comes to photography, glam and tease photography, I believe it's absolutely true.  

And yet, many photographers who shoot this genre seem to be on a never-ending quest to portray their models as perfect.  You know, perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect bodies, perfect everything. How do they do that?  Certainly, things like lighting, composition, pose, shooting environment and more are important to that end but where they really go overboard with this perfection thing is via post-processing and image manipulation. 

Like many old school photographers -- I count myself as both an old school shooter as well as a new school shooter -- when I first made the transition from film to digital I became obsessed with creating perfection in the photos of the models I snapped. With the help of software like Photoshop, I could create perfection (or some facsimile of it) with simple clicks of a mouse. Not just in terms of exposure and the tech stuff, but in my models as well. My world of digital portrait photography, whether it was photos of gorgeous, sexy, women or other subjects, was my new digital oyster. If the photos I captured weren't pearls, i.e., near perfect pearls, I'd simply make perfect or near-perfect pearls out of them. My finished pearls might be imitation pearls but they appeared perfectly pearl-like, at least to most eyes, certainly to most untrained eyes.

But then I began to realize that some of that "perfection" might not be all it's cracked up to be. While it was true I could manipulate all manner of my captured images' attributes with software, photographically as well as subject-wise,  my pretty girl photos seemed, to me at least, to appear more and more like they were empty--  Empty of imperfections, both subtle and not-so-subtle, that add human qualities to both the photographs and my subjects' uniqueness, beauty, charm, appeal, and more. 

I also realized I was often trying to create perfection at the expense of emotion and feeling. Yeah, yeah... I know. I shoot sexy women with and without clothing. How much emotion and feeling do I need to include in the photos? Well, for me, more than you might think. You see, those things are important, very important, even when it's a tease, glam, or nude photo and even if/when they are barely noticeable. 

When I'm editing my pics, the difference between one image and the next might barely be noticeable but, often, that difference (in terms of which image I'll go with) has to do with ever-so-slight differences in expression, attitude, and emotion. It's those qualities in my photos and other shooter's photos, no matter how slight, that speak to me the loudest. They are qualities that resonate so much more vibrantly than, as an example, a perfectly-rendered and uniform array of facial skin pores courtesy of some piece of portrait-processing software.

For a while, it was more important for me to create perfect skin (and more) than to create photos that reached out to viewers in more memorable and appealing ways; ways other than having viewers be tricked into believing my model was perfect in terms of her physical attributes... attributes I was routinely manipulating in order to achieve some level of perfection in my models' photographic portrayal.  

So here's my advice for some of you. Think of it as some well-in intentioned New Year's advice: Quit trying for perfection. Quit trying to create human beings who are perfect. Let some of their physical flaws remain. Rely on the captured content of your photos, with its flaws, and with the emotions, attitudes, and more. Quit working so hard to create people who, frankly, don't exist. Does that mean not to do anything that improves your subjects visual appeal? Oh hell no. But there's a digital processing line that's best not crossed. Leastwise, in my opinion there's such a line.  Where is that line?  I can't say exactly, but I know it when I see it.

The half-naked pretty girl at the top mostly appears the way I shot her, that is, SOC. Did I manipulate the finished image? Yeah. But just a little with a slight crop, a slight luma adjust, removal of a few skin blemishes, and a bit of sharpening. Could I have done more? Done more to make her more perfect? Sure. I could have added a bunch of skin processing. (As is, I did none, zero.) I also could have made her tits breasts more perfect, that is, more perfectly round and perhaps a bit fuller. I could have removed stray hairs. I could have removed those skin flaps on her right side. I could have made her glow. In other words, I could have made her more perfect, albeit, less real.  Sure glam and tease is much about fantasy but there's more to fantasy than physical perfection. And by the way,  I sometimes apply some of those perfection-processing things I just mentioned to my pictures. But for this one, a rather randomly selected image for this update, and for most all of the pics I post, I think she's perfectly fine the way I shot her and she's "perfect" enough the way she appears.