Saturday, May 31, 2014

Studio Lighting for Nude Photography

Dan Hostettler, my friend in Prague -- actually, he's my only friend in Prague but who's counting friends? Not me --  just released a comprehensive new ebook: "ESSENTIALS. Studio Lighting for Nude Photography."  If you watched the video above, and I hope you have, you'll get a good idea of the extensive content included in Dan's cool new eBook.

"ESSENTIALS. Studio Lighting for Nude Photography" cointains nearly 300 pages, filled to the brim with many illustrations and photos. Its easy-to-digest text covers nearly everything you need to know when lighting nudes in a studio or studio-like environment.

Dan's new eBook is reasonably priced at $29 (US) but because I'm always looking out for my readers, I negotiated a special, limited time, 33% off discount price. (With discount code PGS33.)  But you'll need to act soon. The discount is only good till June 8th.

To learn more about Dan's new book, CLICK HERE.  If you decide to purchase, don't forget to type in discount code PGS33 in the box for discount codes on the shopping cart. Your total purchase price will be automatically discounted and you'll get Dan's new book for only $19 plus change! Now there's a freakin' deal!  Your welcome.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Develop Your Own Brand of Photography

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My friend, Ed Verosky, sent out a newsletter the other day and portions of it really resonated with me. If you're on Ed's email list, you've probably already seen his latest newsletter. If you're not on his list, I suggest you sign up by CLICKING HERE.

Ed's subject was minimizing competition in your marketplace.  Ed rightfully contends that having a website and/or portfolio with images that look much like everyone else's photos (in a given photographer's marketplace) simply means your photography is competing with everyone else in terms of style and other elements of a photo. Because of that, factors which have little to do with the actual photography become more important than, well than the photography itself. Factors like price and other things that are more of a business nature, rather than a photography nature.

I couldn't agree more.

Ed suggests offering something that others may not be able to deliver: a unique vision. In other words, your own brand of photography.  (Actually, those were Ed's words too.) What Ed is talking about, of course, has mostly to do with the creative and artistic elements of photography. You'll still have to produce technically competent images, but being mostly focused on the tech stuff isn't going to help too many photographers stand out, especially since so many other photographers you may be competing with can likely match your technical skill without too much of a problem.

As I've mentioned numerous times on this blog, I spend quite a bit of time on photography forums, Facebook photography group pages, and those sorts of places on the web.  In doing that, I can't help but notice how similar many photographers' work seems to be. I'm not talking about the content of the images, but the approach. The tech stuff.

For example, I've noticed that HSS (High Speed Sync) is quite popular amongst many photographers these days, whether they're shooting portraits, weddings, children.  HSS can certainly deliver some very dramatic looking images. Especially since those images are overpowering the ambient daylight and, sometimes, the sun itself. But when so many are shooting that way, a lot of the wow-value is diminished. Instead, it becomes more the same.

My guess that the reason HSS has become so popular is because there's more and more gear in the marketplace, very affordable gear, that specifically targets the HSS crowd. That gear, in turn, has created an ever-growing crowd of HSS enthusiasts. I'm referring to HSS capable cameras, speedlites, and triggers. Especially the speedlites and triggers.

I'll add to Ed's suggestion about delivering what others may not be able to deliver by saying that  photographers might do better going against the current visual trends, offering images that stand out simply because so few other photographers in the marketplace are shooting them. Doing so means focusing more on the artistic aspects of one's photography rather than the technical aspects. It could also mean using approaches, technical approaches to lighting and more that fewer photographers seem to be employing these days.  Likely because many of them follow the trends more than they work at developing their own style or utilizing a style that may not be currently in vogue.

Ed warns that all your potential clients probably won't "get" or appreciate what you're producing. He allows that it takes a certain amount of courage to buck the trends and go with what may only (at first) appeal to the individual photographer or a small group of potential clients rather than shooting for the masses. But he also notes that the people who will appreciate what you're shooting, who will "get it," will not only become customers, they'll likely become loyal customers. If there's one thing that I've learned over the years, it's that loyalty is incredibly important. Perhaps more important than almost any other aspect of working as a photographer. Leastwise, for me it's been that way.

The half-naked pretty girl at the top is Sasha Grey.  Sasha was wearing that wig which, as you can see in the second image, is pink.  I'll admit I wasn't overly thrilled with the wig. (It wasn't my idea to have her pull it onto her head, it was the client's idea.) My "issues" with it weren't so much about the wig itself or wearing a wig in general, they were more about the wig being pink. While I was shooting, however, I was already thinking, "But it might look cool in monochrome."

I used three lights: a 5' Photoflex Octo set slightly camera-right and a bit above her, plus two shoot-through umbrellas, either side from behind. For the second image above, I dropped the Octo down a bit so as to better reveal Sasha's eyes. Both images were snapped in manual mode, ISO 100, f/5.6, 160th with my Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime on my 5D classic. Monochrome conversion for the pic at the top was with PS's B&W tool.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Photo Criticism 101

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I spend a lot of time on the internet. Probably too much time but that's another story. A significant amount of my web time is spent on photography forums, photography Facebook group pages, those sorts of places. I love talking about photography! I love sharing my photography! I even love getting constructive criticisms of my photography!

New-ish and less-skilled photographers often go out of their way to ask me to critique their photos. I take that as a compliment because it means a couple of complimentary things: First, that they value my judgment, my skills, and my eye.  Second, they trust I'll offer more than criticisms, I'll offer constructive criticisms.

Unfortunately, I often see criticisms by photographers who are nearly skill-less in giving constructive criticisms. They "get" the criticism part, it's the constructive part they seem not to have a clue about.  Some of them  provide criticisms that are so totally void of the first "C" in the initials, "CC,"  it makes me wince. (The first "C" being the "Constructive" part of Constructive Criticism... but you already knew that. At least, I hope you did.)  At the risk of sounding like a skill-less critic, ignoring the first "C" in "CC" sucks.

Just because you think a photo sucks, it's not constructive criticism to simply comment that the photo sucks or to comment in other ways that basically say the same thing, albeit in different words. Often enough, those different words don't do much to soften the criticisms to anything much less harsh than, "your photo sucks," whether the less-skilled critic realizes it or not.

You might be thinking, "Hey Jimmy! WTF do you know about giving critiques? You're a shooter, not a photography critic."

You're right.


Years ago, in what seems like another lifetime, I worked for a Fortune 500 aerospace corporation. I was their in-house photographer and videographer. It wasn't a full-time job, even though I was employed full-time. You see, there wasn't quite enough photography and video work to keep me constantly busy five days a week, eight hours a day. So, the corporate brain trust (AKA senior management) decided to find some other work for me to do in my spare time, i.e., in addition to my photo/video work.

Some senior management guys apparently noticed or thought that I was pretty good in front of groups; speaking in front of groups, that is. So, they decided I'd make a decent trainer: a supervisory skills trainer. Go figure, right? They decided they wanted me to train others in what are called supervisory soft skills. Skills that aren't of a technical nature.  For managers and supervisors, i.e., those people who directly manage and supervise other workers, the soft skills come under the umbrella heading of people skills. And one of the most important soft/people skills for supervisors and managers to learn is how to give -- you guessed it --  constructive criticism.

So, the corporate brain trust sent me to a management school to learn to school managers and supervisors in skills that would help them become better managers and supervisors. As a result, in addition to my work with cameras in my hands, they also put my mouth to work in front of groups of managers and supervisors.

I'm not going to go through all the components of giving constructive criticism to others. Instead, I'll simply give you a few highlights. You can even customize these highlights for your soft skill techniques when directing models. 

When offering constructive photo criticisms, it's important to not only identify what might be wrong with an image or what could be improved, but also to offer up what's right with the image or what's good about it. For those of you who prefer to learn  things in a more straight-forward, by-the-numbers, kind of way, here's Constructive Criticism 101 broken down into three, simple, components:

1. First, tell the person whose photo your constructively criticizing what you like about the photo or what's positive about it.

2. Next, tell them what you believe needs improvement or what appears to be wrong with the image, leastwise in your opinion. (All critiques are more subjective than objective, after all.)

3. Finally, tell the person you're offering a photo critique something else you like about the photo or something else they did that's positive.

Pardon my French but how fucking hard is that???

The pretty girl at the top is a Brazilian model I shot a while back. I'll play the geezer card and admit I can't remember her name. I'll also play the lazy card cuz I'm too lazy to go through a bunch of stuff to figure out her name.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Shooting Outside My Box

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There are boxes and there are boxes. The term, "shooting outside the box," is so vague it tells people virtually nothing about whatever it is you're shooting. Plus, as terms go, it's more than a bit cliché. It's like those words I find equally vague, cliché, and non-descriptive. Words I've had clients direct me with. Words like edgy and edgy-ness.

Saying you're shooting "inside the box" may actually tell people more about what you're shooting than saying you're shooting "outside the box," assuming those people have a clue about your standard box and it's photographic dimensions. Here's a personal example: If  I say. "I'm shooting inside my box," many people, those who know my work, will likely expect to see a young, pretty, sexy model in the pics. Often, one who's wearing very little if anything at all. A photo like the one below left I snapped of Penthouse Pet, Tori Black, almost... Yikes! Almost 5 years ago!

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Just because you have a box that represents your box, your comfort zone, it doesn't mean your box is *the* box, i.e., some overall photography "box." There is no box. There's only your box. It doesn't matter if your box is a genre, a style, whatever. It's your box. You own it. And when you or I shoot outside our boxes, we're simply doing just that: shooting outside our own, personal boxes... not some bigger box. Some magic box. Some vague, undetermined, unlimited box. The boxes we shoot within are self-created. Inside one photographer's box may be outside many other photographers' boxes and vice versa. Capiche? Even if a so-called "box" exists -- which I don't believe one does -- it's a way bigger box than most shooters might think it is. Way, way bigger!

This past week, I headed out with my friend, Diana, to shoot some outside *my box* photos. I'm a people photographer. So far, my box does not include genres like landscape, street, product, architectural, abstract photography and more. That might change but, at this point, those genres aren't part of my box. So, from the perspective of my shoot with Diana being a people photography shoot, it was well within my box. But that's about the only aspect of it that was within my normal and customary box.

Even as a people photographer, my box doesn't include more than a few types or genres of people photography. But that's what I wanted to shoot with Diana-- that is, some pics that are outside my box.

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Some of you might be thinking, "Damn, Jimmy! How can you get bored or tired shooting all those beautiful, sexy, models wearing little to nothing?"  Trust me. You can. I can. I have. But it's not so much that I'm bored with doing so. It simply represents more of the same. It represents that which I know how to do better than I know how to do any other sort of photography. Still, I love shooting those models. They still get my photographic heart beating faster. But it's not creatively fulfilling or rewarding in an overall sort of way. Not any longer. Not for some time now. Shooting pretty girls is totally within my box. I don't dislike my box. It's a fairly cool box as boxes go. Sometimes, though, a photographer needs to shoot outside the box... outside his or her own box, regardless of how cool or enviable or anything else their box may or may not be.

I had already scouted a location for shooting some "outside my box" photos. I knew Diana would be more than simply a model or a voice-activated prop.  Diana's a new friend in my life. I only met her a few weeks ago. Obviously, I don't know her well. But what I already do know about her is that she's a team player and that she's a proactive, creative, collaborator when she's "into" something. (Which is exactly what I wanted her to be and exactly what she was, leading up to our shoot, and what she continued being during it.)

Diana and I are already planning another shoot. We're again going to juxtapose some wardrobe and props (different wardrobe and props for our next shoot) in an environment where they aren't ordinarily seen or don't seem to blend in expected ways.  Same for the emotional and/or story context of the pics. I'll likely continue shooting them with wide-ish focal lengths, making use of the Rule of Thirds as well as negative space because I like it. I don't often have opportunities (or the leeway) to shoot that way for most of my "inside my box" photos. Who knows, maybe I can even find a way to throw in some symmetry or asymmetry?  Maybe a few leading lines in there as well? I love adding those sorts of compositional elements to my pics.

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The photo at the top of this update was shot with all natural light. I snapped it with my Canon "nifty-fifty" prime on my 5Dc. ISO 100, f/2.3, 250th.  Simple monochrome conversion with CS3's B&W tool. I also accentuated the textures a bit in post and added the vignetting.

The second photo (upper right) was captured with my Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime shooting almost directly into the Golden Hour sun. The lens was struggling a bit to focus and I lost a number of shots to soft focus.  I blame myself, not the glass, for not paying closer attention. Again, the image utilizes all natural light, not even a reflector.  ISO 100, f/1.8 (wide open) 125th.

The third image above is another from my shoot with Diana. For this one, I also used my nifty-fifty prime, but added a bare-bulb 300ws monolight for some fill.  A few moments after this shot was snapped, a big gust of wind blew up and there went my stand and the monolight. The flash-tube went "Humpty Dumpty" on me and the monobloc itself is not firing, altho it's still powering up. As such, a repair might not be that big of a deal. I'll find out if that's true when I take it to a repair shop... which I'm not in that big of a hurry to do. I have other monolights, enough to shoot most anything I ordinarily shoot.

Next time out with Diana, I'm going with small flash instruments for whatever artificial lighting I might want to add. I went on eBay yesterday and purchased a new Yongnuo YN568EX II, even though I have a couple of Canon speedlites in my kit. (I suppose I must have had a minor GAS attack.) The YN568EX II is Yongnuo's newest TTL speedlite with, they say, 1/8000th high-speed-sync capability and more.  Might have to play around with some HSS for the next shoot. Who knows? Might even try shooting some of that "overpowering-the-sun" stuff. Using a small flash instrument makes setting the light, whether on a stand, an arm, or in other ways, easier and simpler. Plus, I won't have to cart along a power supply like I do when I'm shooting with monoblocs on location. All I'll need is some AA batteries to power the light. Keep it simple, right?

Here's one more I snapped of Diana. This one is quite a bit different. For about a year or so, I've had a plastic Holga lens in my bag, one with a Canon EF mount. I had never shot with it until this recent personal shoot.  It takes a lot of light to shoot with that lens and the viewfinder remains very dim, making it difficult to see what's in it in spite of how much daylight there might be.  It's a fixed-focus, fixed-aperture curiosity that's little more than a pinhole lens. I can't even refer to it as "glass" since I don't believe there's a single molecule of glass in it.  When the Holga people say, "all plastic," they mean all plasitc. The Holga lens self-produces the pronounced vignetting you see. It's very lo-fi! Wish it produced light leaks. Maybe I can figure a way to make it produce some light leaks? In production, not in post.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I've Got GAS!

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No, I didn't eat a big bowl of beans. The GAS I'm referring to is an acronym. You've probably heard it: Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). Even I, the "keep it simple" guy, the guy who often reminds himself and others that new gear doesn't necessarily equate to better photography, occasionally gets GAS. It's a malady that effects all photographers, i.e, serious photographers. You know, photographers who pursue increasing their skills and the quality of their photographs... seriously.

Every once in a while, I have a GAS attack. I don't know what precipitates it. Is there some psychological equivalent to eating a bowl of beans?  Something my brain ingests, abstractly or metaphorically, that culminates in a GAS attack? I have no clue. But at times, it sure seems like there is!

Fortunately, I'm something of a man of means by no means as the old song says. That is, I can't afford to indulge my GAS attacks too often or too wantonly in spite of the fact that I have credit cards and a PayPal "Bill me Later" account with a decent balance. Somehow, even when my GAS attacks bend me over with psychological cramps, I manage to get through them. Usually.

Last year, I had a GAS attack that didn't end until I purchased a Fuji X100 that I didn't need. Did I really need another camera? Nope. Not even a little bit. Why did I buy it? GAS. (And that PayPal Bill Me Later option.) How often have I used my GAS driven Fuji? Not often.  In fact, "rarely" is a word that better describes my use of that camera over the past year, it being a very cool camera with lots of capabilities for producing terrific images notwithstanding

A number of years ago when I still had my studio I also had regular GAS attacks. Back then, my GAS attacks were generally focused on grip and lighting, especially grip. I nearly became a gripaholic. I ended up with all kinds of stands, clamps, arms, booms, and more. I also purchased lots of what's called "expendables" and kept purchasing more even though I hadn't come close to expending the expendables I already expended too much money on.

Currently, I'm in the throes of another GAS attack, a glass GAS attack. (A glass attack?) Do I truly need more glass? Well, although there's some truth to the notion that a photographer can never have too much glass, there really isn't any glass I absolutely need. I've got glass covering all focal ranges from 28mm to 200mm. Do I really need any longer or wider glass to perform the sort of work I most often shoot? No. Do I need faster (and more expensive) glass to cover the focal ranges I already have covered? Not really. It would be nice for my Canon 70-200 f/4 to be replaced by a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 or my Canon 85mm f/1.8 replaced with a Canon 85mm f/1.2, plus all that goes with that magnificent lens beyond it being faster. But do I really need the wider stops and more? Again, no.

In recent days, I've had to work hard to resist the GAS urge to buy, of all things, a tilt-shift lens I have no real use for. I mean, come on! What do I need a tilt-shift lens for? Could I make some cool pics with one? I think so. I think I could even make some cool pretty girl pics with one. Will those cool pics do much of anything for my photography career? I doubt it. In fact, I'm almost completely sure it would not. Yet, I still find myself checking out a variety of (expensive) tilt-shift lenses I don't need.

Not to worry though. I'm pretty sure I will pull through this latest GAS attack without a tilt-shift lens suddenly finding itself in my camera bag and me being either broker or further in debt. And if I suddenly have an irresistible urge to shoot some stilt-shift pics? I'll probably rent a tilt-shift lens to satisfy it.

Still though, the GAS persists and I'm having to call on all my abilities of exerting reason on myself to avoid buying an expensive tilt-shift lens that I have no practical use for.

The pretty girl with puckered lips at the top is Jayme. It's a graphic I put together from a snapshot picked from a set I shot with her. I'm using the graphic as one of the many pics that will be included in my upcoming new ebook, Guerrilla Glamour 2.   If you didn't know, the concept of Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS) extends beyond how you shoot your images to include what you shoot your images with.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Money for Nothing, Chicks for Free No More

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Now that I've joined the ranks of the marginally employed, I can start shooting some stuff that I want to shoot instead of what others want me (and pay me) to shoot.

Oh? You weren't aware I'm now merely marginally employed? Well, I am.  Unless something radical and unexpected takes place in my professional life or the industry I've worked in for so many years -- which I don't expect will happen -- I now consider myself a hobbyist. A photographer of amateur standing.  If I'm still a professional photographer, assuming being a pro equals earning most or all of my income from shooting, I'm simply a part-time pro. A marginal pro.  A semi-pro. Believe it or not, I'm fairly excited about that!

Yep. I've joined the ranks of those who mostly shoot for the love of photography rather than for a payday. It wasn't my doing. I didn't have much to say in the matter. Shit happens. The industry that was pretty damn good to me, money and work wise,  is in the toilet. My clients have all either folded or aren't doing much.

Yeah, I've taken a serious cut in my income. In fact, my income has been on a downward spiral for the past few years now.  I was kind of depressed about that. I've been in something of an emotional slump. A rather numb, emotional malaise. But now I'm not. Depressed or in a frump, that is. I'm kind of giddy about it if you can believe that.  I've arrived at the future I've fretted about for some time but now it doesn't feel fret-worthy. It feels anything but and I'm hard-pressed to explain why that is. But why do I need to explain it? It is what it is. I'm okay with it and that's what matters.

Sure, I'll still score a few gigs here and there. But it will never be like it was before when I was making stupid money. It wasn't ever "get rich" money but it was fairly stupid money just the same. The British rock group, Dire Straits, has a song called, "Money for Nothing."  In the lyrics, the song says,  "That ain't workin', that's the way you do it, money for nothing and chicks for free."  I'm certainly no rock star but it was still kind of like that for me. At times it felt like it. For years. But no more. And that's okay. Who knows? Maybe I've matured? (Or not.)

I've never been a particularly material person. Money has only been my motivation in terms of needing it to take care of my family and myself. That still weighs on me. My son is a senior in high school and will graduate next month. He's going to need my help for college and, naturally, I'll be there for him as best as I can. But for me? My needs aren't much.

I started collecting Social Security last month. Yes, that means I'm officially a geezer. I can't say I'm overjoyed about that. I mean, it's nice to know that every month I'll have X amount of dollars coming in like clockwork. But no one wants to get old just so they can collect Social Security. But what are you gonna do? It happens. The years pass and BAM! All of a sudden you're old and saying to yourself, "Already? What the fuck happened? How did I get here?" But there's no way around it. Not for you, not for me, not for anyone. You either accept it, deal with it, and move on or you lie down like you're beat and ponder the inevitable, feeling sorry for yourself. That's not my way. For me, I see it as a next chapter. Not the final chapter, the conclusion, but simply a next chapter. Does that make sense? It does to me. In fact, it's making more sense every day. 

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It's true I won't be shooting as often as I was before, leastwise shooting models. But now I can shoot what I want to shoot. Certainly, I could have been doing that before but, whenever I did, it felt like work. Unpaid work. Like I was working for free. I don't do free. Never have. Leastwise, when it came to work. There were more than a few times I felt like I was whoring myself out, and I probably was to an extent, but I've never whored myself out for free... not that some people didn't try to get me to do so. Fuck them. I've invested a lot of my life learning to do what I know how to do. Some people want me to give that away? For free? I don't think so. But now, I can shoot for free without it feeling like work and without it feeling like I'm giving something away for free, and I can do so without it feeling like I'm whoring myself out.  You know, for free. It's kind of freeing in a lot of ways. I also expect it will feel like something more. Something exciting. Something new and rewarding in different ways, different than getting paid, that is. At least, I hope that's what it's going to feel like.

I still intend to keep on authoring this blog plus my ebooks. I'm also working on (finally!) putting together a workshop. Hopefully, the first one will happen this fall. When it's announced, I think some people will be surprised. That's because, if all goes well, I won't be doing it by myself. The plan is for another photographer to join with me in that endeavor. Someone who will also be a draw, assuming I'm a draw. Someone who is mostly on the same page as me, photography wise. If all goes according to plan, it will be an awesome workshop.

Anyway, just thought I'd share a few of my thoughts and plans.

The pretty girl at the top hanging onto that chain link fence, and again in the middle of the update, seated on that... whatever you call those things, is Alexa. The two pics and more were captured on a set in a studio. The chain link fencing wasn't set in place, by the way. Alexa was holding it up while she was posing. Obviously, she's a model who can chew bubble gum and walk at the same time. I used three lights for the shots: 1) A 5' Photoflex Octodome for my main, set just to my right, 2) a medium Chimera strip box from behind Alexa, camera-left, 3) a small, shoot-through umbrella boomed overhead from behind, camera-right.  Both were snapped with my Canon 5D classic with a Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime on board. ISO 100, f/5.6, 125th. Simple B&W conversion with PS CS3's Black & White tool for the pic at the top.  You know me: Keep it simple stupid. That's the way I do it.