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.