Saturday, December 05, 2015

Your Photographic Spine

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You have a spine. No surprise there.  We're all vertebrates as opposed to, say, octopuses, jelly fish, and sea urchins which are invertebrates, i.e. they're spineless animals. (I know some people like that, mostly spineless, but that's another story.)

Your photography has a spine as well, albeit a figurative spine. It's that one aspect of your abilities, above the others, that supports you, holds you up, that gives you photographic stature -- whether it's via hard skills or soft skills -- almost regardless of what you're shooting. It's the main thing that keeps you, or can keep you standing tall as a photographer.

Whether we consciously realize it or not, we rely on our photographic spines in most all of our work. Before I started pondering my photography spine -- and I started pondering it in earnest while  reading a book by famed Broadway choreographer, Twyla Tharp: "The Creative Habit" -- if someone asked me what the #1 thing I rely on most for the majority of my work, to make it stand out that is, I would have said my knowledge and skills in lighting. But the more I read Ms. Tharp's book, the more I re-thought my  answer to that self-asked question. Eventually, I came to realize my spine had less to do with what I know about the nuts and bolts of lighting and photography in general, and so much more about how I interact with people, in this case, with the models in front of my camera.

I have a long-time client who told me, somewhat recently, and this is a quote or as near to one as I can recall: "You want to know why I've kept hiring you all this time, Jimmy? And still do? It's not because you're such a good photographer. There's plenty of photographers as good as you; plenty who are better than you. I hire you because of the way you work with the models. Just about every model I hire you to shoot, whether they're new or experienced, walks away from your set happy, confident in the photos you snapped, and with nothing but good things to say about you. There's hardly ever a problem or drama caused by you. And it shows in the pics." BTW, I've had other clients tell me similar stuff in similar ways. So yeah. I have some corroboration in this matter. (Where's those smiley face emoticons when I need one for a blog update?)

While some of this may sound like I'm patting myself on the back, I'm really not. I do have good people skills. Probably better than good. Leastwise, when it comes to models. (Who are also people, at least technically they are.) I can usually read most models like a book within minutes, sometimes seconds, of them arriving on my shooting sets. (At least the model part of who they are.) It's a rare model who comes close to causing me to choose the wrong tack or the wrong approach, photographer-to-model/person-to-person approach to shooting her. You know, in terms of how to best to interact with her and gain rapport with her so as to get better pics from her. I'm good at it. It's something that's part natural (I suppose) plus it's born of many years shooting many, many models. Even before that, I had plenty of experience shooting actors for their head shots and portfolios. Actors and models are similar sorts of folks in many ways. I could list all the ways they're similar but that's not what I'm writing about today.

Conversely, I've recently become very interested in shooting things other than models and/or other human subjects and my biggest problem with that (not that it's too big a problem because I still have skills, you know, skills other than people skills) is that I can't rely on my spine, my 'people skills spine,' to make good pics. In fact, when I first started trying to shoot some of this other stuff, I felt a little like a jellyfish, one of those invertebrates I mentioned at the top, all gelatinous with little hard structure to support my less than competent efforts. It's like going from model shooting to product shooting. I know how to light inanimate objects because I know how to light people. I know how to compose people and inanimate objects. But the pics still mostly sucked in spite of my throwing my non-spinal-skills at the pics.

So, how do I proceed if I can't call on my photographic spine, my people skills, to support me in these other efforts that don't include people? Well, believe it or not, and this is probably going to sound rather stupid, I've taken to talking to the inanimate objects in front of my camera. I've also taken to talking to myself, out loud, when I'm shooting. (Hoping some mental health professional isn't nearby because I probably sound like a whacko.) For some future shoots that require special locations and/or environments, I plan to take along someone if I can.  You know, just to have someone to interact with even if that someone isn't the one being photographed because, IMO, my best work happens when my mouth is going, even if/when I'm talking to myself,to something that doesn't talk back, or to someone who is just along for the ride.

If you haven't thought about what your photographic spine might be, i.e., what the #1 thing that makes you who you are as a photographer -- whether it's a hard skill like understanding gear, lighting or composition, or how you make exposure your bitch -- I highly recommend you do. Course, remember: Your spine might be something other than a hard or technical skill and there's a good chance it is for most folks.  I suggest, if nothing else, you do a personal skills inventory to figure out not only what your spine is, but what your other support structure skills are that you routinely rely on most. Doing so will likely give you more confidence, help you to work to your strengths and, at the very least, help you figure out what you may need to work harder on as you/we all continue to grow and develop as photographers.... because that's something that never ends.  Growing and developing, that is.

The pretty girl at the top is Melanie. She's user-friendly in front of a camera; that is, she knows what she's doing, has a great attitude, takes direction well, is fun to work with, that stuff.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mastering B&W Nudes

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Boy! Do I have a terrific new product to tell you about and you know I don't tout too many products or overstay my blogging welcome with such things.  My good friend in Prague, Dan Hostettler, has just released an awesome new digital training program, "Mastering B&W Nudes."

Dan and I communicate quite frequently so I know he's put a full year of hard work into this most excellent program. And it shows. Boy! Does it show!  But that's only half the good news. The other half is the limited-time discount Dan's offering-- 33% off if you act now or in the next few days or so.

I could go on by telling you lots of good things about this new product and why I think you should purchase it and how it will help you, well, help you master shooting B&W nudes (as the title says), but why don't you take a few moments and have a look at Dan's preview page, then decide for yourself?

To preview Dan's "Mastering B&W Nudes Today," and/or to purchase it at 33% off, click on the link below and enter Dan's world of mastering B&W nude photography... today:  

MASTERING B&W NUDES TODAY

Be sure to view the video at the top of the preview page!!!



Sunday, November 01, 2015

Live! From Prague!

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My friend, Dan Hostettler, an awesome pretty girl shooter based in the City of Prague (in the Czech Republic) recently produced a live streaming event and, by all accounts, including mine, it was a smashing success!

Dan's live-streaming event wasn't about simply placing a few consumer webcams in a studio. Nope. Not for Dan. Instead, he produced a full-blown video production with a professional crew using state-of-the-art gear. I was VERY impressed, not only with the production itself and the wealth of shooting technique Dan provided, but with the 'sold-out' number of viewers, world-wide, who watched, listened, and got interactively involved. (Dan limited his live 'pay-per-view' ticket sales to 500 viewers.) And Dan's model for the event?  Well, to say I would love to shoot a nude/glamour model of Ms. Melisa Mandini's beauty, allure, and skill would be an understatement. (And I'm a guy who has shot hundreds and hundreds of nude/glam models -- well over a thousand of them -- over the past couple of decades.)

Live streaming has become a big business and it's not all about streaming smut. (Although the "smut" end of the live-streaming biz is generating millions of dollars monthly.) Live streaming has many possible uses; education being one of them, including nude and glamour shooting education. Indeed, photography education of all kinds is ripe for streaming. (Think 'Creative Live') Streaming potential continues to grow, develop, and mature as modern technologies offer low-cost (compared to broadcast television) capabilities, making it possible for just about anyone to take advantage of. 

Dan's live event was so well-received (i.e., such a success) that he's planning at least two more for 2016.  In fact, Dan and I are discussing the possibility of yours truly traveling to Prague next summer and participating in his third live event. I lived in England for three years when I was in my twenties so I've already been to Europe in my life, but not to that part of Europe. I'm positively stoked about the potential for joining Dan for one of his future live events.

So hey! Don't take my word for the level of webcast quality Dan produced for his live-streaming event, check out the short video he edited together from the event (and more) by CLICKING HERE. (Caution: It's NSFW.)

The pretty girl at the top is Ashlynn. I snapped it a few weeks ago. I have an ongoing gig on Wednesday evenings to shoot a couple of models, each week, for an adult internet streaming company. (There's that "smut" thing I mentioned.)  It's an easy gig. I'm in-and-out quickly. I use their (crappy, low-end) lighting gear which is already set-up when I get there. Usually, I get about ten minutes with each model. Works for me! The small studio where it's shot is in Burbank, CA. Burbank is about a twenty or thirty minute drive from my home. I walk in, whip out my camera, shoot, the tech uploads from my card, I get paid and go home. My kind of piece-of-cake gig!




Monday, October 12, 2015

Luck is a Skill

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We hear about lucky shots all the time.  We all know that luck isn't something photographers can count on but, count on it or not, luck sometimes is a factor and it's always nice when we catch a bit of luck in our photography. If only we could count on luck for even more lucky photos, right? But luck doesn't work that way. Luck is fickle. It's unpredictable. Luck smiles on us when it wants to, not when we want it to.

Shooters who regularly take the spray-n-pray approach to their photography are counting on luck to various extents. After all, if they shoot enough pictures, a few of them are bound to be good. Maybe one or two are better than good. But who gets most of the credit for those truly cool snaps out of 300? 400? Perhaps even more?  Sure, the photographer deserves some of that credit. Maybe a big share of it. (Or maybe not.) But luck and odds snag some of that credit as well. Sometimes, luck and odds deserve most of the credit for those great shots.

Some photographers seem to catch lucky shots more often than others and they don't do it by spraying-and-praying. They don't count on the odds. So how or why  does luck seem to smile more often on some photographers and not others?

It mostly happens because those "lucky" photographers are prepared for luck to smile on them. They're ready for it. They know it when they see it. They open the door to luck, they open it wide allowing luck to happily prance into their photographic lives... often and regularly.

Famous golfer, Gary Player, was once asked about luck in terms of his game. Here's what Player said, and it's as appropriate an observation for photographers as it is for golfers:  "The more I practice, the luckier I get."

"The more I practice, the luckier I get."

Sounds so simple, right? Perhaps too simple? "The more I practice, the luckier I get." What's simpler than that? You know, than practiceing? It's a whole lot simpler than regularly buying new gear and going through new learning curves just to get yourself proficiently up-and-running with that new gear in hopes of capturing better photos.   It's simpler than spending hour after hour reading books and viewing tutorials and utilizing other learning methods to improve your photography. I'm certainly not saying learning new things won't help your photography. It sure as hell will. But learn all you want, all that learning won't amount to much if you don't practice what you've learned. And practice it a lot.

Ockham's Razor tells us that the best solutions and answers to many things are usually the simplest and least complex of the solutions and answers that come to us. I'm pretty sure Gary Player's take on luck, "The more I practice, the luckier I get," qualifies for an Ockie. He get's my vote for one! (An Ockie, BTW, is what I call my imaginary Ockham's Razor Award. I try to award myself Ockies whenever I can. I look for opportunities to earn Ockies.) After all, practice is one of the simplest ways and most assured ways to improve your photography. It's not complex. You just... well, you just do it.

So there you have it. Luck isn't just about "luck."  Luck is also a skill. A skill you practice and prepare yourself to receive and to spot when it smacks you in the head.  Bottom line-- the more you practice something, the better you become at it or, looking at that from another angle (and as famed golfer Gary Player discovered and shared with us) the luckier you'll get!

So get out there and practice!  Practice often. Practice a lot. Practice, practice, practice! And get ready to get lucky!

The model in my lucky shot at the top is Faye. I used two lights: 1) a strobe modified with a shoot-through umbrella in front of her, camera right, and 2) another strobe, bare bulb, on the floor directly behind her and pointed up.  Simple monochrome conversion with PS3's B&W tool. Snapped it with a Canon 5D1 (M mode) and a Canon 70-200 f/4 L at ISO 200, f/6.3, 1/100th.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Standing Out

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Since I've become semi-retired, my mind, leastwise in terms of my photography, has been focused on finding or discovering ways to stand out as a photographer. (Doesn't everyone do that?) Actually, "focused" might be too weak a word to describe my condition in this regard, so I'll make that "obsessed."

Obviously, standing out (to varying extents) is generally a bit easier when one regularly has (or has had) as many beautiful and sexy glamour, tease, and nude models in front of their cameras as I have. Duh, right?

Now, if I want to stand out, I'm going to have to do it in other ways. Having a stand-out photographic style doesn't just happen. It takes thought, premeditated thought. And experimenting! And practice! And a bunch more! In the future,  instead of my style relying mostly on who/what I have in front of my camera, and how I direct them and so forth, standing out is going to rely on much more. than who/what is in front of my camera. It's gong to rely more heavily on how I capture the who and the what (the non-model who/what) and how I might treat the photos after snapping them. (Treat them in post, that is.) Again, duh.

I've never been much of a post-production guy. My clients all have art departments or they employ re-touchers and graphic artists to perform the post on my work and other shooters' work. That's been fine with me. And easier. Besides, I've never had a great interest in developing my post skills to the levels of those sorts of people. I probably could become pretty good at processing pics if I really wanted to and was willing to invest the time and resources... but I'm a shooter, dammit, not a photo processor! I admire some of the work of other photographers who excel at that stuff but I'm still not particularly interested in learning and practicing more than I need to learn and practice doing. The quality and stand-out-ish-ness of my current and future photography (assuming I manage to stand out) will rely, mostly, on what I do in production, not post-production. Again, I'm a shooter first and that other stuff second.

To that end, I've considered and explored a number of ways to accomplish standing out, be it with the help of certain kinds of production gear or via shooting stuff I've not shot much before, e.g., of an editorial-ish nature. (And no, I'm not going to rely on gear to stand out. That's folly.)

Like most photographers, I have preferences for what I most enjoy shooting and what I most enjoy shooting involves people in front of my camera, not necessarily models. I should also note that my quest to stand out has little or nothing to do with earning money with my photography. It's fun making a living with cameras in one's hands, especially with pretty models in front of you, and I've done that for more than a couple of decades, but money isn't driving me now; art is.  If my future photo-art generates some money, that's cool. If not, no biggie. I could mostly care less.

One of the "gear-centric" ways I've messed around with for my attempts to stand out has been via glass, you know, those lensy things on the front of our cameras.  I've played with using plastic Holga and Diana optics plus a couple of LensBaby lenses. None of them have resonated with me in big-big ways, although I do like using them. I've also used some specialty filters (like Tiffen's ProMist filters) and still plan to use them, as well as some others, e.g., FLD, ND, and more. But again, while I like the results I haven't suddenly been moved to make those filters part of my possible future calling-card style, stand-out or not. I would love to try using a tilt-shift lens to this end but, so far, I haven't been able to convince myself to lay-out the dough for a good T/S.  They ain't cheap!

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My newest eBay acquisition -- it should arrive in the mail in a few days or so -- is a Cyclop 85mm f/1.5. It's not a lens intended for photography but, well... here's how someone on a manual focus lens forum described it:  "Cyclop-- The One-Eyed Monster! It's called a Cyclop and is an f/1.5 (only! no aperture control) 85mm lens modified for use by the Russian military for a night-vision device and renamed the Cyclop H3T-1. It weighs a ton, is carved out of a former Soviet tank, has no diaphragm, and produces absolutely insane results! The good news is that it's a native M42 mount lens and practically indestructible."

I'm told mastering shooting with the Cyclop is no easy task, but that makes it that much more intriguing for me.  Yeah, it's focus is so shallow that manually focusing will be a challenge but, to obtain the sorts of results I'm looking for will not only require precise manual focusing, but choosing quite specific shooting environments, especially in terms of time of day, lighting conditions, specific sorts of backgrounds, as well as optimum distances between camera-to-subject and also subject-to-background. (Yeah, I've been doing a lot of reading about this Cyclop beast.) When all that stuff falls properly in line, the results can be insanely awesome, at least to my eye. What makes it insanely awesome? The unique and special bokeh this lens can produce. along with the very shallow DOF. It's not your run-of-the-mill bokeh, BTW. It's almost other-worldly. It's bokehlisious bokeh. And a unique bokehliscious bokeh at that!  Anyway, I'm stoked. I'll post some pics when I have some I think are half-way decent. 

The woman in black in the photo at the top is a friend of mine. (I've probably posted that pic before, a while back that is.) I snapped it using a Canon nifty-fifty on my 5D classic with a Tiffen ProMist filter screwed onto the lens. All natural light  I might have been tempted to add flash or a reflector but we were shooting in a county park, Vasquez Rocks, and the park ranger told me that the moment I pull out any lighting gear she was going to consider it a commercial shoot and require me to have a shooting permit. (Which, of course, I did not have.)  She then parked her Park Ranger's SUV nearby and sat there and watched me shoot. Freakin' bi... never mind. I'll refrain from name-calling.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Creative Pokes (Part Two)

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For about 15 years, I worked for a rather large corporation: Lear Siegler.  At the division where I worked, I was their in-house video production guy, a job which also also included a fair amount of product photography. Example-- sometimes being their video and photography guy included hanging out the side of a single-engine Cesna (tethered with the passenger door removed) as I video recorded and photographed one of their products, an experimental reconnaissance drone, during test flights over the Mojave Desert. (And you thought all I've ever professionally shot has been pretty girls. Fellow photographers, please.)

Lear Siegler Inc. was comprised of many divisions all over the country.  (For a time, LSI even owned Smith & Wesson.)  I worked, primarily, in Santa Monica, CA, at their Astronics division. I also sometimes worked at their Developmental Sciences division, which was located in Ontario, CA.

 Primarily, Lear Astronics designed and manufactured flight control systems for military aircraft-- from the F-16 to the Tomahawk cruise missile and on to the stealth fighter and stealth bomber, Astronics was a major player in military flight control technologies and more.

The original Lear Corp., prior to merging with the Siegler Corp., was founded by Bill Lear. Bill Lear is most famous for giving the world the Lear Jet. Bill was an inventor, creator, and technology developer extraordinaire. Example: The "Lear Jet Stereo 8" cartridge audio device was soon marketed to consumers as -- yep, you guessed it --  the 8-Track stereo tape player. Interestingly, Bill's most famous (and possibly most successful) endeavor, the Lear Jet, is the reason Bill resigned from the board of Lear Siegler and sold his shares in the company. You see, the board thought Bill's idea to develop and produce a small commercial jet was a really bad idea and (probably driving that notion) a too-costly idea. So, they nixed it. Bill, in turn, said sayonarra to Lear Sielger and went his own way to develop and manufacture the aircraft without them. That aspect of Bill's life and legacy is a notable part of aviation history.

Because of Bill Lear's creativity influence on Lear Siegler, and even more so on the Astronics division (where I worked) because that's where Bill himself once worked, ideas were always very encouraged. (We still had a few employees at the division who once worked directly with Bill.) The Astronics division instituted some robust internal programs which actively encouraged and fostered employees -- from engineers to assembly line workers -- to share their ideas. And they rewarded them for ideas which were, ultimately, implemented!  Those rewards also included the company sharing ownership of any patents or trademarks which might result from an employee's idea. Astronics regularly held "brainstorming" sessions among groups of it's employees. (On company time, of course.)  The prime directive of those sessions was: There is no such thing as a bad idea!

"There is no such thing as a bad idea" gets me back to what I'm writing about, i.e., creative pokes. If you treat all your ideas as good or bad, you will probably leave your self-described "bad ideas" in the dust. Potentially, those "bad ideas" might have led to some really good ideas but you'll never know that because you kicked your "bad ideas" to the curb.

You see, with some added work, brainstorming, developing, pokes, whatever you want to call it, all your ideas, good or bad, are worthy of pursuing to some degree, at least at first and for a time. I guarantee if you do so, you will either A) turn your ho-hum, not-so-great, possibly lackluster or even turd of an idea into an idea worth pursuing, one with luster. less turd-like, and more or B) it will often lead you to another idea, perhaps one completely different, that is worth pursuing. That's how many people's creative minds work.

When it comes to ideas, we are often our own worst enemies because we too often eighty-six them before we give them a chance to bloom into something worth developing more. Course, your not-so-great idea might remain a not-so-good idea but you'll never truly know that unless you give it, at the very least, a half a chance to bloom or to morph into something else, i.e. a good idea. Sometimes, a truly stellar idea!

The gratuitous eye-candy at the top is Jennifer. Pic was snapped at a location house in the Silverlake District of Los Angeles. I used a 5' Photoflex Octo for my main, pretty much on-axis with the model, plus a small, shoot-through, umbrella, camera-left, to the rear of the model for an accent light. The French windows provided the balance of the light for the image.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Two Birds, One Stone

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It's not often I get to knock off two (metaphorical) birds with a single (also metaphorical) stone but I did it. Leastwise, today I did.

My good buddy, Dan Hostettler, of Studio Prague, asked me to write an article  (of sorts)  for his web site. It's the same sort of thing I might author for the Pretty Girl Shooter blog, only Dan posted more pretty girl pics along with my words than I would have.

I've started working on Part Two of my most recent blog update but I don't think I'm going to get it done for a few days or so.  So, in the interim, perhaps you'd be interested in reading the article I wrote for Dan?

CLICK HERE to read my Studio Prague ramblings. I titled it, "Spray-n-Pray?  Quality Before Quantity!"

The pretty girl at the top is Sarah. It's a one-light portrait  -- I forget which modifier I used but probably something on the larger side rather than the smaller, perhaps my 5' Photoflex Octo. I snapped it at a practical location (a condo) in the hills above Warner Bros. in Burbank, CA.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Creative Pokes (Part One)

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As photographers, we often come up with new ideas regarding what we want to shoot, how we want to shoot, where and when we want to shoot, that sort of stuff. Sometimes, our ideas slowly materialize in our photographic consciousness. Other times, they hit us suddenly, like thunderbolts and seemingly out of nowhere!

So where do our shooting ideas come from? Both the slowly appearing ideas as well as the suddenly-out-of-nowhere ideas?  Obviously, they come from within and without.  Sometimes, they seem to arrive purely from within-- regardless of whether that's 100% accurate or true -- while other times, they poke us from without. When they poke us from without, the pokes act like sparks or catalysts for spontaneous shooting ideas suddenly appearing from within, albeit prompted from without... if that makes sense.
 
There are some people who believe in "Divine Inspiration."  I'm guessing some photographers also believe in that notion. You know, that some creative ideas are "God-given."  Me? I don't believe in divine inspiration. Not even a little bit. In my mind, anyone waiting for divine inspiration for shooting ideas (or any other sorts of creative ideas) has a long wait in store for themselves.

Michelangelo, in my mind, was not divinely inspired to paint the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel. Instead, I'm confident it was the patronage of a pope that gave him the idea, at least in part, and motivated him with more earthly rewards.  Yeah, some of you might disagree -- in whole or in part -- but that's my opinion and I'm sticking with it.  I also don't believe God inspired Mikey to sculpt the Pietà. The Pietà is an extraordinary work of art, for sure. In fact, I once saw the Pietà when it was on display at the 1964 World's Fair in NY --  I'm that old, although I was quite young then -- and to this day I vividly remember it. But was it divinely inspired? Not in my book. IMO, any artist who claims their work is divinely inspired simply has a hyper-inflated sense of self-importance. There's probably a psycho-babble term for that, one with the word "syndrome" or "disorder" attached to the end of it, but I don't know what that term might be. I'm a photographer, dammit. Not a psycho-analyst.

Back to those non-divine sparks and catalysts for ideas that sometimes poke us: Do they accidentally poke? Are they lucky pokes? Does serendipity play a poking part? Do we need to be in the right places at the right times to be creatively and spontaneously poked?

Occasionally, I suppose, all those notions might be true. More often than not, though, I'm pretty sure we have to purposely look to be poked, i.e., we need to go a bit out of our way to make ourselves available for poking. You know, make ourselves open to pokes. Search them out. Being open to those often-elusive, inspirational, idea-generating pokes means putting ourselves in places, not just physical places (although certainly those too) but mental places where the creative pokes have a better chance of, well, poking us in ways that spark creative ideas.

And here's how you do it, leastwise, how I think it's done:

Step One: Hopefully, you already realize there's no such thing as a  bad creative idea. There are only creative ideas. Creative ideas, especially at first, aren't necessarily good or bad because those ideas come in a variety of degrees of completeness. What one person might think of as a bad idea another might perceive as being merely an incomplete idea or simply the germ of an idea. They're much like stepping-stone ideas. You know, creative ideas that might not seem like great ideas at first, on their own, but are still ideas that lead us to other ideas or bigger and better ideas... like a path or, well, like stepping stones.

Here's an uber-simple example: Your new idea is to shoot landscapes. Well gee! That's great. Isn't that special? Bonne idée, homme!  But as good an idea as that might sound, at least initially, it's an entirely incomplete idea. Generically, landscapes cover a lot of terrain. (Pun intended.)  Besides, to have the idea to begin shooting landscapes is, frankly, an idea about a gazillion other photographers have already had and a gazillion more will have. You see, your idea to shoot landscapes is only a good idea in terms of it being (sort of a ) stepping-stone idea. A poke, if you will.

To make your germ of an idea even better, how about narrowing things down a bit? How about shooting landscapes which feature beautiful rolling hills in the countryside? Okay. That might be a better idea. Not particularly original or seldom-seen but, at the very least, a little more complete.   So how about photographing rolling hills in the countryside all captured around dawn or dusk?  What if your dawn or dusk images of rolling hills in the countryside also include old abandoned barns, farmhouses, or other abandoned structures as thematic elements?  Now we're talking a more complete creative idea, a more narrowly focused idea. Perhaps even a better idea even if it's one we've all seen before. You get where I'm going with this?

Well, if not (or if so) I'll be back soon to expand on this subject a bit more. I'm still narrowing my focus for my follow-on update about being creatively poked and, as a result of such pokes, developing creative ideas that lead to creative images.

The gratuitous eye candy at the top is Devin. I snapped it in a residential house. It's a combination of a single strobe -- a monobloc modified with a 5' Photoflex Octo -- ambient, and window light. (Coming from a bank of overhead windows, framed out of the shot.)  ISO 100, f/3.5 @ 125th with a Canon 5D (classic) and an 85mm prime.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Vox Humana

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Photographers talk a lot about style, you know, personal style. So, what is personal style? Personal style is that part of a photograph which includes the photographer's biases, whether their biases are revealed by lighting styles or techniques, composition, personal commentary, and more. In other words, a photographer's personal style represents that part of their photography in which they have added their own voice. Their human voice. They're (hopefully) thoughtful and intentional voice. It's that thing referred to in Latin as their vox humana. A photographer's voice is not an audible voice, of course, but it can speak quite loudly and quite succinctly.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, vox humana became a popular term among church music aficionados. It referred to a specific reed in pipe organs of the day, one which produced a beautiful, vibrato, almost human-like sound. Later, the term took on another meaning, one used to describe an artist's style, that is, his or her artistic "voice."

Hmm... Latin, church organs, artist's voices, glamour photography?

In the arts, visual arts and otherwise, an artist's style or "voice" is considered a very important element of their work. It identifies them in many ways. That's because it's the one element of their work that sets them apart, to varying degrees, from other artists pursuing the same sorts of endeavors. Photography, like any other art form, can be highly competitive. Beyond a photographer's skill at networking, hustling, and schmoozing for work, i.e., clients, customers, art buyers, etc., a photographer's vox humana goes a long way towards making them, and their work, memorable and, quite possibly, in demand. For some, that is, those pursuing photography as all or part of their income, a resonating vox humana can be quite profitable as well.

In creative writing, for example, a writer's literary style, the way he or she constructs prose, is called his or her "writing voice" even though, again, no actual sounds are generated. (Unless, of course, the work is read aloud and the reader's human voice becomes inspired by the writer's soundless voice.) With creative writing, a personal, identifiable, and somewhat unique vox humana can be a truly awesome thing! (Provided that "voice" resonates in positive ways with readers.) It can not only be satisfying for both writers and readers, it can sell books and more! The same holds true for photographers, even glamour photographers, including that part about resonating... with viewers in photography's case.

Yep, a shooter's style, their "voice," their photographic voice can be an awesome thing. Some photographers truly make their photos sing in beautiful and meaningful ways. Look, I'm not trying to go all metaphorically philosophical on anyone but training and developing your photographic voice, a voice that resonates with viewers, one that produces pictures that sing, is a very positive thing, perhaps the most important thing many photographers can do. Like a singer practices and trains their voice, photographers should do the same... once they find their voice.

How does one develop their photographic vox humana? Certainly not by diction or singing lessons, that's for sure. In fact, I'm not sure it's something most photographers develop purposely and consciously. Instead, their style or voice seems to evolve on its own as the result of cumulative and eclectic, sometimes subconscious, retention by 1) viewing the work of others and 2) incorporating bits and pieces of the work of others in their own work. (Consciously or subconsciously.) 
What eventually emerges is one's own photographic style or voice. It may not always be especially unique and it's usually an amalgamation of other photographer's styles. Most often, it isn't a result of anyone's naturally-bestowed creative abilities. After all, it's that amalgamation of other photographers' styles and approaches which, when assembled together, consciously or subconsciously, becomes an individual shooter's style or voice. The good news is-- No natural endowments required.
 The gratuitous eye candy at the top is Jenna. I snapped it utilizing my usual glamour photography voice, i.e., making obvious use of edge-lighting and shooting from slightly below with an upward angle. That is how, at least in part, I most often talk "glam and tease" with my photographic vox humana. The pic is from a set shot on a small set in a studio. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Leading Lines and Visual Pathways

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Leading lines and visual pathways aren't just for when you're shooting in an environment that provides opportunities for incorporating such things into your photos. Leading lines and visual pathways aren't simply elements of a composition that are apart or separate from your models. Your models' poses can also provide leading lines and visual pathways.

So, what are leading lines and visual pathways?

Leading lines and visual pathways are elements in your composition that lead or direct viewers' eyes to the main subject of your glam (or any) portrait and they generally do so in powerful and aesthetically pleasing ways.  In other words, they either point to, lead, or direct, via pathways, to your subject (or to specific parts of your photo) and/or they improve the allure of your subjects, add visual excitement, and generally bestow a subtle sense of power to your models

Sure, adding allure and power to your subjects can be accomplished in other ways -- separating or "popping" them from the background via shallow depth of field and/or lighting, or with makeup, hair, and styling -- but with the addition of visual pathways and leading lines, viewers' eyes are led to your subjects in even more guaranteed ways. They can also move viewers' eyes around the model and to parts of them you want your viewers' eyes led to... if that makes sense.

Lines, as you're probably aware (or certainly should be aware) are one of the Six Elements of Design.  In photography, lines are the undisputed champs of those six elements. If you're not familiar with the Six Elements of Design, put your learning hat on and get cracking! You're a photographer, dammit, and I assume (like myself and many others) you're hoping to be all you can be as such. Learning the Six Elements of Design and purposely integrating them into your photos will help you become that much better of a shooter.  Guaranteed! (Where to find all you need to know about the Six Elements of Design? Google is your friend.)

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In glamour photography, the "S" curve (illustrated in the sample photo at the top) is probably the most commonly seen use of lines when shooting sexy models. The visual pathway created by a model making an "S" curve with her body adds plenty of allure to her image. Since I shot my model (in the photo above) against a seamless, there were no other lines in the shooting environment to take advantage of. That only left the model herself to create such lines.

In the photo on the right, also shot against a seamless, the model's arms are forming leading lines, diagonal lines, which help lead viewers' eyes (via visual pathways) to her pretty face. BTW, diagonal lines are generally considered the strongest of the strong, line-wise.

There are many elements to a photograph's composition. There are quite a few so-called Rules of Composition.  Those rules, of course, aren't set in stone. But they do provide excellent guidelines for enhancing the artistic look and feel of your images and are easily employed. Again, consider the photo above right. Besides using leading lines formed by the model's pose, I've also framed it in a way that utilized negative space as well as a nod to the Rule of Thirds. All those elements of composition, IMO, serve to enhance the image in positive ways.

Model photography isn't simply about shooting pretty, well-lit, women posing in various ways and in various stages of dress and undress. There are many elements of composition that can easily be utilized to improve your photos.  Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to learn all you can about these elements, in addition to lighting techniques, model interaction, and so much more. And, of course, once learned your job is to practice, practice, practice.

 

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Before Shooting Outside the Box...

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More than a few photographers proudly say they shoot "outside the box." I often wonder if they first made sure they even have an identifiable box before attempting to shoot outside of it. That is, did they spend any time figuring out the confines of *the* box or their box before (supposedly) shooting outside of it or claiming they've done so?

Shooting outside the box is a supremely vague statement. After all, there are boxes and there are boxes, metaphorically and physically speaking. Plus, if you say you're shooting outside the box, are you talking about some overall photography box or your own personal box? I hope it comes as no surprise that those two boxes are not one and the same, metaphorical dimensions wise.

The Overall Photography Box:  First off, I'm not sure such a thing exists -- my gut tells me it does not -- but, assuming it does, it's gotta be one, big, motherfracking box!  After all, photography has been around a long time. During that long time, many millions of people have tried their hands at being photographers of one sort (or at one level) or another. Each of those photographers had their own personal box so, if you consider how many boxes that represents and you could somehow consolidate them (and the gazillions of photos it represents) into one, big, overall box,  it would make a spectacularly huge, spacious, encompassing-an-incredible-amount-of-photography, box!

Your Personal Photography Box:  This is the box that truly matters. It's also the box nearly every photographer is referring to (whether they know it or not) when they say (or think) they're shooting outside the box. Whether it's a relatively small box or quite a large box doesn't matter much. It's their box and their box is what matters, whether they're shooting inside or outside of it, when they refer to the box.

How do you assess the metaphorical dimensions of your box? You know, in more practical and understandable terms than simply referring to it as such? (i.e., a poorly-defined, ambiguous or nebulous box?) That requires taking stock of your photography, your level of skill and experience, your creative abilities, and perhaps even the available tools you have to shoot pictures with in or out of your box. (Shooting outside of some boxes occasionally requires specialized tools. Shooting underwater photography would be way outside of my box, including having the appropriate photographic tools in my photographic tool box to do so.)

Your photography box is like a raw index including, but probably not limited to, your skill and know-how,  your level of experience, your ability to effectively engage in creative processes (internally), what you normally or mostly shoot, and more.

I've shot a ton of pretty girls in various stages of dress and undress. That's my box, for the most part. And I know my way around the inside of my box quite well. My glam-and-tease shooting box is more than familiar to me. I know it's dimensions well, even its little nooks and crannies. But if I start shooting, for instance, landscape photography -- something many, many, many other photographers do and do extremely well -- I'd be shooting outside my box. Wait. What? Landscape photography? That doesn't sound like shooting outside the box. Well, it is and it isn't. It certainly doesn't represent shooting outside photography's overall box but it definitely means I'd be shooting outside my personal box.

All the above and more is why I'm rather amused when I see or hear someone going on about their photography being "outside the box." Guess what? It isn't. I don't even have to view it to know it isn't. Such a person's photography might be less-seen -- and that can be a terrific thing -- but less-seen doesn't necessarily equate to being outside photography's universal box. It only means it's outside many photographer's boxes; but certainly not all or every photographer's box who's ever snapped a photo since Day One of photography.

I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade, I mean anyone's boxes, but c'mon! Let's get real. No one is truly shooting outside *the* box. No one. Claiming you are doing so is simply a smug, arrogant, high-handed, pretentious, Donald Trump-like way of describing your photographic accomplishments and shooting styles.

The image at the top is sort of semi-outside my personal box.  It's within my box in terms of the subject being a female model. But it's outside my box in many other ways, not just in terms of wardrobe, setting, pose, expression, and general emotional content, but also from a more technical perspective. I don't often, for instance, use a 50mm normal lens when shooting models. I definitely don't utilize an effects type of filter in front of my lenses too often, in this case a Tiffen Pro-Mist filter to give the image a soft, hazy, slightly-glowing-highlights and somewhat ethereal look and feel.




Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Post-Production Detachment

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When I'm shooting, I'm intensely involved. Later, when I'm reviewing, editing, and processing the photos I've snapped, I'm mostly detached.

Detachment is defined as a state of being objective or aloof. Being detached from your work, leastwise the post-production part of your work, allows you to step back and view your work from further away-- not from physically further away, but emotionally, artistically, creatively, and intellectually further away. And that's a good thing.

When I'm shooting, many (if not most) of the decisions I make are subjective. Part of the reason for that subjectivity is time, that is, the time constraints associated with production. In other words,  I don't have time to sit back and objectively (in a detached and aloof manner) think about all my shooting decisions while I'm shooting.  Instead, I direct models into various poses and expressions and quickly frame each shot in ways that I think, subjectively think in those moments, look good.  What looks good in those moments are based on near instantaneous decisions; decisions which are mostly subjective. Decisions driven by what I "think" looks good. In the moment. Subjectively.

There's a great line in the movie, "Predator," when, after Arnold's commandos come into contact with the flick's title character, someone points out to Jesse Ventura's character, Blain, that he's bleeding. "I ain't got time to bleed," Blain calmly replies. Shooting is like that. When I'm shooting -- and this is probably true for most of you -- I ain't got time to be objective.

Post-production is a whole different matter. In post, I have time to be objective, as does mostly everyone. And being objective requires a certain amount of detachment and aloofness.  Have you ever snapped an image and, after quickly chimping it on the back of your camera, you became truly excited about the cool and killer pic you just snapped?  Sure you have. We all have. We all make those subjective sorts of quick decisions while we're shooting. But then, later on, when reviewing the photos and you come to that one killer shot, you objectively realize it's neither a killer image or, perhaps, one that's even going to make it past the cut?  Yeah. That's happened to me too, often enough. Probably to you as well.

Being emotionally, artistically, creatively, and intellectually detached from your photos when later reviewing and processing them is a good thing. A very good thing. I might even go so far as to say it's a required thing. It's not difficult to fall in love with some of our shots when we're snapping them, and to have that "love," whatever it was initially based on, continue on into the post processes. Unfortunately, that's not generally a good thing. Worse, it can sometimes lead us to painting lipstick on pigs or frosting turds all because we fell in love with one pic or another, for one reason or another during the subjective stage of picture making (production), and then we're unable  -- again, for one reason or another -- to let go of that love during post, i.e., during the time when we should be in our detached and objective stages of picture making.

Just some thoughts on detachment, that is, being detached when working on our pics in post.






Saturday, August 01, 2015

Flash Shooter's Bible

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My good buddy, photographer Ed Verosky, has just released a most excellent new ebook: Ed Verosky's Guide to Flash Photography.  Yeah, yeah. I know. There's more than a few ebooks on flash photography out there. But if any one of them rightfully deserves to be called a "flash shooter's bible," it's this one.

Like me, Ed is a big advocate for keeping the tech stuff simple and, in his new ebook, he makes the case (successfully, in my opinion) for standardization being added to your flash-shooting, production-workflow, bag-of-tricks. Standardization isn't a trick or tricky, of course, in or out of a bag.  Rather, it's a way of simplifying and making more efficient most all of your flash photography portrait work, whether you're shooting glamour or most any other sorts of portraits.

Ed's first flash photography ebook, 100% Reliable Flash Photography, a book he released 5 or so years ago, has sold a whopping (I shit you not) 50,000+ copies! That's a number that would easily qualify it for the non-fiction best-seller list over at Amazon. Course, there's a reason Ed has sold so many copies-- Cream rises to the top!

Now, for his new book, Ed Verosky's Guide to Flash Photography,  Ed has skimmed the cream-of-the-cream from his first cream-filled flash photography ebook and added a whole bunch more. More cream, that is. Top rising cream.

Hey! If you're struggling with flash photography or hoping to ^^^UP^^^ your flash-shooting game, this book is the one you've been looking and hoping for.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Ed's terrific new ebook.

Photo at the top is one I snapped of the Goddess of Glam, Tera Patrick, for her Mistress Couture line of lingerie and other clothing. It was shot in the living room of Tera's house between the stairway and what I kept jokingly referring to as her 'phallic phountain.'

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Retirement Enigma

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These days, I'm mostly retired from professional photography. I say "mostly retired" because I still work occasionally, but I do so way less than I did just a year or two ago. Way. Less.To paraphrase The Princess Bride's Miracle Max-- There's a big difference between mostly retired and all retired. Mostly retired is slightly still not retired. With all retired, well, with all retired there's usually only one thing you can do.

Apparently, that one thing isn't happening for me. Leastwise, not the way I thought it would happen.  What is that one thing I'm talking about that I thought would happen once I was mostly retired?  I thought I'd be a much more productive hobby shooter.

When I was still working regularly as a shooter-for-hire, my photography life was 80% or 90% shooting for pay and 10% to 20% shooting for fun.  Let's call it 80/20 shooting-for-pay versus shooting-for-fun. You know, for the sake of simplicity.

Once I became mostly retired, I figured those numbers would flip the other way around, i.e., they'd become 80% shooting-for-fun and 20% shooting-for-pay and they'd do so all on their own, nearly automatically and just like magic!  I mean, I have plenty of time on my hands. Plenty! So, time isn't a factor. I also have all the gear I need and more. Plus, I have enough money to live on because A) I paid plenty into Social Security for a big chunk of my life and B) I have a private pension annuity from those 15 years I spent as a spoke on a corporate wheel. (Well, not a full spoke but a partial corporate spoke nonetheless.)

Sounds like everything should have fallen into place, right?

Nope.

It hasn't worked out that way.

The 20% part where I earn some extra dough from shooting is fairly accurate but the 80% part? The 80% that has me shooting-for-fun or for artistic reward? That part? The dedicated hobby photographer part? Hasn't. Fucking. Happened.

My hopeful transition from shooting chicks wearing few if any clothes to more lofty and artistic -- at least in my mind -- photo pursuits remains mostly in my head. It seems to exist only in the fantasy realms of my mind and not in actual reality. Why? So far, I haven't a clue. (Well, I've had clues but none of them panned out into something more than a clue... they've been false or partial clues at best.)

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It's not that I can't think of anything to shoot. I have tons of ideas for stuff I want to shoot. And most of them don't require a model so I can't blame this personal enigma on not having a physical muse or two. My ideas, for the most part, only require me and my camera (and a few specific props for some of it) heading out to some places where the right backdrops and environments for the stuff I want to shoot exists. And many of those places are fairly short drives from where I reside in Southern California.

Lately, I've been reading different books in hopes of discovering WTF is wrong with me. These books target the creative process, not the retirement process. I don't need any help learning how to be retired, semi-retired or otherwise. That part is a no brainer. As I mentioned, I have enough money to live coming in. The annuity arrives on the 1rst of each month and Social Security on the 3rd Wednesday of each month. And they both do so like clockwork. It's certainly not beaucoup  money but it's more than enough for me to live on without having to eat dog food or mooch off my family while still having some leftover for doing fun stuff... which I rarely do but that's \another story. (One that's probably related to my lack of hobby shooting but I'm not going to worry about that aspect of this personal quandary right now.)  Nope.  Money, or lack of it, is not my problem. Neither is time or ideas. Instead, my problem is being photographically active in my semi-retirement, that is, why I'm not being so.

The current book I'm reading is by well-known American dancer, choreographer, and author, Twyla Tharp. It's called, "The Creative Habit." It was recommended by a friend and it has a title that instantly interested me. "The Creative Habit." Yep. That's what I need to do, I need to get into a creative habit. That same sort of creative habit that was easy to have when people were paying me to  be creative with a camera. (Not that my creativity was their #1 reason for hiring me, but that's another subject. One I believe I've covered before on this blog. Probably more than once.)

Anyway, I'm only three or four chapters into Ms. Tharp's book. In fact, I was just reading more of it today while eating sushi for lunch. Tuesdays, you see, are Sushi-for-lunch days for me. It's become a habit for me to eat sushi on Tuesdays.  I'm not sure how I got into that habit other than I love sushi. But habitually eating it for lunch on Tuesdays? Which I've been doing for a while now?  Go figure. It just happened.

During today's "The Creative Habit," sushi-accompanied, reading time, Ms. Tharp detailed a number of "fears" that artists and creatives seem to have. Fears that keep them from acting on their creative impulses. Fears that get in the way of creating. Well, none of the fears she listed were fears that I was hearing about for the first time. Worse, none of those fears seem to describe my personal problem in this matter, i.e.,  whatever it is that's getting in the way of me creatively producing. Not one. Not even close. Not even a little bit.

My sense of optimism -- I'm probably one-third an optimistic person, one-third pessimistic, and the final third a jaded and cynical person -- is telling me to keep reading. It's saying, "Dude! You're only three or four chapters in. Give it a chance!"  And I will. I'll definitely give it that chance. But I'm also becoming a bit concerned that, much like the other books I've recently read on this or very similar subjects, I'm going to finish reading the book and still come up empty. I'll still be wondering why  I can't seem to make this (seemingly easy) transition from pro shooting to hobby shooting.  And let me say this about hobby shooting: I'm way more excited, photographically speaking, regarding what I might produce as a hobby shooter than I ever was while producing photos as a full-time working shooter. And that excitement is mostly because I don't have someone with a checkbook telling what and what not to shoot or how to shoot it. Not technical "hows" but... you know what I mean.

Anyway, whatever the major malfunction to my creative wiring might be that's currently getting in my way still baffles and eludes me. It's not like I can take some pills for it. And that's a total fucking bummer!  I'd eat such pills in a heartbeat if "get creative" pills like that existed. Also, please don't anyone tell me to just "Do it!" or some other familiar and oft-said, home-spun, Mom or Dad-ism.  If it were that simple, this wouldn't be a problem.  Plus, I have said to myself "Just do it, Jimmy!" I've said it a bunch of times and guess what?  I still didn't.  I mean, WTF???

The gratuitous eye candy I've posted with this rather pathetic, woe-is-me/all-about-me update is Daisy. In the pic at the top, Daisy is non-verbally telling me something in response to what I just said to her, whatever that might have been. I often have that sort of effect on the models I shoot.





 




Saturday, July 25, 2015

Shoot For the Masses, Not the Asses

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Years ago, someone gave me this advice regarding my photography:  "Shoot for the masses, not the asses."  It stuck with me.

More recently, I was reminded of another bit of not-so-Earth-shattering yet still an on-point morsel of commercial wisdom: "Always give the audience their money's worth."

So, what do those two gems, if gems they are, mean in more specific and useable terms?

1) If you're goals are to shoot for a living, even if it's just part of your living, your photography -- that is, your style, look, approach, etc. -- should appeal to a wider group of people rather than a narrower group. Your genre of pursuit doesn't really make much difference. It doesn't matter if you're shooting wedding and event photography, family, kid, and baby portraits, business portraiture, or glamour and tease. I'm not advocating abandoning your creative and artistic approaches. They might be terrific with lots of appeal. But the key words there are "lots of appeal" and "lots of appeal" means shooting for the masses.  If you want to achieve some measure of success shooting for pay, you're way more apt to achieve it by shooting for the masses rather than the asses. (Not that people who appreciate truly different and out of the ordinary stuff are necessarily asses but.... well, you know what I mean. Leastwise, I hope you do. If not, figure it out.)

2) Giving your audience their money's worth means shooting pics that are in line with what they expect; they being your primary audience, i.e., your clients and customers. No one, leastwise very few clients, are hiring you as an artist. They might see your work as art or artistic and they might refer to you as an artist but clients and customers are rarely actual art patrons whether they might think they are or not. (Actual art patrons go to galleries, for example, and view and sometimes buy art. Your wedding photography probably won't ever hang in a gallery.)

Instead, your customers are hiring you as a photographer. That's not to say they don't and won't appreciate artistic touches and flourishes in your work but, bottom line, they're consumers of photography and those consumers want what they want when hiring you and what they want is rarely, if ever, art. (In the traditional sense of what constitutes art.)

Even if they're not always able to accurately verbalize their expectations -- many of them have a "I'm not completely sure what I want but I have a rough idea and I'll know it when I see it," notion of what they're looking. That notion is rarely one that includes the photographer they're hiring going outside the commercial, wedding, baby pics box and producing "art," per se, on their, the client's, dime. P.S. While a big part of your audience might be your Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, or other social media followers, they're not your primary audience. If you want to impress them with your "art," shoot that art on your own time and your own dime. Know who your most important audience is!  That most important audience, if you need a bit of an explanation, is your paying customers and not your social media followers.

The high-key snapped pretty girl at the top is Kayla Jane Danger.  In the vernacular of Jersey Boys, Kayla is a pisser!  I'm a Jersey Boy, BTW. I was born and raised in North Jersey and proud of it! (That's New Jersey, USA for those of you who don't live in the USA and may not know what I'm referring to.)  A pisser, if you don't know, is a good thing. A pisser is someone who is funny, often outrageous (in good ways), and very entertaining. As an example of Kayla's status as a pisser, check out this very recent article and video on the Huffington Post. You'll see what I mean about Kayla being a pisser. Kayla-Jane Danger Builds Darth Vader Using Sex Toys


Friday, July 17, 2015

The Eyes Have It

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The late, great, British actor, Sir Laurence Olivier, was once asked what makes for great acting? "It's all in the eyes," he answered.

When it comes to models and modeling, glamour or otherwise, the same holds true. What makes for great modeling? It's all in the eyes. Our human eyes are often more expressive than our words, our intonations, our body language, our actions, and more.

When I'm editing, going through the individual captures in a set I've shot and, assuming the model's eyes are featured prominently in many of the images, I'm most often drawn to those pics in which the model has used her eyes most expressively and effectively. No matter how cool the pose might be or how beautiful the model's face or awesome her body, her eyes generally trump most everything else. A lot of the direction I give models have much to do with getting the model to speak loudly with her eyes.

Sure, most of what I shoot is glam and tease, often with heavy emphasis on the tease part, and that means I'm looking for my models to project similarly with their poses and expressions. One direction I regularly give glam/tease models is, "Show me your best 'come fuck me' look."  I'm not trying to be coarse or vulgar when I say that. I'm being direct, albeit in a decidedly non-PC way. (Hey! It's how I roll.)  More often than not, after giving that direction the biggest component of the model's response will be projected by her eyes, in this case eye expressions that leave little doubt to what they're saying. For glam/tease photography, that's a good thing. Again, heavy emphasis on the tease part.

I'm not suggesting everyone should use that sort of frankness when directing models.  I don't say those words to all my models because I'm intuitive enough (and have worked with enough models) to know when that particular direction, in those words, will be received the way it's intended -- non-threateningly and purely to elicit certain expressions -- and when it won't. But when I do use those words or similar, some models become nearly instantly devastatingly sexy when they turn their headlights on in ways designed to turn others on. Often, just when I thought a model couldn't be any more sexier, that direction proves me wrong.

The language of our eyes can be very subtle, to be sure. Sometimes, they're not easily understood. Take the most famous painting ever produced: DaVinci's Mona Lisa. For centuries, people have been trying to decipher DaVinci's model's expression. What makes her enigmatic expression so... enigmatic?  Well, it's her eyes more than anything else.

Course, when I'm photographing glam/tease models in various stages of dress and undress, I'm not looking for enigmatic expressions. I'm not looking for too much subtlety in their poses and expression either. Instead, I'm generally looking to elicit straight-forward, leave-little-to-doubt, expressions from my models.  And we know what those expression I'm looking for are meant to say-- come fuck me.  I am shooting commercial glam and tease after all, commercial glam/tease with a purpose and not a particularly artistic purpose. Just because I add artistic photographic elements to some of my photos, it doesn't mean I'm shooting art per se.

The pretty girl at the top is Alexa, snapped on a studio set. I had two lights working there. For my main light, a 5' Photoflex Octo set camera-right for some Rembrandt style lighting, plus a small-ish rectangular soft box, boomed overhead from slightly behind the model to help separate her from the background and add highlight accents on her hair and shoulders. I think her expression says what I wanted it to say, and a lot of it, make that most of it, is being said with her eyes.


Sunday, July 05, 2015

Pretty Picture Syndrome / Meaningful Picture Syndrome

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Oh boy. I'm thinking about this art stuff again. This time, contemplating the tech of photography and how it coexists with the art of photography.

In my mind, there are two, overall and general, types of photographers: Those who place most of their emphasis on the technical side of photography and those who place greater emphasis on photography's artistic possibilities. Here's how I define the two:

1. Tech-driven shooters, for the most part, strive to give exceptional and memorable form to outer realities via gear and technique. I call that "Pretty Picture Syndrome." (PPS)

2. Artistically-minded shooters strive to give exceptional and memorable form to inner realities. Often, but not always of course, without calling on high-end gear and techniques to do so.  I call this one "Meaningful Picture Syndrome." (MPS)

(Note: I'm not using the word, "syndrome," to infer some sort of mental case disease or condition as components of those definitions. Course, if the crazy shoes fit then, by all means, go ahead and wear them. You won't be alone.)

Some photographers, of course, can combine PPS and MPS in terrific ways. Those photographers are are in less abundance in today's world abundantly filled with photographers.  They've always been rarer, if truth be known.

Neither types of shooters (nor their approaches to photography) are inherently right or wrong. (Or represent a mental disorder, as mentioned.) They're simply different. Both types of photographers can and do create art, intentionally or otherwise.  Leastwise, photos that viewers might perceive as art. (But what do they know?) The big difference between the two is mostly where and how each searches for image possibilities, i.e., where and what to point their cameras at, coupled with how they will record/capture what their cameras are pointed at.

Photographers aren't exclusively of one type or the other. Photography is equal parts science and art, after all -- the science of photography representing the yin to the art of photography's yang --  but I do believe many photographers, perhaps most, choose, whether consciously or not, to place greater emphasis on one of those yin/yang elements over the other.

These days, as many camera and gear manufacturers and sellers are happy to report, it appears the majority of photographers have more interests in producing memorable work via the science and tech of photography (making pretty pictures via gear and technique) rather than focusing on photography's artistic possibilities, i.e., making meaningful pictures with or without the added help of higher-end creative tools and processes. Again, nothing necessarily wrong with either approach or their results. They both can and often do produce awesome photos.

There are, of course, external influences which might mitigate a photographer's abilities to lean one way or the other. Often, those external influences are called customers or clients. A wedding photographer, for example, probably won't win much favor with his or her customers/clients if every wedding shot they capture looks a bit like abstract art.  A few shots of that sort might put smiles on the faces of those customers but probably not so if all the wedding shots are snapped that way  producing those sorts of results.

I think it might be not be a bad idea for photographers to do a bit of self-assessing regarding this notion of PPS and MPS. I've tried doing that for me by evaluating my own photography from these two perspectives. I've come to the conclusion, non-scientifically of course, that I'm somewhere around 70% a PPS shooter and 30% and MPS guy.  I've also come to the conclusion that those numbers don't represent an optimum ratio for myself or anyone else. 

It seems to me the ideal ratio -- much the way photography itself is 50/50 science and art -- is a 50/50 emphasis on both tech and art. In other words, whatever you might be photographing deserves fairly equal treatment in terms of your technical approach-- choice of camera, lens, exposure, and more, coupled with your nods to art and aesthetics, meaning and emotion and that stuff-- e.g., composition, shooting angles, (again) exposure, emphasis and non-emphasis on selective elements within the frame, and more. That's not to say a mostly technical shooter's work is void of aesthetics and meaning but, generally, one quick glance at almost any photo will tell you which emphasis (gear and technique versus meaning and emotion) was most important to the photographer who snapped it. 

The pretty girl in the side-by-side same-frame images at the top is Sunny. I don't often apply composite elements to my photos mostly because I suck at it, not having much in the way of skills in doing so. But, the background at the studio where I snapped the image seemed to beg for a bit of something extra-- something a touch more artsy and, perhaps, aesthetically pleasing, while possssibly generating slightly more emotional content... not that Sunny's form, her outer reality that is,  isn't aesthetically pleasing all on its own if you get my drift. 



Monday, June 29, 2015

You Don't Need to be Creative to Make Art

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I see plenty of photographic images which, in my mind, qualify as being "art" but aren't especially creative. (If they're creative at all.)  In fact, there seems to be two kinds of artists and art: creative artists/art and not particularly creative artists/art.  Neither is more or less qualified as "artists" or "art" than the other. They're just... different. Different kinds of art, that is.

I should mention there's a difference, in my mind, between "creative art" and the "creative process."  Artists who make art with photographs often make art that isn't particularly creative, per se, although they use creative tools and creative processes to make their not-particularly-creative-art into, well, art.  But just because someone uses creative tools and processes to make art, it doesn't automatically follow that the art they're making represents creative art. It might still be art, of course, just not creative art. In other words, all art isn't a product of creativity. All art might be products of creative processes but creativity? I don't think so.

Art that is truly creative is less seen, different, or unique art. Art that is not less seen, different, or unique, however, can still be art. Good art. Great art. Inspiring art! It just isn't particularly creative art. Not really.

Truly creative art represents a much smaller percentage of all that is art, whether it's good art or something else. How many truly artsy photos of, for example, sunsets have you seen?  Were any of them art? I'll bet more than a few of them qualified as art in your mind and many people's minds, more so when the image is blown up, printed, framed, and hung on a wall. The fact that we've all seen plenty of sunset art means that sunset art, as a rule, isn't particularly creative; you know, it isn't less seen, different, or unique. In fact, it can border on common and being down-right pedestrian yet it's still art. Go figure, right?

Picasso was a creative artist. His art was definitely less seen, different, and unique. Dali's art was the same way-- different and unique. Yet Rembrandt's art wasn't particularly less seen, different, and unique but it is still thought of as some of the best art ever produced. Again, go figure.

Art it seems, much like beauty, is in the eyes of its beholders. (After all, everyone's a critic.) And art's beholders don't necessarily consider honest-to-God creativity to be much of a requirement for art to be classified as "art," even great art. That's why some photographers, perhaps many, can make art, real art, that isn't particularly creative. (Good news for many, right?) Although creativity isn't a requirement for great art, great art still needs to exhibit excellent and skillful creative processes employed in its making, at least for the most part. (Which, alas, might be bad news for some.)

Anyway, just some thoughts on art and creativity not being all inclusive or inseparable, except for when it is.

The gratuitous eye candy at the top is Joanna Angel. For me, the photo doesn't represent much in the way of creativity nor do I see it as art, per se. (Unless I consider the Art of the Tease as being legitimate art.) I still snapped the picture, however, utilizing some of the very same creative processes often used for making actual art, creative art or otherwise. Plus, I think I captured it with a certain level of artist-like skill if I do say so myself. Course, that's not really my call to make, everyone being a critic and all.

The pic was shot in a studio called The "Goat House" in North Hollywood, CA. The Goat House was so named because it's located adjacent to a Los Angeles city animal shelter and, out back of the shelter, next to the Goat House's rear parking lot, there are barnyard animals often kept and wandering around. I lit Joanna with three light sources: a 5' Photoflex Octo for my main, just slightly camera-right, and a pair of Chimera medium strip boxes, either side, from slightly behind her off to each side. ISO 100, f/5.6, 125th with an 85mm prime on my Canon 5D (classic.)


Monday, June 22, 2015

Photography of the Gods?

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Mark Twain once wrote, “Faith is believing something you know ain't true."

Faith, of course, is having trust, hopes and beliefs in someone or something. Faith often requires believing in someone or something which may or may not have any real, tangible, or scientific proof to back up those beliefs. Yet, even when faith has little to no corroborating evidence to substantiate its lofty claims, faith remains one of the most powerful human forces on the planet!

Some say you can move mountains with faith. I've yet to see anyone actually do that (except with a whole lot of earth moving equipment and lots of time to do so) but truth, no matter how allegorical or far-fetched, never seems to get in faith's way or in people's abilities and willingness to have faith in things that are, for the most part, impossible or highly improbable.

Remember the children's book, “The Little Engine That Could?” It's all about faith. It's a simple book designed to teach kids the value of  mountain-moving faith, leastwise mountain-climbing faith. In other words, faith in themselves and believing in their abilities and potentials. I 100% endorse teaching kids to believe in themselves and in what they might accomplish.  But that sort of belief goes beyond simple faith.

Mark Twain, as you likely already know, wasn't speaking about photography with his observation about faith – I'm pretty sure he was talking about things like politics and religion – but his words ring true even if you apply them to photography, certainly to photography gear.

These days, perhaps more so than at any time in the history of photography, many photographers seem to have incredibly deep faith in the belief that the best or the priciest or most popular gear, be it the latest cameras, glass, lights, or the newest software, will somehow make them better photographers, automatically yielding better pictures. Personally, I believe that requires a whole lot of faith in tools and machines and, often, at the expense of faith in one's self.

Obviously, there are cameras and lenses and more which help photographers deliver technically superior photographs. But, as famed photographer Andreas Feininger once noted, "Technically perfect photographs can be the world’s most boring pictures."

I'm not saying gear can't be a terrific help in our quests to produce better, make that more technically perfect photos. It certainly can be. (If that's what you're after.) Instead, I'm saying that overly relying on gear and software and expecting those tools to automatically make us better photographers and produce more memorable photographs simply ain't going to happen, I don't care how much faith you have in your gear.

Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer, wrote, “Faith is an oasis in the heart which can never be reached by the caravan of thinking.” It seems to me many photographers have that sort of faith when it comes to new and more technologically advanced gear. If they did not, so many of them wouldn't be lined up like caravans to purchase the latest in cameras, lights, computers and software, and gadgets and gizmos which promise to fulfill some carefully and intentionally marketed faith in said gear.

There are many apostles of gear and they are, of course, the manufacturers and marketing and sales people who hope to sell you all those faith-inspiring cameras and lenses and lights and digital
effects software and more. The apostles of gear often go to extraordinary lengths to foster and promote your faith in the gear they're touting. They do so with varying degrees of actual proof to back their claims, sometimes attempting it with little more than their word for it or the words of paid shills, I mean compensated apostles. You know,  famous or well-known photographers vouching for the products they're paid to tout, providing testimonials, honest or otherwise, to those products' divine powers by showing you photos snapped with the gear they're touting, photos that you or I may never be able to shoot for a variety of reasons which have nothing to do with the gear those apostles were using.

If photography had its own bible, it would include the Books of Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, and more. And like the actual bible, it would hope to convince you that the path to photo heaven lies in embracing, revering, believing-in and worshiping their divine products. "Put no camera before me." ~Canon or Nikon apostle. They, the apostles, would each tell you they are revealing “the truth,” even though that truth, according to each book, is comprised of worshiping and having faith in a different manufacturer or product. That truth, of course, is according to themselves and presented in ways that sets their words, and the use of their gear, as gospel.

Unfortunately for most photographers -- and fortunately for most manufacturers of photo products --   faith in gear isn't all that hard of a sell. The apostles of gear are well aware the masses of photographers yearn for this sort of faith. So many of the world's photographers, certainly those with less experience, hope their prayers for better and more god-like gear and tools will be answered and,  by embracing those god-like tools, they will be spirited ever closer to photo-heaven, a place where every photographer shoots nothing but awesome pics. The believers seek the light, the metaphorical light, of photo-Nirvana which that light symbolizes per the words of the photo-gear apostles and the gear they evangelize.

All this gear-evangelizing is likely the reason so many believers, i.e., so many of the faithful, continue to make offerings to the photo-gods by purchasing the many products the photo-gods send from photo-heaven. Many mere mortal photographers, certainly those amongst the faithful, tend to worship those products as gifts from the photo-gods' bounties. The faithful often come to believe that they, being the worthiest of aspiring photographers, have been personally chosen and invited to sit and partake of the photo-gods' bountiful tables.

Far be it for me to commit heresy and blaspheme or question the wisdom of the photo-gods and their apostles of faith-in-gear, but it seems to me the one true god of photography abides, if it abides at all, within you and not in your gear.

Temet Nosce.

That's Latin for "Know Thyself." I invoke the language of my ancestors, me being of Italian heritage and all, because I firmly believe that in ourselves, not our gear, our best work resides.

Speaking of gods, the pretty girl at the top, Ms. Tera Patrick, is a model who has been dubbed the Goddess of Glam by photographers and others... photographers and others other than myself, that is. But I totally agree with the moniker. If you're a glamour photographer, you'll have a hard time finding a glamour model who better fits that holy handle.