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?


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.