Monday, October 12, 2015

Luck is a Skill

Click to Enlarge
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

Click to Enlarge
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!

Click to Enlarge
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.