Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Gods Finally Cut Me Some Slack

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In my last update, I lamented and bemoaned the problems I'd been having trying to put together a shoot for my friends at Innovatronix, Inc. Well, this past Sunday -- wonders upon wonders -- it suddenly felt like miracles do happen. I was finally able to complete the shoot!  But once again, it almost did not happen... which would have made it 5 weekends in a row my planned shoot would have been scuttled, either by flaky models or inclement weather. 

Here's how it almost didn't happen, again: I booked yet another model for this past Sunday. A very pretty one-time Penthouse Pet of the Month. I'm not going to name names but on Friday she seemed very eager and enthusiastic to do the shoot. I told her I'd be calling her the following day to discuss call-time, wardrobe, and other stuff. The next day comes and guess what? She didn't return my calls or texts.  By evening, I was near-totally convinced this shoot was completely jinxed!

I called my friend -- a friend who is also a client, one who has hired me many times in the past and who continues hiring me -- who had volunteered to shoot the behind-the-scenes video for this project. I told him the bad news. He reminded me that he would not be available the following weekend if the shoot had to be pushed back again. Oh great! Yet another problem. Again, the word "jinxed" popped into my head... and I'm not an overly superstitious person!

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But then my friend said, "You remember my friend, Robert, right?"  I said that I did. "Well, his girlfriend does some modeling. And she's pretty hot. You want me to call Robert and ask him to ask her if she's interested?"  I absolutely wanted him to call because I absolutely did not want to postpone the shoot for yet another week, which could easily turn into a two week postponement.  To make a long story short, by 10 PM or so Saturday night, and after I spoke with Robert's girlfriend about what we'd be shooting, a call-time, transportation, makeup and wardrobe,  Robert's girlfriend, Zoey, was locked-in to do the shoot. Well, theoretically locked-in, models being models and all... friend of a friend's girlfriend notwithstanding.

Now, all Zoey had to do was show up at the designated time and place. 

And show up she did! Early, in fact! So, by 11 AM on Sunday we all had hooked up at the designated meeting spot and began our hour-and-a-half trek out to Southern California's Antelope Valley and on into the Western regions of the Mojave Desert. Our destination was an off-road location I was familiar with -- one that featured the time-worn remains of a stone dwelling --  a location that is very near California's Saddle Back Butte State Park.

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In all, the shoot went terrifically!  I wish there was less wind and more interesting skies and clouds but you can't always have it all. I was happy to finally be shooting this project. I'm also happy to report that the Tronix Explorer 500Li, their newest and most recently developed and released portable power unit (that I was trying out at the request of the good folks at Innovatronix) performed like a champ!

I used the 500Li to power a Photogenic 600ws monobloc. The Photogenic 600 is a heavy beast that spits out a lot of light. I needed plenty of light output to balance with and/or overcome the harsh desert sun. That's why I chose the Photogenic 600 from among my other strobes for this shoot. It's the most powerful monobloc I own, and I have about a half dozen monoblocs.

The 500Li + the strobe were definitely up to the task. I had metered the daylight in front of the model and, for most of the time we shot, the ambient in front of her was a bit more than f/11. There were no shady areas to shoot in, leastwise where I could have the sun behind the model for some back-lighting. Also, the sky was bright and boring and I didn't want blow it out. (Nor areas of the background). So, my exposure for much of the shoot was f/13 at 250th, ISO 100. I wasn't interested in blurring the background with shallow DOF because I wanted to connect the model to the environment, i.e.,  I wanted the pics to reveal the desolate desert in the BG, seeing it all the way to the far off mountains.

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I used my Canon 70-200 f/4 non-IS L on my Canon 5D2 for the entire shoot. I also used a 3' Photek Softlighter to modify the strobe and soften the light just a bit. It was quite windy out there the entire  time we shot. I needed to hang the 10 lb. Tronix 500Li from the stand by it's carrying bag, plus I used two 25 lb. sand bags all to keep the stand/strobe/mod upright in the wind. Even still, I was somewhat anxious that it would be blown over and the flash tube would break. I had a spare strobe with me but it was a 300ws monobloc and, if i had to use it, I would have had to change my approach, both from a lighting and exposure point of view.  I didn't have a spare flash tube for the Photogenic.

The Photogenic 600 was set to full power almost the entire time we shot. (In order to get f/13 at ISO 100 from the modified strobe in bright desert daylight with all the sand and rocks also acting like reflectors.)  The Tronix 500Li delivered about 350 to 400 full-power pops, plus or minus.  I'm not sure of the exact flash count since I deleted  a number of snaps during the shoot, mostly for blinks or when the model's hair, courtesy of the wind, suddenly covered most all of her face when I pressed the shutter. I was shooting RAW + Large Fine JPGs and wanted to insure I had enough card space with me. In all, I shot (and kept) about 10GBs of picture files. 

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Recycle time with the 500Li powering the strobe was not appreciably different than if the strobe was plugged into AC. And the recycle times didn't slow-- i.e. they remained the same as the battery was draining and until the batteries were completely depleted. The 500Li comes with two, quickly interchangeable, L-ion batteries. So, when the first one is done -- it sounds a beep when it's fully drained --  you easily and quickly remove the first battery out of the unit and pop the other one in. The batteries themselves are each about 5"x5"cubes. The entire unit is about a 10"x10" cube.

Zoey was an absolute trooper throughout the shoot. She maintained an exceptionally positive attitude. She never hinted at a complaint about the wind or the less-than-comfortable surroundings. She remained enthusiastic and just a delight to work with the entire time we were there.  When I handed her that vintage Super-8 camera to use as a prop for a few shots, she said, "Wow! This is what people used to use to shoot videos with?"  I guess you have to be old to appreciate the humor in that. Or not.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Gods Must Be Crazy!

The gods, the photo gods, must be crazy mad at me... for something. I have no clue what that something might be but, whatever it is, they're making me crazy with their craziness aimed at me!

For weeks now, I've been trying to get a specific shoot done. But the gods seem to have other plans for my shoot. They have been consistently messing with me, sabotaging my shoot either with flaky models, people's schedules, or rain.

A bit of background: About a month or so ago, the good folks at Innovatronix, Inc.  offered to let me take their latest portable power device, the Tronix Explorer 500Li, for a test spin. "Absolutely! I'd love to!" I told them. "Could you have someone video tape the shoot while your'e using our product?" They asked. I told them of course I could. Some BTS footage? No problemo.  (BTS = Behind the Scenes in case you weren't aware.)

Always good to their word -- I've had a terrific working relationship with Innovatronix for a number of years now -- they quickly shipped me the product. Unpacking it, I immediately saw some big changes they've made from their other portable power devices, most of which I'm fairly well acquainted with.  First off, it's smaller, sleeker, and lighter than many of their other power products. Plus, it came with two -- not one but two! -- easily and quickly interchangeable Li-ion batteries. I have to admit, while unpacking it I became instantly impressed with their new design right down to the bright green trim on the unit. Right out of the box, this baby looks and feels like a robust and reliable professional piece of gear.

After charging both batteries, I decided to fire a few test "pops" with one of my monoblocs. I decided to use my (kind of older) Photogenic 600ws studio strobe. Why? Because it's the most powerful of all the monolights in my kit, and I have about a half-dozen monolights in my kit. This particular Photogenic is a beast! It's heavy and ugly but puts out a lot of light.  To remind myself how long it takes the Photogenic 600 to recycle at full power, I first plugged it into an AC outlet and fired away with  it. It recycles quite quickly, just as I recalled -- haven't used it in a while -- even at full power. (Course, I wouldn't expect anything less from Photogenic's terrific line of monoblocs.)  Next, I plugged the strobe into the Explorer 500Li and started firing the strobe with the Tronix portable power unit. Guess what? The strobe seemed to recycle just as quickly as it did when it was plugged into the AC. Yeah. That's what I'm talking about. I hate waiting for strobes to recycle!

Now don't get me wrong. I didn't do a scientific test with a stopwatch or anything. I'm not that anal retentive. But, for all intents and purposes, any difference in recycling times between using AC and using the Tronix 500Li were negligible at best and not noticeable to me at all. Sure. I'm kinda old.  But I'm not in La-La-Land old. Seconds still seem like seconds to me and I can still judge time, even short spans of time, as well as ever.

Okay. So I start planning for the shoot. I knew I was going to need to call in some favors (and end up owing a few back) to get this "in the can" as they used to say in Hollywood when they were still mostly shooting film. That's partly because I decided on a shooting location that's way out in the desert at the rather desolate ruins of some old, stone house, structure. I've shot there before, although not for pretty girl pics. It's about two hours from where I live. One of the favors was going to be from a video shooter I know. He works often enough during the week that this "do me a favor" shoot would have to be on a Saturday or a Sunday. I also wanted a hot model (obviously) and I was being kind of picky about that. (Plus, I didn't want to deal with an agent if I could avoid doing so.) So, getting a hot model to trek out to the desert with us for a whole day of fun and merriment with yours truly, partially as a favor -- I'm providing some pay -- also meant a weekend shoot.  (Probably not with a call-time too early in the day because, you know, models like to party on weekends, but that's another issue.) My personal schedule mattered less because I'm not working as often these days, me being a semi-retired geezer and all, and it's my shoot after all.

Let me me make this the gods must be crazy story shorter: First weekend, the model flakes the night before and it was too late to replace her for a next-day shoot. Okay. I can deal with that. Not like it hasn't happened before. So, during the week I scheduled another model for the following weekend. The next weekend comes around and it was like deja vu or Groundhog Day or something. Another night-before, flaking, model.  Being determined, I schedule again for the following weekend with yet another model. The next weekend arrives and it rains the whole time! Rain! Here! In Southern California during a drought! In the desert no less! Alrighty then. Like I said, I'm determined. I again schedule everyone for this past Sunday and... yep,. You guessed it. It rained again!  Damn you Godzilla El Niño! I know we really, really need the rain (what with the drought and all) but can you please cut me some slack?  Just for a Saturday or Sunday???

So here I am, trying to put the shoot together again for next weekend and hoping that the gods or
Godzilla El Niño or whomever or whatever will forgive me for whatever transgression I committed,  whatever it might have been. So please, dear readers, wish me luck! I need to get this done!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Every Playboy Centerfold Ever!

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Once again, I've been lax in updating the blog. I'd list all my excuses but, frankly, that would be bullshit. I certainly could have found the time, no more than an hour or less, to write an article or two in the past few weeks. I'll simply chalk it up to life getting in the way and hope you understand.

But I'm still alive and kicking! And my life remains passionately consumed by photography, whether it's glamour photography or other genres I'm currently pursuing.

At the moment, I'm completely ill-prepared to say much of anything worthwhile.  So instead, I'll leave you with this link: Every Playboy Centerfold Ever! 


If I had Tera Patrick, as seen in my pic to the left, to take dictation for me, I could crank out way more updates. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sorry for Being a Slacker

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Boy! Have I been a slacker updating the blog lately. For you regular readers, my apologies. For the rest of the photographic world, you didn't even notice so no harm, no foul.

I'd blame my inattention to the blog on the holidays or being too busy but those would be lies. The holidays didn't get in my way, not really, and I've been no more or less busy as of late, although I will admit to being somewhat preoccupied with things other than glamour photography. (Being semi-retired seems to induce other preoccupations, other than what I was preoccupied with prior to becoming semi-retired... which was working and/or seeking work.)

One of those preoccupations has been my keen interest in vintage glass. Over the past six months or so, I've acquired a fair number of lenses -- what some call "legacy lenses" -- and using them with both my Canon 5D2 and my Sony NEX-6.  I haven't used them to shoot pretty girls for the client work I still get hired to shoot. That would violate my rule about not experimenting on someone else's dime. (Although I occasionally sneak in a couple of shots with whatever new lens I've acquired; a couple of shots meaning three or four of them prior to shooting the sets I've been hired to shoot.)

If I were shooting pretty girls as a hobby shooter, which really isn't something I shoot as a hobbyist and, these days, I consider myself about 80% hobbyist, I'd probably be using some of my legacy lenses routinely for pretty girl shooting. Sure, they're all manual-focus-only lenses but, when shooting for myself, that's okay. I'm not in any rush when shooting for me. Auto-focus glass makes me faster and more efficient when shooting for clients, but being a fairly fast worker and production efficiency aren't things that are very high up on my list of priorities when I'm shooting for me. If something I'm shooting for me takes hours to shoot when, if I were shooting it for pay I'd get it done in half or less the time, it ain't no big deal. In fact, it prolongs the fun of shooting and I'm not so old that I don't value having fun, whether it's with my photography or most anything else I might be doing.

So, what kinds of glass have I been acquiring?  Well, let me list the lenses I've recently bought. I should also mention that all of them are primes and they're all M42 mount lenses (aka Pentax screw mount) except two: A Meyer-Optik Görlitz 50mm, f/2.9 Trioplan with an Altix mount. (Although I'm still able to use it with an M42 adapter.) A Hartblei 35mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift with Canon EF mount. (Which isn't vintage glass although the lens is around ten years old, possibly more, and it's definitely a specialty lens.)

Okay so here's the rest of my legacy lenses, all of which are either Russian-made or German, specifically Meyer-Optik Görlitz (MOG) for the German.

I'll list my Russian glass first: An 85mm f/1.5 Cyclop (no aperture diaphragm so it's f/1.5 all the time-- it came off a Russian military night-vision rifle scope), a Tair 11A 135/2.8, a Helios 44-2 58/2, and a Mir 1B 37/2.8.

Here's my German MOG glass: A 50/2.9 Trioplan (which I already mentioned), a 50/2.8 Orestor, a 30/3.5 Lydith, a 58/2 Primoplan, and a 135/2.8 Orestor.

You might be asking yourself, "What the heck are you doing with all those new old lenses, Jimmy?"  That's easy: Having fun with them!

The pretty girl at the top is Mila whom I snapped last night at my weekly, Wednesday evening gig for an internet streaming company. It's a super-easy job: I show up and shoot with the client's camera (in this case a Canon Rebel something or other with an 18-55 kit lens.) The small studio space is pre-lit -- me being the guy who pre-lit it some time ago -- so all I have to do is drive there (it's a 20 minute drive), walk in, pick up their camera, shoot two models (a quick set of each of them plus a set with both of them together), get paid and go home.  My kinda job! It's simple, easy, fun, in-n-out with none of my gear being used and no waiting to get paid. What's better than that?  Plus, it gets me out of the house one evening a week. (I don't get out much these days, leastwise in the evenings, which is probably a 'getting old' thing. Oh well.)

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:  


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