Friday, December 26, 2008

Goodbye, 2008.


Goodbye, cruel world
I'm leaving you today
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye

Pink Floyd
I can't believe we're on the cusp of a new year; 2008 has flown by so, so quickly. Looking back at the last twelve months, I've come to the realization that I've progressed much farther in this art than I had ever expected. I've been working with the Strobist stuff for a year and a half, soaking up everything I could like a beached sea sponge. But, it wasn't until earlier this year that I really began focusing on photographing people.

And would you believe, before that, I abhorred photographing people. Not because people were uninteresting but because I just sucked at it. I mean, thoroughly sucked at it. I couldn't capture the essence of a person if my life depended on it. Photos would were mired with half-closed eyelids, the cheesy "do you really have to take my picture?" smile, sometimes even the really bad horror photo that people wish had never been captured. It was bad, bad I tell you.

I made a lot of mistakes. This, mind you, was never a bad thing. I've learned from every one of those, no matter how big or small. In fact, one of the problems I see myself experiencing is getting too comfortable in any one style or method. The dark photos, for example. I love dark photos. I love the simplicity and timbre found within. A thief in a pitch black room with only a flashlight and all you get to see is the shape and body I reveal with the beam.

But. Really, that's not enough. I know it. It's a mistake to think that I could spend my time creating a body of work where it, eventually, all looks the same. Robert Heinlein's character Lazaras Long is quoted as saying, "Get a shot off fast. This upsets him long enough to let you make your second shot perfect." I'm not looking to make perfect photos, but I do realize I need to keep plugging away at it to continue improving.

In The Secret to Success in Photography, Chase Jarvis talks about two things you need to really make it: be undeniably good and spend 10,000 hours doing it. The second part of this photographic "Pirate's Code" doesn't surprise me. I know artisans and craftsmen who've spent years perfecting their artform and experience. Heck, I've spent years doing the same in my 9-to-5 job. It makes sense. To master something, you need to do it a lot.

But, the first one. Like Chase, it just hit me. "Be undeniably good." It's simple and obvious. Be so good that people won't ignore the work you're doing. This is the hard part of the whole equation: knowing what works for you and getting so comfortable with it that it becomes an extension of you. Second nature. The art of photographing without photographing, if you will. Show it off, but don't beat people over the head with it. I'm getting to the point where more people are noticing what I do. And they're asking if I can do the same for them. It's an odd feeling to be complimented on your photos ... and complimented enough that you begin to believe that they really are good.

It's validating. And the more I'm reassured, the more I've realized my mistakes helped me sculpt an eye for good photography. Not only in my own photos, but in the images taken by other photographers. I know what I like. It's an amazing feeling to look at a photo and to pick out the details that make that image gel for me. Yeah. Validating.

And it's all happened so quickly in this last year. I'm somewhat sad to see 2008 flying towards it's end. But, without question, I am looking forward to what challenges and mistakes I encounter in 2009.

The lovely lady pictured above is Morgan. This is from a recent photoshoot with her in the studio. Looking back over my last year's worth of shoots, this photo is one of the best (if not THE best) portrait I've done to date. Yes. Definitely an exciting year for me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Painted Veil

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Hang on.I was talking to my Dad the other day about my photos. He's been following what I do since he meandered his way onto the grand ol' Intartubes. He made an interesting generational conjecture about women being tattooed. To be short and sweet: he doesn't like it. He's not the first person of his generation and upbringing that I've encountered this opinion of.

I found it rather interesting in all honesty. Not because he doesn't like them, but because in a single generation, he's encountering someone who is the complete opposite of that idea: me. I find tattooed women to be intriguing. Hmm. Let me rephrase that: I find certain tattooed women to be intriguing. Tattoo:  Side AI'm not talking about the college coed that goes into a tattoo parlor on 6th Street to get the classic tribal tramp stamp. Picking an image off the wall has no artistic allure for me.

I'm talking about the woman who goes in with the empyrean idea of allowing ink and thousands of tiny bee stings to color her body in ways that make Michelangelo take a second look. A living canvas of flesh covered in nothing more than a lifetime supply of art. Those are the women of singular photographic attraction.

Something deviant this way comes.Of particular note is Morgan. I shot with her and her friend Natalie two weeks back. Morgan and I didn't really have a plan, other than to shoot something with her gas mask. I wanted to do something different and edgy. That's about the only direction I had. Oh, and tattoos. Morgan has these amazingly detailed tattoos. We ended up doing a significant number of pin-up style photos before and after we played with the gas mask (and a Christmas tree ... how's that for a combination). Natalie joined in on a few and we ended up having a lot of fun with that.

Don't fight ...After Natalie left, I shifted over to doing more artistic shots of Morgan. I wanted to see what I could arrange with the tattoos in order to show off the detail and coloring within. A little post with some cross-processing and I came up with some absolutely stunning photos (like the first one).

One of the things I found after doing the photo shoot was how much better my photographs look when I spend just a bit of time on them in Photoshop. Previously, I tended to stick in Lightroom for 99% of what I did because ... it was easy and I was lazy. In this case, I wanted to see what trouble I could get into by combining Nik Efex and a little bit of skin work.

Oh. My. God.

The Tattoo said The quality of some of my photos increased tenfold. Easily. It was a very pleasant surprise what some work with the healing brush would do (compared to using the spot tool in Lightroom), for example.

I still prefer to do most of my work in Lightroom right now because of the ease of using presets, but my notion on which photos should get some extra work is changing. Spending the time to make some things "stunning", as a friend exclaimed, is worth it.

As mentioned, the models shown are Morgan (with all the tattoos) and Natalie. Playing with the gas mask was definitely the highlight of the evening. Definitely different and edgy.

You may see more of Morgan and Natalie in my flickr stream.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Welcome to the UK: please check your art at the border.

“Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art.”
Pablo Picasso

Over at the Fluffytek Art Blog: Destroyers of Art, Lin writes about a major changing coming to the UK when the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act of 2008 comes into effect in January. The act makes it illegal to own or possess sexually explicit imagery that is defined as "extreme." So, what's extreme? Well, based on their reading of the act, "any images involving bondage, BDSM and any images which so much as hint at (pretend) violence." As a result, they've gone through and started deleting significant chunks of their portfolio. That's ... mind blowing.

I mean, think about it. Imagine you're an artist. You have a large body of work associated with you. Things you've created, lines of thought that you've explored and turned into something tangible, heck stuff you may never have even published but made for yourself for the sheer enjoyment of doing it. Now imagine that three weeks from now, some of the amazing balloon paintings you've worked on, depicting clowns and their big shoes, is deemed unwholesome and disturbing to society. Why? Because there's a small sect of people out there who lust after hurting balloon-wielding clowns and your art might ... might serve as a catalyst for them acting out on their inhibitions. And by creating that art, you enable them to act upon those thoughts, whether or not they are real or imagined by the bureaucracy at large.

Now, go and burn your art depicting any of this because you fear the reprisal that could potentially come. Oh, and all those people you happened to collaborate with or take inspiration from? You might want to distance yourself from them too.

Mind blowing, isn't it?

This is what they're dealing with at the moment because they genuinely fear the changes coming in January. I don't know what I'd do if faced with the very real possibility of having to delete parts of my portfolio because someone in authority thought it was bad.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Well, I went and did it. I did my first for-pay shoot last Saturday. My friends Todd and Elizabeth (whom you've seen before on here; I shot their wedding) decided they liked my photography so much that they asked me to do some family photos for them. I had slotted two hours in the studio for them because we weren't sure just what they wanted. I can say that was WAY overkill. They showed up, had the kids all ready, and 25 minutes later I was done. I did three groups (two of the kids, one of the whole family) and then did portraits of everyone.

In all, I think I did a pretty good job. I can see where I need to improve a bit, but that's fine. I can certainly do quick shoots like this. The money is good and the time even better.

One thing I've noticed is that I want to play with more lights when doing portraits like these. There's a particular style of lighting (I don't know the name) that I want to try where there's a nice soft light coming from the front and above with two side lights rimming the head/body. I'm not yet sure how well it will work for me, but everything I've seen it on, I've liked.

Oh, and sorry, no photos from this one. I've only just sent T & E the photos and I haven't heard back from them on posting a few.

So, a funny thing happened on the way to the studio ...

[Reposted from my personal blog because people there found it a hilarious look into my photography life.]

Little Red BowsOk, some back story first. If you've been following my photography, you know that I've recently started shooting art nudes. No big deal. A good friend was up for shooting, so we did. I've posted a few here and there and on various websites. Photos are a raving success. She likes them. People like them. I get a Pulitzer prize for them. Ok, maybe not the last part. yet.

A few weeks back, a friend from the community, we'll call him Zack, sees the photo, shows it to one of his friends. She falls in lust with it (or something). Zack pulls me aside at a party and says, "Hey, I know this girl ... she saw one of your photos and wants to shoot with you."

"Oh? Which one did she see?"

"One of the nudes you just did."

"Oh, great. Send me her info and I'll get ahold of her."

Two-ish weeks ago, I get the bits I need and we start playing email tag. It goes something like this. Oh, we'll call her HeidiF.

Me:: Hi! Zack gave me your info. Said you wanted to shoot?
HeidiF: Yes! My best friend might need some too. Call me so we can set something up. Oh, I'm in the adult business so I'll need some good quality pics.
Me: (thinking: huh. adult business. that means a lot.)
Me: What style of photos are you looking for?
HeidiF: Zack sent me a link of a picture of a girl that's lying on a hardwood floor and the shot is of her legs. that's pretty much exactly what i'd be looking for. also some topless shots and stuff but without my face in them. my bestfriend is also looking for the same thing.
Me: (thinking: Ok, I can do that. Kinda strange that she's in the adult business and wants faceless photos ... but ok. whatever)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the entire family is sick. I get sick. I look like death warmed over. Somewhere, I lose four days.

HeidiF: Hey, haven't heard from you. I'd like to do this. I need the pics soon.
Me: Whoops! Sorry, I've been mostly dead. Zombie infection, you see. I got bettah! How about Tuesday?
HeidiF: Sure! give me a call so we can set this up.
Me: (thinking: why are people so keen on phone calls? Sigh.)

Last night, I call her up and manage to get ahold of her right as she walked in from the gym. We talk briefly.

HeidiF: So, uh, err, yeah, that adult business thing? I'manescort,Ihopethat'sokcauseifit'snotIunderstand!
Me: Eh? I don't care.
Me: (thinking: fuck, it's late, I'm tired, I already have the studio scheduled, I just want to shoot)
HeidiF: Oh, cool. So, uh, do you do trade and if not, how much to shoot?
Me: (thinking: trade? Sure, I do TFP ... time for pictures)
Me: Well, I can either charge you $X and you get some number of photos. Or we can do trade, I get you to sign a model release, and I use your photos for my portfolio or whatever.
HeidiF: Oh, trade is fine with me.
Me: Fine, see you at the studio.

Hindsight being 20/20, I just should not have given the trade option. But I digress.

Hindsight being 20/10, I should have paid attention to what she said she did. But I digress. again.

So, where was I. Oh, yes. Tuesday begins with a bang. I manage to forget to set the alarm so I wake up already running late, trying to gather all my equipment, get dressed, find the missing battery chargers, look for socks when ... fuck. I just spilled something nasty on myself. Necessitating a jump in the shower to clean up.
Restart the dressing stage, FINALLY pack my shit and get out the door. Off to work I go.

James calls me just as I leave work for the day and asks what I'm up to. Mentions he has one of the studio lights still so I go over to pick it up from his place. We talk abit about my upcoming shoot and I'm describing the conversation.

He just looks at me.

"So, she's a call girl?"

Huh. Fuck me. I guess that's what she meant. Yes, this is one of my rare gullible moments. I told you I was tired when I talked to her.

"And you told her HOW much to shoot? Fuck, man, you need to be charging at least two or three times that for any person that comes in."

Whoops. Point noted.

It's clearly too late to bail on her and ... well, I really just wanted to shoot. So, once more into the breech my good fellow!

Later that evening, I wander over to the studio and get things set up. Lights. Check. Computer. Check. Hot naked chick. No check. She gets a little lost so I have to guide her in. She arrives about 10-15 minutes after our start time, which is fine. I have the studio blocked out from 8 to midnight to shoot with her.

We do the standard "show me your outfits" and "what do you want" dance. She's not sure. Just wants STUFF! THINGS! You know, like in those porn mags! You know, those sorts of shots.

"Heh. Yeah, well ... ever since I became a photographer, I've been ruined for porn mags. Just doesn't interest me anymore. I keep getting distracted by figuring out how they did the photo instead of what's IN the photo. So we'll just have to wing it."

We spend some time chitchatting about what she does and how she got into it while I get some things set up and while she gets dressed in the first outfit. Hasn't been doing it long. Found it on craigslist. The person running it is nice. HeidiF talks a bit about how they the woman has a set of photogs they normally use. "We usually just trade for the photos."

We also talk about what sort of photos she really needs. So, two problems. She wants them to be hot photos, but doesn't want to show that she's overweight because it'd "kill her business." Yeah. I'll do my best. You get what you get when I'm doing this for free. And no, I don't know how to photoshop liquify your extra-ness away, sorry.

But, second problem? Well, the clothes she has are fine, but they're not going to hide the fact that she's got some extra weight on. Which means they aren't entirely flattering any way I'd normally pose her.

The no-face thing is just killing me because ... well, I like photographing faces, but whatever. I let her know I'm not going to NOT photograph her face. We'll just crop out where necessary.

She puts on the first outfit, some long, black dress, that laces all the way up the sides.

"Hey, is there some place close to smoke?"

"Yeah, if you go out the door and to your left, you'll find a fenced in alley."

"Good, because if a cop saw me walking around in this, I'd be arrested for prostitution. Crap, I can't find my cigarettes."

"Just go out to your car and get them. If someone asks, tell them you're doing a photo shoot."

"I parked two blocks away."

"I guess you're not smoking."

We walk through her list: legs from the waist down. tits. more legs. different clothes. bent over the couch. more clothes. and finally her "Greek Queen" pose.

"You know what a Greek Queen is, right?"

"uh, no? Should I?"

"It means I like to take it in the ass."

"Ah ha."

So, we do that pose and wrap up. We quickly go through the photos and weed it down to 10 or so that she really liked. She gets dressed and I start cleaning up the studio, putting equipment away.

"Oh, just so you know, the first hit was free."

She looks at me curiously.

"Next time, I'm charging."

"Ok, how much?"

The wheels start spinning. I've been thinking about this all night. I'm not sure I want to deal with shit like this again.

"$2X is about right for how much time we spent."


I walk her out to the car. We'll see if she wants more photos.

I give James a call and we chat for a moment.

"Well, you were right. Near as I can tell, she's a call girl."

"You did this for trade?"

"Yeah. Her time for photos."

"That's not what she meant when she said she'd trade."


I can be so blonde some times.

In the Dawn I wake up to find her gone and a note says Only After DarkLessons learned? 1) If I don't know you and you're approaching me to shoot, you're likely going to get charged now. 2) I need to smack Zack for not being a bit more forthright about his friend because, yes, he apparently knows.

The top photo and this one were two of the shots from the evening. And no, this wasn't the "Greek Queen" pose, you pervert. A fun and entertaining night indeed.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Louis Vuitton

It's stuff like this that makes me want to quit being a professional computer geek and become a professional photographer. Lots of wonderful imagery in this.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Throw yourself off a cliff.

Throw yourself off a cliff. Figuratively speaking, I mean. Photography is a language. Think about what you want to use it to talk about. What are you interested in? What questions do you want to ask? Then, go for it, and throw yourself into talking about that topic, using photography. Make a body of work about that.

-- Jonas Bendiksen
Wear Good Shoes: Advice to young photographers

Cheesecake Housewife by you.I haven't been working with the camera all that much this month. Traveling for work, attending a few conferences, the holidays. Life in general conspiring against me in odd and annoying moments, really. This has gotten me fairly introspective about what I'm trying to accomplish with my photos and ... the best answer I can come up with is "I don't know." Since I haven't been able to shoot, I've been spending my free time looking at other photographers bodies of work.

I was talking to a friend, Morgan, the other night about this (specifically about pin-up photography) and how I was having a hard time coming up with something unique and not rehash things that others have already done. Her response struck me. "But it's already been done by many of the photographers in the 50's." And, well, I guess that's kind of true. In a sense, photography has been around long enough to have the aggregate body of work cover nearly everything. But ...

... then I read Bendiksen's quote. "Throw yourself off a cliff. Figuratively speaking, I mean." And it got me thinking. Does it really matter if we repeat themes through history? As each generation grabs a hold of an idea, they have the opportunity to put their own thematic twist on it. Take pin-up photography. It's been around since the late 19th and early 20th cenury, yet it wasn't really branded as "pin-up" until the 1940's. As you look through the decades of work, the only constant, really, is the ravishing woman. Each decade brings a new style to it, a new photographic look. Today, we often see the tattooed woman prominently displayed in 1950's style and attire. Sort of a mix of the prim and proper house wife with the gaining social acceptability of a prominently inked women that has arisen over the last few decades. It's the modern touch on an age-old concept.

Each time a photographer engages the shutter, he makes a leap of faith trusting that his eye or imagination has rendered faithfully (or not) the physical beauty of the moment (or not). Sometimes a lucky mistake shines through. Sometimes a disastrous sequence of crap flows through the lens in a photographic replay of Robin Williams saying, "What my tongue doth say, my words, like feces, fall upon the ground." Abrupt and worthless.

So where does this lead me? I don't necessarily care if it has been done before or if it appears to rehash something yet again. I've been looking around for that photographic precipice to leap from.

I have a hard time coming up with ideas that I want to fulfill photographically. A lot of this comes from my normal in-the-moment stance on life, the universe, and everything. I tend to not plan a lot and just roll with things as the run me over. You know, that sounds worse than it really is. I like picking directions and see where I lead myself.

If I'm out and about, I look and shoot. This is both good and bad because I find that I'm picking out interesting things but I can't explain why they images are interesting. Looking at what I've been doing, I'm starting to see that the missing ingredient is that I haven't been asking questions of myself. Why is this interesting? What is really going on here? You know, things like that.

I haven't been able to build that language bridge between what I'm doing, what I want, what I see, and what I experience. To say it's a struggle would be an understatement. I need to put in my head and get it straight.

As Bill Cosby says, "If you're not careful, you might learn something."

The photo above is of the infamous Red and her wonderful cheesecake hotness. Hey, I figured if I was talking about pin-ups, I had to show off, right? Right. Glad you see it my way.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Leavin' on a jet plane ... err, and now I'm back again.

I'm sorry, Sir, we don't have THAT book in the library ...Whew. What a stressful and crazy week. I'm a few weeks behind on processing photos from various shoots and going off to a conference related to work last week didn't help the situation at all. I flew out to San Diego Monday afternoon with camera in tow expecting to be able to shoot some while not doing conference activities. Sadly, I didn't get much done while out there. I showed a few friends some of the photos I've been working on recently with Red and Ladybug. Quite a few people were impressed from the sound of it.

One of the things I missed while out there was having access to my light stand and umbrella. It's amazing how much more difficult it is to shoot people when you don't have these things to hold up and modify your flash. I did some shooting tethered to the camera with a better bounce card, but my heart just wasn't into it. On a bright note, I did get some striking photos of palm trees silhouetted against the sunset. I have not yet pulled them off the camera because I've been trying to catch up on sleep, work, and other life things.

I came home Saturday night and ended up going out with some friends for the evening. I'm not sure if that was a mistake or not; I was exhausted from the conference-induced lack of sleep, the plane ride home, and some hard-core partying. When I finally got in bed, I zonked out for the next 12 hours. My bed ... what an amazing piece of construction. It was good to be in it again.

And I promise, I'll put up a few posts in the coming days to bring people up to date on the things I've really been working on. For now, you'll just have to "suffer" through another photo of Red. *grin*

Links for 2008-11-17

Interesting links gathered from all over the Internet

Be an Expert with a Beginner's Mind | Andre Gunther Photography A short treatise on making sure your experience doesn't pigeon hole you into one kind of shot. Something useful to keep in mind when photographing. (tags: photography zen)

the psychology of portrait photography | pro photo life Jim talks to us about dealing with people when taking portraits. The dynamic between the photographer and the subject tends to quickly define how that shoot will go. He gives us some things to think about to make that dynamic much smoother and easier to deal with. (tags: tips portrait photography)

Texas ghost towns. Places in Texas that would be excellent for photographing at. (tags: texas photography history)

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Light Fantastic

Kisses from Red
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

Edith Wharton
I've been thinking about light lately. Not so much the physics of it. We all know that, at it's most basic level, it is electromagnetic radiation of a wavelength most sensitive to the human eye. I'm not digging into it at that level. I'm more interested in the mechanics of how it falls upon the world, leaving shadow and detail in it's wake.

As I've progressed over the last 18 months, I've begun to pay more and more attention to the quality of light in everyday life. From the cool, blue tones melting at the break of day, the zombie-like greens of fluorescent, or the warmth and glow of a bulb as it boils off the tungsten filament one watt at a time. The Dame and her GunTones have started to play more of a roll in my photos; I'm finding that I like playing with them to see what I come up with. Unfortunately, I've been leaning too much on the warm side lately and I'm having problems breaking free of that. Especially when it comes to skin. I've been somewhat enamored by cooling down the tone of skin or even the light reflecting off of it. I've been studying a few photos and trying to figure out how it's done, but so far it's a carrot just out of reach.

Some of the recent posts by David Hobby have helped. I like the idea of mixing cool and warm tones in a photo. He does it by dropping the ambient on the background while subsequently lighting the subject with a warmer-than-flash light. The other way I've seen is balancing for tungsten. Especially when dealing with blue skys. It just makes them that much bluer. I haven't yet tried this, but I will.

Along with the tone, I've been paying more attention to the crispness of shadows. Being able to play with a softbox, I've found that I have a love-hate relationship with soft shadows. On one hand, it adds such a welcoming quality to a photo. On the other, sometimes it just doesn't work for the look I'm going for. Take the recent steampunk photos. I really like how they came out, but I'm not so sure that the soft light was the right look for some of them, especially around the corrogated steel backdrop. Red on the Town There's something baffling about hard light that just makes me want to play with it a lot in order to figure it out.

When I started out, it took me awhile to understand the concept of apparent light size and how that relates to how the shadow appears (or disappears) on my subject. But now, it's just second nature: tiny light, hard lines. big light, soft (or no) lines. Now, I'm onto figuring out how reflectors and grids change how that light appears. Prior to Red's shoot, I didn't really use reflectors because I liked that dark, moody, one-light look on a photo. It was simple and perfect. The anti-baroque. Same with the grids. I wasn't sure how to use them. I'm still not sure I know how to use them, but I'm more eager to apply them for effect.

Tomorrow, I go back into the studio with nothing in mind other than to shoot a pretty woman and play with the light. There's a new piece of equipment in place (a boom) that will allow me to do something different: artificially light from above. The New FeminismI have this concept shoot I want to do to re-create a scene that involves this type of lighting. Just enough light from above, lots of shadow obscuring the body. Sort of enveloping from a different direction (not from the side). It should be fun. Actually this is one of the best things about photography: having fun with the light.

The lovely lady in the photos is my good friend Red. These were taken the same day as the steampunk shoot. She's fun to work with and we came up with some pretty good ideas to mold and shape that day.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Steampunk is the new black

The next stagecoach is late ...I've long been fascinated by science fiction and cyberpunk literature. When the steampunk movement started becoming more prevalent, I started paying attention to what people were doing with it. It's amazing what lengths people will go to re-create something in brass and steel, just to get the right look, the right feel for an object whether it's clothing or geekiness.

Red expressed interest in having her new steampunk outfit recorded on film. We were going to do it the last time she was in town, but by the time we got around to it, the day was faltering and it was quite a drive to the scene I had wanted to put her into. I knew of a great set of train tracks that always had some railcars parked on it. They would have been perfect had the drive not been so long. We opted to do the shoot another day.

You're in the wrong town, Mister.When I got into the studio, I found the building rife with corrugated steel and darkness: perfect for something steampunk-ish. I let her know and we arranged to do a shoot last Saturday (the 25th), making sure to have her bring the outfit in this time. Along with it, she brought an excellent point of detail: a 9mm steel, brass, and pearl Taurus PT 92. If that handgun didn't scream steampunk, I'm not sure what would.

We ended up with quite a good photos out of it, including my favorite (the first one) and one of her favorites (the last one). I definitely need to do more steampunk photos. It's an aged beauty that just sort of ... speaks to me. I had an amazing amount of fun doing this one.

Howdy, friend.This has been one of the more "staged" shoots really. I spent a little bit of time trying to figure out what I wanted form this one and trying to place her into the environment so she blended a bit. Back to that whole idea of taking photographs versus making photographs. I've watched some of the things that Chase Jarvis does in his ninja shoot, for example, and I'm picking up on the idea that I like coming up with concepts (even if I think I still suck horribly at it ... I'm getting better!) instead of just taking a model and posing her half a dozen ways.

New Steampunk Sheriff in TownThe light is getting much easier to manipulate each time I do this. I'm starting to experiment a bit more with adding one, two, or even three more lights just to see what happens. For this shoot, I played around with the gridspot I built for my speedlights. I'm not sure about the effect yet. I mostly used it to get the gun metal to pop a bit more without overly spilling light onto Red. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

But when it did, I think it worked reasonably well. And that's all I can ask for. Lots of failures in this shoot. And that's really what I wanted.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Maker Faire Austin

Lobster ArmyMaker Faire was here in Austin last weekend. It was a pretty October weekend for it. We missed going to it last year because of a series of unfortunate events. Having never been to one before, I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought it would be a great experience for the boys, so I brought them along.

Overall, I think the event was somewhat overrated. There were quite a few interesting things (the robowars, the tesla coils, some of the fire displays), don't get me wrong, but there was just not enough to keep the kids entertained. We made it down to the childrens area and it was just overrun. It was like a pack of ravenous feral kids had descended upon a pile of Willie Wonka chocolate looking for the Golden Ticket. The tent that was set up was just entirely too small for the amount of stuff going on underneath and for the sheer number of kids who were attempting to have fun. Because of that, we didn't really stick around the kid area too long.

Hands don't fail me nowWe ended up walking out to the big craft area and around the fairgrounds, looking at the various art displays. By lunch time, we sat down and ate our $18 worth of hamburgers and fries (RIDICULOUSLY overpriced). While we sat, I picked off a few photos of people surrounding the area, including the kids playing their steel drums for the crowd. They were pretty decent.

Hula HulaUltimately, we only spent about three hours at the event on Saturday. The boys had seen enough and weren't really interested in looking at the various maker things (and I didn't have any serious amounts of cash on hand to purchase anything fun) so we ended up calling it a day and going home. I think next year, I'll purchase a full weekend ticket for myself and only bring the boys to one day, that way I can spend some time doing the seminars and meandering through all of the faire at my leisure.

A few more photos. Next year, I'll make sure to take my time and get more interesting photos. This was definitely the best part of the day, the people watching I mean. These two guys were watching the steel drummers while the boys and I ate our lunch.

Shocked ... SHOCKED!Future's so bright ...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Links for 2008-10-22

Interesting links gathered from all over the Internet

international photography awards -IPA 2008 winners Some amazing photos here. Definitely worth going through. Just take your time or you'll miss something good. (tags: photography awards photographers)

Hedony Design - Latex "Couture" clothing and accessories - Fashion Design (NSFW) Latex clothing design house. The product shots have some interesting lighting and ultimately caught my eye because of the multitude of specular highlights coming off the shiny material. (tags: design clothing photography)

Photographer template websites compared | Robert gives an indepth review of quite a few website designs that you can find being sold out on the internet. (tags: photography website webdesign review)

Even Better Softbox Part One - The Build Process | This looks pretty slick; a much cleaner looking DIY softbox. (tags: strobist photography softbox projects)

Monday, October 20, 2008

All weddings, except those with shotgun in evidence, are wonderful.

The BrideLast week, my friends Todd and Elizabeth got married at Ruta Maya in South Austin, surrounded by friends and family before the the wing fountain. As my gift to them, I said I would take photos of the day's events since they weren't going to have a professional photographer present. I think, in short, the day went smashingly (except for the part where I ran into another car on the way to the wedding).

This wedding was quite different from the previous one (Greg and Tara's) I did last month. There was significantly more people and it was being done outside during the height of the day, sun fully blazing down upon us. Ok, it wasn't that bad. It was partly cloudy, so I had points where things weren't so harsh, light-wise. I didn't use the flash outside at all, really. I started out but decided that with the alternating sun-no-sun moments, the fill would be too much and overpower the things I did have correctly exposed.

Inside Ruta Maya was a different story. DARK! The ceiling is covered in black paint, some of the walls are corrugated steel, and there's really no place to bounce light off of. I ended up putting one flash with a stoffen on one side of the room and one on the other, both powered up to 1/2 and full power. Just enough to get some light filling the place so I can shoot at ISO400 and 800. I just made sure to keep them out of the field of view whenever possible.

Once I got the obligatory reception shots, the cake cutting, and some other things, I pulled a few people aside and got some nice portrait shots done. I liked how they came out. I think Elizabeth and Todd will love them.

Overall, this one was much easier than the last wedding. I still don't think I could shoot these professionally (at least, not until I get a D300 and the new 24-70mm lens). But, nonetheless, it was fun and yet another experience to stick under my belt.

More photos from the wedding.

Todd, the groom, looking rather dapper in his tux.


Elizabeth, the bride, was positively glowing ALL day.


The mouse newlyweds sitting atop the cake.


Before the ceremony, she walked around the pond watching the waterfall onto the smooth rocks below.


A moment of silence hushed the crowd.

A moment in silence

"What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like."


"Do you?" Yes. "Do you?" Yes.

The Crowd

"You may now kiss the bride!"

The Kiss

Aw, and the didn't even smush it into each others faces. How cute!

The Cake

There's always one in every crowd, the one who gets all the girls. We call him the Mac Daddy.

The Mac Daddy

And finally, bridge and groom brought together by the big man.

Todd, Elizabeth, and O

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Life Updates.

Fire PetalsWoo! What a long week. Exciting, but long. One of the local photographers, James, runs a coop studio on South Congress. He's been looking for a few people to buy-in and help spread the cost out a bit more. I talked it over with my wife and she agreed to it, so I paid my first month's portion of the rent and picked up my keys on Thursday. WOOT! I've already got half a dozen friends and such lined up to do some shoots.

I'm really excited about this. I'm finding that I work a lot better when I have some place more controlled to move around in. I like the Strobist shoots, but those can get overly hectic, so this will give me a much better ability to refine my skills even more.

The studio isn't big. But it's big enough. I think it's about 15'x25' or so. Certainly deep enough for portraiture. They have it set up with some seamless paper backgrounds and a few lights. My friend Scarlett has offered to give me a trunk of stuff useful for props, so I'll have something fun to play with in the studio with my subjects. In fact, Scarlet will be my first subject next Tuesday.

As I mentioned, I've gotten a few other folks to let me take their photos too. I'm still working on ideas, but I know that I'll be able to do a few fetish shoots like I want.

Yesterday, I shot another wedding. Like the last one, this one was for a friend. Sort of my gift to them for their marriage. I'll be posting more about it later, once I've gotten a better handle on the photos. What I have so far is looking pretty good. I still don't think I could do wedding photography as a mainstay of my photographic career. It's definitely A LOT of work.

I need to work on a website. I'm realizing this more and more as I get farther along this photographic track. I'm going to figure out some designs in the coming weeks. It's going to be a busy time.

The photo above is of my friend Greg playing with fire one evening out at practice. He wanted to know what a particular move looked like on film to see which version was more aesthetically pleasing. The half-time version you see above (where the flaming poi are moving a half-step out of sync) was the better looking flower.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

XDRTB and James Nachtway

In 2007, James Nachtway won the TED prize (and a $100k that came with it). He used the money to document a problem growing in the world that isn't being paid much attention to. The video is the culmination of his work photographing the effects of Extreme Drug Resistant Tuberculosis across the world. I've watched it a few times now. Very haunting.

Spread the word. This needs to get out there. Go to xdrtb for more information.

More about Nachtwey.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Eureka! I'm getting this.


Monday night, James invited me to come and shoot with him at his studio on SOCO. He'd scheduled two models to come out for the evening so we could take turns with them. Overall, it was a good night, but still a struggle for me creatively because I don't yet have the confidence I know I need when working with a model. A lot of that comes from the lack of understanding what makes a "good" pose or idea. We ended up shooting for a few hours, James working on his ideas, and me stepping in every now and then to try something out.

I had another minor epiphany that night when it comes to my photography: I need to trust the histogram more. In past shoots, I would take a few shots, look at the screen, take a few more, look at the screen, chimping the settings and then finding that I might be off as much as a stop or two when getting them on the computer.

That's disheartening, really, thinking that you've got something spot-on in camera and then trying to work to recover detail because you pooched the shot.

But, Monday night was different. I knew I needed to try something different so each time I shot, I tried to pay attention to the histogram and wonder of wonders, I found that I was exposing too darkly, even though the image looked good on the camera. I guess it's like flying a plane in a dense fog bank: you shouldn't necessarily trust your eyes to tell you that you're moving straight and level. Sometimes you have to fight your senses and force yourself to pay attention to the instrumentation to make your minor (or major) adjustments in order to successfully land the plane. Same thing in photography.

And guess what? I was much happier with my results this time. I went into the shoot unsure of what I wanted out of it and came away with a better handle on this thing I'm trying to get the hang of. James was a lot of help, describing some of what he was doing, how he was working with the models. I tend to be a visual learner. I got that from my Dad who instilled a "watch one, do one, teach one" mentality in me. So, being able to watch James work was extremely helpful, especially without the distraction of dozens of people being around.

On the left is Hayley. I shot her with a large softbox at camera left. The background is gray seamless that is blown out with one AB-800 (on camera right) and one SB-800 on camera left. The pose happened completely by accident. I had just finished shooting her and was going to put my camera away when she reached up and touched her mouth to wipe something away. I loved what it looked like and lept back into place, almost yelling "DO THAT AGAIN!"

On the right is Emily. Same setup, but without the background being lit up at all. The white balance has been dropped from flash down to around 3650K, giving it that blue-green tint. When Emily saw the raw versions of these, she commented how she liked the way her collarbone was exposed. It made me realize that there's a delicateness and sexyness to that pose. I'll have to keep that in mind for the future.

Both models were great to work with. Definitely people I would want to shoot again.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Learning from Chase.

Back in 2007, Chase Jarvis gave a keynote address for the Photoshelter Town Hall describing some of the reasoning why he shoots what he does and some ideals that up and coming pros should strive for. I know the video is somewhat dated, Internet time-wise, but I still go back to this on occasion and review it.

Things I took away from this:

  • I think one of the most interesting facts that I took away from this is that he often does entire shoots just for himself to keep building on his portfolio.
  • Shoot things that you've never seen before. Chase watches the marketplace for the patterns being developed and then tries to step outside the pattern. Whether it's using props in ways you normally wouldn't see in marketing (like aiming a gun to someone's head) or finding a different angle to shoot from, it's something that differentiates you from everyone else.
  • It takes lots of hard work to be successful at this. I couldn't shoot to the degree that Chase does (20 hour days), but I can certainly do more than what I'm doing now.
  • You have to have passion for what you're shooting. If you don't, it's going to be difficult to be your best creatively. Make your own style. You need to carve out time to shoot those photos you have a passion for.
  • One of the best and fastest ways to get a subject to do what you want is to show them exactly how it's done by doing it yourself. You can see Chase doing this in the Ninja clip.
  • Smoke machines add a weird, almost mystical, dimension to photos, especially when they're used in conjunction with a strong back light. I need to get a smoke machine and play with that idea some.
  • You need to be a part of the community. Networking. Collaborating. Photos don't get made by one person.
  • Nothing can replace the power of word-of-mouth when trying to get business.
It's an interesting video no matter what. I encourage you to check it out, if only to watch the video clips within it. Or, just check out his youtube channel. I believe he has the individual ones posted there.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Links for 2008-09-17

Interesting links gathered from all over the Internet

Digital Photography Workflow: Fashion Photography - Workflow is one of those difficult things to pin down if you don't have some idea of how to put it together. Patrick Lavoie shows us the workflow he uses for his fashion photography. Some good ideas in here that I'll have to study closer to see if I can fit them into what (minimal) workflow I do. (tags: workflow tutorials photoshop photography)

Digital ProTalk: Technique Tuesday: Little Angels - Creating Art In Photoshop Another photoshop tutorial, this one by David Ziser. (tags: tutorials photoshop art photography)

Photoshop Tutorials - Adding Sunlight Through The Trees Not strictly photography, but this technique has always mystified me. Until now. I have some photos in my archives that I'll probably go back and play with thanks to this tutorial. (tags: photography photoshop tutorials tutorial light)

6 Steps To Finding a Photography Mentor Finding a photographic mentor is one of my struggle points. The biggest part is finding people to network with and becoming part of the photography community in Austin. I'm doing that slowly. maybe these tips will also help you. (tags: tips photography photographers education)

Strobist: Betcha Can't Watch it Just Once Another great behind the scenes video from Chase Jarvis. This has some interesting ideas for photographing earth, wind, fire, and water. Watch it a few times to see different things pop out. I'm not sure which I liked more, the earth or the fire shots. (tags: strobist chase jarvis videos photography)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My first wedding

Baker Wedding-145-2Wedding photography freaks me out. It absolutely scares me. Weddings are extremely important events in the lives of a man and woman. Weddings are affairs filled with loving memories, laughter, friends, a bit of stress, maybe some wine, and general goodness. These are things you don't generally want to screw up for a newly married couple. This is the type of event where you don't get a second chance to take those photos again because you messed up.

I've been reading blogs of various wedding photographers on the 'net over the last few months to understand the things they encounter when shooting these important days. I've picked up a ideas and tips along the way, but nothing that would really make me feel comfortable going out on my own and attempting to make a living at it.

HandsA few months back, my coworker Greg announced that he and his girlfriend Tara were getting married. It was going to be a small wedding, mostly family and a few friends. A larger party would be held some time after the wedding for all of his friends to come and celebrate. A few weeks after announcing this, Greg asked me if I was interested in shooting the wedding. Talk about a deer-in-the-headlights moment. I needed a few days to think about it because of how important this was. That, and my fear about shooting this type of event kicked in almost immediately.

Baker Wedding-115-1Now, Greg is pretty familiar with my photography and knows that I'm a complete amateur at it. We ended up coming to an equitable understanding: I'd shoot the wedding with the understanding that he gets exactly what he gets and in return he purchases a piece of equipment for me. Sounded fair. He understood that I'd do my best and I'd get a bit of experience out of it and a TTL cord (that's what I really needed at this point). The TTL cord actually helped out quite a bit during the pre-wedding scenes inside the house. The wedding would take place outside in his backyard which had recently undergone a serious landscaping makeover.

GuitaristOn the day of the wedding, I got all spiffed up and headed to his place with all the gear I would need. I spent the first two hours shooting people as they mingled in the house, enjoying the wine and cheese that was set out. Greg introduced me to his friends as they came in and I got to chat a bit with the soon-to-be joined family.

Around sunset, I started setting up the flashes in the backyard trying to come up with a good crosslighting setup. The ceremony would occur up on a small burm that was centered in the yard and everyone would be seated on one side to watch. Wedding WineThe ceremony was originally scheduled to start at 6:30, but the decision was made to hold off until after the sun crept down behind some treetops because of how blinding it was where they would be standing. I was really glad about that because of how bad the hotspots would have been in the photos and I had no idea how to easily deal with them.

Once the procession started, I dropped back into full on picture-taking mode and began circling the entire scene, occasionally adjusting lighting positions, but mostly trying to give them a good set of photos to remember everything by. Everyone was seated, Greg and Tara were up on the burm and Jesse was officiating. Circle of FriendsThe ceremony went on for half an hour I guess. I really didn't keep track of time because I was too busy enjoying the scene from behind the lens. At one point, Jesse asked for everyone to join hands in a circle around the burm as a way to commemorate the marriage. I joined in momentarily and then slipped off after a few minutes to take some photos of it. This was one of those things I just couldn't miss taking for them.

Baker Wedding-169When the moment was finalized, everyone broke off for the reception and I did some more formal photos of Greg and Tara with various family and friends. These were the ones we agreed were "most important" to do. These were the ones I didn't want to screw up. We spent some time working on these and making sure we got all the ones they wanted. There was one photo that I wanted to retake of Greg and Tara, so I drug them off to a corner of the yard and had Greg dip and kiss here again. Got the photo, packed away most of my gear and retired to the reception.

Cutting the CakeDinner was a lovely brisket barbecue dinner and Greg invited me to join in and eat. And then there was cake. Lots and LOTS of cake. Enough cake that I took home a nice slab of both the Italian Cream cake and the Strawberry layered cake (both delicious, by the way).

Overall, it was a lovely ceremony and made me realize one thing: yes, it's definitely an important day but I shouldn't be so afraid of it. I learned a few things to keep in mind for future weddings (better attention to detail in some cases), Greg and Tara got a record of the event (that I hope they like!), and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Links for 2008-09-08

Interesting links gathered from all over the Internet

Business portrait shoot | Robert shows off a technique I've not seen before: shooting into an umbrella then through a diffusion panel. Gorgeous light. Definitely worth trying some time. (tags: photography lighting techniques)

Tips for Finding a Film Developer Brian gives you some tips on what to ask your local film processing places. Thanks to his $50 camera project, I'm *so* lusting for a cheap medium format camera. And I've never really dealt with film. So, well timed information. (tags: photography film)

Vegas, Baby, Vegas Joe discusses a one-light method for killing the ambient and making the scene just pop. I can't wait to try this out! (tags: photography lighting flash mcnally)

Black Star Rising - Six Tips for Growing Your Photography Business Heather Hughes gives us some good tips for getting your photog business even healthier. (tags: photography business)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chasing the Sunset

BethOne of the things I've wanted to try over since becoming enamored with the Strobist style of light play is balancing my flash with twilight. I've attempted a few times over the last nine months but was never happy with the results. Instead, I've tended to focus more on getting the exposure correct for my subjects and not worry about the background.

Monday evening led me to try balancing the twilight again. This time, I nailed it. I was at the retirement party for a coworker (Beth). Quentin and I brought our lighting gear because we wanted to get a few good group shots for Beth of her family, coworkers, and friends. They came out pretty well. I did the lighting setup and Quentin did all the people wrangling; group photos are certainly harder than I expected. We ended up shooting out in front of the house we were at because there wasn't a great place to put 40+ people.

DavidAfter we got the group photos nailed, we all went inside and a round of retirement gifts got opened. Many photographs ensued. I noticed the sunset was streaming in through the large pane-glass sliding doors and knew I needed to try hitting twilight again. As people left, the sun dipped down over the horizon painting the sky this pretty shade of pink. Out on the deck, I quickly poked around for a spot that was right, found it, and setup a single white shoot-through umbrella. I had to work quickly as the light was failing rapidly. I grabbed David, the first person I saw, stood him in front of the flash and popped off a few shots to dial in the power. Before I knew it, I had photos of most of my coworkers up against a brilliant cloud-peppered sky.

I was surprised how quickly and easily this came together. First, I exposed for the background. 1/250th looked about right for what I wanted after chimping a few shots of just the sky. Next, I moved David into place and popped a shot off with the flash. I still had it set at 1/2 power from the group shots which blew him way out on his right side. I cranked the power down to 1/16, feathered the umbrella back a bit on his right side, and popped another two or three shots to make sure it looked good and ... VoilĂ  ... instant balance.

Here are other photos from this particular setup. In all, it was about 5 minutes of setup and 10 minutes of shooting. A good haul in my opinion.

Jackie, Huong, and Melissa
David and Sue
Quentin and Francie KellyHuong
Jackie and HuongGreg and Tara
Dean and ChrisChris