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.