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.