Friday, December 30, 2011

Magic: Technical Imperfection

Perfect Imperfection. Holly. Nikon D3/50mm f/1.8D. 1/200th, f/4.0, ISO200.

I'm going to deviate from the script and write about Magic from the perspective of the mindset behind the following image. Yeah that's a mouthful.

There are a lot of things technically wrong about this image. I'm going to reveal every significant detail I can find.

- Composition is off. Too much foreground (or just ground) and not enough headroom for balance. Also it's skewed left.
- The background is completely exposed. Yes it's seamless paper. But usually you're not supposed to reveal the background stands.
- There's a light artifact on the upper right hand corner. No I didn't Photoshop that in. It's an artifact from using my cheap 50mm f/1.8D Nikkor within an ABR800. What you're seeing is some light leakage from the ABR into the lens from inside the ring. I can't explain it any more since I'm not really sure how or why it exists. It's a hundred-dollar lens made in the 90's, what do you expect?
- There's significant vignetting. A perfect lens doesn't vignette. A technically perfect image corrects for vignetting.
- Overexposure in the center. A byproduct of the ABR800. It's a ringflash. I shoot from about the waist-level. So the mid-section is going to come in hotter than the rest of the image because it's closer to the light.
- Motion blur in the hair. No that's not Photoshop either. It's motion blur caused by a slow flash duration (strobe set to lowest power)
- Grain, dust, speckling, scratches? Check, check, check, and check.
- Discoloration in the image. Yup, traditional cross-processed look reminiscent of the faded old-school film.

Other than that, it's a technically perfect picture :)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Magic: What You're Looking For

Moments In Between. Holly. D3/50mm. 1/200th, f/5.6, ISO 200.

I keep putting off the Model Interaction post because I realize Magic is predicated on so many underlying elements; all of which precede model interaction. Since these particulars determine the potential outcome of creating Magic, it behooves us to discuss these things first.

The problem with Magic is that everyone defines Magic a little differently. And depending on the concept of the shoot, the same photographer can look for different looks. For example, a look that works well for one concept might not work well for another concept. That being said, there are seemingly universal themes to Magic, elements that I look for in models as well as in the looks I want the models to portray. Simply put (for model tests) I'm trying to create an emotional connection with my audience. In much the same way a magazine editor is trying to capture the attention of the viewership (for greater advertising revenue), I'm trying to evoke an emotion from the viewer.

I suppose that's the bottom line of Magic. Magic isn't about tack-sharp images. It's not about perfectly–posed models. It's not even about shooting the most-beautiful models. Rather, it's about evoking emotions from your audience. Because that's the universal goal isn't it? To change someone's life with a single image. To get them to feel something when they see that image. Because let's face it. An image built upon technical perfection is emotionally hollow. It's a pretty face (facade) with no substance underneath. It's the same criticism surfers invoke when they compare a mass-produced machine-made soulless surfboard from China, to a hand-crafted one-of-a-kind surfboard from a local shaper. They're both surfboards but one of them lacks a soul.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Magic: The Right Model

Revisitation Rights. Ashley. D3/24-70mm f/2.8G. 1/200th, f6.3, ISO400 @48mm.

I was originally going to go straight into Magic: Model Interaction and suddenly realized that the entire premise of Magic rests on a very specific photographer-model interaction with the right model.

Didn't want to hear that? Thought that you could simply throw in a few key ingredients and just make magic with any random model? You and I both wish!

Let's face it, having a ModelMayhem page doesn't make you a model. And likewise, being signed by an agency doesn't make you a good model. And even if you're a working model that books work regularly, that doesn't mean you're a good model. In fact, the obvious elements of modeling (industry standard looks/measurements, being agency-represented, and having experience) are far from the most important element of finding the right model for Magic.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Magic: The Dynamics of Volume Shooting

Covering All Angles. D3/50mm. 1/200, f/4.0, ISO200.

Introduction to Volume Shooting
As the second part of Magic, I want to set the stage with one of the key ingredients; volume shooting.

Volume shooting doesn't mean you shoot willy-nilly and indiscriminately hold down the shutter release button. Rather it's about getting the most frames out of the most usable moments that your model gives you.
Holding down the shutter release button will yield a frame rate limited by your camera's ability to write files to your memory card (after you've filled the buffer). And that's not a very fast frame rate. At best you'll get 1fps, 2fps if you're lucky? And while you're waiting for the memory card to clear each file from the buffer, you're going to miss a lot of potentially magical moments. Instead, you should increase your odds of creating evocative images by being selective about when you increase your shooting volume. This is also known as burst-fire.

But in addition to burst-fire moments, volume shooting should employ a brisk baseline rate of capture. We will explore the dynamics and reasoning behind this later.

Please understand that volume shooting is not a stand-alone concept. It's a shooting style that requires good model interaction, proper model selection, proficiency with lighting, familiarity with dynamic adjustments and more. The goal is that when you pair volume shooting with good preparation and real-time actions, you yield more frames that are emotionally evocative. My goal with this post is to navigate you through the pitfalls of volume shooting and reveal the benefits of volume shooting when performed correctly.
Some Objections to Volume Shooting
But doesn't volume shooting make photographers lazy? Absolutely. If you rely only on volume-shooting and neglect all other preparations, then you will become a lazy photographer. Hell, not only will you become a lazy photographer, you will also be an unprepared photographer. One that has reduced his/her chances at capturing great images. Volume shooting is not a standalone concept. Volume shooting should be combined with great pre-production legwork such as finding the right model, concept, location, storyboard, makeup, wardrobe, etc. It's a small portion of a larger framework; a framework that does not include a predetermined look/concept/pose.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Magic: The Premise

Surrender. Erica. D3/50mm. 1/5000, f/2.2 ISO200.

If you're just starting out in photography, then this post isn't for you. If you're still learning how to light, this post isn't for you either. If you're content with what you're creating, this post also isn't for you.

So who is this post for?

It's specifically for photographers that have experienced what I call "Magic". When things seemingly go right for no "apparent" reason. When you're surprised by the results of the images that you're creating. When the flow between you and the model takes a life of its own. When you capture the essence of raw emotion in a still frame.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Response to Perfectionism, Planning, and Improvisation

Got an email from a workshop photographer about learning impasses.

My photography is at an impasse. My last three photo shoots were expensive failures and I feel I have plateaued creatively. Each shoot was well-planned, but a combination of inexperienced models, a failure to properly articulate my goals, and the pressure from my perfectionist tendencies conspired to produce poor results.

I think many photographers reach this same plateau and either fail to push forward or languish in mediocrity. I want to reach the next level and hope you can help me during our time together. Here are my strengths, photographically, I feel:

· Shoot planning
· Model interaction
· Retouching
· Technical ability

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

ASUS PA245Q Review

I'm travel to Taiwan enough to buy a secondary display for permanent use when I'm here. But a couple weeks out of the year does not warrant the purchase of an Eizo CG243W which is what I use in LA.

In haste, I did a quick search and saw good feedback on the ASUS PA245Q ProArt 24.1 and requested its purchase for my arrival and use when I landed in Taipei at the equivalent of USD$575.

The following review is specific to photography-retouching and is very much a comparison with higher-end monitors such as the Eizo CG243W that I use regularly. I have also in the past used a Dell 2405FPW (PVA) and an Eizo S2402W (TN) for the same purposes.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Inspirations. Visions. Mutations.

Statuesquest. Brittany. First frame of the set. This was actually a test shot. A "mistake" if you will.
D3/50mm f/1.8D, 1/200, f5, ISO200.

I was going to break this up into two posts but I think it's really one and the same and explains a lot of things. First of all don't take this the wrong way. There's no right or wrong, it's just "different". I'm about to explain to you the method to my inspirational madness.

The thing is, I don't read blogs, I don't surf YouTube, I don't spend all day on Facebook, I don't partake in forums (anymore), I don't chat online, I don't really read magazines (outside of the 1-2 I had subscriptions to).

I've said this before on my blog but I basically live in a cave. I'm "self-contained". Why? Because I'm easily overwhelmed by visuals. If I surf the web, or read magazines or play on FB etc. I'm bound to get inundated by images and those images usually have me asking, "Why didn't I think of that?" or "I wish I shot that" or "Gosh, that's awesome... my images aren't nearly as good".

Call it self-defense. I keep the outside world, mostly outside.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What's Your Favorite Shot?

I've been asked this question several times so I figure I would answer it here:

I don't have a favorite shot. I don't even remember 1/2 of my shots. Today I have 200GB of unedited images on my drive. Tomorrow I shoot a video. Sunday I shoot a spec-editorial. I look at thousands of pictures everyday of my life and I retouch so many that none of them really make much of an impact.

So to answer your question, I don't have a favorite shot.


I just went 7 days without power. Living in Southern California is pretty great almost all the time. Real earthquakes haven't happened in 20+ years and other than the occasional forest fire and permanent drought, we sit pretty all year every year.

But we (especially the cities near the foothills) just got destroyed by some gale force winds.

I live in Arcadia (between Pasadena and Monrovia)

They said it would be the worst winds in 7-10 years.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Visions, Nudity, and Comfort Zones

From my buddy Maximilian on Facebook,

"I wanted to ask you "how do you go about asking models to break out of their comfort zone and give you emotion/beautiful art" I wanna push the models I work with to give me more emotion then hands on the hip peace sign pictures."

I have so many sentiments on this subject it's not even funny. But first let met get in my rant of the day.

As a male photographer, I feel that we're pretty much all the same. Yes, you, me and every other guy that enjoys seeing a model without her clothes on. Yeah, I said it. It's a universal truth and we can deny it all we want but unless you're gay, as a straight-male photographer you can not deny your appreciation of a naked female model. Hell, even the gay photographers appreciate a naked female model. So pretty much if the photographer is a dude, then he wants to see the model naked.