Friday, August 29, 2008

A Brief History of... Spudography?

While photography is my #1 passion, I do have other interests: Archaeology and history being two of them. As a result, two of my favorite rags are Smithsonian and Archaeology magazines.

While Archaeology magazine often features average, snapshot-quality, photos accompanying their incredibly interesting articles, Smithsonian magazine provides some amazing photography to illustrate theirs. Smithsonian also features articles, on a fairly regular basis, that focus on the history of photography and/or historically important photographers.

Recently, I had a doctor's appointment and, while waiting to see the Doc, I spotted a September, 2007, issue of Smithsonian lying in the waiting area. BTW, I get my medical care from the VA. (Veterans Administration) Apparently, the VA has lots of people who donate magazines. There's always stacks of them in the waiting areas, albeit they are mostly somewhat dated, usually by a few months or more. Sometimes much more. Although I often purchase Smithsonian, somehow I had missed purchasing that particular issue--I guess I should subscribe instead of buying @ newsstands--so I snatched it and immediately decided to bring it home with me. Generally, I don't exhibit thieving ways but I made an exception in this case. (I hope that didn't cost me much in Karma points.)

There's an article in the September, 2007, issue of Smithsonian that roused my curiosity as both a photographer and history buff. It's titled, "Color Comes to Photography."

According to the Smithsonian's report, "The most improbable object imaginable--the lowly, lumpy potato--played a leading role in the great leap forward of color photography."

It seems that, back in 1903, the Lumière brothers--notable figures in the history of photography whose family name may or may not have been hijacked as a term for the the measurement of luminous flux, i.e., the perceived power of light called lumens--developed a dazzling new photographic process they called autochrome. ( A process more commonly referred to as color photography.) The Lumières developed this exciting process with the help of some pommes de terre which, if you speak French, you know means potatoes. Yep! Potatoes! Those wonderful, starchy, veggies we cook in so many ways. The French, of course, also made a certain recipe for pommes de terre quite popular by peeling them, cutting them, cooking them in hot oil and salting them thus transforming potatoes into French Fries! (Thank you mon frers! But why do you Frenchies dip your fries in mayonnaise rather than ketchup? You guys lose gastronomy points for that odd and unappealing habit. Leastwise, in my book you do.)

Anyway, somehow and someway those clever Lumière brothers figured out they could grind potatoes and apply the potato dust to photographic plates and, in so doing and with long exposures of a minute or so, manage to end up with a color image. How people figure this kind of stuff out is a total mystery to me. Potatoes into color photos? Go figure.

The lumières' new autochrome photographic plates were an immediate success and soon their factory was working overtime to meet the demand for potato-infused, color-producing plates. Famous photographers like Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, and Alvin Coburn were quick to embrace the new process. The Smithsonian article features some great examples of early 20th Century color spudography including a rare color portrait of Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a., Mark Twain.

The Lumières' autochrome process remained the king of color photography for over 30 years! Until it was dethroned, that is, by Kodachrome and Agfacolor film.

This update is, for the most part, a reprint of an article I wrote about a year ago for another blog. Here's a nice set of autochromes, courtesy of the George Eastman House, posted on Flickr.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Remembering Those Kodak Moments

I forgot how funny this Saturday Night Live-ish, Kodak, "Winds of Change," spot is. If you've never seen it, you'll get a hoot out of it. If you have seen it, and you watch it again, you'll still get a hoot.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Glimpse Into Photography's Past

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (or so it feels like) I was a collector and trader of all sorts of antique and vintage things. For some reason, I never got into collecting vintage cameras. Go figure. I was more into furniture, pottery, art, and ephemera. You should see all the nice pieces my ex-wife has!

My daughter was having a yard sale last week and, in her garage, she came across a box with some books and magazines I had packed-up at some time or another. In the box, amongst some other stuff, were a half-dozen issues of Outing Magazine I squirreled away. Outing was a late-nineteenth to early-twentieth-century rag covering a variety of sporting and related activities.

I picked out a February, 1894, issue of Outing from the box and thumbed through its dog-eared pages. Near the back of this 19th century zine were a few advertisements related to photography. I decided to scan a few of the pages, the full page ad from American Amateur Photographer (seen above) being one of them.

American Amateur Photographer was edited by Alfred Stieglitz, a major player in the history of photography. Besides recognition for his photos, Steiglitz is generally credited with forcing the art community to recognize photography as a legitimate art form or, in his words, " a distinctive medium of individual expression."

Thank you, Mr. Stieglitz! Every serious photographer today owes you gratitude.

Stieglitz was born in 1864 in my home state of New Jersey. (Add another Jersey boy to that big list of famous Jersey boys.) He was a great friend to photographer Ansel Adams whose photographs a few of you might, at one time another, have taken a look at. Stieglitz's photography is well-remembered for his portraits of the famous, American Southwest artist, Georgia O'Keefe. (The second Mrs. Stieglitz.)

A slight segue: Just recently, while wandering around YouTube, I came across a video interview with Ms. O'Keefe. She was 92 when the footage was shot. If interested, you can view the Georgia O'Keefe clip HERE. I certainly enjoyed it.

Seen to the right is another page I scanned from the same Outing issue. The "Premier Camera" advert, courtesy of the Rochester Optical Co., gave me a chuckle. (Rochester? Hmmm... Didn't some other photo company call Rochester, NY, home?)

According to Premier, "Bicyclists, canoeists, tourists, and lovers of outdoor amusements are not all amateur photographers but they should be."

Today, well over a century later, it seems that hundreds of thousands of photographers have taken Premier's advice to heart.

Anyway, just thought I'd share. Sorry about that hideous line through the scans. It seems my cheap, Brother, scanner went and got it's glass cracked last time I moved. Oh well.

Friday, August 22, 2008

How Photography Connects Us

David Griffin is Director of Photography for National Geographic. No slouch job in the world of picture taking. In this TED video, he talks about how photography connects us while illustrating his words with some incredible NatGeo photos.

"Connects us to what?" You ask?

Check it out and discover the answer for yourself.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

What's better than photographing kids? Well, at the risk of sounding like a grump, many things.

Young kids are tough. I'm talking about those of the one, two, three, or four-year-old variety. When shooting them, you have these (potentially) awesome subjects who, more often than not, are going to become decidedly uncooperative. And, they're going to become that way fairly quickly. Sure, most of them are okay with the process for about the first two or three snaps but then it starts going downhill.... quickly downhill. From where I shoot, two or three snaps ain't gonna hack it.

When you're trying to make eye-contact-pics with rug-rats and/or pre-schoolers, the trick is too devise strategies designed to keep them otherwise occupied and distracted, their attention focused on things other than the thing you're trying to accomplish-- namely, photographing them. Then, when they least expect it, you do something, anything, to grab their attention and focus it on your lens.

Simple, right?


Kids are clever. A little too clever for their diapers or whatever they've grown into. There's lots going on between those cute little ears. While you're creating strategies to trick them into giving you those adorable expressions and oh-so-sweet and lovable poses, they're developing counter-strategies to foil your best attempts. It's a game. And you, the photographer, are only going to win that game by being smarter and quicker-to-adapt than your adversaries-- the kids you're shooting.

That's where using the same techniques animal trainers use to get seals to balance beachballs on their noses and dolphins to fly out of the water and perform one-and-half-gainer back-flips comes into play. You need to provide a Pavlovian, "conditioned reflex," reward system.

A great way to get that "conditioned reflex" is to offer up something the child wants. And what's the one thing most young kids want when they're being photographed? Well, besides being rescued by their Moms or Dads from the horrible photographer person, they want almost anything and everything within their fields of vision: They especially want want things that are colorful, messy, interesting to look at, to touch, and to taste. You know, things like birthday cakes, as an example.

When photographing young children for their upcoming birthday events, we've come up with a theme we call, "Trash the Cake." ("We" being my partners and I in a family and event photography business.) Yep, it's like what all those wedding photographers shoot for their "Trash the Dress" stuff only, instead of a wedding dress, we're having our subjects trash birthday cakes.

Here's what you'll need: A rugrat or pre-schooler, a birthday cake, a camera.

From there, all you need to do is give the kid the cake--no plates, spoons, forks, or napkins--and let them eat it too... and, of course, you need to begin snapping away. (Note: Don't feed 'em their lunch or dinner just before shooting. The hungrier they are the better!)

The sample "Trash the Cake" images are from sets we shot of my grandchildren. I snapped the image of my grandson at the top. Leesa, one of my partners in our family and event photo business, snapped the shot of my granddaughter down below it. Both images were captured on a white seamless but any sort of shooting environment or background should yield cute and engaging results. When these photographs were captured, each of my grand kids were approaching their second birthdays. My grandson will be four this week and my granddaughter, well, she's still two.

Both images captured with Canon cameras: Image #1 with a Canon 20D w/28-135 IS USM, Image #2 with a Canon 5D w/28-135 IS USM. Two light sources, same for each pic: 5' Octodome for the mains and a small umbrella for the backlighting. Reduced resolution and artifacts courtesy of Google's Blogger.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Light is God

And God is light. At least, so say many religious folks. And on this subject, for a rare change, I happen to agree with them.

As photographers, light is everything. It is our God. It is the brush we paint with and the altar at which we pray. It conveys so much! It is the one, single, element of our work that makes our images shine. (Pun intended.)

Light embellishes the story within our images like nothing else: Sometimes with subtlety and nuance, other times quite obviously and with great drama.

If you are a serious photographer and you're not praying at the altar of light, you'll be hard pressed to rise above snapshot-taking status. Sure, it's important to know your camera gear--how to use it and wield it like the photo-equivalent of a Samurai warrior--but knowing your gear and knowing how to use it is only part of the battle. The road to photo-Nirvana is the path of light.

I know I'm sounding like a zealot. And I suppose I am something of a zealot when it comes to the subject of light. Yeah, I spend a fair amount of time keeping up with what's new in the world of photography. And I spend even more time learning how to use the tools of our trade, be it gear or processing software or whatever. But in my heart, I know it's all about the light.

When I was a kid, about ten or eleven, my right eye was seriously injured. It resulted in me having to wear patches over both eyes for months. When your blind for a substantial amount of time, you really learn to appreciate your sight. And you realize, after being deprived of it for some time, that light is everything and darkness sucks. It was soon after this injury--while still having to wear a patch over my right eye for about another year--that my Dad bought me my first camera: a Yashica Penta J, 35mm SLR.

Man, talk about an eye-opening experience! (Not just the return of my eye-sight but the sudden appearance of a camera in my life.)

Suddenly and once again, I could see the world around me. And thanks to my father, I could capture what I was seeing! (I really miss you, Dad.)

As I learned to wield my new, world around me, capturing tool, I quickly realized that it was all about the light. Few things, besides photography or (admittedly, though not recommended) temporarily losing your sight, will make you so keenly aware of the light that envelopes our lives.

If I seem to have become overly philosophical about photography in my old(er) age, I suppose it's true. I guess I have.

(Note: This update is a partial reprint from an article I wrote over a year ago. The beautiful, nicely-toned, image at the top, Crepuscular Rays in GGP, was not captured by me. It was shot and is owned by photographer, Mila Zinkova, and is reused here under permissions granted by its author and under the terms of Wikipedia Commons' GNU Free Documentation License.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Momentous Photographs of Momentous Events

Unless you've been living under a rock for most of your adult life, more so if you're a serious photographer, you've surely seen, at one time or another, National Geographic photographer, Steve McCurry's, 1984, iconic and enigmatic photograph of a young Afghan refugee commonly referred to as "Afghan Girl."

McCurry's image is an indelible portrait, etched forever in the minds of millions and millions of people world-wide. For nearly 20 years, McCurry's young Afghan Girl with those haunting green eyes remained a mystery-- an anonymous, adolescent female, photographed in a refugee camp somewhere in Pakistan while the Soviet Union's War in Afghanistan raged on. Then, in 2002, after a long and arduous search, NatGeo announced they had finally located their nameless Afghan Girl and, all at once, she had a name: Sharbat Gula.

If you're curious to read about NatGeo's search for the Afghan Girl, you can do so HERE. But that search isn't what I'm writing about. I'm writing about how momentous photographs captured during momentous events are sometimes labeled as being exceptional examples of extraordinary photography. Which, in the case of McCurry's Afghan Girl portrait, happens to be true.

From a photojournalism perspective, average images of powerful and dramatic events are sometimes all that's necessary to qualify a photograph exceptional and extraordinary. I don't have a problem with that. It is as it should be. But, occasionally, I do take exception when average images, i.e., photographically average images, are lauded as extraordinary for their artistic and technical merits which, IMO, aren't really there. I see this happening on more than a few forums and blogs that feature photojournalism, as well as editorial and stock as their general subject matter.

In recent days, there are images coming out of Georgia, a nation that was once part of the former Soviet Union, that are being hailed by some as incredible photographs. Personally, I don't see these images as incredible for their photographic qualities. Instead, I see properly exposed and composed images snapped by good, sometimes great, photographers who happen to be in the right place at the right time to capture these photos. Many of the images I'm seeing might be powerful from a photojournalism perspective but they aren't necessarily exceptional from a purely photographic perspective. Yet, some of these images, often depending on who shot them, are being touted as exactly that: Photographs of exceptional and extraordinary photographic quality.

Photojournalists are, for the most part, documentarians. They might be really good shooters, both for their craft skills as well as their vision and story-telling talents but, when you boil it down, their chief job is to document events as they unfold. Please note I don't mean to belittle photojournalists, especially those in hot zones. It takes immense courage for them to travel to places where danger abounds. Often, they don't have the luxury of setting up a shot. Their job is to get the shot first and worry about photographic quality second. They follow rules like the Sunny 16 Rule which is about getting a close-to-correct exposure under certain daylight conditions, i.e., when the time it takes to actually measure the exposure isn't available. If I were a photo-journalist, snapping away as bullets flew around me and bombs exploded nearby, I wouldn't be worried about taking a meter reading or checking a histogram to insure my exposure was on-the-money. I'd be snapping away, sometimes from the hip, while I ducked and ran for cover!

Who could forget Eddie Adams' Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of the 1968 execution of a suspected Viet Cong operative? Mr. Adams, in later interviews, admitted he had no idea what was about to happen as he simply snapped away during, what he thought was, a rather routine street interrogation of a suspected Viet Cong agent. Is Adams' photograph a thing of beauty for it's artistic compositional elements or for it's creative use of exposure? Nope. But it is extraordinarily powerful in so many other ways.

I'm not sure why it bugs me when images of dramatic events are applauded for their photographic artistry when such artistry is not apparent. I'm not saying those very same shooters, the ones who capture incredibly moving and dramatic moments, aren't capable of producing photographic artistry. I'm just wondering why praise is sometimes heaped on these praiseworthy images but for reasons beyond why they should be praised?

Have I mentioned the content of this blog might be all over the photographic map? If not, be advised, it probably will be.

Post Script: If you want to see images that are extraordinary for both their journalistic elements as well as their technical and artistic prowess, check out's, "The Big Picture" images of the Beijing Olympics' opening ceremonies.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Headshots Part Deux

You thought all I had to say about headshots was pimping Timothy Greenfield-Sanders?


TGS doesn't need any pimping... certainly not from me.


In my previous post (that's right, the one about Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and headshots) reader BigV aptly commented, "Your client gave you the secret to success. Capturing what the person is all about in a headshot is what makes a successful portrait photographer."


BigV-- Couldn't agree more, although I'm not sure a single portrait can capture what a person is *ALL* about unless, of course, they're dead, i.e., the portrait is a picture of them being dead. When someone's dead, I think you might agree, that's pretty much all there is to say about their current and ongoing condition. That's not to say how they got dead or how them being dead effects others around them can't be powerful in terms of a portrait but, when a portrait examines what an individual person is all about, and they're dead... well, dead's dead.

Portraits of dead people aside...

Portraits, good portraits, even simple (yet effective) headshots, tell the viewer something unique about their subjects. Portraits are, or should be, windows into those subject's lives. Glimpses of that which makes them tick: Their personalities, their careers, their loves, their hates, who they are, who they hope to be, and more. Hopefully, much more. Good portraits tell us something important and unique about the people in front of the lens-- Something either the subject, the photographer, or both, hope to share with that portrait's viewers.

Take the image at the top. Who *IS* this guy? Well, first off, he's my friend, Harry. But what about Harry? What does the image tell us about him? What are the visible clues that describe the "inner" Harry? (Or maybe, in Harry's case, the "outer" Harry.)

Harry's smarmy smirk probably offers some insight into his personality. The Foster Grants he's hiding behind, as well as his shirt being a little too opened, may also be tell-tale signs of what Harry is about-- Yeah, BigV, maybe even what Harry's *ALL* about.

Remember, these are headshots I'm talking about, not environmental portraits. Environmental portraits, where you place the subject in an environment that speaks volumes about them, is sometimes easier in terms of conveying insight into the subject. Sometimes. But that's a subject for another post.

Back to Harry's headshot.

Would it surprise anyone to learn, after examining Harry's headshot, that he makes his living as a talent agent? An agent, that is, of (mostly) "C" and "D" list models and actresses who spend the vast majority of their time in front cameras without their clothes on? He's also a gambler--a sort of semi-pro, backroom, poker player--and derives a fair amount of his income from that career as well.

Did the possibility of either of those aspects of Harry's life cross your mind when you viewed Harry's headshot? If not, perhaps something close or akin to those? (Or equally sleazy?) I'm guessing it did unless you perceived the image as being satiric or it being some (mostly unemployed) actor's heashot. The only thing missing in Harry's photo is a phat gold chain around his neck. (It's all in the details, right?)

Craft and tech stuff: Harry captured with my Canon 5D w/ a Canon 85mm, f/1.8 prime attached. (It's a sweet lens for portraits, especially considering the price difference between it and it's expensive relative, Canon's 85mm f/1.4 L prime.) ISO 100, f/4 @ 125. I shot Harry in the studio in front of a gray seamless. Used a 5' Photoflex Octodome for my main and a couple of kickers behind him. B&W conversion via the channel mixer method.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Of the many genres of photography, photo portraiture is one of the most actively practiced. Many photographers earn much, if not all, of their income from portrait shooting and that work encompasses a vast range of categories, classifications, types, and styles.

Some headshot photographers have achieved great fame for their work. Timothy Greenfield-Sanders comes to mind. I know, I know, TGS is so much more than a headshot shooter. In fact, in more than a few of his portraits, his framing extends all the way to half-body shots!


Photographers of Greenfield-Sanders' caliber photograph world leaders, celebrities, musicians, artists and more. TGS's work is in the collections of major museums, he shoots for some of the most popular and respected magazines in the world, and his work has been published in a number of well-received books in print. He is iconic in the world of portrait photography.

So what sets a shooter like Greenfield-Sanders apart from so many others who ply the portrait biz? Is it his style? His lighting? His interaction with his subjects? That big-ass camera he shoots with? All of the above? None of the above? Or is it that hyphenated last name? I don't know. If I knew, I'd grab some of his mojo and apply it to my own work. Could TGS's secret be one of those "secrets of the pros" we all read and hear about? Only in Mr. TGS's case, his secrets remains secret? Perhaps what works for Greenfield-Sanders only works for Greenfield-Sanders? Damn. I wish I knew.

The portrait/headshot at the top is writer and film director, Ramon Menendez. A fair number of you have probably seen his most memorable film, Stand and Deliver, with Edward James Olmos and Lou Diamond Phillips. Ramon asked me to shoot a simple head-shot portrait to update his DGA (Directors Guild of America) profile. I lit Ramon with my Mola beauty dish, slightly feathered, for the main plus two, gridded, accent lights from behind. Ramon's headshot ain't no Timothy Greenfield-Sanders portrait but Ramon liked it. He said it's what he was looking for because it has a "cinematic feel" to it. Okay. If you say so, senor. You're the film director, after all.

And if the client is happy, I'm happy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Build It and They Will Come

Cue the drum rolls and the trumpet blares! Here it is, TA-DA! First post for my new, *other* blog!

Okay. Cut! Someone send the musicians home. Enough with the rolling and blaring.

What's the deal, you might ask? Well, I created this *other* blog, this I, Shootist blog, for a variety of reasons.

First, I wanted to create another opportunity where I could hear myself talk. Technically, I suppose, to read myself talk. (Obviously, one of my favorite pastimes) And what will I hear/read myself talking about now? Duh! More photography, what else? (Photography being my other favorite pastime.)

I also wanted a place where I can post images that are not appropriate for my Pretty Girl Shooter blog. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.

Ya see, when I began writing the PGS blog, I decided I wouldn't mix in images of A) people under the age of 18; B) Pictures from other genres of photography I might engage in; and C) Photos that are off-topic for the PGS blog. While it's true the vast majority of my photo work involves beautiful, unclothed women (that being. after all, what I most often get paid to shoot) there's other stuff I photograph: Sometimes for pay and sometimes just for fun! Like the simple, editorial-ish snapshot of a child, above, cooling herself off on a hot, Venice Beach, day.

Next, I'm not a completely altruistic person. So, I'm going to get involved with some (photography-related) affiliate programs that, frankly, weren't interested in hooking up with a blog that is mostly focused on shooting pretty women, often of the naked variety. Do I expect to get rich off this new endeavor? Cue the laugh track! But if I'm gonna take the time to write this stuff then I don't think it's completely unreasonable of me to hope for a small amount of compensation. After all, I live in a capitalist society, this blog is part of a mostly capitalistic world wide web, and I ain't no freakin' commie!

Finally, I'm hoping the work I'll be putting into this blog will help motivate me to find more time get off my freakin' ass and go out and pursue new avenues of photography and/or simply move me to shoot all kinds of other stuff that might interest me, i.e., other than sexy women sans their clothing. Not that I still ain't interested in shooting pretty girls cuz I am!

I know it's going to take a little while to get this blog rolling and to work the bugs out. I haven't done much of anything with the layout or providing links or any of that stuff yet. But I'm gonna build this I, Shootist blog... and they will come: Readers, that is. Leastwise, I'm hoping they will.

Below is another candid shot from Venice Beach. In this one, I spotted a very determined young boy shooting hoops with a tennis ball. I remained fairly stealthy when I snapped these images, parents being quite wary of photographers pointing cameras at their children and all. So they were shot, pretty much, from the hip.

The images in this first post aren't particularly stellar, far from it, but I wanted to attach some photos that are about as far away from what I usually shoot as possible... just to get a different ball rolling. Sort of a Monty Python-like segue without the laughs-- Think, "And now for something completely different."

That's it for today. More to come. As with the PGS blog, you can click the pictures to see 'em bigger. Also, I'd love to hear comments-- Good, bad, or indifferent, or suggestions, advice, whatever. I'm all ears... I mean eyes. You know what I'm saying.