Friday, September 13, 2013

There's Dead and There's Mostly Dead

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My Dad gave me my first camera when I was 12 or 13 years old. It was a Yashica Penta J. I'm pretty sure it fell off a truck before landing in my Dad's hands and, soon thereafter, in mine. (But that's another story.) At the time, I doubt my Dad could ever imagine how he had changed my life and that photography would become such a big part of it. (At the time, I sure as hell had no idea either.)

The Yashica Penta J is a 35mm, all-manual, SLR manufactured between 1962 and 1964. It came with a 50mm f/2 lens mounted via an M42 screw mount. It also included a small, clip-on, light meter.  I was immediately smitten!

But there was one small problem: How was I going to pay for film, processing, and prints? At first, my Dad gladly funded those things. But the more pictures I snapped, and I began snapping a lot of them, the less enthusiastic he was about  reaching into his pocket to cover those costs.  Soon, I found a solution.

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I was in junior high school -- I guess they call it middle school these days -- and the school offered graphic arts classes as an elective. Better yet, the school's graphic arts classroom had a darkroom. I was set! Now, all I had to do was make money for film, which wasn't too expensive. I set myself to learning the art of the darkroom. That's yours truly, camera-right in the photo on the right, in George Washington Junior High School's graphic arts classroom.

In high school and on into college, I continued taking graphic arts classes. My first stint at college, in fact, was as a graphic arts major. I had no serious interest in becoming a graphic artist but the high school and college I attended each had darkrooms accessible to those taking graphic arts classes. So, I continued snapping pictures and taking care of the developing and print-making myself.  And it didn't cost me anything!

Years later, I began shooting head shots for Hollywood hopefuls and others. The first thing I did was put together a darkroom in a small shed on the property I lived at. The shed had running water and a line to the city sewer. All that time as a graphic arts student payed off. I already had some fairly well-developed skills in a darkroom.

I'm only sharing this stuff because my understanding of what it takes to get a good print in the darkroom allows me, in some ways, to better appreciate the following article. You may or may not have ever spent time in a darkroom but, even if you haven't, I think you'll still appreciate the article linked at the bottom of the page and find it very interesting.

Some people act as if the art of wet print-making is dead. But as the Princess Bride's "Miracle Max" says, "There's dead and there's mostly dead."

Click here to see the article: Marked Up Photographs Show How Iconic Prints Were Edited in the Darkroom

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering 9/11

Today marks the 12th anniversary of a sad and tragic event in America's history. Photography indelibly etched the tragedy into the American psyche. Words fail to describe that fateful day in ways only photography could have achieved.

National Geographic, known for incredible photography, assembled 25 indelible images from 9/11. You can view them by clicking HERE.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Thoughts About Headroom-- Max and Otherwise

Max Headroom, known for his wit and stuttering, distorted, electronically-sampled voice.
Some of you might remember Max Headroom. Max was the world's first computer-generated TV host. He was introduced to the world in 1984, before most of us owned a personal computer, ever heard of something called the internet, or could possibly imagine the impact of today's cyber-connected, digital, world.

When I think of headroom, max headroom or any sort of headroom, my first thought isn't an 80s computer-generated TV host. (It might be my second thought, though, since I did find Max fairly entertaining.) Instead, what first comes to my mind is the amount of headroom photographers leave, or don't leave, when framing or cropping portraits. In a word, it's that aspect of framing/cropping simply called "headroom."  When one photographer mentions "headroom" to another photographer, the other photographer instantly knows what the first photographer is talking about, and he knows he or she is not talking about Max.

When it comes to (non-Max) headroom, it seems to me photographers mostly fall into three categories, evidenced in the majority of their work: 1) Those who leave plenty of headroom in their portraits, sometimes so much headroom it qualifies as a major "negative space" compositional element of their portraits,  2) those who leave a modicum of headroom (which likely accounts for the largest percentage of photographers) and 3) those who leave little to no headroom, including those who regular prefer to cut into their subjects' hair with the top of the frame, sometimes even cutting into their subjects' foreheads.

There's no right way or wrong way when it comes to the amount of headroom photographers prefer to include or not include in their portraits. It's a personal choice. A purely subjective and aesthetic choice. As a photographer, it's part of your artistic license. (If you're new to photography, it's part of your artistic learner's permit.)  You see, there are no specific rules-of-the-road governing headroom.  (Although headroom can be a component of a photographer's use of the Rule of Thirds, but that's another story.)

I tend to be in the third group of headroom photographers. I'm a photographer who generally leaves little to no headroom, sometimes cutting into the top of my victims' subjects' hair with my cropping. (Rarely, however, do I cut into their foreheads.) As a card-carrying member of the little-to-no-headroom club, I'm often perplexed by photographers who are in the 1rst group I mentioned, i.e., the lots of headroom group. To me, it just doesn't look right. It even borders on strange or odd in my mind. But since more than a few shooters seem to prefer the max headroom thing, I've come to realize everyone doesn't see it the way I see it.  Apparently, they see the use of headroom much differently than I do. But that's okay! Different strokes and all that.

I was going to post two versions of the same head shot to use as an example -- one with max headroom in the crop and one with minimum or no headroom -- but, when searching for a suitable photo to use, I couldn't readily find one that fit the bill. It seems that when I'm shooting, my framing without leaving much headroom Kung Fu is strong. Very strong!  I discovered, almost surprisingly, that my natural inclination to crop with little to no headroom is an obvious offshoot of a natural inclination to frame my shots without much headroom. Apparently, doing so is a regular thing with me in terms of composing a portrait shot. Well, at least I'm consistent with this headroom stuff, whether I'm shooting the pic or editing it in post. That's a good thing, I suppose.

Or, maybe it's not?

I think what I'm going to try to do, even though established habits die hard, is to start consciously forcing myself to frame my shots in ways that leave more headroom, i.e., in ways that leave, to my eyes, too much headroom. Perhaps even considerably too much headroom. It's going to seem weird to do this but I'm going to try. Why? Well, certainly not because it's my aesthetic preference to do so. Rather, I'm going to try to do this because it will leave me more options later on when I'm cropping my images. Leaving myself more options, regardless of what those options might be, is almost always a good thing. It makes sense to me in so many ways and, I hope, it does to you as well.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Short Lighting Isn't for Photographing Short People

Candid Natural-light/Short-Light Portrait of a Model
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Just kidding. Short lighting is definitely not just for photographing short people. In fact, it has nothing to do with short people... or tall people for that matter.  I just wrote that in my title to get some attention. To bring a bit of humorous wit to this update. (Which I probably failed miserably at doing.) Short lighting, of course, can be used to photograph anyone: short, tall, young, old, people of all sizes and shapes.

Quite a few portrait photographers generally prefer short lighting for much of their portraiture. Conventional wisdom, leastwise amongst those anonymous photographers I just referred to, holds that short lighting often nets more aesthetically-pleasing, memorable portraits.

Since short lighting is an actual, conventional, lighting style, I suppose there must be some merit to the "wisdom" attached to short lighting being the preferred lighting style. For the most part, I personally subscribe to the notion that short lighting is often a (not necessarily "the") preferable lighting style, certainly in terms of conventional aesthetics for many portraits. I use short lighting techniques for many of the portraits I shoot, head shot portraits in particular. It's often my go-to lighting style for head shots, especially when I'm using artificial light.

If you don't know or are unsure what constitutes short lighting, here's a brief description of it, sort of an "in a nutshell" description:  Short lighting is when the main light is striking that part of the subject's face that is turned away or less revealed in a portrait. Short lighting is the opposite of broad lighting which, as you've probably already realized, is when the main light is striking that part of the subject's face most revealed in the portrait.

Both short and broad lighting are easily employed for portraiture, whether you're shooting in natural light or using artificial light. If you're using strobes, for instance, and you want to employ short lighting, set your main light so that it is pointed towards that side of the subject's face that is least revealed. Example: Set your main light camera-left and have your subject first face the camera, and then have them turn their face slightly away from the axis of the camera and towards the light. For many portraits, perhaps most, you'll still have them directing their eyes back to the camera.

There's no right and wrong portrait lighting style. Just because many portrait photographers might claim that short lighting is the preferred portrait lighting style, there's no scientific proof that it is. Like so many other aspects of photography, what's good and what's not so good (or as good) is purely subjective.

There are a number of other conventional portrait lighting styles beyond short and broad lighting. They include Butterfly, Rembrandt, Split, and Loop. As a portrait photographer (or aspiring portrait photographer) you should be well aware of them and know how to employ them. My advice, especially to less experienced photographers, is to practice diversity in the portrait lighting styles you employ. In that way, you'll likely become a more accomplished and appreciated portrait photographer.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Are You Also a Videographer These Days?

With high-end, video-capable dSLRs being in so many photographers' bags these days, many of them -- those that make all or part of their incomes with cameras -- have added video production to their menus of services offered. Others, I'll call them "serious hobbyists," have been lured to various types of film-making by the many high-quality videos they've seen on the web; videos that were shot with the very same cameras (or very similar cameras) those serious hobbyists already own.  In the entire history of film-making, never has such high quality motion picture acquisition been within such easy grasp of so many would-be film-makers and others taking advantage of current video technologies for a variety of purposes.

It's not just about capturing motion pictures with those cameras. Digital, non-linear, editing systems have also become commonplace on many folks' personal computers. Between the cameras and the editing software, anyone might become an accomplished film-maker. At least, that's how a lot of folks have it figured and, frankly, they're not wrong. So many of the traditional obstacles to producing exceptional video projects have been rendered moot by the digital revolution.

I'm a guy who, beyond being a working photographer for a very long time, has also been a working videographer for nearly as long. When dSLRs arrived on the scene, making the transition from film to digital was quite easy for me. I'd already made the transition from analog to digital video, (Via dedicated digital video-cams.) Many aspects, i.e., the technical stuff, of shooting stills with dSLRs were either the same or very similar as with digital video.  dSLRs, from an operational point-of-view, made perfect sense to me from the git-go and, because of that, my transition was painless and nearly seamless. 

As most everyone knows, the digital revolution has meant an exponential increase in the number of photographers pursuing some level of pro status. Now, with the advent of video-capable dSLRs, the same holds true for video production. Since I'm a person whose work/career experience includes nearly equal amounts of photography and videography, a significant chunk of it in the digital realms, I believe I might have some relevant advice to share with all you new-to-video photographers.  In fact, I've already invested some time outlining an eBook I'll begin writing in the near future. (As soon as I finish authoring my next photography eBook that I'm currently working on.)  My video production eBook's working title is: "Guerrilla Video for Photographers."

But for now, here's a few generic tips for digital photographers transitioning to dSLR video production. Some of it is similar to the advice I've given to many photographers, some of it is quite different:

1. Don't Get Caught Up in the Gear Wars:  Resist focusing on technology over craft. Craft will nearly always yield the best, most memorable results. Sure, knowing how to take advantage of available technologies is important. But learning the craft nearly always trumps the technical stuff. Also, you don't need every piece of accessory gear manufacturers are working hard to make you believe you need in order to shoot engaging video. In fact, you might be surprised at how little of it you may need to produce really good and engaging video. You already have the primary piece of gear you need: your video-capable dSLR. Learn how to operate it with competence, ease, and agility before deciding you need all that (often expensive) accessory gear.

2. You'll Learn More About Shooting Video While Editing Than When Shooting: Video post-production and editing is where your projects come together, that is, it's where they're put together and assembled in some meaningful way. What you did right and, often more importantly, what you did wrong while shooting suddenly becomes painfully obvious in post. Take careful note of your production mistakes while editing and reduce the odds of repeating those mistakes in future productions. Avoid, whenever possible, the "fix it in post" mentality. Ultimately, it will save you a lot of time and many headaches.

3. Be Mindful of the Laws of Diminishing Returns:  If time and resources are things you can easily afford to spend, by all means spend the time and resources to get those difficult but awesome shots even if they only represent a few seconds of screen time in your finished production. But if time and resources are luxury items you don't have to spend, consider carefully if that really cool shot, one that may take hours to get right during a very limited production schedule, is worth the few seconds of screen time it may only end up being in your finished production.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice:  Don't try to learn to effectively shoot your dSLR during productions that matter. Take it out and practice with it. Practice with it often. Practice and learn to pan and tilt and more with ease and agility whether you're doing so with a hand-held camera, one that's attached to some sort of rig, or mounted on a tripod or other stable base.  The big difference between shooting stills and shooting video should be obvious: Motion.  To paraphrase a famous photographer whose name I can't recall at the moment, still photography is about capturing motion with stillness. Motion picture photography is about capturing motion with motion. That's a very big difference!

5. Learn the Craft of Film-Making:  The advent of digital video hasn't changed the fundamental craft of film-making to any great extent. Many things or ways of doing things are no different now than they were 50 or more years ago. Sure, some things have been made much easier to accomplish simply due to the smaller sizes of cameras which produce incredible results. But none of that matters in terms of the basics, the basics of the craft, that is. Learn the basics. Invest time in learning. If you're going to be a good videographer, it's going to take as much, probably more learning than you needed to engage in in order to increase your skills as a photographer. Many books and other resources, even those from years ago, are as relevant and helpful today as when they were written or produced, even if it was many years before video capable dSLRs arrived on the scene.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I'm Back!

Yeah. This is moi. Thinking about why I'm reviving this blog.

Apparently, I'm crazy or I've lost my mind!

Either that or I've somehow, for some reason, decided I have too much time on my hands. (Which I do and I don't, but that's not the point.)  Regardless and for whatever reasons, I've decided I might as well use some of my extra time to blog... to blog more, that is. To blog more than I already blog. Make that to write more than I already write and, trust me, I write plenty and often.

I'm not sure if this decision is a well-thought-out decision or not.  I think I simply sat down at my computer today and impulsively decided to revive this blog. Or, maybe it's a decision I've been considering, but considering only in my subconscious? You know, like unconscious deliberations. Whatever or however, here I am, back authoring the "I, Shootist" blog, for better or worse.

By the way, I didn't name this blog with the word, "shootist" in the title because it kind of sounds like "strobist."  I'd love for this blog to become as popular as David Hobby's "Strobist" blog but I'm not holding my breath. But let's say, hypothetically, something like that somehow happened. It wouldn't be because "shootist" and "strobist" are words that look and sound similar. It would be because this blog resonates and appeals to lots of photographers. Technically, I suppose, my potential audience is larger than Hobby's. Not every photographer is a strobe-using photographer, i.e., a strobist, but every photographer shoots a camera and, therefore, is a shootist.

One thing that is definitely motivating me to revive this "I, Shootist" blog is my desire to write about more stuff, i.e., a greater variety of photography stuff, than I routinely blog about on my other photography blog.

If you aren't aware of it, I've been authoring my other blog, my NSFW blog,  since mid-2006. During that time, I've updated it with nearly 1,000 posts. This blog, on the other hand, has been dormant since March of 2009. When I was updating this one, I only did so for a bit less than a year and only with about 40 updates. Not very impressive, I'll admit.  My other blog (as you may or may not know) is dedicated to a specific genre of photography-- glamour photography. It's a genre that isn't for everyone and, if truth be known, my interests in photography go way beyond the realms of glamour and tease photography. Often enough, the spirit moves me to write about other aspects of photography, aspects my glamour blog just isn't the right or appropriate venue to do so.

For those who regularly read my glamour blog, none of this means my interests in that blog, or it's focus, is diminished. It's not. I'm still a pretty girl shooter and I'll likely always be one. But let's say I want to write about something quite apart from glamour shooting. Let's say I want to write about photographing children.  Obviously, my other blog isn't an appropriate place to do that. This blog, however, with its "soft focus" and SFW (Safe For Work) content, is just the place to do so.  So, that's what I'm doing. I'm reviving a blog that allows me to write about nearly anything I want to write about in terms of photography. In other words, this blog is not genre specific, and that leaves it wide open in terms of what I might update it with. Makes sense, right?

I'll try my best to make this blog entertaining as well as informative. I don't know why, but I'm the kind of guy who enjoys being something of a mentor to others. I've always been that way. My glamour blog has afforded me the opportunity to be a pretty girl shooting mentor of sorts. At least that's what quite a few people have written and told me. This blog will give me another place to share even more about photography, and in ways that my other blog simply does not provide due to its much narrower and "adult" subject matter.

Wish me luck. I'll probably need it.