Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spark It Up and Shoot

Julie - Edited Version

This past weekend I attended a photography workshop hosted my Michael Thompson (a.k.a. Mikey) of Lighten Up and Shoot that was held in Venice Beach.  This is the second workshop I've attended since I returned to photography back in February of 2009 and I must admit it was one of the most energetic, action-filled, and introspective experiences I have had in a long time.

Julie: BTS

I met up with Mikey at the Redondo Beach Pier, Thursday night,  and we discussed what I hoped to learn from his workshop and also review my portfolio.  Those who know me, know I'm rarely serious and we ended up talking about photography in general, and swapping stories.  However, what I wanted to learn was his "approach"in asking random people to pose for a quick 5-minute shoot.  In my mind it is very reminiscent of my "dance club" days and summoning up the nerve to ask a woman to dance.


During our conversation, Mikey mentioned that my work was really "clean".  "Clean?" well lit, even lighting, etc... It's interesting, I originally used to shoot with grids, flags, GoBos, etc...but my shadows were blocked up.  A fellow photographer, Don Mason, spent some time with me going over lighting ratios, Inverse Square Law, etc...  So the whole ride home from Redondo Pier I kept thinking, "How do I get out of my comfort zone?"

The top picture above is my attempt to do such a thing.  Alien Bee in an Apollo Softbox(Key Light) Camera Left and held up above model, Scrim behind her right shoulder.  I'm also using a 4-stop Neutral Density Filter on my 24mm - 70mm lens.  I metered for the background to get the exposure I wanted and then added the key light.
  • Here's the EXIF data:
    • A: F/5.6
    • S: 1/320
    • I: 100
Thumbs Up

I'm getting ahead of myself.  Instruction began Friday and after a few hours of technical and create review we set out to test out our newly imparted knowledge.  Personally, I wasn't too interested in shooting, but rather working on my approach.  I also contacted my friend Mayte to come out and shoot with the group, so as they were working with her I tried my hand at approaching a passerby.


I noticed a young blonde woman wearing a tank top with an American Flag heading towards the beach.  Here was the approach:
  • Me: (Smile) "Hi,  I'm a photographer and I'm here doing portraits to practice some creative lighting."  "I only need two minutes of your time, if that's okay." (Smile, again)
  • Kaitlin: She smiled and said "Okay, what's this for?"
  • Me: "A group of us photographers are working on our lighting skills and I really like your outfit, you definitely have style."
  • Kaitlin:  "Sure, and how long will it take?"
  • Me:  "No more than five minutes.  Afterwards we can send you your pictures, if that's okay."

Mikey Katherine and Caitlin

As we walk toward Mikey and the others, Caitlin and I talk about where she is from (Rhode Island), and if she is enjoying the California Lifestyle.  I guess I should've have taken some pictures, but I was off to find another subject.  Note that the gridded Alien Bee is not pointed directly at Kaitlin, but instead it's skimming across the right side of her face.

If you have never been to Venice, suffice it to say that there are plenty of "Evaluation" clinics that charge between $30 to $40 to provide you with a diagnosis and a card that will let you purchase Medical Marijuana.  The clinic hawkers were dressed up in their green scrubs and attempted to solicit our business by suggesting that we could get evaluated and pickup our prescription, and then our images would be really different.  Hence the blog title, "Spark It Up and Shoot".

We decided to move around and ended up in an alley just behind The Boardwalk to work on some images with Mayte.  Mikey gave me his camera to video the session and all I can say is that I suck at videography.  During the shoot, L.A.'s finest pulled up in their squad car and informed us that we needed a Permit to shoot since we had "professional" gear. After the LAPD left, I decide it was time to go and walk Mayte back to her car.

The following day we met at 9:00 AM and the group continued working on more Creative Lighting while I tried my hand at approaching more people. I had no luck, but as Mikey, Katherine and I were scoping out a two man band, Mikey spotted an exotic looking young woman taking pictures of the musical duo. Although Mikey is fluent with Spanish, the young woman spoke French. As luck would have it, Katherine also spoke French and coaxed the young woman to join us for a min-session. She was very receptive and followed visual direction very well.


As the day wore on, we photographed more people with minimal rejection. I tried to adhere to my challenge for the day, which was to create more dramatic images.  As we were walking down the boardwalk, attendee Davrick noticed a Goth chick and decided he would ask her to pose for us.  Mikey and I laughed and figured she would eat Davrick alive.  Wrong, she was more than happy to oblige and so I shot Raven in about 5 minutes. Grid spot Camera Left, Speedlight on a stick camera left and behind Raven.

Rhea: BTS

It was quickly approaching 5:00 PM and I wanted to get some more shots in before it was going to head back to Bakersfield.  We walked by a mural and I noticed a fit couple jokingly arguing.  I asked used "The Approach" and they agreed.  This initial shot is to show the direction and brightness of the sun.  After having attendee Howard hold the softbox above both of them, it took about 2 minutes to get the shot.  Thanks Rhea and Daniel for allowing me to photograph you.

Body Buddies
The Golden Hour was in full swing and the remaining attendees were scrounging for subjects.  Enter Nathali, a visitor from Massachusetts.  She was more than willing to shoot and Mikey looked at me and said, go ahead.  Set-up was Key Light (Softbox) high and Camera Left and Rim Light, bare strobe camera right.  The final image is a little blown, but I wanted to wrap up and get out of the way of the crowds.


So What Did I Learn?
  • Get out of my Comfort Zone: Rock a Mistake and then Exaggerate It!!!
    • Easier said than done.  I'm still grasping what that really means in my work.  Maybe change up my lighting ratios and go for more dramatic images
  • Don't be afraid to approach people to shoot
    • It's not as hard as you think, just don't look like a GWC, or Perv.  One key bit of advice that I will share from Mikey is introduce yourself as a Photographer and not by your name until you establish a rapport

I'm good with the lighting aspect when running and gunning.  I know where to start and then how to make the proper adjustments, quickly.  I just need to stop being lazy. ;)

If you are struggling with your "creative" lighting, or want to take a workshop that is more hands-on and less boring lecture, I highly recommend taking one of Mikey's workshops.  It's inexpensive and definitely worth the cost.  As with any workshop, the main thing you need to know ahead of time is ...

...Your Gear!!!  
  • Know it inside out.  Practice changing ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed without moving your eye away form the viewfinder  
  • Know how your lights work, and always dump your strobe when lowering the power before taking a shot

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Mojo


Several of my photography friends know that I've been following Artist/Photographer Jan Scholz, (a.k.a. Micmojo) for over a year now.  When he started shooting digital he found many annoyances with the digital sensor and started shooting film.  His work is inspiring and emotive, the lighting, composition and posing exudes fine art, which is something I've been lacking with my work.

I was fortunate to have been introduced to Eddy almost two months ago for my Pole Dancer themed shoot and afterward I asked if she would be willing to work with me whenever I wanted to test out ideas.


As I wrote earlier, I've been wanting to do some work that is similar to Jan Scholz and when the opportunity presented itself, I knew Eddy would be perfect for the shoot. Most models want to "mug" for the camera and treat each session as a JC Penny portrait session. I don't mind them wanting to look directly into the camera, but emote instead of the typical "smile" or Facebook pose. What helped was that I send links of Jan's work and another photographer (Fox Harvard) to Eddy.

VoyeurWe shot at The Padre Hotel, in the Pocket Room, school has two sets of adjacent windows. All the images in this post are Available light with the occasional use of a reflector, or by opening and closing the blackout drapes.

During the session, I ran into the restrictions of a digital sensor, blown highlights and blocked up shadows when the is very contrasty, which is not something new to me. By keeping the sheers closed and drawing a majority of the drapes closed, I was able to control some of the light.

What did I Learn?

    • Find the "right" model - this doesn't mean they have to be stunning, or physically fit. It means finding one who is comfortable in their own skin and can comprehend your suggestions or direction. Eddy meets both requirements and also does her own Make-up
    • Light Control - I brought my scrim and some clamps in the event the sheers weren't working, but going forward, I'll bring my black muslin to help block out more light
    • Relax - If you're not getting "the shot", continue to praise the model and move around and change the pose, lighting, or perspective
In the end, I think achieved what I had set out to do and hopefully you agree that these images evoke a different emotion than my other images.  Next step will be to shoot a similar style, but using only film instead of using photo-editing software to mimic film.  I'm still looking to define my style.

And what is a post without an outtake!?!


Thanks Eddy for being you!!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Elusive Goals

Danielle - Outtake

There are times when you set goals in Photography that require perseverance and continuous assessment. One of the goals I set this year was to shoot at least half of my work using Available Light, which also included a mini-goal of shooting between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM, when possible.

I have had several shoots since my LUSH Home & Boutique session and in each shoot I at least used one of the following combined with sunlight:

  • 4' x 6' 1-stop scrim
  • 4' x 6' California Sunbounce
  • 4' circular  reflector

The first opportunity came when photographer Deb asked if I would participate in a Group Shoot.  The shoot started at Noon and ran until 5 PM.  The following are examples of Direct Light, use of the scrim and use of the Sunbounce; respectively.



My next shoot was with my son and was basically shot in the shade around 5:00 PM, no reflector, just available light, which is diffused and lacks direction.


The following two shoots were basically an attempt to recreate an image of Adrianna Lima on a beach-like setting wearing a black leather jacket and what appeared to be a setting sun.  I called model Eddy to see if she would help me work on trying to capture that quality of light and mimic the image.  However, as hard as I tried, it just wasn't right.  I think we started to late (5:00 PM) and the area I chose, SUCKED!!!  Too many distracting elements and it wasn't as expansive as in the original image.  I did manage to get an photo of Eddy that showed a different and softer side of her as opposed to the hard light and saturated color of our Pole Dancer shoot.


Somewhat frustrated with the lighting results, I decided to try a different locale and also start at 3:30 PM and see if he angle of the sun would provide a little more pop and direction.  I contacted Model Mayhem Model Gabby and asked her to bring a similar leather jacket and also a white sweater.  These images are purely Available Light with the sun used as a Rim Light, no reflector, no scrim.


The Pose

Albeit, I was pleased with the results from this session, but I still needed to push myself and be more critical of my process.  The picture above, with the black jacket needed a reflector to kick in on Gabby's left lower torso and legs to provide a little more warmth.  Of course I could fix it with Photo-editing software, but then again all I needed to do was to use the gold reflector I brought.

Fast forward to this past weekend, October 21, I was fortunate that another Polga practitioner was interested in participating in my Tatt'ed Sheets Session.  We shot at The Padre in the Pocket Room, which was the same room I used photographing Taylor and Sammy earlier this year.

Again, this was all Available Light, with the window sheers closed and variations of the drapes being open, or closed.



So what did I learn?
  • Lighting is what gives an image a mood, or evokes an emotion.  By forcing myself to use Available Light, I have to think creatively about shaping light.  This could be accomplished by using a reflector to block light, or repositioning the model.
  • Force myself to bring only a few lighting options - I brought more gear than needed for all 5 shoots.  Going forward I will bring the following:
    • SB-900 Speedlight
    • Pocket Wizards (2)
    • Combi-boom Light Stand
    • Reflector
    • Octobox
    • Clamps(2)
    • Reflector Holder
    • 24mm - 70mm and 85mm lenses
I still have two more months to do a few more Available Light Shoots, which will include some additions to my Tatt'ed Sheets Sessions  :)

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