11.08.2010

Craft, vision and practice. Stories from the art world.


Some people have asked me why, "all of a sudden" I'm posting behind the scenes stuff from photo shoots when there are countless thousands of website and blog sites that are also doing "instructional" stuff.  I'll admit, when I find a challenging new niche to master I become a bit compulsive and start digging like a possessed badger until I feel like I've got a good grip on the subject matter.  Once I understand the technical issues I see how I can fold the knowledge into what I already practice.....just in case it's a catalyst for moving my real work (taking photographs of people) forward.

If you aren't interested in lighting with LEDs you probably should just be patient.  The novelty will wear off soon and they'll just become another set of lights I'll be able to use to do the things I've always done.  Once mastered they will be assimilated and find their niche in my primitive brain, leaving my conscious mind to collide with other projects.

But it does bring up a point that I like to make:  Practice is good.  Practice is learning.  Practice ensures that the eyes and fingers can keep up with the brain and the brain can keep up with your passion.  When I made the comparison of practicing photography to practicing swimming I got several (heated) responses telling me that they were nothing alike.  One person claimed that he could put his camera down for months at a time and, when the muses struck, he could pick it up on a whim and create a masterpiece.  I went to his website in search of masterpieces.  I found only pixels.  People with a paucity of passion, however gifted, want to believe that they can play with art in a detached way.  But anecdotal evidence about artists in general says,  "NO."

Like Edison's inventions successful art is built on the 1,000 or 10,000 failed trials that came before.  There's no real shortcut to the process of failing and challenging and changing.  No workshop will provide the same humiliating experience.  No handbook will provide the emotional context of despair with resolve that great artists endure.  But it's the need to keep moving toward the unknown that leads to the journey that can lead to the great works.

There's a great book about art called:  "Art and Fear: Observations On the Perils (and rewards) of Artmaking" by Ted Orland and David Bayles.  Nestled in among the other nuggets of knowledge is a story about a ceramics teacher who challenges the class like this:  He divides the class in two.  He tells half the students that their final grade will be solely determined by the sheer weight of the ceramic pieces that they each make.  He tells the other class that they need only make one piece but that the grade will be determined by their best piece.

The quantity half of the class gets to work in earnest, cranking out piece after piece.  The quality side of the class thinks and thinks and thinks, and then,  partially paralyzed by the nature of their task and their need to achieve perfection they finally produce.

In the end the students from the quantity half of the class produce far more good work and even far more great work than the other half of the class.  The constant experimentation led to making each piece better than the one before it.  Mistakes were resolved, their hand skills blossomed.  They understood the limits of their materials.  And then they challenged the limits of their imaginations.  It was a great blending that could only have taken place thru the process of experimentation and active exploration.


It was a revelation to me to read that particular chapter.  I stopped sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike and started experimenting and shooting more.  In this same vein I'm on a constant quest to see what different cameras, lenses and lights can do for my vision.  And I KNOW that when I shoot more quantity I get luckier.  There's a groove and I get down in it and produce.  And it all gets easier.  I can read the light.   Controls on the cameras fall right to hand.  It's easier and easier to direct the people in front of the camera.  Obversely, when I'm dormant for weeks I seem disconnected from the processes, timid about directing people.  Everything feels like stop and start.

I've tried to be transparent in the blog and what you are living thru as readers is my "infatuation" stage with a new technology.   And it is different than flash or hot lights.  The nature of the light is different and the way we use them is different.  It's dictated by their strengths and weaknesses.  Soon infatuation will give way to comfortable and we'll be back to looking at expressions and composition and what not.  But in a big view way this is all part of my personal creative process.  I shot for Zach Scott for hours on Saturday.  I shot all day with Jana on Sunday.  I learned stuff.  I rejected stuff.  I'm happy.

Vision is a great thing to have.  And so is style.  Unless it becomes a trap and keeps you producing the same stuff you've done for years.  It may be good for products to be consistent but I would argue that nothing kills art quicker.

By Popular Demand. Behind the scenes stuff. Or, "Does this lens make the photographer look fat?"

Since I posted photos from my shoot yesterday I've gotten dozens of requests for "behind the scenes" shots that would show how everything was positioned.  Fortunately my friend, Amy Smith, was assisting me on the shoot and she kindly provided some behind the scenes coverage.  I hope these will be help you more accurately visualize how I was placing the lights and how it affected the overall look of the shots.  

The first one is a studio shot done with my favorite light source, the big-ass 6 foot by 6 foot scrim.  I'm using a Photoflex frame and one layer of white diffusion. As you can tell I like to use the light source as close in as I can.  I have black panels on the shadow side to make sure that too much bounce from the studio's white walls doesn't fill in too much and degrade the contrast I wanted.  These are quick edits and no,  I haven't edited out fly-away hair, etc.  If the images were heading straight from here to a client we'd  retouch them first.  



While strobes might yield more depth of field and add a bit of sharpness I think you would agree that these images look more cinematic and life like.  Afterall, we chase fast lenses in all the reviews and forums,  doesn't it make sense to use them close to wide open from time to time?  Isn't that why we spent the extra money?

Yes.  You can do this with a small flash.  Really easily.  Almost as easily as just tossing up three small light panels and taking a look through your camera's finder....... Funny.  I worked at color correction and did a custom white balance.  Amy was shooting jpeg and seemed to hit the right WB everytime.  Live and learn.
I call this, "lights on a stick".  Love the wooden tripod.  Goes so well with the tennis shoes.

It's cruel to use small lights without even the tiniest bit of diffusion.  I didn't want anyone to report me for "cruelty to models" so I added some Rosco Luxe to each panel.  I think it's endearing that the little panels I use snap together to make bigger panels.  I have two more coming this week........

I'm no fashion photographer.  That's for sure.  But I kept hearing about clamshell lighting and I thought I'd try my own variation with my LED lights.  I tossed a couple of 500's on the floor, covered with some half stop diffusion and I put the 1000 through a two stop Westcott Fast Flags diffuser and blazed away, screaming, "Pout for me baby and I'll make you a star!"  Or something from "Zoolander".  I can hardly remember......


And guess what?  I had enough light to shoot hand held.  Miracles happen every day.......

That's it for the behind the scenes stuff.  Is this something you want?  Should I post more set up shots?  Just curious.  I'm not really comfortable flashing gang signs, participating is extreme snowboarding and saying "bro" and all the frenetic stuff we see on other blogs.  But I am happy to show you where we put the lights.......